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Bosco Redmond take the 'Chechnya Shuttle' to London

Poussin                                                         Rubens

Dozens of schools are closed. There is the annual excuse ‘the heating has failed’. And when you phone up this perennial has additions,’...students' buses are sliding off the road; see there isn’t enough salt to grit the roads.’ 
‘Eh right...well,thank you.’                                                                                                  
You put down the phone. Great the schools are closed. Luckily big sister is home to look after you kids.                                                                                              
“Where are you off to Dad, Londinium?”                                                                                                                     

As you head out of the front door, the radio in a soothing BBC voice is informing the nation that ‘....Yes, the earliest widespread snowfall for nearly two decades had brought a mixture of misery and delight to Britain today.’ Cheery stuff.

Great. I hitch up my scarf to keep off the biting wind around my ears. Ok, let me set out my aspirational stall and let you know that I am heading to London to hear a lecture on Poussin and Rubens. I presume it is on the derivative nature of art. Yes, I do this kind of thing - head into London, sometimes to attend PhD type talks where I am gob smacked by how bright and intelligent the students are. Yet when I look up what they have been referring to I find that their apparent brilliance is derivative and comes from some paper or other. This realisation deflates me, but it shouldn’t for I have long accepted the Derridean stricture on being much troubled by the origins of originality.

I take in the other citizens of this South of England town bracing the bitter cold with austere faces for we are in austere times, are we not?  Thanks to Commissar Gordon Brown for his rusting tractors legacy and golden wheat field ideology, his largesse and beneficence has left us trillions in debit. Why didn’t he just get a job as a History Professor instead of sitting at our table for two decades like an unwanted guest compelled to put the pathology of his ambition on show?

The arctic wind bites into my face as I make for the station. I hitch my scarf up around my ears and pull down my woollen cap so that only my eyes are visible.
A view from the seventh century. If this was France I would be arrested by le Flics for this attire.  

I am irritated when I think of the conversation I have just had with a ‘writer’ friend and auto-didact extrodinaire.  Let’s call him ‘Martin’. I do wonder about Martin, he is such a good man and that is rare, but he seems to carry the burdens of the auto-didact, as if his self image depends on demonstrating that his knowledge is of a magnitude greater than other peoples (i.e. me). He would appear to have a desire to outdo everybody else.  Good old compensatory Martin, he just seems hell-bent on letting you know that he has arrived at insights that you and the rest of the world have missed. God, he is irritating.

Only my eyes are visible as I head to the station, but they are watering now with the cold. The scarf and hat comes off at the station and I return to open faced democracy, I stamp my feet on the platform, Jesusssss, (I use these religious terms the same way as any lapsed Catholic would) it is cold enough to freeze the cojones off a brass monkey

I settle in on the train, and am braced for the babble of accents on mobiles;
 Russians; Poles; Lithuanians and other nationalities that are politically incorrect to name.  I get out my book. It is a commentary on being ‘no one’; of your subjectivity not existing. This is soon verified by the passengers using their mobiles for there is no sense of self consciousness. Nothing is sacred to these people as they vocalise their dirty washing. I think of mobiles as a vast technological money making confidence trick which has broken the bounds of privacy. I have to get away from this the communal washing in public.

I return to the book. So what does this book say? ‘...the emergence of a first person perspective,’ yeah....’you may think you are an Island of presence...but this has only arrived at through overarching representational context governing phenomenal experience, and this context generates the experience of presence.’ Don’t understand that at all.

 Yet impressed by the book, I try to think of my subjectivity being a hole in the doughnut, but my doughnut the sugary, well fed part, can’t help noticing the actions of a young man two seats ahead. He is crunching crisps. Now I understand that part of the enjoyment of eating crisps is aural, i.e. the crunch of the crisps in your ear. However this enjoyment does not apply to the person who has to listen to this.

After what seems an interminable time he finishes his crisps and I watch as he holds the empty bag of crisps up the air and shakes it so as any crisplets that were too minute for his fingers to grasp might drop into the open chasm which he offer up to the crisp packet. Then to my amazement after a short respite he does the same thing again. A brief pause and he does it again. Is this a religious thing, it looks like a sacred ritual to me.

Our Chechnya shuttle will stop at all the stations picking up all the babushkas that inhabit this part of the South East England.  And at the first stop a gaggle of overweight babushkas board the train. There is much animated conversation. For I gather as does everybody else within a wide radius that these women are off on a shopping expedition. Where do they get the money?  They can hardly string a sentence together. They are all about this side of thirty and to say they are ‘big boned’ is to demean euphemism.  Their conversation predictably falls on what was on the ‘tele’ last night. They talk of the characters they saw on ‘the box’ as if they were real people, friends. I think the virtual is alive and well and thriving on trains into London.

By the time we reach the next bleak station that has a car park jam packed full of metal and a back drop of fast food signs. I am considering emigrating to Lithuania. You look at the overflowing car park and it dawns on you that these people never walk anywhere. You then think of the two most used words in UK schools:  answer ‘Gay’ and ‘Car’. Lithuania must be better than this!

