Monday, 21 May 2012

A Small Win in Life's Lottery

20/5/12 8pm I am sitting here listening intently for noises from my flat upstairs. The squatters who moved in before Easter verbally agreed to leave tonight, but I have no way of knowing when or even if they will really go. They don’t answer any phone calls or e mails, so I just have to wait. I think the place is empty. They lived with all the curtains and blinds permanently drawn and now they have been opened, but I cannot be sure. If I hear the floor boards creaking above me at 3am I will be sick. Tomorrow I could go up there and find they have gone but not left the keys (they changed the locks illegally) or they might not have gone at all. If that happens the agent’s husband, a burly policeman has promised to come over and assist, but it could all be so ugly. Or it could be OK – they will be gone and I can clean the flat and start again. This is a situation I never expected, a bit like cancer, suddenly you can find yourself in a very nasty place without any certain means of delivery. Not many people have recourse to the law these days, it’s too expensive. You just cut your losses again and again, or perhaps take out endless insurance the way they do in the US.
 However, yesterday was a very good day. On Friday night, when I returned from my portrait painting class, which is like being in a hot  room with a lot of spitting cats, I discovered that I have got a painting in this year’s RA Summer Show. I had to read the letter several times. I went through the same disbelief last time I got in, way back in 2000 with a portrait of Ken Livingstone. In those days they sent a card showing just the number of the paintings you’d sent in and a code for refused or accepted or accepted but not hung. It is easier to understand now, but just as hard to believe. This year I submitted a painting called “Insomnia,” which I liked. It was small with lots of glazes and showed my hand reaching out for the DAB radio in the night. Also a painting of my cat Maisie lying on my arm, called, “Dead Hand.” They chose that one. I am not proud of that painting but at least I’m in. After getting in with Ken I got a series of D Notices, which means selected but not hung, then straight rejections. Getting a painting in against 11,000 other entries and all the boring old RAs is like winning a national lottery. So yesterday I was moving hither and thither on a cloud of joy. I hope we still get the strawberry and cream reception that they used to do on Varnishing Day, not sure.  I remember a week before the public were admitted, wafting around the RA rooms, all flooded with sunlight, feeling extremely groovy. I had a busy but joyful day; I had to go all the way over to Stratford East, to find the Lakeland cookery shop as a friend had given me a token to spend there for my birthday. It's a seductive shop, at least if you like heart shaped pastry cutters, cake-tins celebrating the Diamond Jubilee and kettles for fish. I bought a new hand- mixer for making bigger and better Victoria sponges. What a summer we have to look forward to – the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in all their daft glory, the Bedford Park “Green Days,” two days of unparalleled garden fete, then the Bedford Park Arts Festival, with speakers, poets, plays, film and music. Also a “Festival Mass” at St Michael’s, Bedford Park, with full orchestra and professional choir.
 (27/5/12) I completely forgot here to mention the Olympics!  For most of my friends and me our only real interest in that subject concerns how well our public transport system is going to hold up.  After the emporium of baking I set off for Bethnall Green on overland rail as the Central Line was off. After a long walk from the station I found a rather obscure, dusty art shop called AP Fitzpatrick on the Cambridge Heath road, near the picturesque “Three Colts Road,” where they sell odourless solvent at half the cost of the regular art shops. At the classes I attend you are forced to non smelly solvents for H & S reasons, and in Cass Arts they cost £10 for about 250ml. I made my way back to Stratford to get the overland again, no buses from there to Islington.   I struggled to get there carrying 4 litres of solvent and one of  linseed oil. The weight wasn’t too bad but one of the tins really cut into my back even though I tried lagging it with newspaper. I had to reach the The Hen & Chickens pub in Highbury and Islington in the other direction.
I had promised to see a friend in a matinee performance there of a new production entitled, rather vaguely, “An Evening of Neo-Absurdism.” I was worried about being late, shoved a slag heap of natchos down my throat and rushed up the stairs to the stage door where I was told it was not going ahead as I was the only person who had showed up. The cast had a vote on it and went ahead. I was joined in the audience by a member of the production team who designed the posters.
I was expecting some wild Dadaist stuff on stage, but they were gentle sketches about the absurdity of modern life, rather Lewis Carroll meets N F Simpson, with a bit of Oscar Wilde thrown in. Some might have made afternoon radio plays if they were worked on, but it was all a bit flaccid. During the performance I almost dozed off, had a sneezing fit and my mobile went off. The John Heartfield  chap was fiddling with his mobile throughout. Between us we committed almost as good a range of theatrical crimes as if there had been a full house.
At the end I stood up and cheered and called, “Encore!” Happily they didn't. In the pub afterwards my friend and the cast of three others didn't seem at all bothered. Perhaps actors are used to that kind of thing these days, or perhaps they are just very persistent, and like me recognise that artistic success is rarely more than a lottery.

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