It's the Great British mini-monsoon. It's here every June. That's why they've finally built a roof for Wimbledon. As with most things, we're in denial about it, that's all. I quite like it. I like it when I'm at home with the back door open, so I can feel the gentle English humidity rising from the quiet chaos of the lush greenery and the watery sunlight bouncing off the white paint that's beginning to peel away from my beloved wrought iron garden table. Listening to a bird flapping about in the hedge and waiting for the next patch of unexpectedly deep grey to totter across the summer sky.
Sometimes it all gets a bit much and I have to retreat into my little sanctuary and be alone. Alone, listening to the rain. I should do it more often probably. That's no doubt the problem. I have too much to do with other people and not enough to do with myself. That's my life. A constant distraction of other people. The way some people use beer or gambling I suppose, I use extraversion. And then occasionally it all gets too much and I have to retreat. I could do with retreating for a week really, or a month, but as it is, a day will have to do. I've started reading the new Sarah Waters book. My favourite self indulgence: reading a book purely for its own sake. I realised in Waterstones - possibly one of my favourite places on the planet - it's something I rarely do. It sounds fatuous, it probably is fatuous, but I realised yesterday morning, I almost always read for a purpose. Without even hearing the conversation happening in my own head, I tell myself I should read Jung or Deleuze or Tolstoy or Quantum Theory or the Bhagvadgita (which I haven't yet, although it sits expectantly on my bedside table) or some other self-improving tome. I came out of Waterstones with William Boyd, Marcel Proust, William Faulkner and Sarah Waters. Not too bad as far as the hairshirt goes. I persuaded myself, without too much difficulty as it happens, straight into the self indulgence of The Little Stranger. So far it's reminding me of Brideshead, a book of such wit and brilliance it's impossible to read too many times. An interfering, patronising, social climbing nit-wit narrating the story of the downfall of a once grand old family, into whose lives he has pointlessly and without invitation ingratiated himself. The monstrous controlling grand dame, beguiling everyone with her charm, whilst stealing her children's lives from under their very noses, and the misunderstood self-loathing but fundamentally sweet dipso son on the path to self annihilation. I can't put it down. Another distraction I suppose, but certainly a good one. Read good writing, so they say, and your own will benefit. Well, here's hoping anyway.
Someone informed me the other day that art is, by definition (whatever that might mean) 'pointless' and without purpose. That's the contemporary line now, don't you know? Now that 'Art' has become so alienated from life by its own self importance, so needy of a capital 'A' to demonstrate its lofty independence from the boring old nitty-gritty of existence. Well that's nonsense actually. Just because you can't keep your socks in it, doesn't mean you can't make use of it. I happen to know that for a fact, because I myself make use of it on a regular basis. And I don't mean as a means to an end. I don't mean as a means to a living. I don't even mean as a means to accessing joy - although it often facilitates that too. No, I mean in a very practical sense, as a means to stabilise my unsteady and resolutely unpredictable trajectory through life. Through life's crashing disappointments as a matter of fact, of which there seem to be surprisingly many. And as a means of explaining, or consoling oneself, in the face of one's own rather inexplicable and erratic responses to the aforementioned disappointments. Yes, oh yes, someone I trusted, looked up to, loved in a way, has proven themselves to be a contemptible little snake in the grass. My own fault, of course, for projecting my stuff willy-nilly. My own fault for expecting something beyond humanity from someone who is, just like me, horrifyingly human. In a just world we'd all be allowed our humanity unquestioningly. But it's not a just world, and that also can be crashingly disappointing at times, at others, fabulously annoying.
But as I stomp around feeling sorry for myself and snapping at kindly people, what keeps coming back to me is one of the degree show pieces I saw a few weeks ago. That's the great thing about the degree shows. From the ones that stand out, you get the stuff raw, unspoilt and un-tempered. This is the place to sniff out the unmistakeably pungent whiff of existential rage in one of its purest (and probably healthiest) manifestations. The angry young man or woman before they've been ground down by life. By the suffocating necessity of earning a living - that overbearing juggernaut that one can, so easily, lose sight of oneself at the wheel of. By the murky waters of interpersonal politics and striving to get ahead, or even survive, in an unforgiving world. By the energy-sapping, but also, by turns, strangely liberating inevitability of living and dying just another infinitesimal speck of dust on the ceaseless turn of the wheel of life.
She knows she's good, twenty-two-year old Helen Carmel Benigson, presenting her extraordinary multi-media, super-sensory 'hyper-hysterical' installation at the Slade. But that's ok. Why shouldn't she. You need to believe in yourself in this life, because damn sure other people are going to try, many times over the course of a lifetime, to put doubt into your mind about things you've seen with your own two eyes. They'll put you on a pedestal only to try and hack the legs off it. Well you stick to your guns girl. You helped me through a sticky few weeks and I'm grateful to you for it. I hope you've got what it takes to stay the course on track. I for one, shall be rooting for you.