market belves2

The smell of rotisserie chicken, and loud bad pop music greet me as I turn the corner into the mediaeval town square of Belves, in Perigord. Stalls are set up all outside the covered centre. Almost next to Sophie’s bread stall is a very old woman selling plums and pigeons.maxcafe

The mediaeval towns of Perigord have beautiful open squares. Under the worn sandstone arches are the antique shops selling expensive crockery, cutlery, lamps, prints and bad paintings. We settle for a rosé at a café table in the sun. Max complains that my drawing makes him look like a thug… but he is wearing a vest.

razor

A big thumb pressing down on my nose and I can see the straight-edge blade coming towards my mouth. I am confident of this man but not of myself. I assume a tacit responsibility for not moving a muscle lest we have a Chien Andalou situation. My face is thick with cooling white stuff, badger-brushed on. How did I get here? Well, by a Christmas gift voucher for the Luxury Wet Shave and train, tube and a walk through Trafalgar Square to the Pall Mall Barbers (est. 1896) – ‘ A mixture of oak panels, ceramic basins and open blades’.

Adrian – thickblackbearded, and not the gorgeous Erin (‘voted the best female barber in Europe’ – blimey) I’d hoped for, makes friendly chat as he prepares. Are you in town for the day? – (how did he know? did he notice the mud on my country gaiters?) – and he makes the best responses he can to my nervous streamofconsciousness about visiting art galleries, and flicks his eyes to the window each time a woman passes.

So: he starts on the face with the cut-throat. Short strokes with the grain of the beard (yes, I’d not shaved for three days – thought I’d make it worthwhile), I can hear the rasp, but there’s no tugging or snagging – it’s actually pleasant. Music playing – an extended two-minor-chord funk groove with incantatory voice over – surely James Brown about to launch into It’s A Man’s World? I can only talk when Adrian takes the razor off my face – it’s for best. Then he wipes off the remaining foam, and relathers, and shaves against the grain (two shaves then!) No nicks cuts pain of course. He wraps my face in a freezing wet towel for a while, then moisturises and aftershaves me. I breathe out, and float, cleansed but closed-pored, into the London street.

CROMWELL

I have the feeling that I’m at his fur-covered shoulder: him, Thomas Cromwell. Henry VIII’s right-hand, and best executive officer. For the last two weeks I have been living in the pages of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winners, and the characters are real people to the reader. I’ve found a book of drawings by Hans Holbein – Drawings from Windsor Castle. Cromwell isn’t in here, but Thomas More is, and his father, son, daughter-in-law; Jane Seymour; Thomas Wyatt, Cromwell’s friend; William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, and Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, who likes to be called ‘Monseigneur’. And ‘A Lady, Unknown’, above whose head is lettered, ‘Anna Bollein Queen’. They’re exquisite drawings, beautifully rendered, intended for transferring onto board for commissioned portraits – you can see the pin-holes in the outlines where dust or chalk would have been pressed through. But the faces are alive: real people.

I go to the National Portrait Gallery, in search of Thomas Cromwell – and here he is, in a painting by Holbein, looking suspicious. Henry, too, massive, small eyes in a slab of face. Anne Boleyn, and a beautiful painting of Mary – ‘Bloody’ Mary. But the drawings in my book – (‘Awarded to Michael Munday for Good Work, June 1958′) – are more alive than the formal paintings, exquisite shading and modelling of faces, and rough but lively marks for the clothes.

There’s a drawing session at 6.30: artist Marc Woodhead and his assistants pass round paper and boards, now in the Stuart galleries, to about 40 of us – all ages, varying abilities, but all keen. The task: draw the people around you, in the context of the gallery. People drawing each other, watched by the dead from their frames. The more you look, the more alive they become…

 

Illustration of Cromwell after Holbein, and drawing in the NPG

owena's

It’s the heat of high summer on my neck, and buzzing, seething sounds. Snuffling, grunting, scratching sounds. Smells too. This pig is much bigger than I thought, and hairier – I think of pigs as pink and rubbery, not being a country person – and now, here I am, squeezing through the gate. The huge sow waddles up to me on her little dainty feet, eyes completely hidden by drooping ears. A bristly wetness on my bare leg, tickling, as she investigates the intruder. Not really interested, though, it’s so hot. She roots around in the weeds for a it, then retires into the shade of her sty, flops down. Carla has already eaten the cap off Emily’s tube of paint, and she’s got a bright green mouth now.

