Friday, 25 September 2015

Selfie in a Convex Mirror

With apologies to John Ashbery.  One of these days I'll get around to finishing "Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror", but I can never get past that elementary error about the "right hand" in Parmigianino's painting.  At least, I presume it's an error.  Maybe it's a false trail laid to entrap and infuriate us lefties.  If so, it works.

Anyway.  I was in Bristol most of this week, and revisited the City Museum for the first time in thirty-five years.  It has both changed a lot and not changed at all, in that paradoxical way of cash-strapped public museums.  I used to pop in there once or more a week in my lunch break, when I worked at the university library in the late 1970s, as it's right next to what used to be the refectory.  It still houses mostly the same old stuff, but re-arranged, re-mounted and re-interpreted for newer generations who clearly need things explaining to them in what even the eleven-year old me would have regarded as patronising detail.   I know what an amphibian is, thank you very much.  No, and I don't want to stroke some feathers or handle a chunk of fossilized "dinosaur poo", either.

Museums do have my sympathy, though, especially the civic variety.  It's vitally important that someone holds comprehensive, well-displayed and interpreted collections of real artefacts produced by historic local industries, but jugs and plates and glassware are dull stuff to the typical museum-goer compared to dinosaur skeletons and shrunken heads.  Especially when the typical visitor is a member of a school-party of bored kids fizzing with cola-induced ADSD.

But you can't beat a stuffed mandrill, can you?  I was very taken by the prescient, meditative posture chosen by some taxidermist, decades before The Lion King; thank goodness some crowd-pleaser hasn't given him Rafiki's stick.  Mind you, there really aren't that many mandrills in the Bristol locality.

Except in the zoo, of course, which I also visited, but wished I hadn't.  Not least because Bristol Zoo holds a special place in the hearts of those who were TV-watching children in the 1960s and 70s, as it was the home turf of the programme Animal Magic and its presenter Johnny Morris.  It's always been a small zoo, being tucked away in a tight corner between the open Downs and the Georgian terraces of Clifton, but in our more humane times it clearly now has acute space problems.  Despite having done away with various bear pits, elephant enclosures and other Victorian abuses, and focussed its efforts on endangered species in the same way as its more spacious cousin at Marwell, there's still a sad air of freak-show clinging to the place.
There were one great big lion called Wallace
His nose were all covered with scars
He lay in a som-no-lent posture
With the side of his face to the bars.

The Lion and Albert, by Marriott Edgar (delivered by Stanley Holloway)
For all the brightly upbeat publicity, the sight of bored gorillas slumped like stoners in a particularly bare and squalid squat, or neurotic Asiatic lions pacing endlessly back and forth behind glass and wire are at odds with the progressive image the zoo would like to project.  I came away feeling quite negative about "survival in captivity" as a strategy, when human destruction of ecosystems is the real and inescapable issue.  Crows will adapt to and survive anything, obviously, including a McDiet of discarded takeaways, but the giant panda and other borderline species seems pretty hell-bent on going extinct, if they can't have things just so.  I don't see a concrete enclosure with idiotic humans tapping constantly on the glass ever becoming any creature's environment of choice.

To compound matters, the zoo managers have concluded -- like the museum, and perhaps rightly -- that their typical visitor is about ten, has the attention span of a goldfish, and would actually rather be in an adventure playground.  No problem!  We have one of those, too -- right this way!  And please don't poke the lions with that stick.

Hey, kid!  Interpret THIS!

Oh, and a completely unrelated warning:  if you own an iPad 2 (or presumably the original version) DO NOT attempt to upgrade it to iOS 9.  Repeat:  DO NOT attempt to upgrade it to iOS 9.  You'll be sorry if you do.  Mine is OK now (I think) but it's been a long road to recovery.

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