22, Bishopsgate

It may legitimately be felt that I am slightly obsessed about 22, Bishopsgate, the monster that has appeared out of nowhere to blight every view of the City, given permission by the City fathers who I hope now regret it.

This is what it looked like a couple of nights ago on my way to the dry cleaners. Scary:-



The absence of petrol

Luckily, we had half a tank of petrol when the petrol strike hit. But since I keep being told that it is all in the imagination, there is no shortage of petrol, it’s just a typical complaint of Remainers upset about not being able to buy avocados and about the slaughter of pigs, who the Prime Minster assures us would have died anyway – this I assume was his COVID policy as well – we ventured out. None of the garages in East London had a drop of normal fuel. Plenty of diesel, of course. So, that’s our last expedition for a bit. Then I remembered that the Prime Minister is on holiday in Marbella after complaining that the British people are pathologically lazy.

It is a mystery to me that his poll ratings hold up.


The Warner Estate

We walked in Lloyd Park behind the William Morris Gallery admiring the quality of the adjacent terrace housing on the Warner Estate. As Michael Gove considers what to do about ensuring higher quality housing through design codes, it’s maybe worth remembering that these issues have been faced before. Thomas Courtenay Warner, the Mayor of Walthamstow and a liberal MP, ensured high-quality social housing on his family estate by insisting on good building materials, standardisation, but with a degree of latitude in the decoration, long streets, local parks and plentiful trees. Not difficult, but apparently normally beyond the capacity of cheese-paring volume builders:-


Young Poland

The Willism Morris Gallery in Walthamstow have got a very enterprising exhibition about the Polish Arts and Crafts movement, which was very obviously parallel to comparable movements in other parts of Europe – fiercely nationalistic, while at the same time very aware of equivalent work elsewhere, inspired in its origin by the charismatic Stanisław Wyspiański:-

Some of it was very theatrical:-

They absorbed crafts traditions into their building techniques, as they settled an area round Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains, reviving traditional crafts:-

Beautiful batik wall hanging:-

It’s a very impressive exhibition for a small gallery to have put on, with a big accompanying book.


The London Piano Festival

We went to the London Piano Festival a King’s Place, a wonderful overdose of music, sitting in the front row of the beautiful, calm and stately concert hall (we spent the interval trying to figure out what the ingredients were which made it possible to create such a good quality building, other than the obvious one of a sympathetic developer, Peter Millican, who took the architects on a private tour of Japanese concert halls before embarking on the project). The first concert was Katya Apekisheva playing Schubert, including his late piano sonata D960. The second was a feast of work for two pianos – Mozart’s Sonata in D, Schubert’s Fantasie and Ravel; a new work by Sally Beamish, then Rachmaninov, Poulenc and Porgy & Bess. Quite something to experience the full theatrical performance aspects of a concert after eighteen months of listening to music on a machine.


London from the air

This morning, I had the immense privilege (don’t ask why – nothing medical, but about how to commemorate the impact of COVID in East London) of seeing London from the helicopter pad on top of the London Hospital:-

London is laid out before one – a gigantic incohate, glorious mess, punctuated still by a certain amount of green, thanks to the determination of post-war planners to retain parks in amongst the new Tower blocks.

The City itself is now an inglorious jumble, St. Paul’s and the City Churches nowhere to be seen, a cocktail cabinet of architectural playthings:-

The Shard dominates the view to the south, slender and elegant:-

Christ Church, Spitalfields barely holds its own against the new Tower blocks:-

I looked out for our house, but could only see the new Travelodge next door:-


City of Pricks

It will not surprise loyal readers of my blog that I have devoted my monthly column in The Critic to a short history of 22, Bishopsgate: how it came into being; how it appeared without warning during COVID pretending that it’s not there, but in practice dominating the skyline from every direction, a monster that has landed out of the dreams of the City’s planning department.

Last night I saw how it has appeared on the view east from St. James’s Park:-

This morning it dominates the view on my way to the local dry cleaner:-



Bevis Marks Synagogue (4)

It was a great relief to read last night that planning permission had been refused for the block right next door to the Bevis Marks Synagogue and take away its remaining daylight. So, it is occasionally possible to stop new development, provided enough people are galvanised in opposition. But it still leaves a set of questions: why is there no-one within the City’s planning department with responsibility to maintain at least some of its remaining historic character ? Are more huge Tower blocks really necessary at this juncture or would it not be sensible to have a moment of re-think as to what the City should be POST-COVID ?

I ask these questions not least because the City has just announced a competition for the redevelopment of the Barbican and it would be good to see some new thinking round retaining the character of the Barbican and the old Museum of London.



The plutocracy of museums

Earlier in the week, I was involved in a discussion organised by Thomas Marks, the former editor of Apollo about the structure of governance in museums: what works and what doesn’t and how to improve it. I had a sense that some things are improving: more board training; more role definition; a greater sense of legal and fiduciary duties; a bit more transparency, but oddly this may be handicapped rather than improved by the requirement to publish board minutes (anything sensitive is redacted and minutes are often summary). We stopped a long way short of any radical suggestions as to how systems of governance might change. So, I was interested by the attached article about how to make American boards more representative. In Britain, we already have a good tradition of having artists on Boards – three at the Tate, one at the National Gallery. The suggestion is that there should be more staff or union representation. From my limited experience of this, the relationship tends to be adversarial rather than constructive, but maybe we should be paying more attention to the operation of staff councils in Germany.

By the way, John Tusa’s book, On Board: the Insider’s Guide to Surviving Life in the Boardroom is being published in paperback next week. It’s much the best guide to all these issues, based on Tusa’s own long experience of the pitfalls.



German lorry drivers

I have refrained from commenting on politics recently since I find myself amongst the 48% of the population who were cautious or sceptical about the benefits of Brexit and so are deemed by government as having views which have proved to be illegitimate. But it is hard not to see the polity unravelling, when even Nigel Farage is complaining that he can’t buy petrol. Of course, I am aware that we are being encouraged to believe by assorted MPs that none of what is happening has anything to do with Brexit, although the current situation bears an uncanny resemblance to politics pre-1973: a general air of malaise and extreme government incompetence.

This morning I can’t help laughing that the Department of Transport has written to thousands of Germans in the UK asking them to help out by driving Heavy Goods Vehicles. It’s an odd appeal to German patriotism to ask them to help us out of our self-induced national crisis.