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One of the major things that happened in my life this year is that I left London after 13 years in the Big Smoke. Yes, THIRTEEN YEARS, insane I know. I mean, how did that even happen. Anyway, I had enough and left. But not far. I now live in Oxford! Well, ever so slightly outside of Oxford – it’s practically the countryside. Almost. If you just ignore the ring road thundering by half a mile off.

Now, in doing a bit of research, as you do, about da new hood I found something that made me a teeny bit excited. My road appears to have been built by John Ruskin and Oscar Wilde. Yes, I kid you not.

Ruskin, an Oxford man, used to ride around Oxford and its surroundings, which, though most of Oxford is oooold af, didn’t look quite as it does today. There was no ring road for example. So there Ruskin was, trotting around where I now live to watch the peasant people do their thing and thought hey, there’s no road between these two villages and there should be so the poor peasant people don’t have to walk so far to get places (no cars either you see).

John Ruskin 1863.jpg

Ruskin – so photogenic!

So he rounded up a bunch of his university students, including some people who – surprise surprise! – would become important enough to have their own wikipedia entries. And Oscar Wilde was one of them! Here is his story of what went down that summer in 1874:

One summer afternoon in Oxford – ‘that sweet city with her dreaming spires,’ lovely as Venice in its splendour, noble in its learning as Rome, down the long High Street that winds from tower to tower, past silent cloisters and stately gateway, till it reaches that long, grey seven-arch bridge which Saint Mary used to guard  (used to, i say, because they are now pulling it down to build a tramway and a light cast-iron bridge in its place, desecrating the loveliest city in England) – well,  we were coming down the street—a troop of young men, some of them like myself only nineteen, going to river or tennis-court or cricket-field—when Ruskin going up to lecture in cap and gown met us. He seemed troubled and prayed us to go back with him to his lecture, which a few of us did, and there he spoke to us not on art this time but on life, saying that it seemed to him to be wrong that all the best physique and strength of the young men in England should be spent aimlessly on cricket ground or river, without any result at all except that if one rowed well one got a pewter-pot, and if one made a good score, a cane-handled bat. He thought, he said, that we should be working at something that would do good to other people, at something by which we might show that in all labour there was something noble. Well, we were a good deal moved, and said we would do anything he wished. So he went out round Oxford and found two villages, Upper and Lower Hinksey, and between them there lay a great swamp, so that the villagers could not pass from one to the other without many miles of a round. And when we came back in winter he asked us to help him to make a road across this morass for these village people to use. So out we went, day after day, and learned how to lay levels and to break stones, and to wheel barrows along a plank—a very difficult thing to do. And Ruskin worked with us in the mist and rain and mud of an Oxford winter, and our friends and our enemies came out and mocked us from the bank. We did not mind it much then, and we did not mind it afterwards at all, but worked away for two months at our road. And what became of the road? Well, like a bad lecture it ended abruptly—in the middle of the swamp. Ruskin going away to Venice, when we came back for the next term there was no leader, and the ‘diggers’, as they called us, fell asunder.

‘Art and the Handicraftsman’ in Essays and Lectures by Oscar Wilde

And that was that. There is still no easy way to get from North Hinksey to South Hinksey and the fields and paths around here still flood but at least there is a road that stretches as far as to my house, for which I am grateful.

 

 

That is by far the most interesting thing I have been able to find on the neighbourhood but there are some other lose art anecdotes. For example Millais and Collins lived in Botley for a while, and Turner (not to be confused with Turner of Oxford apparently) painted this from the village – such rural idyll!

 

oxford from N Hinksey Turner.jpg

Oxford from North Hinksey by Turner 

 

 

 

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Wow…the last post was in 2012. FIVE YEARS AGO. I don’t know what happened. Life, I guess. But I have been missing this little blog, and I have been missing the writing, and I have been missing the ARTS, and I have been missing the thinking.

Looking back at old posts (from FIVE YEARS AGO) I’m struck by the naiveté, the curiosity, the exploration, the constant seeking for cleverness, connections, answers, meaning.

Now life seems to be about routines, habits, patterns, finding comforts in the known. Because, as one gets older, one doesn’t want to chase anymore and one grows lazy or complacent. One thinks that, even if there is a meaning, if one has managed so far without it one doesn’t actually need it, and maybe it doesn’t even want to be found, and so one stops looking.

