Thursday, 8 October 2009

Close encounter of a personal kind, two

It was a barbecue in north west London, a Sunday afternoon at a friend’s, with beer and baked meats and cakes. Sunny and relaxed in a lovely garden and a beautiful Victorian house.

Fortunately, I was more prepared for what happened than the person I encountered. The host was a psychoanalyst and — I knew — a friend to at least one of the tutors on my course. One in particular.

I saw this particular tutor as soon as I walked in. She recognised me, of course. But she took a few moments to work out who I was. Context is all. This was a kind of category error, an eruption of one part of her life into another. It made her feel awkward, I could see. So I moved on to the beer and baked meats.

A little later, I found myself sitting opposite her. She talked about the course, about the strains of Saturday morning seminars, of how the money wasn’t great. Mostly, though, she talked about the students. She was interested in them and concerned for them — or rather, us — in a way that was hard for a non-teacher like myself to imagine. She cared in a way I never would.

Then she asked me why I hadn’t turned up to several of her Saturday morning seminars. I think she said I missed two. Or that I’d only turned up to two. I’m not sure which. I can’t remember my answer. I do know, though, that I didn’t tell the truth.

Then her husband rescued me. ‘What is she like as a teacher?’ he asked. At this moment, of course, the whole patio fell silent and looked to me and my answer. My brain raced and raced and raced. A breath or two passed, maybe. ‘Charismatic,’ I said, telling a truth.

He was pleased. She was pleased. My wife was impressed at my unusual of deployment of tact.

Next up What happened next

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Close encounter of a personal kind, one

Around the time I was doing my exams, a friend invited me to her final show for her art degree. Like me, she was a mature student and presumably making up for something she’d missed out on first time round. Or, rather, felt she had.

It was at Goldsmiths — which is where I took my first degree all those years ago. I’d driven past the building many times. It was on the way to my parents’ house. I’d even walked past it once, with a friend who was set on showing me the bright lights of New Cross. (We didn’t find them. Even the pub in which they filmed Shaun of the Dead was closed, shuttered, boarded, beerless.) But I hadn’t entered Goldsmiths since the day of my last exam.

I knew the art school had a spanking new building, designed by Will Alsop. I’d even got a look at it when I was taken in search of hip New Cross. So I assumed that the show would be in there.

It wasn’t. It was at the back of the back field — which meant I had to go through the front entrance. The way I’d first entered the building when I went there for an interview. The way I’d entered it every time I turned up for a lecture or seminar — which wasn’t that often. The way I’d entered it the day of my final final exam.

How was it? Odd. What was odd about it? That it wasn’t odd. It didn’t feel strange. It didn’t bring back memories. There was a new lighting system but that aside, it looked pretty much the way it did the last time I saw it. We turned right at the front door, then left and down the corridor which led to the side entrance to the main hall in which I had sat down and written my exam. The corridor I’d walked across as I left the exam for the student union bar.

What did I feel? Surprisingly little. I didn’t feel like a stranger or a prodigal son. It wasn’t unpleasant. It wasn’t exciting or comforting or even evocative. It was just . . . the way it was. It was somewhere that I once was and now wasn’t. As a part of my past, it seemed to have no connection with my present. That was then, this was now. Done, dusted. Resolved perhaps.

And the final show itself? That was not that different from way back when either. Lots of conceptual work. Goldsmiths was not big on painting then and it’s even less big on it now. The only major change was the amount of video work. Virtually every ‘piece’ had a video showing itself back to its viewers (and itself). Reflections of the way it used to be — even if only a microsecond earlier

Next up A close encounter at a north London barbecue

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Testing, four . . .

So this year's exams? How did it go?

Well, it was different, in several ways. One, I'd done three-quarters of the exams last year so I only had three questions to answer. Two, to be honest, I'd done a lot less reading this year. Three, I was caught up in finishing my book.

So it was a kind of exams-lite. The revision wasn't so much revision as learning the stuff for the first time. I did my spreadsheet of past questions but it took so little time it didn't feel like it was making the contribution it did last year.

I can't remember exactly how much revision I did. It certainly wasn't as much as I did the previous year and I certainly didn't feel that anxious about the exams. I didn't exactly swan up to them but I did aspire to - maybe even pretend to. I definitely worked hard at concealing any furious below-water paddling there might have been.

Next up Two close encounters, one with my younger self