Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Tag Archives: Gordon Wharton

Voting Day

Well, it’s a funny old day, isn’t it? A day when by official conspiracy, nothing persuasive is permitted to be said. A non-day, a little like Sundays used to be when I was a kid.

So, having cast my vote early, I find myself passing time online, while listening to young master Aesop Rock. Oh yes, I’m down with the kids, even if he was my thirty-something daughter’s suggestion. What’s he on about? I’m not always sure, but his vocabulary is expansive and I like his tone of voice.

This afternoon I shall take Grandson One (aged six) to his swimming practice. I shall watch him thrashing and splashing on his back. From time to time he will bob his head up and look about him, invariably surprised to discover that he has continued not to move across the pool. It will be, I’m afraid, simply too trite a parable of our national condition.

All that remains is to wait for the coming bad news. So to pass a little time, here’s a poem that I like by Gordon Wharton, written the year he died, and unpublished, as far as I know.

Morning and Evening

More news from another unwinnable war;
detritus of spatchcocked women and more
maimed boys. A giant company’s shares
have dropped by a dizzying 5%;
but they’re not in armaments, of course.

On an inside page the crowds assemble,
darkening Wootton Bassett’s High Street
in anticipation of a flag-draped hearse’s
hushed procession; of the British Legion’s
abrupt salute: ‘Up’ a few moments, then ‘Down’.

Meanwhile I struggle with the problem
of sweetening my bran flakes. Honey, I think,
rather than sugar; and a saccharine derivative
to make my coffee palatable. A cigarette
to round off a light breaking of my fast.

Then, lifting my eyes, I glimpse the vain tower
with its weathercock flaunting high overhead
its repetitive message proclaimed at all hours
from dawn to dusk (and probably also in the dark):
NEWS it crows dumbly, NEWS, NEWS, NEWS.

Brief encounters with the Two Roberts

I have a definite childhood memory of watching a black and white TV programme about two painters at work, occasionally talking to camera, punctuated, I think, by snatches of Erik Satie – maybe Gymnopédies or Gnossiennes, though I would hardly have been able to identify the music at the time. I must have been ten, and this must have been Ken Russell’s first short TV film for the BBC Monitor series, Scottish Painters, broadcast in October 1959.  And the two Scottish artists were “the Two Roberts”, Colquhoun and MacBryde, exiles in Fitzrovia and beyond, the matter of legend, and both fine painters. My parents were not art lovers. (Dad was one of the very first to buy a print of Tretchikoff’s Chinese Girl.) But I was deemed to have talent in that direction, so the film might well have been switched on for my edification. A false memory? I don’t think so. Though I don’t recall any details clearly. I’ve trawled around online for clips of the film, but it seems inaccessible. Did a copy even survive?

Neglected for many years, the Roberts have undergone a bit of a boost recently with Roger Bristow’s essential 2010 biography, The Last Bohemians. Though for a quick start, but with some fascinating new information and images, try the excellent 2010 catalogue from The Scottish Gallery, downloadable as a pdf.

Anyway, it’s high time I devoted a page to some brief encounters with the Roberts. I’ve made a start here, reproducing the short feature on them in a 1949 Picture Post, followed by Wyndham Lewis’ 1951 account. As yet, no images of their work, but that can be remedied at a later date.