Saturday, 15 June 2019

AND MORE EVENTS...

An Irish Hooley

At the end of May we staged our first big event as a venue, the annual "Irish Hooley" for Irish Music and Dance in London, an admirable organisation devoted to fostering traditional music and dance among the Irish diaspora here in London. They do two things: they put on a festival in the autumn, which used to be in Camden Town (but is now in Cricklewood), for which the Hooley is a fundraiser, and they organise classes for youngsters in traditional Irish music and dance, year-round. We first made contact with them about four years ago, and it seemed to everyone that we would be a suitable venue for their music classes. Not dance, though (not with our tiled floors and their hard shoes and stamping feet!) So, in the interim, they have kindly invited me to the Hooley each year, where I have had a good time, but felt a bit of a fraud. Finally, this year we thought the building would be finished, and it would be a good test event for us, and so it was booked in. As you already know, everything was not finished, but at least we had the loos and the lift working, which was the basic minimum. PDT organised volunteer stewards, and we observed carefully as Tommy and his hugely professional team of riggers turned the nave into a suitable venue for the Kilfenora Ceili Band and 200 people. They started bringing in the staging at 10am, had it up for afternoon sound checks and rehearsals, and took it all down as soon as the performance finished at 10.30pm, and were all out by midnight.

The Ceili Band were the big draw, but the first part of the evening was a showcase for some of the children learning traditional Irish music, who were really good. Their musicianship was really impressive (there was a particularly good young fiddler) and they were obviously well-taught, but clearly nobody was teaching them how to perform in public, as they all looked rather solemn, and one particularly prominent girl looked deeply miserable. It hadn't occurred to me before, but obviously performance does actually need to be taught, as most people are not natural performers.

The Kilfenora Ceili Band were genuinely impressive, and you can understand why their reputation spreads far beyond County Clare. I also learnt a useless fact, which I hope to deploy at a later date: that the first ceilidh took place  not in Ireland, but in London, in 1896 at the Bloomsbury Hall (a venue I'm afraid I don't know, but which Fiona assures me is still there).


Ecclesiologists

A few days later, we hosted a visit from the Ecclesiological Society, for whose journal I have written an article about the project. This event was bedevilled by confusion, as much of the content was due to be the same as we had done for the Victorian Society two weeks before, and many people are members of both. They were quite charming about making the arrangements, but charmingly vague; I suppose I have learnt the lesson to get everything nailed down beforehand. It was good to have the lift working, as we had some less mobile ecclesiologists. Bill Jacob, the former Archdeacon, is a member, and was hugely helpful. giving a talk about the genesis of the project. They were all very appreciative, and said kind things about the new building, and our vision.   


Giving Thanks

Two days ago it was finally time for our Solemn Pontifical Mass of Thanksgiving for the completion of restoration and building works (notwithstanding the non-completion of those works in reality). 20 choirboys from one prep school, 31 choirboys and adult singers from another prep school, 30 stems of lilies, the Bishop of Fulham, visiting clergy, visiting servers, and about 150 other people in church, participating in one way or another. The Durufle Missa Cum Jubilo was indeed lovely (though I should have checked how long the Sanctus and Benedictus would be) and so was the Notre Pere. The choirs sang very well. James played superbly.The Bishop, unfortunately, had a summer cold; normally he sings much better than me, and he would have benefitted from a mic in the pulpit (another thing we haven't yet done). Still I shall post the text of his sermon on the website. It was a great and joyful occasion. I was delighted that lots of the conservators who worked on the ceilings and doors were there. There were also friends from my old parish in Reading, and people who have worked on the project for years, as well as local supporters of various sorts.

One of the servers said to me, "Father, we live in liturgical luxury!" (delivered in a tone rather like, "Ambassador you are spoiling us") when learning that the Bishop would say the canon quietly while the choir sang the Sanctus. His excitement at learning that we were also doing the traditional blessing of lilies on St Anthony of Padua's Day was visible. I have to confess to enjoying myself there; I found a translation of a traditional responsory of St Anthony, which, with a bit of editing, could be made to fit to Parry's "Jerusalem", so we sang that at the shrine. Very multi-cultural, I felt.

