The week is a week of transition. The summer is concluding, and we cling on to its last embers, enjoying the sun and the occasional shower. This is England after all. We know that the real graft begins again next week. The Masterpiece London office is still pretty quiet, but the buzz is beginning. Many more calls are received each day to enquire about stands next year. Details of museums and fairs that we need to visit are crystallising. The mood is one of building up rather than unwinding.
I begin the week getting aboard the Flybe flight to Jersey. Our Chairman Philip has a house there, and we needed to gather before our first board meeting of the season to plan our Museum strategy and our needs for the vetting next year. We are continually looking for ways to enhance and improve the range and diversity of the skills and the nationalities we draw in to Masterpiece. Masterpiece is quintessentially a London event, but the drive has always been, and continues to be, to avoid any hint of parochiality. Jersey is a surprisingly beautiful and hilly island. I did not know what to expect, but it was much, much more theatrical to fly over than I anticipated. Having flown through blue skies, we managed to find a cloud of fog to land in. Two minutes outside the fog-bound airport, we were back in blue skies.
Philip has a beautiful house with lush surrounding gardens. We drink coffee and talk the talk. It is unexpectedly exciting making plans. Chicago, San Francisco, Austin, the names all carry a frisson of thrill. The museums that reside in these fair cities coupled with the local cultures and architecture lend a sense of delight and expectation to the prospects ahead. Before long we are heading off to St Helier; our twenty-minute drive is apparently an epic by Jersey standards. The Green Island Restaurant looks out to sea. The tide is huge and goes out while we lunch, revealing jagged rocks between sweeping pinky grey fields of sand. It is very striking and impressive, and a massive draw for local surfers, but a nightmare for people who want to sail. The restaurant sits in the corner of the beach car park in a small, walled terrace of white plastic tables and chairs. The host is congenial and relaxed, and though there is a menu he asks us what we would like to eat. It is more like being at someone's home than a public place. I choose fish cakes with a Thai chilli sauce, and follow it with lobster that has just been boiled. Philip has scallops with chorizo and squid, followed by lobster as well. The sun shines and the Pouilly Fume is light, crisp and flavoursome. The fish cakes are a delight, small aromatic and flecked with fresh coriander. They are followed by a culinary masterpiece. The lobster was perfect- ridiculously fresh and juicy. It was milky white and had the texture of prawn, a delicate rewarding bite that gave the flesh that slight pause in the mouth that was rewarded with an essence of the sea. There was salad and chips as well, but they were, frankly, irrelevant. I got the meat out of the claws without breaking it, which is always both satisfying and feels like a good augur. The last mouthful was accompanied, cunningly, by the last sip of wine. The Green Island Restaurant is not the only good seafood restaurant on Jersey, but I would challenge anyone to find a better one. Though completely basic, it was that most perfect of combinations great food, wine and service. I hope Philip asks me back.
In a possibly unhealthy and obsessive way, I love my telephone. My Iphone issues have been legion over the last few weeks, Danube swimming and all that followed! However, my love is undimmed. Having recovered my drowned phone and it springing Lazarus-like back to life, it went on to crush my hopes. It could do everything a smart phone can do, except make and receive calls- something of a frustration. However, a few days later, I find myself sitting on the sofa at home answering emails when, beside me, my limping Iphone crackles and, with a burst of noise, returns to life. It is like something out of a film as I swear I see a blue flash, before it makes its first call in many weeks. I feel like my phone has been in a coma and has returned to the community unscathed. A minor triumph for my patience.
My phone is teaching me Spanish. In idle moments, in transit or when there is not enough time to read, I fill the time with a language learning app called Duolingo. In a few weeks I have acquired some understanding of the language. In addition, I have been having chats with our cleaner who speaks Spanish and not much English. I have been able to find out about her family in Colombia and her 18 month-old son, Christian. I know it is lame of me not to know all this stuff anyway, but she has fun laughing at my stumbling, and I am learning. Trying to fathom the minds of the people who wrote the programme is, however, another challenge. It is American, and the pronunciation is all geared towards saying 's's' like 's's' and not like 'th's', which is what I recall from school. There are some sentences which I find both intriguing and amusing- "setenta hombres comen pollo" ('seventy men eat chicken'), for example. Or the even more fascinating "es un doble agente" ('he is a double agent'). When do they think these phrases might inform or enlighten? Perhaps in conversations with Cuban spies infiltrating Miami and eating a lot of chicken, in large all-male gatherings? Baffling, I am sure you'll agree.
I got two telephone calls this week that resulted in two pieces of furniture now residing in my sitting room. Furniture should be both functional and beautiful, as William Morris said, but it also has to be something you can engage with. I have spent some hours looking and stroking these pieces. One is walnut, the other mahogany. You need to feel, smell and touch wood to get a true sense of its age, history and calibre. When I bought for Mallett often pieces would come and go before I had time to truly absorb them. Now I can really engage and I find the intensity so much more rewarding. One piece is almost certainly from the Chippendale workshops, and is quintessentially English. The cabinetry, the timber and the proportions all speak of excellence and attention to detail. No screw, no joint, no veneer is unconsidered. The other piece is in the manner of Linnell, and carries an English sense of French furniture. This one is all curves and carving, but concluding with a sense of balance, symmetry and harmony. Both pieces are very English but they speak in different ways, and they are a joy to explore. Next week they may go, but I learn something each time I come into the room, and that is very rewarding.