Thursday, 6 December 2012

Sally Macpherson 1940 - 2012

Sally Macpherson

My dear friend Sally Macpherson - who I knew mostly as Sally Wilson-Young - died in November 2012. She was an extraordinarily lovely person - a bright light full of energy, talent and charm. She passed across the the Meon Valley like comet, brightening the lives of all around her.

At her Funeral Service at the Grosvenor Chapel in South Audley St in London her step-son, Andrew Stafford-Deitsch spoke so beautifully about her that his words below best serve as her tribute. I have been given his eulogy by her daughter Amanda, who looked after her wonderfully in her final months.

'Sally was born in Cincinnati in 1940 to Dale and Eloise Grace.  They lived outside Cincinnati and Dale ran the family dairy business.  Sally actually worked there for one summer job, which resulted in a life long hatred of ice cream, at least until the very end when she took to having ice cream, cream and butter with everything!  She had two siblings, Kathleen and Michael and in spite of lots of differences, Sally and Kathleen shared a common determination from the earliest age to get to New York.  Sally’s childhood years were focused on ballet, followed by horses and then art and she majored in History of Art at Bradford junior college in Massachusetts.

In 1961, she went to New York and worked in publishing and in art galleries.  There she met my father Peter, who had, by then, been divorced from my mother for several years and they were married in 1964.  Amanda was born in May 1966 and by all accounts they were very happy.


I don’t remember the wedding but I do remember a beautiful apartment on 5th Avenue with a view of the park and a lovely warm feel to it.  I also remember several holidays with my father and brothers when, of course, Sally was very much in evidence.  Being a typically horrible 10 year old product of divorced parents, I was determined not to like Sally.  She and I were about the same height at that point and I vividly remember one squabble during which I was pulling her hair and she was biting me or perhaps it was the other way round but my heart really wasn’t in it.  I had already realised that as well as being pretty she was actually a lot of fun and a moment later - and much to the relief of my father - we both starting laughing and ceased all hostilities.


And she was certainly very pretty - her two beautiful daughters are evidence of that!


My father’s early death in 1970 was an awful shock to all of us, but particularly for Sally.   They had only been married for six years and Peter was not yet 45.  Nonetheless and true to form, she recovered quickly and moved on to marry David Wilson- Young with whom she had Ian in 1975 and Olivia in 1979.  At first they lived in Mexico but by 1974 they had moved to Jervis Lodge in Swanmore which they turned into a most elegant home.  They loved to entertain friends and family there and they went on many wonderful trips together as David’s job took him all around the world.


David couldn’t always take Sally with him and he was away a lot which left Sally alone in a strange country which must have been hard.  In The White Cliffs, Alice Duer Miller wrote:


The English are frosty

When you’ve no kith or kin
Of theirs, but how they alter
When once they take you in!
The kindest, the truest,
The best friends ever known,
It’s hard to remember
How they froze you to the bone.

In fact, of course, Sally’s Americanness was attractive in itself and positively exotic in rural Hampshire.  Sally had great taste and she applied it in many ways.  She was always immaculately and stylishly dressed, and she made her houses beautiful as well as homely and welcoming.  She achieved her effects with minimal fuss and just a few well chosen and probably rather expensive objects to hold one’s attention.   Many I spoke to talked of the wonderful atmosphere that Sally created - often in her white apron doling out food to masses of people and loving every moment.  Her cooking was really superb and she produced delicious, imaginative, creative meals with no apparent effort. She commented to one friend that she wasn’t sure she’d ever get through the pearly gates - she thought she would most probably be stuck at the entrance with her wooden spoon and whisk serving up another huge meal!


In talking about Sally, her sense of fun comes up again and again.  She had a great sense of the ridiculous and her infectious laughter was never far away but the word that was used more than any other was “loyalty”.  She was truly interested in what everyone was doing, immensely supportive of any new project or relationship and always ready to help.  I heard that she called one close friend-in-distress every morning to make sure that she was okay.  She had a rare ability to help without imposing.


But there was much more to Sally than compassion, excellent cooking and great style.  She retained her strong interest in art and, although she stopped painting watercolours fairly early on, she was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic.  I heard that visiting an exhibition with her was a delight as she was so well informed and discerning.  She also bought many good paintings which could be seen on the walls of her beautiful houses.


