November 27, 2019

6.00 am: I awoke. In fact, I’d awoken a number of times during the night. Rarely, do I get a good night’s sleep when I really do have to be up early, when failure to wake up could have catastrophic consequences. Today was such a day. 7.00 am: While on my way to the bus station, I saw the town’s Christmas tree arrive in the square:

7.15 am: The Abstraction module contingent clamoured onto the coach in the drizzle. We took to the road, hoping but failing to drop-off to sleep en route to Birmingham. The coach stopped for a ‘comfort break’ (that’s to say, NOT a late-breakfast opportunity) at a bland service station outside Telford.

11.00 am: An hour later, having found the drop-off point, we were walking three sides of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery – the main entrance having been blocked by building works – to a side-door. This was our first port of call.

The students were conducting an exhibition review project examining abstract paintings in the context of the collection. I began with a planned essay tutorial with one student over coffee and hot chocolate at the Museum’s Edward Tea Rooms. The place beat my office hands down:

Afterwards, I hung around the galleries in order to sidle up to students and inquire after their work.

12.45 am: I took lunch at Grand Central station (or Birmingham New Street station, as it’s also more modestly referred to) for a Mexican lunch. On the spur of the moment, I attended ‘said’ (that is to say a music-less) Holy Communion at the Anglican Cathedral. It was an oasis in the wilderness – a necessary corrective, and a context within which to join with something bigger, grander, lovelier, and more enduring.

1.45 pm: On, then, to the Library of Birmingham. I’ve not been here since early 2014. The architecture is very Star Trek. It gave me a respite of a different sort: time to catch up on departmental business, news, and family matters:

I gave the library’s interactive exhibition a miss, anticipating that it would drain my phone battery. 3.30 pm: Back, then, to the museum, where I sought out all the abstract and semi-abstract works in the collection, and tried to respond to the module’s exhibition report project in my head.

In a collection this varied and vast, one has to box clever and make imaginative links between the abstract and figurative, the modern and earlier works. There was an intriguing painting by Anwar Jalal Shemza, entitled The Wall (1958–85), informed by the lines and patterns of Moghul architecture. It had an uncanny resemblance to the facia of the Library of Birmingham, close by. Thus the painting connected with the external world and another artwork.

By 4.00 pm, we were ready for home. Students assembled and sat in a seated area between galleries like passengers in an airport departure lounge. Later, we ambled through shiny streets and thin rainfall to our pick-up point for a prompt 5.00 pm departure:

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