But I am very much still searching, still looking….so here we are – five years later!

A much simpler explanation to why I am returning to blogging is that I am back at uni. Completely different topic to literature this time but hey, I still need to procrastinate so…

Hello! Me and my self-diagnosed SAD are extremely pleased the summer is finally away with and are much looking forward to the winter months, full of days cold, and dark, and dreary; it rains, and the wind is never weary. I am yet to recover from an extraordinary intense week spent in Birmingham for the #cpc12 (as you do), where I mostly gate-crashed receptions trying to consume my body weight in wine (and half-succeeding one might add). I did get to rub shoulders with the high and mighty although am gravely disappointed that I did not get satisfactory close to BoJo AND that both Hugh Grant and Brian May escaped me entirely. Oh well, better luck next time.

I had one mission and one mission only in Birmingham (well, I had many to be honest but only this one succeeded) and that was to visit the Birmingham Art Gallery. They’ve got an absolute goldmine of Pre-Raphaelites there. Except for the fact that I was insanely hung over it was definitely the best gallery show in ages. I went to the big-ass PRB exhibition at Tate but wasn’t overly impressed. The narrative (Victorian Avant-Garde) was completely lost on me. Or rather, it is so obvious and tedious that it brings about nothing new. I also blame my own endurance, or the lack of it. I lose focus rather quickly, so after being bored to death through half of it (the bold, bright and bad stuff), by the time I got through to the PRB that I like (that actually isn’t very PRB at all) I was too tired to really appreciate any of it. Maybe next time I’ll start from the end.

A most splendid thing at the Tate show

And a little something from Birmingham

I’ve spent a rather wonderful weekend in Wal… eh, Somerset, trawling though picturesque villages, pubs and fudge shops, climbing up and down hills, exploring caves and excavation sites (did you know…no, just kiddin’ I’m not gonna go there). Again, drinking my body weight in wine seemed like the only proper thing to do. This weekend I had a rather splendid time at the Battle of Ideas at the Barbican. Again, I was too hung over to get there at a decent hour but I managed to catch a mucho interesante discussion on creativity, originality and tradition (meaning, is it good to have a canon? Yes, of course it is!). It’s so awesome when panelists actually debate rather than just agree with each other all the time (consensus is usually given at Westminster “debates”). But then again, I found myself less impressed with the liberal arts crowd (yes, I have definitely become a snob since the days when the NT was my second home). Now, leaders’ speeches analysis and Downton.

I begin somewhere where work ends.

We have moved from Dionysus, through Orpheus, to Adonis and

each of us like you
has died once,
each of us like you
stands apart, like you
fit to be worshipped

I have stopped eating dairy (except when drunk or hungover which, in effect, means I still eat dairy). I have seen the House of Bernarda Alba set in الشرق الاوسط‎ (which worked better than Bernarda Alba set in Pakistan but, please, what would be so terribly wrong with a Bernarda Alba set in an ordinary Spanish village?) and a flamenco version of Fuenteovejuna (which was so good I think I might give up theatre for dance). I have been inside parliament and been sat next to Lord Howe – that was grand (Hanging out with lords in the day and wiccan high priests in the night? Well, that’s just how I roll). I have listened to Roger Scruton talk about the supremacy of European culture (as you suspect he would); A.S Byatt talk about Ragnarök and other things I like; Richard Holloway talk about faith and doubt and speaking in tongues. This was also the week I decided that mixing every kind of alcoholic drink that exists on the planet would be a good thing to do at my boss’ birthday party – went down a treat. Coincidentally, at the same party, I realised my true vocation in a grande dame who, sat in a regency chair, was holding court throughout the night: “daaahling, do you remember Paris?” “Hockney? Well, daaahling I knew him in the 60’s”. Yes, such aspirations.

(Waterhouse, Adonis; H.D. Adonis)

So, if you had been there and seen these things, you would have approached this god, whom you now hold cheap, with prayers.

One single post so far this year. What can I say? It’s the cult of Dionysus these days. I have plunged my fennel rod into the earth’s surface and the god has spurted up a ceaseless spring of wine.

