I have been spending the past few days in a flat at the corner of Holland Park Avenue and Portland Road, in this verdant corner of the capital. The flat is clean, capacious, and handsome, but terribly modern. Indeed, it is so modern that it will soon be old; it will not exhibit the old age of the time-honoured and true, but rather the tawdry oldness of what had only recently been new. Pedantic students of interior design will study photos of it and discern “2008 I’d say… no! 2009!” But for now, it is still new, still fresh, and so, like a tomato fresh for the plucking, we will enjoy it while its moment is precisely appropriate.
Until now, I hadn’t much knowledge of this part of London, but find it a happy place to be in August. The weather has been mild and kind, and I spent part of the afternoon reading de Maistre — the St. Petersburg Dialogues — in the formal garden in Holland Park. The avenue itself is tree-lined, or rather tree-engulfed, such is the plentiful shade, and has a small selection of cafés: the Paul boulangerie which is becoming omnipresent, and the Valerie patisserie, both chains. Cyrano, at No. 108 Holland Park Avenue, is much preferred, and I decamped there for a light breakfast with a copy of the Scotsman from the local newsstand (the one on Ladbroke Grove, rather than the smaller one by the tube stop) while avoiding the miserable Irish cleaning lady who returns the modern flat to its pristine whiteness every Thursday morning.
Then to the Royal Academy, for the Waterhouse show. What an interesting artist! His earlier works so precise in detail and, for lack of a better word, academic. Yet in his later pieces, you can find a certain willingness to obfuscate, perhaps an admission that reality is not quite so precise and that the most accurate portrayal of reality requires a few lines to be blurred. Faces, and indeed all forms, remain clear throughout, but the architectural coldness of the earlier works on display gradually evolves to a more fluid depiction of Greek mythos and Keatsian tales. Waterhouse can vary in his details from the almost photographic to verging on impressionism in a single painting. Was that his intention? It was certainly the result.
My viewing companion — an old university friend — and I agreed that throughout all the themes portrayed by the artist one can’t help but feel an overwhelming Victorian-ness. Is this ex post facto because we know Waterhouse to be an High Victorian artist, or is there actually some inherent quality in the works that calls to mind that era? Very difficult to say, but those in London should not miss this exhibition of a popular yet under-appreciated artist — the Jack Vettriano of his day.
Who is in London in August anyhow? The text messages sent out, and their replies promptly received. “I’m in Geneva! Will be in Luxembourg next week if you’re on the continent.” I am not and will not be on the continent. “I have been unexpectedly called to Africa.” Well I’ve just come from there, though not the Sudan thank God. “You’re welcome to come to Gozo between the 5th and 15th for a pleasant, quiet holiday.” I will have returned to New York by then, alas. “Am up north in Lancashire; you’re welcome to come and visit, sample our recusant history!” Just haven’t got the time, alas.
But while many have escaped for the month, many yet remain. An afternoon drink at Rafe’s, with Fr. Rupert and Alex Williams. The Carlton is being refitted, so it was drinks at the East India Club instead with another university friend, during which we concur that office jobs are the absolute pits and we should have studied agriculture with the country girls at Cirencester rather than getting tawdry MAs in Scotland. There is no greater affirmation of the consequences of original sin than the omnipresence of the 9-to-5 office job.
Astute observers of this little corner of the web (if indeed we can use the plural for such a subset of the earth’s population) will recall an incident over two years ago now in which a certain Jack Russell terrier became rather more involved with my lower leg than I had envisioned was ideal. The dog, which goes by the name of Cicio Stinkiman, had noticed me playing with the only seeing-eye-dog in Scotland that knows how to genuflect and resented the attention I was paying to the bitch, to whom he obviously professed some attachment, ran up, and bit me in the calf.
You can imagine my surprise when I learnt that the beast in question is actually now not only living in London but actually residing in the Oratory. Indeed I saw the beast from a distance while waiting on Brompton Road for the Friday evening mass last week. His owner graduated from university (in Scotland, like all the wisest people) two years ago now but his mother banned poor Cicio Stinkiman from the German palace he might otherwise call home, perhaps informed along the voluptuous grapevines of Europe of the horrendous incident in which the beast had taken an unwelcome interest in my lower leg.
I am being far too unfair to poor Cicio, for he did apologise, and looked up at me with terribly apologetic eyes. Admittedly, that might’ve been because his master stood nearby holding a rolled-up copy of the Catholic Herald most threateningly. Still, pity the poor ignorant beasts. They have no conscience, and thus no real malice. Only we humans, with the freedom we abuse so easily, can claim that dubious achievement.