Friday, August 24, 2012

My Own Olympics Top Ten

Just when you thought it was all over, the newsstands are heaving with souvenir editions of our beloved Olympics and I can feel the love again.

Journalists are still gushing happy and glorious and all fingerwagging about legacy and ROI have abated, albeit momentarily.

Aside from the frequent blubbing and screams of encouragement at the box in the corner, I have largely tried to keep all hints of emotion the Olympics stirred in me under dignified wraps. But since it's been over I've had time to reflect on all those little moments, sights and sounds that will stay with me, and have, in my mind, returned exponentially on the little bit of investment my own taxes may have contributed to the games. My own personal 'lympic legacy then, stuff that I won't forget in a hurry, I have compiled into a top ten and it goes like this:
1) Evelyn Glennie - her hair flying, blown by the wind and the sheer force of her all-body pounding of those drums was a mesmerising, tribal, heart-thumping start to proceedings.
2) Underworld's Caliban's Dream - Not only was their musical direction flawless throughout the opening ceremony, their own sublime composition has stayed with me ever since and reminded me of key scenes in Danny Boyle's masterpiece. They wanted to "leave people with a musical memory of the show as well as a visual one." They so did.
3) The Queen - enough (been) said.
4) Jessica Ennis - powering past those longer-legged competitors in the home straight, when to win gold, SHE DIDN'T NEED TO! What drive. What focus. What an achievement. She deserved eight golds.
5) Mo Farah's face - over the 5000m finish line. Possibly the most beautiful, expressive, emotive face in the world.
6) David Beckham - there throughout, from London's bid through to skippering the torch so masterfully on its final leg along the Thames to the stadium. Couldn't have done it better. What an ambassador. Deservedly cast.
7) Daley's trunks, along with the man inside them of course, but the trunks - so tiny, just how did they stay on?
8) Spice Girls and black cabs - Pure pop splendour
9) The Olympic Cauldron - The most beautiful, ingenious, emotive, and democratic Olympic Cauldron of all time.
10) Finally, Seb Coe's longsightedness. It's quite clear to me how he oversaw preparations so effectively and kept everyone in check. One of those lingering peers over his specs as demonstrated during his opening and closing speeches is enough to stop anyone in their track and field. Ooh la la.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Abstract art in Farrow and Ball* colours unveiled...

Have been busy, painting, painting, exhibiting, celebrating, recovering.  Work unveiled and available to see at Toast, Okehampton, Devon includes the following.  More to see at

White on various (20x20cm) emulsion/enamel

White on Studio Green (120x150cm), emulsion/enamel

*Registered Trade Mark

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spontaneity - A Cautionary Tale

(This is a long story, very long.  But it needs telling for therapeutic reasons.  It is, I should add, all true.)

In the spirit of this whole new 'just do' attitude, I have decided to embrace spontaneity. After all life, even with seemingly infinite life expectancies we enjoy these days, let's say active, agile, ache-free life is just too short.  One must grab the nettle, seize the day, carpe diem, etcetera etcetera.

So, with that, I decided to make a trip to Bath.  Well, as lovely as Exeter is, Bath is just that little bit more chi-chi, more aesthetically-pleasing, more sandy-stoned and sophisticated, and better lined with a multitude of retail gems and art galleries of every variety to mooch about.  A friend was showing in one of the aforementioned galleries and I thought, I know, I'll pop down the M5 to Bristol (an hour ish), drop the little ones off at granny's and get the train from her to Bath (a mere 30 mins)  What could be easier?  A child-free afternoon to peruse shops, sup frothy lattes, then call in on friend's exhibition opening, before heading back to scoop up the girls and drive home.

I fed the girls an early lunch, bunged them in the car and headed to Yatton (outskirts of Bristol).  Granny and Gramps were there to welcome their grandchildren with open arms and me with a cup of tea before giving me a lift to the local station, where a couple of minutes later the Bath train pulled in.  I hopped on, sat back and sighed a long sigh of unadulterated bliss as the train chugged away from Yatton's platform.  'Why on earth had I not thought of this before?'  I thought to myself, as I reached for my book, 'Everywhere's so accessible these days.  We must do more.  This was what life was all about.'

We stopped a while at Bristol Temple Meads which on finishing my chapter gave me the opportunity to people-watch.  People-watching is something that I've missed somewhat since we moved to the countryside.  There are simply not enough in the country to get away with it.  There were plenty here in Bristol though, all bustling and weaving between one another to get on, get out, no time to waste.  Ah, that busy executive lifestyle, I remember, slaves to routine, slick as clockwork.  I returned to my book.  The train moved on.

It was some time before my chosen intercity began to slow on approach to the next station, and I checked my watch.  This was after all, supposed to be 30 minute journey - we'd probably been stationary in Bristol Temple Meads for about 15 minutes of that.  My shopping spree was being eaten into, but never mind, this was still a pleasure cruise away from the children, even if some shops would be curtailed.

We stopped at the station and I looked up lazily from my book to check where we were.  I noticed, with a start, that the station's name was in Welsh.  I squinted, and as the cogs in my brain began to click and whirr, considered whether there was any possibility that we needed to nudge across the Welsh border en route to Bath - my geography is appalling (refer to map).  I shuffled in my seat a little but not much because a rather wide young man promptly planted himself next to me.  As those who travel regularly on trains will know, carriage seats are not designed for adult-sized bottoms, but for one adult-sized buttock.  The posterior next to mine was the equivalent of three adult-sized buttocks at least, meaning that I was effectively pinned against the window, trapped in my seat, nose to glass, staring out at station signs in Welsh. By now the carriage was full of early rush-hour homebound types which meant that any attempt at bailing, clambering over adjacent male and making for the door before it closed would be fruitless.

The train moved off and I became increasingly agitated.  There was the usual rush hour hush across the crowded carriage but I mustered up the courage to speak.  As quietly as I could without resorting to a whisper, I turned to ask the wide man next to me,  'Excuse me, does this train go to Bath Spa?'  Those within earshot turned to look.

