20 January 2015

Grayson Perry: Who are You? at the National Portrait Gallery

There is still plenty of time to follow the free trail around the NPG where you can see fourteen works created by the multi-talented Mr Perry in conjunction with his Channel 4 TV programmes aired last year.

Detailed ceramics, intricate sewn and beaded tapestries, maps, diagrams, portraits and prints – all packed full of ideas and observations. And Grayson's explanations on the info cards next to each piece are so refreshingly informal, caring and well-written.
The man is an inspiration.
Until 15th March 2015.

Previous Grayson Perry posts...

This image shows a few things on my mantlepiece including the lovely flyer from Grayson's excellent 2006 show The Charms of Lincolnshire, a bone that looks like a little begging beast, an eroded fragment of crackle-glazed pottery, a twisty shell innard and, just out of view, a postcard of Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper.

16 January 2015

Are these connected?

On the top deck of a bus going along Piccadilly recently I noticed this building:

So I pondered if it is in some way connected to a similar building in Upper Street, N1, which also features faces within roundels that are extremely similar:

The building also includes a portrait of Hugh Myddleton, the driving force behind The New River. 

Perhaps it was designed by the same architect or, more likely seeing as there are many terracotta buildings across London, it was just a standard style and these portrait reliefs, roundels and and other stick-on details were readily available to buy off-the-shelf from the local architectural mouldings emporium...?

12 January 2015

Drink water for free – Find-a-Fountain

I am still bemused as to why people buy water in plastic bottles from the supermarkets and then lug them all the way home. The water that comes out of out the taps in our houses passes strict health and safety tests; the bottled stuff would fail those tests immediately.
Add to that the cost of manufacturing the plastic bottles and I can't understand why many people wasting their money in this way and why they think the bottled stuff is somehow better for them. Check those 'Use By' dates!
How ridiculous! Turn on the tap.

In years gone by drinking fountains could be found in parks and open spaces and on most major junctions. Unfortunately many were vandalised or disconnected in the 1980s by agents working for Perrier, Buxton, Volvic et al (just kiddng!!) and so buying their water in bottles is now often the only option.
However, if you have a collapsible bottle in your pocket like the one made by Aquatina you can top up whenever water is available.
To make this easier, Find-a-Fountain have produced a map showing all the working fountains in Central London. I notice that there none anywhere near the busy shopping area of Oxford Street so if you do know of any just add them to the site yourself. Similary, south of the Thames also looks to be a bit dry, so let's get some more markers on the map.

A relevant aside
Also worth mentioning about whilst I am on this subject is the lack of (free) water fountains at many UK airports. I have found a couple of pathetic squirty things at London Stansted, but if there are any at London Gatwick they are very well-hidden.
Singapore airport is a marvellous example of how airports should be, with groups of water fountains every 100 metres or so (they also have free wifi terminals and lovely gardens too – you could actually live in that airport!). But airports in other countries, especially those in hot countries, are not providing fee water and are instead cashing in on their dehydrated 'customers'/travellers. Here's a tip: when I travel back from Turkey I always take an empty bottle through customs (lid removed) and fill up from the wash basins. Ta da!!

Shown at the top are some London fountains in various states of use (a couple of them were/are not for drinking water): 
Top: Blackfriars, Westminster, Finsbury, Camden
Middle: City, Soho, Hoxton, Westminster
Bottom: Bloomsbury, Kensington, Kentish Town, Holbon
Lots more pics of London drinking fountains here; many of which are still in working order.

