Archive | February 2017

A Box of Liquorice Allsorts at the V & A

I’m not sure whether this blog will be fun or serious. A bit of both probably. Like a box of liquorice allsorts. But to begin at the beginning.

I spent last Thursday morning in the hallowed halls of the Victoria and Albert Museum, not as a visitor, which would have been usual and familiar, but as a judge in a competition and not the sort of competition I usually get myself involved with. I’m well used to poetry competitions and find it relatively easy because I know exactly what I’m looking for when I start reading the entries but on this occasion I had been asked to judge book covers and illustrations and I was doing it without knowing what the criteria  were, which I have to admit was a trifle – shall we say – foolhardy.

But there I was, sitting in a small, well lit room, which is the office belonging to Martin Flynn, who not only runs and cares for the museum’s enormous library but also organises this annual competition. He is the sort of man anyone would like at once, gentle, learned, hospitable and with a trace of a lovely Dublin accent in his voice, and he had led me most carefully through the maze of back stairs and along a balcony overlooking a vast library full of quiet books and readers until we reached his office. It turned out to be a small cosy place, with a high window filling one wall and all three remaining walls ranged with ancient books. I’d have liked to have stayed there for days and just picked and read. But there was a small table set about with four chairs and stacked with the books whose covers and illustrations we had come to judge and it wasn’t long before the two other judges arrived and we began our work.

(Pause while I adjust my wig and hoist my red robe more comfortably over my shoulders!)

My two fellow judges were Lloyd Grossman, whom I recognised from the TV and Jane Scherbaum, the Head of Design at the V&A, who was both stylish and pretty with a very warm smile and made me feel almost at once that I was in good hands. As I was.

At first I simply listened hard to what the other two were saying. It quickly became obvious to me that my opinion of covers and what they were for didn’t fit this occasion at all. I’d always seen them as a sales adjunct to the book and judged them accordingly. These two were looking at them as works of art, which of course they were, and although the nature of the book came into their consideration, it was the quality of the art which was most important. So we progressed, each of us saying what we had liked about our particular favourite choice and listening to what the others had to say. I was quite gratified by how smoothly it all went.

We chose a delightful, eye-catching children’s book cover about a crocodile, which had been my second choice, so I was already halfway to liking it: a cartoon from the Daily Telegraph which showed Donald Trump as a witty and pointed version of Hokusai’s wave: and a set of reprints of Virginia Woolf’s novels, which I had rejected out of hand when I first saw them because there was no point of reference between the cover and the novel. But as Jane pointed out in her gentle way, the design was superb, unusual, unexpected and eye-catching.

So the deed was done and very satisfactorily. But then, I’ve always enjoyed liquorice allsorts.

This entry was posted on February 28, 2017. 2 Comments

Some cheeky ideas about Blake’s cottage.

I had some very interesting answers after my last blog about Blake’s cottage and made a list of them all, because they set me thinking.

One writer asked whether all three members of the triumvirate have the right to invite their friends to the cottage, now that Tim Heath has started extending his invitation to his friends. I have to admit, I don’t know the answer. But if it’s a rule for one, it should be a rule for all three. Perhaps the other two might like to tell us, or even better perhaps the local member of the trio would like to invite some of the locals in to visit the place. After all, the locals raised quite a lot of money to buy it in the first place and our local member of the triumvirate is a fair, friendly and honest man. How about it Mr Johns? I know the vice chairman of the Big Blake Project would very much like to see the place and has asked for permission and been refused, or to be strictly accurate has been told he will have to wait until Mr Heath decides to have an open day. Hmm.

A second writer wondered whether we could find a well known Blake scholar who would weigh in and help us. I only wish they would but Blake scholars are rather rare. If there’s anyone out there who could and would help us, do get in touch. We need your help very much.

Another writer said in her opinion, she thought only legal powers plus the money to access them could lead to any effective change, which is inescapably true. Those of us who are campaigning to get  the cottage repaired are, by and large, extremely short of cash, but her observation set me thinking in a different direction. There is another organisation that might give the lead to effective change too and that’s the Charities Commission which is a government watch dog set up to see that charities organise their affairs legally and properly. So I have written to them, pointing out what a parlous condition the cottage is in, stressing that nothing is being done about it and asking whether it is legal and proper for the trustees of a charity to make money on the property they are supposed to be looking after and running for the nation, in order to raise money purchase another property. I have had a reply, saying they have noted my complaint and will get back to me if they want to know any more.

