We are waiting in the Car Park at Petworth House where we have arranged to meet our friends, Ian and Sallie, for a visit to the “Constable at Petworth” exhibition. Our timed admission is for 11 a.m. and
it is already five minutes to the hour. Mr B is sure it is All My Fault.
Did I, he asks, confirm by email that we would meet in the car park at 10.40 a.m. Yes,
I say, with as much conviction as I can muster. But did I, he persists, get an email back from our friends confirming that they had received my email confirming that I had received their email confirming the arrangements? Sometimes, I tell him, you simply
have to accept that a line of conversation is closed.
Could it be, he changes tack, that there is more than one car park and we are in the wrong one? Did I ask
this specific question in my email to our friends? I admit I didn’t but point out that, as we are standing right outside the “Way In”, I can’t really see that we can be in the wrong place.
Don’t I have our friends’ mobile phone number? is the next question. I have to admit that I do not. What is the use of me having a mobile phone, complains Mr B (who has a mobile phone but never uses it, preferring
to allow it to sit gathering dust on our kitchen worktop where its main job is to act as a paperweight for the post-it note which reminds us to “Put Rubbish Out.”)
You may, at this point, be silently commending me for my patience – but the thing is, I have been mistakenly telling him, all the way in the car, that we are going to an Exhibition of paintings by Turner. In short, I have the wrong artist and
he has been quite seriously misinformed. So far he hasn’t twigged this, possibly because, a bit like me, he doesn’t know his Turner from his Constable.
Our friends arrive at last, just as we have taken our seats in the courtesy bus transporting us the 700 yards up to the House. I wave regally at them, rather in the fashion of the Queen, as we pull away – they yell that they will meet us
at the entrance to the exhibition. All is well that ends well and we are just in time for our 11 a.m. admission. “You see, no panic,” I tell Mr B.
This highly cultural outing has taken the place of our usual monthly “Meals and Wheels Club.” Regular blog readers may remember that the idea of this highly exclusive club with a membership of just four, is that one couple provides the meal
each month and the other couple uses their wheels to get to the hosts' house. Sometimes we call it the “Wheels and Meals Club” to avoid getting mixed up with the WRVS operation but it’s a fine distinction.
The Exhibition is completely Sold Out and the room in which the paintings are displayed is absolutely packed. I find a large print guide which is extremely helpful as it saves me having to try to push
my way near enough to each picture to read the small print alongside. The paintings on show are all of Sussex scenes, many familiar to us – how fascinating to read that Constable didn’t much care for Arundel Castle. Obviously he preferred
the humble windmill, judging by the number of his paintings in which they appear. My friend, Sal, is less than impressed and points out that virtually every painting features a gloomy, grey sky in the left hand corner. It can’t always have been
like that, not every time Constable took out his trusty sketch pad, she protests. This hadn’t occurred to me until then but she does have a point. The Constable lovers all around us look crossly at us for our temerity in finding fault. They
probably think we should have gone to the Turner Exhibition instead.
Next we visit the Library, which is not usually open to visitors. This is where Constable,
Turner and other artists gathered at the invitation of the 3rd Earl of Egremont to paint. Not for nothing did they call Petworth the “Art House”. Lying several deep on various cupboards are tantalising folders containing (we are
told) countless unspecified engravings and sketches. There they are, gathering dust like Mr B’s mobile phone and – again, like Mr B’s phone - sadly in need of attention. Sal says she will write a letter suggesting that the whole collection
of books and engravings be handed over to the National Trust forthwith and efforts made to catalogue and digitise them.
We wander back to the car park through
gardens strewn with daffodils and repair to a 17th century pub called The Grove Inn for lunch. It seems most appropriate to eat there as one of the paintings we saw in the exhibition was of this very building, though we didn’t know this
when we agreed on it as our lunch venue.
The next meeting of the "Meals and Wheels Club" will be at our place. It won’t be half so grand and there
won’t be any works of art on display. Not a Constable in sight
Nor even a Turner...