'Bath Spa?' he exclaimed incredulously, out loud.  The entire carriage turned to look, 'Nooo, this train's going to CAR-diff!'  He boomed.  I began to overheat and perspire.

Clearly the train I'd caught at Yatton had not been direct to Bath Spa, as I'd assumed. The lingering at Bristol Temple Meads and the trooping off of passengers should have made it plain that I too needed to change.  As we hurtled on in the wrong direction, it was also became painfully apparent that stations in Wales are few and far between.  It took another 20 humiliating minutes to get to the next stop, Newport, where, according to the loud, cheery man sitting next to me, I needed to cross to platform 2 and wait for the next train back to Temple Meads, where I could get my connecting train to Bath Spa.

It was pouring with rain.  I did, by some small fortune, have an umbrella.  I did as the man said and arrived in Bath at 6.30pm, two and a half hours later than planned, and some time after all chi-chi shops and interesting independent cafes had closed.  But there was a familiar green and white Starbucks beacon shining through the mist.  I ordered the frothy latte and slab of carb and took stock.  My act of sponneity hadn't worked out quite as I'd planned - it was pissing down, I'd seen nothing of Bath and had just an hour and a half before I was due to catch the train back to Yatton.

Charged with caffeine and cake I rediscovered the resolve that had set me off on this jaunt in the first place and decided to head to friend's gallery, catch her show, have comforting glass of wine and then head back to transport children back as planned.  There would at least be one thing achieved from this ghastly experience and I'd be home by 10pm.

I set off with my soggy umbrella in search of the friend's gallery.  It took a long time to find it, having only Google Maps on my smart phone to direct me, and torrential rain to negotiate, I headed back and forth through Bath's labyrinth of cobbled streets, unable to orientate myself.  My feet sore, trousers by now drenched below the knee, I'd stand perplexed on street corners, trying to fathom phone as passers-by would pass me by, muttering to one another as they hurried huddled under their brollies to their known destinations, 'You wouldn't put a cat out in this would you? Ha Ha'.  Hmm.

I eventually arrived at said gallery only to find it dark.  And closed.  I whimpered and grappled for my smart phone (frankly the only saving grace in this whole sorry story) and dug up the email invitation to the exhibition's opening.  On reading it properly, I saw how it was not to be held at her representing gallery, but at a much larger venue round the corner.

By now my resolve was running on empty but I was virtually hysterical in my need to find this frigging exhibition, something, anything, that made the journey to Bath via Wales fractionally worthwhile.  Google Maps placed the venue a couple of blocks away and I limped there.  On entering, I composed myself and decided not to mention the chain of disasters that had befallen me in getting to see this exhibition, because frankly they made me look a twat.  My attempt at 'spontaneity' had turned disastrous through no one's fault but my own.  In my urge to 'just do it', I'd not bothered to just check small print, destinations, train changes, emails etc. and someone was now reeking retribution on my frivolous arse.

The exhibition was fine, good even, although I was not of the right mood or mind to take it in.  Instead I was double-checking train timetables on beloved smart phone then calling up Grandpa to rearrange pick-up from Yatton.

I knocked back the wine, gushed approvingly at artist friend's work then headed back to the station, trying not to think about all the time I'd wasted on wrong trains, sodden platforms, padding streets in the wrong direction.  I was now going home.  It had all been damn inconvenient but no one had died.

It was still raining.

At Bath Spa I got on desired train having checked in triplicate the relevant times and connections.  At Bristol Temple Meads I headed purposefully to what I knew to be the correct platform to catch the connecting train back to Yatton where my little ones waited, oblivious to all the pain and distress their mama had been through. I was battered, broken but maintained a smidgeon of pride.  After all, these things are sent to try us, and I have survived, been strong and not succumbed to the overwhelming temptation to cry, crumple, throw myself in the gutter and give up.  So, ha, take that.  I shall not be defeated.

I stood at my allotted platform, platform 11.  I know this because I checked all the signs and the announcements and knew that my train was heading to Exeter St Davids, via Yatton, while the adjacent platform's train, that of platform 10 was awaiting a fast train to Plymouth.

My train arrived.  I got on it, sat down and breathed an audible sigh of relief that is unique to those finally homebound after a long and painful journey.  Ten minutes into my journey home, the lovely avuncular train driver welcomed us all via his tannoy.  'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard our first great western express service to Plymouth, your next stop will be Taunton.'

Plymouth?  Taunton?  What?  My mouth went dry, my head began to throb, my aching limbs creaked.  I was on the wrong train.  AGAIN.  Oh my God. WHY?  HOW? WHY ME?

I accosted the train manager almost in tears. It transpired that the Plymouth train had come into the wrong platform.  I was now heading to Taunton, another 40 minutes (one hour twenty, if you consider the return journey) out of my way.

'It's ok, there's a train back from Taunton at 21.40,' said train manager breezily.
'But you don't understand,'  I almost screamed at him, my palms twitching for his short, chubby, red neck.
'Oh, hold on,' he checked again, 'We're running ten minutes late, so you'll miss the 21.40.  The one after that's 22.45.  Sorry love.'

I returned to my seat trembling and slightly faint with rage but utterly helpless and frankly exhausted to do anything but call granny and grandpa to catch the latter before he headed to Yatton to pick me.  It was too late, he'd gone, granny told me, and didn't have a phone with him. 'Don't worry, he'll realise soon enough and head back,' she reassured me.  

It transpired that he waited an hour for the train I was on and several after that before giving up the ghost.  The sad and teeth-pullingly frustrating thing was, I saw him waiting.  The express train that I was on chose to 'rest' at Yatton for a good five minutes during which the delectable train manager ignored my thumping at the door and tearful pleading, and refused to open it - 'No, sorry love, not scheduled to stop here.  More than my job's worth.'  