I say shrine, but it's only a statue on a rather grand plinth. The statue has been in my sitting room for the past two years, and didn't come back into church with the others because the table he used to stand on was needed for other purposes. I gave him a bit of a clean and touch-up, but wasn't sure whether he could go back into church. Recently it dawned on me that the base of a portable font that we have recently replaced at St Peter's might serve as a suitable plinth, and so it has proved. A little gold paint has improved things, and no-one recognised it. It fits very well, and we can continue to venerate the excellent St Anthony, whose magnificent shrine in Padua I have visited very happily.


Yesterday

So yesterday, having had the celebration Mass the previous evening, Fiona and I took ourselves down to deepest Surrey for my aunt's hundredth birthday party. A couple of weeks ago my aunt had phoned me, and said that if we caught the 11.03 out of Waterloo there would be transport waiting at the station to take us to the party, as it had been arranged for some other people coming by train from London. So that's what we did, and found ourselves travelling with Gillian Reynolds, the doyenne of radio critics, and three charming people from The Archers staff at the BBC, we came back with them as well, and  very amusing travelling companions they proved. The venue was the reception room of a theatre, which if I remember rightly, my aunt opened some years ago. Lunch involved coronation chicken and baked potatoes, so I was always going  to be happy. I was very taken aback to be asked to speak at the end of lunch, but my brother and I managed to say a few things, which were well-received. It really didn't matter much what we said, since the focus was Auntie June's speech, delivered standing, without notes, and perfectly audibly, to a roomful of people on her hundredth birthday. Frankly, everyone was in awe. I'm not sure that my aunt entirely appreciates the BBC's description of her as "the world's most durable soap actor", but she was very gracious about it all. She was most apologetic that she was not going to be able to make it to our wedding next week, but my cousin is making sure she has a rest after all this.  

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

EVENTS, DEAR BOY...

Eminent Victorians

We were delighted to be able to host the Victorian Society for an event last week. The idea was that they should be able to experience our new extension and appreciate its architectural logic and beauty, but of course the builders hadn't finished, so we had to concentrate on the Victorian building (which was in truth what they wanted anyway). We would give them a talk about G.E.Street, and a talk about the new building, I would take them on a guided tour, and they would get food and drink.The theory was that there should be a limit of thirty for the group, as we could then sit them down in the education studio and talk to them there with all mod cons, but as that possibility receded into the middle distance, so the number wanting to come increased. In the end we had sixty, and sat them down in the nave, with slightly ad hoc audio-visual arrangements.

We will be getting a sound system, but not just yet, so speakers have to overcome the acoustic, which I am used to. People know that it is a good acoustic for music, and so assume it helps you, but actually the spoken word on the floor of the nave can be really hard work. You become much more audible if you are elevated, which is why I now always use the pulpit, and why, despite being a bit further away, placing the altar in the chancel makes sense. We used to have a block that readers stood on, (legacy of a film crew) but that was discarded with the junk when we emptied the church for the builders. I realised soon after our return that readers were now much less audible than before, but I am reluctant to have more blocks made, as we shall eventually have the sound system, and blocks would be constantly being moved and stored (in a building with no storage space). I think sometimes I give visiting speakers a false sense of security, as I am reasonably audible (when making the effort) but they then talk down into their notes and are completely muffled. It's actually annoying when you are trying to have a conversation across an empty church in normal life, and find the echo obscuring what your interlocutor is saying; it encourages the good discipline of actually going across to people and talking directly to them. So, for Vic Soc, we hired a sound system as well as a projector and screen (which would have been in the completed education studio).

Anyway, the Vic Soc event went well. Geoff Brandwood, an architectural historian, talked about Street, with some nice pictures, and set the building in context. Biba Dow, the architect of the extension, gave an excellent presentation explaining its relationship to the Victorian building, which seemed to meet with some understanding. I stressed to them how grateful we were for their (eventual) support in negotiating the process of getting permissions, because it was thanks to Chris Costelloe (their current Director) that we were able to demonstrate that we weren't actually vandals. I hope we communicated our love for the building.

