Monday, 11 May 2009


Saturday. And the date is a palindrome - well it should be because I'm not sure if I'm coming or going: I had an idea of going to an exhibition this afternoon but the draw of a walk up the hill to Netto was too much and I'm now back on the boat having stuffed my face with Ryvita, cheese spread and ham. An infantile minor binge. The sort I can get away with when S isn't here to exert any sensible influence. God knows how much saturated fat I've just consumed - topped off with a packet of Cheesy Whotsits as well. Still, I can satisfy myself that I don't do this sort of vandalism to my insides very often.

There are all sorts of other things I could have done today but didn't. I'm surrounded by the soporific babble of conversation, both human and avian. A goose out on the river seems to protest and the bubbles vent from under the boat with every movement. S is in Newbury this afternoon and evening, celebrating a friend's 40th birthday. It's cloudy but otherwise bright and mild. I've let the Morso go out but the forecast is for it to be a 'chilly' night so I'll prep the stove in a while after I've re-read some of W's draft.

Time for a nice cup of tea. All that Ryvita, ham and cheese has given me a thirst.

There is still much to do to this boat. It's 32 years of existence have left their mark both externally and inside. But its getting some care lavished on it at last. Its very much ours - rather than a standard spec factory boat. I can't imagine ever selling it. 'Its our baby', as S often describes it to friends and family, particularly when the conversation turns to 'issue' and we have no appetite for baby and toddler talk..

I'll run the engine in a bit to
recharge the domestics.

The afternoon rolls into early evening and I can hear some cricketers shouting something like 'howsat!' In the park next to us. Followed by much excited and less orchestrated exclamations.

I do like it here: The park; the rowers; the hasidic jewish community; the bridge and riverside cafe with Springfield Marina opposite. There is less of that achinging trendy set (neo-hippies in designer gear mostly) one tends to get at Victoria Park and Islington. There also is - so far - none of the aggro from gangs of youth who find it amusing to let your boat free in the middle of the night or steal things from you. We are also free of the manic necklaces of cyclists that pound the towpath around the Angel and Victoria Park. Bah-humbug to the sad lot of them and pass me that copy of the Daily Mail.

I'm on my 2nd mug of tea and prevaricating over whether to recharge the batteries by running the engine or getting out the portable generator and firing THAT up. Oh, the choices - both of which are equally unattractive as the peace of the moment is so enjoyable.

Maybe I'll go to the Ray Johnson show tomorrow. It's the last day and Barney has asked for a 'report'. Not sure I'm interested enough though...Shall I go or should I stay. Tomorrow is another day. Hah!

I've just been dismantling (unpicking would probably be a better description) what used to be the family home laundry basket. Just the bottom foot or so is left now. It used to reside in the corner next to the loo in the bathroom at Brookly Gardens. Mum used to tell me to put my dirty stuff in for the wash. And the basket would swallow all manner of things that would emerge a day or two later in pristine condition. It was like alchemy. A magic beyond the understanding of an innocent youth.

Well, now the basket's remains are the fuel for another sort of magic as the thing itself becomes food for the Morso. It's only right and proper that it should go this way. In its time it has swallowed the blood-soaked underwear of my dear dad who suffered badly at times with 'piles'. He would often suffer particularly after doing some heavy work in the garden. In would also go my mums underwear and all those things containing stains that (as the old advert used today) were even difficult to talk about.

I could never have just thrown it in a skip. That would be like throwing away my history of mum, dad, and brother. All those traces contained in its intertwined fibres demanded a slow, processional, almost ritualistic, disposal.

The stories that washing basket could tell if only it could speak. Oh dear, yes. But, on reflection, just as well it can't as it wouldn't relish being cut and pulled apart and stuffed into a stove for heat and cooking and hot water. Nevermind the family secrets.

One of the drivers for this diarising (as management-speak might have it) is as a diversion from what I should really be writing - and that is my 'Duchamp story'. Maybe I should compose it on my Blackberry. Make it part of my blogging. Weave it in to my musings like the bamboo weave of the old laundry basket. So, here goes...

(1912) Marcel, Munich and Gabrielle...

I think he loved her, Garielle, very much. It was much more than just a 'crush' as some writers have it. It was a love that both sustained him and undermined him. It was a young man's silent obsession. She figured in his imagination like a madonna. The part-object of his creative musings. It was his paralysing shyness that sustained his creativity. But driving this was his quiet ambition. His desire to break away from artistic dogma and make that dogma part of the humourous lubrication that facilitated his imaginative machinery. And Gabrielle, was, I think, an unwitting player in this game of self-exile. Duchamp's decision to go to Munich was a brave gamble. But very much part of the game that he would increasingly play with himself and repeat throughout his creative life. It was a giddy test. Gabrielle was a musician and intellectual. She was a writer and avant-gardist, like Marcel - and he wanted to be more so and neither. He wanted to do something so new that it would not fit into any pre-existing form of art. Whether this be painting, theatre, music or sculpture. And he thought that Gabrielle might guide him in some way to that goal he had, in part, set himself. For he had the countenance of a kind of ethical perfectionist. And the overblown theorising of his peers drove him, metaphysically, into the arms of a woman whom he thought - whose very being could offer him something he could not obtain via any other means. In this sense it was imperative that this love was and remained unrequited. She did not touch him. He did not touch her. They would sit in the surrounding darkness of the railway station - talking of things we can only imagine and here I might do that; construct a communication of desire between a young man in his twenties and an older, more sophisticated woman with two children of her own. Moreover, this woman was the wife of Francis Picabia. An exuberant artist-provocateur with independent means and an attitude to life which probably both appalled and attracted the young provincial-born Marcel in equal measure. I think Duchamp considered the Picabias like surrogate parents - but parents who were more dangerous and exciting than his real ones - with no care for the bourgoise norms of this young man's background. They were bohemian royalty and Marcel was consort to both of them with the added frisson of the sexual chemistry that Marcel imagined existed between himself and Gabrielle. I say 'imagined' as this was definitely a one way passion. Gabrielle was interested in Marcel because the desire of this much younger - less 'sophisticated' man fascinated and entranced her. This is not to say she had a patronising attitude towards him. She was certainly very fond of this strange young would-be suitor. But she lived in another world. One in which Marcel was a mere apprentice.

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