Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Anish Kapoor

Go And See This.
I offer no apologies for being so emphatic - this is a ‘must see’ exhibition for anybody who is able to get to The Royal Academy in London’s Piccadilly.

The Royal Academy of Arts presents a major solo exhibition of the work of the acclaimed artist
Anish Kapoor, winner of the 1991 Turner 
Prize, and one of the most influential and pioneering sculptors of his generation.

"Tall Tree and the Eye” 2009 by Anish Kapoor, at The Royal Academy

I went yesterday with close friends, one of whom said “I have never been to an exhibition which made me so happy” and I must agree. It was only the second day of the exhibition, and a Monday, and yet it was crowded with happy people looking at and enjoying Kapoor's wonderful sculptures.

Not being allowed to take photographs inside the Academy, I can only show you this piece which Kapoor made specially for this exhibition. It stands in the courtyard of the Academy and is itself brilliant. But wait till you get inside.
Small pieces, huge pieces, in corten steel, paint, fibreglass, cement, with a cannon, (yes, ‘bangs’), and other things I don’t want to tell you about. One piece weighs 30 tons and occupies 5 galleries. Unusual materials, wonderful use of brilliant colours – I won’t tell you any more.
By the third gallery we noticed that visitors were smiling, were talking to strangers, and to the (very informative) wardens; people were chuckling, young children were shrieking with delight. This isn’t how one usually behaves in London galleries - all very tight lipped and serious.

Friends: It’s a delight. GO!
John Tusa interviews Anish Kapoor here

Monday, 21 September 2009

One for the birds

Julian Metcalfe and Sinclair Beecham opened their first Pret a Manger in 1986. In 2008 they sold the firm for £350m. It's a remarkable story, since all they do really is very simple food and good beverages.

It may be relevant that they do it all themslves, with no franchises, and no really obvious attempts to stretch the brand nor dilute the offer.

Up North - part two

This is the second part of my short journal of my recent trip to the north of England.

After Manchester I drove northwest onto the Fylde peninsula and up to Lytham St Annes, an attractive small coastal town facing out onto the estuary of the river Ribble and Morecambe Bay.

I was looking for the house where my father was born in 1910 and where he spent his early years, and this is it, in Mythop Avenue.

Those who knew him won’t be surprised to read that there was and still is a railway line at the bottom of the road – so he did catch the railway bug very early.

And then onwards, for another seventy miles into the southern Lake District. This was the objective of my visit north, to catch-up with close family who I haven’t seen for many years and who all live in the valley of the river Leven.

The river runs from Windermere out to the sea at Greenodd and links the small villages of Newby Bridge, Backbarrow, Haverthwaite and Greenodd, all places where my mother’s family had lived and grown up, and where I spent much time in my childhood.

The MV Tern, which operates on Winderemere, was built in 1891 and still carries passengers between Lakeside and Bowness

The river Leven at Newby Bridge. My uncle Peter walked me across this weir when I was quite young. Thankfully the water level was lower, and I’m sure we didn’t tell my parents about it.

These are Bridge cottages, standing above the River Leven, in one of which my grandfather Edward was born in 1891.

Bare Syke in Backbarrow, my mother’s family home and centre point of the Bevins family for 100 years. I have many, many memories of happy days here.

Directly across the road is the Leven Valley School, which my mother and her siblings attended. They left school at 14, which was the norm in those days. My mum then went into service, working at a big house up near Windermere until she was old enough to go to Manchester to train at the Royal Infirmary.

From the southern end of Windermere the river Leven runs 8 miles and out to the sea at Greenodd. Six generations of the Bevins family have been river bailiffs or beck watchers, managing and maintaining the river and its stocks.

I walked with Richard up into the woods and rocks known as Haverthwaite Heights where as children we spent many happy hours climbing up, scrambling down and generally playing.

The war memorial in the small town of Ulverston. Two members of the family lost their lives in the Great War and are commemorated on the memorial.

And of course I visited the small graveyard at Haverthwaite where many of my family are buried, including my parents. A very peaceful setting beside the river.

Turning south, I drove down to Oldham where I spent a very pleasant lunch and afternoon with my aunt, Richard and Sue’s mother. She and her sister have recently holidayed ‘down under’. This photo shows them climbing the Sydney harbour bridge, something I flunked on my two visits, thinking I might be a bit old for it. I now regret that.

And so to home. Seven days, and only seven hundred miles: It has been a very enjoyable week which I will repeat soon.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Cats and Dogs

I saw this cat and mouse graffiti in Whitecross St last January.

Today I see it's been joined by three pups at play.

I wonder if it is by the same artist?

Friday, 18 September 2009

Up North

I am back home after a week in the northwest, catching up with old friends, visiting cousins, and tracing some family roots.

When I was a child growing up in Bolton, nearby Manchester was the big city where we went for special treats, Christmas shopping, orchestral concerts, pantomime, and the occasional light opera performances. It was also the city where my paternal grandfather had worked, where my parents met, and where many years later I would start my BBC career.

This is the well restored building in George Street where my grandfather Richard had an office from which he ran his small cotton trading business. He also traded on the world famous Royal Exchange in St. Annes Square.

The Exchange (above) is a remarkable building, opened in the early 1800’s, which grew and was extended, until it became the largest trading hall in the world. The decline of Lancashire’s position as the cotton centre of the world meant that its role ceased and it finally closed in the late 1960’s. It lay empty for some years until the 69 Theatre Company constructed a temporary theatre which I recall Liz and I attending in 1973. It was constructed largely of scaffold and canvas and we all sat on timber planks. Even in that rough-and-ready form you had a sense of a most exciting and intimate performance space, a theatre in the round housed inside this enormous ‘parent’ building.