Her interest in design led, perhaps inevitably, to gardening and despite reservations about an American telling the English how to do their gardens, she had the style and sensitivity to generate steady business, as well as many admirers, with her garden designs.  I’m happy to say that we are lucky enough to have one of her gardens at home and it gets better with every year.  Far from imposing her opinions, she listened carefully to what we wanted and then created around it.  I have to admit that all the best bits are hers. Quite remarkable for someone who used to tell us that when she was in New York she couldn’t even keep a window box alive!


Sally’s interests and achievements were much broader even than the art and gardening to which I have already referred.  Her cheerful good nature hid a determined streak and masses of energy so that when a new interest captured her imagination, or a problem needed to be addressed, she really worked at it. She was very tenacious.  Problems got solved.  New challenges were mastered.


Having learned the piano as a child, she adored music and was a keen fan first of ballet and then of opera.  She also wanted everyone else to share her passions.  Amanda says that by the time she was 15 she had seen 100 ballets and was thoroughly hooked.  Sally was rather less successful in persuading Ian of the merits of opera.  He would go, dreaming of boxing matches missed, and afterwards assure Sally that he had really enjoyed the performance!


She read widely and well into the night and was keen to discuss books with anyone who showed an interest.  She claimed to be unable to add 2 plus 2 and yet she became a keen Bridge player and really enjoyed it.  Completely unknown to me, Sally was also an accomplished skier and had even bagged a stag in Scotland having spent the day flirting with an apparently rather good looking young stalker twice her height and half her age!


When, finally she moved to Steadham House in Droxford, latterly with her third husband Rory, she brought with her all the skill and expertise that she had acquired over the years and managed on that relatively tiny canvas still to create a delightful house and garden.  It offered all the warmth and welcome of Jervis Lodge but on a smaller scale and the quality of the cooking and entertaining was at least maintained as Rory introduced a new group of interesting and cultured friends into the mix.


But to return to the theme of loyalty, this, I think was what most defined Sally to all of us.  She adored her family above everything and was immensely and rightly proud of her children and grandchildren.  She was delighted when Jimmy and then Jaine joined the family and wanted more than anything to see the next stages in the lives of all of them and indeed of all of us.  Particularly toward the end, it was sometimes difficult to get her to talk about herself at all-she wanted to be updated on everyone else first and she delighted in the detail and in discussing what it all meant and where it all would lead.  She dismissed her own problems as if they merited no mention.


To everyone I spoke to, Sally was an exceptional friend, a friend in need, generous, and extravagant - wildly so on occasion - with no understanding of money and no idea why people got so upset about the stuff.  She liked to give good presents and good parties: whether she could really afford them was a secondary consideration.  She didn’t judge people, she looked for the best in them and then used her sense of humour to extract it and there was always laughter - gales of it.


She will be greatly missed by all of us.'


Below is a photo of Sally and friends at one of the annual lunches given by B'lin and Will Martin at Hill Farm. She's on the grass, third from the left. It's appropriate because it includes many of her close friends, all of whom miss her terribly to this day.


Left to right, standing: Di Gibb, Geoff Spawton, Chris Gibb, Annie Spawton, Will Martin, Anthony Provest, Julian Pearson , Sandra Wake, Nick Duke, Herry Lawford, Mike Lawford, Peter Cartwright, Pauline Provest, Sheila Proffit, Jane Lovell, Ian Hay, Richard Lovell, Erica Hay, Val Pile.
Front row: Anna-Maria Pearson, Charlie Madge, Terry Porter, Wendy Cartwright, Ayako Lawford, Penny Lawford, Sally Wilson-Young, Prue, Belinda Martin



Sally, Annette and Patrick Lawford and Prue at a holiday in the South of France 1976


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Wellbeing of Women Christmas Fair 2012



The Wellbeing of Women Christmas Fair was held as is now customary at the Drapers' Hall, on 3rd December 2012. Click here for some photos from the event. 

Friday, 23 November 2012

At the Drapers' Hall

Drapers' Hall set for a Livery dinner
On Tuesday 20th November, I had the pleasure of inviting the 'gentle author' of my favourite blog, Spitalfields Life, to the Drapers' Hall so that he could include it in his series on the cultural and business life of the east end of London. We were lucky enough to be shown round the Hall by the Archivist, Penny Fussell, who gave us a detailed tour of the principal rooms and artefacts and told us of their history. The 'gentle author' surprised us by bringing with him some marvellous old slide prints of the Hall dating from the early 1900s which he had obtained from the Bishopsgate Institute (which takes a splendidly enlightened attitude to sharing its treasures), and some of these have been incorporated into his article juxtaposed with colour photos of the Hall today. Some will recognise in the photos the rooms used in films like 'The King's Speech' (where it appears as parts of Buckingham Palace), but few will realise that the Hall was once the home of Thomas Cromwell, made newly infamous in Hilary Mantel's novels 'Wolf Hall' and specifically, 'Bring Up The Bodies'.

