Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Alice and the Crobots

How adorable is he?  He's a Crobot - literally, a crocheted robot - and until today, I didn't even know of his existence.  I was hanging out in the shop at the Wellcome Collection, after having seen the Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan show - which, by the way, is great:

Shota Katsube, 300 objects made from twist ties.  They're all little multi-coloured warrior figures.  I'm wondering if I can train up Sholto to make something similar.

Ryosuke Otsuji, Okinawan lion. He's one of a pair, and I want them both.  I love their fluffy spiky tails, and their toe nails, and their little tongues.  

But this is about the shop.  And the shop at the Wellcome Collection is amazing.  I wanted to buy practically every book in there, from Origami Dinosaurs to back issues of Raw Vision, a magazine entirely devoted to the Outsider Art genre.  But there were two in particular that have gone onto the wish list.  Crobots, as I mentioned:

I'm sure that I could learn to crochet.  My Great Grandmother tried to teach me when I was about six, so it can't be that hard, right?  They're just so sweet, and Sholto would love them.  But my husband just laughed.  He says that he reckons that he'd be much better at crocheting than me (admittedly my sewing is rather too dependent on a staple gun, "Mummy, why are my cushions prickly?" And Christopher pointed out that the cushions looked a bit like stuffed dream catchers, due to the pom poms I edged them with.  I might not be the best seamstress ever.)  So Andrew's going to learn to crochet.  Apparently.  

The other book is one that I have no doubt that everybody else in the world already knows about, but I was pregnant when the Yayoi Kusama show took place at the Tate, and my last pregnancy was so awful and so uncomfortable and Esmeralda was so huge that I could barely move for the last three months.  And when I did move, my severe iron deficiency meant that I fainted.  So I've only just discovered that Yayoi Kusama illustrated Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  And the illustrations are so wonderful that I have decided to buy copies not only for Sholto and Esmeralda, but also for my Goddaughters, and I might even buy a stack to give away to every child whose party Sholto gets invited to over the next few months.  (And if that doesn't ensure that he's the most popular little boy in Notting Hill, nothing will.)

The Wellcome Collection also has a very good cafe.  But if it's raining, like it was today, expect it to be packed.

Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan is at the Wellcome Collection until the 30th June

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Most Beautiful Biscuits Ever

Ignoring the reflection of the Mini and the shop renovations going on opposite, did you ever see such a heavenly and tempting window?  No?  Well, nor had Sholto.  And I'm not sure I had either, at least, not since I last walked past Laduree.  We were en route to Holland Park when I made the foolish mistake of walking everybody down Kensington Park Road - I'd wanted to show my husband some utterly fabulous tiles in the window of Nu-Line - I briefly forgot that it meant that we'd walk past the Biscuiteers Biscuit Boutique & Icing Cafe.  That entire circus in the window is made out of biscuits, which is something that Sholto, somehow, just knew.  Obviously, we got side-tracked.

The inside of the shop is equally delectable:

I wanted to buy everything - as did Sholto who wanted to buy it and eat it all "Now now now! It will be yummy in my tummy!" -  but was restrained from doing so by my husband who literally leapt back in horror when he saw the price of each biscuit.  Admittedly, they are somewhat more expensive than those sold by Gregg's, which, my husband pointed out, is actually closer to our house so therefore a more convenient biscuit shop for me, in theory.

But the biscuits sold by Gregg's aren't nearly so pretty:

For Easter

For Christmas

For any time

And this is what I'd like next Valentine's Day, please.

They also make cakes:

 For my tenth wedding anniversary party.  (Maybe. There's another six years or so until I get there so I've got a lot of time to plan that party.)

And this is what I'd love for the children's birthday party, which is at the end of June.  I have rather less time to plan that party.

However I'm actually going to make the cake myself for the children's party, mainly because I'm not paying £160 for a cake which ultimately I'm going to appreciate more than the children.  Unfortunately though, my icing skills aren't exactly all that.  I was informed that Esmeralda's pale green Christening cake, on which I'd carefully inscribed the date in sparkly pink icing pen, looked like a 'welcome home from jail' cake, the date apparently resembling a prison number more than anything else.  My entire family now lovingly refer to it as 'the yuck cake.'  So I was overjoyed to discover that the Icing Cafe also runs the Biscuiteers School of Icing.

There are various different classes to choose from.  For instance, just before the children's party, I could spend a couple of hours learning how to ice a whole load (small tin) of beach themed biscuits. And I'd get an apron.  More usefully, I'd also get the book.  (For there is a book.  Of course there's a book.  I already have the Hummingbird Bakery one, tragically my red velvet cupcakes still don't taste as good as theirs, despite my having practiced many, many times.)  They also run children's icing parties (Sholto is definitely still too young, he'd eat everything before he'd finished and come home high as a kite.) My cousin Zosia, also mother to a small child, wanted to know if one can simply drop in and ice biscuits - the answer is yes, and it is definitely an idea that I'm saving up for the next rainy day (oh, that would be today then.)