I was told a while back that Dionysus wasn’t the right fit for vegetarians like moi as the maenads were in the habit of voraciously tearing apart and eat raw animal meat. Well, let’s just say I proved them wrong – you don’t need to eat meat to be possessed by Bacchus.

Except for work, work and work, I have this year, in addition to the العربية, embarked on the mystery traditions, which seems to have catalysed a sequence of most random events and an endless amount of that Bacchic drink. I have been to my very first literary salon (in Bloomsbury one might add); and spent a dangerous amount of time with a Wiccan high priest; I have attempted to join a community effort to build an orchard for what I suppose I thought would be the-lesser-privileged, am now of the opinion that people can build their own bloody orchards; I have finally been to see Swan Lake (unfortunately tainted by Black Swan and a much too svelte prima ballerina); I have been to hear Richard Sennett talk about the pleasures of co-operation; I have ventured South-of-the-river to meet old men at Irish joints; and ventured down alleyways to meet old men at Soho joints;  found Collier’s Clytemnestra hanging in the Guildhall Gallery; and, most recently, been to seen Master Class with Tyne Daly –  Maria Callas idolatry has now commenced.


bye bye!

I’ve left my job. No more cloister views, lunchtime antique browsing, Maggie Jones’ lunches or Caffe concerto ice creams in the old cemetery. I shan’t miss it much though. I’m in Westminster now, opposite the Holden building on 55 Broadway – I love Holden! My view is of Henry Moore’s west wind sculpture. Not that I get to look out of the window much.

This week I have, besides having started some sort of career (as someone said: it is better to be a swineherd in a castle than to be a king in a pigsty), been to hear Maurice Glasman talk about blue labour. I really like him, mainly, I think because of the jewishness (yes, I’m one of those). He reminds me of Jeff Goldblum et al. – should’ve been an actor with that face. I’ve been to a Roxette concert at Wembley which was just as amazing as you can imagine it would be for a Swedish expat like moi. And to a Terry Eagleton lecture at St Martin-in-the-Fields where an argument was being made for power and against compassion – muy interesante. I’ve also been to the Christmas fair at the Swedish Church and whad’ya know – it was exactly the same as last year. I guess that’s what Christmas is all about: repetition – or tradition as we like to call it.

Where I’m from a haircut is about a tenner – and you can be sure to get all the town gossip from the past year thrown into the deal as well as well. Here in central London it’s a different story. It’s perfectly alright to charge 100 quid for a simple, straight-forward cut justified by some “senior stylist” title bollocks. I know I have myself to blame for being such a push-over but I find it virtually impossible to walk into a hair salon without being talked into having the most ridiculously priced stuff put into my hair. Your hair needs it. Does it now, really? Because I can never say no, nor have the guts to complain, I have had some pretty wacky – and expensive – hair cuts in the past. That’s why I’ve stayed clear from hairdressers for a good year now. Then yesterday I gathered some strength and went for it. Five hours, four hair colour removal runs, one exceptionally gentle (i.e. exceptionally expensive) hair-colour, three absolutely essential treatments, a cut and a blow-dry later, I could walk out as the red-head (although not quite the shade) I had come for. I didn’t even dare listen to the total cost, I just paid and ran out before they managed to convince me to get the super amazing “Brazilian blow-dry” for the fantastic price of £200. Such bollocks.

 

The very last day of 2010 is fast approaching, and I intend for it to go down in style (or at least to remain conscious for the better part of it which would be a vast improvement from other years).

The plan for the evening is some sort of 1920’s swing ball cabaret type of thing. I’m not sure exactly in what direction all of that is heading but I’m thinking French soiree, feather boas and sickening amounts of dubonnet. Or, L’Officiel circa 1926:


I’ve been to the Cotswolds. It was pretty as a picture. If you walked through the blue door at the bottom of the garden you came to someplace very similar to Narnia. I took loads of pictures but there was so much snow everywhere, it looks like I have taken about a hundred shots of a sheet of paper.

“Look, it’s Rudolph hanging on the wall.” “It’s not Rudolph. It’s Bambi’s dad.”

Freaky man for dinner company.

I went through about a year’s worth of Country Life.

