The Back Seat Exhibition Captioner

A few days into the New Year: with Dad to Somerset House Ice Rink. A favourite spot at this time of year, though we always go as spectators in the cafe, never as skaters.

We also drop into the Norman Parkinson exhibition, A Very British Glamour. Stunning photos of ladies from vintage fashion mags. But Parkinson also had a thing for combining beauty with humour, often putting his models in unexpected poses and locations.

In one early 50s shot, his wife and muse Wanda, looking immaculate in a cashmere twin-set, sits in a rural working man’s pub, seemingly playing shove ha’penny with a flat-capped old regular. An unlikely story.

Another, The Young Look In The Theatre (1953), depicts a gaggle of up and coming stage actresses of the day. I love all the different types of outfits, hinting at what the actresses think of their own real life personae. Some casual, some up-to-the-minute fashionable, some timeless and classic, some girlish, some noble, some vampish, some womanly, some motherly.

(Clicking on the photo takes you to a much larger version on the Christie’s website, with a click-and-zoom facility)

The exhibition doesn’t list who’s who, frustratingly. So I get on the Net and find out for myself.

Top row (upside down, the old wag): Norman Parkinson himself.

Middle row (on the bars, left to right): Virginia McKenna, Elizabeth Henson, Patricia McCarron, Josephine Griffin.

Bottom row (standing, left to right): Hazel Penwarden, Zena Walker, Yvonne Furneaux, Jill Bennett, Patricia Owens, Ruth Trouncer.

I also love one Vogue portrait of Enid Boutling, model and wife of the film director Roy. Captioned ‘Impertinence (1950)‘, she’s wearing a dandyish suit with a cropped hair, a stand-offish glare, and – shock horror – is smoking a cigarette without a holder. Regarded as very daring at the time, at least for Vogue.

Enid Boulting-Vogue-1950

Another favourite is of Audrey Hepburn with a baby donkey. Parkinson clearly punning on the ‘what an adorable creature’ response.

audrey-hepburn-donkey


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The Cat Sends Me Back

Am back in the Highgate bedsit after three weeks flat-sitting in Crouch End. No more cat to look after me.
Somewhat taken aback by the contrast in heating. In the flat, there was a boiler and radiators and the knowledge that I didn’t have to pay the heating bill. Back here I have just my little electric fan heater for the room. Which used to be fine, except that Highgate, like most of the UK, is currently in the grip of a proper winter spell. I sit here at my desk still wearing my winter coat, with the fan heater on full right by my toes, and still I shiver. During the night I don two old t-shirts plus my old jogging bottoms (noting that it’s about time I bought some pyjamas), position the heater right by the bed, and still I’m freezing.
Tonight, then: blankets. And I’ve just bought some M&S pyjamas – first time since my teens. I chose the ones that looked the most like hand-me-downs from a Matthew Bourne ballet. I can’t be bothered working out if pyjamas on grown men are stylish or not. They are on me, and that’s an end to it.
During the day I spend as much time in heated public buildings as possible. Library, cafes, shops. Quite the opposite of being ‘snowed in’: the snow helps to get me out of bed (7am)and out of the house. Highgate like Crouch End still looks like Narnia, the snow crunching pleasingly underfoot, but central London is utterly, hilariously devoid of the stuff. A sense of the capital saying to the snow ‘Don’t you know who I AM? Don’t you DARE fall on me. I’m a Very Important City Centre.’
In the London Library toilets, one member walks straight from the cubicles back into the library without washing his hands. This is something that many men do which utterly appalls me. If he’d been a recognizable author, like more than a few LL members, I’d instinctively feel like naming him here and urging the world to boycott his books. But then I remember about WH Auden and his peeing in the sink (as brought up in the new Alan Bennett play). Not an excuse, but a reminder to trust the art, never the artist. Particularly the piss artist.
***
Packing away the Christmas decorations, I notice that 2009′s Christmas seems to have brought me more Christmas cards than I’ve had for years: 30 to 40 of them. In this digital world, it feels even more special. I know I go on about my love of getting proper handwritten letters and cards, but actually getting them is something else. Thank you, all those responsible. One favourite is from the band The Real Tuesday Weld. It contains a little 3-inch CD EP of the band. I’d forgotten how lovely 3-inch CDs were. Favourite track: ‘Plastic Please’, featuring the Puppini Sisters. It’s a fanbase mailout, but singer Stephen has handwritten a greeting to me: ‘To Dickon. Keep Dreaming.’ Which makes all the difference.
***
I see in 2010 DJ-ing at White Mischief at the Proud Cabaret venue off Fenchurch Street. Fantastic live acts, particularly Frisky and Mannish and The Correspondents, who do a real 1910-meets-2010 techno rap set, merging cravats and waistcoats with skinny emo leggings. My own highlight is helping to locate a burlesque Judy Garland’s detachable plait.