In the mean time, I'm at least now totally inspired to crack this icing thing.  I'm going to make cakes that my family don't laugh at.

The Biscuiteers Biscuit Boutique & Icing Cafe, 194 Kensington Park Road, London W11 2ES

Sunday, 26 May 2013

War Photography at the Dissenters' Chapel

I wanted to be a front-line war correspondent.  So much so that, in between internships at Christie's and the V&A, I also interned at the Council for the Advancement of Arab British Understanding, the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, and the Daily Star, which is the newspaper that is published with the Herald Tribune in Lebanon.

Alas, it was not to be.  And occasionally now - when I get emails saying things like "Would you mind awfully going to LA to interview Robert Pattinson," - I don't mind.  Plus, I think it would have been very hard to get married and have babies, which was very much part of my life plan,  had that been my profession.  And, I probably would have been rubbish.  The best anyone could have hoped for is that I would have blogged about dictator style - "Ooh, have you seen the marble tiles in Gaddafi's bathroom?  And the gold taps?  Top of my wish list this week.  Next week:  Hot Tubs in the Desert."  As it is, the only time that my interest in politics has been at all useful was when I was able to tell any fashion editor who would listen that the various different colours of the scarfs that Balenciaga sent down the catwalk many seasons ago actually related to one's affiliation to certain Palestinian factions:

Okay so Nicholas Ghesquiere pimped it up a bit, but basically it's a keffiyeh.  Tres chic, non? This one's black and white, which became associated with Fatah.  Red and white means Hamas.  I should add that it is only in the Palestinian Territories that these colours have any political meaning, to most of the rest of the Arab world they're just scarves.  

So when I heard that there was an exhibition of Sean Smith's work at the Dissenters' Chapel in Kensal Green Cemetery, well, I was there even before it opened, husband and both children in tow.  Sean Smith is one of my heroes.  He has been on the Guardian staff since 1988, and is best known for his work covering the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and DR Congo.  He's won awards.  Many of his photographs are in the Imperial War Museum.  And now, for the first time, thanks to New Artists (aka Arthur Hobhouse and Paddy Barstow) some of his work is available to buy.

This one is, for instance.  It was taken in Beirut in 1997, and shows a boy taking a break from scrabbling through the rubbish.

I kind of hoped that Arthur would send me some images.  But he didn't. Which is fair enough as I think he's rather busy preparing for Venice (the Biennale opens this week and I wish I were going, but buggies plus all those bridges . . . . ?  Maybe the next one.)   So here are some which aren't in the exhibition, which is actually better - it'll whet your appetite to go and see what is.

I can't pretend, incidentally, that the images aren't harrowing.  And I found the exhibition particularly emotive having just read the extract in the Sunday Times from the book being published about Marie Colvin's last despatch from Syria.  It made me particularly glad that I am not a front-line war journalist, and I am even more admiring of those, like Sean Smith, who risk their lives to get the story out.  And one of the things that I most love and admire about Smith's work is that he doesn't always focus on the obvious.  Some of his most poignant images are those showing the everyday, such as this one:

This is Kosovo.  A boy goes to school, while men carry coffins in the other direction.

And this one, back in Beirut.  Waiting to leave.  If the couple in the picture have anywhere to go.

This was taken in Iraq, and is in the Imperial War Museum.

Interspersed among some of Smith's conflict work are photographs that he took in the UK, dealing with inner-city disturbances of the 1980s, heroin addicts, and the inside of abattoirs.  And even if you're not into any of these subjects, the exhibition is still worth a trip because of where it is - there has never ever been an exhibition in the Dissenters' Chapel before.

The Dissenters' Chapel, built in 1831, was the first purpose-built Noncornformist chapel to be built in a public cemetery - and the Kensal Green Cemetery is London's oldest public cemetery, and currently a riot of buttercups, cow parsley and daisies.  It's where Brunel is burried, after whom Sholto is named (he's Sholto Isambard), and William Makepeace Thackeray, and J.W. Waterhouse (Ophelia being one of the names I most wanted to give Esmeralda.)  And Freddie Mercury was cremated in the crematorium.  

Oh, and if you go, there are catacombs downstairs . . . . (These totally did it for both Andrew and Sholto, incidentally.)

Sean Smith is at the Dissenters' Chapel, Kensal Green Cemetery, for approximately the next month, theoretically from 10am every day.  However it's by appointment, so it's worth giving Arthur Hobhouse of New Artists a ring on 07884 101624, just to make absolutely sure that someone is going to be there.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

This Week's Wish List

I went to Clerkenwell Design on Wednesday, mainly because I wanted to look at some fabric that Rose de Borman has designed, which was covering the walls of Virginia White's stand in the Order of St. John:

Forest by Rose de Borman

Close up of Spring Forest (it comes in two colourways, Autumn being the other one.)

