I’m always excited about visiting the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.
One past year had a huge gorilla constructed from coat hangers. Another year I offered to take a reader of this blog on a free tour of the exhibition. Padmini took me up on it. I’ve been a fan. A defender.
But this year… It’s just…
Great to see old favourites – Norman Ackroyd, Anselm Kiefer, Barbara Rae and others. But overall it just didn’t get me going.
It was the Austerity Measure from the Henningham Family Press that most caught my eye.
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Why is that I often find myself sitting at the computer, trying to write, pondering this word or that turn of phrase, until I realise I’m cold, chilled, almost shivering? Anyone with a titter of wit would have got up and turned on some heat. But, of course, you get distracted, caught up in things…
But I don’t think that’s it. I reckon it’s some kind of austerity mentality. I’m far (far far) too young to remember “the war”. I can’t remember it because I wasn’t even thought of, never mind born. But when I was growing up there was a kind of self-rationing in our home. Maybe it was to do with “the Troubles” outside the front door. Or more likely it was from the World War Two home front experiences of my parents, or their parents.
So, you’d turn down the heat. You’d turn off a bar. You’d layer up with jumpers. You’d turn off lights. You’d hold out as long as possible before turning them on in the first place. You’d be extra vigilant to prevent any heat escaping. (See Des Bishop for a hilarious update on this.) No door to be left open. No tap to be left running. All sorts of bits and bobs to be gathered and stored away for some fantastical future possible use. (“Oh, might come in handy some day if you were stuck on a desert island.”)
And, in a country full of cows, milk, butter and cheese, you’d always spread the margarine across your toast as thinly as possible. More of a scrape than a spread, to send burnt crumbs bouncing behind your knife.
It wasn’t because we were poor. We weren’t. Nor am I now. But I suppose some attitudes are hard to unlearn.
(Going back to the shivering in front of your computer aspect of things. I visited the Roald Dahl Storytelling Centre in Great Missenden today. Good stimulating place for the imagination. I recommend it. They have a reconstruction of Roald Dahl’s writing shed. He had a special armchair with a hole cut in its back, to better support his back. An electric heater was suspended from the ceiling to keep his head warm. He legs were encased in a blanket or sleeping bag. And he wrote on a board propped up at just the right angle, on a roll of corrugated cardboard, each end resting on an arm of the chair. At his right hand a flask of milky tea. Four hours of uninterrupted peace each day.)