Tate Modern, London
Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to take a three year old to an art museum. Perhaps another three year old might have taken the Tate Modern in his stride. But Archie was overtired this afternoon and hungering for his dinner and -even on a good day- was not the best behaved toddler in London town. So, it was hardly surprising that when Archie arrived in the darkened room containing Cildo Meireles Babel sculpture, he did not appreciate its gibbering subtlety, or take time to pace its circumference, or even recognise it as a piece of art. No, Archie saw the sculpture for what it was: an enormous tower of radios piles one on top of the other, like a giant, tapering bonfire, lights flickering erratically, dials glowing, every radio set to different stations with no particular voice perceivable above the din of voices clamouring for his attention, (though it should be noted that the most eagle-eared of the gallery attendants would swear they can always hear Phil Collins’ Easy Lover, rising above the racket). So, it is hardly surprising that Archie -sleep-deprived as he was and hypnotised by so much noise, and so many lights, crammed together in such a small space- should reach for the closest radio to hand and, in doing so, topple Babel for a second time.
If ever there was an evening for a gentile, English murder, it is this evening, in Brighton. The rain is coming down in tides. The sea is slate gray and peaks, like white-tipped meringues, all around the pier’s feet. The taxi drivers at the train station look positively murderous. Everything -the Victorian promenade, the bandstand, the Art Deco doors on the elevator- is lifted from a Poirot adaptation. Surely, there will be a body discovered in the library before breakfast. You are terribly keen on a body being discovered in the library. You fantasise about solving the mystery of the body in the library using a combination of intuitive cunning and detective knowledge acquired from a lifetime’s devotion to Dame Agatha Christie. When checking in you make a point of telling the receptionist to let you know if there’s a murder -any kind of violent death, really-during the night.
“I’m in Room 311,” you say, “just in case someone is murdered and some help sorting everything out.”
The receptionist looks confused.
“This looks like the kind of hotel where a murder might take place,” you explain.
The receptionist looks horrified. You do not understand why. Perhaps she has never seen a Poirot adaptation before. The penny does not drop until you are half way to the third floor in the Art Deco elevator. This is not the best hotel in Brighton to be discussing murder in a Northern Irish accent.
During the course of consuming a single slice of cake -albeit an enormous edge of a thing, covered in chocolate fondant- three individual postage vans pass by the bakery window. The third van bears the same golden crown insignia as the previous two, but the words Royal Mail have been translated into Welsh. “Post Brenhinol,” you read aloud, and because neither of us speaks anything but English and a smidgen of High School French, run these words through Google translate to confirm our suspicions. We then spend a second slice of cake, (lemon and poppy seed drizzle), speculating on what might have brought this Welsh postman, (or postwoman, you point out), so far from home. We Google again and discover it is almost 200 miles from Cardiff to Brighton and who’s to say the driver doesn’t hail from proper, far away Wales, (Conway or Llandudno, I suggest, having holidayed there as a child). “Perhaps it’s a special delivery of something specifically Welsh which they have need of here, in Brighton,” you suggest. We speculate again and make a list which includes leeks, dragons and Tom Jones, (the singer rather than the fictional character). More likely the Welsh postman is just on a weekend minibreak. Like us, he is no doubt questioning the sense of visiting a Victorian seaside resort in February, on the stormiest day of the winter.
The Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has come back from the dead to enjoy a midwinter break in the English seaside resort of Brighton. It is colder than she’d anticipated, and raining, but Frida is of a sunny disposition and remains determined to make the most of her three days eating fish and chips, visiting the amusement arcade of the pier and purchasing sticks of Brighton rock for all her dead artist friends. Mini-breaking in Brighton, even on a cold February morning, is much better than being dead. Frida reminds herself of this every time she notices the drizzles is wrecking havoc on her signature hairdo. Frida Kahlo is walking past a giftshop when she first notices her own likeness adorning a notebook. Later she will come across candles, socks, ballpoint pens and shot glasses all decorated with a portrait of her face. She will wonder why she is so popular here, with these English people. Only cats and David Bowie appear to be more popular than her. Frida Kahlo is not from Brighton originally. She has never visited the town and, until very recently, could not even have told you where Brighton was, (though she’d know enough to associate it with the sea). Frida Kahlo is amused by her own popularity. She purchases a pin badge of her face. It is printed round the edges with the words “Frida Forever.” She will give it to one of her dead artist friends once she gets home; Picasso most likely, for he is easily amused. When she buys the pin badge the girl at the till says, “nice outfit- you look just like her,” and Frida makes a point of saying, “thanks” rather than, “gracias.” “Gracias,” might seem like she is trying too hard.