Serious Fun is more a companion piece than a sequel to Etc Etc Amen, so can be enjoyed as a novel in its own right. This is a photograph I took of an exhibit in the Berardo Gallery of Modern Art in Lisbon, some eighteen months after I invented a similar art object for Harry Carlyle to purchase from a fictional London gallery. Another piece by another artist in the same show consisted of a row of tiny moving second-hands of watches inserted directly into the gallery wall. Now, read on… 

1

Time Peace

Harry's appraisal of the converted railway arch near Waterloo Station was: part gentleman's club, part dungeon; an inventive attempt to break away from all those soulless white-walled galleries he'd seen the world over. Carefully targeted spotlights flattered the dayglo abstracts and deliberately cack-handed sculptures while concealing the fact that everything else in the place - tatty soft furnishings,  old Bakelite radios, a dilapidated upright piano - would have looked car-boot-sale shabby if seen under the stark glare of a 100-watt bulb or two.

As he wandered from room to room, consulting his flimsy catalogue, the clang and clatter of scaffolding being put up or taken down barely penetrated the exposed-brick walls. And then there it was - just past the life-size bronze-cast wheelie bin and the bubble-wrap wrapped donkey - the piece he had decided to purchase on the strength of the photo he'd seen on the gallery's website. It was bigger than he'd envisaged, perhaps too big, but it would serve its purpose.

'It's about time,' said the young male assistant who seemed to appear from nowhere behind him.

 'Sorry?' replied Harry, his brow furrowing as he checked his watch.

 'You misunderstand. I wasn't suggesting you were late,' the young man said. 'It's the piece you're admiring: it's about Time.'

'I can see that it's about time,' said Harry, returning his jaundiced gaze to the giant handless clock on the wall above the piano. 'It's not exactly ambiguous is it?'

It was New Year's Day, 2014. Both men had hangovers. Harry Archer had got the gallery to open especially, so he could buy his wife a gift. Helena liked gifts to be spontaneous and so he was pleased with himself for coming up with the idea of catching her off-guard with something absurdly expensive just a week after all the absurdly expensive crap he had bought her for Christmas. Since the Glitch she had been permanently on edge as if she somehow sensed that it would have a personal impact upon her. Unfortunately, thanks to Harry, it was going to, hence this gift.

Harry scrutinised the sales assistant. He had baby-smooth skin, glossy chestnut hair and was over six foot tall. Harry was only five-four and suspected taller men of deliberately trying to provoke him with their height.

'So, about this timepiece,' said Harry.

'It's Time Peace actually - two separate words - peace as in peace of mind, inner tranquility, freedom from war -'

'How droll.'

''Time Peace: 2012' is the full title.'

The loud ticking of the giant handless clock emphasised the awkwardness  between the two men. Except that it wasn't so much a ticking as a clonk and then a clunk, and then another clonk and another clunk. And it wasn't actually handless because at the clock's centre - only visible if your nose was an inch from its face - were two hands as fine as the legs of a housefly.  

Harry took a deep breath. 'Okay, let's start again shall we? It's a gift for my wife and I would need it delivered by tomorrow.'

The only other piece in the gallery Harry had admired was an installation. 'Hole' was a six-inch diameter hole in the middle of the floor of Room 1. What impressed him was the technical finesse involved in cutting away a pristine circle of the thread-bare Persian rug, then a circle of the floorboards and then on and on through earth and clay into darkness. The catalogue revealed that the artist had employed a company that specialised in oil-drilling equipment to do his dirty work for him. This team of engineers had been on-site for nearly two months creating the hole, and no one but the artist knew how deep it went; which, of course, was the whole metaphysical point. Harry liked the idea of drilling for art rather than oil, although he believed that all serious artists - even if they didn't admit it to themselves - were drilling for oil. He had peered into the hole's inky depths, letting his imagination fall and keep on falling, until eventually he clambered out the other side to dazzling sunlight and upside-down Australians. But you can't buy a hole, you can only admire it, so he had turned his attention to 'Time Peace: 2012'.

'Your wife, you say? She has excellent taste,' said the gallery assistant, patting his product-saturated hair and thinking about how the commission from just this one sale would double his income for that week.

'She's not seen it actually. Now can we just get on with this?'