I was expecting them to drink lots of wine, but they were quite moderate in their intake; much more respectable than clergy. I had the great pleasure of seeing again a chap who had been on my trip to Sicily; it seemed like a great coincidence when we discovered he was booked in for this, but of course (as the odious Cecil explains in "A Room With A View") it shouldn't be any real surprise, as we're the sort of people who like these sorts of things.


Cum Jubilo

I am now sending out the invitations to our Mass in celebration of the completed works. I know the loos will be usable, so it doesn't seem too premature (at last). On Thursday 13th June (at 6.30pm, do come!) we shall welcome the Bishop of Fulham (an old friend and neighbour from my time in Reading) and shall have the benefit of the school choirs of Caldicott (where James, the organist, teaches) and Sussex House (whose head is supremo of the Music Society). We shall celebrate St Anthony of Padua, a great and popular saint, whose lovely shrine I have visited with pleasure and devotion, and give thanks for the conservation and new building. The choirs will sing the Cum Jubilo Mass by Maurice Durufle, whose first British performance happened at St Mary Mags in 1968 under the composer's direction. They will also sing a setting of the Lord's Prayer which Durufle told Denis Hunt, the founder of the Music Society, was "for St Mary Magdalene's". Quite how we were going to use a Lord's Prayer in French seems not to have occurred to him! It is, apparently, a beautiful piece.

The secular celebrations, with "official opening" of the new extension, will happen in the autumn, and I expect we'll have a service of some sort then as well, but I knew that if we were to get the boys' choirs then June was the ideal time, after Common Entrance but before activity weeks and trips, and with long enough to practice. It will, of course, be unlike our normal worship, but it is really important to affirm our musical heritage, and our continuing relationship with Sussex House. It is also important to do something which is a full-throated affirmation of our Anglo-Catholic identity; we can do something which is vanilla on another occasion.


A Turning Point

When I was in Bologna for the start of the Giro I was struck by the number of fans of Primoz Roglic, the Slovenian rider, there were. Many were wearing matching mint-green teeshirts in their support of the ante-post favourite, who duly took the lead with an imperious time trial up to San Luca. It's great to be able to watch the highlights programme on Quest, and so I have been watching out for Slovenians in teeshirts, but haven't spotted any, possibly because the weather has been pretty foul and everyone has raincoats on. Roglic finally began to look vulnerable on that magnificent stage into Como on Sunday (when he nearly went over the crash barriers on a descent) and then was actually distanced by his rivals on the fearsome Mortirolo yesterday. But for me, the turning point was when Sean Kelly on the commentary began to pronounce his name the same way as the rest of us. Well, except for Italians, obviously, who pronounce it "Rolyee". The rest of us say "Rog-litch", but Sean Kelly, for the past fortnight, has been sticking to "Rodj-lik". Now Kelly is a great man, a hero of mine when I first discovered bike racing thirty-five years ago, and one of the hardest athletes you could ever find. I imagine he must have spoken at least French when he was riding, and probably Spanish and Dutch too (given who he rode for) because in those days no-one spoke English in the peloton as they do now, but he doesn't strike one as a natural linguist, and I don't suppose he had any occasion to learn any of the Slav tongues. I rather admire the cussedness that continues to broadcast a totally unique pronunciation, and rather hope that "Rodj-lik" may come back into the race.        

Thursday, 23 May 2019

USES OF INCENSE

CHARLES JAMES...

Let me advise you never to trap a fox inside your premises. They are very adept at hiding and will try hard to get out when you're not around, but have poor bladder and bowel control. I spent the best part of last week repeatedly censing the nave at St Mary Magdalene's in an attempt to cover up the pungent odour of fox. I was reasonably successful, but used a lot of charcoal and incense.

