Tag Archives: City of London

On Sculpture in the City….and my favourite House of Cards 97/100

DSC_6239 (2)I love public sculpture. The quality of a city can be judged by its sculpture, I believe. I was once lured to Chicago on the promise of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud. London, the best city in the world, is filled with sculpture. Some of it awful, but much of it fantastic. And for the last 7 years, the City of London has filled its streets with work by famous, ultra-famous artists, in 9 month rotations. Sculpture in the City, as the programme is called, apparently came about as a gentlemen’s bet by the head of Hiscox, the art insurers, at a industry dinner. Could he get artists to donate work to the City? No way, was the reaction. Watch me, was the response. And the rest, as they say, is history.  Not only do artists and galleries willingly donate the work, the selection committee gets more than a hundred offers every year. And why not? The chance to have your work showcased in the busiest part (Monday-Friday anyway) of the greatest city, to be admired by millions of sympathetic eyes…..an artists dream. Mine too. I love this programme. I look forward to the unveiling of the new selection each summer. Last year, I was fortunate enough to take a tour with one of the selection committee members. What a fascinating insight into the work, chosen at times for its potential reaction to the buildings around it as much forP1030307 (2) the work itself. The City is an incredible mix of the old and the new. Beautiful post great fire (1666) buildings up against brand new shiny towers with unfortunate post WWII construction in between. Stone and glass and cement, all under London’s changeable sky. Add some contemporary sculpture and this is for what Instagram was made.

P1030308Another of my favourite things is the morning after the night before in a city. Early  morning, streets empty of people but with the debris of nighttime fun still in evidence. An eerie calm with traces of raucous frivolity. The perfect atmosphere in which to admire art. With a rather vague map from the City of London downloaded on my phone I set off, with only the ubiquitous packs of builders as company. I found all 18 pieces, and dare I say, the overall affect was a little disappointing. Two of the works were part of last year’s group, Gavin Turk’s Ajar and Recycle Group’s Falling into Virtual Reality. I adore the Turk piece, photographed my children in it on our New Year’s Eve day outing, would be happy for it to live in the churchyard of St. Botolph’s without Bishopgate forever. Not sure, however, that is P1030318can be presented as part of a new series. Some of the others I just didn’t like as much as what had come before. For me, Paul McCarthy’s Apple Tree Girl Apple Tree Boy just wasn’t as engaging as Giuseppe Penone’s Idee di Pietra of last year, and with the Gherkin as the backdrop, you do want something rather fabulous. But fabulous is what Nathaniel Rackowe’s Expanded Black Shed looks like against the iconic building.

DSC_0049_4Sarah Lucas’s Florian/Kevin phallic vegetables, last year,  were such a pleasure on the eye and funny as well, but to everything  a season and the current season offers its own brand of humour. Not sure I was all that taken with Mhairi Vair’s Support for a Cloud, until I read that TimeOut (which did like them) suggested the Lloyd’s building had contracted a fungal infection or grown testes, depending on ones angle. This made me laugh out loud. Artist as interpreter of public opinion, surely. Similar wink and nod to Damien Hirst’s Temple, a giant medical model torso of a man. The worship of self has gotten more than one city boy in serious trouble over the decades.

Martin Creed’s plastic bags in the tree on Bishopsgate weren’t nearly as charming as LiziDSC_0007_11 (2) Sanchez’s party rings in the same tree (and Leadenhall Market), but then they weren’t meant to be. Creed may be making a big statement with his glorified rubbish, Sanchez was P1030306just having a bit of fun. But perhaps I am being too harsh. And a walk through the city is always worth doing, regardless of what you find. It was in this spirit that once finished with the sculpture trail I walked back on myself, to Broadgate. Because it is there that one of my most loved pieces of public art stands, permanently. Richard Serra’s rusty wedges with a gorgeous view of the sky from inside. P1030356 (2)Its official title is Fulcrum, but to me it is House of Cards, these big pieces of metal not quite leaning on each other, precariously defying gravity, unstable.  The perfect symbol for the financial capital of the world, upsetting as that truth may be.  Now that is great public sculpture. P1030358

