Arts and Draughts
Abi Frost

I wish there was some other term than middle class to describe the property owning, 'conservation' sentimentalising, basically colonialist, usually married people whom I increasingly see as my natural enemies and as out to destroy -- not conserve -- everything that makes this country and particularly London delightful. I mean, I'm painfully aware that you don't get much more m.c. than me -- a journalist's daughter, Oxford M.A., working in publishing -- and for an unashamedly elitist arts body as well. If I call them bourgeois, I'd be committing an offence against the French language, never mind the Marxist, and besides everyone would think I was in the SWP or worse. One of the underlying reasons for my slight faghag tendencies is that a fair number of gay men conspicuously don't at the age of 25 suddenly develop a desire to buy a house, rip out its perfectly serviceable inside and then force all their workingclass neighbours to buy Habitat furniture and vegetarian cookbooks. (Then, if said neighbours happen to be Southern Indians, they moan about the smell caused by the world's only great vegetarian cuisine.) All I know is, when I hear the word village (in a London context) I reach for my water pistol.

All this is prompted by a piece in the S. Times about the forthcoming Government auction of the site around Bloomsbury Square bought, but not now to be used, for the British Library extension. The S. Times and the m.c. 'conservationists' whose voice it is whined and whined about the to the environment likely to be caused by relieving some of the strain on an organisation which gets at least one copy of every book published in this country and then has to catalogue, store, give to readers etc. Now the extension's going to somewhere else, and the Hag is selling the site to the highest bidder -- ie for office blocks. Weep! wail! The bookshops! The cafes! Virginia Woolf! The Village Atmosphere! The Tourist Attraction! All to be sacrificed on the altar of an Office Block -- presumably full of News of the Screws readers.

Now, I love the cafe owners and booksellers of Bloomsbury (and elsewhere) as much as anyone ... But I didn't tell everyone to vote for the Hag and I don't believe that the survival and increase of Big Business (or capitalism) are a self-evident Good Thing; and I'm trying to rack my brains to find a way of getting together a society where all these people can thrive and do good rather than being 'conserved' as a tourist attraction. But the m.c.s would hate it.

I read that S.T. piece after coming back from the new Tate -- an object lesson in the dangers of letting a seriously overcrowded institution get a bit more space. They were obviously so delighted to be able to bring out more pieces that it's gone to their head -- and though it's great to see things one had never seen before, the walls are more crowded than they used to be. In the rooms devoted to the lesser people of the immediately post war period, whose paintings are on the small side (canvas rationing?), the general effect is of Rowlandson cartoons of the Royal Academy -- paintings up to the ceiling jostling and groping each other like the crowds below. The other main sufferers are the present Gigantic school -- I mean, a 20 foot rectangle of bright red acrylic needs a bit of space to itself. I even felt sorry for Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy -- the only Hockney I hate.

Terrific to see more of Paul Nash and Burra -- but why did some small and witty prints by the latter have to compete with bloody Warhol's bloody Marilyns? And why did they hang the Rake's Progress (Hockney not Hogarth) so that half way through you had to walk back to the beginning again to follow the story? Good to see Walter Greaves -- his Hammersmith Bridge on Boat Race Day is obviously the source for Dan Thing -- you know, chap who paints demos -- CP member? Only realised after closing time that I hadn't seen any Stanley Spencer -- so there must be more of it.

The biggest crowd (see above) was around Peter Blake's Toy Shop. That's been there ever since I've been going to the Tate -- it was made in 1962. For them as ain't seen it it's a window full of real things from small corner newsagents -- cards of paintbrushes, a tin train, jokes, etc. I played with things like that in the 50s; they weren't oldfashioned in 62. In fact there's even a photo of C. Checker doing the twist among the junk. But of course what the crowd was doing was telling its kids about the Olden Days. Pop Art has become nostalgia!

As for the new Blake room, words fail me. But I'll make a heroic effort --AWFUL. The Blakes (William, you idiot) used to hang in a little room with the PRB -- but the roof leaked. Their attention thus drawn to the need for (it's That Word Again) conservation, the Tate has put them in a Very Special little room which even has a carpet, so we can hear the Very Expensive air conditioning. Lighting is minimal and everything is six inches away from you in a glass box. At least in the Zoo's Midnite World the animals run about and sometimes come and press their noses against the glass to look at you. The room is laid out like a maze, so you have to look at the pictures in the order the Tate tells you to. It's all the fault of tourists -- those swine who don't want to look at pictures, just stand for three seconds in front of each. It's rays from their disgusting bodies that cause water colours to fade -- not God's good tungsten lighting. I'll just have to resign myself to never seeing the Dante illustrations again.

I think next Sunday I'll go on a drinking bout.

New River Blues 1½ (1979)