South London Girls

I got stood up again for a visit to a gallery. My friend Steve had succumbed to a lurgy and was confined to bed. So for a second time this week I visited an exhibition alone, for the second time this week I enjoyed it immensely.

Bridget Riley


There were more coincidences. Reading the biog of Bridget Riley (it was her exhibition at the Hayward I went to today) I saw she was born in west Norwood. Quant was born in Blackheath. So they were both south London girls. Both received part of their art education at Goldsmiths, just three years apart.

That may not seem much of a story, but compared to the nonsense being bleated about a ‘crisis’ in the royal family with the Sussexes deciding to relocate and withdraw from public life, or the desire of some deranged few to mark Doomsday with the sound of Big Ben, it’s mega. I’m being more than a touch unfair about the royal story, but the one that the tabloids seem keen to deny is that they have kept up a relentless stream of negative stories about Meghan Markle all characterised by an unsavoury flavour of racism.

Anyway back to the art. Riley’s work is mesmerising, and makes my eyes go funny. It’s meticulous and cerebral, yet playful and perceptive.
I love this spiral, it seems to twirl and shimmer. It feels alive, changing, moving as you look. I forgot to take my camera, only had my ‘phone, and now I have reduced the size of the photo files, they’re not as sharp as I’d like.

Spiral

Spiral: detail

How does an artist conceive of something like this? Fortunately we got a little insight.

Spiral plan

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Quantifiable

I set off on a damp morning to the V&A. My friend Patou and I had arranged to meet there to visit the Mary Quant exhibition, of which we have heard good things. Mary Quant came to prominence in the early 60s as a designer and entrepreneur, and name and her face were familiar to me throughout my childhood when the mini skirt was de rigueur.

Sassoon and Quant


However, fate intervened, and when I reached South Kensington, it was to find a message on my ‘phone to say Patou could not join me. It might have been more fun going round the exhibition with her, but I had a wonderful time on my own all the same.

Although Quant’s fashions would have been splashed across magazines, those magazines would generally have been of the glossier kind that rarely came my mother’s way. So it was with something of a shock that I realised how much Quant had influenced the clothing I wore or saw older cousins and neighbours wearing as I was growing up. Apart from mini skirts, there were shift dresses, pinafore dresses, boxy suits, and pin striped materials previously the province of men’s suits.

Unfussy

When I was at the Vice Versa exhibition in the Ulster Museum last summer, fortunate enough to have a tour with the exhibition’s curator, Charlotte McReynolds, it was clear fashion is very much part of social history. So it proved again at the V&A. At McReynolds 2018 exhibition Fashion & Feminism she included a quote by Quant: “Clothes always say it first, you know, then comes the effect.” That desire to get away from restrictive clothing, to be comfortable, to be gleeful, was all part of the emerging sixties youth culture. Quant does not claim to have invented the mini skirt, she says it was a street fashion, invented by the girls on the Kings’ road where she had her shop Bazaar. Continue reading

Street of Ghosts

After a month of not posting here, I was planning to write about a wonderful day Celia and I spent in Margate last weekend. The prospect of five years of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, the abandonment of safety nets for vulnerable refugees, the exclusion of Parliament from the final Brexit arrangements, all these combined with the worst cold and cough I have had in years meant I was, and to an extent remain, low in spirits.

But the wonderful day will have to wait.

Today we are a neighbourhood in shock and mourning. An elderly, frail neighbour died in a house fire this morning. Two weeks ago, her neighbour who lived in the property across the road died in her sleep. I can’t say I knew either woman well. The one who died today I would nod hello to, she sometimes nodded back. I had noted her decline over the last few years and knew friends of mine who live next door were supporting her. The manner of her death is the stuff of nightmares. Continue reading

Fun with fungi

Looking for fungi is a bit like beachcombing; you have to take it slowly, stop, look round you, look again. Celia has started attending Monday fungi identification sessions at the South London Botanical Institute. It means the weekends are now prime specimen collection time. I went along for the walk on a very mild afternoon. The hunting ground was Ruskin Park.
At first it seemed the park was a fungi free zone, and I suspect Celia was regretting agreeing to go there rather than one of our other local large green spaces. Then we found this:

First find


After that most of our finds were tiny, but Celia’s paper bag started to fill up. Some fungi is amazingly tough and will not be removed from its site by fingers alone. Celia forgot to bring a knife, though on reflection that was possibly just as well. Being arrested on a sunny afternoon in South London for possession of an offensive weapon would not have been high on either of our agendas.
I’m going to just give the other photos numbers and hope that Celia, who should be now be long home from her class, will enlighten us.

Two

Three

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Cemetery Days

Imposing


London is almost fifty per cent green, an astounding statistic for a city that is home to some nine million people (or the metropolitan élite if you prefer). we have an abundance of parks, small public gardens, private gardens, churchyards and cemeteries. The cemetery Celia and I visited on Sunday was not one of the Magnificent Seven. It was Camberwell New Cemetery. Situated next door to Camberwell Old Cemetery. Since generations of my father’s side of the family lived in Camberwell, I half expected to spot the name of one of my ancestors on a grave stone.

