The anniversary of the death of my father reminds me of another sad loss this year. Germain Guillemin was a man of gentle patience, a skilled marine engineer and later a hard-working local councillor. When I was just 17, he and his wife gave me a perfect introduction to French life. Each day he came home for a glorious three-course lunch. Afterwards he and Nicole sat close and drank coffee together, in easy companionship. It was bliss and it seems like another age.
An old friend died today. She was at home in bed and there was a horrible fire. Her partner had left for work, she called for help from the window but it was no good - nobody got to her. She was still in her forties. Not even the dog and cat she loved so much were saved.
Life had been really difficult for her lately. Her mother dead, the family home sold. Depression. But she had this easy laugh that bubbled up from somewhere deep inside her and her smart questions always left me struggling for an answer.
When we were young anything seemed possible, but things don't always work out. I'm thinking of her now, looking hard at me, tossing her head, and laughing.
Up a narrow street in Belem, Lisbon, and just yards away from the hungry tourists queuing for their Pasteis de Nata (the custard tarts which are a Lisbon speciality) there is a chapel which re-opened as a gallery in September this year. Its outer wall has been transfomed by an art installation inspired by wood type. Chunky sans serif lettering of differing heights and depths has been applied to the wall and then given a coating of bright white render. The bold capitals are stacked into arrangements vaguely reminiscent of Henrik Werkmann.
The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception was dedicated in 1707. Unlike much of central Lisbon, it survived the catastrophic earthquake of 1755. The messages which now cover much of the outer wall are mostly religious, and more rigidly arranged than Werkmann's anarchic experiments. The piece is called 'Vai com Deus' (Go with God) and is the work of Oporto studio R2 Design.
It must have been a nightmare to specify and install. The letters have been individually pinned to the wall and are not always spaced or aligned with the kind of perfection we are used to. Perhaps this is why it has yet to feature on the web site of the award winning designers.
Spin-offs from the financial crisis proliferate. On Radio 4 Phill Jupitus' Strips provided the creators of the Telegraph's Alex cartoon with a platform. There were some interesting insights into the creative process and a side-swipe at the dearth of young people who can actually draw.
Artist Charles Peattie and journalist Russell Taylor are both in their forties. They met at a party in 1986. Charles had a commission for a strip for the financial pages of the London Daily News and the result was Alex.
The strip is a wicked send-up of nasty City types with such a huge following it has now turned into a stage show, with a film promised. The strip's creators are such experienced collaborators they develop the cartoon by email. Scans of roughs are swapped and layers of stuck-on emendations are built up.
Peattie and Taylor mockingly described themselves as the 'Ant & Dec' of the UK cartooning world, since they are often the youngest attendees at cartooning conferences.
Now that graphic designers draw with mice, what's the future for brilliantly-crafted satirical cartoons like Alex? Not good according to Peattie and Taylor: 'people don't learn to draw so much... cartoons depend on a fairly academic way of drawing... more [cartoonists] have died in the last decade than have come up'.
The county town of Berkshire a mecca for lovers of independently run coffee shops? Surely not. But a newish website has just proved otherwise.
For decades the rulers of what I used to call the People's Republic of Reading devoted themselves to stripping the character out of the place. They gave us the faceless Butts Centre which metamorphosed into the equally inappropriately-named Broad Street Maul. They tore down much-loved red brick Victorian buildings and allowed what was left to be covered in render and cladding. Independent locally-owned shops (with the exception of much-loved Jacksons) were squeezed out. There was no room in the Oracle (the south of England's shiniest new shopping centre) for local businesses, since they could not be relied on to pay the rent.
But apparently there are now three attractive, independently-run coffee shops in Reading. Significantly, Moondogs, and the Workhouse Coffee Company are both on the Oxford Road, well away from the uninspiring concrete and glass of borough council-sponsored 'Reading City'. That it took a website to want me to go back into my local town centre shows just how uninviting it has become.
Tom Hiskey is a 26-year old part-time musician and coffee shop enthusiast. As he travels the UK he is compiling a guide to the UK's best independent coffee shops. Not the faceless, squeezed out of a tube global brands run by Seattle-based corporations or the likes of Whitbread, but real places with their own local character, where the welcome is genuine and the prices are likely to be lower. He emphasises places that source ethically, and says that tea rooms are, well, 'not his cup of tea'.
Cosy Coffee Shops is just what the internet is for.
What to do with the marrows? This time of year the garden and the fridge overflow. Here's my own recipe for a wonderful golden, warming soup.
- 2lbs of marrow, cubed
- 11/4lbs of potato, cubed
- 4 small or two large onions, finely chopped
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- one large cup of red split lentils
- 2 pts of Marigold vegetable stock
- a generous handful of fresh sage, finely chopped
- a dash of chilli sauce
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- teaspoon of turmeric
- salt and pepper to taste
Sweat down the onions and garlic in red Carrotino oil (rich in vitamins A & E and made from palm and canola oil). Stir in the potatoes, marrow and sage. Coat with oil. Add the vegetable stock, lentils and seasoning and simmer gently for around 30 minutes. Either use a blender or a potato masher to reduce the soup to an even consistency. Serve immediately.
A worthwhile post on English Buildings drew my attention to Ronald Lampitt's illustrations in The map that came to life, a children's book first published by OUP in 1948. Elsewhere there's also a complete set of spreads and a page about Lampitt's map of an ideal city.
The beautifully illustrated cover is slightly reminiscent of Seurat's 'La Grande Jatte', without the pointillism. The book celebrates the fascination of maps as graphical language - ways of representing in two dimensions the richness of the real world. Lampitt paints the archetypal romantic (and very idealised) English village, set in a perfect landscape:
"These two children set off on a walk across unfamiliar country with only their map for guidance. They talk to strangers – who give them fascinating nuggets of local information rather than luring them into dark corners. Their dog spends most of its time off its lead, rivers and lakes hold no terrors for them, and, of course, this being 1948, they are not much troubled by traffic."
