Yes, the Salesman Dies!

I don’t believe I am giving too much away – thinking in terms of spoiler alerts – when I say here and now that yes the aforementioned dies in Death of a Salesman. That is to say, Anthony Sher pegs it in a self-inflicted kind of a way just near the end of the Arthur Miller play that has just closed at the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s St Martin’s Lane. By way of context, since this always matters at least to me,  I don’t think I have ever seen a more crowded bunch of central London streets of a summer’s afternoon than when we emerged from a New York brownstone street beautifully recreated in W1, and into the steamy heat and teeming crowds milling round the Seven Dials the other Saturday, as this show ended its excellent run that same day. I might add that Sher has been brilliant as long as I have known his performances, beginning with the extraordinary television dramatisation of ‘The History Man’ in 1981 when he knocked everyone for six.

Arthur Miller was a lefty sort of playright,  in this work blowing the cover on the American dream at the latter end of the distinctly smug 1940s when America had won the war, defeated all comers, and now ruled the roost with the American Way. It was smug here in Britain too of course, later on.  But as always the USA was way ahead of us, and more to the point it was even more definitively global top dog – a position we had long since had to give up (without ever quite being able to admit it to ourselves). In the play our hero has bought into the dream bigtime, and convinced himself he is part of it, and talked himself into a corner as only a saleman could. But the unfeeling giant chewed him up and spat him out,  and his humiliation is completed by his two sons’ struggles with the post-war world. It wasn’t meant to be like that.

In fact, he could be taken as an analogy for the UK, still endlessly deluding itself with reruns of past glories, reality only now biting into the flabby posterior, and all is ignominy from now on. It may be smug of me to say that nevertheless London seems to have it all right now…this summer.. It’s perkier than one could think possible, for reasons that are unclear.

I’m off to Edinburgh soon to get another perspective. It’s my second favourite city in these islands, but can things ever be the same now?  The world moves on, and history isn’t dead after all. It’s happening all around us. Come next winter, when the power goes off, we shall see…

Masterpiece

Something a bit new for me – two free tickets to an event called ‘Masterpiece 2015, London’, held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. On grass barely recovering from the Chelsea Flower Show, a vast marquee has been erected, with one face cunningly disguised as a long brick building of perhaps Queen Anne or Georgian appearance. How did they do that? It looked like a gigantic photograph of a real house, only slightly spoilt by a portico that didnt really go with it – someone’s idea of a home improvement deriving from tastes more appropriate to Chigwell than Chelsea I reckon. I’m no expert. It was a tad spooky to see this pop-up building sitting there in the evening sun at a rakish angle on the hottest July day in London since the dawn of time, or some such. Apparently it’s there for 41 days, most of which are spent putting the 12000 sq metre show together and taking it all away again afterwards. It has 2200 internal walls.

Inside was air conditioned, thankfully.  Our bags were searched, and we puzzled over why folk were being asked if they were carrying any personal jewellery. The show itself was vast, comprising aisles of instant art galleries, antique dealers, jewellers and so forth, from all over the world it seemed, including Pimlico around the corner.  What’s more there were mini-me versions of London restaurants like Scotts (where Nigella and Satchi had their alleged difference of opinion a while back), Le Caprice and the Ivy, all doing good business. International collectors and museum curators get a preview day at the fair, after which its open to ticket holders for just seven days. Quite honestly, I found it all rather amazing.

I’d worn the wrong shoes for this and opted out of the tour about half way round the vast number of stands and found a seat to sit and watch the comings and goings – what a wuss!  It’s not the sort of place where one walks out carrying ones purchases in a carrier bag, since prices seem to start at around £180,000 and I think the dealers like to wait ’til the cheque has cleared before they take the oil painting off the wall and apply the string and brown paper. So most people seemed to be carrying only their drinks (mostly white wine – if it was being handed out free somewhere I missed it, damn!). I’d expected the folk to be wealthy, but there were few signs of conspicuous consumption and while many were smartly turned out, many were not.

It did bring home how international this city is, and how many more livelihoods now depend to some degree on the fact that London is such a magnet to the wealthy these days. All those shopfitters, catering staff, taxi-drivers, security guards, plus the young girls handing out the magazines and whatnots, only benefit from the jobs created by this craziness. One worries about our economic dependence on such things of course…what if the rich all decide to go to Stuttgart or something (only joking!).

I fancied a rather nice soldier’s helmet, Greek, from the Bronze Age perhaps, as it was bronze. Maybe 3000 years old. Talk about iconic…this wasn’t the one but it’s not dissimilar

I didn’t ask the price, because if you have to ask then you can’t afford it. I had to walk on by. On our way out, our bags were searched again, and the personal jewellery question earlier the evening then made sense. I surrendered all the Patek Phillipe watches I’d inadvertently picked up without thinking, as one does.  We walked to the bus stop, and eventually had a slightly uncomfortable meal in Villiers Street, wiping our sweating faces with our napkins, which probably isn’t the done thing even in Villiers Street, whose slightly scruffy,even smelly, vibe I have always liked.

Care and Maintenance

After a week away, we return to find the garden vanishing under green – leaves, weeds, grass, growth, some new blossom even. Mid-May just brings amazing energy to vegetation here, both wanted and not wanted. So cutting back, mowing, weeding, pruning will have to take priority over new planting until order and discipline is restored to the unruly, verdant little sods that over-populate these beds, banks and terraces. I’ll show ’em who’s boss, especially those evil Spanish bluebells! Meanwhile the windows all seem to need painting at once, this summer. And I must clamber up on the flat roof to unblock the gutters and downpipes bunged up by recent gales.  More creative projects and plans are being crowded out by care and maintenance…dull, dull, dull.

July postscript: the evil Spanish bluebells have got their own back. I carefully bagged up the wretched bulbs or whatever you called them, failed to take them to the council’s green waste thingy, two months back, and they now stink so much I can’t take them anywhere…