31 October 2011

Museum of Brands and Advertising

I recently paid another visit to Robert Opie's wonderful museum in Notting Hill.
A labyrinth of rooms are jam-packed with various ephemera showing how packaging, labelling, branding and advertising have changed over the past century. Toys, signs, foodstuffs, cosmetics, bottles... too many things to mention here.
I especially like one of the rooms towards the end that shows how some brands' packaging and logos have evolved; chronological rows perfectly illustrate the changes that have happened from a product's first outing to the present day; differing sizes and shapes of containers, altered logos and new colours and typefaces. No surprise to hear that I think today's packaging just isn't as charming as the designs from earlier decades.
Go see for yourself... and enjoy the nostalgia trip.
Old brands and advertising on London streets today:
Bovril: Brixton / Hovis: Angel / Pepsi & Coca-Cola: Fulham Broadway / Peterkin: Clapham
Gillette: Spitalfields / R.Whites & Martini: Hackney / Brymay: Fulham
Craven 'A": Camden / Haig: Denmark Hill / Nestlé: New Cross Gate / Ogden's Guinea Gold (tobacco): Homerton

28 October 2011

The times they are a-changing

The clocks go back this weekend. Summer is officially over.
On the plus side, you can stay out an hour longer when you are out partying on Saturday night, or revel in that extra hour in bed on Sunday morning. I have even heard that some people use the extra hour wisely and DO something!
On the negative side: it'll start getting dark in the late afternoon, which I don't like, although I do like autumnal days – chilly, bright, beautiful afternoons somewhere like Hampstead Heath are just lovely. Preferably with a dog.
Time waits for no man (or woman). Time is on my side (no it isn't). Where did all the good times go?
Here are some London clocks:
See them all and more here.

23 October 2011

The London Column

If you haven't discovered The London Column yet, then get with the programme now... because it's a gem of a site.
The strapline at the top reads, "Reports from the life of a city, 1951-2011, by David Secombe", and it's just that.
It's only been up and running since May this year but it's already packed full of gems and snippets of London life and observations. I have particularly enjoyed reading the excerpts by written by V.S.Pritchett in 1962; especially the one about the Blitz.
One thing that intrigues me about this lovely site, and that's David's logo top right... from 70s–90s, there was a magazine about typography called U&Lc that had its logo in more or less the same style. I suspect the logo design for The London Column has been created as a fond pastiche... very clever!
Here are some nice bits of typography I have found in London:
Top: Kings Cross, Fulham, Marylebone, Clapham.
Middle: Covent Garden, Finsbury Park (now sadly covered up/removed), Islington, Soho (I think this isn't there any more either – I will check).
Bottom: Stoke Newington, Blackfriars, Bermondsey, Temple.

20 October 2011

Gaby's Deli under threat

To be honest I have been wondering, what with the sad demise of so many independent London establishments over the years, how Gaby's, one of my favourite cheap eat venues has managed to cling on.
For decades I have enjoyed going in there for meze plates large and small, salt beef sandwiches and kebabs (not all on the same plate!) washed down with good cheap wine, whilst looking at the celebrity photos and endorsements and favourable restaurant reviews pinned to the walls. Back in the '90s I often worked at a company who occupied the upstairs floors, so the sandwich run was quick and easy as well as tasty.
But I am sad to report that Gaby's Deli is under threat after Westminster Council has given consent for the site to be redeveloped.
The council has some bizarre idea that redevelopment "will improve the look and feel of the St Martin's Court area, and this will outweigh the loss of the existing retail units".
Aaargh! By this, I assume they mean, homogenise the area by bringing in Starbucks et al.
Why change such a curiously interesting little pocket of London? The little courts that join Charing Cross Road to St Martin's Lane are really special and are home to some wonderful little bespoke shops and restaurants. Tourists love London history; they don't want to come here and see the same bland high street shops they have at home or at Westfield.
Rent hikes mean we've already lost most of the old bookshops along nearby Charing Cross Road. And, just further north, a great swathe of the St Giles area has been raped by plastic high rise buildings that still have empty shop spaces on the ground floor. To evict well-used, well-loved, flourishing businesses like Gaby's makes no sense at all. This whitewash must stop.
Gaby's planned eviction date is 1st May 2012. Join the Facebook campaign here.
Here are some details and observations, all to be found a stone's throw from Gaby's:

15 October 2011

The Art of Walking

Last Saturday I went on one of Fox&Squirrel's walks. F&S offer 'lifestyle walks' all over London themed around fashion, architecture, food etc.
This one was an art walk in Peckham, an area of London that is now bursting with creative talent, no doubt brought on by cheap rent and available space.
Our guide was Natasha, a very erudite and knowledgeable young lady, who met us outside the award-winning Peckham Library. First we visited Peckham Space, opposite the library and then she walked us up the road (passing a relevant bit of cement graffiti) to the lovely Passmore Edwards South London Art Gallery – a free purpose-built gallery space built by the great philanthropist. I was much more interested in the building than the art inside it. I loved the As and Hs on the sign on the front of the building, and found the old Pugin-esque floor tiles, the painted sockets and the old sign board in the back courtyard way more inspiring than what was on show.
Then we walked down Lyndhurst Way and stopped to look at the cleaned-up house that was once a famous squat for artists. Around the corner I noticed a stink pipe. Relevant? Then to a space functioning as both a home and a gallery where we watched two looped films of images of cars and lorries going down the freeway but manipulated into endless tunnels. It was mesmerising. But again, free, though the fella had opened the door especially for our group as it wasn't normally open on Saturdays.
Bells were ringing in my head about whether this 2 hour walk was good value (I spotted an old alarm bell casing showing the old Bishopsgate telephone code!) – after all nothing had an entrance fee, and using a South London Art Map this would cost nothing at all. But I was having a nice time with nice people...
And so to the Hannah Barry Gallery, almost buried amongst a sea of semi-derelict buildings in an old industrial estate. The highlight of my day was meeting the wonderful Hannah Barry herself. Diminutive Hannah belies her size and age – she is a powerhouse of ideas and enthusiasm. She talked eloquently and sensibly about art and galleries. And I loved the metal sculptures there by James Capper.
Then to a bar in one of the arches under Peckham Rye Station for art chat.
A nice afternoon. Thanks.