7 January 2015

'Drawn By Light' and 'Making Life Worth Living' at The Science Museum

Wandering down Exhibition Road, marvelling at how the partial pedestrianistation has been a big success, I noticed that the boards have been removed from the wonderfully elaborate Henry Cole Wing of the V&A to reveal the recent clean up.
I don't think it looks very much different. Was this really necessary? Below are some shots of it a few years ago with a couple of shots on the bottom row showing how it looks today (thanks to Google Streeview):

I was on my way to The Science Museum to see two photography exhibitions.
Make Life Worth Living is a commissioned series of photos by Nick Hedges and illustrates the poor living conditions in major UK cites during the late 1960s. Viewing the images I found it really hard to fathom that people were allowed to live in such damp and basic 'housing' during my lifetime. Free entry.
Drawn By Light charts the early days of photography from as far back as 1820. As well as some amazing photos, there are examples of the type of kit used when a 'portable' camera was the size and weight of a second person. But the results were well worth the effort. Some of the images look really contemporary and truly ahead of their time.
An adult ticket for this exhib is £8 but here's a little tip... you can get half price entry if you pick up and fill in one of the leaflets which can be found there (I found mine on the counter of the cafe opposite the exhibitions on the second floor). The price goes down even further to £3.20 if you decline the donation fee when paying for your ticket.
Both exhibitions are on until 3rd March.

1 January 2015

Happy New Year... and a positive resolution

Whoosh!  Is it just me, or did 2014 fly by very quickly indeed?

Happy New Year from some of my favourite ghostsigns
Hovis, Haig, Dunphy, Supper, Brymay, Pring, Dowell's, Harper, Sally, Gillette, Girling and Daren

2014 wasn't that good a year for me for many reasons. And I let myself get irked by too many extraneous things – people on buses, walking blindly out of shops, talking utter rubbish, littering, being rude, insensitive, selfish or self-obsessed etc. Not to mention the phone companies and the banks.
And, as you know if you have read my rants about The Pointy Thing, the Garden Bridge and the Dubaiification of London, I have been becoming very worn down by the huge architectural changes that are happening in London leaving almost no area untouched by an 'iconic' lump of glass.
There are some very rich people with the ability to hold a pen and sign their name who are changing great swathes of London in the sweep of an arm. I don't see the extent of this kind of architectural rape happening in, say, Rome, Madrid or Brussels, and it saddens me.

But I must rise above these ugly towers; I have to stop getting so agitated.
So here is my plan for 2015... 
From now on, I resolve to [try to!] write only about the things that please me. After all, it was the little details that got me started with this blog, and that's what it says on the mast head.
I apologise if a few gripes slip in occasionally, but I will try to make them succinct or witty, or both.

One more thing.... 
People have written to me saying that they are having a problem leaving comments on here. Hence why I get so few.
I have fixed the problem now – please try again – it's nice to know you are out there ;-)

All the best for a positive and prosperous year,

29 December 2014

Bottles and bricks on Battersea beach

Every now and then I get a group of friends together and we go for what I call "A Forage on the Foreshore".
Yesterday the weather was forecast as 6ÂșC but bright and sunny, so a few of us including Caroline and Malcolm met up under the south side of Battersea Bridge. Having enjoyed it there last time, this time we did the same walk in reverse, continuing westwards almost to the railway bridge and then retraced our steps halfway back again to return to street level via the slipway next to the old church.
The beach at Battersea is mostly shingly and pebbly but there are some interesting old things to be spotted by the eagle-eyed.
As seen under my shadow here, the foreshore is littered with old building bricks, and many of them have names embedded in them. At first, seeing so many with the name RAMSAY on them we thought there must have been a brick-making factory on that site, but moving on we found lots more names, including NETTLE and THISTLE (nice) so I now think these are the remains of some demolished buildings, especially as some of the fancier shaped pieces had numbers on them which, I'd assume, were identification codes for the builders as to where they should be placed. More ideas about this are welcome.

Considering how many Ramsay bricks we saw it's hard to fathom how I didn't capture one. Of the others, Thistle, Nettle, Sneyd, Douglas, Brandon and Stephenson were easy to read but the last three aren't so clear – Cliff(something)–Worth(sonething), Phorpres? and John Steve(ns/son)?

Further along, near four house boats moored parallel to the shore, we found a lot of glass – big chunks with metal bits embedded within, etched fragments, broken and tide-tumbled pieces, little medicine bottles and jars, and one ink bottle with its stopper inside.

