It is the opening today of Romilly’s exhibition Newfoundland (or Y Tir Newydd in Welsh) at Ruthin Craft Centre in the borderlands of Wales. A version of her exhibition which was shown at the Sainsbury Centre, it shows the work she has done based on the recovery of bits of either Roman or medieval ephemera – buckles and clasps and badges – re-invented/re-established as highly inventive modern craft objects, rich in the resonance of recreation. Alongside the exhibition, as well as a series of interpretative photographs by Verdi Yahooda, there is a monitor showing the short, very beautiful film, Amanuensis, which has been made about her work by Maria Nicholson and which is going to be shown on Thursday at Picturehouse Central as part of London Craft Week (www.romillysaumarezsmith.com/film). I strongly recommend it:-
Resonance FM are celebrating their fifteenth anniversary this evening. Sadly, I can’t be there for the celebrations, but I have reason to be grateful to them because Mike Umney, an independent producer, has recorded a series of programmes about East London neighbourhoods, with discussions about their characteristics, the first one of which, I have just discovered, will go out on Wednesday 10th. May at 3.30, repeated the following Monday 15th. at 11am. What I don’t know is which of the four areas covered in the programmes – Stepney, Bow, Limehouse and Isle of Dogs – will be in the first.
The book had a wonderful send-off at the Devonshire Club, a members-only (men and women) club in the curious hinterland between Liverpool Street and Aldgate. I walked from Aldgate East through familiar territory round Middlesex Street and then spotted a little alleyway by the dustbins through to Devonshire Square, former warehouses of the East India Company which stored textiles from Bengal. Taken over by the St. Katharine Dock Company in 1836, they were bought by the Port of London authority in 1909. Sold in 1978, they were redeveloped by an unlikely combination of Richard Seifert and Quinlan Terry. The Club is the brainchild of Brian Clivaz, who used to run the Arts Club and symbolises the revival of this bit of the old East End:-
I spent the morning at a seminar in Whitehall on ‘Cultural Funding in England – partnerships, income streams and policy priorities’. Much of it was about issues of public policy. But there was an inspiring presentation by its Chief Executive on the operation of Live Theatre, a once Marxist co-operative (maybe it is still) which occupies premises on the quayside in Newcastle and has developed a whole number of new income streams, including loans, international touring and a gastro-pub: it made a lovely change from public sector management speak.
I woke up to a very nice surprise, which was an unexpected, long and thoughtful review of the book in Standpoint, a magazine which I did not necessarily expect to review it (http://standpointmag.co.uk/books-may-2017-east-london-charles-saumarez-smith-marc-jordan). The review is by Marc Jordan, who, as he reveals, lives in one of the finer terraces in Hackney and who I once met, long ago, outside our house in Limehouse doing just what I like doing – snooping about. He makes the entirely legitimate point that my book is more about the new East End, rather than the old. There are two reasons for this, both of which he recognises: the first is that every east end bookshop is groaning with books of memories about the old east end (I hadn’t realised that Marc’s father was a Whitechapel boy); the second is that most of the books about the east end are hostile to gentrification, whereas I am, as is obvious and as is he, a part of it. Anyway, the book could not have a nicer send-off on its publication day.
I’ve just been to a rather touching little ceremony in celebration of the beginning of a project to renovate Bond Street. As was pointed out in the speeches, given the amount the grand shops spend on display inside their doors and considering how important Bond Street is to the international shopping economy, it is odd how poor the public realm has been – a three-lane racing track at its north end and the street divided half way down by a flower stall. When I first got involved in local affairs (I have been a member of the Bond Street Strategy Group), it never crossed my mind that anything could, or would, be done to rectify this state of affairs. But by an impressive, but inscrutable, combination of the public and private, the pavement and the street are being improved to coincide, more or less, with the opening of our building in Burlington Gardens and Crossrail.
I got back from work this evening to find our front entrance hall full of boxes of surplus copies of the special edition of my book which have been printed at my expense in China. I cannot pretend that it is a bargain, costing £125 on special offer from John Sandoe, its sole distributor. All I can say is that it is slightly more sensuous than the standard edition – a bargain at £19.95 -, is printed on a higher quality of subtly creamy paper with rounded corners, quarter cloth binding and the photographs appearing even crisper as a result. It is a special treat for bibliomaniacs, designed by Harry Pearce, and can be ordered at http://www.johnsandoe.com/product/east-london.
I love the views from London rooftops. So, it was a particular pleasure to get out on the 9th floor of The Ned, a new hotel conveniently close to Bank underground station, and find a view of all of central London’s major rooftops, including, in the foreground, Jim Stirling’s No. 1, Poultry, with its polychromatic stonework:-
The dome of St. Paul’s, grandly numinous against the evening sun:-
And the box on the top of Rem Koolhaas’s slickly, smartly corporate headquarters for the Rothschild bank:-
We went last night to the first night of Thomas Adès’s new opera The Exterminating Angel (well, not quite new because it was performed last year at the Salzburg Festival): a brilliant, macabre, musically loud and unplaceably complex study of a group of people – the haut bourgeois – at a dinner party and unable to escape, so watch each other’s filthy moral decay. Based on Luis Buñuel’s 1962 film El ángel exterminador, which I haven’t seen, it has been adapted and directed beautifully by Tom Cairns.
I got a quick dose of biophilia this morning by walking in Highgate Wood – a tiny, but surprisingly well preserved bit of old woodland just off the road from Highgate to Muswell Hill, originally owned by the Bishop of London and now by the City Corporation. At this time of year, it is thick with bluebells:-