So, I was forced to slump back into my seat for forty minutes til the doors opened at Taunton and I tipped myself onto the platform more than a little exasperated with the seven or so other passengers who'd also come a cropper from the wrong platform fiasco.  The station manager apologised profusely and handed us compensation slips.

As I sat waiting for what I hoped (beyond hope) would be my final train journey that day back to Yatton, I studied the form and tried to work out what compensation I could expect to receive after what must surely rank as one of the most disastrous travel experiences known to man.  The maximum I could claim, it stated, would be the full cost of my journey.  Yatton-Bath spa return, £8.60.  Several years off the end of my life, £8.60.  Fuck the form.

I got back to granny's at something close to midnight and found my three year olds fast asleep on the sofa. I slept with them on cushions on the floor, which meant for a restless night for all but we were safe and sound, I was no longer stuck in a terminal vortex of train nightmare, plus, joy of joy, it was my childminder's day the following morning.  I left Yatton early to get back home in time to take full advantage of her, hand over the girls and take to my bed.

Prior to joining the motorway I stopped for petrol, during which I received a text from said childminder.  She was 'ill and wouldn't be able to make it today.  Very sorry.'

Fade out.  Cut.

Some time later after this distressingly true story….

I am recovered, older and wiser.  There are plenty of lessons to be learned, hence my relaying the tale via my blog to all those drawn towards a sudden act of spontaneity (as well as of course seeking some kind of catharsis, as widely recognised in respected psychoanalytic circles, by jotting it all down, ).  Firstly, if things can go wrong, they will go wrong.  Secondly, it is better to temper all whims with caution - check train timetables, read rather than scan emails, never make assumptions, always swallow your pride and ask loudly someone reliable where the train you are about to get on is going.  And if all of this planning defeats the whole object of spontaneity in your view, by all means embrace it, but be prepared to have your happy impetuosity stamped on, swung from the lamp posts, chewed up and spat back at you.

Postscript:  I remain an optimist.  Stuff like I experienced is enough to put you off forever but such a trail of disasters can't happen more than once. surely.  No, no, no,  the chances are that your impetuosity will be rewarded with sheer serendipitous pleasure.  And, if not, just sit back, breathe deeply and laugh it off - not too high-pitched, not too hysterically - before retiring to a darkened room.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Epitaph will read, ‘She never got round to it’.

There are some quite fabulous people out there with oodles of potential, who would doubtless achieve greatness, change the world and go down in history books, if only it weren’t for the debilitating condition that’s afflicted them all their lives, chronic procrastination.  

I am one of those people. Ha ha.  Well, i feel i can say that with authority because I'll never know.  I’ve never had sufficient umpth, zip, rocket fuel to get on and test my true potential.  I have of course had plenty of excuses. Children is the current one, and a very valid one too, I might add.  But I had my children late in life.  By the time they're out the way and I can get on, I'll be pensionable.  What on earth was I doing pre-kids?  Oh yeah, that's right, I was navel-gazing, magazine-reading, socialising, cogitating, waiting for the right moment, the right outlet, the right signal, someone to pluck me from obscurity and say 'walk this way'.  

Brings it all home when you consider that Mozart died at 35, Van Gogh at 37, Shelley at 29.  Thank God for extended life expectancy eh?  Will apply myself.  I am, you see, not a happy ditherer.  The way I see it, it's all about drive.  There are four categories of drive.  Firstly there are those, like the aforementioned, born with drive (and yes, ok, talent); second are those who acquire drive (usually at the prospect of penury and destitution); third are those who will look hard but never find it; and finally there are the remainder of the population who are quite content to go without it and float through life without any urge to achieve.  

I am the third.  Full of great ideas and wonderful best laid plans, delusions of grandeur arising from grand accomplishments, then too easily distracted by well, minor distractions to make them happen.  It frustrates me no end, but my inability to ‘just do it’ has become an almost predictable and perennial vicious circle, and I’m not getting any younger.   Plus I talk about my 'plans' all the time.  Nothing worse than someone who keeps rattling on about that book they're going to write, business they're going to launch and then never do.  As a friend of mine once put it bluntly, 'Darling, but don't you think if you were going to do that, you'd have done it by now?'  Point taken.  Must stop babbling, and surprise them. 

The key question is, does this inertia stem from profound laziness or a more deep-seated lack of self-confidence?  There are theories that state I’d rather not attempt, for fear of failure.  Putting things off keeps alive the illusion of success rather than reveal the depressing reality of failure, innate inability, lack of talent etc.  

Surely it's better to die knowing you tried?  There's only one way to find out.  And I intend to, I really do.  Just as soon as I’ve made myself another cup of tea.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Here's the latest...

French Gray and Brinjal.  Available to purchase.  Other colours too.  Commissions available.


(Flagrant use of blog for publicity)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Update - Culture in the South West

Some time ago (about seven months) I wrote a blog bemoaning the lack of culture in Exeter.  How the cathedral city let itself down with its provincial high street, numerous shopping malls, and not much of anything else - no major art gallery, no theatre to speak of and nowhere for the literati (ha ha) to hang out and discuss the latest Booker/Turner/Arthouse anything.  As a result no performers ever bothered to come here and perform.

Well, since I wrote that piece, it seems I was wrong, the state has been plugging money in.  The RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery)  re-opened in December having been dusted down, refurbished and expanded impeccably since it closed in 2001 (can this be?), and is WONDERFUL.  It combines a lovely mix of museum pieces collected throughout the centuries from all over the world and donated to the museum (right up to shot and stuffed large game shipped back by the Vistorians), with quite beautiful art.

