Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Gadding About


So many people to meet, everything slightly off the hoof, as if we are all dashing off somewhere else or have just been somewhere at short notice – the effervescent effect of the onrush of Christmas, still tantalisingly out of sight, weeks to go but you can just about smell it coming.

I stepped into the National Gallery and not having anything particular in mind to see drifted about a bit, then settled in front of a Leonardo, The Madonna of the Rocks. Quite a few tourists peering at it – it is strange the difference in their looking and mine, as the painting is here in London I feel a kind of familiarity and ownership about it.

When I went back onto Trafalgar Square, after about eight minutes, there were lots of students with placards gathered outside. They had arrived surprisingly fast.

Crossed the square to get to a Costa Coffee place to meet my new friend Ann, whom I met waiting for blood tests in Garry Weston. She is a lecturer, an expert on rural radicalism in the late 18th century, and as I mentioned earlier she is losing some of her sight and uses a white stick.

Sat waiting, watching the students get into a tighter bunch and the ominous sight of the police in their yellow waterproofs, blocking off one exit from the square. They looked as if they were spoiling for a fight, pre-empting it by their numbers and rigid formation.

People sitting nearer the window could see them cutting off the top of Whitehall.

“Oh dear no, not again!” said the waitress, a young Spanish girl. “The last time, all the tables and chairs outside got thrown into the air, it was a terrible fight.” She sounded like a nursery school teacher talking about a rather unruly class.

“The Police came in and closed us down and then no one could get out of the square,” she added.

I wished that Ann would hurry up so we could have our coffee and sandwich before we were all turfed out into a massive police “kettle.”

A foreign tourist started eye balling me as I was sitting there with two seats while he was standing holding a plate of food, but at last Ann arrived. At the sight of her white stick he backed off giving me a reproachful look.

It is a relief to talk to Ann as we have a shared a life-threatening situation. This gives a kind of closeness I have never experienced before. I told her I’d read there were three stages with cancer; disbelief, bargaining and acceptance. We agreed that we are both still at the bargaining stage, at least I am, bargaining with God, and we are both trying to improve our diets, which is a kind of attempted deal with nature.

After lunch we crossed Trafalgar Square, which looked strangely wet, as if the police had already been busy with water-cannon, to the Sir Thomas Lawrence exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It would have been a whacking £12 each but she paid a reduced fee and I got in free as a “carer,” thanks to the white stick. I am still pretty bald and I couldn’t help thinking that we must look like a couple of old crocks. We have also both got incisional hernias or is it herniae, from our operations.

She has two one on each side. We both feel disgusted by them and want them fixed. She has had a few conversations with doctors about it and hopes to get it sorted out sometime in the New Year. We have had to wait till the effects of the chemo had finished. I haven’t been to my doctor about it at all yet, as I don’t feel like going near a hospital unless I absolutely have to. We both agreed that if we could afford it, we would go private to get small things fixed. It would be nice to just walk into a clinic and get my carpal tunnel syndrome sorted for instance, not because the medical treatment would be better, but just to avoid the visit to planet NHS with all its hassle and confusion.

We forgot all this inside the exhibition, sharing a commentary with two leads fixed to one i-pod, rather shackled together. Ann had to peer at the works through a magnifying glass with a lamp attached. One of the attendants sprang forwards, worried about the light, but when she saw the trusty white stick she backed off.

It was really good going round with someone who knows a lot about Regency celebrities and is passionately interested in the paintings. She was fascinated by things I wouldn’t have noticed, such as the portrait of the chaps who started Barings Bank, in 1762.

They were hated by her hero, William Cobbett, the writer who called London, “The great wen.” He was against them because they made money from enclosing land which had once been open for common grazing. He was possibly also upset that they funded the Louisiana Purchase for Napoleon, even though Britain was at war with him at the time! Bankers, I ask you.

I was interested in the difference between the paintings – a portrait of Sophia, King George IV’s unmarried sister, looked like a real, living, breathing human being, so modern in its loose handling and humanity, while right next to it was a glossy image, already in a style that became popular with the Victorians, as unreal as an air-brushed photo of Sarah Fergusson in Hello! Magazine.

We were in there for hours and had to be revived with tea. When Ann got home she found a letter waiting, with the dreaded NHS logo on the envelope. It demanded crossly to know why she hadn’t turned up two days previously for her hernia operation, which had been arranged for her.

No such arrangements had ever been made – she could only think that they had mixed her up with some other lucky person.


  1. Dear Jane,
    I also have a hernia. As a matter of fact I also was a journalist and was particularly interested in art because that's how I started out - as a painter. My journalistic career folded during the ignominious years of the 80's, the industrial strife put paid to the aspirations of someone who refused to join what was then a closed shop.I was made redundant from the one national that managed to get around the rules and I neglected my broadcasting contacts. My art went down the pan, mainly due to lack of confidence. My hernia is still with me though.

    You, on the other hand made it. You made it in Fleet Street and you made it as a painter and by all accounts you remain a fighter and a winner. All the best.

  2. I'm on a list!

    A couple of mine from way back.