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Wednesday, 20 February 2013


"See that bicycle wheel behind you," my son says, as we share a companionable coffee in the kitchen, the only space in his new flat not already silted up by art in progress or the tools he makes it with.

"I do," I tell him. "A fine-looking wheel, if incongruous in a kitchen. Is it concept art?"

"No, it's a bicycle wheel."

"It's just that I once saw a teaspoon painted pink in a picture frame," I tell him. "I was told that art is whatever an artist says is art."

He sips from his mug and makes a little moue. "What do you think of this stuff?" he asks, reaching for the packet and reading aloud: "'Brimming with Latin spirit, this is the perfect convivial coffee.'"

He tosses it on the table, spilling dark beans on the cream surface. "What does that mean?" he demands. "It's a daft phrase from a bad writer. 'Brimming with Latin spirit' my arse. It's just coffee."

"But a perfectly pleasant coffee," I tell him. "Give the guy a break. Words in the mind of a writer are like objects in an artist's hands."

He looks at me suspiciously. "Did you write it?" he asks. "Have you been bought by the marketing moguls?"

"Not yet," I tell him. "But I've written similar stuff. Words have sounds, sense and clouds of connotation. Good writers use all those. It's not just about meaning. What if I asked for the meaning of those decaying apples inside coffee-stirrer scaffolding you've got in the lounge?"

He flashes the smile that's warmed me since I first saw it thirty years ago. "I'd say it shows that creation and decay are complementary aspects of a single essence," he tells me. "But I'd know that's postmodern at best and probably bollocks. Art is process and ambiguity, not products and precise meaning."

"So is writing," I say. "Just not so much.

"But there has to be a core of connection," he insists. "Words need a hard wire to earth or those fluffy clouds will float them away."

"Unlike that bicycle wheel," I say.

"Exactly," he says. "That's about as grounded as you get. But it also carries a modicum of metaphorical meaning."

I drain the dregs, place the mug on the table and stand up ready to go. "Which is what?" I ask. "Without spokes there is no centre? Rubber makes the world go round? Enlighten me, oh wise one."

"Choose your own cheesy cliché," he tells me. "For me it's circles. My mum sends me five texts at three in the morning complaining I never talk to her. Which is annoying, so I don't answer. So she sends me five more texts, which is annoying so ... Everything moves in circles."

"Except rockets, arrows, bullets, planes, trains, automobiles, pawns, knights and bishops." I say, as he collects our coffee mugs and places them in the stainless-steel sink.

"Except those," he agrees, flashing the self-deprecating smile again. "But next time around they probably will."

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