Friday 30 July 2010
I’m not in the office today; decided to work four-day weeks for the rest of the summer, since the summer school fiasco used up all my spare money and I can’t afford to go away again. So today I’m going to the Alice Neel show at the Whitechapel Gallery.
Whitechapel, where I worked for a while in the 1990s, in a hot, square, converted cloth warehouse now the head office of a drugs and mental health charity. Whitechapel, home to the largest British-Bangladeshi community, where every morning more and more of the young mothers taking their kids to school were wearing the niqab – black ghosts on the tidy, sterile streets of the public housing estates. Whitechapel Gallery, where I often had lunch with my friend C, where one day in the café she confided something that stunned me and quite changed my image of her. I thought of calling her about the exhibition. My friend who died a few months ago. Whitechapel, where I never go these days.
I’m pathologically defended with people – probably the result of a mother who bared her (not very nice) soul to me, as messy, damaged adult souls should not be bared to young children who don’t have a context for the pain, who held me close, too close, her little acolyte. You can’t be pathologically defended against everything and remain alive and sane, so perhaps I give my heart too readily to places, let them bathe me in all the love and hate and fear that make up their auras, and when it all becomes too much I leave and can’t go back. My little world is full of ordinary places that were once familiar, daily territory, that grew so loaded with feelings, good and bad, that when life moved on they stayed there, vivid ‘hot spots’ in my mental landscape, places to be avoided for fear of getting burned.
Norwich proved, after all these years, to be a hot spot. Yorkshire, where I used to live, is definitely one – I didn’t go back for more than twenty years. London has its hot spots too. In such a big city you can easily avoid large areas. Holloway, where I lived for nearly a decade with friends I no longer see – I don’t go there. Kings Cross, where I worked in the job that brought me to London, was off my map for the longest time, until the opening of the lovely Kings Place arts centre brought it back into ‘my’ London. I recall consciously trying not to fall into this syndrome when I left the job I did for nearly fifteen years, in a backstreet office in Clapham from where politicians and their acolytes came and went to destinations all over the world (mmm, still an acolyte). It was strange indeed to realise that office would no longer be the magnetic pole that everything whirled around. I didn’t want a hot spot just three miles from my house, so I made an effort to keep in touch, call in from time to time, and bit by bit the place began to lose its charge – better: these ‘hot spots’ are not very healthy.
So, anyway: Whitechapel, Alice Neel - I think that’s another blogpost.