Originally, I had thought that someone had brought a dog into church and let it run amok at one of PDT's public events, as when I came into church one Sunday I found James (the organist)'s slippers distributed around the chancel, and one of the sedilia cushions on the floor of the sanctuary with the corner chewed off. On the cushion were tell-tale dusty paw marks, which indicated small dog or fox. Then the next day, Liz from PDT was in to supervise a group and discovered fox droppings, which was conclusive, and also demonstrated that the fox was staying over. I was mystified as to how it had got in, until I went down to the undercroft and found that the two openings connecting the undercroft to the new extension were no longer sealed, but boarded up from about a foot above the floor, an arrangement that would exclude most humans, but none of the wildlife to be found on the Warwick Estate. I then had the idea of closing the staircase doors, so that the fox was confined to the nave, and would be easier to flush out if it was still inside. The contractors organised a team of men to try to find it, but they failed. Nevertheless, the fox was still in the nave, and could not then get out. It made more than one vigorous assault on the plasterboard that sealed off the opening from the nave into the extension, and destroyed a brand-new doormat in trying to dig its way out of the north door. Eventually, the excellent Liz sat in her car outside the church after dark and lured it out with cat food, closing the door behind it when it came out.


GRANDE PARTENZA

Much of the fox saga took place while I was away. I had gone to Bologna for a long weekend, taking in the Grande Partenza of the Giro d'Italia, but was unable to escape from the fox. Some people seemed just amused by this, while others had sympathy for the trapped creature, but I knew what my church was going to smell like, so it was not relaxing.

They call it "Bologna the red", which is partly for politics, but partly also because it's largely built of brick. Last time I was there San Petronio, the great civic church in the Piazza Maggiore, was closed because they had recently had an earthquake and they weren't sure how stable it was. Well, I say it was closed; there weren't any services, but they would let visitors go inside, about ten metres in inside the main door, which didn't seem very rational. Anyway, the result was that I had never properly been inside San Petronio until my recent visit, when I put that right. San Petronio was started in the 1390s, and they went on building until the sixteenth century to the same Gothic plan, so the vaults are an anachronistic marvel. Like many great Italian churches they never finished the facade, but what they did complete is very lovely. The point, though, is that San Petronio is a vast brick basilica; it is said that the burghers of Bologna in the fourteenth century wanted to build the biggest basilica in the world. You could fit three or four of St Mary Magdalene's inside it, but looking at it you can see some of G.E.Street's inspiration.


IT ALL MAKES WORK..

No, the contractors haven't finished yet. There were nineteen vehicles on site today, seventeen yesterday, and twenty on Tuesday, so they are certainly putting men on the job. There are some polished concrete floors in evidence. All the faience is fixed, and looks beautiful. The lift shaft has acquired doors at most levels. All the glazing is in. The lights are fixed. Most of the joinery is fixed. But there still seems an unfeasibly large quantity of kit sitting in the undercroft waiting to be fitted inside the extension. They are working very hard, but it is touch and go for our education programme which swings into action after half-term. Just keep praying.     

Thursday, 25 April 2019

HE IS RISEN INDEED!

A Happy Easter

Importantly, we have now celebrated our first Holy Week and Easter in the newly-refurbished church. We still had to clean and polish everything, as the amount of dust in the atmosphere is still tremendous, but everything is looking much better, and I was not ashamed to welcome the Archdeacon of London, Fr Luke Miller, who spent Holy Week with us. Having someone else to share the preaching (and reading the Passion on Good Friday) makes a surprising physical difference.

With some repaired and refurbished candlesticks we were able to create a much better altar of repose on Maundy Thursday, and then to make a bigger, better splash on Easter Day, and frankly St Mary Mags looked splendid. We also used the old marble paschal candlestick for the first time since I've been here (as we had builders' labourers to move it) which looks impressive in the sanctuary. That still needs repair, but it's quite safe, so it's good to use it. 

