On crafting.

So, inspired by Mister Maker, you and the Star have been making clay animals.  This is a project which has run and run, because you could make a few one day and paint them the next.

The Star soon decided he would do most of the work himself.

Care to guess what these are?

The one on the left has a carefully modelled penis and bum crack, at the Star’s insistence.

More of the Star’s work. I defy anyone to recognise the one on the right. Which also has a penis, by the way.

You find crafting surprisingly enjoyable. Here’s one you made.

Does it help to see them painted?

The Star is bored now, but here are a few you made while he was cutting up bits of clay with the scissors.

A clue. The one in the middle is a penguin. With an egg, not a penis, in case anyone was wondering. The Star had been letting his toy penguin paddle in his puffed wheat that morning, and you were able to use the moment as an impromptu David Attenborough learning experience. This stuck long enough for him to demand it when he was patronising his hired artist later.

You can’t take the teacher out of the classroom.

On unrampant capitalism

So you woke up this morning* to find that the smog had irredeemably settled thickly over your block of flats and that taking the Star out, or even opening the windows was clearly not an option. You therefore fled the flat, leaving the Star to the tender mercies of his babushka, and went to the Tretyakov Gallery, the Twentieth Century version.

You had the place to yourself, almost literally. It’s not all Soviet Realism and paintings of St Alin. Some of it is Kandinsky, for goodness sake. There are baffling and slightly disquieting installations. And it’s particularly interesting, because all of it is Soviet, in the same way that the Old Tretyakov Gallery is interesting because all of it is Russian. Kandinsky on his own is less interesting than Kandinsky with all of his peers, the people who were thinking the same way, trying out the same things. Or rejecting that group’s vision. It’s not about whether the pictures are any good or not, it’s just about seeing the way people of a particular type of society thought and developed themes through art.

That said, in contrast, for you the Old Tretyakov is about the paintings although you lost the ability to tell if these are any good or not a long time ago. You’ve visited the gallery so many times that you just enjoy seeing some of your old favourites. And in doing so you seem to have absorbed some of the cultural optical baggage that Russians pick up in doing so. You feel right at home with sentimental forest views now. Birch trees. Luminous green colours. Bears. Bears hugging the birch trees. That sort of thing.

The ones in the gallery itself are rather better than these**.

You distinctly remember being somewhat snobbish when you first saw such scenes represented in hack artists work for sale on souvenir markets all over Moscow. Now, suddenly, you look at them almost fondly. Although you do wonder if they really sell as well to foreigners new to the genre as pastiches of iconic Soviet posters made over as adverts to McDonalds.

But such thoughts show that although you might think you have soaked up some cultural sensitivity, you have clearly been spending too much time away from the wellspring of the deep Russian soul.

So it should come as no surprise that what you found most shocking about the Tretyakov, Old or New, is the woeful lack of determination to strip the last tourist dollar from visitors. There is a pretty extensive selection of luscious looking art books. For the regular punter, however, there are a few mugs inscribed with various artists’ signatures, some coasters with one or two of the more iconic images on and one type of headscarf with another, but that is pretty much your lot. They don’t even offer a particularly good selection of postcards any more. In fact, in the New Tretyakov didn’t even have that, because both small memento kiosks were closed for your visit. Considering that the shops in the big art galleries in London are always busier than the rooms with the paintings actually in them, you feel that it’s an appalling waste of fund-raising opportunities.

You are quite disgusted. You wanted a T-Shirt of his namesake for the Star at least.

The Three Bogatyrs by Viktor Vasnetsov

*Or not. See What I did on my Holidays Part 1.

Also here, here, here, here, here,  here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

** I give you Shishkin. He does like the bears though.

On the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Victoria and Albert Museum doesn’t expect many visits from the Star.

I’m not sure why this is true, given that its sumptuous cafe – there are glittering chandeliers, high ceilings, domes, columns, impressive interior tiles on the walls and the floors and the ceiling, as well as stained glass windows – was full of families with young children yesterday.

But having sculptures of interestingly textured stone at floor height is an invitation to disaster.

Of course you are now so very into your toddler game that, as you saw the Star heading delightedly for a particularly inviting looking East Asian dragon, you reasoned that, as they had put these statues out on display within easy touching distance of all and two-year olds, they must expect, nay, perhaps encourage, a bit of tactile investigation. And having run a mental check on how sticky he was likely to be, you let him get on with it.

But as the Star gave the priceless piece of work a few energetic pats, out of the corner of your eye you saw two museum workers give identical jerks of involuntary horror, came to your senses and dragged your boy away. And thereafter spent an energetic, although by and large succesful, half hour chasing the Star through the galleries, heading him off whenever he looked like he was getting too close to something irreplaceable.

You did have a slightly anxious moment when the Star started playing peekaboo around the bases of some busts. You were leisurely strolling towards him, having ascertained that none of the sculptures were in reaching height, when you distinctly saw George Wyndham* wobble. Surprisingly flimsy, those plinths.

