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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Other minds

Delightful Spring Sunday afternoon in the park, Miss Mills riding her bicycle, her mother jogging, me just strolling enjoying the fresh air watching what is going on. What is going on is that families are out enjoying themselves. Parents and children are speaking Polish, Russian, what sound like Rumanian, Urdu, Italian, German and here and there English. An Asian grandfather, walks by with his son and five kids of various ages. The youngest tease each other in English the older ones speak in Urdu. Three Asian girls with saris and headscarves play an energetic game of cricket with their younger brother. Two Americans lie sleeping under a tree. A couple walk by with a baby buggy, he is black she is white. Coming out of the playground we wait for three young black boys - little more than toddlers - to ride their trikes out of the gate followed closely by a white couple who seem to be their parents. Despite the best efforts of the Daily Hate Mail we all get along just fine. We're just people doing what people have always done for the best part of 200 years - going for a Sunday afternoon stroll in a municipal  park with the kids. We understand each other.
Segue to a cold January morning earlier this year outside Tate Britain. I'm part of the crowd waiting to get into the Pre Raphaelite exhibition. Using my loaf I rush ahead of the crush in the first three rooms and manage to get some quality time in front of the star attractions. Holman Hunt's The Scapegoat seems much more realistic and far less outlandish than any of the reproductions I've seen. Madox Brown's Work is a revelation. I'd seen a smaller version once, but it was worth the entrance ticket to have the opportunity to look closely at a larger version. There were several things I'd not noticed before. On the right, as you look at it, is an orange seller being moved on by a policeman. Oranges are falling out of the basket, but the strange thing is that the basket is enormous - completely out of proportion. On the left is what looks like a flower seller or is it? On careful inspection the figure is of a man in a woman's clothes - look at the hands and feet. What is that about? 
The most interesting painting for me though was Millais' Christ in the House of his Parents. When it was first exhibited its naturalism provoked outrage. Dickens denounced the ugliness of the figures and some critics verged on calling it blasphemous. Standing in front of it I try to get into the mind-set of my ancestors who were so deeply shocked by this image. I can't do it, I can't feel as they did. I don't even know where to begin. The past is a foreign country, they do indeed do things differently there. Even more so when we remember that what L.P. Hartley is writing about is autobiographical remembrance. It's difficult to understand one's own past as it actually was, how much more difficult to understand how my Great-Great-Grandparents thought and felt. And yet, on Sunday afternoon, in the park, we all get along just fine.

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