Piatti e Martellate

 Posted by at 11:38 am  Echo Effects, Exodus, IN Conversation, Old Men Travelling  Comments Off
Dec 142014
MAX Mug 2014 No1 - Head (Small)

Deterioration and/or… “the negotiations we are all involved in, unconsciously or otherwise, around who we feel we are and how we are seen”.*

Up until recently I have lived with reasonable confidence that my personality was singular, but as I grow older I am finding this idea becoming more and more threadbare. Parts of me might seem to remain singular, my body for instance. However, the curious quality of its changing surfaces, its new furrows and trenches, and its spread in unexpected directions are bringing new peculiarities as I age. Similar peculiarities arrive on the inside, and I am finding negotiations with my physical self are now required on a daily basis.

This is especially true of my face, as each morning when I look into the mirror the head of a different character topped with white hair is waiting there to meet me in the looking glass. So we begin to talk, and introduce ourselves to each other. Although my English fear of embarrassment frequently limits these daily conversations, I see that I am becoming a two-some with my face.


The idea of my fixed identity has become worn and see through in other ways inside as well. I used to trust in the singularity and purity of my awareness, the presence of a singular watcher of these processes in flux, with an accompanying idea of original purity of awareness in an abstract sense. But my ageing has broken this trust. However, unlike the two-some conversation with my physical face, there appear now to be a host of characters co-creating my inner life and co-existing in awareness. TRIXY, of whom I spoke last week, is one among many, and all are seeking to be met and engaged with in multiple conversations.

Sometimes I leave TRIXY and the rest of them to get on without me, and I retreat to the shadows. At these times I am become the mere transcriber of their stories, and the complexity and demands of this task would be overwhelming if they did not continually introduce and re-introduce themselves . I do not invent them or give them names myself. No, they tell me who they are, helping me to create their peculiar community.

Perhaps all this is intoxication, but I’d like this story to be received and held, despite the fear of embarrassment covering my heart. Of course chatting about TRIXY and the others in my community of awareness in the wrong setting could get me into trouble, and some people could take what I am saying the wrong way. This is what I would like to say to them:

‘Piatti di merda in faccia
E martellate sui coglione.’

* The quotation comes from the text of the introduction to Who Are You?


Who Are You?

 Posted by at 10:55 am  Echo Effects, IN Conversation, Tonite at the Coliseum  Comments Off
Dec 142014

Who Are You ? is an exhibition of 14 works of art by Grayson Perry currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery until April 2015 (NB entrance is FREE!). It is a series of portraits which take us on a journey of discovery through the peculiarities of our different ways and forms of being English – our ‘Mongrel Nation’ (No. 2, The Comfort Blanket tapestry) – and how we express our identities.


My visit was an opportunity for many peculiar conversations and negotiations. It involved a serpentine walk through the whole 1st floor of the NPG and weaving through the 16 or 17 rooms to find the exhibition works among the permanent collection of portraits there required a mix of skill and luck (I was actually unable to find two of the works, No 11, I am a man, and No 12, The Earl of Essex).

No 1. A Map of Days

Self-portrait: Grayson Perry sees himself as a walled and fortified city, within which the many different locations of his being are revealed. My dear TRIXY was dancing all over this one looking for the artist in every nook and cranny, but he was very good at hiding and she couldn’t find him anywhere.

No 2. Comfort Blanket

Anatomy of an Englishman : at the centre of the large Comfort Blanket tapestry, and ‘Fear of Embarrassment’ covers his heart (gender male by the look of the Y fronts). Grayson Perry might have used a different phrase – ‘Sense of Shame’, ‘Disgrace’ or ‘Ashamed of Ourselves’, but he is precise with his choice.


The Fear of Embarrassment covers our heart. Because this peculiar English covering is very big and heavy strong, we have constituted an authority, NANNY STRICTLY, to rule over us and keep it firmly in its place. One way of recognising NANNY STRICTLY’s presence is the large portrait of the Queen of England which fills the right of the tapestry. It is in the same place as she is found on our £ notes. In other words, she is the one who rules our credit and gives promisory (‘promise to pay’) value to our lives.

No 3. Melanie, Georgina and Sarah


Nearly a Full Moon: “Three women, big and proud, who want their size to be seen as a positive.” writes Grayson Perry. I wondered about swopping the word Age for Size: “I have portrayed as vaguely antique hieratic figures adorned with images…” Grayson Perry continued. “In history, female forms such as these were often seen as fertility goddesses to be prayed to for children and a plentiful harvest… Nowadays more likely to be seen as a growing health problem.”

