Self-isolation (7)

The message from my friendly robot was late today: only three days to go. My advice to those who are about to embark on Self-isolation, which is likely to include a huge number of people as Covid spikes, is as follows:-

Self-isolation is vastly much worse than lockdown because you are doing it on your own, whereas everyone else is going about their lives more or less as normal. I found it an unexpected hardship not being able to go out to buy a loaf of bread, go to the cash machine, let alone go for a walk or a bicycle ride. And two weeks is a surprisingly long time.

I discovered the best possible antidote yesterday in reading The Alternative Guide to London Boroughs and the new edition of Francis Russell’s Places in Italy: A Private Grand Tour. A day spent travelling in the mind was an incredibly beneficial compensation for physical imprisonment, and I strongly recommend it.


The Alternative Guide to London Boroughs (1)

My copy of the book which has been edited by Owen Hatherley, pre-ordered and published by Open House has now arrived. It’s a pleasure: beautifully designed by Studio Christopher Victor, it describes, as its title suggests, an alternative London: the deep suburbs, Metroland and Middlesex, the neo-Georgian architects like W.T. Curtis and C.H. James. There’s a tower block by Colquhoun and Miller in Hornsey, the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner, St. Patrick’s Church, Barking, looking as if it was designed to withstand attack by Germans, and Rainham Hall, which, of course, is not open, because it’s owned by the National Trust, not one of their top twenty (and I’ve only got half way). The book is a combination of gazetteer, social history and psychogeography, post-Nairn, much of it inspired by his occasionally hectic style of writing and an excellent supplement to it. I strongly recommend it.


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (42)

I have been watching the BBC film In the Making: Bells, made in 1977 to commemorate the making a bell in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. I found it indescribably moving, because it shows so clearly all the different skills which went into the making of church bells, the combination of hand and eye with a little bit of electronics and chemistry, but mostly the inherited expertise which was handed down within the workshop. The star of the film is Douglas Hughes, co-owner, sitting for much of the film in the front office together with his older brother, William, sitting alongside him, as well as William’s son, Alan, who also appears in the film as a young man and who inherited the family business, now sold. Alan’s great-grandfather, Arthur Hughes, had joined the business in 1885 and took it over it 1904.

Douglas Hughes patiently explains the nature of the business and introduces the other people who worked there at the time; Ernest Oliver, who had worked for the foundry for 48 years and looked after the hand bells (his family had worked in the bell foundry for 250 years); Wally Spragett, twenty years; Don Matlis, who joined in 1960 and did the moulding; Ron Brown from Leytonstone; Peter Scott; Roy Marks. They were a team, each with their own specialist skill, proud of their work. It was a community of collective expertise: the mixing of London clay, horse manure, goat’s hair and sand; doing the moulding, setting the cores up and the gauges; the division of the core and cope; the pouring of the hot molten metal, an alloy of 77% copper and 23% tin, into the mould, with everyone watching; and then, last, the addition of an inscription. There was the blacksmith who made the clappers, the fitters and welders, joiners who made the wheels, and the bell-hangers who travelled the world installing them.

I’m not allowed to show the film because, of course, it’s copyright of the BBC. But I hope that I can encourage or persuade them to show it again in advance of the hearing beginning on October 6th. to give the Inspector some idea of what is in danger of being lost.


Johnson pro-Turkey

I don’t know if the attached piece of film footage will reproduce. I most sincerely hope so, because it’s pretty shocking. It shows Johnson as the intellectually convincing advocate for allowing Turkey, the land of his ancestors, to join the European Union and how shocking and small-minded it would be to keep the Turks out. Of course, someone should be allowed to change their mind, but it is hard to believe that Johnson, the great pro-European advocate for Turkey, has changed his mind so completely. Or does he really just say whatever suits him ?


Self-isolation (6)

Only four days to go. Every morning at 8.06 precisely I get a cheery message from Track-and-Trace telling me what to do today. Enjoy my hobbies ! Get a breath of fresh air ! Spend time in the garden if you have one ! Actually, although I half-mock, the advice is sensible and I am spending as much time as possible out in the garden looking at the distant tree:-


The politics of postmodernity

Every so often – actually, not often enough – I read something which makes sense of our current situation. The attached piece by John Harris in today’s Guardian is one of them, using post-modern theory for once to illuminate rather than obfuscate: the distinction between cause and effect; the absence of any consistent morality; using messages to cause a short-term sensation rather than worrying about their long-term consequences; the pleasure in disruption; the glorification of the message not the action. At last, it makes me understand Baudrillard, as well as Dominic Cummings.


The burning of California (3)

The New York Times was a bit muted in relating the current horrendous outbreak of fires in northern California and Oregon to climate change. I note that the LA Times is much more apocalyptic in the attached very clear op-ed piece:-


The Fall

I came downstairs this morning to make a cup of tea wearing rubber gloves and discovered a very beautiful display of Romilly’s new work in the dining room in preparation for an exhibition to be held in Make in Bruton in November.

What really caught my eye was a piece of agate in the window, called The Fall because of its markings which resemble autumn leaves:-


Terence Conran

Self-isolation has given me time to reflect on the importance of Terence Conran and how his influence has changed and developed over time. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was Habitat: food bricks, duvets and woks. There was a branch near us outside Didcot and we arranged our wedding list there in 1979. In the early 1980s, it was the Boilerhouse Project, now perhaps not as well remembered as it deserves to be – a catalyst of changing attitudes to design and modernism in the basement of the V&A, funded by the Conran Foundation. In 1989, it was the Design Museum in Butler’s Wharf – more formal, perhaps a bit less adventurous than the Boilerhouse. In the early 1990s, it was the move into restaurants – Pont de la Tour and the Blueprint CafĂ©. Always important in influencing public taste, not least Cool Britannia, which was hatched in Pont de la Tour and celebrated in Canary Wharf with catering supplied by Conran. Nor should one forget the Conran Shop. A figure of immense importance in moulding public taste, including mine.


Self-isolation (5)

Only a week to go.

The days stretch out, curiously shapeless, as I look out of the window at the sun and at my bicycle unused in the garden. I was due to go on a trip to Woolwich today which has had to be cancelled. I communicate with Romilly by telephone or email or by shouting outside her office window. There must be hundreds of us, if not millions, receiving daily bulletins from the test-and-trace machine telling us how much our self-isolation is valued, encouraging us to act responsibly in the collective interest. I wish this had been the message throughout. But a machine seems more easily able to state it than the Prime Minister because he does not believe in the collective interest, nor show evidence of acting responsibly.