Spellbound by Stardust


We’d promised ourselves a visit to The National Portrait gallery because a) Julie and never been and b) we were drawn to it by the recent TV programme where Simon Weston was the voted the people’s portrait and we wanted to see the result in the flesh.

Of course, this gallery is way more than that with portraiture from the middle ages to right now with everything in between. In truth, it’s a beautiful gallery, carefully curated to display our relationship with our own image through the ages. From Richard the third through to Kate Middleton, the gallery holds a mirror up to how we see ourselves and catalogues society’s obsession with fame and recognition. And yes, the Simon Weston portrait was actually really, really good.

The whizz bang show when we visited was David Bailey’s personally curated exhibition of his work, over 250 images cataloguing British celebrity culture from Twiggy and The Krays on to Kate Moss and Damon Albarn. It’s not as ephemeral as it sounds though. The show is a unique collection of images that capture the heart and soul of the sitter, whether it be Hollywood A-listers or East End hard men — Bailey definitely has a unique eye for the story behind the eyes.

The collection was much larger than I expected and as a retrospective, incredibly thorough. The arts were well represented with fashion, film, music, art, photography all providing iconic and striking imagery (I thought churlishly David Bowie seemed a little over represented) and alongside the more commercial work, experimental journalistic projects jockeyed for position, with mixed success. It seemed to me that Bailey is most comfortable in the studio where he has ultimate control of the output. His iconic black and white photographs against a white back drop beautifully capture the essence of the sitter where his location images seem to lack this power and cohesion.

I find it impossible to criticise Bailey for no having a go though. He’s had a pop at everything and this exhibition is in itself just a snapshot of a prolific career. But the black and white portraits still endure: eyes telling stories across the decades, images that look like they were taken last week, an entire room of Rolling Stones photographs catalogues a supergroup in the making (although we’ll forgive him shooting the Stones amidst the Stones at Avebury, but it was the sixties after all).

David Bailey: Stardust, National Portrait Gallery

Bailey Stardust 30


His unflinching nudes demand attention: ordinary people getting their kit off as part of the project, piercings and all, sit alongside statuesque images of Bailey’s ex model wife with alabaster skin. I particularly liked the shots of a bygone age in the East End of London, a way of life captured, gone for ever. Bombed out post war-time streets in Whitechapel sit comfortably alongside Hollywood royally and Bailey seems to revel in this journey from poverty to wealth, never losing sight of the image maker in him.

We saw this show before we explored the rest of the gallery and it was interesting how it provided a filter for fame, a contemporary take on the portrait as a status symbol. It seemed no different to me as the prolific Victorian portrait artists, desperate to capture everyone’s fifteen minutes no matter how obscure, or the first world war officers painted sketchily and somewhat hubristically before heading off to the front. In the pub afterwards, someone was confused why there would be photographs in the national portrait gallery and I was quite glad to have that heated discussion and put them straight, as I’m certain would David Bailey, with bells on.

Clerkenwell Design Week

The usually quiet streets of Clerkenwell were overflowing this week with design junkies seeking a fix in exquisitely designed products. The fifth Clerkenwell Design Week was a resounding success if the sheer volume of hot pink lanyards being toted around the cobbled streets was anything to go by.

I found an hour to have a quick mooch around some of the key locations (thanks to *Wallpaper magazine for helping me with that) so I registered online and picked up my lanyard in the delightfully named House of Detention, which was unsurprisingly an old prison. Deep in the dank, cavernous maze of cells were all manner of artisan designer wares from beautiful soft furnishings, ingenious woodworking, elegant lighting and quite frankly odd bits and bobs.

I moved on to the Chapel of The Knights of St John. Right in the heart of Clerkenwell is the last remnants of a medieval priory built by the Knights of St John, an order founded to provide medical care for the crusades. All that’s left of the prior now after centuries of destruction is an exquisite arch, a peaceful garden and a beautiful crypt. The underground space elegantly housed wittily modern Brazilian furniture by Fernando and Humberto Campano.

There were lots of other events and showrooms that I didn’t get the chance to see but the atmosphere was enthusiastic, the audience engaged and the area a hotbed for design appreciation. All of which is good in my book. My only criticism was that did think it would have been good to see graphic design represented in some way and perhaps that something for the organisers to consider for next year.

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Our London adventure

So we finally moved to London.

After six months in the planning, we packed up our house in Leeds and moved our life to the capital city. It was too good an opportunity for us to pass up and after lots of family discussions we decided that the timing was right for a change. Most people do it the opposite way round: move to London in their twenties when they have no ties (and no money I might add) and then move back home when the city has sucked them dry. We’re doing it the alternative way. Our eldest son was already working in London already and the girl is at University in Newcastle so there was nothing really holding us back and other family members encouraged us to go for it.

We rented out the family home in Leeds, which we’ve lived in for over twenty years and packed all our worldly goods into storage. That was quite a thing in itself, but all part of the process. In many ways, it was quite liberating to shed lots of stuff and de-clutter. Whilst that was happening, we went flat hunting in London. We had a reasonably clear idea of where we wanted to live — Shoreditch / Islington / Clerkenwell — all in North London and not physically too far away from where I would be working: I had a clear vision for a walk to work commute when I was working in the office. We wanted to be central but in the cooler areas where there was plenty to do and more importantly, areas we could afford to live in.

The property market in London moves lightning fast and flats came and went: in the end I saw a flat, outside our price range, but decided to go for it. It was in a great location and had plenty of space, fully furnished too. Julie hadn’t even see it and as it turns out wouldn’t get to see it for weeks, so it was a real leap of faith for her. Fair play — she just rolled with it, which has become a familiar theme for us. We moved in to Flat 13 (no superstitions for us about that number as I was born on Friday 13th) under two months ago so we’re still in the full flush of a honeymoon period, everything is still a novelty for us. But we’ve settled in well and with spring in full flow in London with summer around the corner, it’s great time to be in the capital.