Obviously I love the fabric.  Love the fabric.  And I'm now wondering what I can cover in it - I'd quite like to reupholster our sofa, but it might be a bit extreme to commission new covers just because I'm hopelessly besotted with (yet another) fabric.  And anyway, via Virginia White, I discovered Mystery Lampshades, by Alexander Hamilton for Virginia White:

A depressing view of Scotland that only shows when the lamp is on.  Amazing!  It reminds me of my Grandfather's place mats.  I have a kind of love-hate relationship with Scotland. I went to university there and loved it. And then, before my husband was my husband he was living in Edinburgh and I was in London so Scotland became this place I had to go to for miserably cold weekends and then depart again, leaving my not then husband behind.  (And I blamed Edinburgh for our separation.  I find it helps when irritated to entirely wave goodbye to logic.) But now every time I go there I remember that I love it.  Mostly. And I love the lampshade.  It is making me want to crack the spine of one of Scott's novels, before attempting to construct a haggis and whisky soup (we had it at a wedding recently, literally one of the most delicious things I've tasted in ages.)

And Alexander Hamilton, it transpires, does a lot of decorative painting:

Linen Bed Hangings

A bathroom in the Palazzo Budini Gattai, Florence

Bolza Family Chapel in the courtyard of the Castello di Reschio on the Tuscan-Umbrian border

Some of these jobs were restorative as much as anything else, all I know is that I just don't understand why I didn't inherit a palazzo somewhere - anywhere - in Italy, where the houses, even in states of disrepair, are always less depressing than those in Scotland, simply because it's a warmer climate. And I really want to live in a house with a chapel.  But I've wanted that ever since I read Brideshead Revisited, so it's not exactly new.  

In the mean time, both the lampshade and that fabric are taking up residence on my slightly more attainable wishlist.

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Chelsea Flower Show Part 2

The above show images of peonies at Chelsea.  Elsewhere, they are late this year.  I love peonies.  They're so heavenly pretty, and if it weren't for the fact that peonie sounds a lot like 'pee on me' I would have made more of a case for naming Esmeralda after them.  (As it was, Esmeralda was literally the only name my husband agreed to; he vetoed Ophelia, Olympia, Sybilla, Drusilla, Estella, Eugenia, Delphina and Valentina. Which are all names I'm going to have to give to cats or hens or something one day.  Perhaps I could have a clutch of Bearded Polish Silvers,  interspersed with various coloured Silkies, all carrying the names I would have given my many daughters, had I had them.)

Bearded Polish Silver 

Black Silkie

There's a book by Andrew Solomon called A Stone Boat which, aside from being one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read, is also something of an ode to peonies, especially peonies just before they're completely finished, which is when they're at their most perfect.  There are peonies for sale at the Flowered Corner on Ladbroke Grove at the moment, but their heads are still tightly furled little spheres, and when I ask Wendy or Jane if they think they're going to open they mouth 'no' at me.  So I buy tulips instead.

Everything is late this year, because of the weather, which is something that has variously helped/ hindered - often depending on personal point of view - the creators behind many of the gardens at Chelsea.  And I'm sorry if you thought that I was going to give you anything in the way of a review, because I'm not.  I'm simply not qualified.  I tried to grow sweet peas once but failed to prune them properly, so grew sweet pea bushes, the stems of the flowers so short that I had to put them in egg cups around the house.

The prep school I went to - Hanford, in Dorset, it was recently in World of Interiors - had the most marvelous gardens imaginable, looked after by the fabled Mr. Underwood who had worked at the house since he was a boy.  He not only produced vegetables (except potatoes) and fruit for the entire school, but also grew the most exquisite flowers, enough to make sure that there were always vases full of them in every fireplace during the summer, and bowls full of bulbs on every table during the winter.  The vases, bowls, jugs and jardinieres were kept in a dedicated room  - actually it was more of a cupboard -  that smelt of stale flower water and damp earth and floor polish.  It also hosted the telephone (though no chair.  We were not encouraged to spend long in there.)  But ever since then I have been collecting anything that could ever possibly serve as a repository for flowers, and that is something that I do feel qualified to witter on about.  So here is my pick:

I fell in love with these (they're a pair in real life) at the Spring Decorations Fair in Battersea Park.  They're actually 'Lily Pools', designed to be filled with water and have water lilies floating on top of them.  They're currently in the stock of Sue Norman, who deals in English blue and white (Spode, Wedgewood, Copeland) and who is in the little arcade opposite Chelsea Town Hall on the King's Road.  

This Burleigh jug in Blue Arden was a wedding present, and though it is sometimes a water jug, it is currently full of white parrot tulips (although sadly it is less full today than it was yesterday, I came downstairs this morning and found Sholto, on the table, merrily snapping the heads off to create a new baby bunch of flowers which he presented me with.)

