I had a pleasant culture vacuuming trip to London this week which even the weather didn’t dampen, although Transpennine Express did their best, running one of my trains 45 minutes late. Reports on one or two of my art gallery visits will appear under ‘Perambulations’ in a day or two's time (Tate Britain, Hayward, ICA). As regards art gallery visits, I do hope that after the 29th March 2019 all foreigners will be banned from those UK galleries which are currently free to all-comers. Unless, that is, these happy tourists are made to pay the same exorbitant fees we have to pay to enter their temples of art. Alternatively, they could make their galleries free to all, as we do. My trampled sense of injustice on this issue is not alleviated by some warm sense of international solidarity – not when confronted by hordes of foreign freeloaders turning the National Gallery into the noisy mayhem of an international airport shopping mall. This gripe could be the only thing that could possibly make me support Brexit should we have a second vote on the wretched subject.
My mood was not lightened by reading an article in the Evening Standard headlined “MI6 architect reveals hidden technology to combat terrorists and moped riders.” This revealed that “X-ray cameras that can reveal hidden weapons under clothes . . . are among the next generation of ‘public realm’ defence gadgets on show in London today.” (28th November) A ‘Protecting Urban Spaces’ installation was it seems the ‘centrepiece’ of the International Security Expo held at Olympia. “One of the devices on show is the Argon weapon scanner, which resembles a large upturned oil drum. It fires electromagnetic waves at passers-by for operators to see on-screen if guns or knives are beneath their clothes.” This is not good news for anyone receiving a cutlery canteen as a wedding gift. That would probably land them with a life sentence on top of their wedding. The creators of the technological marvel say it is “able to detect metallic and non-metallic concealed contraband as small as a matchbox.” This will bring stop and search into the realm of mass surveillance which even (cliché spoiler) George Orwell never dreamed of. But what else can electromagnetic rays be used for? If ‘rays’ have any relationship to ‘pulses’ then we could have a ‘passive’ weapon which at sufficient strength could immobilise all electronic gadgets within its range. Yes, we could have mini-neutron bombs on every corner. Keep an eye out for upturned oil drums.
There was a bit of this sort of madness at work when I tried to visit the very small gallery in Canada House. Normally this room is bereft of visitors even though it faces the National Gallery. To get into this locked-off room (locked off from the rest of the building that is) one has to pass through a security check every bit as rigorous as at an airport. I thought I had gotten rid of every metal object on me but still the magic arch scanner beeped. Clearly with nothing better to do the attendant looked at my belt. But by this point I had had enough and decided to give up. The attendant reminded me this was a diplomatic building. That being so, perhaps they should abandon the one room so-called public gallery and in future ensure that Canadian art remains a secret, lest security guards imagine it will be blown to smithereens.