Am back in the Highgate bedsit after three weeks flat-sitting in Crouch End. No more cat to look after me.

Somewhat taken aback by the contrast in heating. In the flat, there was a boiler and radiators and the knowledge that I didn’t have to pay the heating bill. Back here I have just my little electric fan heater for the room. Which used to be fine, except that Highgate, like most of the UK, is currently in the grip of a proper winter spell. I sit here at my desk still wearing my winter coat, with the fan heater on full right by my toes, and still I shiver. During the night I don two old t-shirts plus my old jogging bottoms (noting that it’s about time I bought some pyjamas), position the heater right by the bed, and still I’m freezing.

Tonight, then: blankets. And I’ve just bought some M&S pyjamas – first time since my teens. I chose the ones that looked the most like hand-me-downs from a Matthew Bourne ballet. I can’t be bothered working out if pyjamas on grown men are stylish or not. They are on me, and that’s an end to it.

***

During the day I spend as much time in heated public buildings as possible. Library, cafes, shops. Quite the opposite of being ‘snowed in’: the snow helps to get me out of bed (7am) and out of the house. Highgate like Crouch End still looks like Narnia, the snow crunching pleasingly underfoot, but central London is utterly, hilariously devoid of the stuff. A sense of the capital saying to the snow ‘Don’t you know who I AM? Don’t you DARE fall on me. I’m a Very Important City Centre.’

***

In the London Library toilets, one member walks straight from the cubicles back into the library without washing his hands. This is something that many men do which utterly appalls me. If he’d been a recognizable author, like more than a few LL members, I’d instinctively feel like naming him here and urging the world to boycott his books. But then I remember about WH Auden and his peeing in the sink (as brought up in the new Alan Bennett play). Not an excuse, but a reminder to trust the art, never the artist. Particularly the piss artist. Readers of my own work might like to note that I always wash my hands after visiting the lavatory. Whatever you think of it, it has been written by properly cleansed hands.

***

Packing away the Christmas decorations, I notice that 2009′s Christmas seems to have brought me more Christmas cards than I’ve had for years: 30 to 40 of them. In this digital world, it feels even more special. I know I go on about my love of getting proper handwritten letters and cards, but actually getting them is something else. Thank you, all those responsible. One favourite is from the band The Real Tuesday Weld. It contains a little 3-inch CD EP of the band. I’d forgotten how lovely 3-inch CDs were. Favourite track: ‘Plastic Please’, featuring the Puppini Sisters. It’s a fanbase mailout, but singer Stephen has handwritten a greeting to me: ‘To Dickon. Keep Dreaming.’ Which makes all the difference.

***

I see in the New Year by DJ-ing at White Mischief at the Proud Cabaret venue off Fenchurch Street. Lots of gorgeous dressed-up people, and fantastic live acts, particularly Frisky & Mannish, plus The Correspondents, who do a real 1910-meets-2010 techno rap set, merging cravats and waistcoats with what looks like skinny emo leggings. My own highlight is helping to locate a burlesque Judy Garland’s detachable plait. That says it all.


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