Owena has invited some friends down to her small-holding to draw the animals – she’s an artist herself. We regularly buy excellent meat from her, courtesy of her animals, and now I get to draw them first. So, after a brief talk about how to approach them, I take my sketchbook and decide, initially, which end of the pig to start with. Though they don’t stand still for you – pigs are constantly moving, shifting, flopping, turning.

We move into the rams’ field. We’ve been told not to run away from them – we have to sidle, really. What’s this not-running-away business? Aren’t they sheep with balls? Well, no. They walk purposefully towards you, four of them, in a line, as if they’re going to walk through/over you. We try to look calm and confident, and they walk right up and push you a little (but not actually butting).  But it’s too hot, and they go and stand under the shade of the thorn bushes. I draw them for a while (great horns!) then sidle away. Carefully. I’m in no hurry.

dancing men

Oi!  Men!  What is it about you and dancing? (Sorry – I’m addressing too broad an age range here. Let’s narrow it down). You guys – yes, you over 60: you went to the Palais, the Odeon, the Locarno, the Lyceum, the Marquee, the Flamingo, the Twisted Wheel, or wherever, didn’t you? Did you dance to Otis Redding, Georgie Fame, Zoot Money, The Animals, the Rolling Stones, Geno Washington, and to Tamla Motown, Blue Beat, rocksteady? Then in the late Sixties, to psychedelic stuff by Traffic, Floyd, Arthur Brown? Come on – you know you did! In that willowy, hair-swirling, floppyflared style that we called ‘idiot dancing’? Ah – there’s the rub! It’s the ‘idiot dancer’ memory, isn’t it? I sympathise.

(The hard sell: a new 10-week Contemporary Dance course in Lewes for men and women aged 60 and over. Contemporary dance technique and creative exercise. No prior dance experience is necessary; suitable for all abilities, over 60. Mondays, 5.45pm-7.15pm. 23 September – 2 December)

Venue: Cliffe Hall, Cliffe High St, Lewes.
Contact Lauren at South East Dance: 01273 696844 or lauren.proto@southeastdance.org.uk

http://www.southeastdance.org.uk
http://www.threescoredance.co.uk

bearings

This noise is driving me crazy!! It’s so bad I can feel it in my seatbelt. I can’t hear the engine or the road, or Ry Cooder’s clanging guitar, come to that. I’m driving my Honda Jazz to the garage to have the clapped-out bearings replaced. I’ve had one lot done but the noise has got worse. It’s 40 minutes of aural torture, then relief, I hope.

I book it in, then walk the half-mile on the path beside the noisy road, to the garden centre. A huge Alsatian starts barking crazily at me: enough to deter the casual visitor, but I’m here for breakfast, and to while away the hourandahalf it takes to change the bearings. A burly waiter(? – I don’t know what to call a man who serves breakfast in a garden centre) welcomes me. He’s an old rocker – the softened Triumph tattoo and quiff are the clues – and friendly, but the hash browns are off because the chef hasn’t arrived yet.

I sit and listen to the retired couples at the next table talking about caravan holidays past for forty minutes, till my Full English arrives (it’s worth the wait). The caravanners are driven indoors by wasps  and I stroll around looking at plants and an interesting weather-cock till it’s time to walk back to the garage. I spend two hundred and thirtysomething quid and drive off, listening to Ry’s glistening guitar, and the sound of the road…

whatwedid

1957
Visited Bossiney Cove
Ate many ice-creams
Fell in love with brown girl twins
Looked over many cliff edges (no trace of vertigo)
Told my dad my first dirty joke (not amused)
Threw a wobbly because I was out first ball (cricket)
Watched ‘Treasure Island’ film strip in rain-hammered caravan
Visited King Arthur’s Hall to see the actual Sword in the Stone
2013
Revisited Bossiney Cove
Tested several, found, then ate the ultimate Cornish pasty (plus the ‘breakfast’ and ‘mackerel’ varieties)
Ate freshly caught mackerel in sashimi, ceviché and grilled formats in one meal (and in sandwiches the next day)
Flew the zip wire – 660m – high over the Eden Project domes in an attempt to conquer my vertigo
Went to the top of the rainforest walkway in an attempt to conquer my vertigo
Fell under waterfall in Rocky Valley
Watched Arthur Miller’s The Crucible during a positively Satanic downpour
Found the Lost Gardens of Heligan

http://www.michaelmunday.co.uk

punchdrunk

Standing at the foot of the bed, I’m watching a couple make love with some urgency. I’m watching through the eye-holes of a white skull mask. All round me in the dim light, white skulls are intent on the performance on the bed. It feels uncomfortable, but this is what we’re here for… A woman walks in and drops some costumes onto the bed beside the thrusting pair, smiles down at them, and walks out. Later she will seduce the man herself, or try to.

