Friday, 27 June 2014

Memories, like ripples in water.

It’s Tuesday and, as you know, I have (after 48 years) retired from watching England play international football. It’s fair to say that England gave up the game before I did.

What could I do to take my mind of the game with Costa Rica? What was so far removed from football that I could forget, without the need to join the French Foreign legion?

I went to see some old friends.

In fact I went to the Courtauld Institute – it’s an educational charity which is why you have to pay £6 to get in. Believe me it’s worth every penny and if you go on Mondays it’s half price.



These are just the best pictures (fewest, greatest, wowiest) you can see in a small place.

The Courtaulds were textile millionaires who wanted to be remembered for something other than being capitalist gangsters (which is what they were). They wanted to set up an educational trust and display old master pictures to show everyone how cultured they were.

Their act of genius was to employ a young art historian just out of Cambridge as a secretary; Anthony Blunt.

Even though his first love was the renaissance and Poussin, he scoured Europe and got them to buy up impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces which were then available at (relatively) knock down prices.

It is just the most amazing collection of pictures. You don’t believe me?

Degas, Manet, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Seurat (there’s a lot of Seurat – I could just slip one of those little oil sketches under my jacket and…..) Renoir, Cézanne (Oh they are so good), Pissaro, Dufy (love Dufy). Did I mention Picasso?

If none of that means anything to you then gamble £6 and see if you aren’t amazed.

Old friends? The first time I went to the Courtauld I was a student and it was hidden on the third floor of London University; a bequest that no one (as in government) really wanted and didn’t want to spend any money on.

My old friends were crammed into too tight a space, hidden in nooks and corners and the whole mess was being jealously guarded by Anthony Blunt who was then the director. His was a life and a half – he will get the credit he is due one day.

So it was a journey back in time 37 years. It was also a trip into the future too – an exhibition of prints that was really an exploration into form and shapes. Take a look, it was good.

This is a sculpture which carves sand into zenlike patterns with one paddle and then wipes them out with the other at the same time; it hypnotizes.
That wasn’t the real reason I was there; I wanted to see ‘The Return of the Rudeboy’, a photographic celebration of Rudeboy culture.


It was OK, good photos but there were two problems.

While there is a resurgence of the dress and mannerisms of that era amongst some young black men, the whole scene was about gangsters and about an era of confidence and optimism that came after Jamaican independence. That’s why the music was so bright and powerful too; today the gangsta’s are wearing brand new trainers. That may change, but I really don’t think so.

The second problem? I have, well, a certain look you know.

The problem? Japanese tourists started to take photos of me – thinking I was an exhibit.

After a few shots I moved on – had a look at the textile exhibition of the Albers family – not really my thing although I like the Bauhaus.

I went back and had a second trip round the Courtauld.

Then at 5pm I had an appointment at The Museum of Water;

It’s over on Sunday, so you may have missed it but then it goes on tour; first stop Denmark.


That’s the artist Amy Sharrocks accepting my second donation; some 1664 lager (a bit diluted) from the top of Box Hill on Midsummer’s Night, holding hands with Robyn watching Lord Snooty’s fireworks 50 miles away at Glyndebourne. Thanks Lord Snooty.

It’s a magical, humane artwork and if you get a chance to see it my exhibits are 431 and 487. One day they will be on the website at – take a look if you can.

By then I was tired out and needed an injection; in the toilets at grand Somerset House on The Strand.

I left early and went to McDonalds at Charing Cross for a meal and for some very sentimental reasons.

In 1978, I took part in an Anti-Apartheid protest against my university which was profiting from companies operating in racist South Africa.

It was a weeklong hunger strike and at the end of it all a friend helped a couple of us stagger (yeah really) into that McDonalds for a strawberry milkshake. It was all we could take and you have no idea how good it was.

We lost that battle but we won the war.

Had another milkshake, just for old times sake.

Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)
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