Here are some of the finds I brought home including four clay pipe stem fragments that will probably end up in a necklace, and some nice old bits of pottery which I have yet to date.

If you'd like to join us for a forage just contact me via my other site here.

26 December 2014

Jane's Connect. What links these pics?

Here's a little quiz for Christmas, though unlike these cards it has got nothing to do with the time of year or Christmas at all.
All of the above are in central London and are linked in some way. Can you identify the link?
12 clues; some quickly identifiable, others a bit tougher (but you only get four clues on Only Connect).

23 December 2014

Bring Your Own Christmas in aid of Crisis

I am a bit late posting about this as it is sold out already, but what a great idea.
Grub Club BYOC is aimed at lonely food loving travellers and singletons – take along a dish for four and enjoy a Christmas Day dinner with a difference and, in the process make some new friends. Proceeds go to Crisis.
Read more about the founders here
I might organise something similar myself for next year.
Ding dong merrily

16 December 2014

The Victoria Memorial

At the top of the Mall, in the middle of the road directly outside Buckingham Palace is a Grade I listed monument that most Londoners usually ignore or use as a roundabout, and most tourists just sit on to take selfies.
But stop and have a really good look at it next time you are there, for Thomas Brock's Victoria with her marble surround by Sir Aston Webb, is 25 metres tall and covered with wonderful sculptures and friezes relating to justice, truth, peace and victory, as well as nautical references in the form of mermaids and mermen.
The beautifully rendered gauzy outfits and nudity on almost every character (except Victoria herself) ties in really well with a post I wrote last year about all the perky breasts the Victorians liked to depict on their statuary. But, as you can see, the ladies on this magnificent edifice are more realistic. 

These pics have proved to be be very popular within my Flickr photostream. 
It may be because I have included nipples, tit, breast, woman, naked etc in the tags. Ha ha.

9 December 2014

Wreaths and round things

A couple of weeks ago I joined a group of blogging friends for one of Flor Unikon's Christmas wreath making classes.
As you can see, my wreath was far from traditional and looked good enough to eat. I gave it to Tom TOLTOL as a housewarming present.

The photographs above were taken with a Samsung Alpha courtesy of Three who organised the evevning. I didn't really get to test out all the phone's capabilities as it was hard to press the keys with sappy fingers. Perhaps I should have made it so messy that they wouldn't have wanted it back. Damn! Opportunity missed there!

A lovely evening. Thanks.

To follow the circular theme, I have put together a group of round things in London that please me...

28 November 2014

Black Friday and Small Business Saturday

Today is Black Friday, so named because as the first shopping day after Thanksgiving in the States it marks the start of the Christmas shopping season. The word black here meaning the start of business being in profit, rather than in the red (debt).
So I thought I'd mark the day with another collection of nice black boot scrapers that I have spotted around central London.

To see some of my earlier posts about boot scraper please click here and here and here.

Then next weekend, 6th December, sees Small Business Saturday, a day to promote and buy from small traders and independent shops.
I will be selling my clay pipe creations at markets on both of these days. Today at Camden I will be offering a 20% discount. See my full market list here.

25 November 2014

From the Forest to the Sea – Emily Carr in British Columbia

This intriguing exhibition about one of Canada's best-loved artists has just opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Emily Carr spent a great part of her life in British Columbia, in particular Haida Gwaii, documenting the things she found around her such as totem poles, trees and skyscapes.
I was lucky to be able to attend the press launch which started with a traditional welcome by the Haida Hereditary Chief and Master Carver, James Hart, accompanied by some of his people. It was rather strange, standing there in our modern garb, watching people in tribal dress perform songs and dances that were centuries old in surroundings that were also old but completely different in style.