Stage designer Richard Negri conceived the form and scale of the original, and architects Levitt Bernstein Associates developed this, with the theatre company, into the remarkable Royal Exchange Theatre, which opened in 1976.

In June 1996 the Company was displaced after the building suffered serious damage from the IRA bomb which devastated much of central Manchester. We were able to give the theatre company a home for a few weeks at the BBC in Oxford Road, before they created a temporary home in Castlefield. The restored Exchange building and improved theatre reopened in November 1998.

The whole structure of the 750 seat theatre ‘capsule’ is carried on four giant trusses, the weight being transferred to the four columns which carry the roof of the original Exchange building.

Manchester has been careful in it's central development, saving many impressive older buildings, which the city has restored; there are also some striking newer ones.

As a child I attended concerts by the Halle Orchestra at the Free Trade Hall. The restored facade has been retained and behind it archietcts Stephenson Bell have created a Radisson hotel.

The Crown Courts 1961, designed by Leonard C Howitt, Manchester City Architect.

Civil Justice Centre 2007, by architects Denton Corker Marshall

My parents met when they were both working at the Manchester Royal Infirmary of which St Mary’s is a part.

Part two of 'Up North' will follow shortly

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


In my post of August 26th I asked for help identifying those odd objects that had appeared on the roof of bus shelters in my part of town. I also wondered on 11th and 17th August who these artists might be (some people might put the word artist in inverted commas) and how they executed the installation of their work.

Dave Hill, in his excellent Dave Hill’s London Blog, has spotted my plea and directed readers to a couple of answers: you can follow the links in his blog.

It appears the artist is called nonose, Belfast by birth, now resident in London, has been seen in a C4 documentary and some of his/her work features in a Tate dvd “Street Art: Painting the City London, Paris, Madrid.

Incidentally, those bus shelter objects have been named ‘spudniks’ and can be seen as far afield as Crystal Palace, Battersea, and Hampstead Heath.

Thanks Dave for the leads.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


Well I thought the distinctive shape of the prow of this boat looked a little like those you see on the Venetian canals. In fact it is the Thames, and that’s Lambeth Palace behind, not the Doge’s.

I’ve no idea who they are or what they are doing but it looks nice.

Open House

The weekend of 19th/20th September is one of the highlights of my year in terms of architecture and design. The excellent people at Open House continue the work established by Victoria Thornton 17 years ago, which is best explained in her words:

“It is a simple but powerful concept: in celebration of design excellence, 700 buildings of every conceivable type, shape and size will open their doors to Londoners completely for free. For one weekend in the year, Londoners come together exploring all corners of the Capital, inspired by the power of architecture to transform the quality of our lives.”

I’ve been enjoying this for 12 years and it’s a great opportunity to visit a wonderfulselection of buildings, of all kinds and of many types. In those earlier years I visited lots of media and related hq projects, usually focusing on offices. More recently I’ve broadened my interest and now particularly enjoy looking around private houses.

I really admire these people who are so proud of their house, and so knowledgeable of the architect who designed it, that they will open up their home to, in some cases dozens, and sometimes hundreds of visitors.

You can send off for the printed booklet which lists details of every single property, opening times and local transport links. Or you can search online at http://www.openhouse.org.uk/public/london/event.html

There are over 700 properties open, located in all 33 of the London Boroughs.

For those of you living outside London, there is a similar opportunity: four days when buildings not normally open to the public will welcome you - 10th -13th September. This is operated under the auspices of English Heritage and full details are here. http://www.heritageopendays.org.uk/

Go on, do it - you'll really enjoy it.

Twitter ye not

I’ve read so much about it, and hear almost every radio programme implore listeners to ‘twitter us’, that I thought it was time to explore.

Joining is easy: just go to www.twitter.com dream up a password and post your photo.

You can decide who you want to ‘follow'. I plumped for 10 Downing St, bbc5Live, a couple of Guardian feeds and BBC Breaking News. It then searched my contacts book for me and found four friends who are also on Twitter.

This is the interesting bit: One of them hasn’t used it for 3 months, another shows no sign of traffic, ever, and another last tweeted seven days ago. The fourth person though shows lots of dedication, as this tweet shows Watching the grand prix in bed. Waiting for Mrs to finish watching a show downstairs. Night all....

By 5pm on my first day using it I’d received 119 tweets since switching my ‘phone on at 8am, which is a lot more than I’d expected and frankly a lot more than I want to receive – one every 5 minutes. I think I’ll have to be more selective about who I choose to ‘follow’

And I haven’t even sent any tweets myself yet, so none of these 119 is in response to any thoughts I’ve tweeted. Hhmm….I might lose interest in this.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

That Fourth Plinth

The Press Association carried this nice piece:

Graduate gets job thanks to stint on Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth

An unemployed graduate who used his time on Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth to display a giant copy of his CV has started a job he won thanks to his unorthodox approach. Alex Kearns, 23, had searched for months for work after leaving Swansea University this summer with a degree in French and Italian. After waving a placard with the appeal "Give me a job" during his hour-long stint on sculptor Antony Gormley's creation, a London business consultancy took him on. Kearns, from Kingston-upon-Thames in Surrey, said: "In the current climate, you have to work hard to stand out from the crowd."

See more about Antony Gormley's project at: www.oneandother.co.uk

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

RBS – under new ownership

The front entrance to the RBS hq in Bishopsgate, where Climate Camp protesters chained themselves to the front doors this morning.

Apparently a dozen demonstrators, dressed as contractors, got onto the second floor of the building and superglued themselves together.

I liked the second slogan: Ethical Renovation In Progress.

You'll note that the use of limos by RBS executives hasn't reduced.

Meteorology Apology

In the window of Flowers, Whitecross St, EC1