Lampitt also worked for Ladybird, including the 1967 title Understanding maps, but information on him is scarce. Google Earth can't compete with Lampitt's golden vision of English Never-Never-Land. Secondhand copies appear rarely. A reprint is certainly overdue.
Yesterday I did my first bit of teaching for the year: 30+ bright eyed first year students, all looking to me for enlightenment on something called 'digital design methods'. A dubious privilege – especially for them. One student told me he'd had a brief career as an undertaker's assistant, which had involved sewing up nostrils and mouths prior to embalming. Made me think of the stitching of sailor's corpses into canvas prior to burial at sea and the final stitch through the nose that made sure they were really dead.
Then I rushed back and tried to prove to some of my customers I really do know how to do it. Failed spectacularly by trying to squeeze an email the size of a bus thru a mailbox meant for Dinky toys. Just in time, I woke up to my incompetence and got the artwork through before the looming deadline.
At dinner time I was reminded that a vegetable patch is such a responsibility. Every tomato and potato grown is like my very own child - a child that just demands to be eaten. Leaving them to rot in the ground or wither on the vine is neglect of the worst kind. So I whipped up some ratatouille from a vast marrow and beefsteak toms, chopping in some fresh herbs from the garden with fresh ingredients from the village grocer, nice Mr Asda. Last week the same marrow went into a very decent leek, tomato and lentil soup (recipe tba). With a bit of luck it'll be gone by Christmas.
After a yoga class, which involved a certain amount of putting my foot in places where it doesn't belong, and a lot of blissful lying down I went to the grocer's. The fire alarm went off just after the nice assistant had found me to say they'd retrieved my two pots of yoghourt-for-£1 from the back room. The alarm had nothing to do with the lighters I bought or the quip about my being over 16. Mr Asda seems to train them well: disbelief was affected when I pointed out I was a multiple of that figure.
Last night I dreamt about my graduation as a young designer a quarter of a century ago. For our 'final displays' we were asked to exhibit our coursework. In the dream my show consisted of a couple of dozen glass jars containing exotic fragrances I had blended. How very Mrs Jeffrey Archer.
I will miss the first night of choir rehearsal tonight as I have to baby-sit my nieces who are seven, going-on-17. With luck I'll catch up on the singing next week. The choir's musical menu this year includes a bit of Tipett's 'A child of our time', some Vaughan Williams and Morten Lauridsen's 'O Magnum Mysterium' – which sounds more like an ice cream out of Philip Pullman to me.
This Saturday is (drum roll) quiz night. It's in aid of the community orchard I foolishly thought would be a good idea. In the village hall, where else. On Sunday I'd really like to go up to London for the Hadrian show or the RA and maybe the Docklands Turkish Baths but it'd be a bit of a squeeze as I am bidden to the 40th birthday celebrations of a good friend.
It's exactly 30 years since the glorious Belgian singer Jacques Brel died. His Longchamp pipe was sold yesterday at a controversial Paris auction for €6875. The French were said to love him ten times more than British love the Beatles (which is really quite a lot). Today a newspaper article says that according to Dr David Fowler our 'beloved' Beatles weren't inspired by flower power and 'all you need is love' after all. Apparently the Beatles were young capitalists who just wanted to make a lot of money. Le plus ça change. For really revolutionary youth you apparently have to go back to the inter-war years, and a movement that was all about jumping naked into the River Cam.
Enough gabble from me.
A random trawl through this Autumn's bumper crop of things 'researchers have found' reveals that:
- With a 20 to 30% annual rise in the price of onions, potatoes and carrots, people are responding to the call to 'grow their own'. Now you can't get an allotment for either love or a prize pumpkin.
- 'the humble turnip is the dish of the day' according to today's Sun, as people go back to their roots to save money.
- Because of rising fuel costs, more and more children are walking to school, where once they were driven.
- 15% of motorists report having cycled recently rather than taken the car.
- We are enjoying more and more cheap nights out at the 'flicks'.
- Bookings for traditional seaside holidays are in; flying to the costas is out.
- Pricey American coffee shop chains are being shunned in favour of a nice, traditional English afternoon tea.
What a fine return to 'old-fashioned values' this all seems to add up to. For me these are symbolised by St Mary Mead, the idyllic 1950s English village (perhaps Nether Wallop in Hampshire) in which Agatha Christie's heroine Miss Jane Marple lived. She was played to perfection by Joan Hickson.
We can trust the British press to tell us like it is, can't we? But is that blood on the carpet in the vicar's study? I can almost hear the insistent ring of a bicycle bell...
The water lapping the shore when the light was perfect at about 6pm on Friday.
Maybe it's supposed to break the camera or something, but it seems to work for me. As well as taking these phone pictures I picked a bag of premature blackberries, but they lack sweetness and seem to be full of the heavy rain we've been having lately. What I really wanted to do was swim in the lake, which looked so tempting in the late afternoon sun.
Hogarth would have been proud of these stills from a biting satire on China's political record. The People's Republic executes more of its citizens than any other nation, many for minor crimes such as tax evasion. A similar idea occurred to a French designer for a much slicker but less effective piece of photographically based work:The attractive official logo is the work of 70-year old Han Meilin, known as the 'Chinese Picasso' who was apparently paid less than 10p for his work. Even allowing for different standards of living this seems remarkably low. Meilin's design alludes to Chinese calligraphic seals and has a recognisably oriental feel to it. The design works well - and so much better than the much derided 'streetwise' (and according to some fellatio-themed) 2012 Olympics logo: