It's a bonus of retirement that I think I have sufficient time and money to maintain a subscription to the London Review of Books. that lets me in for some serious reading, some of which I can anticipate. In the issue I'm currently reading, for instance, I'm not surprised to find David Bromwich on how to respond to Trump, or Michael Wood's take on Moonlight. what comes as a massive bonus, though, is the obscure stuff I wasn't expecting - Rory Stewart on the accounts of Aleppo written in the eighteenth century by two Scottish brothers, who lived and worked there for years. Even better is a glorious essay on Hogarth, which starts from the obvious satirical stuff which I knew already, but moves on to some gorgeous, warm portraits I had never heard of - which are fabulously reproduced. Hannah Osborne and Thomas Coram, on p.10 of the LRB of Feb 16th. I take my time, I learn new stuff, I feel wiser and happier about the world. I know - I'm very lucky.
I've said it before, but now he;'s back again, and its still true. Grayson Perry is the best interviewer on TV, bar none. In his current series, All Man, he talks to hooligans, police officers, traders, casual passers-by, and treats them all with the same honesty and warmth. "don't take this the wrong way", he smiles at a huge cage-fighter who could clearly knock him into the middle of next week if he so chose, but then delivers a delicate, serious question - which, because it's offered that way, is answered in the same spirit. He's interested and he's pursuing a serious train of thought, but he doesn't have an agenda, or an urge to dominate, undermine or pigeonhole the people he's talking to. He's genuine, and they get that, so they're genuine too. Pure gold dust.
Went to Birmingham for the day, for a whole-day programme of stimulus and chat, provided for free by Birmingham Unisersity. Grab it now, because the chance may not come again. It was centred on the photographs of Janet Mendelsohn, a young American who came to Birmingham in the sities, and took some wonderful photos of Balsall Heath. i will declare an interest. My son lives in Balsall Heath, and I went there in the sixties, as part of a week's workcamp centred on a housing survey of Varna Road - then famous as "the wickedest street in England" due to its thriving prostitution trade. Janet M become really friendly with one of the working girls, and took a whole series if photos of her, her pimp, her kids, and the surrounding area. They're close, warm portraits, by someone who feels at home and is trusted - not at all a fast raid by an outsider in search of sensations. On top of that, Janet M was friendly with Stuart and Catherine Hall (she gave a lovely brief talk remembering that), who were central to the Birmingham Centre of Cultural studies - community arts, including photography, all sorts of connections - which were also followed up during the day. And when I did my education year in 1966-7, I wrote a long essay about Education and the Mass Media, drawing heavily on the Popular Arts, a book co-written by Stuart Hall. Great photos, politics and art, and a heavy dose of nostalgia - a terrific day.
Each week, as i skim through the schedules, there seems to be less and less that I actually want to watch. and currently, when i make a list of the "must-sees" there's only one - The Story of Scottish Art. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that they've dug up a superb presenter I've never heard of - after all, my credentials on Scottish Art aren't that great. But he is so good - expert, enthusiastic, engaging and never dull - but without that self absorption that makes it so hard to watch Yentob or Cruikshank. This guy knows about this stuff, cares about it, and really wants us to share his enthusiasm. I do, I do. Catch it while you can.
Oh, wow. The reviews suggested that it might be worth going to Manchester for the day, generally to see the refurbished Whitworth Art Gallery, and specifically to catch the Cornelia Parker show before it closes at the end of this month. Were they right? Yes, yes, and yes. It’a brilliant building, flooded with light, where behind a gloomy Victorian face there’s space, huge windows, the constant backdrop of the park.
And the Parker exhibition is just wonderful. So varied, so intelligent, stuff to think about and stuff to love, spread generously over half a dozen rooms. There’s a lovely story in the news coverage about the Whitworth curator falling in love with Parker’s exploded shed when she was 22, and having vowed ever since that if she ever got the chance to mount a retrospective of Cornelia Parker’s work…well, she did, and here it is, and I’m so glad we caught it. Plus, it was a nice day, and the gallery is free, and they let you take photos, and the staff are young, keen and friendly. You don’t have to believe me. Just go.