Click here to read the article.  

You can also visit the Hall on 3rd December 2012, for the Wellbeing of Women Christmas Fair

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Autumn Walks

St Catherine's Hill from  St Cross Water Meadows on a frosty November morning


Why don't we look forward to November more when it can make our favourite views look like this?
Click here for more photos

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Winchester Cycle Way

The Shared-Use Path beside the Itchen Navigation Canal
A new shared-use path has been created by Sustrans and the Hampshire and Winchester Councils along the Itchen Navigation Canal below St Catherine's Hill to join Cycle Network 23 between Alresford and Southampton. Some of the new path is built on an old railway line across Garnier Road and part of it will make use of the viaduct at Hockley.


The path has been beautifully tarmac'd and is smooth and wide, good for both cycling and walking, and it passes through lovely woods alongside the canal. Sensible instructions have been given as to how it should be shared between cyclists and pedestrians.



It's a wonderful path and should become well-used. Click here for some photos of the path under construction. 

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Favourite Poetry - Any Woman


Any Woman

I am the pillars of the house;
The keystone of the arch am I.
Take me away, and roof and wall
Would fall to ruin me utterly.

I am the fire upon the hearth,

I am the light of the good sun,
I am the heat that warms the earth,
Which else were colder than a stone.

At me the children warm their hands;

I am their light of love alive.
Without me cold the hearthstone stands,
Nor could the precious children thrive.

I am the twist that holds together

The children in its sacred ring,
Their knot of love, from whose close tether
No lost child goes a-wandering.

I am the house from floor to roof,

I deck the walls, the board I spread;
I spin the curtains, warp and woof,
And shake the down to be their bed.

I am their wall against all danger,

Their door against the wind and snow,
Thou Whom a woman laid in a manger,
Take me not till the children grow! 
Katharine Tynan

Monday, 24 September 2012

Autumn - A View by Stubbs?

The Itchen at Winchester
The light and scents of autumn are unmistakeable, even before the leaves have started to turn. The Chinese say that autumn begins on 8th August. A melancholy thought, though we mustn't forget what Beaudelaire and Coleridge taught us about the seasons. 

Friday, 14 September 2012

Old Swan House History

Old Swan House and King's Head House
'Until 1869 Old Swan House and King's Head House together formed the Swan Inn. Then the building was sold in two halves. The name King's Head House might suggest that it was once the King's Head Inn, but this name is relatively recent. It may refer to the fact that in 1688 King James II dined at the Swan Inn on his way to encounter the newly landed William of Orange*.

The Swan Inn was a coaching inn, providing accommodation, refreshments and fresh horses to travellers. The difference in appearance in the two ends of what was once a single building is the result of a major alteration during the Victorian period when the eastern end was modified to fit the current fashions. The bricks were faced with stucco to simulate stone pillars and stone window lintels while the windows were reduced in size.'

From A Portrait of Stockbridge by Hugh Saxton, published in 2000

It's not certain when The Swan was built, but it was apparently owned by Winchester College in the reign of Henry VI, so it's at least 550 years old.

In April 1688, James re-issued the Declaration of Indulgence, subsequently ordering Anglican clergymen to read it in their churches. When seven Bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, submitted a petition requesting the reconsideration of the King's religious policies, they were arrested and tried for seditious libel. Public alarm increased when Queen Mary gave birth to a Roman Catholic son and heir, James Francis Edward on 10 June of that year. When James's only possible successors were his two Protestant daughters, Anglicans could see his pro-Catholic policies as a temporary phenomenon, but when the Prince's birth opened the possibility of a permanent Catholic dynasty, such men had to reconsider their position. Threatened by a Catholic dynasty, several influential Protestants claimed the child was "supposititious" and had been smuggled into the Queen's bedchamber in a warming pan. They had already entered into negotiations with William, Prince of Orange, when it became known the Queen was pregnant, and the birth of James's son reinforced their convictions.

