Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Installation in a stell

A visit yesterday morning from Peter Coates, who helped Ian Hamilton Finlay make work, including sculptures, at Little Sparta. He is making an installation for a drystone sheep stell at Crookedstane: a pavement engraved with lines from the poem by Joachim du Bellay 'Heureux qui, comme Ulysse' - appropriate for a stell because it references the Golden Fleece. The visit was to inspect and, if necessary, reconsider the foundation works carried out during the summer. Result: we are going to start again. Before Peter arrived from north Yorkshire, Zac came in after nursery with a Fireman Sam puzzle, which we did together and was highly enjoyable. Harry came over after school and decided to paint. After doing some work on flat paper he looked for something three dimensional to paint. We found a shoe box in the Moffat CAN recycling pile which needed stripping of sticky tape before becoming a blue apartment block with white windows. Fiona had made steak pies with mashed potato and broccoli for supper. I ate mine early and settled down to listen to Misha Glenny's BBCR4 programme on The Invention of Germany, followed by Analysis on cultural or 'soft' diplomacy, which I was involved in for many years. I knew John Mander, the author of Our German Cousins, an attempt in its time (40 years ago) to recalibrate attitudes to Germany. John Mander was involved in Encounter, a magazine whose modern equivalent would be Prospect (in my view, one of the most boring magazines ever produced). In its day, Encounter was a highly respected organ of intellectual inquiry, with long essays , short stories and poems. Then it fell into deep disfavour because it was revealed to have received covert financial support from the CIA. As a, by then, seasoned student of Russia, I never really understood why western intellectuals were so attracted to the police states of eastern and central Europe that the USA found it necessary to fund the few 'conservative' voices challenging the default left-leaning consensus. However, they were, it did and then the empire caved in over a few extraordinary months towards the end of 1989 and in 1990. I was in Moscow when, overnight, all foreign currency suddenly vanished from the little kiosks which had sprung up in parts of the city and at which one could freely change dollars into roubles and vice versa. My hostess at the time nevertheless reported that she had been able to buy a fridge freezer that day, using a credit card issued by a Russian bank which no longer had any foreign currency funds - this was in the days when there were still 'foreign currency' shops in Moscow, selling goods that could only be bought in dollars or other western currencies. We are now faced by the real possibility that roubles might be a harder currency than the pound or the euro. What a turnup for the books.

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