At the movies · Notes from West London

Beaten by “The Clock”

Back in September I wrote this piece about “The Clock”, Christian Marclay’s installation at Tate Modern here in London. As I noted, using words from the Tate’s website, it is “a montage of thousands of film and television images of clocks, edited together so they show the actual time. It is a thrilling journey through cinematic history as well as a functioning timepiece”. The montage of film and television clips covers every minute of an entire 24-hour cycle.  On the opening weekend in September I caught 45 minutes’ worth of “The Clock” and was looking forward to seeing as much of it as possible, maybe the entire 24 hours, in the weeks ahead. There were all-night screenings once a month and I hoped to attend at least part of each of them.

It didn’t happen. I have been beaten by “The Clock” and have just updated my original piece to include the handful of times that I saw, or tried to see parts of it. It shows that I had unsuccessful attempts to catch any part of the all-night sessions. The following 1000 words explain in more detail my failed efforts to see any of the out-of-hours screenings.

I had already missed September’s all-nighter, as reported in that earlier piece, and didn’t plan properly for the next one. On the evening in question (Saturday 6 October), just as “Strictly Come Dancing” was finishing on BBC1, I checked the Tate schedule just in case, thinking it was on 13 or 20 October. I hadn’t planned to go out that night but on discovering that the all-nighter had already begun I had a coffee and a bar of chocolate to help me to stay awake. I drove into town, not sure where I would be able to park near Tate Modern. I rarely head to that part of London by car on a Saturday night. Last time I drove there on any night of the week (a Sunday, just over a year ago) I spent over 30 minutes caught up in one-way systems, unable to go where I wanted and navigating back-streets before finally parking near London Bridge station. I expected much the same on that Saturday night in October.

It was worse. I got caught up in traffic around Victoria, then around Parliament Square and over Westminster Bridge. South of the river, either side of Waterloo station, traffic was crawling. The line of cars heading up towards Blackfriars Bridge was immobile while the traffic lights changed twice. I was, theoretically, within five minutes of my destination and needed to use the loo, not as urgently as a toddler might, but more urgently than usual. When the children were toddlers we usually carried a potette around with us. In case you’ve never heard the word before, it’s a foldaway potty, a plastic frame which can hold waterproof liner bags to catch the wee (or whatever), allowing a child to do their business in all manner of places. I have just had flashbacks to times when the children were caught short, and places where the potette was employed: the upper deck of a 94 bus; outside a coffee shop on Piccadilly one December afternoon when the “baristas” refused to let my 6 year old son use the staff facilities; a recess just off the platform at Hyde Park Corner, on three separate occasions. What was it about Hyde Park Corner that made my son need to pee?

We still have a potette in the back of the car, unused for over five years. I wondered whether to turn the car around, nip into a side street, and make use of it. I decided against it, but where, in the streets either side of Waterloo Station just before 11pm on a Saturday, can you park up and find a bar, coffee shop or public convenience? My knowledge of getting round London at night by car is pretty good. 30 years ago you could park in any number of places near the South Bank, including Waterloo Bridge itself, but most of those spaces have gone. Back then I could have expected to park by the National Theatre and relieve myself in the gents there or at the National Film Theatre.  But where could I go now, in 2018, within a 10-minute driving radius? There was one place I was pretty sure of: the McDonalds on Victoria Street, very near Westminster Cathedral. There had been minimal traffic coming towards me when I was heading through Victoria and past the Houses of Parliament so I turned the car round and retraced my journey, past Waterloo station, back over Westminster Bridge and on to Victoria. The opening hours of that McDonalds have changed over the years, as I discovered when looking for a late-night burger a while back. In the late 1990s it was open till 2am most nights and reopened at 6am. Last time I checked it was closed at midnight, but it has always been one of the easier burger restaurants to park at. I made it there within 10 minutes, parked close by and did what I had to do. When I got back to the car I really didn’t feel like heading south of the river and sitting in traffic on the way to Tate Modern again. I headed home, telling myself that I could get five or six hours’ sleep and make it back to Tate Modern early on Sunday morning. That didn’t happen either. I woke at 7am, thought about driving back into town and then dozed off for another hour.

For November’s all-nighter I planned things better. The traffic was lighter. I found parking as close to Tate Modern as possible, on Southwark Street itself. Before midnight I was heading up the stairs, towards the second-floor screening room. There was a queue, hundreds of people waiting in front of me. Some had brought fold-up chairs. Others were drinking from large plastic glasses. The bar on the ground floor was open all night. I used the loo (not making that mistake again) and joined the queue. After 10 minutes I walked to the front, despite the possibility of losing my place to a handful of new arrivals. The young women who were about to be let in had been there for over two hours. I returned to the back of the line and weighed up my options. Was it worth staying till 2am to catch an hour or two of clips? I really wanted to see the moments either side of midnight, but that wasn’t going to happen. What state would I be in at 2am, having stood in a barely-moving queue for over two hours? I waited for 15 minutes. We moved forwards a yard or two, once. I headed back to the car and was home within 30 minutes.

Earlier this month, on 1 December, there was one final all-night session. My November experience had put me off. With a group of friends, making a night of it, on a warm summer’s evening it might be worth queuing for an hour or two, or even three, but on a cold December night, immediately after the “Strictly Come Dancing” quarter-final, I didn’t fancy it. The weather, the queues, “The Clock” itself have defeated me.




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