We’ve never rented before so the trials and tribulations of having a landlord who has to OK everything is quite a new experience for us. We’re used to having the power as a home owner, but equally there is something quite nice about calling someone and the responsibility is theirs. It took time to get used to the noise too. Where we are is relatively quiet but very central and there is a constant background thrum that definitely takes some getting used to. Gradually we are tuning it out but initially it  sounded like a real cacophony. City dweller friends tell me you get used to it and I do believe them.

In the coming months, I’ll be devoting Deanoblog to our adventures in London. Over on Globetroffers.com, you’ll be able to track our foodie adventures — of which there will be many! If you’ve never lived in London then you’ll be able to experience it first hand with us and if you do live in London or have done in the past you’ll be able to point us in the right direction.

One thing is for certain: we will be completely focused on enjoying the journey without worrying too much about the destination.

A proper artist materials shop

There’s something beautifully old-fashioned about a proper artists materials shop. The smell, the rustle of paper, an exciting array of pens, graphite, crayon and a kaleidoscopic array of inks  all rub shoulders with each other, cheek by jowl with mysterious substances. Then there’s the smell…but don’t get me started!

Sadly, there’s not so many of them about these days, certainly outside of London you’d struggle to find one. Back in the day when I was a student there was handful, even in a city like Leeds. Dinsdales was my favourite but of course the rise of online retail and the march of technology in art and design has put paid to the physicality of the artists’ mecca.

In London however, it’s a different story even in 2014. In Clerkenwell where I work I discovered an exquisite store selling all manner of artists materials. Stuart R Stevenson, Artist and Guilding materials is right on Clerkenwell Road and is a real treasure trove. My fleeting visit for sign writer’s paint and sponges was too short but I’ll definitely return for a more leisurely mooch.  This brief visit recently yielded much joy and return visits will deliver much the same I think.

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The man who was Thursday

MrSundayPor copy

Four out of ten

This month’s book club book was very strange. It was by the relatively well-known British author, G K Chesterton. I have no idea how it came about as I wasn’t in attendance last month…but here goes.

It’s worth up front saying that finishing this book was a bit of a challenge: I left my hard copy in a Leeds hotel room – accidentally I might add —but downloaded e-book at the last-minute to finish it. And for some reason it was easier to finish it in a digital format: go figure. I found the book hard graft initially to get into, a difficult book to read for some reason; perhaps it was the language, not sure. Once into it though, the pages turned easily and I finished it with hours to spare, pre book club…even though I wasn’t actually there in person.

First thing to say is that this is a completely mental book. Farcical at every turn, it was almost like an episode of Ripping Yarns with some chapters full on Python-esque thrown in for good measure. It had elements of the surreal; reminding me of a Magritte show I saw in Liverpool a couple of years ago. Bowler hats, steam trains, apples, you get the picture. It also felt satirical but I’m not really sure what about, but more on that later. I also enjoyed the beautiful descriptions of London and skies were very visual and quite lyrical, quite at odds with the rest of the book.

The plot was ludicrous, every move telegraphed at every chapter and certainly to the modern reader it seemed quite eccentric. It was both funny and engaging sporadically and ridiculously old-fashioned. Parts are very Dickensian with echoes of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds (perhaps it’s the period) and interesting to note Chesterton had a Dickensian obsession himself, writing a biography of Dickens. As in most Dickens books, London plays a starring role and this book has the city central to the action.

I particularly liked a proto James Bond underground bunker / secret agent entrance to a secret lair —Ian Fleming had clearly read this book as did many Cold War / TV writers…for example the Man from Uncle secret entrance through the laundry business mimicked the grimy boozer tunnel described in the book. At times this book felt quite futuristic for the period it was written.

The final chapter in the book had an otherworldly, almost supernatural feel that had echoes for me of the Master and Margarita party chapter — praise indeed. It was both surreal and druggy. There were also religious references aplenty, both overt and tucked away. From the Old Testament days of creation to Jesus’ quote about having to drink from his cup, I found the collision of religion and anarchy a bit obvious.

It was interesting to think about modern terrorism in the context of the anarchists depcted in this book, would Al Qaeda sympathisers be ignored in the manner of these pseudo terrorists? imagine a similar gathering in a curry house in Bradford talking of bombings…All one has to do these days is say the word bomb or type in the word dynamite to a search engine and alarm bells are triggered.

I then got thinking about ‘hiding in plain view’ and of course it has modern-day resonance…Jimmy Saville, Max Clifford, Gary Glitter, Cyril Smith, all hiding in plain view using their stature, celebrity, and wealth to conceal their activities. Quite a powerful thought.

I found the anarchists not very anarchistic and to be honest, wasn’t really sure what they were rebelling against. I was puzzled with their quaint club style (more rules it seems than our own book club it seemed) and I wanted to know why were anarchists so prominent in 1908 and what worried that society so? Was it the Russian movement, the build up to WW1 or was it the fragile transition from Victorian old world culture to brave new world of technology and advancement?

Fundamentally I’m left unsure why the intellectuals were seeking to embrace the destruction of society and establishment. Interesting to see in our modern era it seems to me like it’s not esoteric intellectuals who seek the destruction of society as we know it, but religious fundamentalists.

I scored the book a four as for the majority of the book it was simply a farce with clunky exposition, enjoyable to read but the real nuggets were few and far between.