10 October 2011

Cyril Mann Tribute Exhibition

A tribute exhibition marking the centenary of the birth of the British figurative painter Cyril Mann (1911-1980) is currently on at the Piano Nobile Gallery 5th October – 5th November. Included are his rarely seen historic pre- and post-war paintings of London and Paris.
The show traces Mann’s artistic development through six decades, from the 1920s when, aged 12, he was the youngest boy ever to win a scholarship to the Nottingham School of Art, until his death on January 7, 1980, aged 68.
Mann set out to capture London emerging from the ravages of war and returning to normality. Among his early London works is 'St Paul’s from Moor Lane', painted in 1948, the year of the previous London Olympics, which depicts the iconic cathedral dome surrounded by bombsites in a view now obscured by the Barbican development. It is interesting to compare the views in his paintings with what we see today.
Also never previously exhibited is 'Pont Neuf' which shows the famous Paris bridge in 1938 silhouetted against the sun. This tranquil scene shows no sign of the imminent German invasion and upheaval to come.
A graduate of the Royal Academy Schools (1934-1937), Mann never used a studio and lived most of his life in a council flat, refusing to join any art movement and rejecting the fashion for abstraction. Neglected in his lifetime, his work is now represented in major private and public collections, including the Guildhall Museum & Art Gallery and the William Morris Museum, Waltham Forest. The British Museum department of prints and drawings has five of his drawings.

6 October 2011

Run away and make money!

It's less than a year to the London Olympics. Nine months. Like a big noisy baby waiting to be born.
At the Thames Festival last month I was chatting to a couple from Americans from Atlanta and they told me it was AWFUL in their home city when the Olympics came the town. They were saddened at how much their city had changed post-event.
As you probably know from reading my occasional rants about the forthcoming Games and the associated homogenised and consumerist hell of Westfield shopping centre, I am not a fan of all this Olympics stuff. I am still convinced that the money could have be better spent.
If you too are dreading the invasion, and thinking of leaving the country until it all blows over, why not make some money out of it all and rent your home for the duration? If you live close to Stratford or any of the other Games sites you'll get some fabulous rental rates that will more than cover the cost of storage for your valuables. LO2010 is free to the first 50 who sign up using the code FREE11. And an iPad is up for grabs too!
Oh, and re that Olympic logo I hate... you know the one I mean, I am not going to show it or link to it here... don't you think the LO2012 logo and site looks way better?
Top: Trafalgar Square, South Tottenham, Kensington, Stamford Hill
Bottom: Wandsworth, Willesden, West Green

5 October 2011

Save the countryside

This isn't about 'my' London, but about the green belt that surrounds it.
I copy and paste here from an email I received from 38 Degrees:
Our English countryside is under threat again. The government is trying to rush through massive changes to the planning system, which would make it much easier to build on green field sites. We've just a few weeks to stop this happening.
Experts are lining up to condemn the government plans. The National Trust warns of unchecked and damaging development. Friends of the Earth predicts “a building free-for-all that will blight our countryside with bad building.”
A massive people-powered petition can make the government think again. It worked to stop England's forests being sold off. It can work again to stop precious countryside being wrecked by bulldozers and concrete.
Please add your name now, and forward this message to all your friends:
The English countryside is something we all enjoy. It's far too precious to build on willy-nilly. Once our green fields are gone, they're gone forever.
If we work together, we can stand up for a balanced, careful approach to deciding what to build and where to build it. We can protect local communities' right to have their say, make sure social housing is built where it’s needed and protect wildlife and beautiful, tranquil places.
Having to act fast to stop an urgent threat to our countryside feels eerily familiar doesn't it! It's only a few months since half a million of us came together to stop plans to sell off England's forests. It worked that time - now let's come together again to stop this new threat to our beautiful green places.
Please take two minutes now to add your name to the petition.

3 October 2011

Grant's True Tales

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a do in the vaults of the RSA for an evening of food and drink and story telling as part of Grant's True Tales.
I think the idea is everyone has a story to tell and what better way to do it than over a glass of Grant's whisky which has it's own story to tell?
Grant's have been running a story-telling competition on their Facebook page and, between courses, we watched and listened to the three finalists. To be honest, I thought two of the 'stories' were tedious. They weren't stories at all, but ramblings. I've heard better tales in my local pub told by bar flys who would never think to enter a competition.
I joked to a fellow diner that if these were the best three, then perhaps there'd been only ten entrants. It turns out there were only nine! Hmmm... rather of makes a mockery of the winner's certificate that reads something like, "Best story teller 2011".
I'd have written about this sooner had I not been stumped for picture ideas, but as I poured myself another glass from the free bottle of Grant's whisky they gave me, I noticed the bottle is triangular...
Top row: Battersea, Bishopsgate, Paddington, Deptford.
Middle row: Strand, Old St, Holloway Rd, Bloomsbury.
Bottom row: all Holloway Road.