23 July 2012

Purple and pink, polyester and plastic

I wrote a while back that I'd applied to be a London Ambassador during the Olympics. I'd originally understood this to mean something more akin to showing small groups of people around areas of London and thought I'd be under-qualified for it. But it turns out all it's just standing around in a nasty uniform being prepared to answer people's questions.
Whilst I am more than happy to do my bit the whole 'training' process has been tiresome and badly-managed. But I bit my tongue and bided my time.
And then the uniform arrived. Oh dear... 
It's certainly not what I'd call 'sustainable'... in fact it will be definitely be more of a legacy as almost every part of it is man-made. Here we are in an age of recycling and ecology and just looking at these clothes is bringing me out in a sweat. I can't even sleep in poly-cotton sheets, so this is going to be rather a trial for me.
The pink and purple tops are made from 100% polyester with a small irritating collar. When the Ambassadors were first on the streets they were sporting simple cotton T-shirts with white lettering on them. Why couldn't we have had those, or something similar? The matching cheap, thin, easily-creased fleece is lined in silver grey polyester, as is the '100% Nylon' rainproof hooded jacket.
We have been instructed that a hat must be worn during our tours of duty but the baseball cap looks very silly on me and I run the risk of being asked if you can get fries with that. So I will instead be sporting the straw trilby, which actually isn't bad, however, that too has polyester stiffening inside it. I wore it for 10 minutes so that my friends could laugh at me, and my hair was damp when I took it off.
Then there's the stiff black trousers containing 67% polyester. I assume the skirts are made using the same material. Luckily they now say we can wear our own plain black trousers (phew!) but why they couldn't have thought of that before they wasted all so much money making and distributing thousands of the things is beyond me. After all, who hasn't got a pair of black trousers or a black skirt?!
Plain black walking-style shoes or trainers finish off the ensemble. No open toes or sandals. No shorts.
Whoever designed this should be shot. I mean, polyester and dark trousers in July and August?! D'uh! Actually, that's a point... er... 'designed'?
All of this must be carted about in a matching pink and purple rucksack that isn't waterproof. So plastic everywhere else, but not for the bag!
Then there's the issue of where these things were manufactured. There appears to have been a great opportunity missed to produce things here in the UK. I can find no 'Made In' labels in the top, trilby, fleece or jacket, but cap and the bag say they were made in China.
And the branding, which looks ironed-on, varies from item to item. The typeface under the logos is that hideous new Olympics font (ech spit!*), but 'TEAM LONDON Ambassador', which is in Futura Regular on most items, is in Helvetica/Arial on the bag, and then a strangely squished version of Futura Light has been used on the cap with the letters A and M in a smaller size. What's that all about?!.
Bizarrely you can still apply to be an Ambassador as the relevant page is still live. I think this speaks volumes.
But hey...
Please do come and find me in Trafalgar Square between noon and 5.30pm every day 13–17th August. It's my birthday on the 15th and I will be needing a few drinks after perspiration and weight loss.
*I use 'font' here, as there only appears to be one weight of this revolting "typeface". I still cannot fathom why the 'o' is a complete circle and does not follow the same angular rules as the other letters. Perhaps, once the Games start, we might see it dancing about and becoming part of the Rings...? Oh I dunno.

20 July 2012

London Historians

I am a London Historian; a member of a fine association whereby I can meet up with other Londonphiles to exchange news etc about this great city. I do tend to feel a bit under-qualified and overwhelmed in their presence sometimes as a lot of the other members are very knowledgeable indeed... authors, Westminster guides, academics etc. I just take pictures!
This week Mike Paterson, the organiser and author of the blog, has just given me and a couple of the other creative members a plug on the site.
Thanks Mike!
Be sure to have a poke around the rest of the LH site as it's jam-packed of ideas and information.

