The Blog

Life In The Arts Lane - Week 101- Underground/Overground

The joy of London is that everything is here. There is an endless parade of buildings of every possible period and style available as a delicious smorgasbord.

The joy of London is that everything is here. There is an endless parade of buildings of every possible period and style available as a delicious smorgasbord. I have two bicycles - one for speeding and one for cruising. Depending on my mood and tardiness I will take in the city in different ways. On Monday I cruised up west on my Van Moof ( the cruising bike ) it is large heavy and looks like its made out of shiny new scaffolding. I took in the converted Bingo Hall on Kennington road, now luxury flats. Down past the Black Prince pub, recently featured in the film 'Kingsman' then past the old Doulton pottery factory, a terracotta clad 19th century fantasy, then the old docks where a plaque remembers Jon Snow's pioneering work on cholera, then the Art Deco Fire Brigade Station with its cunningly disguised vent in the form of an ancient obelisk. All this before I cross Lambeth Bridge, what a splendid city!

The Lambeth Doulton Factory, writer's own image

I am heading up to Le Petit Café in Stafford St to meet with my old Mallett colleague James Harvey who now works with Dreweatt Neate, the auctioneers in Donnington - who also now own Mallett. We are discussing the potential prospect of being consigned a group of pictures. Le Petit Café despite having a French name is totally Italian. They serve the best, most flavoursome al dente pasta dishes in London and some of the finest crispest fluffiest honey-coloured chips. Therefore as an act of sheer indulgence i nearly always order the scaloppa Milanese with spaghetti pomodoro with a side order of chips. I usually have to be carried back down the stairs afterwards but it is worth it as an occasional splurge. James is full of excitement as the new challenges of working for this very ambitious and dynamic auction house appeals to his entrepreneurial nature. In addition he is getting all the support from the management he felt he lacked before. We have a jolly lunch and he rushes off into the day ready to take on the world. Hardly has he left but Justin from Mallett walks up the stairs. He is also thrilled by the insertion of Dreweat Neat into his work world at Ely house. He is off to Palm Beach where Mallett are exhibiting. He has a long arduous journey across to Miami before he drives up to Palm Beach. He is nervous but excited about the future both in the short and in the medium term. We drink a glass of wine, strong black wine that warms us on a winter's day. Then he departs to be replaced by Mary Claire, the director of the Olympia fair. We drink water as she discusses her plans for a re-invigoration of the fair. She wants to bring a sense of value-for-money into the decorative arts world; as well as a sense of play and fun. These have been lost to the trade of late as one and all fear recession and a decline in business. It is good to hear someone so positive and enthusiastic for the future. She does have a real chance of success as the Olympia fair this year overlaps with many of the key auctions and the Masterpiece fair for a few days. It was a long lunch and I was grateful for my stately bicycle to ride me home.

Tuesday brought rides on the Northern Line. The Oval underground station is a beacon of calm in the manic world of commuter life. There is a bookshelf at the top of the escalator with books to borrow or take. There are large leafy potted plants placed as if we are in a Victorian conservatory. The tannoy softly wafts out classical music and on the wall there is a daily philosophical quote; today it is Oscar Wilde - be yourself, everyone else is already taken! Then off down into the horseshoe shaped tunnels, and within a minute or so I am in Clapham walking along the unusual, narrow but spacious feeling, island double platform (one of only two left on London Underground) and up out into the world to visit my restorer. Hatfields is my favoured workshop and it is miraculous going there and watching my projects there mature and reach ripeness. It is a never-ending pleasure to see how something that was bought with love and optimism break from its chrysalis and become what you saw in your minds eye when the dealer shook your hand many weeks ago. From there back into the depths and off to Bermondsey to see a friend who has come up with a plan to re-think and re-present the concept of the antique centre. He is young and full of the energy needed to accomplish the impossible. During my time running Mallett at Bourdon House I once learned a very humbling lesson. I used to allow members of staff who had been with the company for a year or so to go out and buy something. They had £5000 and if the object sold they had control of the initial £5000 and the profit to spend again. It was a good test and was an incentive too. I gave one newish chap his start and he shot off that very weekend and bought a pair of grey marble Solomonic columns. They arrived and I told him that I was disappointed. They were, in my view, an unsellable shape and an un-commercial height and what is more they lacked capitals. He was rather crestfallen following my criticism. We put them out on show and they sold handsomely straight away. He now has his own shop in Pimlico and does very well, Timothy Langston. The lesson for me was not that I was wrong but that with enthusiasm and commitment you can achieve anything. Tim passed on his passion for those columns and therefore they worked. I could not have pulled it off because I did not believe in them. My lunch partner feels committed to the idea of a hub in London for dealers and I am right behind him - I don't want to make the same mistake twice!

Oval Undergound Station with potted plants, writers own image.

I travelled home to the Oval to be greeted by my favourite words "this station is Oval"