On 30 June 1688, a group of seven Protestant nobles invited the Prince of Orange to come to England with an army. By September, it had become clear that William sought to invade. Believing that his own army would be adequate, James refused the assistance of Louis XIV, fearing that the English would oppose French intervention. When William arrived on 5 November 1688, many Protestant officers, including Churchill,  defected and joined William, as did James's own daughter, Princess Anne. James lost his nerve and declined to attack the invading army, despite his army's numerical superiority. On 11 December, James tried to flee to France, allegedly first throwing the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames. He was captured in Kent; later, he was released and placed under Dutch protective guard. Having no desire to make James a martyr, the Prince of Orange let him escape on 23 December. James was received by his cousin and ally, Louis XIV, who offered him a palace and a pension. Wikipedia

It's interesting to note that the house was built at the same time as this famous painting but Piero Della Francesca - the Baptism of Christ 

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Drapers' Academy

``'We are here tonight to celebrate the Academy’s magnificent new buildings, but before turning to them I think it is right to celebrate what the Academy team working extremely hard and with great imagination, under the leadership of the headmaster, Matthew Slater, has achieved.  I shall be followed by Lady Victoria Leatham, Master Draper, Sir Nick Montagu, Chair of Queen Mary Council, Michael White, Leader of Havering Council, Angela Watkinson MP and finally Matthew Slater.

As you all know GCSE results showed a massive improvement this year.  We are well above national average pass rates on key subjects such as English, Maths, History and especially Science.  No longer will a school on the Hill seen to be the bottom of the heap.  There is a lot more to do but we are already bringing much greater opportunities than have ever been available.

Our sixth form opens this term and promises to be a further real path of opportunity and at the same time a celebration of learning.

Over the past year pupil attendance has been better than the national average.  Learning support is exemplary and we continue with a policy of helping all, which means no exclusions.

But a key part of our vision has been to make best use of this magnificent site given to us by London Borough of Havering less than four years ago.  But I hope you can agree that Kier and their partners, especially the architects Feilden, Clegg, Bradley have built a magnificent school set in superb grounds.  It has also been built on time and to specification with the very considerable support of LB Havering. 

2012 has been a remarkable year for London with the celebrations of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics and the Paralympics but in a small corner of London on its eastern rim something equally remarkable has happened.  We have started out to create a remarkable school that will be for the benefit of all those who live on Harold Hill.'

Maj-Gen Adrian Lyons CBE, Chairman of the Board of Governors and Past Master, The Drapers Livery Company

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Favourite Galleries - MOMA





One gallery has the greatest collection of modern art in the world - MOMA (the New York Museum of Modern Art). Fabulous paintings can be found in every room, though the highlight for me is the Jackson Pollock above

MOMA - Van Gogh's Starry Night
For more great paintings click here  

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Favourite Gardens - Dean House



Click here for more photos from this lovely garden in Kilmeston, Hampshire

The Curse of Road Noise

Looking south on the M3 at Winchester on an uncharacteristically quiet morning. It normally carries some 130,000 vehicles a day.
Excessive road nose is a curse, and at high levels can contribute to ill health and even heart attacks.
Nevertheless some towns and cities are blighted by almost constant road noise from busy main roads and motorways. For example the noise from the M3 motorway intrudes over much of the lovely city of Winchester and dominates villages bordering it, such as Shawford - hardly surprising considering that it carries some 130,000 vehicles a day.

The gash cut though the back of St Catherine's Hill in 1995, which still hasn't been 'healed' by plant growth almost twenty years later.
It's useless to rehearse the long-running debate over the siting of the motorway, which led to the road planners cutting an appalling gash through the back of St Catherine's Hill instead of making a tunnel through the chalk. This video will remind you of the battles that took place to try and stop it.
St Catherine's Hill from St Cross.  The M3 runs in a deep cutting on the far side. One can no longer hear birdsong when walking on the hill; surely the acid test of whether an area is polluted by noise
But what is indefensible today is that that road nose from the surface of the road is much higher than it needs to be. One has only to drive on the A34 Newbury by-pass to find a road surface that is much quieter - and that road runs through farmland and woodland with the town some distance away.

PS: In February 2015, the Highways Agency and/ or the Hampshire County Council have finally resurfaced the M3 around Winchester, with the result that the noise from the motorway obtrudes far less on the City and the surrounding villages. What took them so long?