It is curated really well to make it thoroughly accessible to all ages - children are brilliantly catered for - and to make best use of space provided.  For example one glass cabineted-wall takes you through 40 different pieces ranging from prehistoric fossils to a real Penny Black bicycle.  Plus it is really active, with numerous tours, lunchtime talks, classes etc.  They need a bigger shop and a bigger eatery which will doubtless help with coffers but all in all pretty priceless.  And I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Also since writing that moan, I have been to the Northcott Theatre twice - once to take my children to an imaginative rendition of 'We're going on a Bear Hunt' (brilliant) and then again to see the Jasmin Vardimon company perform Yesterday Jasmine Vardimon Yesterday trailer..  Oh my God, it was stunning, and I think the best contemporary dance show I have ever seen.  I was utterly bowled over.  The choreography, lighting, special effects, music, stories, and the nothing less than stunning, faultless, superhumanly athletic dancers.  This is a company that has to be seen.  Am pretty sure this was the tailend of a world tour, but at least they came.  Performed. Blew us away. And in a small university theatre that's had all its state funding cut.  Really glad I caught it.

The cathedral remains utterly breathtaking, and an imminent large John Lewis is beginning to create a stir on the high street - 'interesting' shops are popping up.

So I take it back.  Some of it.  There is still no decent large venue to speak of, and still no cafe/wine bar culture…. Unless you count the invasion of chain coffee shops that continues apace - a huge habitat closed to be replaced by, you guessed it, a Starbucks - and Mr Wetherspoon and its like.

But the demand and appreciation is definitely there - RAMM is huge hit and has reignited our passion in The Arts in all its forms  -  such that I reckon in a year or so, Exeter, instead of being overlooked will be a destination venue for performers and artists everywhere.  Watch this space….

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Courtesy and warmth in the digital age

Courtesy, so passé.  As well you might think of etiquette.  A lovely word, but frankly, what does it mean in the 21st century?  An age where we do most of our communicating via digitalia, even when we sit three desks from one another.

Great for the written word, not so great for the spoken.  Once upon a time we used to speak to one another on the phone or in person.  Now we just txt, tweet, fb message, such that when we do come into close, inescapable contact everyone's rendered mute.  Like in a lift.  I wonder, is this a peculiarly British trait? I noticed during my time in Madrid that on entering a lift you greeted everyone with 'buenos dias' and on exiting, left with a cheery 'adios'.  In grumpy old Britsville these days your physical presence is rarely acknowledged.  Everyone's too busy staring at a screen.  

And so I got to thinking, is this the end of etiquette as we used to know it - 'smiles, pleasantries, smalltalk, friendly contact - be it physical or eye - between strangers of any kind?  Or is this the dawn of a whole new era...

The fact is, all these clever little artefacts that we clutch to our person 24/7 make being nice to one another easier than ever.  It takes a split second to send a 'hello', 'happy birthday', 'congratulations', 'sorry'.  You don't need to worry about spending time you haven't got speaking to someone on the phone, sitting down and writing them a letter, sharing a pot of tea.  You can get on with whatever you're doing and still get in touch. You can pop them a text, send them an e-card, or a video of yourself stark naked singing 'happy birthday, mr president' with a pepperoni up each nostril, should you choose.  

Communication has never been so easy, nor has it had so much creative potential.  It's a shame we don't exploit it more. Creativity aside, there really is no excuse for not acknowledging a gift, email, text, card, phone message, inquiry or job application.  Take note all you employers out there, this relates as much to the professional world as it does to the personal.  Less than marginal effort is required these days to get back to someone.  To do nothing while simultaneously plugged into your laptop, smartphone and iPad is beyond lazy.  It's rude.  The irony is we spend so much time telling the world mundane trivia about ourselves on Twitter and Facebook platforms that we have no time left for conventional one on one.  It's always bemused me that people come to you to request friendship on Facebook, then don't respond when you say, 'How nice to hear from you.  How are you?'

I am hopeful however, that this wonderful, amazing, ingenious digital age we're living in will herald a new era.  An era of digital courtesy.  Let's call it The New Courtesy.  The speed at which we've adopted all things digital into our lives has left etiquette lagging behind.  A plethora of means, but none of the manners.  (Yes, yes, I know, not everyone online is a discourteous oaf, but screen barriers do, as most of us have experienced, facilitate bad behaviour.)  To my knowledge, there is no rulebook when it comes to digital etiquette, so perhaps someone needs to create one.  Or alternatively we should just re-apply the same old manners our pre-digital face-to-face ancestors practised to our new digital platform and marvel at how easy it is to be polite these days.  And not just polite, but delightful, hilarious, heart-warming, tear-jerking.  Digital media gives us the opportunity to personally communicate like never before.

So get off Twitter for a moment and get back to those who'd like to hear from you, for whom it matters.  And who knows, perhaps some time from now, when we're all screen-weary and nervous of future generations losing the power of speech, digital courtesy might lead us back to the real, spoken, thing.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cycling in the City

Have been following with interest The Times' highly worthy campaign to make cycling safer in our cities. I used to cycle regularly across London to work.

Cycling?  In London?  Are you mad?  The more I read the more I have asked myself the same question.  It all started when I lived some distance from the most direct tube line to my place of work (District) and because I have a chip in my head that never, ever, absolutely on no account, allows me to leave home in good time, I would, forever late, resort to the bike and cycle to the district line station rather than work up a flustered sweat speed-walking there or worse, by waiting for a bus.

Then, on 7th July 2005, I cycled to the tube station only to find it closed, gates pulled across as baffled crowds amassed, and huffing and puffing at the damned inconvenience of it all I decided somewhat reluctantly to cycle all the way to work (only when I got there did I realise that there'd been a coordinated terror attack).  Well, I rather impressed myself with how quick and painless, indeed pleasurable, it was, to cycle instead of tubing it.  Plus it cost nothing, plus it meant not getting blown to bits by a suicidal backpacker, so I decided to do it every day.

Doubtless you're waiting to hear about the hideous bike-buckling, skull-crushing accident that befell me shortly after adopting the bike as my main mode of transport in London.  Well, thankfully there wasn't one, because in the three years I spent cycling to work across London I used to regularly break the law when it meant reducing the risk.