George Wyndham

George Wyndham, before his nose was mysteriously broken off.

With nightmarish visions of a Rodin masterpiece in pieces at your feet, you sprinted the last few feet and attempted to grab your son.

Who thought this was great fun and commenced playing hard to get.

The bust wobbled again, and I swear time stopped for a second or two.

However, the Star was retrieved without further incident in the end and escorted from the building, tucked firmly under one arm.

You will be going again, but perhaps you will stick to the collections behind glass.

The problem with that is just as your heart swells with pride as the Star lets our a howl of obvious delight and sprints towards a display case is what he is actually interested in is the little placard describing what’s on show. And the one in the case next to that. And the one next to that.

That Star, in fact, remained distinctly underwhelmed by the art and design masterworks, being far more interested in the fire extinguishers, the way his voice echoed when he shrieked, the marble steps in the Raphael gallery, the slipperiness of the floor and the pull out rope barrier dispensers on the walls.


*Although it could have been Honore de Balzac. Adrenaline surges really interfere with your ability to read plaques.

On the Royal Academy.

You are finding that certain things strike you in an entirely, and usually unanticipated light, now you have a child in tow.

Take the early darkening evenings, for example. You used to quite enjoy this. Coming home in the dark, twinkly lights, a chill in the air. It all gave you an excuse to eat hearty food and curl up under a blanket with your slipper socks on, a mug of tea at your elbow and a good book clamped firmly in your hand. Even if you don’t have a roaring fire to edge slowly away from.

You never noticed when it actually got dark either. Four, five. Doesn’t really matter when you rarely left before six.

Now, however, you are genuinely put out, not to say a little shocked to discover that even if you and the Star make it out by 3pm you’ve missed the best of the (quite impressive lately) sunshine, and dusk will be descending any minute. This is all wrong, particularly as your optimal routine calls for a walk between 3 and 4.30pm.

God forbid the facts of life should interfere with your routine.

You also failed to visualise what certain aspects of taking the Star along to an exhibition of Byzantium treasures at the Royal Academy would entail.

Not everything was a surprise. You are now totally familiar with the idea that for any trip out with the Star you need to start preparing well in advance. You have to check that the changing bag is well stocked. You need to make sure he’s slept fairly recently. You need to leave plenty of time to feed him before you go out. You need to remember to change him before you put his outside clothes on. You need to actually put his outside clothes on. Then you must dance around to calm him down after that a bit before pouring him into his bear suit. Then you need to take that off while you get dressed and then put it back on again, find the sling, put it on, add your coat, wrestle the Star into the sling, put his hat on and jiggle up and down in front of the mirror to stop him screaming, realise you left the keys upstairs, find the keys, unlock the door and make a break for the street.

And that’s just a regular trip. This time you also had to take bottle making accouterments as well.

However, all of that went quite well for once. The Star didn’t scream on public transport, despite your having to get two buses and you were early enough that you had time to find the cafe strip off all your outer wear, make up the Star’s bottle and be relaxing with a cup of tea for you and your Mother in Law and a cup of hot water for the Star’s bottle to stand in when your Mother and her friend arrived.

The Star, once fed, enjoyed being fussed over by your Mother, her friend, your Mother in Law and every single female patron of the gallery you met in the lobby. Who greeted his broad ‘people, bright lights, bustle, shiny Christmas decorations, wayhay’ smile with positive cries of delight and who all said how wonderful it was that you were introducing him to culture early.

That was before you stepped into the dim hushed interior of the exhibition rooms proper and the Star, now thoroughly overstimulated, let out a squeal of excitement.

Excellent acoustics, this particular antechamber, you thought. That sound really carried.

Luckily, you were carrying the complementary leaflet the entrance guard had thrust into your hand on the way in. The Star soon busied himself with holding it, crinkling it, scrunching it and putting it in his… oh no you don’t, son. Here look at this big plate. This big silver plate. Look Star, shiny shiny.

The Star, usually so interested in the contents of your china cabinet at home was uninterested in jewel encrusted communion plates. Still, you still had the bit of paper, so that was alright.

For three of the eight rooms, whereupon, the Star, concerned that there was no noise and no light and no one telling him how cute he was decided to do some energetic commentary to compensate.

It was at this point that you realised that you had never before really noticed how quiet and how dark exhibitions of old precious things are, or how diffficult they are to escape from. Particularly when you have to track down the rest of your party first to let them know you are abandoning ship. 

Still, you managed to get out eventually, rescued you coat, wrapped the Star firmly back up in his snowsuit, accepted more compliments about how wonderful it was that… and  made it onto the street. Where the Star promptly went to sleep.

Happy and, probably, replete.

Because despite the fact that today was scheduled as the First Day of Weaning, and in the face of your carefully chosen packet of organic baby rice, judging by the condition of the edges of your complimentary leaflet, the Star’s first meal seems after all to have been a (small) bit of chemical encrusted paper ingested at some point during your distracted dash for the exit.