I had lunch in Bleeding Heart Yard, a small courtyard just behind Hatton Garden and originally behind the stable block of Hatton House. It is famous – or infamous – as the site of the murder of Lady Elizabeth Hatton in 1626. She left a party with the Spanish ambassador and the following morning her body was discovered in Bleeding Heart Yard with her body torn apart, but her heart still pumping blood onto the cobbles:-
I have been interested by the comments on my blog which mentioned the Pont de la Tour and have been meditating on exactly why it has such emblematic significance to the cultural changes of the 1980s. It was not just that it was reputed to be a Blairite hang-out: more that the moment when Terence Conran was passing Butler’s Wharf in 1982 and bought a large chunk of old industrial Britain to convert into luxury flats and smooth international restaurants, the founding of the Design Museum and Piers Gough’s bright blue Circle development are indeed symbols of a long process of urban change and post-industrialisation. Actually, I have a feeling that Pont de la Tour only opened in 1991.
Last night was the Keeper’s Dinner, a new tradition, but a good one, whereby the patrons of the RA welcome the new generation of students to the academy with a meat feast provided by Mark Hix. As the Keeper said, the stalwart defence of the principle of free admission to postgraduate art education has produced a remarkable – and now increasingly rare – atmosphere of equality of opportunity and creative freedom.
I walked along the Thames towpath from Blackfriars to the Design Museum. I was struck by the clarity of the night, the way every building is lit up except St. Paul’s, remembering the development of Butler’s Wharf and Shad Thames in the 1980s, when the Design Museum first opened in 1989 and Pont de la Tour was the height of fashionability. At some point, there are steps down to the river and one can contemplate Tower Bridge in the night sky:-
Tonight I went to the launch of Every Thing We Touch and discovered the detritus of my everyday day life beautifully arranged on the floor of the Design Museum for every one to see and comment on. The first comment was how frugal I am because I couldn’t bear to eat the horrible British Airways breakfast, we only had quiche and lettuce for lunch, and a Turkish wrap for supper. I was pleased and relieved that no-one commented on how much time I spend reading newspapers and magazines. Then someone said that they thought I was a lumberjack because of the prominence of the logs. I found it an unexpectedly instructive exercise seeing my life dissected. That’s the point of the book. How much one can learn from looking at what people touch.
It was a good advertisement for Old Town:-
We set off to have lunch in Albert Richardson’s old house in Ampthill in Bedfordshire, where he lived for forty years without electricity. The National Trust rejected it, presumably because, like Roy Strong’s house and garden, it did not accord with current ideas of twentieth-century history. But, even if a touch eccentric (he was carried round in a sedan chair), Richardson was a major figure, not least as the author of Monumental Classic Architecture in Great Britain and Ireland, published in 1914 and the bible of the classical revival. The house is emptied of its contents.
The front door:-
My objects of yesterday have now been removed as evidence of how I live in three suitcases, one shoulder bag and a plastic carton. It is shocking how much one touches and uses in the course of the day, particularly if one includes dirty washing from New York, but also how the whole of one’s life and all the archaeological evidence of how one lives can be packed away in a few suitcases. I was interviewed about my day. There were a number of things I had failed to document, including a satsuma and tea bag (PG Tips). The logs and the log basket were included, together with the box of matches and poker.
We went last night to a performance of L’Ospedale at Wilton’s Music Hall. It was the first time we had been back to it since its renovation by Tim Ronalds, funded by the HLF. We were worried, because nothing is harder to restore than crumbling magnificence (see what happened to Christ Church, Spitalfields). But, miracle of miracles, it is the same, only better, just as rundown and shabby, with a bar next door to the theatre and a mass of old wood and peeling paint, but now a lift (we were its first users). There was a performance of L’Ospedale, a hitherto unknown mid-seventeenth-century opera by an unknown composer on the problems of seventeenth-century medicine, performed as if it was the NHS: a brilliant production by a young and newly formed musical collective called Solomon’s Knot:-
I’ve been asked to document and record every single thing I touch, including what I eat, during the course of today, for the launch of a book on the subject of objects and their use in everyday life by Paula Zuccotti. I am not finding it that easy. Some things are straightforward, starting with the British Airways eyemask which was the first thing I touched when I woke from a brief and unsatisfactory sleep on the overnight flight. But I’m not sure I can hand over my mobile phone for a couple of days in order for it to be photographed. And do I include the table cloth ? And what about the log basket ? It certainly sensitises one to the mass of objects by which one is surrounded, the multiplicity of object types, and how many things one uses without thinking during the course of a day.
I never did make it to the new Whitney. Instead, we had a cup of tea with Sean Scully nearby in a large studio with its original wooden roof and a series of large paintings from the 1980s which he has bought back at auction and will show next year in an exhibition in China. He and the PRA discussed different ways of achieving a shiny surface in paint (it was more technical than this implies).
This is the studio:-