We also used our new Stations of the Cross, which I am very pleased with. I bought them in Palermo, and had them shipped over, which was fine, except that the package was just left on my doorstep. The old plaster-of-Paris ones were past repair, and looked very tatty. They would inevitably have got even more damaged, and if we had tried to put them up and take them down it would have been a terrible chore, resulting in more damage. They also take up a lot of space in storage. The new ones, on the other hand, are in silvered bronze (and so pretty resilient) and are virtually flat (and so store easily). They are also silver, which looks very striking on the dark walls of the church. Their design is contemporary, but not aggressively so, and they are framed by a stylized thorns pattern, which works very well in a gothic setting.


Deliverymen

The person delivering the Stations left them on my doorstep, but at least he delivered them in a timely fashion, unlike a Hermes deliveryman, who took a fortnight to find my house, despite having "The Vicarage" in six-inch-high letters outside. I discovered through this that Hermes is not really a delivery company at all, but essentially an internet device, matching up deliveries with self-employed deliverymen. This would be fine if they were all competent, but mine wasn't. I actually saw him on one of his failed visits, trying to get into the school one evening, little imagining that this was for me. His vehicle was distinctive, and it is even more ironic that I have since seen it overnight a few hundred yards away in St Peter's parish. He claimed to have tried to deliver, but never left a card, and simply failed to identify the house on repeated alleged attempts. Since there are only 3 buildings with my postcode, and the others are the church and the school, I was not impressed. Hermes of course takes no responsibility for failed deliveries and directs you back to the supplier you purchased from, so I had long email exchanges with Rapha (classy cycle clothing, ironically based about 4 miles away). The particularly annoying thing was that I have had numerous successful deliveries from Rapha before (via Royal Mail, I think) and so let them know that I didn't think much of their new contractor.


Nearly There

Of course the new building wasn't finished for Easter. Silly of me to have thought it would be. But we are genuinely close now. The scaffolding is coming down, and it looks terrific. New turf is going down where the compound has been. People are frantically fixing things. The lift car appears to have been manufactured the wrong size, which is more than a little vexing, but we trust that something can be done.There were a whole string of things that were meant to be done over the school holiday, to avoid annoyance, but which seem not to have happened then, which is a shame. I compared notes with my neighbour Jem, the Baptist minister, who has totally rebuilt his church (and has flats on top); his is even further behind than ours, and we should just about finish together!

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

GLAZING

We're still putting windows into the new building; yesterday I found myself unable to watch as the glazing for the north lantern was being craned into place. The sheet of glass hung there from those huge suction caps in a way that seemed barely feasible, and it was all too much for my imagination. We walked around last Friday, with some senior officers from the City Council, and I was rather taken by surprise by how far from finished it all appeared, but apparently we are still due to finish in a couple  of weeks. I was a bit disconcerted by one of the council officers asking me whether the exterior was going to be brick, but of course what they were looking at was a large section waiting for its glazing to be installed. When I pointed out that the main facade material is our glazed faience, which is already complete, they understood and were duly impressed. At that point the faience was still concealed by scaffolding, so we took them to a different elevation where it is more visible, and they loved it; whenever we take people to see the faience at close quarters they get excited by it. I'm just keen now to be able to reveal the extension in all its glory.

I am preparing a couple of children for First Communion, and the only practical way is to see them individually in their own (or their granny's) home. Not especially efficient use of my time, but actually the only way to get it done. The weekend before last I was perturbed to hear mention of one of those two venues on the television news, and when I looked into it I discovered that it was not only the same street, but actually the same block, that had been the site of a stabbing. The victim died. At the time there was talk of a dispute over a woman, but now drugs and gangs are mentioned. When I asked my candidate's granny (who is my age, I should point out) about it, she remarked that it was a reminder that "although we live in St John's Wood" awful things could still happen here, as anywhere in London.

