Seconds, months, years after

After six hours protesting, chilled to the bone, as some of the worshippers were leaving I took the bus back to Reading too. I told Pat about benefit sanctions and reductions, and her uh-huh noises showed she was not interested: she has no room for that campaign, perhaps.

Sitting on the warm Tube in coat and gloves finally got me warm, and I went to St Pauls station, to have that walk round the West end of the cathedral then across the Millennium bridge to Tate Modern. I was ready to get high on art, and that walk through those magical spaces starts the process.

The exhibition is Conflict, Time, Photography, a series of photographs, nearly all monochrome, of places of war, taken moments or years after. As I walk through the galleries, the captions tend to be at the end of the row of pictures, so I puzzle them out first: some appear to be abstract. There is a load of rusting cans and other metal detritus in the Kuwaiti sands after the first Gulf war, and the remains of the Iraqi trenches which the Americans simply rolled over, with all-pervasive machine gun fire, killing everyone in them. There is the Wolf’s Lair, the forward bunker in Poland from which Adolf planned the invasion of Russia. The departing Germans blew it up, and photos show misshapen concrete and sky. There is also misshapen concrete of beach defences from Northern Europe, constructed by Germany against the allied invasion across the channel, now sitting forlorn, derelict and ridiculous.

What made me snigger was the apartment building in Kabul, stripped down to its concrete and steel frame, three floors parallel at 30° because some of the pillars have collapsed. This drew a quick look from the woman nearby, who looked away before I could catch her eye.

The most beautiful piece is my featured image, 99 years after Private George E. Collins was shot for desertion at 7.30am on 15 February 1915. Chloë Dewe Mathews returned at the precise moment 99 years later. In that mist, possibly the last thing he saw was something beautiful.

There are photos from the Ukraine of Holocaust survivors, mundane and quotidian. There are photos of the descendants of an SS murderer, some of whom refused to co-operate, and of drawings on the walls of an SS prisoner of war camp in Wales.

I imagined that look was of contempt at my snigger, and I thought, I have a right to be here, after what I have been doing this morning. A ridiculous thought- I changed it to that I am glad to see this, showing the ridiculousness of war, after taking action to end war. Then I went out into the coffee shop, for this gorgeous view of St Paul’s- strong competition for any of the works in the gallery.


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