The children and I went down to Hastings on the train.
At school Leo’s theme for the term is ‘The Great British Seaside’, and one of his homework tasks is to plan a trip to the seaside; deciding how to get there, what to take, and what to see once there.
When I thought of Hastings, I thought of the Jerwood Gallery. By the time we are near the gallery, however, I have changed my mind. I’ve paid for the train, entry to Hastings Castle, a funicular and lunch by this point; we’ve climbed mottes, clambered on walls, explored dank dungeons. I’ve done time at the windswept new playground, and then persuaded my two down the pebbled beach to where the outgoing tide is leaving decreasing pools. We watch a fish flop out of a wave and onto the stones, gasping for breath before being claimed by a seagull.
Leaving the RNLI station where we’ve admired the Mersey class lifeboat, we enter the Stade.
‘Go on then,’ Leo says. ‘You wanted to go there.’
‘I don’t think I want to pay to go in,’ I tell him. I’ve too many experiences of being dragged at super-speed around galleries, museums and historic houses to think that it will be worth it.
On the other hand, extremely cold and over-sized raindrops are starting to fall upon us.
‘We could just go and have a look.’
As we enter the door I tell Leo, ‘If I’m paying to go in, you have to take your time and look at the paintings. You can’t rush in and out.’
Five minutes later we are in the Prunella Clough exhibition, and Leo is most interested in the ventilation grates in the floor. He is lying full length on the one nearest the entrance, peering down below.
‘Why are they even here? What’s down there? What are they for?’
His small sister joins him and they both make star shapes on the floor as they peer down between the lines of the grate.
I try to ignore them, and take the opportunity to look at the paintings while they are occupied.
I’ve not heard of the artist before, but I like her paintings. The introduction says that she aimed to say ‘a small thing, edgily’ and I enjoy this idea a lot. It would be a nice thing to be able to do with writing, too.
All too soon, interest in the grate wanes.
‘When can we leave?’ Leo asks.
‘We only just got here, and you wanted to come in.’
‘I want to go back to the playground.’
Oh, the playground, where I have to stand and admire his ‘sailing’ a ‘boat’, fully exposed to the bracing cold wind.
‘Can you see the bird in this painting?’ I ask his sister. ‘Do you like the colours?’
I turn around and see Leo trying to prise the edge of a different ventilation grate up from the smooth floor.
‘Stop it!’ I hiss.
‘But when can we go to the plaaayground?’
The Jerwood gallery is a beautiful space. Upstairs, the shore and sea are perfectly framed by a huge floor to ceiling window; and I am torn between that picture and admiration of a painting of a window; Frank Brangwyn’s From my window at Ditchling, incidentally the first painting purchased by the Jerwood Foundation in 1993.
Leo waves towards another painting. ‘We’ve got one of those,’ he says.
Well, no, we don’t actually have a Lowry. We don’t even have a Lowry print.
‘It does look familiar,’ says Leo.
He’s right, it does. I think it’s because it’s of the North, from whence we came.
Too soon for me, we are leaving the gallery. I’d like to think this interlude, however brief, has left an impression on my children; that even from sidelong glances, or in passing, some momentary appreciation of art may have entered their minds.