*

Wherever Helena stood in the high-ceilinged kitchen, 'Time Peace: 2012' nagged at her peripheral vision. It had only been there a week and already she loathed it beyond reason. At nearly two foot in diameter it was too big to be fashionably large but not big enough to inspire even a frisson of awe. Beautifully crafted by a German master clockmaker to the artist's prosaically surreal and infuriatingly impractical design, it was a hideously void object that screamed life's pointlessness at her. And she had to stand on tiptoes with her nose an inch from its tiny hands to, just possibly, vaguely make out the time. Then there was the noise; only when the coffee maker was industriously at work could she escape it. Why does the ticking of a clock appear to grow louder if you focus on it? Every second of her day was now marked out by a vulgar clonk or clank rather than a genteel tick or tock:

Clank, clonk . . . clank, clonk . . . clank, clonk . . . clank . . .

Even the awful eco-friendly punning of the piece's title (etched into a brass plaque at its base) made her want to vomit: 'Time Peace: 2012'. Time fucking Peace! Any artist who included the word 'peace' in the title of their sculpture, installation, song, symphony or poem should, at the very least, have their hands chopped off. They were either a sentimental idiot or they were cynically trying to manipulate the emotions of a public they considered beneath contempt. Either way, society needed protecting from such monsters. But aren't I playing similar cynical games in my own work? She banished the thought by returning her attention to the evening meal. But chopping onions in time with Time Peace's clonks and clanks only increased her agitation, so she shifted up a gear. However, she knew this wasn't really about the clock, it was about the evening she had ahead of her. There was no escaping it; no novel, film, TV drama or even self-help book could offer any guidelines on etiquette or emotional decorum to help her get through the next few hours. Damn the Glitch! Damn Harry for saying yes to that woman!

As if summoned by her burgeoning anger, Harry appeared at the kitchen door, a laptop under his right arm and three Sainsburys bags dangling from his hands. He let the bags fall to the ground as if he couldn't have carried them another inch.

'I hope there are no eggs in there,' said Helena, without turning, still attending to the onions.

'No. No eggs,' Harry managed to say before slumping down at the kitchen table.

Clank, clonk . . . clank, clonk . . . clank, clonk . . . 

'I can't be doing with all this,' said Helena, still chopping. 'I've  so much left to do before the Tate show. What were you thinking?'

'That's not until June. It's only January,' said Harry tapping out a cigarette before holding out the packet to Helena. 'And what have you personally got to do? Most of the actual -'

'I don't want an argument. My point remains: what were you thinking?'    

'She just phoned, out of the blue. I could hardly say no, given the circumstances. Now do you want a cigarette or not?' 

'Not. Anyway, she's been on her own in there for ages,' whispered Helena, gesturing in the direction of the sitting room.

'But you said we needed stuff from Sains -'

 'At least take her a drink. I need to compose myself. I'm really not ready for any of this.'

'Do you think it's any easier for me?'

Finally Helena put down her knife and turned to face Harry. 'Yes, as a matter of fact. Much easier.'

Harry knew she was right. Consequently he couldn't immediately think of an adequate response. He put the desperately-needed cigarette back in the packet and played for time by uncorking a bottle of red wine and unpacking the shopping. Once the milk was deposited in the fridge, and a tin of puy lentils put in the cupboard, he finally managed, 'What's that supposed to mean?'

'Well, you didn't exactly give her the cold shoulder when you let her in,' said Helena. 'It was like you'd known her for years.'

It's not easy to shout and whisper at the same time but Harry managed it. 'Well I have, kind of, haven't I? And of course I like her! How could I not like her? But anyway, it wasn't ages, it was a couple of minutes. And we met on the street, just as I was coming up to the house, so we'd already struck up a conversation. Jesus!'

Clank, clonk . . . clank, clonk . . . clank, clonk . . .

Harry poured three glasses of wine. Helena brusquely swept the diced onions into a bowl.

'She didn't even have the good manners to bring a bottle of wine,' said Helena.

'I think she's a bit preoccupied at the moment don't you?' said Harry, exasperated. 'And anyway, you'd have only complained about the quality. What do you want me to do; tell her you won't see her after all?'

'No, no, of course not. Just give me a few minutes to tidy myself up.' Helena wiped her hands on a paper towel. 'Take her that drink, for goodness sake. I'll come through in a bit.'








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