Burleigh Calico Cow Creamer.  This has now got the broken tulips in it.

This is from the Gien Oiseau Bleu range (our wedding china) which I love.  My parents' wedding china is also Gien.  

Limoges.  Oh I love Limoges.  I would love a pair of these.  I think my mother has got one, but it might not be real.  But does it matter?  It's pretty.  Though there's a wonderful moment in The Eye of the Storm (see it - Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, in various cinemas now - it's brilliant) when the character Judy Davis is playing turns over a plate on arriving at one of her mother's long-abandoned houses for supper, watched by the housekeeper and her husband. It's something I have to stop myself doing sometimes.  I know it looks bad.  I'm not a Christie's valuation expert, especially in somebody else's house.  I should simply accept things as being pretty.

This is by Royal Copenhagen and is from the Flora Danica range which was first commissioned by the then King of Denmark as a present for Catherine the Great of Russia, and it is mind numbingly expensive.  I think it would look adorable with little daisies or forget-me-nots in it, but nobody in their right mind would use a cream jug that costs the earth for that.  Well, I would actually, but I don't own this cream jug, so can't.

However we have got a couple of these silver plated 'Sangria' jugs by Culinary Concepts, and they're amazing and look perfect full of peonies or roses or tulips or simply stock.  Ours need cleaning.

I want this.  I really want this.  Henning Koppel designed it for Georg Jensen, and I love it.

This is also Georg Jensen, and I love it, too.  

I could go on forever and ever, and I realise that I've barely touched on actual vases or jardinieres, but another time.  Incidentally, one of the best places to buy any of these things is the Golborne Road and the top (northern) end of the Portobello Road market.  Fridays and Saturdays.  Seriously, it's receptacle heaven.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Chelsea Flower Show Part 1

One of the scenes in last week's Made in Chelsea showed Mark Francis and Victoria - easily my two favourite characters, mainly because they are apparently entirely superfluous to any story line, and seem only to exist to entertain - discussing flowers.  "If I go to a dinner party, and there aren't any flowers, it makes me want to just turn around and leave," said Mark Francis.  I rather feel the same way.  (I would like to add a disclaimer here: admiring as I may be of Mark Francis's attitude towards flowers, he is not the world's greatest stylist.  I do however have high hopes for Phoebe, who actually has a genuine job in fashion:  she works at Tatler.  I spend a lot of time bugging my friend the Tatler Fashion Director to tell me what she's really like.  However the Tatler Fashion Director is rubbishly ungossipy, and just tells me that she's really nice.  I am, incidentally, just a teeny tiny bit obsessed with Made in Chelsea, much as it also makes me cringe.  After Mark Francis and Victoria, my  next favourite is Milly Macintosh.  When I discovered that one of my cousins is almost friends with her, well, my excitement nearly went through the roof.  Oh, and then of course there's Francis Boulle, who extraordinarily I seem to be Facebook friends with.  Francis, if you're reading this, please don't de-friend me.  You make me feel so much more connected than I am.  Oh, and also, your website where you rate politicians according to how hot they are - hilarious.  Hilarious. in case anyone was wondering.)

Back to flowers.  This week is the Chelsea Flower Show, which I haven't been to since 2007ish, maybe?  And the reason that I went is because I was covering the fact that Cozmo Jenks had made a hat for the Laurent Perrier Garden for  But all I really remember was sitting in some hanging basket with Cozmo and Tilly Wood - the wife of Rolling Stone progeny, Jesse Wood, and Cozmo's muse - while Cozmo told us that she'd left some felt tips on the radiator and they'd melted so she'd turned them into a hat.  But not the hat that Tilly was wearing, which is here:

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Chelsea Flower Show, so is bound to be stupendous.  Alice Peto has designed a print to commemorate the event, for sale either through Potterton Books, or directly through the artist, and, if you do go through Alice, and mention Joy as it Flies, you'll get a special discount.  And we all love discounts, don't we . . . . ?

Potterton Books has also got a whole exhibition of botanical paintings especially for the Chelsea Flower Show, including this painting that Alice did which I love love love and which she is refusing to sell me because it had to go in the exhibition:

I'm going to try to persuade her to do a copy for me.  I want it that much.  And there's a spot on the wall where I can see it look it looking perfect, and now when I look at that spot it seems bare and bereft because the painting that I want to go there, isn't.  The point is, if you want something to remember the Chelsea Flower by, you'd do a lot worse than to buy one of Alice's works (because going to anything is mainly about the shopping, right?) Alternatively of course, you could ask Cozmo Jenks - who is only by appointment -  to design one of her spectacular floral confections for you.

Stephanie Lundell and Cozmo Jenks

Claudia Leigh and Cozmo Jenks, at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show opens today -