IÂ was in London yesterday for work purposes and had two quite contrasting experiences that could be used in research for my novels in progress. I had a meeting with a management consultant at Price Waterhouse Cooper’s famous office at 1 Embankment Place — this is the semi-circular roofed building over Charing Cross station that was featured in the last series of The Apprentice (the toga wearing corporate hospitality task episode) and it’s even recreated in plastic bricks at Legoland. We used a little wood-panelled boardroom with all services and facilities laid on by attentive staff (obviously meant to impress financial movers and shakers — I turned up in jeans and a jumper).
My PWC friend and I did a conference call to Palma de Mallorca where the chap I’m doing some work for is based. He was rather pumpedÂ up on testosterone and threw in phrases like ‘we really want them to drop their pants for this one’.
I had an hour or so to kill before I had to head back so I decided to take the tube to Mansion House and walk across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern — both of which are mentioned in one of my synopses. On some previous occasions I’m ashamed to say the free toilet facilities in the Tate Modern have been more of a draw to me than the artworks. However, I had a more considered look around this time, albeit briefly.
I’d seen Miroslaw Balka’s huge empty container from the outside previously but this time I ventured inside. I even got to the back wall — something that seems quite a challenge when you make the first tentative steps. (Basically the box, which is 13m high by 30m long is completely dark and empty inside.) Although one wall of the container is completely open, surprisingly little light penetrates inside so as you enter and walk straight ahead, it’s really like entering a blank void (apparently one of the allusions the artist wants to make is to the Holocaust). Once you get to the back of the container and turn round you realise you can see reasonably well in the opposite direction (towards the opening) but framed against the light are other visitors to the gallery who you observe facing you and tentatively making their way forward into the void. This is quite clever and the most effective part of the experience.
I took a photo of it on my phone which is a bit blurry but perhaps the more effective for it — see the people by the side for an idea of the scale of the box.
I don’t consider myselfÂ a great fan of modern art. I can’t make my mind up whether I need to work harder to understand it or if that’s pointless because it’s all a big con. (I imagine there’s some truth in both positions.) However, I did enjoy three huge paintings by Cy Twombly which were basically red spirals and loops on a big white canvas. I’m a bit annoyed as I forgot their title — something to do with wine I think and they’re quite new. I can imagine some scenes in my novel where the characters go round the gallery and have difficult conversations while they look at particular works and those Twombly paintings would be very good (and not too hard to describe!).
Today I went to corporate IT land — Thames Valley Park in Reading which is home to all sorts of corporations including British Gas, Oracle and Microsoft (who I was visiting). On the way back I decided to do a (very long) detour to Oxford to visit a location I’ve written about in a section of ‘Burying Bad News’ — the Cowley Road. I deliberately took a less direct route so that I could drive right along the length of the road from about 10 miles outside Oxford at Stadhampton. I could see the industrial part of the city looming up from a few miles away and then drove past theÂ Mini factory and right down the road itself through the suburbs and outer city centre inÂ the rush hour traffic ending up at theÂ roundabout with the Angel and Greyhound at the bottom of Magdalen Bridge and then back again (getting stuck in big jams on the ring road).
I’m not sure whether to fictionalise the name of the road. I’ve certainly used artistic licence to make it seedier and grubbier than it actually is — although I noticed a few sex shops and dodgy bars. However, I’ve managed to doublt check thatÂ virtually everything I’ve described is really there — particularly a lurid row of takeaways, lots of newsagents and small grocers. In factÂ I may add in the pawnbrokers and cheque cashing shops…and there are plenty of buses going up and down so that’s true to life as well.