private view

The stuff of stock photography, this. Leaning into jellied eels, Tubby Isaac shouts over traffic to a short customer who can’t position her ear at quite the right angle. A surge of sentimentality. Then: He might be a right bastard for all you know. I’m starting to recognise the process of my own ageing. A man in a wheelchair is parked against a tree that is dying inside a pot that no one has remembered to water. He stares out. No hat. No hand. No used Costa coffee cup. I pretend not to look for his container. You think I’m a beggar cos I got no legs? I move to a distance before turning to stare. Get a grip, get a grip. I dig about and find a fifty pence piece. Close-up, he’s tanned and blonde. “Thank you love.” Oh, oh, here it comes again.

Even from this distance I can see them spreading over the pavement. Velma is here! And seven women in crocheted ankle socks. A man who wishes he were Italian fidgets at his friend’s neck, flattening the felt ruff she has cleaned with Selotape especially for this evening. An eight year-old girl successfully performs the habit of presumption, aware already that her purpose on this earth is to intimidate adults who lack her vast fortune. She twitches to the curls of her hair that are caressing her shoulders, bouncing about, each and every strand a soprano voice calling Cath Kidston from the heavens. She already knows that one does not smile at Events Like This. Behind her, a stream of highly-educated middle-aged women (all at their sexual peak) duck beneath the barrier and march through glass. Outrage spreads up the line like dominoes keeling over. Crimson lipstick. Black smocks handed out for free at the hairdresser. Rectangular trousers. A very short man walks up the line, encouraging people to form a proper queue to let the public pass more easily & requesting that they drop their sunglasses into the bucket. “They will be handed back after the show,” he shouts. “You don’t need to worry. They will be handed back after the show.” Irritation ripples, but no one is brave enough to question the orders of a dwarf who was born in Mogadishu. But a curator recognises him. “He’s my dealer,” Tedd boasts to Rimmer, a sculptor. They met at Eton. Other conversations are not happening. No one is listening to no one else. Everyone is looking to see who they recognise and who might recognise them. Aldgate can’t sustain this amount of disappointment. So it’s relief all round when the doors open. Half-shaved heads holding clipboards and biros hurry us into the open space. Pallid boys in black shirts offer white wine and apple juice. There are dicks and cunts all over the fucking place. And ironic robots. On three screens, hipsters are washing themselves in green slime. A Slade emeritus has splashed water colours over canvas to capture his retirement home in Provence. “Form!” The stairway is blocked by graduates who can’t sell their work. The queue for the ladies is for the floor-to-ceiling mirror.

No one urinates in these parts, and no one looks at the work.