This is a little project where I force myself to write an 800 plus word blog post on a daily basis. Computer issues have almost stymied today and lost my original one for today. So here is today’s hasty few paragraphs.
And so Britain can rest easy, safe in the knowledge that Jane Austen’s ring will remain on these shores, but it is not over yet. We must safeguard other great remnants of our history, ensuring we never lose the corn plasters of Iris Murdoch or the tiara worn by Salman Rushdie when he wrote The Satanic Verses.
I don’t really give a jot about the hats, belly piercings or monocles worn by England’s authors, or the artists of any other nation, unless they really tell you something about them, their process, their minds. It would be a great loss if these shores lost the pornography of Franz Kafka obviously, though I don’t think the Bodleian Library puts much of it on display. Oh to pity that man become beetle who bemoans his inability to reach the top shelf anymore or who now thrives on sordid photos of “Reader’s Dung”.
But even if the pornography of Kafka was bough by a collector wishing to place it under their bed to compliment the existential angst on their pillow, this would not be a great tragedy.
I am a charlatan, I cannot see why there was a fuss over Austen’s ring. It seems to smack of nationalistic hoarding, a Mr Trebus moment for those who shop at Tiffanys or at least salivate as they browse.
It is just a ring, a ring worth money and a ring with history, but it is not more illuminating whether it is in a glass box in England or a glass box in Maui. The wearer of the ring will not gain magic powers of creativity or receive jolting and terrifying flashbacks to a past that wasn’t theirs, it is a bauble that sat near Austen’s knuckle. The past may be worth preserving, but only if we learn from it too.
It doesn’t take much for something to be totemic now. A brief dalliance with the sweat of the famous can make the dullest T shirt worthy of reverence and an auction reserve price of £500. While William Morris may have written that you should only have in your house that which you know to be useful or know to be beautiful, now it must be added, “and that which you believe was once used as punch bowl by Mickey Rooney”.
I have definitely kept to the first two rules as I look up from my computer and see the framed half-sheet film poster for Boris Karloff in Corridors of Blood.
The idea that the loss of Austen’s ring to Kelly Clarkson would have been a cultural outrage, perhaps made worse by the idea that it was going to a “trashy colonial”, and the intervention of the government, smacks of a petty nationalism. A theme park country that was fearful of losing an exhibit hastily came up with a clause to keep its pretty thing.
When I think of all the things this country is quite happy to export and sell to other nations (bangs on about weaponry to nations we later decide are our enemy once the cheque has cleared, I’ll leave it to you to imagine the sort of thing you’d expect from me when bolshy and tired), that jewellery crossed the line is an oddity, yet probably to be expected to.
I am not against heritage and keeping a well-stocked attic of the past, show me the sign to the local museum and within five minutes I’ll be ogling a leather boot that was found in a well and townsfolk say may have been worn by a giant. I love to see the actions of smugglers recreated with shop window dummies, never stops being a little creepy when left on your own, and I revel in the found flints and teak commode that Benjamin Disraeli is rumoured to have sat upon.
As for paintings, I don’t think I care what nation they are in. The loss of Blake’s Nebuchadnezzar or Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion would annoy me, because I like going to look at them whenever I can find an alibi to go to the Tate Britain, but should we lose that heritage, hopefully the spaces will be filled by other works of art and as some art is lost, other works are gained from around the world. There would be a horror though if those who bought were to take these things from public view. The ugliness of beauty when it is bought by a venal hedge manager who requires it like an expensive bottle of wine merely to show how much money he has. “how rich am I, I can buy beauty through my squalid dealings. Please feel free to browse the price tags on my collection, they hang to the left. Then do please go and enjoy the rhinoceros in my garden, I file his horn on a daily basis for priapic pleasure”
Anyway, this was something about a ring wasn’t it?
solo shows coming up in Bristol, Radlett, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Shoreham and plenty more, plus new Christmas shows with Brian Cox at Hammersmith Apollo – all those details are HERE