Coales' Notes: Fun and the domestic lightbulb: Gordon Coales reflects on a week of tricky personal decisions, awkward social events and a political furore

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY: Today I received a call from Dave Curley, the Herald's Entertainment Correspondent - or, as he now styles himself, the 'Heritage Correspondent' - asking what was new at the Centre. When a man like Curley starts taking an interest in the arts, we may assume that the silly season is well underway. I alerted him to our August Festival of Gender and Identity, as something he would certainly wish to cover (I intend to be away then).

He said: 'Am I hearing the word S-E-X?' I explained, not in any sense that he would understand. He replied: 'Oh, I'm broadminded. So what about your Minister for Fun - he's not setting a very good example is he?' I told him that since the third party seemed to be an actress, it was at least evidence of a positive interest in the arts. He said: 'Oh, nice one]'

Thinking further about my holiday. A complete break is needed. I have in mind somewhere entirely free from all cultural activity. But one finds that, in today's Europe, such places are increasingly hard to come by.

TUESDAY: I took my quest to the travel agent this lunchtime. He thought it an unusual inquiry. He said my best bet was probably within Great Britain, but I insisted on abroad.

He eventually agreed to lend me a selection of cultural guides, recommending that I try to work it out by a process of elimination.

Fiona has invited Rowena and myself to dinner with Alan and herself at her house on Thursday. This is most peculiar - in fact quite unprecedented.

I suppose it is the sort of thing that happens when one is 'a couple', but I cannot help suspecting a gambit. Either she is trying to soften me up for a new revelation about Alan's exhibition - or is rubbing in the fact that I too am involved in a professionally questionable relationship.

WEDNESDAY: I have just spent the whole evening poring over the guidebooks. I think I have isolated an area of approximately 40 square miles in the middle of Spain: no sculpture parks, no jazz festivals, no Cathedrals made from driftwood by an Outsider artist, no thriving tradition of folk theatre. It looks pretty promising.

As for tomorrow: I am fully expecting to hear that Alan is suffering from a sudden recurrence of a rare chronic complaint which will prevent him from undertaking any work whatsoever. If I can accomplish one thing before going away, I'm going to make damn sure that he has got his exhibition in progress.

THURSDAY: We arrived late. Fiona was still in her kitchen following a recipe with fanatical precision; Alan was wholly immersed in his intensive study of television, which appeared to require him to change channels at exactly timed intervals. Rowena whispered to me 'He is a zombie.' I warned her not to say anything that might put Alan off.

Finally we sat down to the meal (shepherd's pie) and a prolonged discussion of the misfortunes of David Mellor. There were several remarks about it being an oddly sorted couple, which seemed to be getting rather close to the bone. I said it was something at least to have an arts minister who was basically in favour of the arts, and I hoped he would stay on.

Fiona then fixed me with a beady look, and said: 'Gordon, can I ask you a question I've always wanted to ask you? Speaking honestly, are you in favour of anything that we do at the


I choked rather obviously. She said again: 'Speaking absolutely honestly.' Rowena remarked: 'Oh, what a fascinating question.' I mumbled something about how, in my capacity as an arts administrator, I didn't know whether it was my role to be in favour or not in favour of things, essentially a supervisory and enabling job etc. I didn't feel I could keep this up for very long, and I could see Fiona was waiting to pounce, but Alan, who had been looking increasingly restless, suddenly said: 'OK - how many arts administrators does it take to change a lightbulb?' The answer was: 'One. But only if we can find sponsorship for the ladder.' I had no idea there were any jokes about arts administrators.

Fiona thankfully took up the cue, and said: 'All right, how many art critics does it take to change a lightbulb?' Answer: 'Well, it still works for me. But it was much more powerful if you saw it in the smaller space.' I thought I had better keep this ball rolling, and I told my one: 'How many contemporary artists does it take to change a lightbulb?' Answer: 'I do not seek to provide answers. I am simply trying to ask a question, about lightbulbs.' Alan said: 'Right. Is that intended as a criticism?' I denied it, but he went on: 'Because if it is, I can accept it. I agree. My work is pointless. Point taken.'

Fiona murmured: 'No it's not.' Alan: 'No, Gordon is right. It is time for me to stop asking questions, and to start providing answers. Unfortunately, I do not have any. That's the position.' Rowena then told a long story about the sun, the moon and a domestic lightbulb until it was time to go. As we were leaving, Alan said: 'Thank you for clarifying my mind, Gordon.' Fiona called out: 'Alan - the TV's on.' He reluctantly went back indoors. This is most unfortunate.

FRIDAY: This morning I asked Rowena if she would be interested in coming on holiday with me. She was enthusiastic. She said there was something she had always wanted to visit, but somehow had never managed to, but let this be the year. Namely, the Edinburgh Festival. I tried to persuade her that it really wasn't what it used to be, it would be impossible to find anywhere to stay, anyway it was a very unpleasant city, practically all Sixties tower- blocks. But I think to no avail.