Silly shoes and ball gowns

I was sitting in the Southbank Terrace Café drinking a latte and reading. An eccentric looking woman came in and sat at the next table. She emptied the contents of a tote bag on the table and started arranging various books and piles of paper in an attempt to cover it.

She then went and purchased a drink.

I was at the Southbank Terrace Café at the end of a long, wandering day. Mirinda had to give a couple of speeches at two graduation ceremonies for the college. Given she hadn’t been to London since March 2020, I decided to go with her.

We arrived in London nice and early so the hunt was on for breakfast and coffee. This was hard to find. Eventually we settled into the Pain Quotidien at Southbank. And what an amazing breakfast. It’s called pain perdu, bacon and is sublime.

It’s a piece of eggy brioche with deliciously crispy bacon, maple syrup and a dollop of super creamy yoghurt. Okay, it’s a bit carby but it also unbelievably tasty. What an excellent way to start the day.

Mirinda then went off to perform her ceremonial duties, while I started my day of aimless wandering. Actually, it was only aimless for bits of it. I also went to the exhibition at the Hayward (my favourite London gallery).

The exhibition, called Mixing It Up: Painting Today, to quote the catalogue, “…brings together contemporary painting practices that combine varied traditions, perspectives, image sources and formal approaches in order to fashion fresh and compelling works of art.” And, I have to say, I reckon it delivers.

The exhibition features 31 artists I’ve never heard of showing an extraordinary depth of variety, skill and just plain art.

Obviously, there’s always going to be a favourite, as far as I’m concerned, though it was a difficult choice between at least four. From the haunting Hysteria (2020) by Sophie von Hellermann…

…to the threatening skies of her Perfidious Albion (2021) which depicts a moment she was told about by her German grandmother who, during the Second World War, was chased across a field by a Spitfire. Though, as Will pointed out later in the pub, it could also be a vivid and powerful portrayal of misogyny.

I love the simple lines in Perfidious Albion. The lack of detail gives the painting a feeling of movement. What defence against a world of male weaponry does a naked woman have but to pointlessly run away?

The third piece I loved was not so much the work itself but what the artist used to achieve an extraordinary result. Using household liquids (toilet cleaner, shampoo, vegetable oil) and objects like plastic bags and just things she finds, Samara Scott produces amazing plexiglass encased pictures that work brilliantly as stained glass windows.

Chrysanthemums (2021) was my favourite of hers. It was over a hole in the wall and the light coming through was rich and strong. Odd but brilliant.

But, my favourite of them all, in admittedly, a close run race, was The English Lake (2013) by Caroline Coon. I like her cartoon like characters and foliage. The ethereal feel she brings to the scene. A tangle of plants entwining women under a bright sun. It’s a beautiful painting.

Mind you, I also rather liked her Rugged Defensive Play (2020), mainly because it shows the highest rank of professional football up for what it really is. But, when all is said and done (and looked at for quite some time) The English Lake was it for me.

However, the whole exhibition was excellent. It was thought-provoking and humorous; inventive and relevant. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also realised how much I’ve missed the Hayward.

Having filled my artistic needs, I needed a pub. I headed for the Hole in the Wall only to discover, on my arrival at the door, that it didn’t open for another half an hour. Instead, I decided to head for the White Hart, a particularly lovely pub in Cornwall Road.

However, I was waylaid by the marvellous First Barber.

Having spotted my reflection in a mirror earlier, I realised how much I needed a trim. Bits of errant hair were poking out from under my hat and over the tops of my ears. I looked a right scruff. Obviously, looking scruffy is something I try and achieve however, there is a point when the scruffiness reaches unnecessary lengths and bad hair is definitely one of them.

I went into the barbers and asked for a haircut. The man was more than happy to render me human once more. It was also lovely and warm in the chair and an excellent excuse for a rest. Strangely, when I mentioned, later, that I’d had a haircut, people thought that was a weird thing to do.

Then, of course, it was time for a lovely few pints in the equally lovely White Hart.

Finally, having read while drinking some excellent beer, and eavesdropping the dullest discussion between a couple of long distance walkers, I headed back to the Southbank Centre.

As I sat and watched the final session of graduates emerge from the light into the decidedly cold night, the eccentric woman at the next table had managed to spill a cup of something all over her papers. I’d watched her put the cup on the edge rather than the middle of her table. The cup had no choice. Gravity dictated its actions. The woman was not impressed with her own clumsiness.

She spent an age clearing up the mess, mopping down her papers and books, moving the furniture around, leaving a small lake of liquid on the floor. Finally, she went and bought another drink and settled down to start again. Though, this time, she put the cup on the table rather than on the edge.

As I watched the shivering parade of young woman outside, ridiculously short dresses belying the temperature, I suddenly heard some loud snoring. The eccentric woman had collapsed, a cheek flat on the table, her arms falling from her shoulders towards the floor, happily snoring away into her books and papers as if it was something she did every day.

I decided to go and search for Mirinda given I’d not heard from her though the graduates were all out and milling with friends and family. I walked through the crowds, astounded that young women feel they need to look the way they do (Kim Kardasian was how Natalie described them) while the young men all wore quite dull business suits.

I managed to track my wife down with a bunch of booze hounds (Sarah, Laura, Natalie, Ian, Blane, Trevor and Will) at the bar underneath the BFI. I settled myself onto a bar stool between Sarah and Will and proceeded to annoy them with my chatter.

The graduation had gone off very well and everyone seemed happy.

Mind you, there was a lot of discussion about how feminism seems to have missed most of the graduates. In a similar vein, Natalie told a very funny story about a restless boob which I really don’t think I can relate. Not here on my blog, anyway.

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