Call a constable, there’s a free thinker on the loose!

This is now the third in the declare your disasters series with YOUR own awkward tales! 

This confession has been written by the man himself. Let’s call him Dan. For that is not his name.

I love the work of romantic painter John Constable. In fact I’m sharing this disaster because today marks Constable’s birthday, I’m that much of a fan.

I grew up not far away from where his masterpiece The Hay Wain was painted: “Constable country” in Suffolk. The site is now a quaint National Trust tourist attraction with a nice little tea shop where you can buy nice little teas for nice big prices, and the ever-rolling green fields go on beyond the horizon.

call a constable

The Hay Wain, 1821 [Ed: reckon I could nail that on a paint-by-numbers]

It was one summer’s afternoon a few years ago that I decided to pop over to Tate Britain, on London’s Millbank, where Constable’s incredible collection was on display in all its glory. It’s not far from my office and I felt in need of a little pop of culture.

Lo and behold – just as I arrived – a tour was beginning. I overheard the tour guide say she was going to cover the great man himself. What a bobby BONUS!

I could see from the sign in the gallery entrance that it was a paid tour, but I was only going to tag along for a minute. I stealthily joined the back of the group and tried my best to blend in. I was lacking a floppy linen hat and a tasty socks-sandals combo, but otherwise – with a knowing smile and occasional nod of artistic appreciation – I fitted in just fine.

The female tour guide was a sturdy woman in her mid-50s. She looked like she liked BRISK walks, COLD showers and lots of BRAN. She had that headmistress-y “Don’t mess with me!” air about her.

Call a constable

She was Miss Trunchbull’s long-lost art curator sister

Basically she was right, knew everything about everything, and everybody else was lucky just to be within earshot of her completely remarkable knowledge.

I listened intently as she regurgitated fact after fact after fact about Mr Constable, holding her audience’s attention with every elaborate flourish of her hands and every rehearsed phrase.

Eventually she led the group further on and paused grandly in front of what everyone had been waiting for: The Hay Wain.

It’s definitely my favourite of his work (although I do appreciate that’s about as original as saying your favourite Beatles track is ‘Hey Jude’).

She took a deep breath, cast her eyes over us all to check everyone was listening and then announced – in a tone predominantly reserved for state funerals – that the building in Constable’s The Hay Wain was tragically no longer there.

What a travesty.

The group murmured knowingly about “the disappearing countryside” and looked up with a renewed reverence at the painted hay wain: this sacred building that the genius CONSTABLE chose to paint and yet some ruddy COUNCIL had knocked down to make way for a Tesco Metro, no DOUBT.

Well…I’m not usually one to make a fuss but I knew The Trunchbull was wrong. I piped up from the back of the group:

“The building is still there! I walked past it only last weekend!”

There was a shocked silence.

Every linen-hatted head turned to stare at the insolent young man at the back.

“No it’s NOT!” she bellowed. The loudest bellow I’ve ever heard in an art gallery.

Call a constable, there's a free thinker on the loose!

It’s rare to hear someone bellow in a gallery, I bet you’re sad you missed it

She. Was. Livid.

Every pair of eyes darted back and forth between us like they were watching the Wimbledon final.

Suddenly a security guard was by my side, although I hadn’t noticed him until then.

He spoke not one word but made a sharp jolt of his head, gesturing from me to the exit.

He followed closely behind me. When we were safely out of earshot of the rest of the group he demanded to see my tour ticket.

Uh-oh.

I wouldn’t say I was frog marched out…but I may as well have been.

As I said, I work near Tate Britain but, sadly, since that day, I’ve never stepped back inside. I live in fear of running into The Trunchbull and her loyal security guard sidekick.

Although from what I’ve heard The Hay Wain now resides at The National Gallery so perhaps I’ll try my luck there…

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