Mud On the Road

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I Love the M3, I Really Do

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

     A sunshine-filled day up in London began with lunch at Tibits, Heddon Street's great vegetarian eatery.

     Tibits is far and away the best and most welcoming pit-stop in the West End. It’s a place where girl-friends who haven't seen each other for far too many months can talk and talk and talk and graze on delicious food and drink scrumptious ginger tea and linger long and late as possible into the afternoon.

     One friend had travelled down on the train from Waglandia and was there well ahead of me. A two hour ride from Manchester to Euston -  that’s already a pretty fast train isn’t it?  The gorgeous Dalston Eclectic swept in from East London via the all-singing and dancing Ginger Line which now links London to super-cool E8 thereby rendering E8 so accessible it might have to be down-graded to merely  very-cool.

     I ate tofu and soy beans and chick peas and ricotta and quinoa salad. I considered bringing a quinoa salad doggy bag home for Shedley but I decided against it. I didn’t want him to experience crushing disappointment.

     Because Shedley's been going around saying 'Keen-Wah!' quietly and thoughtfully to himself ever since Gwyneth Paltrow suggested the pleasures and health-giving properties of the 'pseudo-cereal' on the Graham Norton show a couple of weeks ago.

     But I know that Shedley is associating 'Keen-Wah' with a Californian tan and long blonde hair and even longer, blonder legs and I also know that the polystyrene realities of the Keen-Wah, un-smothered in chilli sauce and denuded of salt and any flavour whatsoever, the way we girls can handle it because we’re tough, would rob Shedley of the fantasy that he too could be pure-as-the-driven-snow singer in a rock band married to an international movie star.
     La Paltrow's charms peaked for me that evening. Listening to her proselytise about the benefits of her style of healthy, organic cooking whilst simultaneously selling her new recipe book and the sci-fi action thrills of Iron Man III in which she co-stars, put me in mind of the character of Martha Lane, the beautiful but teeth-grindingly pious Methodist in BBC's Sunday drama series The Village. Martha wants to have her saintly, organic cup-cake and eat it too.

     Like Martha, Gwyneth Paltrow is a bit of evangelist-bore for her lifestyle creed. She wants to be one of us but she’s too much of an élitist on the food front and patently oblivious to the housekeeping realities  faced by we lesser mortals.

     'I've got a bit of sick in my mouth,' she joked when Lee Mack mentioned Pot Noodles.

     Back at Tibits we enjoyed our 'Keen-Wah' enormously but we didn't stand on the street corner later and hand out leaflets.

     In fact I spent the rest of the afternoon at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. I went round all the galleries and so was confronted, free of charge, with the in-yer-face brutalist images of post-glasnost Ukraine, part of the New Art From Russia exhibition.

     'Case history,' a set of 413 photographs  by Boris Mikhailov  who, according to the exhbition guide is, 'the most influential photographer working in Russia today,' chronicles lives of utter despair eked out in his home town of Kharkov in the Ukraine, 1997-1998.

     The pictures remorselessly span the gamut of deprivation, destitution, addiction, prostitution. They leave diddly-squat  to the imagination but still there's something missing, a big blank hole of nothingness, a void in each highly coloured shot. Unlike, say, the deeply engaging war photography of Don McCullin, Mikhailov offers the viewer only a passive, one-way experience akin to the one-dimensional thrill of a fairground horror ride.  All scream and no substance.

     The more pictures I saw,  the less factual I felt they were.  There’s a stagey theatricality to much of the work, discernible especially in the images of women, old and young, predominantly topless, often embracing each other, eyes looking out to the camera which is filming them in the close confines of their bedrooms and the squalor of  impoverished interiors.

     These shots in particular, coupled with exploded close-ups of cankered body parts, gave me an uneasy sense of prurience and voyeurism.

     It was bewildering to emerge into the bright contrast of a well-heeled, sun-lit Chelsea evening. And I wanted suddenly to be home and as quickly as possible.

     Unlike the Dalston Eclectic and my friend from Waglandia on their different modes of pubic transport, I had driven up to London via HS3 - otherwise known as the M3. And I  parked for a bargain fiver at the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherds Bush.

     Call me old-fashioned but I like driving.  Hell, I love driving. I adore my somewhat banged up Fiat and I love the M3, I really do.

     I spent decades of my life on the train, principally the Waterloo – Exeter St. David's line. I can name every station in my sleep. I've got on and off at most of them and dozed off and slept and dribbled through several of them.

     I remember buffet cars and carriages set aside just for luggage and bicycles and big dogs; enclosed compartments with blinds like in Hitchcock's Strangers On a Train; doors to the platform that you could open yourself via windows that you could push down and stick your head out of and smell the night, the train pummelling fast through the dark; windows you could open and lean out of to say  'good-bye', the way Celia says good-bye to Trevor in Brief Encounter. Because, back then, friends and loved ones  were still allowed onto the platform, without a ticket, just to wave you off. Railway station good-byes were a mini-drama all of their own.

     That train line maps the years between childhood and 2002 when I got not my first car but the first car which could be relied upon to accelerate hard enough and fast enough to pull out into the middle lane and overtake the cavalcade of  HGV's grinding uphill on the inside.

     The M3 for me is the chain which links the rural delights of home, countryside, dogs, chickens and mud to the edgier, smokier pleasures of the city and friends, Keen-Wah and dodgy art.


Also Seen at the Gallery

The Saatchi Gallery
Side view of the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, London

20:50 a permanent installation by sculptor Richard Wilson at the Saatchi Gallery.

Used sump oil!
The installation 20:50 - 1987, used sump oil and steel, dimensions variable

20:50 made in 1987 by Richard Wilson
Since 2004 Richard Wilson has been Visiting Research Professor at the University of East London

The Test in February
Going Fishing 
The winning Australian exhibit at The 2013 RHS Chelsea Flower Show
No Nettles at Chelsea
Green Mud
Dear Councillor Gibson 
Poor, kind Mrs Harris
Working From Home

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