Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

It's a Sunday and as our son doesn't have any sporting engagements for the first time in 657 years my partner proposes a Family Day Out, a simple enough phrase always promoted in newspapers -- The Best Family Days Out; Great Days Out For The Family -- but one which always strikes terror in my heart. What amuses one family member often does not amuse another. The one who is not amused sulks. The one who would otherwise be amused sulks at the one who sulks. The one who was initially indifferent sulks because everyone else is sulking and in no time at all the Family Falls Out and the drive home is of the utterly silent type bar the odd pinch and consequent shriek (and that's just the parents). Some friends of ours recently took their kids on the Eye, but their eldest daughter was so miffed at having been cruelly robbed of time that could otherwise be spent flirting with boys in Costa Coffee that she would only look at the floor. Not a chatty trip home there, then. Still, we persist, as this is our first free Sunday in 657 years and we decide on the Tate Modern. Our own teenage son is enthusiastic, as evidenced by many repetitions of, 'Do I have to come?' Yes, we tell him, because we are mean and enjoy being so. I am minded to add he's lucky that there don't appear to be as many air shows as there once were. When I was a child just the threat of 'Biggin Hill' would tow us all neatly into line. The trouble with kids today is that they just don't know what it's like to stand in a freezing field waiting for the Red Arrows in whom you have no interest whatsoever.

Anyway, the Tate Modern it is, plus lunch in their highly thought-of restaurant -- or at least, that's the impression I got -- but which turns out to be grim with hateful, priggish service, but we'll get to that. The Tate itself is a wonderful building -- the old Bankside power station -- on the river in North Southwark. We enter via the Turbine Hall and Rachel Whiteread's 'Embankment', a gigantic labyrinth made from 14,000 casts of different boxes. We look at it first from the balcony. The great thing about taking kids to look at modern art is that their responses are uninhibited, whereas mine are not. If I say it's great will I look like an arse? If I say it's crap will I look like an arse? Do I like it?

Don't I like it? How am I meant to tell if I do or don't like it? I know I should let it speak to me but what if I can't hear it saying anything? My son, though, has no such troubles. 'What do you think?' I ask him.

'Great, ' he says. 'Fantastic, amazing, whoopee. Can we go now?' No, I say.

Instead, we take a walk through the exhibit.

The bumf says it is meant to 'invoke the sense of mystery surrounding ideas of what a sealed box might contain', but I'm thinking it would be more fun just to play Jenga with it.

Our son refuses to be won over. It is: 'We've seen it now.' Then, very hopefully: 'I know!

Let's go!' I had noted, on our way in, that the following Friday there would be a conference on Dada, the aim of which 'is to try and think about Dada beyond the heavily mythologised narratives that surround the local groups and connect Dada to the recent concerns of humanities scholarship such as issues of identity, theories of the avant-garde and mass culture'. I wonder if I should book him in, as a nice surprise.

We pootle about, try to get into Henri Rousseau but fail, then make our way to the restaurant on the seventh floor. The restaurant is sleek and has the most amazing view right over to St Paul's. …

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