London’s art scene prepares for the Summer Olympia Art & Antiques Fair

Opening it’s doors today (20th June), The Art & Antiques Fair, Olympia, will play host to many of the UK’s most prestigious galleries. The fairs long history places it firmly on the annual calendar of art selling events in the capital. Collectors traveling from near and far have the opportunity to pick up museum-quality pieces ranging from the likes of Pablo Picasso to travel pieces by David Roberts RA.

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A dispiriting visit to the new Carnegie Library

At long last, the Carnegie Library is open but its opening is as controversial as its closure. I popped in yesterday to see for myself. A security guard on the main door exchanged pleasantries and I walked into the main room. Here were shelves of books, computers and tables and a toddler group underway. Another security guard stood near the door to the stairs that led to toilets. He told me they weren’t open yet.

The atrium in the main room ensures that it is still a lovely space but this isn’t going to be where the library will remain. Sometime soon, it will relocate to the old children’s library room and the gallery next door to it. The new library will occupy 151 square metres compared to the old footprint of 357 square metres (the main room plus the children’s room). I took these figures from the Carnegie Community Trust (CCT) business plan (last updated in January).

It is two years since the Carnegie was closed, forcing community activities to seek alternative venues and kicking out the twenty odd self-employed, freelance and small businesses renting desk there (including me). At that time and several months later in October 2016, when the new floor plans were displayed, there was no business case from Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL).

According to the People’s Audit, negotiations between GLL and Lambeth Council “were at an advanced stage” way back in October 2015. It further revealed that “sponsorship of the Black Cultural Archives was contingent on the agreement” which makes it all sound like a rather unsavoury, done deal.

Without this knowledge, it’s very hard to understand the council position. I haven’t met anyone who wants a gym there and it seems unlikely that it will get a lot of custom, sitting as it does in a residential area, a fair walk from any stations and not far from other gyms and leisure centres.

Aside from the gym, there is nothing in the CCT business plan that hadn’t already been addressed, either by library staff or the Friends of the Carnegie Library group. CCT’s plan says the main room will be used for flexible community use library activities, events and performances and will be available for hire. All of this would have been possible whilst using the main room as the library. The shelving was all on wheels for that reason.

I can’t decide whether the council has cynically rushed to open before polling day or cynically set up temporarily in the main room or cynically done both. I spoke to Councillor Jim Dixon who was out campaigning a week or two ago. He suggested I visit the reopened library to see it for myself. I’ve done that and remain disappointed in the lack of imagination and paucity of vision. It is dispiriting.

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Talented students across Westminster hold Exhibition on Kings Road

21st November – 24th November, 2017

Tanya Baxter Contemporary 436 Kings Road, London, SW10 0LJ 

London has long been dewxribed as one of the major art capitals in the world and now students from across state and private schoiols in Westminster have come together to produce an exhibition of a very high standard of work. Tanya Baxter Contempoary is a leading dealer in modern and contemporary masterpieces from Europe, United States and Asia. Giving these young talented students a platform to exhibit is a great opportunity both for the students and for the public wanting to spot rising stars.

Exhibition: 436 Kings Road, London SW10 0LJ, T: 020 7351 1367 / 07961 360 407

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William Hope Hodgson; cult writer, war hero, child seaman

Among the many casualties in World War One was Lieutenant William Hope Hodgson, writer of weird and horror fiction, seaman, pioneering photographer, binder of Houdini and teacher of physical culture to the Blackburn police. On 19 April 1918, forty year old Lieutenant Hodgson was killed in an artillery bombardment near Ypres.

In 1913, he had married Bessie Farnworth and the couple lived in France until the outbreak of war. Back in England and despite being in his late thirties, Hodgson volunteered to join the Royal Artillery. He was invalided out with a broken jaw in 1916 after being thrown from a horse but when he had recovered he insisted on being reinstated.

Early in 1918 he wrote to his mother; “The sun was pretty low as I came back, and far off across that desolation, here and there they showed - just formless, squarish, cornerless masses erected by man against the infernal Storm that sweeps for ever, night and day, day and night, across that most atrocious Plain of Destruction. My God! talk about a Lost World – talk about the end of the World; talk about The Night Land – it is all here, not more than two hundred odd miles from where you sit infinitely remote. And the infinite, monstrous, dreadful pathos of the things one sees - the great shell-hole with over thirty crosses sticking in it; some just up out of the water - and the dead below them, submerged …. If I live and come somehow out of this (and certainly, please God, I shall and hope to), what a book I shall write if my old ability with the pen has not forsaken me.”

