Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The right trousers

I inherited six manual typewriters, gave away five and regret it. Please send unwanted ones my way.

I use my remaining one to hammer out the words on the cover illustration below: it needs an air of effort and energy, to reflect the work of the students who've written Big Voice London's look-alike Law Commission reports.

Graphic design: Peter Sloper
I want a colourful background. The overalls worn by Ben Wilson, the Chewing Gum Artist, are perfect. He paints miniatures on gum deposits in London and beyond, using acrylics, car varnish and a mini-blowtorch. His uncle worked on an oil tanker, hence the orange cotton serge jumpsuits.











Uncharacteristically monochrome - Ben Wilson
The sun was bouncing off the paint crust on Ben's overalls last time I visited him on the Millennium Bridge. You'll find hundreds of his works there; he also paints on more portable objects such as bricks.

He depicts the passing scene or fulfils orders in his notebook, many of which commemorate births, marriages and deaths. He also paints at the whim of tourists.









One tourist, a girl of ten in an expensive coat, was showing off about having a YouTube channel and bullying her kid sister, who didn't. Ben stood up, spread his arms wide like the Angel of the North and gave the girls a ringing explanation of human values.







Oxford Street














Lichen on Ted Hughes's memorial stone, Dartmoor
















Saturday, 6 January 2018

Is this the source of Paddington Bear's pop-up?

Watching Paddington 2, I get a Proustian jolt when the big-hearted bear opens a faked-up film-prop antiquarian book and Tower Bridge pops up: as a child I had a real version of this.

But where is that book now? I thought it was among the hundreds of musty tomes I'd smuggled into the house after my parents died. I ransack the double-stacked shelves, constantly distracted: Cockney Stories of the Great War, World War II knitting patterns, anything by P. G. Wodehouse...

Paddington's version

Can't find it. What the hell. I get another on eBay.




Bookano Stories 'with pictures that spring up in model form' were produced almost annually between 1929 until his death in 1949 by S. Louis Giraud, who coined their name with its deliberate echo of Meccano. His 'Strand Publications' was based in North Finchley in what is now a ready-made curtain outlet. The paper engineer Theodore Brown is not credited.


This is the penultimate issue, number 16. Growing up with John Tenniel, Phiz, Phil May and Aubrey Beardsley, I knew its black and white illustrations were not top notch. The materials and colour printing are cheap and cheerful.

A boffiny article about how Tower Bridge was built is absorbing, but there is nothing in the twee rhymes and stories to detain us. An account of As You Like It (plagiarised from Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare) is shoe-horned in for some cultural cred.


But the book, being a childhood companion, was more than the sum of its parts. The online interloper lacks the the aura of our lost copy, which served as one of the silent, solemn household guardians lining the defensive walls.

Bookano books in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SgEILopW4I

 

Monday, 25 December 2017

Annie Curtis Jones

Costume designer Annie Curtis Jones had many facets to her life and I knew only one: her ingenious designs for Notting Hill Carnival outfits as creative director of Elimu Carnival Band at Paddington Arts.

She achieved lavishness, wit, flamboyance and an eighteenth century sensibility on a strict budget.

As designer and maker (trained at the Central School of Art & Design) she was calm and cheerful amid the clamour of preparations, never losing sight of the detail.

Annie died unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, leaving a shocked carnival community.

Forgive me if any of the unrepresentative pictures here are not her costumes - the chaos is mine and never Annie's.





Friday, 15 December 2017

Carols in the Supreme Court

The Treasury Singers are never knowingly over-rehearsed and a good thing too, considering the day job. This year they are raising money for Shelter by singing carols in the triple-height library of the Supreme Court, boosted by voices from the Parliamentary Choir, the Westminster Abbey Choir and the court's own Can't Sing Choir, a misnomer in Santa hats.

The library inscriptions include a quotation from Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”








The Lords and ladies are away leaping or dancing - no Justices are here. But are job applicants casing the joint? The bench has vacancies.















I find a discarded note downstairs in the café. A girls' school party has been observing today's appeal, which is not about cats. I learn from the internet that baffed [sic] is a word, distinguishable from baffled. Girls, judge not, that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1), or at least don't leave the evidence lying around.








Should've stopped at this stage, I never learn

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Johnny Hallyday live at the Albert Hall

The warm-up act is a brassy blonde in a fondant-pink dress with a belief that she sounds like Amy Winehouse. Simeon, The Only Person Who Would Come With Me To This, says she got the verses of Back to Black mixed up.

‘I wonder if she’s quite famous in France,’ he says.

Johnny loves the audience and is loved in return. Especially by the gangly Frenchman in front of us who shimmies and punches the air. He works in the veterinary laboratory of an equestrian centre. Simeon’s going to make him big on YouTube.

Our seats are very high up but Simeon says he doesn't mind; he was in the Paras.