I didn’t.

But I did see a lot of graves. Hardly surprising. There are obviously fashions in monumental masonry as in everything else. When I was making arrangements for Aunt’s headstone I wanted something made from local stone. I was thrilled to find the monumental mason was of the same mind, and we spent a happy quarter of an hour agreeing that black marble headstones are an abomination in this country. Evidently not everyone shares our sensibilities. But despite the fact that I was supposed to be looking at plants, I couldn’t help but wonder what the story was behind this grave with its VW ornament.

Camper Van Grave

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English, British, European – for how long?

We-ell. Where are we now? To be honest I don’t know. Johnson is a slippery beast. Never in my life have I experienced what it is to have a senior politician who has such a distant relationship with truth. I have loathed Margaret Thatcher, considered her opinions and policies wrong and divisive, but I never doubted she believed in what she was doing. With Johnson, no. It’s all about him, his ego. Just read his book about Churchill if you don’t believe me. It’s a book about Johnson as he would like us see him. A fantasy masquerading as history. I am getting an inkling of what it must have been like to be Italian all these years. I don’t like it. Everything he does feels like a potential trap, particularly when he says words such as ‘respect’ ‘democratic’ ‘people’. These are just words to push buttons, provoke knee jerk reactions. In other words, not democratic.

But it is increasingly clear that Brexit is not about democracy, it is not about what is best for the country, it is not about cool headed sensible decisions; it is about emotion. If a referendum were held tomorrow what would the result be? I don’t know. Surveys give conflicting answers. It appears that many people think that if Johnson’s deal is agreed Brexit is ‘done’ (another word increasingly used by the pro Leave bunch). This is wrong. Agreeing this deal is just the end of the beginning. The next phase is going to be more intense, more contentious, more dangerous. But the red tops keep exhorting the government to ‘get it done’ ‘let us go’ ‘break the shackles’. No one has been able to explain to me satisfactorily what those ‘shackles’ are, what we would be freed from: frictionless trade? freedom of movement? membership of the biggest trading block? All things I am very happy to keep. Who wouldn’t be?

So no surprise to hear that last Saturday I joined over one million people marching through London to proclaim our desire to remain in the EU.

March!

My journey to the mach was easy and pretty short. Some people had travelled overnight in coaches from all over the UK. This time there were many regional flags, people keen to show it is not just the Metropolitan Elite who is in favour of the EU, but those from Salisbury, Cornwall, Essex (Essex!), Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kent, Cardiff. You get the idea. I didn’t recognise all the flags, and obviously only being in one section of the march I didn’t see all of them, but the White Rose of Yorkshire, flying among posters of Jo Cox, brought a lump to my throat. Continue reading

Love London

The new layout at the airport confused me. I could see the shuttle bus I needed to take to the railway station, but not how to get to it. So I wasted several minutes going in the wrong direction and the bus I had seen departed. Fortunately another arrived almost immediately. It was nearly empty, as was the train to London. Until we reached St Pancras. I looked up from my book and saw a sea of faces on the platform. Not all those people boarded the train, but as travelled through Farringdon and City Thameslink stations the train filled up. I got off at Blackfriars and made it to the bus stop just in time to see my bus pull away. Joggers dodged the pedestrians; commuters talked earnestly into mobile phones; the Thames flowed sweetly under the bridge. It was a beautiful evening.
After being the countryside I was struck, as I always am when I return home from less populated areas, by the hustle; the sheer number of people; the energy. I couldn’t decide whether I was pleased to be there or not, though I was increasingly impatient to see MasterB.
He was more interested in going into the garden. Within seconds I realised his pleasure at seeing me was more that I could let him out of the flat and into the big wide world than in an emotional reunion. Ah well, he made up for it later, and this evening. Continue reading

Timing

When I booked my flights to Belfast earlier in the year I wasn’t to know my departure was going to coincide with the almost certain elevation of Boris Johnson to the post of Prime Minister. I’m not going to go on about it. Marina Hyde expresses the whole fiasco so much better than I could here. Though I can’t resist adding a link to the very wonderful Michael Spicer and his latest YouTube on what is fast becoming known as kippergate.

It’s people like Michael Spicer and Marina Hyde who give me hope that my country is not totally beyond redemption, and at some time in the future may rediscover reason and self-respect.

It so happens my departure also coincides with a heat wave I am very happy to miss. I am less happy that the forecast for almost all my stay in Co Derry is for rain. But hey ho, I’ll take the waterproofs and it’ll be ok. Of course I shall be still be in the UK, but with Johnson running (sic) things, the break up of the Union may be close. I have my Irish passport now, as well as my British one, but at this rate I’m going to have an English one before very long. Never mind, it’ll be dark blue. That is, I am told, what matters.