They’re in the dressing-room of a film studio, a seedy, gloomy place. The skulls all swirl out, following the hastily-zipping pair to the next act…

It’s all in the play, of course. And I won’t tell you more because if you haven’t seen a Punchdrunk production, 1: you really should if you can, and 2: it will spoil it for you.

http://www.michaelmunday.co.uk

Punchdrunk: The Drowned Man – A Hollywood Fable
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HI3XMLhO9I

AFFART

My friends at the Hybrid Gallery have invited me to the private view (free drinks!) at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead, where they have a stand. It’s in a vast plastic marquee with air-conditioning and hectares of art. And thousands of visitors, though I’m here just after it’s opened (more arrive later, hot from the City. No, that’s unkind – there’s a smattering of bankers – what’s the collective noun? A slick of bankers? A shaft of bankers?) – but I imagine most are ordinary people, here to look for art priced between £40 and £4000 (it says on the publicity).

In the entrance foyer, there’s an aluminium Airstream caravan dispensing wine, and a black-clad performance artist slowly scaling her metal construction, to the mild interest of the crowd around her. The DJ plays classic R&B and soul tracks, and stalking through the crowd are attractive young women on stilts, strangely dressed in snorkel, bathing cap and rubber ring, smiling charmingly but professionally. In fact, I get smiled at a lot as I walk round, which is nice (I’m on my third plastic wine glass by now), but I’m not here to buy. There is so much art here: formulaic much of it, ‘designed’ to sell, gimmicky, clever, artfully-distressed. Nostalgic iconography, pop motifs, figure painting… Everything is beautifully crafted, but there is still much that seems honest, that comes from the heart of a lone artist in a small room.

So why am I here, if I’m not buying anything? To see my friends, sure, but also to be excited, stimulated, and kick-started; to get painting again. After the third rosé, I’m feeling a bit less overwhelmed, but I can’t shake off the thought of the hundreds of thousands of artists in this country desperate to have their work seen. And I wonder – art: is it a commodity? does it still have value in the age of instant high-tech gratification? And the old question: what constitutes art? Aaaagh…

http://hybrid-devon.co.uk/

 

PS: my friend Peter Clark tells me that the collective noun for bankers is a ‘wunch’. Thanks Peter!

Rapture

We have stumbled on Three Dog Night at The Hand in Hand. Gill and I are in a tender embrace as the dogs embark on a tri-partite sexual encounter (as dogs will) around our feet. In the middle of this tiny Kemptown pub, we’re being filmed, dogs and all. Huddled in the corner are the members of The Self Help Group, playing their song, The Rapture. It’s not a gig, it’s the making of their music video. Jamie and Stevie, from The Union Music Store, quickly had to find a replacement film set, and The Hand in Hand is it. As we go through our dance routine for the film, regulars walk past the camera, completely unfazed, to the bar (three steps) and perch on a stool, with or without dog.

We have already been filmed doing our sequence in eighteen situations: in a misty field (cold); in the window of a charity shop; on the rock promontory at Rottingdean (slightly scary, colder); at the checkout in Asda (the security guard smiled and looked away); in the glass lift in Churchill Square mall, beside a large man in a very large wheelchair; on a Brighton rooftop (really cold)… Passers-by ignore us (probably thinking, well, this is Brighton) until finally a woman eating a pie asks us if we’re getting married.

Now in The Hand in Hand, we’ve finished the shooting, the band put their instruments away, and I can finish my pint of Dark Star Darkness. A lovely pub, and it’s the Kemptown Brewery too. And the music – acoustic-based, sweet songs, with the most gorgeous harmonies. On The Self Help Group’s Facebook page, they describe themselves as a ‘Brighton band making pretty music about mostly miserable stuff’. Their album, Not Waving But Drowning, is out on the Union Music Store label, and their next gig is at The Brunswick, Hove on the 31st May. Enough plugging. Get off, dogs!

Now: you can see the finished video at http://sitefy.com/theselfhelpgroup/welcome

http://theselfhelpgroup.bandcamp.com/

http://unionmusicstore.com/

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