DAY 3: Irene Lofthouse – Gardens, Squares, Many Layers

Gardens, Squares, Many Layers 

Strolling around, I happen upon Lockdown & Before (Ram Shergill). Images of an almost deserted Doughty Street, empty British Museum entrances/exits and ghostly Gower Street on a 2020 Bloomsbury Festival walk, slide and click in my mind projecting, flickering through the  busy crowds, the streets no longer strangely quiet.

  Interrogating Nick Andrew’s Light & Shade outdoor exhibition of gardens and squares, I wander entranced to so many I’ve never visited, but realise I’ve often passed. I sit, watch, write; I even sketch (how many years?), discovering layers of lived experiences from mason’s marks, inscriptions, tennis players, sculptures, plantings, pocked flagstones footstep-flattened, to which I add my own. Such a pleasure after a tour today to bump into Nick sketching, see a piece in progress and chat about enthusiastic GCSE art students.

  Bengal to Camden connected and resonated, coming as I do from Bradford with its large Bangladeshi community. Shared experiences of the exhibition interviewees spoke to the stories I’d heard as an ESOL volunteer decades ago of language, integration, racism, liberation, resilience, pride in culture and creativity. They echo through time yet link the past to the present on my collaborative project about the 1985 Bradford City Fire, where the Bangladeshi community were  instrumental in offering early help and support to fire victims.

  It’s a long time since I’ve been on a tour featuring and celebrating the lives and achievements of so many women, and moreover, with visible acknowledgements through plaques and sculptures. It’s not what I was expecting on Bloomsbury French Connections – which was a revelation. As was the number of women who had gone to France to follow their dreams of becoming a doctor, anaesthetist, pioneer of cervical cancer surgery, founder of hospitals, of developing scientific skills leading to DNA helix discovery. Our last stop was at Noor Inayat Khan’s sculpture, the first female radio operator in France for Britain, but who paid the price for her bravery. Noor I knew, having visited schools in Bradford several years ago as her handler Vera Atkins, telling the story to students, many Muslim, who had never heard of Noor. I’m so delighted that she (and the other women) have been acknowledged for their contributions; the tour gave me much food for thought.

  I should read descriptions of events – but sometimes I find it’s better not to. So it was with Alice in Flatland at the RADA Studio. There were no flats, apartments, condominiums, shared rooms or anything resembling them – only flatland with roooods from here to there under the water as Alice floated on her bed in the sea searching for meaning to her dreams of a lost sister, following the shining light because seeing is believing. A clever allusive script incorporating nods to the looking glass, loss, quarks and the Lobster Quadrille (more French connections). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of my favourite books, so a pleasure to see a reworking by emerging new talent.

  What an eclectic day with so many resonating connections I wasn’t expecting. Finishing my day, I sat in one of the gardens, listening to it readying for dusk.

morse code signals
staccato clicks
bird to bird
here in their
winter habitat

Irene Lofthouse

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DAY 3: Irene Lofthouse – Gardens, Squares, Many Layers