Monday, December 19, 2005

Marianne Levy's RCA Secret 2005

Royal College of Art Secret Postcards (30.11.05)
I rose at four am.In fact, I didn't. I couldn't. It turns out that I can't. But I rose at ten past four, which really wasn't bad. Then I pulled on all the warm clothing I'd laid out the night before (at this point I felt like I was going on a school trip) said goodbye to John, who, because he is odd, hadn't managed to go to sleep, and then ventured out into the cold. The idea was to arrive just before the first tubes started dropping people there at 5.45.The Cold. It was so very, very cold. I have a super long scarf which I never wear because I look like a mollycoddled six year old in it. But on that chilly Friday, the scarf was my best friend.

I night bussed down to Kensington, and found the queue. It didn't look too bad, just the tents I'd seen a few days before, and the odd huddled person. Then I followed it round the corner and Oh! Oh! there were lots of people. I broke into a small, embarrased trot and took my place. It was dark. It was cold. It was 5.20am.I later found out I was somewhere between 94 and 102 in the queue (two different numbers given to me by RCA staff). A minute or two later a bloke called Jim from Guildford turned up, and then a young man whose name I clearly never bothered to commit to memory, but who I do remember is an investment banker. I'd already tried to exchange a few words with the man in front of me, but he wasn't having any. So it was me, Jim and investment banker.

Here is a picture of me at about 5.30 am. I was already quite cold. This didn't really improve.

So for two and a half hours I queued. On the down side I lost the feeling in all my toes, and, weirdly, my bottom. On the up side I got to realise my ambition of listening to the bleeps that signal the beginning of the Today programme. (Here I ought to point out that this isn't a proper ambition. It was just something I'd always vaguely wanted to do, but only when I thought about it and only when I was bored.)

At just before eight the queue shuffled forwards as people packed up their tents. There was a general sense of anticipation, and people started emerging from their coats; red snuffly noses bared to the dawn. We all started to discuss which postcards we wanted. No one around me was there to try to get anything by someone famous, like me they just fancied getting some cheap, fun art. A woman behind me said that last year she'd had a list of forty, and by the time she'd got to the desk only one of them was still there. I had a list of ten, and only four were for me. A cold hand gripped my heart. Or at least, it ought to have done, but my heart was probably already so cold that it had gone numb.
Then, just after eight, they let us in and my feet thawed out. The man ahead of me in the queue became unexpectedly chatty, but since by that time I'd stood next to him in near silence for nearly three hours I didn't know how to talk to him. Then, after another half an hour, we emerged into The Room Where You Buy The Postcards.

The Room Where You Buy The Postcards was a Bad Place. You queued up and down in a Disney Style formation, all the while watching this screen. It flicked up and down the numbers, and, as each card was sold that number went red. Everyone got out their flimsy bits of paper and started fixedly at it. Once every few minutes someone near me would shake their head and cross a number off their list. People were only allowed to buy four postcards, so, given that there were a hundred people ahead of me, that meant that 400 of 2000 + had gone. But that still meant that everyone round me didn't get their ultimate first choice. I didn't either; the poodle I liked went ten minutes before I got to the desk. So, art is very subjective, but not that subjective. Interesting.
I made it to the desk. I got my second choice postcard, and Beth's third choice. I decided I didn't like the poodle that much anyway. I paid. I relaxed.
Then I went round the corner to collect them, and managed to snap a picture of my postcard while it was still on display. It is the bear. Isn't he lovely?

While I waited I watched a woman interview a young man who'd managed to get four postcards by people like Grayson Perry. But I didn't see the actual cards so I can't tell you which ones they were, and I couldn't work out what channel she was from, so I couldn't watch the report.

And then, finally, four hours after I'd arrived, a runner went and got my cards, and I staggered out into the sun. And then back to bed. Would I do it again? Maybe, I'm not sure. It was cold and horrible and stressful and exciting and satisfying. Anyone want to come with me next year?

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