Home » But is it art? » In the lap of luxury

In the lap of luxury

“Being showered with presents is one of your favourite experiences. You’re not materialistic; you just love being pampered.” (Yahoo! Horoscope)

Do you know, I honestly think I must have some kind of direct spiritual connection with the heavily beringed hieromancer, Russell Grant.

How does he know this about me? Tell me, how?

My son has taken a more fatalistic approach. ‘Is that your latest guitar?’ ‘No, actually, it is my last guitar. I sold all the others to buy it. I don’t ever want to have to buy another one.’ ‘So it is the ultimate guitar then?’ ‘Er…’

Maybe not. It’s very lovely, wine-red with gilded brightwork, and has an extra-wide neck to accommodate my fat fingers, that no longer seem to work in quite such a co-ordinated fashion as they once might have. It was quite expensive. But there’s something… it’s partly to do with the finish.

It’s not quite the right wine; the same Burgundy red as the one I tried to buy in Birmingham, the one in the photo in the interblogue, that they didn’t have in stock and needed four months to order. It’s darker, more like Hungarian Bull’s Blood, with a secret black tiger-stripe effect hidden under a gloss seal that I find mildly disturbing. Made in Japan, I found it in Germany, where they do things differently (for instance, I ordered it late on Thursday night in Cologne and it arrived without warning and with moderate accuracy only two doors away, in my village on the impenetrable west coast of Wales, the following Monday afternoon.)

The top is not quite as deeply arched as I would have liked. You don’t get that from a straight-on photo. But it’s mostly to do with the weight distribution.

I’d been looking forward for months to finding a compact hollowbody format with a hybrid pickup system with which to pamper myself, but they are either rare or aesthetically hideous. I followed Russell’s advice not to go for something flashy and unusual and instead gave up, reverting to the classic, two-pickup, ‘335’ semi-hollow shape, that he felt I would not regret in years to come, only to find that this one is regrettably heavy and tends to slide backwards off my lap while I am struggling to form the D7 (b13th) chord; so-called ‘jazz’ chord extensions being mathematical improbabilities bewildering to the majority of classically trained musicians who imagine there are only seven whole and five half-tones in the scale, making twelve.

The obvious solution was to go into town and blow a fiver on a guitar strap, that would take the weight of the big-end off my right thigh. My incorrect and lazy playing position would horrify Segovia, but it seems to suit jazz musicians. Unfortunately, all the strap has done is to transfer the weight to my neck, with consequent strain on my dorsal fins.

So it may not be the last one, after all. But if it is not, I am reduced to a choice of only one very, very much more gratifyingly expensive guitar I have been lusting after. And without mortgaging my house I do not see how that can ever be afforded; the corollary being that I should then be homeless and lacking the electricity supply needed to milk the power of its fabulous pickups – given that I should have to acquire an even more fabulous and expensive amplifier and another house to go with it.

Now, if I sound materialistic, please understand that it is the spiritual and aesthetic qualities inherent in musical instruments that attract me to them, not the mere fact of possession. If I were a better (less lazy and unimaginative) player, it would also be their musical qualities, but alas.

The problem has also been, you see, that I have no-one to shower me with presents, so that I am forced to shower myself.

I long ago forsook materialism, and prefer to have about me just a small number of intensely beautiful and useful things; hence my sale last week of a set of six prints of jewel-like watercolours by the artist, JMW Turner, little sketches that he made on a trip to France that he wasn’t otherwise enjoying, at the behest of his patron, the curious polymath Ruskin.

Often cited as one of the Eminent Victorians, it is hard to see why. Eminence was the very thing he lacked. Ruskin famously recoiled in horror on his wedding night upon discovering that his bride sported a luxuriant bush of pubic hair, and was so shattered by this unexpected revelation that he was unable to consummate the marriage, which had to be annulled.

It seems odd that a grown man who knew all there was to know about art, literature and the Classical period suspected nothing whatever of human anatomy, but that’s polymaths for you. It came as a bit of a shock to me too. But, like going to a party where you don’t know anybody, you just have to dive in.

Though the hundred pounds (£95 after heinous bank charges) was welcome at Christmastide, the sale of my Turners has left me with bare walls in the bedroom, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

Why do we hang pictures on our walls? We seldom if ever look at them again, they are only there to dictate to the emptiness of bare walls. We become accustomed to the oddly shaped no-man’s land between the frames, creating a maze of linked rectangles in which the mind can wander freely. We notice the pictures more when they are not there; we gaze on them fondly, only through the eyes of visitors searching for clues to our great and good taste.

As I lie in bed in the mornings, the thing that most interests me is hunting for the joins in the paper on the ceiling. The individual strips have been expertly butted together – quite hard to do when you are covering an irregular old cottage ceiling with textured paper – and the joins are all-but invisible. One is slightly overlapping, so I take that as my reference line and work the rest out mathematically.

When you have ceiling paper, who needs art? I’m sure Turner would have appreciated the irony as his subjects gradually vanished into a haze of white light. And it was that other Eminent Victorian, William Morris, who famously declared the principles of utilitarianism; and John Keats who knotted together the sheets of truth and beauty before escaping through the window of Eternity.

That none may have seen the beauty in guitars is not really relevant. It exists for me. Hoping to shrink my material world more to the compass of just one or two items of beauty and usefulness, I have lots more stuff advertised for sale, even my house. But, as I constantly moan, there are not a lot of buyers out there. Only me.

Unlike Victorian England, ours is an age of austerity, well suited to bare walls and unfulfilled dreams. These things have their own beauty, their own usefulness, and I am quite content to watch them be.

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