MasterB will be in the tender care of the Young Relative. She visited again on Friday evening and he made clear his pleasure at seeing her. The family of the ginger female down the road, who gave birth to five ginger kittens a couple of weeks ago, is also on holiday, and their own Young Relative is in residence to cat sit, so these two YRs may meet up and socialise. On Friday it was YR, Octavia, Celia and me at the local Lebanese. B&J would normally count as back up, but they mega Prom fans so will be at the Royal Albert Hall every night for the next few weeks. Actually both Octavia and Celia are away the first week of my holiday, so I am glad there is the other YR for support close by. I am also glad I invested in a sod stream lat weekend so she has easy access to fizzy water, and I have an extraordinarily good little fan from Lidl which I hope will help on hot nights.I don’t think I am going to need it in Co Derry. Continue reading

In Which Celia and Isobel Visit Woolwich: the Third and Final Part

I think it’s about time I wrapped up the Woolwich visit, or another month will have passed.

The contrast between the couth regenerated area of Woolwich Arsenal and the main shopping drag is marked. Plenty of shops catering for those without a huge amount of disposable income; fast food outlets, garish colours. A huge branch of Tesco, a Primark, a Wilkinson’s, A TK Maxx; no sign of a Marks and Spencer. Oh but some of the buildings were grand, and the evidence of independent shops representing the ethic diversity of Woolwich is heartening. Give me a Turkish deli over a mini Waitrose any day.

The old co-op building caught our eyes and we gazed up at the statue of Robert Mackay who seems to have held every senior position in the venture. I had all but forgotten Woolwich’s strong association with the co-operative movement.RACS are initials familiar from childhood, but I can’t say when I saw them last.

The Woolwich Arsenal Cooperative Society

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Across the street two more buildings in a sorry state were also once part of the RACS. We couldn’t make it out at the time, but my photograph, when enlarged on my laptop, showed the motto Each For All and All For Each. Not Thatcherites then.

Almost Derelict

Each For All and All For Each

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In Which Celia and Isobel Visit Woolwich, Part Two

I realise I need to reel back to the barrier bit of our our afternoon.

You can see the barrier from the station platform at Pontoon Dock. There are worse views. We were a bit puzzled by the hedges which at first sight suggested a maze, then waves, and provided some children with great hide and seek opportunities. It also made it feel quite private as we walked the length of it.

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It turns out the waves are to remind us of the docks, but they also provide a micro climate which encourages a variety of plants and wildlife.

Now I’ll skip back to Woolwich. Beyond the market square there’s a busy road with vehicles of all types roaring along it, and an estate agent branch of a well known swanky firm. We were about to find out why. We had reached the Arsenal, the original home of the football team, now associated with north London, but born down in se18.

The football team

The military used to be in these buildings, but now they have been, as the increasingly heard phrase goes, repurposed. I should say it was shortly after entering this repurposed area that we met Ben for the first time. Or rather Celia did. I missed the moment but turned around from studying the statue of Nike to see she was playing a game of catch with a small boy with curly dark hair, a winning smile and a very inaccurate grasp of how catch is played. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, one person throws an object, often a ball, sometimes a bean bag, in this case a small plastic toy, to another person who catches it. When the thrower throws the object in an entirely different direction from the person who is in the catching role, the game loses some of its flow. I made a lucky catch when by some miracle Ben launched the toy in my direction, returned the toy to him, and we moved on.

Nike

As with the barrier park, what was striking was the feeling of space. The buildings are low, the ground between them well tended. Military space has become residential and leisure space. Work is going on for Crossrail, the Elizabeth Line making Woolwich to central London journey times impressively quick.

New Railway

Elizabeth Line

Our experience of being on the edge of a regeneration zone where Berkeley Homes is involved made us a tad cynical. For all Berkeley and the other developers trumpet the mantra of creating community, their goal is to make money. The communities they want to build are not the people already living in the area, but newcomers with money.

Military History Rended Nostalgic

History as a marketing

Community

An area’s history is sanitised and repackaged in a golden nostalgic vision of the past. I can’t say it’s not seductive. But in our local area I have seen history boards that play fast and loose with neighbourhood boundaries, and where uncomfortable parts of the history are edited out. I imagine it’s the same in Woolwich.

Still, I began to think that MasterB and I could quite happily relocate, and Celia very generously said she’d allow me to live in Woolwich.

Among the older buildings are new blocks of flats. But it was this building which inspired our first real surge of property envy.

Property Envy

Nice Front Door

Later we learned the service charges are £5,500 pa. I currently pay £1,000 in service charges.

The museum has closed and is to relocate. It occupied an enviably large space, no doubt now destined to become flats. This underlines one f the conflicts of regeneration, where conservation and archives collide with profit. It’s the ideal place to have a museum telling the story of the area’s past, but the economic argument wins each time because we place a higher value on money than we do on education.

This was Woolwich

I am very doubtful about giving the responsibility for telling history into the hands of people whose prime motivation is to make money from it. Inconvenient truths can be lost very quickly.

To be relocated

Once the museum

We peered through the windows into the empty spaces beyond. It reminds both of us of the naval dockyard at Chatham. Who knows if that might yet be turned into desirable homes.
Naturally there is some public art, and a fair amount of ordinance lying about, now less defensive than ornamental. Children climbed on cannons.

Engine Mount (don’t ask me, I don’t know)

Assembly, Peter Burke Assembly, Peter Burke

Cannon Balls

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