Monday, 6 August 2012

Rediscovering Coventry's Medieval Stained Glass

Dr Heather Gilderdale Scott of Lincoln University, the authority on medieval stained glass and Dr Jonathan Foyle of the World Monuments Fund at the Paul Mellon Lecture in Coventry on 19th June 2012
The story of the destruction of Coventry Cathedral on the night of 14th/15th November 1940 is well known, as is the building of the new Cathedral designed by Sir Basil Spence and consecrated in 1962. Less well known is the fact that the medieval stained glass from the old Cathedral was removed on the outbreak of war and safely stored so that it survived the destruction.

The World Monuments Fund as just begun a project to restore and display the old stained glass, which is thought to have been the work of John Thornton, who also created the great stained glass of York Minster.

The stained glass will be restored by specialists working at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum
Click here for a BBC report on the project.



Click here for details of the World Monuments Fund's programme, which includes work to stabilise the ruins of the old Cathedral. And here for their fundraising site.

Click here for a link to the Golden Jubilee celebration of the Consecration of the new Cathedral



December 2012: From the Friends of Coventry Cathedral Newsletter


St Michael’s Glass on show in the Soane Museum

This Summer’s conservation work, by Crick-Smith, of more than 7,000 fragments of stained glass
from St Michael’s, Coventry (the largest collection of loose medieval glass in the Britain), has now
been completed. Several fine examples of the salvaged glass have pride of place in the current
World Monument Fund Britain exhibition in the Sir John Soane’s Museum, Lincoln’s Inn Fields,
London WC2A. The Exhibition runs until 26 January 2013 (Tuesday - Saturday 10.00 - 17.00
hours).

If you are unable to visit the exhibition, here’s link to a 12 minute film featuring Kevin McCloud’s
‘take’ on the Coventry glass http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPnsJqt7DDA&feature=youtu.be


Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Battle Proms at Highclere Castle


The Battle Proms have been held at castles and stately homes across Southern England for the last 15 years and have become extremely popular. Over 9000 people came to the event at Highclere Castle on 4th August to hear classical pieces like Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with live cannon fire, inspired by Napoleon's famous retreat from Moscow, and the celebratory piece of music that gives the Battle Proms its name: Beethoven’s 'Wellington’s Victory', more commonly known as the ‘Battle Symphony’, performed with 193 cannons, musket fire and fireworks. Click here for a rather quieter Irish air. 


The highlight of the show as always is the aerial display by a WWII Spitfire 


Saturday, 16 June 2012

Coventry Cathedral - the Sutherland Tapestry



Graham Sutherland's great tapestry, Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph, is full of imagery taken from Revelations. The Archbishop of Canterbury based his marvellous sermon at the Golden Jubilee of the Consecration of the Cathedral on the meaning of the tapestry.

The main theme of the tapestry is taken from the lines:

'And immediately I was in the spirit: and behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.

And he that sat to look upon like a jasper and sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne in sight like unto an emerald....

And in the midst of the throne and round about the throne, were four beasts...
and the first beast was like a lion,


and the second beast like a calf,

and the third beast had the face as a man,

and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.' 

                                                                                               Revelations IV, vs. 2,3,6 and 7



The dragon in the chalice under Christ's feet is referenced here:

'Then another sign became visible in the sky and I saw that it was a huge red dragon...Now they have conquered him though the blood of the Lamb.'
                                                                                               Revelations XII, vs 3 and 10


St Michael hurling down the Devil is referred to here:

'Then war broke out in Heaven, Michael and his angels battled with the Dragon...so that the huge Dragon, the serpent of ancient times, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, was hurled down upon the earth.'
                                                                                               Revelations XII, vs 7,8 and 9


Favourite Views - Fields of Barley



Fields of barley on the path from Badger Farm to Compton, south of Winchester.




Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Golden Jubilee of the Consecration of Coventry Cathedral


The Golden Jubilee of the Consecration of Coventry Cathedral was held on 25th May 2012, exactly 50 years after the original service which was attended by the Queen. On this occasion, a glorious sunny day, the service was taken by the Dean, the Very Reverend John Irving, before the Bishop of Coventry, the Right Reverend Dr Christopher Cocksworth, and the Princess Royal. The service began with a beautiful Lord's Prayer sung in Aramaic. The Archbishop of Canterbury preached a marvellous sermon drawing on the imagery of Graham Sutherland's great tapestry



A video of the procession at the end of the service can be seen here

Following the service, a reception was held for the Princess Royal in St Mary's Hall

