Summa: diary (February 9-10, 2023)

‘ It’s like I’ve landed on a different planet’ (Life on Mars (2006)).

February 9 (Thursday). I’ve not been to London in almost three years. The day I returned home from there, on March 15, 2020, the Government advised citizens not to undertake unnecessary journeys. Covid-19 had begun to take a firm grip on the country. The following day the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that we’d be through the pandemic in twelve weeks. I vividly recall leaving Euston Station sensing that I’d not return for some time. My principle reason for travelling today, as then, is to attend a performance at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. (My sons had bought be a ticket for Christmas.) This would be another memorable Harvey Boyz outing.

12.15 pm: I arrived at Euston Station, as though from self-imposed exile. While waiting to meet my sons, I travelled to St Paul’s tube station and the Embankment. There, I sat on a bench with the Spring sunlight on my face and my eyes closed (listening), reflecting upon those many thousands who’d died due to the pandemic during the interval between now and the last time that I’d visited this spot. Today, even the least of things seemed vivified. Nothing was any longer commonplace. It was good to have life, and to have it abundantly.

While buying a hot drink from an outdoor vendor, he told me about a friend who’d been a lawyer in the City. Her father had died suddenly from Covid-19 at the outset of the pandemic. She has not been the same since, and was forced to give up her career as a result. I walked to Southwark, where I caught the closing prayer at the service of Unsung Evensong, and lit a candle, in the cathedral.

3.00 pm: Having gathered at the entrance to Tate Modern’s Turbine Room, the Harvey Boyz visited the Cezanne exhibition. (What happened to the acute accent over the first ‘e’ of his name, in my absence?) It’s impossible to underestimate his importance to the development of modern art. We’d not have abstraction if it weren’t for Cubism, and we wouldn’t have Cubism if it weren’t for Cézanne. To my mind, he was the first artist in the modern period to undertake painting as research. Therefore, he’s the godfather of doctoral study through fine-art practice. My sons and I discussed his work like pros.

My wife and I have taken them to art galleries since they were babes in arms. Today, they weren’t trying to count how many bunnies could be spotted in early-Renaissance paintings. Instead, the quest was to determine how Cézanne had reinvented the concept of pictorial space, stressed the objecthood of paintings, and insisted that they should be considered first and foremostly as the outcome of intellectually-informed perceptions and formal design. (The significance of subject matter took a poor second place in his works. Often, it was entirely neutral – merely a clothes-hanger on which he hung his acts of seeing and representing.)

Hank’s Guitar Store, Denmark Street and the Marquee Club. Wardour Street, London (with acknowledgment to themarqueeclub.net).

4.00 pm: We took a tube train in to the city centre and headed for Denmark Street to pay homage at the too few guitar shops that remain, and dine. We were joined by my elder son’s partner. 7.00 pm: Finding ourselves with time to kill before the evening’s performance at Ronnie Scott’s, we headed for a pub nearby. Those that we’d patronise in good conscience were full to the brim. Reluctantly, we alighted upon a Wetherspoon on Wardour Street. It’s only redeeming feature is that the premises was once home to the Marquee Club (from 1964 to 1988). Here, many of the major jazz, rock, and punk bands had played during its twenty-five year lifetime, including: Alexis Korner, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, and the Sex Pistols.

9.00 pm: We were at the jazz club to hear the saxophonist Kenny Garrett. He’d played with the late Miles Davis on one studio and several live albums in the late 80s and early 90s. (One degree of separation.) Garrett’s playing was astonishing. At times, I felt he was channelling Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. There were moments of frenzy that resolved into an almost religious ecstasy. Like Cézanne, Garrett moves forward while looking backwards – allying innovation and tradition. We had a blast!

February 11 (Friday). 9.00 am: From the balcony of my son’s and his partner’s flat you could see the River Lee and the London Stadium (formerly the Olympic Stadium.) To my mind, the 2012 Olympics was the last occasion when the UK was united, forward looking, confident, and admirable. Afterwards, it descended into the abyss of xenophobia, isolationism, hatefulness, insecurity, division, bigotry, deceit, and corruption.

The Harvey Boyz went in search of their breakfast, taking their route through Victoria Park and returning via the canal towpath. (I’d enjoyed the best almond croissant I’d ever eaten.) 11.00 am: On, then, to the city centre for lunch at a rather swish Taiwanese restaurant. Here, behind glass, the cooks ‘manufacture’ bao like lab technicians process microchips.

Before taking the train back to Aberystwyth, I inducted my sons into L. Cornelissen & Son (Artists’ Colourmen), on Great Russell Street. Every visit, I’m overwhelmed. They have everything worth having. And you’ll pay a pretty price for the best of it. Many a poor art student has come to their ruin in this shop.

2.40 pm: One of the highlights of the last few days has been the thought that I’d be taking my sons home with me for the weekend. I’d forgotten how perilous the return journey could be: wifi failure, old rolling stock, delays, unscheduled changes, confusion, and a conspicuous absence of people in the know when you need them most: the signs of broken Britain.

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