The exhibition shows how Emily's work evolved over time. It highlights especially how her style changed and became bolder after her time spent in Paris where she honed her painting skills. Returning to Canada she continued to develop, and devised mixes of different types of paint which she used on cheap paper so that she could paint with speed outdoors. Sadly that paper has since discoloured, but what the heck, the paintings still look great; white space has just become pale brown space.
The exhibition begins and ends with display cabinets containing relevant tribal artefacts from various museums including two of my favourites, The Horniman and Pitt Rivers.
The exhibition runs until 8th March. More information here.

Ian Dejardin leading our guided tour, some reflected heads, Haida indigenous objects.
Emily Carr self portrait, and some of her totems and trees

18 November 2014

Stonecutter Street – AKA Treecutter Street

Earlier this year I was on my way to one of the monthly London Historians get togethers in the Hoop & Grapes on Farringdon Street when I stopped in my tracks at the end of Stonecutter Street.
A whole row of trees, I think there were eight of them, had been hacked down to thigh level in the name of progress.

The stumps ranged in diameter from 8 inches at the Shoe Lane end of the road to about 30 inches at the Farringdon Street end. Thirty inches – that's an OLD tree, that is. So sad. And I very much doubt that the development going up behind the blue hoardings will 'live' to be as old as the some of those bigger trees.
The stumps have probably been removed completely by now.
The area, bordered by Holborn Circus, Fetter Lane, Fleet St and Farringdon Street is full of evocative street names such as Printer Street, Wine Office Court, and, of course Stonecutter Street and Shoe Lane, all hinting at the trades that used to be predominant in those roads. But over the past 20 years or so I have watched as the whole area has changed considerably – it now bears scant resemblance to how I remember it when part of my first job as a junior in an advertising and design company back in the 80s was to deliver packages containing finished artwork to the newspapers and magazines in the vicinity.
A stone cutter's throw away, hidden amongst the modern buildings you can find Dr Johnson's House and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub where Johnson and Boswell would have enjoyed a few chats, drinks and smokes. I wonder what they would have to say about the rush of change that has happened in the past two decades?

11 November 2014

It's here, it's there, it's every bloody where

I recently went for a walk around the Fenchurch Street area of the City, popping into churches, investigating little streets and alleys and admiring old buildings and their interesting details.
But that bloody Walkie Talkie loomed over me from almost everywhere.
As you are probably well aware from my previous posts, I am not a fan of all this heavy-handed steel and glass architecture (see here and here) that's sprouting up like some kind of instant Dubaiification.
The Pointy Thing at London Bridge is just a greenhouse that tapers towards the top, and conversely, though similarly, 20 Fenchurch Street is just a tower block that flares out at the top but has the added bonus of being able to fry eggs and melt cars.

As viewed from Blackfriars, from Potters Fields near Tower Bridge, from the northern end of London Bridge, and from Rood Lane EC3.

As viewed from Eastcheap/Philpot Lane (x2), and from the eastern end of Fenchurch Street. The last pic shows it at street level illustrating how truly unimaginative this building is – just compare it to the considered old architecture on the corner of Philpot Lane.

I wandered into Mincing Lane and found a relatively new pedestrian street opposite the Disneyland-style castle and prancing ponies of Minster Court (ugh!). 
Plantation Lane forms part of the huge Plantation Place development (but check out Google maps and zoom in to notice that the road name on the street sign has been erased – why?). The street narrows as it goes westwards towards Rood Lane. The only reason I didn't get agitated by being hemmed in by even more bullying glass is because I was distracted and intrigued by the pavement which is natural stone embedded with lines of names, words and phrases linking to London. Great to spot some wonderful old street names there ;-)

The pavement along Plantation Lane. At the Rood Lane end of the street I took the chance to capture some convergence images illustrating the diverse architecture. 

The City of London will never be finished. It is constantly evolving. Yet it seems to me that there has been a greater percentage of building/development per square metre in the last ten years than in the last 500. I appreciate that we live in a different world these days, with different needs and demands, but what I cannot fathom is the extent and size of these things, especially when so many old buildings stand empty and many finished buildings of similar size are not yet anywhere near reaching full occupancy.

Immediate plans for The City

David Edward's idea of what's in store for the future