16 July 2012

The Hollow Crowns of London

Watching the brilliant versions of three Shakespeare plays on BBC TV these past few weeks, it occurred to me that I have a lot of images of London places and pubs with nice crowns within them. 
If you can't understand my thought process here, the BBC has brought together the plays Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1+2) and Henry V, and collectively called them The Hollow Crown. If you missed them, are really worth catching up with. 
I did Henry IV at school for 'O' Level and remember when our English teacher asked the class to learn Prince Hal's 22-line soliloquy from Part 1. The following day he went around the class asking us at random to recite it and, it was quite evident that hardly anyone had bothered to learn it. Each of us managed one more line than the last, having only just learned it. I was picked on fifth, and can still only recall the first five lines. Then Marion (the girly swot!), managed the whole thing. Ooh dear; Mr Price was not pleased with the rest of us! 
Below are some London crowns; on fire insurance markers, pub signs, a Mercers maiden, some chimneys, a stink pipe and two cheeky lions. 
Top row: Waterloo, Walthamstow, Covent Garden, Bloomsbury
Middle row: Drill Hall, Borough, Islington, Stoke Newington
Bottom row: Lambeth, Kensington, Battersea, Highgate 

9 July 2012

The Vanity of Small Differences

You might have seen the three programmes that Grayson Perry made for Channel 4 last month, called All in the Best Possible Taste, where he gathered inspiration for six new tapestries he was making that were to be based on his observations of the British class system.
The results are on show at the Victoria Miro gallery until 11th August.
I must admit that I wasn't going to bother going to see this exhibition, despite being a big fan of the man. I was expecting it to be 'just another set of tapestries'. He is almost TOO prolific and too full of wonderfully open-minded ideas. I am always protesting that there aren't enough hours in the day, days in the week, etc, yet here's Grayson again squeezing so much in (out?). 
But I am so glad I made the effort to see the show.
The tapestries echo Hogarth's A Rake's Progress where Tom Rakewell squanders his inherited fortune and then ends up dying in a madhouse. 
Grayson's shows us a modern day version of the story – Tim Rakewell's journey starts with his working class beginnings, moves into a middle class marriage, he buys a big house in the country and ends up dying in a retail park. 
The tapestries are jam-packed with references and repeated images, and just as in Hogarth's set, there is a small dog in every one. You find yourself walking back and forth comparing elements within them. Grayson's drawings are, as ever, spot on, as are the quotes and written observations within each piece. 
You can see all the tapestries in the above link, but what you can't see is the fantastic detail – these really need to be see at actual size – as I was really impressed at the quality achieved by the mechanical tapestry process as, in many places, there are really intricate and beautiful sections; wildly patterned wallpapers, dress materials, picture frames and iPhone screens.
The show also includes a few of his lovely pots. I suppose he probably felt he couldn't put on a show without featuring Alan Measles somewhere in the room!
I have only one complaint about the exhibition and it's about information/reference material... it would have been better had they put small images next to each tapestry, or on the printed information sheet, to illustrate GP's inspiration for each piece. For instance, the paintings he has referenced here include Masaccio's Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece – I had to look these up online when I got home, which was a shame as it would have been nice to compare and contrast them when I was at the gallery. Ooh... as I wrote that I had a better idea... an interactive screen showing these religious works would have tied in beautifully with how Tim Rakewell's made his fortune.
Go see it... it's good. And take an iPad or something googly woogly with you so that you can reference those paintings.
Upper : Islington, Clapton, Holloway, Ground 
Middle: Crouch End, Temple, Store St, Middlesex St
Lower: Belgrave St, Holloway, Clapton, Marsh

6 July 2012

Great Western Studios open event

Located between Westbourne Park and Royal Oak tube stations is the creative hub of Great Western Studios, and this weekend, 7th + 8th July, they will be opening their door for the Summer Open Event where lots of talented designer-makers (including me!) will be selling a wide variety of unique and unusual products.
I was hoping to put together one of my usual photo mosaics using images from the local area but I only appear to have 3 or 4 and they aren't really suitable. Very odd; especially as I have had reason to visit that area many times over the years. Looking at my wall map of London I can see that there's a whole area that isn't coloured in with pink highlighter pen (yes I am a nerd!), with Westbourne Park tube station right slap bang in the middle of it.
So no pictures this time, but no prizes for guessing where I'm off to next time the sun is shining and I have a day off...
Hope to see you over the weekend.