As The Times has made plain, should you choose to cycle across London there is no way, wherever your destination, to avoid tranches where you literally have to take your life into your hands, grit teeth, pedal frantically and hope.  In these cases if there is any means to reduce the risk of being killed you take it.  At traffic-lit junctions I would get to the front of the waiting traffic, and go the moment the transverse traffic stopped, therefore always jumping the red-light that corresponded to me.  In so doing I would get a split second headstart on the front-of-queue vehicle ensuring vital visibility, particularly if that vehicle was a left-turning lorry.

I would knowingly go the wrong way down one way streets and frequently ride on the pavement when it was the safer option - e.g. no cycle lane, just a bus lane, which, when you have an irritated bus driver who's behind on his timetable and thundering down on you, is not a pleasant place to be.  To let the frustrated bus pass you have two options - to veer right into the general traffic lane and run the risk of being sandwiched between bus and car, or mount the pavement on the left if that's possible, flatten yourself against the railings if not.  Dare prevent a bus driver from passing you and you run the risk of provoking this.. irate bus driver takes out cyclist

I would also regularly flout the rules in London's parks and ride my bike on footpaths rather than cycle paths.  That's because London parks are huge and the cycle paths tended to circumnavigate them whereas the footpaths cross them, are wide and inhabited by few enough people to navigate.  Where there were people I'd slow right down, occasionally get off and walk.  There was/is no logic to separating walkers and cyclists in parks.  It's bordering on patronising. I was not a kamikaze cyclist who enjoyed running into people, and I believe that of most cyclists.

That said I did see some incredibly stupid cycling out there.  There are those who refuse to wear helmets, for fear of it flattening their hair, who never wear any reflective gear (again vanity before safety), who would pedal their £600 Brompton across two lanes of traffic in neither of the above and 4-inch stiletto boots. There are those who listen to personal stereos while cycling, those who cycle too fast to stop if child/dog steps off pavement, someone opens a car door, car turns right into path etc. and those who see other road users as The Enemy, are universally hostile and cycle with an aggressive defensiveness that's guaranteed to rile anyone on a short fuse - 95% of London's rush hour drivers.

There are also sadly those cyclists who naively think they can follow the usual rules and be ok. To those and anyone cycling in London my advice would be to never ever be on the left hand side of a lorry - brake if you are; never sit adjacent to vehicles at traffic lights, position yourself in front of them, in full view, and go as soon as the crossing traffic stops even if your light's red; where necessary, mount a pavement, and never assume cycle lanes are safe - some beggar belief.

I would also ensure you have a functioning, easy-to-operate bell (refer to aforementioned pavement, parks, pedestrians) and have come to the conclusion that a wing mirror of some description would not be a bad idea either - turning your head to look at what's bearing down on your backside can create major wobble.

It's worth acquiring The Knowledge - like that once painstakingly acquired by anyone driving a cab in London, now usurped by satnav - to know all the quiet little back routes and cycle paths that wherever possible take you away from heavy traffic - surely there's an app that does this?

And finally, if you ever need to negotiate the junction from Hyde Park turning left into two-lane Bayswater Road, then right 50 yards later across two lanes of fast approaching traffic into Sussex Gardens, or any of the myriad London junctions like it, grit your teeth, pedal like billio and pray.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Art for Interiors -

I have designed a website  There you go. Was going to kick this off with some fabulous intro/backdrop about the whys and wherefores behind my absence from this blog - forgive me rhubarb, it's been at least two months since my last confession - but I couldn't think of how best to without sounding ludicrous, so thought I'd just cut to the grain.

Truth is I lost my rhythm, got the bloc, felt uninspired to write and inspired instead to stare into space, flick aimlessly through magazines, stir coffee, pick at face and nails, gaze at naval etc.  Then, just as the rot was beginning to set in, I pulled myself together, turned to my art - abstract, large-scale canvases incorporating sublime colours that will work in any tastefully-decorated home, indeed indeed - and decided to go public with it.  Well, those that have seen it seem to like it, so it seemed a good idea to broaden the audience.  

And so, to mark my launch into cyberspace astride my very own vessel I felt compelled to break the heinous bloc and blog.   Plus, what better place?  Am writing this in the cafe at The Tate, St Ives, the birthplace and home to many an artist - traditional and contemporary.

There are aesthetic artists and cerebral artists and many of course who cross the divide.  Barbara Hepworth I see as aesthetic, whose beautiful curved rounds and hollows provide endless visual pleasure; Patrick Heron's kaleidoscopic Horizontal Stripes is stunning, and stirring, to look at.  Rothko same, Pollock same. There is no need for raison d'être, meaning, supposed depiction or explanation.  You look at it and are enveloped by it, what you see before you triggering a charged switchboard of right-brain synapses and receptors that we only vaguely understand.  Simon Fujiwara's art, here at the Tate now is, on the other hand, very much, cerebral.  There isn't much of a visual aesthetic in his own creations, more a reliance on other people's to derive his own autobiographical perspective, a reflection on his recollections that you can reflect on etc.

My own art falls into the wholly-aesthetic category.  There is no statement, cryptic meaning, confessional or bizarre incongruous title.  I paint simple works that look beautiful on a blank wall.  If it's art schpeak you're after there's a certain 'fluidity' to them, plus a therapeutic quality that's down to the rich colour palette I use.

Where I go against the grain (and this, doubtless, is something those art purists will shudder at) is that my work is practical by design. Within an abstract theme, I will paint large works on commission using colours specified by the client that are in line with their decor, colour scheme, upholstery, wishes.  I can do this because my work uses colours from Farrow and Ball, one of the UK's most highly regarded interiors paint manufacturers.

My paintings are, in effect, interiors pieces created for interiors.  It may be a novelty, and offend the art world to create works that coordinate, but, at the end of the day, it's a beautiful piece most people are after.  And one that doesn't clash with the furniture.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Philip Gould - a little person's eulogy

It's taken me a while to get round to this (Philip Gould died on the 6th November 2011) mainly because I've toyed with whether or not I was qualified to write a eulogy to the man.  After all, I'm not an ex-prime-minister, eminent spin doctor, relative, or good friend.  I merely worked with him a few times in the nineties when I was employed by Express Newspapers to organise research and strategic development around the titles following their acquisition by Labour peer, Lord Hollick.  Philip Gould's consultancy resided in the same building and I would appoint him to conduct focus groups amongst mid market readers as the titles revamped, reformatted, dumped old and launched new sections, as every attempt was made to counter the growing dominance and influence of the Daily Mail.

