A WOMAN YOU CAN TRUST
At the Juliet window which is really a square carved out of the wall, high up, she waves to me.
Don't worry, I will know you, I had said in a message, but it was her who first saw me.
Later when we speak of it she responds with this.
Well I recognised you, she says, we met before.
I am stunned. Where? When?
It seems we met at a party hosted by the mutual friend who suggested to me that we get together over coffee and I am mortified that I have no recollection of our meeting that night. Claire graciously points out that it was a long time ago and at a party to boot.
Much later it occurs to me that I can track almost to the exact day when that happened since I saw something that night which left an indelible imprint on my memory. Having been unable to photograph or video it at the time I went home and wrote about the event the minute I stepped through the door..
That piece of writing which for many days afterwards was edited and fine tuned and edited some more then almost discarded, was my very first blog post.
4 May 2010.
An auspicious date.
A first, just like this one.
I am used to meeting new people and usually get a kick out of talking to strangers but today I am a bit apprehensive about meeting up with Claire Flannery. I suppose the difference is that this is not an accidental meeting, it's organised, and I've never done this before. As a rule I would ask questions, lots of them, because I quite like poking around behind the net curtains but today I'm conscious of not wanting her to feel like she is being grilled, this is not an interview.
Normally I would send a confirmation of our meeting the day before or on the day even, but today for some reason I didn't do so and I apologise for this omission. Claire blithely dismisses it saying,
Oh no, you take it on trust.
I love her for that.
I love that attitude.
I am reminded that I used to be like that until I was inveigled by the Text Me Till You Drop Crew to be more like them.
Once upon a time we made a date, put it in our diaries and then turned up, on time, on the day.
Now if you don't make a Stop Press announcement that you're on your way and begin doing so three days in advance, people think you're not coming.
It's happened to me.
I arrive all bright and bushy-tailed only to be greeted at the front door with,
What are you doing here?
We have a date for tonight.
It is tonight isn't it, I have got the right day?
I didn't hear from you so I thought you weren't coming.
But why would you not expect me when we have a date?
It's like Joanna Lumley says, there's too much input. It means we're reacting all the time instead of being quiet, digesting life and being proactive/creative.
An accent can be a dead giveaway and ours are certainly distinct signposts so we talk about where they came from, where we come from, and where we've been.
Swapping our life itineraries reveals that neither of us now lives where we grew up and that we've both lived a long way from home for long enough to consider ourselves as having two homes. It means travelling between the two of them often enough to see each place anew, over and over, which has it's advantages as well as disadvantages. Having a foot in both camps is something to revel in as it gives the feeling of always being the visitor, the foreigner, of anonymity even, if you want that. At the same time there's the familiarity that comes with knowing the place well and being able to tap into a ready-made group of friends, feeling completely at home. It's living with the best of both worlds until you feel a pull on one end and that's when it can become uncomfortable, a tug-of-war. How to make the decision to move from one end to the other, especially if there is pressure in the form of strong encouragement. There are those who quail at this point and give in to keep the peace or to please another. But why should it be all or nothing, why not yo-yo until such time as it becomes impossible. If it ever does.
The Tribal Lands. We both live in areas with long histories, areas where there are people who come from very old stock and those who have ferocious allegiances. It's what makes these areas vibrant and colourful. Today we're in my Tribal Lands because Claire has been meaning to come and visit this gallery for some time. It's reputation has grown over the years as it shows consistently interesting exhibitions and with the renovations that now allow the screening of movies like Didier Awadi's strikingly political United States of Africa, plus the fine dining experience to be had in the canteen-like room at the back as well as in the cosy front room, it is now cemented in the life of South London. She says she was delighted to see it on my list of possible meeting paces. I extol the virtues of the consistently delicious food, the coffee and the well stocked bar. Even though I am not on the payroll.