He never had the opportunity to write that book. After his death, he slipped into obscurity, unlike contemporaries like MR James and HP Lovecraft. He always had his supporters, like Lovecraft who ranked him as “perhaps second only to Algernon Blackwood in his serious treatment of unreality” and August Derleth, the founder of Arkham House publishing.

Hodgson’s oeuvre ranges from straight up horror to cosmic weirdness. Some of it is cosy, some is brutal and some mind-bending. Along with monsters and ghosts, Hodgson’s stories brim with ideas about astral projection, the origins of life, dimensional rifts and deep time.

For many devotees, The Night Land is his magnum opus. It is set on a ruined earth, far in the future. It is a mighty work, full of ideas but thanks to its cod-archaic style, it’s also a slog. Some love it, some hate it. Either way, it’s not the place to start if you haven’t read any of his works.

The House on the Borderland is wilder but more accessible. The narrator describes out of body experiences, drifting over vast plains, across voids of space and through time to the death of the sun. This is coupled with the earthier siege of his house by hordes of swine creatures.

Another strand of Hodgson’s fiction is the Carnacki stories. Carnacki is a ghost finder, somewhat indebted to Sherlock Holmes and Blackwood’s John Silence. He is Hodgson’s best-realised character; methodical, sceptical but open minded and constantly wrestling with fear.

Carnacki investigates all manner of hauntings, deploying high-tech gadgets like an electric pentacle and wall microphones, alongside the more usual garlic and arcane rituals. He is so thorough that he sometimes spends several weeks minutely examining the haunted building before tackling the phenomenon itself. Some of the stories are deliciously grotesque, like The Whistling Room and The Gateway of the Monster, and it’s no wonder Carnacki is almost overcome with funk.

My favourites are his sea stories; two novels and a boat load of short stories. These are tales of mystery and imagination and the best of them have an insidious power. His protagonists are becalmed, ensnared in the weed of the Sargasso Sea or shipwrecked on bizarre islands. They face all sorts of slithering, biting sea creatures, weird moulds and slicks of scum, drifting derelicts and uncharted lands.

The Ghost Pirates is the better of the novels and shows Hodgson’s weaknesses as well as his strengths. His dialogue can be pretty rum (“Rot! You know jolly well you were sleeping in your time-keeping. You dreamed something and woke up suddenly. You were off your chump”) and the officers and crew could easily be swapped with those in his other stories.

When Hodgson gets into his stride though, he’s superb. A crewman has disappeared somewhere in the rigging and a search is undertaken, lit by lamps and flares. The tension builds and holds as the men fight panic and shadowy figures tracking them.

The Voice in the Night is probably his best known sea story. A becalmed schooner, far from land, is hailed by an inhuman voice, asking for food. The voice’s owner has a grotesque and tragic story to tell. The path the story treads is fairly well worn, dating back at least to Lucian of Samosata but Hodgson does it well.

The story was filmed brilliantly for US television in the late 50s, making great use of atmospheric and claustrophobic sets and a terrific cast of James Donald and Barbara Rush, ably supported by Patrick Macnee and James Coburn. Also worth a look is a luridly 60s Japanese version called Matango, directed by Ishirô Honda of Godzilla fame. It makes a good companion to Hammer’s delirious The Lost Continent and counts Guillermo del Toro among its fans.

Hodgson isn’t much filmed. Apart from these, there have only been a couple of Carnacki adaptations, with Alan Napier and Donald Pleasance in the title role.

The sea stories smack of authenticity and it’s no surprise to learn that Hodgson spent eight years at sea. He describes the monotony of life on board, the watches and the work in a natural way. When Hodgson’s father died, his education was cut short and a couple of months before his fourteenth birthday, he signed on as cabin boy on an oceangoing windjammer. This life was “comfortless, weariful and thankless” and he suffered under a brutal second mate. He made the young Hodgson’s life so miserable that in the end he fought back and ended up receiving a merciless thrashing. He likened it to a fight between a mastiff and a terrier.

His response was to learn judo, build muscle and eventually earn a Third Mate certificate. He also heroically rescued a man from shark-infested waters and was awarded a medal by the Royal Humane Society.

The Hodgson family had always been cash-strapped. His father was a clergyman and moved parish frequently. The mill town of Blackburn was the final posting. While at sea, he had also taught himself photography and when he settled back in Blackburn in 1902, this formed one strand of a rather modern-sounding portfolio career. He combined it with running a physical culture practice, with the police as his main customer and writing.

In October of that year, Harry Houdini appeared at Blackburn Palace Theatre, offering £25 to anyone who could bind him so that he couldn’t escape. Hodgson took up the challenge and met Houdini on stage with “an armoury of cuffs and irons” as the Blackburn Standard had it. Houdini protested that the locks had been wrapped with twine, which was against the spirit of the challenge but eventually relented. Hodgson used his knowledge of muscle action and soon the escapologist was “for all the world like a trussed fowl”.

