How To Write A Blog
One of the delights of teaching courses encouraging others to write blogs is that – without exception – the participants always come up with interesting stories and here are a few recent examples. The next course HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ will be held in Spitalfields on 6th & 7th June. Email email@example.com to book your place.
John Pearse, Soho Tailor
John Pearse’s shop is tucked away in the tiny Georgian Meard Street between Wardour and Dean Streets – and Soho is in his DNA. “I started hanging out in the music bars as a teenager,” he tells me, “Places like the Scene Club in Ham Yard. I was there the day Kennedy was shot, and then there was the Flamingo Club on Wardour Street which was owned by the Gunnell Brothers and offered Mondays, the worst night of the week, to an up and coming group called the Rolling Stones.”
Pearse left school when he was fifteen. “I got a job in a print factory above the Marquee Club on Wardour Street, but it was really noisy and dirty work and I lasted about three weeks,” he says.
So how did he get into tailoring?
“There was this suit I really wanted, so I thought the best way to get it was to learn how to make it myself. I went to Henry Poole on Cork Street, and as I was sitting there David Niven walked in and I thought this is alright, I’ll get to meet lots of famous people. But they didn’t have any work for me and sent me around the corner to Hawes & Curtis on Dover Street and told me to ask for Mr Watson. He was dressed in this amazing double-breasted chalk-striped suit. He sent me to their coat makers’ room up five flights of stairs in this sort of Fagin’s Den where all the apprentice tailors were sitting cross-legged on the floor making coats in a room bathed in sunlight. I’ll never forget that.”
After two years of making coats, Pearse went travelling in Europe, returning to London in 1966 where he helped set up the famous ‘Granny takes a Trip’ boutique in World’s End, on the Kings Road in Chelsea. There it was all velvets and satins and ruffled shirt fronts with lace cuffs worn by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Brigit Bardot, to name just a few. “But my heart was always in Soho,” says Pearse. “I couldn’t get enough of the music clubs. I remember going to The Bag o’ Nails in Kingley Street when Hendrix debuted, that was the night that Paul McCartney met Linda.”
‘Granny Takes a Trip’ closed in 1969 and Pearse went back to Italy and dabbled in the film industry. “I wound up in Rome and I thought I might get a job as an extra. Fellini was making ‘Satyricon’ at the time, and a very good friend of mine, a model, Donyale Luna, was one of his stars. On Friday nights, there would always be a big dinner party at his house. One night, we went down to the beach and Donyale starts to wade out into the sea, and she thinks she’s Bardot in Joan of Arc, and Fellini is shouting at her to come back, but she keeps going out further and he says to me ‘John can’t you do something?’ And I said, ‘Donyale, if you don’t come back, we’re all going to fuck off and leave you here.’ And Fellini says, ‘John, you’d make a great movie director.’”
Pearse’s one and only feature film was called ‘The Moviemakers’ – a kind of requiem for the Kings Road – and he says he still has nightmares about the sound of heaving cinema seats creaking as people walked out when it was shown at the London Film Festival in 1972. “Critics described it as drug-induced rubbish,” he says, “but it was that film which brought me back to Soho.”
He went back to tailoring and started to get more private clients. He based himself in Royalty Mansions, built in 1908 as flats with workrooms just for tailors, right next door to his current shop which he moved to in 1986. “Soho used to be teeming with tailors working from tiny workshops, first run by Jewish immigrants then the Greeks moved in, and now most of the smaller places have closed down. The craft of tailoring is dying out in Soho. It’s a bit like what’s happened to the film industry,” he says.
“When I was here in the seventies, you could actually hear film being cut as you walked down the street, dodging guys pushing huge reels of film in metal cases. So much of that has disappeared in the last twenty years. Soho has become a sort of gastrodome instead. I miss the delis and the cigar shops in Old Compton Street. I even miss seeing the peep show girls hanging out in doorways. It made for a sort of seedy glamour which has gone now.”
“But I have to be optimistic,” he says. “Soho is much more than just an area of London.”
The Fishermen of Burgess Park
Burgess Park rose like a phoenix from the ashes of heavy bomb damage sustained in World War II but, strolling along the park’s tree-lined paths today, you would never know it . A willow gently swept the surface of the lake and beneath it a fisherman was setting his lines. Other fishermen had already set up their rods and were relaxing around the stillness of the water.