You go through life, contemplating junctions, taking different paths and meeting various people along the way.  Some fade from memory while others, however fleeting the encounter, stick.  Philip Gould was one of these.  So, on reading the numerous tributes to the man written by the great and the famous, I felt compelled to add my own.  After all, the thing about Philip Gould, what made him universally liked, was the importance he placed on everyone's opinion.  He was always curious, a great listener, incredibly easy to talk too, and simply interested in what you thought, irrespective of who you were.

He was also a terrible name dropper.  I'd go to brief him on a forthcoming research project - eg. new supplement, popularity of columnists etc.  He'd nod, absorb this in a matter of seconds then go on to mention 'Alastair', 'Tony', the various political strategy meetings he needed to attend/hold, the need to pop back and forth to Millbank, back and forth to number 10.  His office walls were lined with numerous black and white framed photos, showing him with Blair, him with Cherie and Blair, him with Clinton, him in discussion with the A-team in one of Downing Street's opulent drawing rooms.  He was not modest about his contacts and influence within the upper echelons of government and at the time it was hard not to sigh and look to the heavens at what seemed like exaggerated bluster.  Except of course it wasn't - he had the photographic evidence to prove it - plus there was something refreshing and intrinsically honest about his unfettered pride in his achievements.  Here was this man, shambolic, frenetic, accessible and devoid of the loftiness that often pervaded senior editorial teams (even at the Express) and senior management, who was more influential than any of them - he really did have the ear of the Prime Minister.

He was, in effect, the personification of the incoming Labour government he advised - leadership that was no longer aloof but on your level.  And it made you feel valued.  A briefing meeting with Philip would typically go like this, 'OK, yep yep got that, thanks Imogen, but tell me, what is it that frightens you most about society today?'

Flummoxed at being put on the spot about something totally unrelated to the purpose of our meeting I'd come back with, 'Erm, guns..? On the streets?'

'No, no, we've done that,' he'd reply, massaging his chin, spinning a little in his chair, 'Banned handguns.  What else?'  I'd flail around while he would listen, prompt and take whatever I would say on board, looking genuinely like my blather was useful.  And of course I would bounce out of his office all enthused thinking I'd just influenced government policy, then once back at my desk become somewhat concerned that that might really be the case.

As has been well documented he lived and breathed politics.  I can vouch for that.  His consultancy's commercial clients were bread and butter, while his true purpose, the Gould raison d'être was to assist and direct the Labour Party.  The Express had devised a new, glossy and costly Saturday supplement and prior to its launch, wanted to present a mock-up to readers, current and potential, to ensure it had maximum appeal.  Invariably, Philip would warm his commercial focus groups up with the same question, 'So, what do you think of the state of the nation?' and I would watch bemused from behind the viewing facility's two way mirror, checking my watch and discussion guide (which of course mentioned nothing about state of our nation), until a good half an hour into the session (groups were usually an hour and a half long) when he'd finally get on to the job in hand, the supplement - clearly a far less interesting juncture for both the group and him.  But the brief would be always be met - mine and his, plus this was Philip Gould, so who was I to complain?

From a casual observer's perspective, as I was, Philip Gould was the ultimate mad professor, brain exploding, hair exploding, consumed by his cause, to the detriment of any order and organisation his fraught team would attempt to effect.  He was frequently flustered, dishevelled and distracted - tie wonky, shirt half-tucked -  hurrying from meeting to meeting, rushing to write something important down, grappling for dictaphone to dictate a soundbite/slogan he'd devised, get debrief notes typed up by panicking assistants - and frequently leaving chaos and items of some significance in his wake.  

On one occasion, we had a drinks do at a local drinking hole to mark some milestone or another, to which Philip was invited.  He would come, have a couple of drinks, enjoy the attention from the myriad journalists and marketeers that would gather to hang on his every word, then after a couple of hours, head off.  The next day I got a call from his PA, 'Oh, hi Imogen, don't suppose anyone's mentioned a briefcase left in the bar last night, have they?  Philip thinks he may have left it there.'  They hadn't, and I never did find out if he found it.  Mind boggled as to what was in it.  From then on, when policy documents were discovered on a train or HM Gov laptops left on black cab seats, I'd think of Philip.

And then it was all change at The Express, editorial overhauls placed less emphasis on research, Philip did less for the newspaper group, I moved on, Hollick sold the titles to Richard Desmond and that exciting new Labour new dawn was over.

Why, years later, did news of his cancer and subsequent death affect me?  I've pondered this and I think it comes down to the following: Because you knew he was hugely influential and always in a rush yet he was interested in you and prepared to have a good natter.  He was one of the few people who would ask you how you were, and in a kind of therapist's way that made you want to hop on the couch and spill your life story knowing he'd have the answers.  Possibly because he was acutely perceptive, wise and kind, and treated you like a friend despite having just been introduced (which of course was what made him such a great focus group moderator).  Mainly because he was a true character, funny (both strange, and ha ha) and fun, and someone who infected and exhausted everyone with his energy and ebullience.  But ultimately, amid all the posturing circles that he moved in and the spin that he advocated, he was glaringly human, and for that, stood out.

I bumped into Philip Gould a couple more times, nearly went to work for him, then didn't, then nothing for years until I saw him in a coffee shop in Notting Hill.  Our conversation was brief.  He was on his way to a meeting, as always a little unkempt, somewhat distracted, and true to character, honest in his smalltalk.  He mentioned he'd just come from the doctor, to which I think I probably said, 'Nothing serious, I hope,' and that was the last I saw of him.