On a kringle of santas…London Santa Runs 68/100

dsc_0005_36-2img_4743-2The British love to dress up. Any excuse will do. Fancy dress, as it is called, is a staple of the social scene, year round. Costumed runners have long been part of races of all lengths, especially for charitable fundraising.  Why not combine the two? Not a great idea, so I thought. I am not a fan of dressing up for parties. I really don’t like dressing up to go running. But when in Rome, or London, to be exact…I have run in a bunny costume, particularly humiliating as it was after Easter so we all looked deranged. I have also run in a gorilla suit, much too hot and heavy to try again. In 2011, the older two children and I ran in a Nativity run. The remit was to dress as a Nativity character. I dug out a battered pair of wings from our dressing up box. My daughter wore a cape, crown and carried a box, a wiseman obviously. Joseph ran in his bathrobe holding a real hammer. He was Joseph because he is Joseph. The organizers seemed overwhelmed by this fact, as if he was in on a secret joke. They couldn’t stop mulling it over aloud, which was rather off putting.  As I said, I’m not much for the costume runs. With one big exception.  I have run in a Santa suit. Many, many times. Too many to count now. The Battersea Park Santa Run has been a fixture in my diary for years now, even when I wasn’t in a running frame of mind. Usually, 10854272_1006953772664677_5097500656784772341_oI have been able to convince a child or two to tag along. Felt, one-size fits all, santa suits are distributed upon arrival at the start, which means we all look the same. For most, the suit is far too big, though occassionally there are matching child-size ones, ill-fitting in their own way, so we are rather a motley crew of santas. And the beards are horrible. But we are all willing. No one doesn’t wear the suit, and the few girls who show up in sexy elf suits just look like idiots. They are shunned by the pack. I love this race. For many reasons, but most especially for the looks on the young Battersea residents’ faces, staggering round the park in hopes of clearing their holiday overdosed heads, when suddenly one thousand (literally) santas come lumbering along….”I am still 1396756_775235222503201_1053749200_odrunk” and “I’ve got to stop the recreational LSD” are but a few of the visible responses. We santas wave, we cheer, we photograph ourselves and others as slack jawed strangers try to settle their over-excited dogs. A perfect way to start the Christmas season!

This year I decided to try something new and signed up for the City Santa run, and convinced 3 of my children plus Katherine’s good friend and frequent running partner, Lexi, to join me. As you know, I will do pretty much anything in the City. And running in the City is a beautiful thing. This morning was perfect, blue, sunny sky and just cold enough to make the fabric felt a welcome overcoat. The santas gathered were fewer in number than Battersea, but just as enthusiastic, maybe more so. The crowds watching were also fewer, but made up of tourists instead of hungover locals. They were amused, delighted, baffled, all holding phones aloft. No telling how many of us are on strangers’ social media sites. dsc_0023_16-2And what a glorious run it was. Starting from the north end of Millennium Bridge, a flood of red flowed, poured over my favourite bridge, much to the surprise of early morning strollers. We continued along past the Tate and the Globe, back across Southwark Bridge. Along the Thames Path the Shard and Tower Bridge came into sight, dodging tourists I drank deeply of this view I love so much. dsc_0026_15-2Through the hordes queuing to get into the Tower of London and then back along Fenchurch Street, through the festive Leadenhall Market and then the final bit, my beloved St Paul’s ahead, to the finish in Paternoster Square. The race was only 6k, yet it seemed to pass in seconds. And despite the cloying felt suit, I felt invincible. Yes, the world still exists with Syrian and Brexit and Trump and upcoming French elections and Italian referendum and Austrian vote (relieved to have just seen the result) and the youth football child abuse, but for a little bit of time, none of that mattered. Instead, my eyes and brain could only concentrate on things I love: art, theatre, history, Harry Potter, beauty. The things that keep us all going in troubled times. Running in the City, the city I love the most, it just might be what gets me through.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

 

On Beating the Bounds….51/100

Picture the scene…..you are walking between meetings in the City, take away coffee attached to one hand. Mobile to the other. If very clever, a sneaky fag in there somewhere as well. Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye you see it. A gaggle of school aged children in smart uniform, with a Vicar, and some other people in fur-lined robes, just there on the P1010973pavement. They seem to be singing. A hymn perhaps….and then you notice the sticks. The long sticks. In the hands of the school children. Who begin smacking these sticks on the ground in an enthusiastic manner. Have the post-work sessions in the pub finally rattled the brain, is this some sort of anger-management seminar, or maybe a new reality television nightmare??? Actually, the average City worker would think none of these things, would only nonchalantly move out of the way without breaking step, used as they are to crazy shenanigans in the City. Tourists, on the other hand, go wild. Cameras and phones whirring away. I would love to know how they try to explain it to the folks back home.

 

And here I am. In the mix. Because I do love a City ceremony, and this is one of the best. The Beating of the Bounds. Ascension Day. With All Hallows by the Tower. And St. Dunstan’s College. The Worshipful Company of the Waterman and Lightermen, as well (yes, them again, of the Knollys Rose Ceremony, post #48, a busy season!) A ceremony dating back to Anglo-466215_651787474847977_903993130_oSaxon times, now just for traditional purposes, but in times of old to make sure, MAKE SURE everyone knew exactly where the boundaries of the parish of St. Dunstan’s in the East were…in case anyone got any ideas about pinching a few feet. We are a protective species, especially when it comes to land. Death by hedgerow dispute remains a reality. We like our borders and our boundaries (cue Brexit furor).