No 4. Britain is Best

East Belfast: “I was fascinated how exotic it felt… (and preferred) a jolly style rather than dour and aggressive”. The tapestry was located in a room called ‘New World Britain, 1914-18′.


No 5. Modern Family

Different qualities of attention: the photograph was made from the other side through the looking glass.


No 6. The Asford Hijab

‘It’s a way they have in the Navy’: unable to see closer, I looked over a screen displaying some song sheets: one said.


No 7. Idealised Heterosexual Couple

Mummy and Daddy: divorced and living apart, the story was they came together to support their three girls getting to their dancing classes and winning competitions. It was uncanny and scary to see these three young STRICTLYs – Jenna, Amy and Charlotte – in the making.


No 8. Memory Jar

Meet ALTZY: round the front of the jar there was a portrait of husband and wife Christopher and Veronica Devas . Christopher has Alzheimers disease. Round the back of the jar there was “a demonic figure who is snipping up their family snaps”. He went by the name ALTZY, and I met him through my father’s his last years. Sometimes I can sense him stirring inside me now.

No 9. The Huhne Vase

Default Man: “I wanted to represent Chris Huhne, for he represents what I call Default Man: a white, middle class, middle aged, heterosexual man, an identity group that hides in plain sight.” Grayson Perry explained that this kind of man successfully develops and defends his ‘individualit’, but the vase has been smashed up and repaired with gold paste… (“might be an asset in relationships for such a person”).


No 10. The Line of Departure

War heros: “return to the challenges of civilian life” for three wounded veterans from the war in Afghanistan. the tapestry was located in the 1st floor room called World Power, Expansion and Empire.

No 13. Jesus Army Money Box
Yellow Chasse: Thinking of Jesus Army people as holy relics Grayson Perry “placed them on one of my favourite categories, a medieval style chasse.”


No 14. The Deaf

“A Culture not a Disability”: I wondered again about crossing out ‘The Deaf’ in the title, and putting ‘The Old’ instead, but TRIXY told me not to.

Dec 102014

“We are suspended in language such that we don’t know which way is up and which is down.” Niels Bohr.*

I spent the weekend in Torbay Hospital. The catheter got blocked and then when it was freed by the district nurse she judged there was too much blood and that I should join the queue in A&E. The ambulance took three hours to arrive; more urgent cases took intervened. On arrival at A&E everything proceeded smoothly through the various assessments and it was probably about 1am that a young female medic changed the catheter, replacing it with a ‘three way’ which enabled the bladder to be irrigated. So by 3.30am I was up on a ward.

‘E Virgilio rispuose: ‘Voi credete

forse che siamo expertise d’esto loco;

ma noi siam peregrin come Voi siete.

(And Virgil answered: ‘You may think that we

possess experience of where we are.

But we, like you, are pilgrim foreigners.)**

Like pilgrims, ill or injured, we entered the hospital so that we might be healed sufficiently to get back on the road. We know that death awaits us, awaits us all, but we are not there yet, there remain some difficult and easy tracks to follow. Up or down. Dante’s purgatorio pictured as a mountain to climb, the inferno a pit to fall into from which there is no escape. Being a patient in bed or sitting in the chair next to the bed, suspended in a language that as usual is partial, changeable as it issues from different mouths, charged with various degrees of authority and value. How might we engage in the work of purgatorio or let ourselves fall into the other place.

We can only say what comes into our minds, only ask the questions that are in our minds. So that when we report back to relatives, partners, friends they confront us with what we didn’t say. But, of course, they are not in the complexity of the situation. Under the surface, there is a wilder reality, a complex reality that I have the task of negotiating and getting safely out once more. Institutionalisation is seductive. One has to listen very carefully to what each person says and fit it into something of a whole. I want to keep them on side, I have no wish to mauled by their claws and torn by their teeth. At the same time surprising and shocking events are taking place within this body that I am. What do these other people think, what is there take on it all? Can I make use of what is on offer? What sort of choices do I have? Will I get out alive?

*Quoted in F. David Peat Pathways of Chance 

**Dante Alighieri The Divine Comedy 2: Purgatorio Canto 2 translation by Robin Kirkpatrick (Penguin Books)