I was writing here yesterday about the possibility of a cake’s exploding. Yes I was. It reminded me of an occasion when one did in fact explode, though at sub-atomic level. It was in the sixties, which as everyone knows started about 1965 and ended about 1980, and happened mostly in London. I was there, and having what, in retrospect, must have been a pretty amazing (if not necessarily always good) time. In those more liberal pre-Thatcher times, before the world was taken over by timid, frightened people only interested in money and the security they think it buys, even the Arts Council was adventurous: it supported, among other things, that much-maligned activity, guaranteed to cause apoplectic fits in Tunbridge Wells, ‘Performance Art’.
When the Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market moved Sarf of the River, the empty space was, for a few years until the money-grubbers grabbed it, turned over to the arts. Not ‘The Arts’ in the form of snooty expensive painting galleries, or studios for established artists and rich dilettantes, but more experimental and even quite loony stuff; even a performance artist could get assigned a little space there. I was staying in a friend’s flat in the area, and a frequent visitor was one such chap. One morning at breakfast he appeared carrying a parcel. I asked ‘What have you got there, anything interesting?’
‘Oh, it’s a big chocolate cake my grandmother just sent me.’
‘Oh. I thought it might be something for your performance stuff.’
‘Now there’s an idea: I don’t actually like chocolate cake, so…’ and he was off before I had a chance to say that I did like chocolate cake.
He filled the cake with a mild explosive and fitted an electric detonator and cable. At his little performance booth he placed the cake on a plinth and unrolled the cable to what he considered a safe distance, and connected it to one of those exploders so often featured in cartoon films, consisting of a wooden box with a magneto inside, and a T-shaped plunger on top. Having gathered a small audience, he called ‘Stand back!’ and pushed the plunger. A muffled ‘Bang!’ and the surroundings, including the audience, were spattered with little bits of chocolate cake. Polite applause; day’s performance over.
One must hope Granny never got to hear about it.