Monday, 7 June 2010

Waiting for the Devil's Brew

Two days to go before I start the chemo, and perhaps turn into something like Frankenstein’s monster.

Before I became this quivering invalid, a very good word, I lived in the hope of one day being “valid,” validating myself by winning a glittering prize. I wonder what the apogee of success would mean; appearances on Any Questions? an interview on Woman’s Hour, an invitation to appear on Question Time, or maybe sitting between that chap with the funny hair and Julie Myerson on the Review Show.

Bids for success, fame and wealth so far this year –

10/1/10 Radio Play. This is in the hands of a BBC producer. Or more probably at the back of his drawer.

26/3/10 Job application as an on-line copywriter for a large salary. Did a two hour test on line. Didn’t get the job. Probably a good thing as I would not be much good to them now.

The Doctor Johnson Memorial Prize for non-fiction (for my book, Inside, about my time teaching in HMP Wormwood Scrubs.) Haven’t heard a word from them.

The RA Summer Show. Didn’t get in.
I had a portrait of Ken Livingstone accepted in 2000. Then I had a run of “D” notices. That meant you were accepted but not eventually hung. They make a final decision when they hang the whole room. I once got three D notices at once and a letter congratulating me on this “achievement.”
I wished they had done me a favour and just hung one and dispensed with the letter. Now this competition is huge too, after being turned into a TV reality show. The price to enter has gone up and you can only enter two paintings. I don’t think they even do D notices anymore. When I asked one of the young attendants he had never heard of them.
On my way out today (7/6/10) at 8.30am I saw a very old and bent lady walking through the Burlington Arcade pulling her unwanted paintings in a tartan topped shopping trolley. That is life. You just have to keep trying!

The BP Portrait Award. Didn’t get in.
When I was handing in my entry I saw some of the other exhibits, all giant photographic, airbrushed things, without a single paint mark and I knew I was doomed. The whole thing has also got too big. It’s now “International,” and most of the entries seem to be from Spain and Portugal.

Bedford Park Summer Exhibition. When I did this last year I thought it was just a small church event. I didn’t realise that Peter Blake RA shows there and some other professional Chiswick artists. It has a bit of a strange system though, where you don’t know whether you’ve got one in until the private view. They only way to find out is to ring the Parish Office to ask which day you are invigilating for the exhibition. If they give you a date and time you must have had a painting accepted.
Last year I had a small, bright landscape of Holkham Beach in Norfolk hung, but in such a dark alcove that it looked like a nocturne.

Bedford Park Festival Marmalade Competition. I am in with a chance on this one. It’s being judged by Clare Balding the frisky sports presenter who looks like a condottiere and is unlikely to be seduced by fancy lids.

The Threadneedle Prize. This is on the up because it still includes real paintings rather than photographic reproductions, and is not yet so vast that you get lost in the melee. You have to go miles cross country to find it. It took me over three hours to get there from Turnham Green in west London and back.
I got out at Devon’s Road and found myself in a typical north London landscape; a vast motorway, putrid air and scary underpass. After a short walk I was in the “Lea Valley Nature Reserve,” walking over a canal into a courtyard with buildings from the 1760s and three enormous black oast houses, which are apparently gin distilleries.
On my way out I heard what sounded like a professional chorus of children singing, “Food, beautiful food,” from Oliver! They must have been rehearsing.
London can change so completely within a matter of yards, that it can be quite surreal.
I will know in a week’s time, by looking on line, whether I am in or not.

My entry was a self portrait looking absolutely terrified – my white face in the mirror of the lymphoma clinic at Hammersmith, when I still thought that there was really nothing wrong with me but the horrible truth had begun to dawn. I would like to be able to capture that look of disbelief in the eyes.

Somewhere in the middle of all these contests I made a diary note about the extraordinary amount of courage needed if you really want to make something of your life (especially if you come from Wolverhampton without an Eton/Oxbridge background) and how that need for strength and energy goes on and on. Then I discovered that on top of that you need even more courage just to go on living in the normal way.

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