Friday, September 16, 2011

James Corden - Comedy Guvnor

Saw One Man, Two Guvnors last night, on screen, at The Picturehouse.  Genius.  On many levels.  Not only is it an ingenious idea of National Theatre Live to beam live theatre through cinema screens nationwide - correction, worldwide, the production that they chose to kick off this initiative with was priceless theatre entertainment, that had even those of us who weren't seeing it in the flesh, rolling in the aisles.

James Corden is comic gold dust.  I'd never realised, having never caught Gavin and Stacey.  He may have made his name on the telly but live theatre beamed worldwide certainly didn't faze him.  On the contrary, he seemed to thrive on it. The guy was hilarious throughout, and utterly flawless, despite the regular requirement for unpredictable audience interaction and improvisation.  His timing, facial expressions, slapstick, delivery, everything about the man is funny and you can see how the rest of the cast are charged and buoyed by him, the true mark of a comedy professional.  Beyond him, Oliver Chris's general 'rah' throughout, and his interplay with Corden in particular stood out for me,  but everything and -one worked so well together.  Plus the musical intermissions between set changes, and the way that all in the cast were involved, added expertly to the hilarity and the overall uplifting quality of the production.

Nicholas Hytner has delivered a masterpiece, and, providing the cast remains intact, I want to see it again, and take others with me -  the production moves from The National to the West End's Adelphi Theatre in November.

What's interesting about the National Theatre Live initiative is that on the one hand it opens up wonderful productions like these to a much wider audience, but presumably by the same token risks future theatre traffic and limits seasons - we cinema viewers no longer need to go and see the plays in situ.  Does it matter?  With tickets to plays sold worldwide through cinemas, who needs long seasons?  Box office takings rocket, more people get to see quality theatre, and actors and performances stay fresh. And perhaps like me, impressed cinema viewers come away intent on taking others to see it on the stage.

Whichever way you look at it, beaming plays through the big screen is a winner.  It could, in fact, be just what the theatre world needs. Plus live theatre will always reveal the true scope of people's talent.   One night's performance has just broadened James Corden's universe of appreciation cumulatively, and that most definitely can't be a bad thing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Measles - scourge of the privileged?

There's an outbreak of measles in my region.  And apparently, it's on the worrying rise on the continent.

Measles is a dangerous disease.  It can cause inflammation of the brain, resulting in the death of your child.  It's easily preventable with a jab, yet there remains resistance amongst certain communities, the argument being that vaccinations are a bad thing, that instead of bolstering the immune system, they compromise it.

This is my child with chicken pox.  It doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to consider these pox to be small rather than chicken, they look the same to a layperson.  But of course they're not small, because small pox has been eradicated.  Thanks to a worldwide programme of vaccination this deadly disease no longer exists.  Thank God - she'd be dead.  As would her sister.

Their contracting chicken pox reminded me quite how hideously pervasive and speedy disease can be.  Within 24 hours she was covered in pustular blisters, her skin hot with fever, her discomfort extreme.  The itchy phase was worse even than the ill, feverish stage, lasting days and driving her to howling distraction.  Needless to say she now has the scars to show for it.

The risk of complication with chicken pox is thankfully rare.  With measles it's not.  Associated complications can range from diarrhoea, pneumonia, otitis media, to encephalitis and corneal ulceration (albeit rarer).   That is not something I would risk of my children.  Nor would I be comfortable having them infect others.

Those mothers who opt not to vaccinate are fortunate in that statistically in this country, immunised children predominate so reducing the risk of contagion, but what if the balance tips?  In some communities down here in the South West there are an awful lot of mothers who are anti-vaccination.  Take up of MMR where I live is just 50%...  These mums tend to stick together in that they share the same principles, send their kids to the same schools etc and when there's an outbreak it spreads.  Assuming their children don't get it, they'll grow up unprotected and if girls, presumably go on to get pregnant.  Should they contract measles then, it's a double whammy - measles is more serious in adults and particularly dangerous to the unborn child.

Our bodies will fight off and become immune to bugs they've been exposed to in tiny controlled doses.  I'd love to live in a world where we could count on our natural immunity to fight off epidemics of, for example, measles and polio, but we don't.

What's ironic is that a couple of months ago the government pledged over £800 million to fund vaccination programmes in the developing world, yet here in the healthy, wealthy, privileged UK, there are still affluent 'well-informed' mothers who'd rather turn it down.

Boris Johnson - Don't underestimate the power of funny

Boris has been popping up a lot in the news lately with all the excitement mounting around the Olympics.

It's all looking good, spectacular, in fact.  Building of the 2012 stadium is on time, within budget, and eye-poppingly impressive.  And we thought we were hopeless at this kind of thing.  Remember the Millennium disaster?

But I digress, it's Boris who's the issue.  He who has been prominent in the Olympic countdown; he, who has been madly pedalling about the city promoting those Paris-inspired dangerous-looking rent-a-bikes; he of the impossibly thick blond thatch that requires constant ruffling to stay out of his eyes; he of the strange dictum, hilarious facial expressions and comic, well just comic being...  He merely has take to the lectern and you're stifling a laugh.  There's something of the Eric Morecambe about him.  And, whatever you think of his politics, frankly, it's refreshing.

The UK political scene has been so lacking in humour of late, so devoid of personality.  Where the Labour party was funny it was contrived, spun, over-controlled and try too hard.   Cameron is of a similarly over cautious and bland approach (occasionally in PM QT resorting to sarcasm and childish 'Calm down dear' mimicry to get a laugh). Although you knew Blair clearly had it in him his sense of humour outings were carefully managed .... the most memorable being the 'You fink I'm bovvered?' Comic Relief sketch, amusing in the extreme, but doubtless monitored closely by TB's PR.  The sad truth is he was altogether just too earnest to be funny.