This conversation brought home to me how much perceptions matter in these things, because I wouldn't have supposed her neighbourhood to be immune, but nor would I have called it St John's Wood. Yes, her flat is just off St John's Wood Road, but it's also not far from Maida Vale, and is part of a sprawl of social housing that runs through to Lisson Grove. I dare say estate agents would call it St John's Wood, but why would we believe them? The whole point of St John's Wood Road is that it leads TO St John's Wood (unlike St John's Wood High Street, for instance) so it actually isn't in St John's Wood itself. It is, in any case, a sort of boundary, with much more prosperous territory to the north, but more diversity to the south, at least going east until you reach Lisson Grove. I once had a parishioner who insisted on telling people that he lived in St John's Wood, despite the fact that his flat was just off Edgware Road, near Church Street Market. I'm not even sure that he was in the right postcode, but nothing would shake him from the belief that he must be in a smart area. London neighbourhoods are amorphous things, but what you call your area can be bound up with your own perception of it (let alone other people's perceptions). For instance, I always say that I am in Paddington, whereas I could perfectly justifiably say Little Venice, but the latter just doesn't reflect the reality of the Warwick Estate, or the whole diversity of the area.

Organising a wedding is quite a faff, isn't it? I had thought we would make this a simple and informal affair, but all sorts of stuff seems to have crept in that requires choosing and organising (and paying for). Meanwhile, I keep wondering whether there isn't something which we have simply both forgotten as we are pretty much doing this by ourselves, unlike young people who always seem to have a gaggle of family and friends advising and suggesting. Still, if we haven't thought of it, it can't be important to us, can it?

We've had a couple of "test events" in the refurbished church. They were meant to be test events for the new facilities in the extension, but since that isn't finished yet, it was all a bit provisional. Anyway, we managed to host an immersive theatre production involving local teenagers (which was attended by the Lord Mayor and the MP as well as all sorts of local worthies), and a training day for the Waterways Chaplaincy (who had brilliant cake). Nobody died. Nobody fused the lights. The portaloos coped. That, in my view, was success. And, of course, loads more people came into the church and went "Wow!"   

Friday, 22 March 2019

VICTORY!

Not Being Choaked

The big news is the success of the Royal Oak campaign. I was preparing a letter to Sadiq Khan when we heard that he had decreed that TfL would not locate the coach station here. It quite took the wind out of our sails, as we had been gearing up for a long and bitter struggle. Both Tory and Labour councillors, and the local MP, Karen Buck, were all part of the campaign, not to mention impressive Bayswater ladies, and we knew the proposal was ridiculous, but still it was a very pleasant surprise to succeed, and so quickly. Sadly I missed the victory drinks.


In the Home Straight

The windows are beginning to go into our new building, so it is starting to actually look like a building. This is positive, but less positive is the news that the lift doors were manufactured wrongly, and so have to be changed. The length of time that it takes to install a lift is extraordinary, so this may apparently delay us. Virtually all the equipment for the new building is now on site, and swarms of people are working very hard putting it in. The faience looks splendid, and is currently being grouted (or masticked, to be accurate). We are due to interview potential cafe operators next week, so everything is coming together and starting to feel real. There's still a significant repair to be done in church, but we're on track to be able to celebrate soon!


No Home

A story that I don't feel like celebrating has been playing out recently. There was a person who had been homeless, but was living in a flat near St Peter's, and came to our Lunch Club and Breakfast Club. Gradually, over many months, they started coming to church as well, and it seemed that they had sorted out their life; they were talking to me about faith, and I was happy that they found the church supportive. Then we saw them less frequently, and then suddenly, a few weeks ago, they appeared sleeping on a pavement, under some scaffolding. When we tried to engage we were told they couldn't talk, which was certainly partly shame, and so there was not much we could do. Fortunately the place they were sleeping was very public, and attracted a lot of attention, so they have now got some support. Disappointing. We ask ourselves how we failed them. In truth we were wrong to have been congratulating ourselves, because the situation was always more precarious than it appeared, and there was a very complicated back story.


