Tag Archives: London

Bad parenting and TO THE LIGHT: Yoko Ono and Ai Wei Wei at the Serpentine

Somehow, supermum had managed to convince herself that the Princess Diana Memorial Playground was in Hyde Park as opposed to the best part of a mile’s trudge across Kensington Gardens. I was grumpy and still weirded out by various work-related miseries. Dudelet was on a mission to annoy everyone and little elf was taking full advantage of this with a sickening display of decent behaviour. Sarcasm is instinctively written in her bones. I just wanted utter silence and to contemplate the abyss of my working life. Supermum was probably quite happy to be where we were but no doubt devoutly wished the whole crew of us on Pluto.

Then we realised that we’d accidentally parked outside the Serpentine. So we wandered over to look at the Ai Wei Wei/Herzog & de Meuron pavilion. It was twenty metres away and I managed to squeeze in two more instances of appallingly bad parenting along the way. Dudelet burst into tears. I burst into tears and simmered at the same time. Little elf skipped obliviously into the pavillion’s shady depths and I followed her, hoping it would swallow me up.

In a way, it did, a little. The photographs available don’t really do its odd presence, at once chthonic and airy, justice. A flat round roof overlays a partly below ground-level space full of curved walls and gently stepped levels heading in different directions and rather ugly IKEA lights. It’s like a deconstructed amphitheatre. Cork stools shaped like giant button mushrooms or champagne corks – champagne being something at once rooted in earth, permeated with air and emblematic of all things playful and extravagant – are scattered here and there. Little elf and dudelet ran back and forth and dudelet ran over and hugged me. I hugged him back. We all peered over the edge of the pavilion’s flat roof. It was covered in water and mosquito larva but one sense of it was clear. Earth, sea and sky.

Then we went in to see the Yoko Ono exhibition. First, dudelet and little elf had their pictures taken to join her #smile project then they attacked the all-white chess set which was attracting a large quantity of equally puzzled young people. I asked dudelet why he thought it was white.

“So that people don’t know if they’re winning,” he decided. Little elf, showing a flicker of little goblin, then tried to win by knocking all the other pieces over and we made a hasty exit for the galleries.

In there, we queued to walk around a perspex maze after watching other visitors wander around it, arms outstretched like blind men or women. It’s a simple maze and (I think) a simple point – how easy it is to see how others are on a wrong path and taking the wrong turn, not so easy for oneself – but one that’s made quite powerfully. Dudelet and I went in together and we found our way to the centre. Once inside, you forget that other people are watching you. We reached the centre, a simple square plinth, hollow, with a still pool of water at the bottom. It was inside a small, private enclosure. I told him I was sorry and kissed the top of his head. Then he led the way out and we watched little elf lead supermum around the small labyrinth looking absolutely delighted with herself.

There were other pieces (“Look! Bums!”) but the maze meant the right thing at the right time, as did the Ai Wei Wei pavilion. Later, we were all grouchy with each other once more – it’s been a long summer with too much change – but at least we all know how to make up when we need to.

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Iris Murdoch – “Under The Net”, (1954)

So what happens?

The narrator of Iris Murdoch’s Under The Net, Jake Donaghue, is a complete waster who scrounges a roof over his head from whichever of his (frequently women) friends can be persuaded to put up with him. He is, of course, a writer. He’s in love with Anna who he suspects is also loved by Hugo (a fireworks manufacturer cum film magnate) who is possibly loves Sadie who is, perhaps, a bit sweet on Jake. Or is it Hugo? Either way, a washed up canine filmstar, a bookie, a floozie named Madge and a mysterious Sibylline figure called Mrs Tinckham who keeps a newsagent and a tribe of cats also come and go. In the end, everyone loves someone but not necessarily as assumed. Oh, and there is a sidekick named Finn. Did someone say ‘picaresque’?

Why on earth should I read it?

Because it’s the first and lightest of Murdoch’s novels. Philosophy permeates the text but airily, like bubbles rising through champagne. It might not have the gravitas or seriousness of later works, but (with the possible exception of The Bell), there’s a lightness of touch and an optimistic sense of the possibilities of redemption in the heart of the human experience I haven’t encountered anywhere else in her novels, though I can’t claim to have read them all.

So no caveats?

None whatsoever. It wouldn’t be my favourite or the first of her books I’d recommend (that would be The Bell or The Unicorn – I’ve a weakness for the Gothic qualities of the late sixties books) but it’s unique. Well for Murdoch, anyway.

Aha! So there is a catch?

Hmm. Well, the blend of philosophical discourse and novel wasn’t new – Sartre in particular was obviously a model and Murdoch was a philosopher before she became a novelist.  And whilst London has frequently stood in as a major character in Murdoch’s books – the spookily rendered Isle of Dogs in The Time of the Angels, for example, or the whistle stop tour of Soho and the City that ensues in Under The Net itself – the novelist who most springs to mind as resonating with Under The Net is G.K. Chesterton, the Chesterton of the fantastical The Napoleon of Notting Hill and The Man Who Was Thursday in particular.

Oh, and under what net, exactly?

The net of language, of course. We don’t get out from under it but we do learn to live with it and even to see behind it.  Under The Net is full of raised veils, from the the epic collapse of the plasterboard Rome in a film studio to the final lifting of the veils of self-deception from the eyes of Jake.  Twenty four years later, the narrator of The Sea, The Sea would relapse almost instantaneously back into his old Satyr-like ways but Jake, a creation of a less jaded writer, may even have learned to be good.