Feeding your creativity

If you want to write, you need to feed your creativity, and in lockdown it hasn’t been easy. I’m lucky enough not to have to commute to work (well only from my bed to my desk) so my first trip by tube to the National Gallery this week was more than exciting. It felt like Christmas when I was a child. Wearing my mask in a totally empty carriage for the first six stops was surreal and hot, but only a minor inconvenience considering front line workers still saving lives armed in full PPE.

Bartolomé Bermejo Saint Michael Triumphs over the Devil 1468 Oil and gold on wood, 179.7 x 81.9 cm Bought by Private Treaty Sale with a grant from the American Friends of the National Gallery, London, made possible by Mr J. Paul Getty Jnr’s Endowment Fund, 1995 NG6553 https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG6553

In the gallery, which always feels spacious, organisation was impressive – staff wearing visors, hand-sanitizers and clearly marked one-way systems. I went to visit one of my favourites – those po-faced madonnas and gilt-winged angels in the Sainsbury wing. I love the brilliance of the colours and all the extravagant gold. In one painting, by 15th century Spanish painter Bartolome Bermejo, the archangel Michael in super shiny armour and a gorgeous cloak is vanquishing the devil, a cross between various reptiles and a hairy bat with a hideous toothy face. I couldn’t help thinking of the contrast with chubster, Boris Johnson claiming victory over (bat initiated) COVID 19.

Next I headed for the Raphaels in all their splendid colours… but look at the feet and toes if you get a chance: the contrast between prosaically dirty toenails (and bunions) and all their saintly finery. My absolute favourite is Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks, now cordoned off by a rope for social distancing. I found my throat constricting with the surprise of tears at the beauty, and then had to deal with the difficulty of crying when you’re wearing a face mask.

Leonardo da Vinci The Virgin of the Rocks. National Gallery

My day ended with the much needed arrival of Alan the plumber armed with rods to defeat a blocked drain. Three hours late, but he turned up – ‘I said I’d come, Alison and I wouldn’t let you down’. The offending drain was unblocked with a hugely satisfying gurgle, followed by a triumphant celebration accompanied by a ‘cup of your good coffee’. I found myself thinking of writer’s block and of my day’s arc: from the sublime to the ridiculous. I’ve yet to find the humour in a toilet that won’t flush. But plenty of inspiration.

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