A ‘heavy set’ woman has got on with a small child who has a hacking cough. She sits close to the quartet of massive babushkas and without much ceremony is intruding in on their ‘tele’ conversation.
“Yeah, I missed that bit; I popped out for a ‘fag’.                                                                       
This piece of information is accompanied by the hacking cough of the child.  Now they are all onto ‘smoking’.
“I tried to give it up but when you are well stressed out and everyfing...”
“I never have more than ten a day and I never smoke when we is eating.”
Hold on isn’t a packet of ten cigarettes £345 now?
“My ‘Dad smoked two packets a day and he lived till he was eighty.”
The child continues to hack out its cough, and in my goody two shoes way I think of the 600.000 people or so a year who are killed by passive smoking. I shudder for the child on the train.

The Babushkas are getting more animated for they will soon be arriving at ‘Bromlyiskyva’ where there are many malls and arcades, for these citizens are going ‘shopping’. Where do they get the money? I think of the UK monetary well, which is now a well with little water. Surely Lithuania would be better than this?  

I arrive at Victoria station thinkng London would be warmer all those millions of people but it is even colder than the Caucicus.  I head for the Lecture; I will stride out from Victoria Station across Green Park, rather than pay £5 for a one stop ride on our Mayor’s third world tubes. The walk rejuvenates me and I reach Trafalgar Square, to notice there are not many tourists today which make the homeless more visible. There they are sitting on the pavements huddling under filthy blankets, some of them accompanied by trembling mongrels.

I enter the Lecture Theatre. Some of the homeless have bagged the seats nearest the radiators. After a while and  elderly man enters and starts talking                  
‘Good morning I will begin by saying  that artists have argued about art since the earliest prehistoric painters debated the advisability of including human figures amongst the animals on the walls of their caves. It goes without say that in matters of taste, there is always room for disagreement.'

One of the homeless has wrapped his arms around a radiator as if he is going to prise it off the wall.

“...And this disagreement is no more evident than in the ‘Poussenist’ versus the ‘Rubenists’.

An attendant is endeavouring to prise the homeless man’s hands off the radiator.
I think - what is the price of property in Bella Ruse, or Vilnius?

‘...The longest, most divisive, art controversies took place in France during the mid-1800s. The two camps were called the Poussinistes and the Rubenistes after their titular idols, Nicholas Poussin and Peter Paul Rubens.'

The attendant is remonstrating with the homeless one who appear to be handcuffed to the radiator.

The Poussinistes proclaimed the primacy of drawing and draughtsmanship in painting while the Rubenistes argued that colour should rule the day. The Poussinistes followed the well-worn path of classical art from Greek and Roman antiquities up through the Renaissance. The Rubenistes adored the vibrant colours and aggressive brushstrokes of the more recent Baroque artists.

God, I feel wiped out, the ‘Chechnya shuttle’ has done me in.

‘Actually, Poussin and Rubens themselves had little or nothing to do with the controversy. The real protagonists were Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Eugène Delacroix (pronounced Dela-qua).

 My head is lolling forward, I jerk it upright.

Ingres had been a student of the outstanding classical master-painter Jacques-Louis David (pronounced Da-veed) and was 18 years older than his rival. The competition between the two split the French Royal Academy of Painting and...’ head lolls forward again.

‘Of course by that time, the young Turks of Impressionism were deciding the whole matter was something of a moot point anyway. And while they might tend toward The Rubenistes colour theories and painting techniques, they hated the academic arguments and classical subject matter of...’

I am asleep, pronounced a s lee p and dreaming of the city of Rouen pronounced  'Roo  on' ....what, what here am I....’ How long was I asleep?  I sit bolt upright as if hit by a sten gun.

‘...The fact is neither side was entirely right or entirely wrong. Given the state of art, and painting in particular, in the 1800s, both sides needed each other. Drawing offered form, and paint provided colour. Without both there would have been no painting at all.'

I reach for my bottle of water, bloody hell, must have nodded off. The homeless ones hands have been prised from the radiator and he now sits with his back against the resting with his legs stretched out across the aisle.

‘...The theories of hemispheric domination were, of course, unknown at the time, but the matter essentially came down to a left-brain/right-brain approach to painting.'
I must listen to this...this is interesting stuff to bring something back for the kids and their GCSE art projects.

In the aisle a person leaving trips over the feet of the homeless one.  Giggles are heard as the man goes arse over tip onto the carpet.

‘The left side of the brain being the analytical side, demanded careful drawing, adherence to scientific rules, even in matters of aesthetics and colour theory. Dozens of preliminary sketches were meticulously condensed to a single, tightly drawn image on canvas to which carefully muted colours were delicately added over an extended period of time. The right side of the brain, being the visual and emotional hemisphere, tended toward an instinctive approach both in drawing, and especially in colour use.'

More people are leaving...I feel sorry for the Lecturer

‘Drawing was done with a brush with wet paint swishing sensuously over virgin canvas, evolving into emotionally charged patterns of light and dark, then to powerful masses of vibrant colour and texture. Paintings were often executed; start to finish, in only a few hours of ecstatic painting frenzy. Today, not all that much has changed of course. The only difference is the names--the Rockwellians and the Pollockers perhaps?  Thank you for attending.'

I applaud vigorously. As I stand to leave I note that that the homeless looking types, as if glued to their seats appear to have no intention of leaving. In the foyer I notice the Lecture timetable; there is another Lecture in half an hour entitled ‘The Road to Calvary’. Speaking of which If I hurry across Green Park I will be in time to catch 15.32 ‘Chechnya shuttle’.

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