Ham House

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Blazing hot on bank holiday weekend, reached by a welcome walk through trees or by the river.

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Cool and dark inside, with tapestries, leather walls, portraits and a gallery

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and then back outside to the grounds in the midday heat. August 2017.

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Your email back, however

Synaesthete would like to meet

Other synaesthetes describe their experiences as pleasant whilst for me it is a constant sensory overload…. pick up any cheap paperback that uses too many mixed metaphors and that is my day to day, with all attempts at clarity squandered by confusing, muddled leaps of imagery. I see fireflies when a tyre screeches, smell fried onions when I step on an upturned plug…

Online dating marked a huge step. At first I found the profile I created absolutely disgusting. Reading through it, the paragraph smelt of tar and vinegar and was full of sticky, tooth-chewing words. I had no hope of response to such a squalid, acrid thing, and imagined that anyone to whom it might in any way appeal must have some kind of perversion I did not want to share. You must understand that it was not just that I did not have high hopes, I actively dreaded who would be interested in such a thing. I gave it to my doctor to edit, and he gave me two thumbs up, but I could tell by his tweedy, neoprenaged vowels, he was just being kind.

Your email back, however, smelt like a sea breeze: that was all it took. I didn’t have to read about the interests you listed, your hobbies or your star sign. It was that sea breeze smell, cutting through the snow and mown grass, that convinced me this was a chance I had to take. I organised a meeting.

You chose a spot at Piccadilly, within sight of Eros and the Criterion. I like Piccadilly Circus; the exhaust fumes and the chatter present me with a fresh inky blue, it’s almost precisely the colour of the line on the Tube map. To me the flashing neon adverts are a barbershop quartet suffering the giggles, which pleases me, and the tourists’ interbraiding accents cause a firework display of neurological responses. The taxi drivers’ swearing is accompanied by different shades of silver, squeaky and lickable.

As I waited, the rain made a pink overture against my jacket. And your colour, when you introduced yourself? You must not be insulted, but you were blank. A soundless, tasteless, brilliant blank.

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From “Attrib. and other stories by Eley Williams”, a book I’m rushing to buy after hearing this extract read aloud on the Backlisted podcast.

Perfume: go, go

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I was pretty sceptical when I heard that Somerset House was putting on a show about perfume, and even more so that it would be done in the manner of a contemporary art installation. Well that’ll show me – it was actually great fun, very well thought out, would be perfect to do either on a date or with friends, and is actually both non-intimidating and witty, a real achievement for a craft that is second only to wine-making for jargon, history and insiders’ snobbism.

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As the notes to the show said, self-taught perfumiers are now breaking the mould, getting away both from the stuffiness of some schools, and the idea of scent as a marketing product. I won’t tell you too much about the perfumes in this exhibition as the whole point of the showing is to have a guessing game / voyage of discovery of your own, but you can see from the pictures above how inventive the sets were. In other rooms you smelt white cotton scarves or brilliant liberty-style print pouches, whilst the room with “paint pots” inspired this response from some other visitors:

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I didn’t get so creative myself, but enjoyed the game of hide and seek, and the weekend I went there was also an interesting series of presentations from perfumiers at the end in the testing lab.

PS in the first room you smelt the bowling balls…it felt quite James Bond, actually.

Inko

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I’m enjoying these personifications of the London Tube lines by the manga artist Inko. Part manga heroes and heroines, part flower fairies, there are plenty of witty touches that will keep any Londoner chuckling. Have a look at Inko’s website here for more.

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Favourite place

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Probably my favourite place in all of Antwerp, where we went for a tranquil hour early in the morning after tea and birthday cake. Built for an order of women who’d withdrawn from the world but supported themselves by seeing or spinning, each cell is still occupied by secular inhabitants now, and the cobbled streets, lawn and hollyhocks reminded me of Oxford colleges.

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photos August 2017.

Variety

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I don’t think many people would think of Antwerp as a holiday destination, or that there’d be much to see there, but it’s a tremendously varied town.

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The port area is still working, and there’s a huge warehouse along with marinas, a shipping authority building, a giant red sandstone modern art gallery and shining point by Zaha Hadid. I got the impression when we visited that it’s a popular area for students to sit down and have a drink, for older couples to take a stroll round some art, and of course a stream of kayak lessons for kids.

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The centre is much more typical: cobbled streets, pretty church fronts and little courtyards. (Thanks to the waiter who brought us omelettes that first night, even though “the kitchens were shut and all the food finished” after we lost track of time wandering.)

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And in the south east is this, the Cogels-Oyslei neighbourhood, near Berchem station. Probably the Brooklyn of Antwerp, given the locals we saw playing in the street, and full of these incredibly over the top, vast houses.

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Photos August 2017.

Margiela revelations

When I was 15, a friend’s mother kindly introduced me to a curator at the V&A’s fashion department, where I spent a week’s work experience. The exhibition they were putting on at the time and I remember listening with bafflement to tales of Martin Margiela, unsure why I was meant to admire a man for putting mould on tweed suits and deliberately making “ugly” clothes. I liked McQueen and Galliano, but avoided searching out Margiela any further.

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I was surprised therefore to see that the show at Antwerp’s MoMu (fashion museum) was titled Margiela: The Hermes Years. What would this designer have to do with a rather stuffy fashion house best known for its scarves and handbags? I couldn’t imagine it, but the show was a revelation.

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Simply displayed against plain white or Hermes-orange walls, the clothes were ultra-luxe, genuinely timeless in emphasising quality over passing whims, and yet not boring.

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There were defiant surrealist touches – a dress made out of fake engagement rings, a pair of stockings for a coat belt, a string of plastic jewels “staining” a dress with light or blood – but mostly just superb plays of texture against each other and immaculate cutting.

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It’ll never be my budget, and Margiela’s colour palette wouldn’t suit me anyway, but you see totally why these clothes were #lifegoals for his audience.

all photos August 2017.

Some Hope

“…your sainted mother. How is she these days? One hardly sees her any more.”

“It’s amazing, isn’t it? She seems to think there are better things to do than going to parties.”

“I always thought she was a little peculiar,” said Nicholas wisely.

One of the Mitford-like jokes in this, the third of a trilogy but the one I picked up first in the library:

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I thoroughly enjoyed the writing but don’t know if I can now go back and read the earlier parts without spoiling the genuine sense of reconciliation, even redemption, as Patrick puts the abuse of his childhood behind him.

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The series has apparently been filmed, with Benedict Cumberbatch starring, and whilst he’s definitely too old to be Patrick, I’d be interested to see it. In the meantime, we can all enjoy the put downs of snobbish country life, over-articulate young men and social posturing:

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Les Jacobins

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Not quite sure why a former Dominican monastery in Toulouse is known as Musee les Jacobins – the Jacobins are a name I associate mainly with a particular group in the early days of the French Revolution – but never mind. Isn’t it impressive? There was also a very good exhibition The Sky Before Us on when I visited, which was different photographers capturing churches, mainly modern concrete structures, or else the little meeting rooms over chicken shops / on industrial parks in urban wastelands. Not romantic at all, but definitely respectful.

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photos August 2017.

Harvest

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Autumn is early this year – all photos from the cloisters of the Musee des Augustins in Toulouse in August 2017. Staggering to think these mid-autumn sights were the week of Ferragosto/the assumption feast, which is the peak of summer for Catholic Europe.