Armies pursued each other around Europe; soldiers, little better than animals laid waste the countryside, taking what they wanted, burning, raping, killing, no longer knowing, if they ever did, the reason why.  It had been a good war for Mother Courage, for a time. She became a camp follower, trailing the armies, selling food, blankets, clothing, brandy and even ammunition, changing allegiances when it was expedient to do so, always keeping one step ahead of the game. Her sons were killed; one was too crafty, another too honest.  Her daughter saw it all but couldn’t speak. She was cut and raped. But she beat the drum and paid the price. And Courage survived for want of anything better.  

The talk over the long breakfast table at 22 York Street was about other wars; Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe; brutal, unwinnable, neverending wars.  There have been 250 major wars since the end of the second world war and over 23 million people have been killed. But why? Who really understands why we are fighting in Afghanistan or why we really went to war in Iraq?  Bush’s war against terrorism is a tautology. War against terrorism is like war against war!  It doesn’t make any sense.  And there are no winners in this war. It’s war for the sake of war; completely futile. Nobody gains the moral high ground. We were shocked by the atrocities committed by our boys (and girls) at Abu Graib prison, but why? Of course our troops would commit atrocities as much as the enemy.  It has always been so.  Frightened people do the most awful things.  And war degrades humanity; murder, theft, rape and destruction becomes a way of life.  Soldiers become inured to feeling. It’s dog eat dog.  When the Duke of Wellington inspected his troops in the Peninsular War, he was heard to comment,  ‘I don’t know what they do to the enemy, but by God, they terrify me.  But it’s not only the enemy that is injured, mutilated and killed, it’s innocent civilians as well.  And there are always people like Mother Courage, ready to make a quick buck out of it all.    

The attendant at Anish Kapoor’s exhibition, a young man from Bosnia, said that many people had been offended.  Every twenty seconds, a cannot shoots a pellet of soft red wax across the room through an archway to splatter against the war of the next room.  Kapoor claims not to have any preconception of the meaning of his work, but you really don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to understand how it uses sexual metaphor to explore he brutality of war.  The large erect penis shooting its bloody  ejaculate through the doorway, stains the virgin-pure white walls of the Royal Academy, leaving a large crimson mark, that resembles brutalized female genitalia. Blood stained labia enclose the gaping wound like a scream, and the matter that slithers from that gruesome gash forms a mound, which winds like a crimson glacier, from the dead, white, empty womb. It is a shocking, yet compelling image.  The twenty minute beat of the cannon will continue until January.  By that time the Academy will be awash with blood. 

Fiona Shaw is brilliant as the feisty, calculating, yet  indomitable Mother Courage; a woman with balls!   The play, like war itself, is unrelenting in its dark brutality, the music by Duke Special and his band, a thumping accompaniment.  It is wonderful performance that shocks and disturbs.  Anish Kapoor’s exhibition is at The Royal Academy until January.  It is art on a big scale, shocking and impressive.  22 York Street is in Alastair Sawday’s book.  It provides an interesting and enjoyable stay just off Baker Street and within easy access to the west end. The long curved breakfast table with abundant coffee and a variety of fruits, cereals, croissants, pastries and preserves, is conducive to conversation.  By yourself in London?  What a good way to start the day, even if all the talk is about war!       

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