Our arrival could not have been better timed. We had just started chatting to a dedicated member of the fifty-strong Burgess Park Angling Club, when one of his three rods started beeping. It was a false alarm – just a pigeon passing under the lines. But then it sounded again – a long, insistent beep. The fisherman leapt for his rod.
“It’s flying! It’s travelling, heading for the ice cream van, see it? Now he’s heading for the fountain.” His rod bowed under the strain. “Got to pump him back. This is why we go for them. Good fighting fish.”
He let the fish run with the line for a while, reeling it in when the line went slack, and then a huge carp with a beautiful golden sheen broke the water.
“My first one of the year!” On land, the fish seemed docile, and its eyes were milky and sunken. “Bit of a manky old thing – battered. I reckon it’s about eighteen pound, just under the twenty mark.”
They gently lowered the old fish back into the water and we watched it slowly slip away into the depths of the lake. Then another fisherman called Bagio came along, a landing net slung over his shoulder, with his young son. “Common?” he asked.
“I had one yesterday out of here. Twenty-eight pounder,” he said.
From this brief exchange, I gathered that there are more than one type of carp in Burgess Park – Mirror, Liner and Common. I asked how the carp got there in the first place. “Well, the big carp have been here for twenty-five years. Used to be tiddlers – four pounders – but now they’re about two foot long. They brought them from Highgate Ponds. Back then this was a boating lake, the water was crystal clear, but a kid drowned in it so they made it a fishing lake. Then, in 2012, they got millions off the lottery and closed the lake for about six months, so we weren’t feeding the fish and the twenty pounders went down about four pound.” He told me that the Burgess Park Angling Club usually fatten them up with crumbs.
Feeling lucky at having seen the first big catch of the year, I strolled further down the lake and met Robert Neilson, a friendly, laid-back guy, who was fishing with his daughter in the sun. “I’ve had one out today – about twelve pounds. I come down whenever I haven’t got work, almost every week. Doesn’t really matter what the weather is – bit of rain doesn’t stop anyone – not fishermen anyway.”
“This is the place to fish in South London, but Clapham Common’s also good,” he said, “‘There’s tench, bream, pike – a cat fish, sixty pound, meant to be. Lives down the other end.”
Bagio and his son sauntered over. “Catching?” he asked, “That geezer’s just had one. Really manky. But there’s some beautiful carp down there.”
“Pity I didn’t get a fish on the bank for you,” said Robert as we walked away.
I sat on a bench watching the life around the lake surrounded by the cries of moorhens and coots. I watched a pair of Egyptian geese with six goslings paddle across my vision, thinking how incredible it was that all this had been created in just a few decades.
Bagio, and Robert Neilson untangling his line
Robert with his daughter
Burgess Park lake soon after it was built in 1982 (Courtesy of Southwark Local History Library)
CITY SAFARI GIRL
Appledore at Wisteria time
To escape the recent stresses of work I have travelled to the West Country to spend a few days revisiting old haunts from seaside holidays from my childhood. First on the list is Appledore, a quintessential fishing village on the North Devon coast that has somehow avoided mass tourism and retains much of its historical charm.
I remember from my childhood the narrow lanes of pastel-coloured houses, which seem to tumble down to the estuary like blocks of Neopolitan ice cream. At this time of year, the houses are doubly-beautiful as many are clad in drifts of wisteria and the scent from the blooms adds a heady mix when accompanied by a dash of salty air from the sea.
From one of the small shops along the front, I bought a town guide for a pound and followed the trail to discover Appledore’s past. Under a cloud of ivy hedging, I found the plaque to commemorate Appledore’s short-lived railway station. It only ran for ten years as it was not economically viable, going out of business in 1917. Close by is the old Appledore National School which closed in 1969 yet there is rather a poignant faded sign that says the school hall is still available to hire for dances.
Towards one end of Appledore lies a narrow street of brightly-coloured houses, some with cobbled courtyards. This was once a separate district – albeit a small one – called Irsha Street. In the nineteenth century, Irsha folk were said to be at war with their neighbours in Appledore. Such conflict drove the Irsha residents to form a self-contained community, turning their front rooms into to provision stores, where only their Irsha neighbours could shop, and Irsha street had its own pubs – one of which, The Beaver Inn, still survives today.
THE PEREGRINATING PENGUIN
Architecture and urbanism, sailing ships and boat geekery, etc
On Monday, I attended a course at the Royal College of Physicians which gave me the opportunity to have a look around one of the most significant modern buildings in Britain. It is in Regent’s Park next to John Nash’s famous terraces, to which it provides a counterpoint – harmonising beautifully with the older buildings while being uncompromisingly modern.