Dog's Home

Meanwhile Angry Woman with Dog has loomed large again. Her housing provider sent her notice of eviction proceedings last August, and so I hurriedly helped her get a solicitor. Proceedings have still not started, but the housing association won't say that they are not going to.  Seven months it has been hanging over her. It is clearly being used as a threat, a device to try to get her to behave better. This seems to me to be cruel, and is deeply unreasonable for the solicitor, who won't get paid by Legal Aid if there are no actual proceedings. The trouble is that the main complaint against her is that she has a noisy dog, which is true. I have bought harnesses to try to make the dog  more controllable, and devices to try to stop it barking, even some sort of tranquilisers for it (for which I am confident there is no resale market, unlike horse tranquilisers). It's really not a suitable dog for her (too big for the flat, too strong for her) but she won't hear of getting rid of it, as although she shouts and curses at it, she really loves it. In a chaotic and dysfunctional life a companion animal is a lot more reliable than the humans around.  


Colour Wash

Last Saturday we went to the Bonnard show at Tate Modern, which caused us to discuss how modern is "modern", because Bonnard was a post-Impressionist who did his most characteristic work around the First World War and died in 1947. Of course it's the old Tate Gallery thing, that the Tate in the old days was the repository for British art, and international twentieth-century art, as the National Gallery basically turned its back on anything from after 1900. The other (more popular) show on at the moment is of the Surrealist Dorothea Tanning, and I guess she would seem more "modern", despite being practically Bonnard's contemporary, because Surrealism is recognisably "modern" because of its debt to Freudian ideas. Bonnard remained working in a way that didn't move on very far from Pissarro or Cezanne and so feels much more part of the great tradition. Still, he really wasn't very good. I am struck by the reverential hush that prevails in art galleries, and I fear I broke the hush with some critical comments. At one point I was giving my view when a young American woman next to me asked me a question, fortunately one which I was able to answer (I wasn't just talking out of my backside on this occasion). I don't want to spoil anyone's enjoyment, but I think dialogue and discussion are an appropriate part of the gallery experience, and so I don't think one should be ashamed of having an opinion.

My opinion is that Bonnard is a second-rank artist who painted a handful of very nice pictures and an awful lot of dull ones, and a number of real shockers. The Tate curators wanted to emphasise his use of colour,and that's why I went, but even that's not really very special; he's a great one for yellow and purple, but a lot of it just feels straight from the tube with no thought. My point which caught the attention of the American was that in his garden pictures he is too fond of viridian, a striking pigment which is not the colour of any plant in nature, but which he uses raw. He uses colour as a substitute for drawing, and the few drawings in the show reveal his draughtsmanship to have been strikingly weak. It's notable that his most convincing human figures have their faces obscured, because he really is very bad at faces, but sometimes his anatomy is rubbish as well. The curious thing about the show was that it was chronological, but only started in the artist's forties, when he had settled on his final style, and so there is no artistic development at all, though there are some very weak pictures from his last years which speak of declining powers. The trouble was that he thought he was Monet, and he wasn't.

I hadn't realised that he lived very near Monet in Normandy. Bonnard's house at Vernonnet (one of three homes, he was not a starving artist) is only a few miles from Monet's at Giverny; you'd get off the train at Vernon for both. Ian and I came very close to them on the cycle ride last summer, and perhaps I might do that one day in the future, but I'm not sure that Bonnard would detain me for long.  

Friday, 1 March 2019

PARKS AND RECREATION

Falling Leaves

The cycle path across the Green, alongside the canal, runs past our contractors' compound, and they have regularly sent blokes out to clean the path up, hosing down any mud that delivery lorries have brought onto it, and sweeping up rubbish and leaves. There are, of course, lots of leaves, as there is a row of black poplars between the compound and the path, so, back in the autumn, our people were quite busy sweeping them up. The remainder of the path, however, beyond our compound, is a very different matter. Westminster Parks finally cleared the fallen leaves from the path this week; at the end of February. They had spent a couple of days working on it earlier in the month, but one section was left untouched until this week. Now, I imagine that they justify this by saying that it would need repeated visits if they were to try to clear the leaves when they were actually falling, but they made repeated visits anyway! I am perfectly sure that leaves which have piled up and then been rained on, partially rotting them down, are actually more effort to clear because they are much heavier. More to the point, as a cyclist, I am fed up with (in places) half the width of the path being covered by a mound of slippery dead leaves. Still, I must be grateful that it has finally been done; it's boring just to moan about the stupidity of the Parks Department.


