Travel writers enthuse about the colours of all their diverse and distant destinations. Death is all colours, not just black
I thought that some art might be uplifting – a splash of colour on my grey funerary soul. I took the big red bus downtown for a spot of Canaletto at the National Gallery. Views of Venice – this lad’s got talent, but I am looking for inner meaning and there is none – these are views – Venice under blue skies. I daresay in a modern context, Canaletto would be doing arty postcards in soft focus – Sunset Over the Grand Canal.
12 quid for five rooms of the Italian master and twenty minutes later I am off to the main gallery – it is dark, ominous marble-floored Victorian and there is nothing but pictures of dead people or biblical scenes – I sat for half an hour looking at the Seurat classic of « Bathing at Asnières » – light and refreshing (apart from the factory chimneys in the background)
The National Gallery is far too depressing, so, I’m off to the Tate. Down the yellow line and on to the light blue line for my Passport to Pimlico.
There’s Turner but it’s not turning me on (in purely artistic terms). Trailing round the parquet floored rooms we go from pictures to splodges. The splodges are hailed as works of Genius – I just think that Turner had failing eyesight. (Wonder if he had false teeth and hearing aids)
Off to the modern art galleries – squares of vibrant colour, clean straight lines or Damian Hurst dots. This I can cope with.
The gallery is full of Japanese art students faithfully reproducing the classics. I sit and spy on them – attractive young female art students bring out the voyeur in me. There is something very erotic about watching the creative process in oriental female hands.
Two hours in the Tate, and time to sit by the river and have a smoke. In recent days I have drawn solace from the Thames – I need to be by water to think. Last weekend, I walked along the beaches of the Thames at low tide. Yes, we have beaches in central London, and there were beachcombers, drinkers, grown men building sandcastles and lovers sitting kissing under the bridges. A London juxtaposition to the banks of the Seine – what would Robert Doisneau have made of this?
And from the Tate, I take the big red bus back to my red brick. Through Victoria, up round Marble Arch and on to the Edgeware Road – I swear this road has featured in a Jethro Tull Song – at one point we drive by the « Joe Strummer » underpass.
I had never realised how long the Edgeware road was, and how close to
« tourist » London it actually is. The Edgeware road is colourful, veiled and vibrant – Pakistani and Saudi banks, Lebanese grocers – café pavement terraces crammed with Shisha smokers. The paradox is incredible. On my big red bus, we turn off from Marble Arch, and within a few hundred yards we are in the thick of council estates, and after the social housing, a vast multi storey mass known as the « Hilton Metropole » – and we then head down into the down-at- heal red brick, dirty netting, cracked window frame all night grocer’s territory. Turn off into Maida Vale (or made of ale). I seem to remember that this was a hip place to live in the seventies. Low rise high rise and a forest of satellite dishes, and then, a village complete with pub and « organic » butcher’s – looks like South Kensington. – Then we head into Warwick Avenue.
The bus ride is reassuring and enlightening. I am crossing the modern ethnic, social and architectural mix of modern London.
As a southeast London lad, these were mysterious places you only ever heard about. You might meet a neighbour who had been « north of the water ». They talked in hushed tones of this part of the Capital as if they were talking of a foreign country. Paris or even Berlin seemed closer and more familiar.
We are a very divided city.
Since I left home in my twentieth year, I have always lived north of the water. The first time I crossed the river to live in North London, it felt like coming home. North London has always felt like home, and now, when I cross the water to head south to mum’s flat, I feel a dull pain as soon as the chimneys of Battersea Power Station come into view.
This has been a day of discovery on the big red bus. I have been riding lines that take you from the poorest parts of North London, into the heart of the West end and South of the water. The 36 from Queen’s Park to New Cross or the 6 from Willesden to Aldwych … it has been a day of working out links and the past few days have been all about understanding links – those that I never knew existed within my family. It has been a time of forging new links with long forgotten family members. Mum is bringing us all together, and next week, we will all be at her funeral. I am wondering if I won’t go down by bus – a 36 then a 54
And after the bussing and the art galleries, I came home to my red brick « bolt hole »
It felt reassuring. Friday evening, hop on the bus in Pimlico, down the line to West London, swapping the Thames tang for the West London air, jump off at the supermarket and buy a few things for dinner ….
If it wasn’t for mum, I wouldn’t be here tonight, and this is precious time. I am on my own, bussing round London, hopping on and off buses, going where I want, doing what I want, no one but me to think about, and I am happy, but those were mum’s last words to me – « be happy. »
October 23rd 2010