4 July 2012

InMidTown continued...

Last Tuesday evening I went to an 'event' at the British Museum about the rebranding of the area that encompasses Holborn, St Giles and Bloomsbury. Well, dear readers, you probably know what I think about this as I have written about it before here and here. So I was hoping to be enlightened and find out about the proposals for the area. 
But all we got was a teaser film and a few people telling us how great the area is (yes, yes!) followed by the full 15 minute film which consisted of endless shots of Sainsbury's and way too many references to Crossrail, complete with animated graphics showing how a train travels in a tunnel underground even though the MidTown / Midtown / inMidtown area (I am still none the wiser) will not actually contain a Crossrail station.
It threw a lot of a balls into the air but didn't give any ideas or possible solutions for discussion. 
For instance, the film was so vague, contradictory and repetitive; it attempted to promote how great the area is, yet showed a graphic of a generic dirty kerb morphing into a grassed-over pedestrianised street with new shops, but there was no real explanation where this was intended to be (High Holborn?).
There was a lot about how the roads are congested and, hence, the public transport ought to be upgraded. Anyone who has sat on a southbound bus near Russell Square will attest to this. According to the talking heads within the film, tourists are confused/lost when they exit Holborn station and don't know how to find the British Museum. Has anyone thought about erecting some decent signage? It ain't rocket science! Banners banners banners!  
When the film finished we were invited to go out into the foyer and have a discussion about what we had seen over drinks and canapés. The canapés were the best thing about the evening. The red wine was good too. Chatting to other people, most of us agreed that the presentation was clearly aimed at businesses and investors, telling the uninitiated how this area in the middle of London is indeed in the middle and a great place to live, work and socialise. If idiot businessmen do not know the (Holborn) area is there in the first place, then it's evident that they can't really see much further than their noses. Or read a map. Perhaps they can't recognise a good opportunity unless it's got a Starbucks and a phone shop next door? Do we really want these people here? Are we dumbing down for them? Will this put up rents even further and force out those few small businesses who were (sort of) featured in the film? Nothing seems to have been thought through. Sigh. 
And I am confused as to why I was invited to attend, along with a few other bloggers, London writers and non-business types. I think they may have seen my earlier posts and were hoping to prove me wrong. 
One more thing...  the shape and size of Midtown has changed since my earlier postings; it has shrunk and now resembles a gecko hovering over New Oxford Street and part of High Holborn with its legs obliterating the British Museum and that Renzo Piano monstrosity which is home to big foreign companies such as NBC the owners of this blog. 
Are we about to get another homogenous makeover? Why does everything need to be glass and plastic these days? They ought to be promoting areas like nearby Lamb's Conduit Street and its adjacent Georgian streets. 
I'll stop now. Here's a more rational report of the evening. 

2 July 2012

Holloway Birdwatch

I was doing the washing up this morning noticing how the birds seemed to be busier than usual when I spotted a newcomer.
We get quite a variety of different birds here in our Holloway gardens including goldfinches, various tits (great, coal and blue), starlings, blackbirds, sparrows, magpies, pigeons and wood pigeons (probably the most stupid bird ever?). A few years ago a sparrowhawk flew down and nabbed himself a young blackbird, making a big noise about it too. Wow!
But today I spotted something much smaller; a little visitor I have never seen before. In fact I don't think I have ever seen one before at all anywhere... it was a teeny tiny skittish wren, hopping and hiding and flitting about the edges as if he/she didn't want to bother the other birds. Tiny thing. Lovely. What a nice start to the day.
Above are some London birds including a few cocks and peacocks, a falcon, a gull, a pair of swans and a some fanciful creations.