Blurred Lines

It's quite boring to moan about the stupidity of people's parking round here as well, but forgive me, I feel the need. Some time ago I was one of several people who agitated for double yellow lines to extend over the Harrow Road canal bridge on the east side of the road (they already existed on the west) because cars parked there completely blocked the view of anyone coming out from the Green, either to cross the road on foot or to pull out on a bike (which I do every day). That was done, which is a great help, but the problem is that people just ignore them, particularly at night. There seems to be a general view that single yellow lines are just advisory, and don't apply after lunchtime on the Harrow Road, and that as long as you are not parking overnight then it's fine to park on a double yellow line as well. It may simply be the calculation that Westminster never sends "civil enforcement officers" out after dark, and so you are perfectly safe from a fine. It may be that civil enforcement officers are seen so rarely in our area that people gamble on their absence anyway, or it may be that people have observed that when they are here they are only really interested in cars parked wrongly in marked bays, and pay little attention to yellow lines or dangerously parked vehicles.

I sometimes feel as I zigzag around illegally-parked cars that vigilantism is justified in these circumstances; if I possessed a paintball gun I would be very happy to splat the windscreens of miscreants. It's an ignoble impulse, I know, but it would be so satisfying. Self-righteousness is a very unattractive emotion, isn't it!


Royal Choak

The campaign against the ludicrous TfL plan to put a coach station at Royal Oak gathers pace. There is a public meeting at the Porchester Hall on Shrove Tuesday at 7pm, which I am encouraging people to go to.The campaigners have set up a website, www.stoproyalchoak.com which has links to the two petitions against the plan, which are still collecting signatures. They want to submit the petitions on 14th March, so we are urging people to sign up quickly. One odd feature of this is that no-one actually knows when TfL will be making a decision about this; everything is shrouded in mystery. The campaigners are rightly concentrating on the pollution issue, (hence "Choak") because the plan promises to bring hundreds of extra coaches daily onto the Marylebone Road, which already has the worst air quality of anywhere in the UK.  The number of schools within a few yards of the road is ridiculous, and they stand to find their air quality becoming even more dangerous. On the Warwick Estate we shall be right in the firing line; how will people feel using our excellent outdoor gym equipment when the air is full of diesel fumes?

The thing that nice, polite people are not saying publicly is that  they really fear the social fallout of a coach station, because we all know that one of the factors in Victoria being a centre for rough sleeping is the presence of the coach station. It is on the coach that the penniless newcomer arrives in London (when not actually trafficked). Over the decades Victoria has developed an infrastructure to deal with this, which we simply do not have in Westbourne or Bayswater. We already have rough sleepers of our own who we struggle to support, without adding in a whole lot of newcomers. The Leader of the Council is eloquent in questioning Westminster's responsibility for all the homeless people who actively choose to come here, and while I may be a bit uncomfortable with that approach, I suspect we would all be agreeing with her if they appeared on our pavements in Westbourne.


Predictive Text

Our new building is faced with panels of glazed terracotta, or faience as it is sometimes called, a characteristically late-Victorian material. I have run into all sorts of confusion recently because if you try to type faience into your phone you will inevitably find it "corrected" to fiance; now I have a fiancee it adds even more potential for bafflement. The good thing is that the specialist facade contractors are making really good progress, and are hanging the faience panels on the Rowington Close front now. The faience is wonderfully highly glazed, and looks really good, even though it's hard to see it properly as it is still obscured by scaffolding. It really glittered on the sunny days we have just enjoyed. There is a relief pattern in the faience, which is going to look splendid, and which picks up a detail of Street's brickwork, which I am very pleased with. There is only one manufacturer in the UK who makes glazed terracotta, so we are delighted to have them making these panels to our specification; they have just made a much larger quantity of white faience for the restoration of the Victoria Palace Theatre, and we were always a bit anxious that our rather small order might get bumped down the schedule by another really big one, so it's a relief to see it all on site, and indeed going up on the walls. Nearly there!