This was only the beginning…

River Windrush

Bourton-on-the-water

I had a meeting on High Street Ken this morning and spent the rest of the day wandering around that which is, without a doubt, the best part of town. At the V&A I found a Rossetti I haven’t seen before, watched adorable little school children sketch William Morris patterns (I know this sounds like suspicious behavior… I can assure you children hold no special place in my heart – to put it mildly – but I love watching kids and art.) and discovered that the tapestry room is a most calm and meditative place. I then went to check out these mirror installations by Anish Kapoor in Kensington Gardens.

I found it largely unimpressive, almost a bit ugly and not all as good as his other work. But then, to be fair, the weather was not doing anyone any favours today.  They are due to stay until next year so I will try to swing by on a bright, sunshiny day and search for that wonder, felt last year at his RA show. I also went to see Klara Lidén’s stuff at the Serpentine Gallery. I don’t get it. At all. But hey ho, so it goes. Jean Nouvel’s pavilion is amazing though, I wish I had made the effort to go to see it in the summer, in all its glory.

Red, red, red. Anish Kapoor feels strongly about red. Matisse did too, and Kokoschka. Gauguin adored red. Not to talk about Rothko. Red protects itself. No colour is as territorial. It stakes a claim, is on the alert against the spectrum said Derek Jarman but he felt very strongly about that whole spectrum I believe.  I have lost his little book on colours I realize now and  I miss it. Well, cheerio!

Dear blog, you are probably wondering what I have been up to lately, don’t you? Well, I have been to pick up my new iMac, the fabulous Mr Howard whom I have spent an awful lot of time with, God knows doing what. I have seen a bunch of bad films and some good ones and I have marched all over the heath and eaten  carrot cakes at Kenwood House and watched people walk their pretty dogs  (did you know, in Hampstead Heath dogs are called either Chekhov or Daisy – I want a dog called Chekhov or Daisy!). I have found a shop called the Junk Shop (I love shops and I love junk) where I bought a neat little edition of Mother Courage. Not by Brecht but by a Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelhausen who, it says, was the father of the German novel and who wrote under an assortment of pen-names, all anagrams of his own: Melchior Sternfels von Fugshaim, Philarchus Grossus von Trommenheim, Signeur Messmahl, Simon Lengfrisch von Hartenfels, Erich Stainfels von Grufensholm among others. I have been spending way too much time in Irish pubs and have also ended at least one night in Greenwich with someone who came to this country hidden inside a petrol tanker (you know, just like in the Kite-Runner) and I have seen the Prisoner of Second Avenue with Jeff Goldblum and Mercedes Ruehl, which was fantastic, I really must go to see more comedy, tragedy bores me to death. And I have seen a portrait of Isabella Blow made up of dead animals, said my final good-bye to good friends who are moving to New York (jealous, moi?), swapped my summer wardrobe for the winter one, then been terribly upset because the weather has shifted again and it’s now 25 degrees and sunny.  Isn’t the world a most peculiar place?

Right, graduation is over and done with. Good bye academic life, hello uncertain future. I would post some pictures but actually didn’t manage to take any. I was too busy drinking champagne and chasing canapés. And anyway, academic dress does really not do anyone any favours. Or as Robert Purvis once said: “A graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the key to success.” I can’t remember our warden’s speech very well but it was probably along the same lines. And something about us not getting slack because in a year’s time there will be a bunch of other bright people sitting where we are sitting now. Declan Donnellan (honorary fella), on the other hand, talked about sheep which was more encouraging. After all, Jesus was a shepherd (if only metaphorically so).

At this time of the year (the last bank holiday in August) I am reminded of just how bloody long I have been in this city. Which makes me freak out a bit (oh my god! six years! why am I still here? what am I doing with my life? and so on). I then start to plot an escape plan (I must go to Tibet and save the Panchen Lama! or set up a free-spirited art commune in München! or better still; move to Newfoundland and become one with nature and write epic poetry about barren landscapes and solemn shores! that sort of thing). But whad’ya know; I’m too tired and hung over to dwell any further on this today. I’m just listening to the Archers and sorting out my pictures and waiting for the day to pass. And posting some photos from a visit to Highgate cemetery earlier this summer.

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