So anyway, the bus pulled up at the stop. I paused for the standing passenger to alight, but it turned out he was chatting to the driver. The bus rumbled away, past the derelict church and the abandoned cars and the storage drums full of concrete, designed to prevent travellers from driving onto the building site.
The man at the front resumed his monologue, holding forth in a balding, middle-aged way about benefits culture and immigrants and daytime television. His whining rant was lavishly adorned with blasphemy; I was going to put in my hearing-aid, but the rattle of the bus windows and the squeal of the brakes would have made it painful.
His face was locked in an unsteady scowl; I couldn’t tell if the man had been drinking, but there was something clumsy and incoherent about his rant, with two or three phrases being repeated over and over again as he leaned on the scratched Perspex screen that kept the driver safe.
So you want me to teach your kids about Art?
That’s quite a lofty goal; where do
You think I ought to start?
I worry about the element of blasphemy
Implicit in depictions of the person, but
All these paradigms of culture
Keep changing lanes too fast for me.
Consider two forbidden nudes
Trapped in a hard embrace. Although they
Perished in the flames, their bodies
Stayed behind for us to see, immortalised in
Cold grey stone without their names.
Should I show them the earring on its own?
Inanimate delights that cultivate
In popular mythology the essence of a scene
Made up three hundred years ago, when
Unclean brushes smeared the tarnished oil
To render thus an image more obscene. And
Your kids will grow up thinking that
A painting of a shiny blob of chalk
Attracts great hordes of visitors each year
To hit the Hague and wallow in the halls
Of Art, that seem to stretch away eternally.
So when they get to see her, the shock
Will be profound. She’s everywhere; smiling
At me from bus stops and bookshops
And magazine racks. Until your kids have seen the truth,
The context and the setting of that pearl
I don’t think you’ll be able to relax.