There's no scripting Boris though, oh no.  He's nothing if not spontaneous, which of course leads to the odd reckless, heinously inappropriate gaffe, the stumbling, the veering off message etc, but it's his unpredictability, his pompous vernacular, his shambolic bluster that makes him funny.   Like it or lump it, it's in his veins, and conveys a certain honesty.  Plus, of course, we're told by those who know him that the comic front belies a raging intelligence, vaulting ambition and profound seriousness underneath.   I met his mother once, the artist Charlotte Johnson Wahl, who was at pains to point out that her eldest is 'very serious you know, despite what people might think'.  Maybe it's all a ruse?

But, that aside, the truth of the matter is this.  The Mayoralty is up for re-election next year and there's a chance that Boris may not get to open his beloved Olympics, instead forced to hand ye flamin' torch over to arch rival Ken.  I have a feeling it won't happen, that he'll stay in.  Because there's a little bit about his comedy that infects, and that's what people want more of right now, amidst all the gloom.

It's a shame for Ken, because we're all well aware what a phenomenal job he did as predecessor in terms of making things happen.  But don't underestimate the power of funny alongside a smattering of competence (2012).  After all, Boris having been handed the baton, is yet to break anything.  Plus, it seems he's careful (even long-term strategic..?) to set himself apart from Cameron (citing the hacking saga) and in doing so, end up less tarred with the same brush that daubs the failings of central government.

It was summed up for me in a newspaper the other day which observed how, on one of his many promotional outings, about which I can't remember, a group of teenage boys gathered around The Blond to have their photo taken.  It seemed wholly unlikely that an anarchic group of kids would consent, never mind volunteer, to having their photograph taken alongside Britain's most bumbling toff. When asked why they did, they replied with a shrug, 'Cos he's funny, isn't he?'

Come 3 May 2012, I suspect they'll be an awful lot of Londoners thinking the same.

Friday, July 29, 2011

South West, cultural desert?

Have just tried to book tickets at the Picturehouse in Exeter.  Not for a film, but a play.  A play screened live from London.  That 'Two Guvnors one with James Cordon.  The only seats left were in the neck-cricking front row. I bought them anyway.

Also have tickets to see operas ana bolena and la traviata, beamed by satellite to aforementioned cinema from New York.  Again am in eye-boggling seats beneath the screen, despite booking a day after tickets became available and said performances being months and months away.

Well you don't get to see much cult-cha down here in Devon, not of the performing arts type anyhow. The best we can do is watch it on a big telly taking place somewhere else.

Exeter, cathedral/red brick university city doesn't have a theatre or a performing venue to speak of.  The theatre it had, has had all its funding cut.  Repeat, all.  Not so much a cut as a thorough mincing.

The Phoenix Centre makes an attempt at being a cultural centre but with little in the way of funding falls some considerable way short its hub potential.  The bar is like a student refectory, the food borders on dreadful, and everything you touch is sticky.

The city boasts no substantial library, no decent-sized bookshop with decent coffee shop, no decent large gallery, no music venue beyond the cathedral - the cathedral I should note is spectacular, and spectacularly under-exploited.   As a result there is no cafe society, no 'latin quarter' dotted with decent wine bars or cafes charged with cultural buzz. In Exeter City there is no 'scene', just shopping malls and a depressing provincial high street.

With no decent venues, no decent artists/performers/performances come.  Check out the weekend supplements' backcovers showing the endless array of stand ups on a nationwide tour at any one time.  Run your finger down the list of venues they're scheduled to appear at and you'll notice they don't go west of Cardiff.  Never to Exeter. Very, very rarely are they dragged kicking and screaming to Plymouth.  

Yet as the scramble for Picturehouse tickets will attest that there is a thirst down here amongst us deprived Devonians, such that we get our fix where we can.   The Telegraph's Way with Words festival at Dartington had every speaker pretty much sold out.  The Dartmoor Arts week held in the tiny village of Drewsteignton sees around three hundred people squeezed into the pub's back room to listen to the evening's talks (headlined this year by such eminents as Margaret Drabble, Bill Woodrow, Peter Randall-Page and nueroscientist Semir Zeki), and art exhibitions, of which there are a lot given the disproportionate density of visual artists living down here, are all well attended.  Stuff happens.  But on a small scale. And that pretty much extends across the region.

So where is our lottery investment? Why is this corner left off the map and pretty much overlooked by anyone who's anyone?  It's not just Londoners and home county dwellers that like a bit of a show.  Is it perhaps because we don't make enough of a noise about it.  'You've got your rugged moors and your endless beaches, what more do you want for god's sake?'

Isn't the government aware that the exodus from London is accelerating as more and more of us, aided by the Internet, work remotely; are they not aware that living in London is prohibitive for most and that population-wise they need to spread the load, or that all those well-heeled types, who tend to like a bit of thay-ter, are spilling further and further westward to set up home, be it sumptuous home number 2.

A decent, attractive, sizeable venue is all we ask.  If all those central govt purse holders can't be bothered to regenerate this beautiful but culturally bereft corner of the UK now, perhaps they might consider the long, thumb-dwiddling evenings of their retirement? 

There is some hope.  John Lewis is coming.  Apparently.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Murdoch - Tit for Tat...?

Ok, with today's developments am sensing we're into tit-for-tat police vs news international...?

This is my take on stuff...:
Rebekah Brooks/Les Hinton resign in all the hoo-ha
Murdoch in rage at seeing ship sinking and a mass manning of lifeboats, unleashes wrath and (first of?) the dirt he holds on the police (front page news Sunday Times)
Police retaliate by promptly arresting, that's right arresting, Rebekah Brooks on grounds of... not entirely sure, 'intercepting communications'.. or something, and suspicion of corruption.

Tomorrow who knows...? Will there be further police revelations on The Times and Sun front pages...?

And then what?  Will the police start arresting Murdoch family members...?

Frankly, anything seems possible.  This one could go right to the top.  Am beginning to imagine that as the house of cards starts to topple, Cameron will get drawn in.  And if he does wade in to placate police and papers won't the immediate response be, just what have they got on him..?
This is better than The Wire.