Click here for some photos from the event

A very good BBC programme about the Cathedral can be heard here

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Chelsea Flower Show 2012



The Chelsea Flower Show 2012 - for photos - of the people as well as the gardens - click here 

Sunday, 29 April 2012

British Design 1948 - 2012 at the V&A

John Piper's Coventry


The Exhibition of British Design 1948 - 2012 at the V&A is fascinating as it covers approximately my lifetime and includes some particularly potent images from the 1960s including my first car -  a Mini - reminding one forcefully how terribly small they were. There were also a number of striking pieces from the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, including the only maquette of John Piper's Baptistry Window and some stunning cartoons by Graham Sutherland from the creation of his famous tapestry, 'Christ In Glory in the Tetramorph' .

Graham Sutherland "The Eagle" (An image depicting St John)
I was also lucky enough to attend a lecture introducing the exhibition by Ghislaine Wood, the curator, as well as Louise Campbell of Warwick University on Sir Basil Spence and the building of the new Cathedral and Jonathan Foyle of the World Monuments Fund on the Fund's plans to improve the Coventry Cathedral quarter of the City as well as restore and display the beautiful C15th stained glass from the old Cathedral. Work on this part of the project has already started at The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Marta Becket - To Dance On Sands



Marta Becket - 'Sunflower Alley'


Say that upon the altar of her beauty
You sacrificed your tears, your sighs, yours heart:
Write till your ink be dry, and with your tears
Moist it again, and frame some feeling line
That may discover such integrity.


For Orpheus' lute was strung with poets' sinews,
Whose golden touch would soften steel and stones,
Make tigers tame and huge leviathans
Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands.


Proteus: Two Gentlemen of Verona
Act Three, Scene Two


Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Song of Solomon




My beloved spake, and said unto me,
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.
Arise my love, my fair one and come away.
O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice and thy countenenace is comly.
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes.
My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.

So perfect for April

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Friday, 9 March 2012

Food Shopping in Winchester

Ross Brimfield at The Veg Shed

Shopping for food in the otherwise lovely cathedral city of Winchester is sorry experience. Three big supermarkets - Waitrose, Sainbury's and Tesco crouch on the extremities of the city like leeches sucking shoppers into their vast car parks - and forcing smaller specialist food shops to close. Incredibly, there are no butchers and no fishmongers left in this ancient city of 200,000, once the capital of England (well, Wessex) due mainly to our own weak-minded shopping habits, compounded by the cunning of the supermarkets who offer seemingly irresistible prices on everyday goods like lavatory paper and pet food. And for those trinkets we ignore the high prices we pay for imported vegetables and fruit and the factory-farmed chicken.

Not only do the supermarkets squeeze the last drop of profit out of all but the largest and best capitalised agribusinesses, but their profits are siphoned out of the area and contribute little or nothing to the wellbeing of city and its citizens, unlike small family-owned shops. And of course they avoiding paying as much tax as they can through transfer pricing, captive insurance companies, group relief and offshore trusts and make billions - while in a once charming and friendly city like Winchester (where as a schoolboy I used to be greeted personally by the bank manager), one is left talking to bored check-out staff rather than being known by name by knowledgeable shopkeepers who's defining advantage is service, not price.

There are signs of life however, outside the massive car-parks and ugly approach roads of the supermarkets. The Farmer's Market every fourth Sunday is hugely popular and carries interesting stock from small producers. And The Good Life, in Headbourne Worthy is a brave attempt at a farm shop, though it carries no fish. And, best of all, The Veg Shed run almost singlehandedly by Ross Brimfield, sells high quality and cheap vegetable, fruit and eggs from a wooden shack in two pub car parks three days a week and makes deliveries on the others. And he knows all his customers by name.  

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Spitalfields Life Book Launch


Christ Church, Spitalfields

The launch of the book of Spitalfields Life was a magical evening; unique in publishing terms and probably the largest gathering of notable locals and far-flung well-wishers ever assembled in Spitalfields for any purpose.

We were bound together by the vision of the unnamed Gentle Author who has penned his daily stories of a place and its people in the most sensitive and yet enlivening way, and which, through the power of the internet, have instantly reached people across the world.


The book itself is a triumph of design and deserves to be the godfather of many other collections of blog pieces that one hopes could sometimes be opened on one's knee.

Some photos from the event can be found here 

The Gentle Author's own piece about the event and many more photos can be seen here