Any help that any of you can give at this point would be welcome. If you know any renowned Blake scholars who would help, for example, or have other questions you would like to put to the charities commission or have any other suggestions, my door and my ears are always open. For sadly the cottage is still in the same desperate need of repair.

This entry was posted on February 15, 2017. 4 Comments

Of mice and – no not men – but rather annoyed birds.

My lovely amanuensis and I were enjoying our coffee this morning when she noticed a small brown furry shape happily eating the suet cake inside its plastic container. It was certainly not a bird, so we went to the window for a closer look and were highly surprised to see that what we were watching was a field mouse. Charlotte took a picture of it because we could barely believe our eyes. We couldn’t get a very clear one, but there the little thing is to the left of the little hill of suet, happily feeding. What on earth would our birds have to say about that?

They’ve been saying it ever since, sitting in the hedges protesting. After all it is their suet cake. So now we have gremlins rampaging all over the house spilling coffee and gravy and removing the edges of all the furniture, a field mouse helping itself to bird food and a hawk plucking a young seagull on the lawn, as bold as brass and spooking every small bird in the area. Whatever next?!

But of course, bird watching is full of surprises. That’s the joy of it and I rather like field mice, although of course that’s possibly because they don’t eat my breakfast.

This entry was posted on February 15, 2017. 2 Comments

For the nation or for the elite?

One of the people who’s been working with me to push for the repair and restoration of our Blake’s cottage is beginning to despair of ever getting through to Tim Heath. ‘I simply don’t  understand him,’ he said. ‘He says one thing and does another.’ That in essence is the key to understanding the man. We must judge him not by what he says, either to the press or on the Blake Cottage Trust website, but by what he does, or even more destructively, doesn’t do.

His words are mostly airy fairy dreams – “lets skip over the tedious business of raising funds to repair the cottage and consider our glorious future and the scores of geniuses that will come streaming out of the door in a thousand years time.” It takes time and study to disentangle all the things he says because they are so much at variance with one another. When the cottage was first bought he trumpeted loudly in the local and national press that it had been bought for the nation. ‘Once the cottage is purchased, the society intends that it will be put into a charitable trust to be held in perpetuity for the benefit of the nation.’ If only. Now he is more openly admitting that the important thing to him is to be able to pull down half the cottage and build his half a million pound second residence on the site. It seems to me, that those are two very different and conflicting aims and in the meantime the cottage is in desperate need of repair which it isn’t getting.

So what on earth can those of us who very much want it to belong to the nation and to be repaired and kept in good order, do in this current situation? I fear it may be very little. He is already going his own way, refusing to allow locals into the cottage but inviting personal friends there for an escorted visit. The change has already begun.

I discovered, quite by accident, that one of the ex-trustees of the Blake Society,  Naomi Billingsley, was given a personal invitation from Tim Heath to visit the cottage last November. Which she did on November the 25th 2016 and afterwards wrote on social media about what a beautiful place the cottage was and how much she’d enjoyed her visit. What is more, she published pictures of the interior. The news made me sit up with surprise. She’d visited??!!! That’s unheard of. She’d been allowed to publish pictures??!!! That’s more than any of the Felpham supporters of the cottage, who raised funds to buy it, have ever been allowed to do – with the single exception of Rachel Searle.

Then I read a newspaper article about the British Pilgrimage Trust who had walked from London to the cottage and had had their photographs taken outside the place, so I chased up all the newspaper articles about that. And, as one of the papers had reported that the group spent Halloween there, I’ve been trying to contact them ever since, without luck so far, to find out whether that was true.

I will go on playing detective and doing whatever I can and reporting back to you, but there is actually very little that one old woman can do. Taht would require the power of a public body like the West Sussex County Council or the ADC or even better concerted action being taken by the local Felpham Village Preservation Society who are a large, amiable local group whose motto and reason for being is contained in three powerful words. PRESERVE, PROTECT, PROMOTE. Oh if only they would! It would make such a difference.






This entry was posted on February 10, 2017. 3 Comments