Anger fuels the city, the smouldering coals of Blake’s satanic mills are alive and well. Since the attempted carbomb attack on the Tiger Tiger nightclub on Haymarket, I’ve had Blake’s quatrain drumming in my head,
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Though this coincidence with Blake may have been lost on the bombers, it was not lost on me. Some days, London is full of fearful symmetries and awful dichotomies. Yesterday was such a day.
Two blanched-blonde chavs in pink track suits sit behind me on the bus. Their OG mannerisms borrowed from MTV, they listen to tinny hip hop mp3s on their mobiles and call me ginjah (or ginger) pointing to my red dreads with disgust. (It wasn’t until I moved here that I realized many Brits find red hair and freckles ugly and are unashamedly vocal about it– no doubt this is some leftover anti-Irish sentiment. For my American friends who don’t know what I’m talking about, see Catherine Tate’s hilariously illustrative “Ginger Oppression” skit.) The girls hissed at me as I left the bus, white girl respect your race. How is it they don’t realize their entire pose is a borrowed perversion of African American performative resistance?
Alighting in Picadilly, I find vandals got to Madame Pompadour— a dripping pink grimace sprayed over her.
Camilla and Kate convince me to go with them to check out the Damien Hirst show at the White Cube. Outside, people queue in the rain to see the skull, and across the street the gift shop sells tee shirts and posters sprinkled with (ethically sourced?) fairy dust. The guards wear what look like band tee shirts: a screen printed diamond with “hirst” in gothic letters across it. They don’t stop a child climbing on the bisected shark, and I like to think this is not out of laziness but instead knowing that this is ultimately what the thing was for– a morbid, toothy jungle gym. After all, isn’t Hirst the boy who pulled the wings off butterflies and showed you his dissections in the school yard? Now he’s just grown up and has a load of cash.
Walking between the shark sections did make me shudder with a zero at the bone feeling, and the black sheep impeccably stilled in its case terrified me, but all this emotional impact was lessened by the exceedingly bad paintings hung about the place: paint-by-numbers photorealism of his wife’s cesarean, and the garish pathology panels– hair and razor blades affixed to ink jet washes in inchoate art school fashion.
In one alcove a woman stands before the butterfly paintings— wings from tropical butterflies plastered to canvas. She wonders aloud, “where does he get them from?” Isn’t it obvious the whole show is snickering in the face of lifestyle politics and ethical sources— (White Cube’s press releases be damned)? In the other room, the climbing boy stands in front of the black sheep and asks, “Mummy, does he kill the animals himself?” And the mother, so confident in “culturing” her child by letting him climb on the vitrines, is stumped. After a pause she replies, “They are dead, darling.” In other words, don’t worry how they got that way.
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?
Later we went to see a screening of Sadie Bennings brilliant German Song and I got homesick. At least in America one is allowed a fertile innocence. But in London, that seems impossible. It was Gay Pride in Soho yesterday, and even with a bomb scare and torrential rain, people came out in carnival beads and metallic latex to drink in the streets with a joyless determination. Blitz spirit, innit? The special bomb units ran through the crowd, and one bumped into me, turned and apologized before running on. I thought– this would never happen in America– a massive street party right after a bomb scare? A policeman under duress saying sorry? For a moment, I was happy to be in such a proud, wildly civil place. I had no idea of the flaming SUV crashed in the airport in Glasgow.
What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?