THE LOST OF ENGLAND:

THE NATIONAL GAME




What do we see here? Well, I hate to rush into things, but how about… At best, stalemate between the UK and Europe (the ball's in
votre court, ami), and, at worst, disillusion, failure and silence all round.

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George Shaw. The National Game, 2017. Enamel on canvas, 46 x 55cm

But let's take the analysis a lot more slowly. What did George Shaw write to me recently about the paintings that collectively make up The Lost of England?

'As for Brexit, it's only really a poultice that's brought the infection to the surface. There’s nothing new as anyone with the merest trace of common sense, a decent pair of NHS glasses and the ability to smell shit on their own shoe could tell you.'

That quote takes you straight into The National Game, does it not? The drain is blocked from pedestrians scraping the shit from their shoes into it.

I’m not sure I’ve made a painting about Brexit Britain, its simply the way it always was ... just Britain. I think Brexit has given a decent enough reason for those that don’t like the whiff of the future - or the present - to wave their hands in the air and distance themselves.'


An abandoned football lies on a deserted stretch of no-man's land between two rows of garages somewhere in Tile Hill. I'd better clear up the location issue, indeed I can't resist doing so. In the aerial view below, the painter was standing close to the bottom of the image looking towards the top of it. You can see the drain bottom-middle. The row of garages on the left in the painting, is the block of five garages middle-left in the aerial photo. And you can see the skip that's in the painting, just beyond that row of five garages in the photo. I hope that's clear.

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The photo shows shabby back gardens and abandoned vehicles that the painting doesn't. Actually, the aerial shot, maybe because of the view into the back gardens, brings to mind Paul Noble's Nobslum. Noble was brought up in Whitley Bay and, as I have remarked before, the work he has made inspired by his home town, parallels George Shaw's, both in the ambition of its theme and the commitment of its execution. Both are such brutally British visions.

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Paul Noble, Nobslum, 1998. Pencil on paper.

See where the fire is burning in the middle of the dead-end road? In my mind's eye, that's the equivalent of where the drain is in the George Shaw painting.

Back to the mundane. Where is the site of
The National Game in relation to the previous two garage sites in the Shaw paintings I've recently investigated? Part of the answer is shown in the following aerial shot which is east-west rather than west-east in orientation, as the last was. The site of The National Game is bottom right of this aerial shot. To get to the site of The Buildings of England, move up-photo until hitting Aldrich Avenue (the main road going from top right to middle left). Then travel south (left) past the four-storey blocks of Pepys Corner and there you have it on the far side of Aldrich Avenue. The site of Polling Day is another few hundred yards to the south. But I'll leave that until making a map of all 'The Lost of England' locations later.

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Let's get back to the painting in hand. Already it looks both scarier and more inviting, does it not? Could it be that the members of an underclass live in those garages? They eat and sleep and live and die in the garages, coming out only to sip alcohol in a circle around the sacred foo'baw. Occasionally someone will place a claw-like hand on the sphere, which represents the world, at which point chatter subsides, and he or she is allowed to - indeed expected to - speak from the heart and with vision.

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George Shaw. The National Game, 2017. Enamel on canvas, 46 x 55cm

Back to basics. I mustn't run before I can crawl.

I'm reminded of the painting,
The Blocked Drain, that I reproduced on the last page. But I don't think the drain is necessarily blocked in this case, with dog shit or anything else. It may just have been raining a lot, as it has been in Britain throughout August, 2019.

But
The National Game was made in 2017. And to give that fact it's due, the record of the English football team had been shaky over recent decades. The national team did get to the semi-finals of the World Cup, but that was in 2018.

It needs to be said that cricket is another national game, and England have, for the first time, won the World Cup in the summer of 2019 and in spectacular fashion. Moreover, their star player (born in New Zealand, in case you think that English sport has received a Brexit boost) has just played the most brilliant of innings to turn around the latest Ashes series against Australia. The English women's football team also made the semi-finals of the football World Cup this year, and the England mens' rugby team is looking forward to doing well in the rugby World Cup which kicks off in a few weeks time. Maybe English sport really is benefitting from a Brexit boost! However, England is, and always has been, one of the most successful nations on earth when it comes to team sports.

Ok, now let me return to August's email communication between George Shaw and myself. Of his National Gallery show, 'My Back To Nature', which I wrote about in June, George said:
'It was wonderful to read so many references to Riddley Walker. A truly wonderful work. Did you ever see The Changes - a children’s tv series form the mid seventies and based on Peter Dickinson’s Devil’s Children trilogy. Another accurate description of the future based on the obvious reality of today.'