Under the auspices of ART FEELERS Claire leads walking tours of small galleries in east London, and with the Whitechapel Gallery she also leads bus tours around larger galleries in east London and I can't believe that I have never heard of these tours. It sounds like a fantastic way to explore a few galleries all at once and I especially like the idea of the walking tour. She assures me that they are great fun, I can't wait to go on my first tour. There's one story on the Art Feelers site that really caught my attention, about a young Polish woman who used to provide creative activities, in her own home, for a multicultural group of neighbouring children on her Estate. Much to everybody's surprise the children loved it and even the initially doubtful parents came to view the exhibition of their paintings and drawings that she put on show in her lounge. Imagine that. Imagine clearing out all your furniture and emptying your walls so you can hang the local children's art works. We agree it's a lovely story of getting to know the neighbours and of creativity flourishing unexpectedly in a concrete wasteland. This reminds me of a memorably sad movie with the picturesque title, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945). The Estate on which all this happened was earmarked for demolition so everybody moved away and sadly, Claire says, she has lost touch with this very enterprising young woman. I'm curious to know whether she would resurrect this idea in her new area, wherever that might be, and we hope Claire will somehow manage to locate her and find out what she is doing now.
Upstairs we watch Eoghan Ryan's movie, Oh Wicked Flesh, which begins with images of Henry Moore's sculpture, Two Piece Reclining Figure No 3. This sculpture was purchased at great expense especially for the Brandon Estate in South London but is pictured here encased in a corrugated iron shed designed to protect it from theft until it's removal to Kensington Gardens. Huh! it's the same old story, the attitude towards those on the council estate. Just who does have the Council Estate of Mind (Skinnyman 2004)? After all the Henry Moore sculpture that was stolen was monumentally weighty and was taken from the grounds of the Henry Moore Foundation, a 72 acre estate of rolling grasslands in Hertfordshire! Here in the Gallery, not far from where Henry's woman once reclined, countless images echoing the shape of a vagina, or the act of penetrating something with something, or food sliding down the gullet sensuously, are slowly and suggestively filling the screen.
What do you think, whispers Claire in the dark?
It's highly sexual, I hiss back.
It is. It's dense with sexuality, sensuality, sadness and sound, shape and colour and line, and humour too, in the form of the BARKING MAD T-shirt logo that comes right after an image of a little dog. The air is heavy with our concentration so the chance to laugh at this is welcome. But the longer I'm watching the more I see the relationship between all these seemingly random images that are often connected by something beautifully abstract, an echo of a line, or an action, a colour. As soon as it finishes I feel like I want to see it again but it's the kind of movie that I need a rest from to appreciate it fresh the next time. In a way it's a mistake to do that because as in this case, I never did get back to see it again, I'm sorry to say.
We say goodbye after this. I tell Claire I'm definitely coming on the next walking tour and maybe even the next bus tour too, then I go to look at the exhibition in the big room. The threads in Pae White's Too Much Night Again criss-cross the room overhead and end up spelling 'tiger', amongst other things, on one wall. It's mesmerising and quite disconcerting, I feel as if my varifocals have added another dimension that is threatening to topple me. I leave the Gallery with a mass of threads all swirling and tangling in my head as I walk down the road to Camberwell.
The thing is I feel as if I have talked far too much about myself. Why too much? Because Claire was very good at asking questions of me and I was expert at answering them so that now I'm uncomfortable with how it appears to have been all about me me me me me, lovely me. Was I holding back too much because I didn't want to look like I was conducting an interview? Probably. I have one friend who is regularly astonished at how much I manage to find out about a person in a first conversation and I always laugh and tell her that I ask what I want to know. So does it matter that today I am the one who answered the questions. Almost certainly I suppose that it does not.
In the newsagents, approaching the counter to pay for a magazine triggers a memory, or rather, the absence of one. With a start I realise that I strode out of the Gallery deep in thought, without giving them any money.
I have to go back.
Before they decide I am a thief, a lowdown scrounger trying to get something for free.
Oh no, the ignominy of it all.
Back at the counter with it's sumptuous cakes and the smell of delish coffee tempting me to do it all over again I apologise and announce that I absent mindedly left without handing over any money.
Did you? Oh, we didn't even notice, says one of the exuberant young women.
OMG and I thought you'd have the Wanted posters pinned on the trees by now!
They both laugh like it's the funniest thing that's happened in there all week.........
So what did you have, she enquires.