Thursday, 17 November 2011

Streets Ahead

Streets Ahead is the new occasional column from London Walks' Pen David Tucker

Continued from last week – catch up with part one HERE.

An example or two.

I'm thinking of Richard III on his Hampstead walk standing before the Indian poet Tagore's house and magicking up his line about the Taj Mahal: "a tear drop on the cheek of time".

And further on his tour de force before the studios where the Bloomsbury artist Mark Gertler lived and painted. "Catching" the man in a few breathtaking brushstrokes: "desperately poor - immigrant Jewish family in Whitechapel - seven of them living in one room - father supporting them on the few pennies he earned sandpapering walking sticks - gifted - Slade School of Art - disastrous love affair with Carrington (yes, that Carrington, she who was in love with the homosexual biographer Lytton Strachey who in turn was in love with the heterosexual Ralph Patridge who was in love with Dora Carrington: circles who lived in squares and loved in triangles) - money problems all his life - when his last exhibition was a failure he turned on the gas tap and lay down to die".

Or Angela, on her Kensington walk, giving a spellbinding performance, courtesy of her actor's matchless voice and flawless delivery, of a few T. S. Eliot lines. And then the "portrait", executed in just a few assured "brushstrokes" in that same silvery voice of hers: "he was handsome, he had bad teeth, he smoked [perfectly timed pause here], he sometimes wore pale green face powder."

And - having taken the measure of her audience - she will either leave it at that; or explain: "the green face powder was to heighten his sickness, to push away the world."

Or Adam on his Kensington walk, outside the Virginia Woolf house, quoting Henry James: "the house of all the deaths, ah me." And then switching on the x-ray vision: "three rooms on each floor, a water closet on each landing, one bath, 16 people (six of them servants) and if you look where I'm pointing, right there, that room, was, in Virginia Woolf's words, 'the sexual centre of the house'. Four children were begotten in that large bed. Her mother died in that bed when Virginia was 14. As did her old and honoured father nine years later. A picture of Virginia's mother Julia lying before him.

And speaking of beds, how about "the circular bed of the sinister Alesteir Crowley, the high priest of London's 1920s black arts scene. Circular so his accolytes could lie feet to feet - to form a cabbalistic circle. On the way in there - crossing his threshold - you walked on a crucifix embedded in the floor beneath the front doormat. Well, it was one way of his trampling all over his strict Plymouth Brethren upbringing."

And the walk? It's my - David's - Fitzrovia: The Bohemian London Pub Walk. Creepy Crowley haunts that crawl. On a couple of occasions.

Okay, payoff time. "The aim of Art is to present not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance."

There, in 10 lapidary words - "not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance" - Aristotle's given us the difference between paint-by-numbers and the real thing.

And sure enough, it's a general principle that holds good in our "field of endeavour" as well.

A walking tour with a mediocre guide is a paint-by-numbers exercise.

You want the real thing - "inner significance" - you go with a great guide. A brilliant route, brilliant selection, brilliant arrangement, brilliant delivery - that's what you get, that's what you should expect, that's what you're paying for.

That's the art of the thing.

Great guides - like great writers, great storytellers, great artists, great filmmakers - are just better at it. Significantly better. Inner significance better.


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