To which I replied on August 24, about a week ago:

'Sorry I don’t know that Peter Dickinson work (I’ll investigate) but I’m glad we share an admiration for Riddley Walker. Cult books, bands and films are specific to each generation (or two). Right now, Sally Rooney is in vogue, but I haven’t got round to checking out her novel. It’s too late to influence my life’s work, after all, as the bedding down process seems to take a while. The film Stalker shares some of Riddley Walker’s themes and was equally fashionably cult-famous around 1980. I mention it in passing in the Empire of Shite essay. Do you know the film? A guide takes a writer and a scientist to a special place in The Zone. Could almost be you. I’ll maybe mention this when I write about The National Game. That painting has the requisite amount of post-Apocalyptic puddle.'

Here is a still from
Stalker.

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Tarkovsky. Stalker, 1979. Cropped still.

Actually, the still puts me in mind of Ben Stokes, resting between heroics at Lords and Headingley. It also makes me think of myself. I developed a cold while writing The Buildings of England (which, as a result, may not be up to standard) and had to stop for two whole days in the middle of writing Polling Day (ditto, as regards prose quality and idea-buzz). I couldn't even think about Tile Hill while I was dealing with a constant stream of snot, dear reader. I dozed during the day, to make up for sleepless nights, and fretted about losing the week-long writing slot I'd kept free for myself. I also listened to the radio, on and off, trying to keep up with what was an extraordinary week in politics.

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George Shaw. The National Game, 2017. Enamel on canvas, 46 x 55cm. Detail. Plus cropped still from Tarkosky's Stalker.

Here's how the week's political drama developed, as I took it in while recuperating in bed with Radio 4.

Wednesday: Boris gets Queen to suspend parliament from September 9 (or so) to October 14.

Thursday: Opposition uproar over the above. But also among 'rebel' Tories. Leader of Conservative party in Scotland steps down (largely for personal reasons though the prorogation of parliament seems to have been a factor).

Friday: Those against leaving Europe without a deal try to get their act together. Immense activity on Twitter re constitutional law and historical precedent. Much use of the word 'coup'.

Saturday: Demonstrations against the closing of parliament all round the country. Trafalgar Square full of outraged but peaceful people. Thousands of others on The Mall outside Buckingham Palace.

Sunday: Opposition to No Deal exit decide against forcing a vote of no-confidence and instead to use the coming week to set in place legislation that prevents a No Deal happening.

Monday: Boris Johnston makes statement outside 10 Downing Street that such anti-No Deal legislation would cut the legs under his negotiations with the EU. He says that he doesn't want a General Election. Throughout his four-minute talk you can hear a chant of 'Stop the Coup' from demonstrators who seem to be as switched on as Boris Johnson's team of advisers clearly are.

So it's game of chess. But I have to say that the activity on my Twitter feed and the photos taken around the UK on the Saturday very much suggest that our true 'national game' is democracy. And that is something that perks me up. Yes, I am feeling better again. I have risen from my sick bed and am getting back up to speed. Just watch me now…

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George Shaw. The National Game, 2017. Enamel on canvas, 46 x 55cm

"Ah, Nigel. Good to see you."

"I came as quickly as I could. Do you want to suggest an election pact?"

"No. I want to teach you the Eton Wall Game. In this version we use a ball covered in nobslum. Which, as you know, is a posh, postmodern word for PIGSHIT."

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"Really?"

"Get down on your hands and knees and address the nobbed-up ball with your face."

"But there might be glass in the puddles."

"I expect there is. And worse."

"Now what?"

"Just bump the ball along the ground with your nose. Try to keep it equidistant between the two sets of garages."

Nigel makes steady progress in rolling the ball.

"Stop the coup!"

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"Ouch!"

"Sorry, Nigel. For
a second, I thought your besuited posterior belonged to a BBC interviewer, and I couldn't control my foot."

Nigel makes steady progress.

"Stop the coup!"

"Ouch."

"Sorry, Nigel. For
a moment, I thought your backside was the arse of Pablo Picasso, and I couldn't control my foot."

Nigel makes steady progress.

"Stop the coup!"

"Ouch."

"Sorry, Nigel. For
a second, I thought you were Monsieur Barnier, and I couldn't control my f-f-f-fucking foot."

Nigel stops nosing the leather, stretches his neck and looks behind him.

"Look, is this getting us anywhere?"

"We are doing very well in dealing with tough-at-the-top-job frustration. And, actually, it is getting us places. In a terrifically mundane way it is getting us somewhere quite
specific."




'The Lost of England' will be continued in that specific place when the omens seem right for it.




Acknowledgements

The images of George Shaw’s works on this site are copyright the artist. The artist is represented by Anthony Wilkinson.

'The Lost of England' was an exhibition of George Shaw paintings at Maruani Mercier in autumn, 2017.