March 13, 2017

8.45 am: I swung by the School of Art to pick up my iPad keyboard (a must for working on trains, if travelling sans laptop). Today, I was in tortoise mode, having packed everything that I needed for the next two days into a small rucksack. 9.10 am:

There were several rail strikes in progress in the north and south of the country. Other than an unexpected change of trains at Machynlleth (or ‘machine-lathe’ as my father-in-law is said to have pronounced it), the journey began without incident, advice, or warning. The water levels had risen considerably, converting streams into rivers and rivers into lakes. Thus, a familiar landscape took on a rather disconcerting strangeness – as though one were on the wrong train travelling somewhere else. (The stuff of unconsoling dreams.):

The drizzle fizzled out just before the train pulled into Newtown station (a place that I’ll forever associate with the paintings of John McAvey, who died suddenly, unexpectedly, and untimely during the second year of his PhD Fine Art studies). From Machynlleth to Wolverhampton to Stafford to London. I clicked like a field of grasshoppers on my iPad as I worked at the AberDoc nomination form. This is in support of PhD students seeking a university study award. My deadline is March 20. I’ve always found train journeys productive in this respect; an occasion to chip away at irksome admin task that would be the more so had I dealt with it in my office or study.

2.00 pm: Arrived >

Oyster card topped up, I headed for Green Park where I’d stroll until the time appointed to meet my elder son, take coffee, and travel to Pimlico. We observed the same order of events the last time I was in London. Repetition is consoling. It’s like revisiting the same experience, but in subtly different ways:

3.00 pm: On, then, to the Hockney exhibition, which was heaving with visitors. He can paint large vistas of ‘nothing’ (plain walls and open skies) like no other contemporary, figurative artist. I was reminded of the area above the dead Marat in David’s painting. I recalled seeing several of Hockey’s ‘classical’ period (for example, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970–1) – his masterpiece, in my opinion) on an A-level trip in 1976. I was astonished at how areas, like her dress, had been handled so blandly yet effectively. He’s a consummate tonalist and colourist. In my view, some of the paintings from the 1990s are problematic. They’re not his best. Nor are the most recent works either. The Four Seasons video piece, however, is astonishing, surprising, and enrapturing; aesthetically, emotionally, technically, and intellectually satisfying. What more could one ask for? Hockney is always nothing less than decisive; clear in his vision and inventive in its execution. The history of Late Modernism in one image:

5.00 pm: Into town and on to Frith Street for an evening at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club:

I’d promised my elder son that I’d take him once he was eighteen. Tonight, years later, I finally honoured my pledge. We saw John McLaughlin and his band. He is, to my mind, the greatest living electric guitarist. One of my life’s regrets is not having been able to see a performance of the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, which he led. Tonight, he played several of that group’s compositions from the 1971 to 1974 repertoire. The pieces sounded as though they’d been composed yesterday. I was in rapture. Thus, my longing had been more than partially fulfilled. It was an evening that we’ll both remember. They performed magic:

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