The boundaries are roughly that of the parish of St. Dunstan in the East, a beautiful 13th century church that survived the Great Fire of 1666, though Christopher Wren rebuilt the tower in the late 17th century.  Today, only the tower remains as the rest of the church was destroyed in WWII; the former footprint of the nave is now a lovely, almost secret public garden. Following its destruction, the parish was amalgamated into that of All Hallows by the Tower, which is why the privilege of leading this ceremony now rests 472335_651788098181248_292800350_owith them.  The school of St. Dunstan’s dates back to the 15th century and when, by mid-19th century, the City had ceased to become a residential area, it was moved to Catford, SE London, where it remains. What an honour to be selected as one of the students taking part; proud parents are always an element of the procession. And what a great day off school for the kids, instead of double maths some public stick smacking. Nice.

The beating starts at the Tower and then moves to the river, because the south boundary is mid-Thames. In days of old, parish worthies would take a boat out and dangle a small boy upside down by the ankles over the water and let him give the river a good thrashing. I have seen pictures. Quite remarkable really. Sadly, health and safety no longer allow this kind of priceless photo op and instead the students (boys and  girls) ride out an a vessel and tap the water, with their very long sticks,  from a standing position. The procession continues on land, stopping at several points, including the tower of St Dunstan’s in the 462451_651787644847960_1777160827_oEast, Planation House and Seething Lane before returning to All Hallows. A thoroughly satisfying afternoon. History, odd behavior, some old buildings, a little walk and men in costume. Instagrammers dream. What isn’t to love?  And next year there will be a battle. With the Beefeater’s at the Tower of London….watch this space.

 

 

 

 

On the Knollys Rose….48/100

_20160601_114459Somethings never change. Take this true tale of Constance Knollys. When her husband went away on business she bought the adjacent lot and, without bothering with pesky planning permission, built a walkway on the land. Seems a reasonable thing to do to me. No big deal, everybody does it, don’t they? Well, it turned out to be rather a big deal after all. The Knollys’ got into trouble with the City of London Corporation and were punished. Now, now, before you begin huffing and puffing about the nanny state and the EU, I must tell you that this all happened in 1381. 1381!!! And why am I bothering with this story at all? No, not to prove that we have always loved a good regulation (right as that might be) but because the punishment was so charming we still celebrate it today. The annual Knollys Rose Ceremony. A proper passion of mine.

A little history first. Robert Knollys made a fortune looting and pillaging Brittany, France as an English warrior. When he retired, he bought a fancy house in what is now Seething DSC_0032Lane, the same place, centuries on, that the famous diarist Samuel Pepys lived. Knollys’ wife, Constance, was known as formidable. My kind of woman. And she wanted what she wanted. A footbridge to take her from her house to her garden. That doesn’t seem much to ask. Oh, but she didn’t ask. And that got her in trouble. There is no record of how her husband reacted, but given that he was such a rich and successful citizen, the punishment was never going to be onerous. It was a fine of one red rose, cut from her garden, to be presented to the Lord Mayor, once a year on the feast of St. John the Baptist. Once a year. Every year. Forever. Seriously, forever. And for 600 years the ceremony remained. A rose was cut and presented. But then, as things often do, the tradition fell away. Until Tubby Clayton, the charismatic and ever-organizing Vicar of All Hallows by the Tower revived the ceremony between the world wars. Today, the Worshipful Company of Watermen and Lightermen, the guild that moves people and goods along the river, orchestrate the event; I don’t know why. But who doesn’t love a rower in full period dress. IMG_20160601_122112

Until recently the rose was taken from the garden on Seething Lane. But since the building works at the former Port Authority, soon to be a Four Seasons Hotel, have closed/removed the garden, it all takes place in the garden at All Hallows, a fitting choice. As June can be a funny time for roses in England, a presentable rose is placed in the rose bush ahead of the ceremony, ready for the choosing. This year, thanks to some crazy weather, roses arrived early. But the set was staged nonetheless.

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After some lovely coffee and chat in the church, we all shuffled into the garden, hoping the rain would hold off (it did.) The Master of the Watermen & Lightermen, surrounded by suitably attired company members, read a brief history of the ceremony and then, with great seriousness, “plucked” the rose from the bush and laid it on a pillow. To be carried solemnly to Mansion House and presented to the Lord Mayor. Who received it with pleasure.

“Why, why, why,” I hear you all shouting. “Because,” I will reply with authority. Because, how wonderful it is to remember something fun that happened 635 years ago. The world is a hard place. Take your roses when you can. With a pillow and dishy oarsmen, even better.