There are three large autocues in front of Johnny. ‘Johnny does karaoke,’ says Simeon.

‘That riff is plagiarised from Eric Clapton’s Crossroads. You've got to hand it to him, he knocks the socks off Engelbert Humperdinck, know what I mean?’

Johnny gets down on the floor with the mike stand. ‘So French,’ gurgles Simeon. ‘He’s giving it a dry shag.’

There are three backing singers. ‘Look at the knockers on that one,’ says Simeon. ‘They're huge.’

From the arena, long white arms wave towards Jonny like sea anemones and stiffen at his touch.

‘Is he touching your heart?’ asks Simeon.
‘No,’ I say.
‘Mine neither.’

But he's a great entertainer.  'He doesn't waste time in a power ballad. Goes straight from nought to sixty,' says Simeon, miming hanging himself. 

‘Vous êtes chaud ce soir!’ Johnny keeps saying to his enraptured fans. Men and women cry 'Johnny! Je t'aime!' Most of the men are in shirtsleeves.

Johnny sits down and reminisces about Elvis, Eddie Cochrane and the first time he went to Nashville, in 1962. He is pretend-edgy but genial. Then back on his feet.

Simeon says, ‘This is direct plagiarism of Credence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son. How he gets away with it I don’t know.’

The concert ends bang on eleven. It's raining. I suggest we visit some ex-Occupy squatters in The Cross Keys off Cheyne Walk, Chelsea’s oldest pub, with memories of Bob Marley, Dylan Thomas and the Rolling Stones. It’s now boarded up: the owner wants to convert it into a mansion with a basement pool and flog it. Locals want it to remain a pub.

Seconds after we arrive in Simeon’s car, a police car and a meat wagon draw up. There is already a sinister black Range Rover with tinted windows outside.

I ring someone inside. He says the Range Rover belongs to the owner, who’d rather not go to court for an eviction order; he’s trying to lure them out by offering to leave a bag of cash in the middle of the road. They are staying put. In the store room they found a five-kilo block of chocolate which they chopped up with an axe.

We sit in the car with the windscreen wipers on, watching the police watching the pub. 

PS That was in 2012. It's still a pub.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Brexit symposium at IALS

Health warning: personal views on Brexit

The country has split like a failed sauce. 

The atmosphere is officially one of acceptance today at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. Elizabeth Gardiner, First Parliamentary Counsel, is giving the Sir William Dale Annual Lecture: 'The Legislative Side of Brexit' (1 December 2017). 



The Princess Royal receives a bouquet, pictured above the speakers
Speaking after her are Sir Stephen Laws KCB QC, former First Parliamentary Counsel and Senior Associate Research Fellow at IALS, and Hayley Rogers, Parliamentary Counsel and Associate Research Fellow at IALS, introduced by Dr Constantin Stefanou, Director of the Sir William Dale Centre for Legislative Studies at IALS. 

The aim is to look at Brexit without the politics. That's easier for the legal representative from Buckingham Palace than for some others here. Professor Vernon Bogdanor (David Cameron's former tutor) feels there will be a hard Brexit or none, and would like a second referendum. Did he plant the idea in a young mind that a referendum was ever a good idea?

During the tea break we eat cake. There is some left over. But less than when we started. The sugar rush fuels earnest chat about Miller 'I think both Lord Neuberger and Lady Hale are wrong...' 

Draftsmen past and present are in the room. Speakers and audience address the legislative heavy lifting needed to impose Brexit on a country which has been rendered unfit for purpose. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has some 500 proposed amendments. Secrets are being guarded by parliamentary counsel. 



As we hurtle towards the foggy chasm there are more questions than answers. 'It's sort of above my pay grade as to what training there is for judges.'

You will soon be able to watch the recorded conference on the IALS website.



IALS is in a Brutalist building designed by Denys Lasdun, the architect of the Royal National Theatre. At IALS's 70th birthday bash the night before the conference we are shown crisp designs for a tactful, welcoming refit by Nicholas Burwell of Burwell Deakins Architects. He points out that Brutalism implies rawness (here, concrete) rather than brutishness.  


We ask him to preserve the graffito, UNITED, on the lecture theatre wall. Director and Librarian of IALS Jules Winterton thinks it might denote union action rather than football. Perhaps one day it will evoke a lost kingdom.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Spid Theatre Company outside

'Where's the tower?'

Goldfinger's fashionably brutalist Trellick Tower looms over us so I assume he means that one. But he and his companion are seeking the scorched exoskeleton of Grenfell Tower. They've got out at the wrong station. I hope they're not going to take selfies like the others.

Spid Theatre Company is filming scenery in brief snatches by both towers and its HQ, the modernist council block Kensal House. It's cold.





























Drummers under the overhead railway line
Grenfell Tower in the distance
There are toys and tributes outside Notting Hill Methodist Church