Houdini did escape but it took so long that the audience had grown restive and then angry but not with Houdini. Panting and weak, he addressed the cheering crowd; “Ladies and gentlemen, I have been in the handcuff business for fourteen years but never have I been so brutally and cruelly ill treated. I would just like to say that the locks have been plugged”.

By then, Hodgson had disappeared to the police station, fearing retribution. After his experience at sea, it must have felt strange to be the one labelled brutal.

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Bad Day at Kennington Cinema Museum?

After several years of “meaning to go” to the Cinema Museum in Kennington, I went to last night’s screening of Bad Day at Black Rock. What a wonderful place the Cinema Museum is but possibly not for much longer.

The landlord is the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and it is planning to sell to a developer. Losing the museum would be a tragedy. This dispiriting affair fits in with the loss of the Carnegie Library and threats to Dulwich Hamlet. There’s a petition to save the museum here.

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Dulwich Picture Gallery Scouts Local Artistic Talent …. Sort Of!

In the heart of picturesque Dulwich Village, the oldest purpose-built gallery in the world, designed by architect Sir John Soane, stands stout and firm, self-confident in the world-class collection of paintings that can be found hanging on its walls. It is, of course, the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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Peter Cushing: From Dulwich to the Death Star

“I was forty years old and a failure as an actor when the opportunity to play Dr Frankenstein was offered to me. Despite years of endeavour both in America and in British television, I could see no future and was about to give up acting to design scarves for a living.”

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Prince Harry & Meghan: How much should you spend on a “royal” wedding?

Recently announced news about Prince Harry and his fiancé, Meghan Markle, who are to wed, has people bursting with an excitement all over the world. Everyone is waiting to find out more details about this wedding but the exact details are yet to be announced.

Details so far are scant but we already have a glimpse of where it will take place and when. Saturday, May the 19th this year has been picked as the best time and the venue had been agreed on as the Saint Georges Chapel in Windsor Castle. This will be on a Saturday despite royal weddings typically taking place during weekdays. Another little throw to the status quo.

Even so, we impatiently wait for more particulars on the reception, the guest list, the wedding dress, the ring, decorations, entertainment, the menu, wines of the day, security and all the rest needed to throw a big bash… but how big will it be?

As Harry is the 5th inline to the throne, it seems unlikely that he will ever manage to sit on the big chair, however, he is still royal and the world expects a big, slightly less formal, but certainly not a boring wedding. 

The capacity of the venue is 800 which is a big cutdown from 2000 when William wedded a few years ago. It’s positively tiny compared to Diana and Charles wedding, whose guest-list hit 5000. One of the UK’s most famous wedding planners says: “800 might seem as an extreme to most of us but it’s quite an intimate number for a royal wedding.”

The royal family is picking up the bill for the wedding, although we should consider that the venue and the staff are going to be practically free. So the question is: how much cash will actually be spent to make an unforgettable party?

Apparently one “pays between 250K upwards to a half a million pounds” on average for a splash wedding these days in London, but it really depends whether you spend £25,000 or £100,000 on a wedding dress for instance. “And after all, the cost goes up considerably if you decide to spend more on the actual evening which the public will not necessarily get to see". 

As it’s a state occasion one can still expect the bill to rise as many national and international VIPs will certainly attend and the security, as well as the overall presentation, will be very important and, of course, costly. The fact that Windsor was chosen instead of London will definitely cut the cost down considerably and, of course, 800 guests will not cost as much as 5000, nonetheless, those guests will be state figures and the figure is still expected to cost.

So, what can we expect in terms of expenditure for this wedding? As our celebrity wedding planner informs advises: “just stay true to yourself, you don’t need to follow a formula, don’t follow the latest trend you have seen on Pinterest for example. Be yourself. And, we are already seeing that with Harry and Megan."

What we have seen so far from Prince Harry and Megan is that they already broke a few royal rules and they are opting for slightly more radical choices than the previous royals. They come across as very much in love publicly and we hope that the cost will not matter after all as long as they decide on a fun, unique and chic wedding. We can’t wait to see it!


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The Lodger; Hitchcock with piano, band & choir

From the back of the church comes rhythmic clapping and percussion. On screen, Mr and Mrs Bunting, landlord and landlady of a boarding house, go the door. It’s the police, led by Joe, the detective investigating the serial killer called The Avenger. Joe speaks; “We’ve come to have a word with your lodger”. They go upstairs as the tempo picks up and into the lodger’s room. The suspect is kissing Daisy. She is the landlords’ daughter and Joe’s girlfriend. Add a comment

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