The College was completed in 1965, the work of modernist architect Denys Lasdun, who later designed the National Theatre, and is regarded as one of his masterpieces. From the outside, the dominant impression is of an imposing horizontal cantilevered white slab resting on a dark base.
The main interior space is dominated by a staircase rising up the middle. A generous budget allowed Lasdun to use luxurious materials and to work with highly-skilled engineers, as seen in the Sicilian marble used in the staircase, the specially commissioned porcelain wall tiles from Candiolo in Italy, the double-storey panes of glass that were the largest that could be manufactured at the time, and the hydraulic wall between two rooms which can be raised to form a single large hall.
It is a pleasure to walk through and explore, with unexpected viewpoints and beautiful details, such as this stairwell, illuminated by a hidden skylight that produces marvellous effects of light and shade
Large windows frame views of the College gardens, and Regent’s Park with its Nash Terraces, which become part of the whole composition
Medicinal Garden containing herbs for remedies and healing
The Royal College of Physicians by Denys Lasdun, Regent’s Park
Workroom Profile of David Mitchell, Printmaker
For as long as I have known him, David Mitchell has always struck me as a dynamic and progressive individual, open to all the world and its quirkiness – unstoppable in his inquisitiveness and energy to learn and see and do new things. How many eighty-four year olds have you heard of having their first solo exhibition in London?
Born in Hampstead to a Russian-Jewish antique dealer father and Cornish mother, David considered himself an only child from a huge family. He had three, much older, sisters so that by the time David came along they spoiled their little brother rotten. His parents did considerably well for themselves and the family flourished in London before and during the war. David had a brief spell out in South Africa but, back in London, he was sent to a progressive school called King Alfred’s at the heyday of child-centred, democratic, autonomous education. “We made all the rules, the first thing we did was get rid of all the rules. It gave me a lifelong taste of independence and rule breaking which has served me well.”
It was an exciting time when the war ended. After a year studying Music at Cambridge, David left. Having been called up to do his National Service, as a conscientious objector he spent his time as a orderly at the Trade Union Hospital in Hampstead. It proved to be an eye-opening education for him – a young man from a ‘nice’ family in Hampstead – meeting working men from all over the country with their industrial injuries. Yet his creative drive was music – writing, playing and singing.
A second attempt at university saw David dabble in Anthropology – still not quite right. It was a time of being able to get by on very little money, when living was cheap and jobs were easy to come by, so David worked in bookshops and galleries for a decade, until the call to study music at the London University could no longer be ignored. Completing his degree, he began teaching at the Inner London Education Authority Schools - “The great independent education system, before Thatcher came and tore it to shreds.”
By this time, David was living with his partner whom he’d met at the Cuba Missile Demonstration in 1962. Eventually, David became Head of Music at a school in Belsize Park and stayed there for twenty-two years. “By my fifties, I’d stopped writing so much music and started working in visual art. Throughout my fifties and sixties, I would draw at our little cottage in Norfolk and that went on until I retired twelve years ago. I knew I would not be good at having no structure in my life so I thought I’d do a foundation year at the City Lit, but I had no idea how demanding it was going to be! So many expectations took me by surprise but it was thrilling, and printmaking grabbed me.”
Most of David’s prints are photo-etchings, but some come from observational drawings and all are landscapes. “I’m a very bad photographer, so I like to take pictures and turn them into photo-etchings. I’m not a great user of colour, I prefer monochrome – I feel comfortable with it. During the process of making a photo-etching, you can play with altering the image. I like to dry point and aquatint.” From these landscapes, come David’s rather playful abstractions which are concerned with mark-making and the techniques of printmaking as they are about their original source material.
Moonlight No 1
Moonlight No 2
Moonlight No 3
John Mitchell, Printmaker
Spend a weekend in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Spitalfields and learn how to write a blog with The Gentle Author.
This course will examine the essential questions which need to be addressed if you wish to write a blog that people will want to read.
“Like those writers in fourteenth century Florence who discovered the sonnet but did not quite know what to do with it, we are presented with the new literary medium of the blog – which has quickly become omnipresent, with many millions writing online. For my own part, I respect this nascent literary form by seeking to explore its own unique qualities and potential.” - The Gentle Author
1. How to find a voice – When you write, who are you writing to and what is your relationship with the reader?
2. How to find a subject – Why is it necessary to write and what do you have to tell?
3. How to find the form – What is the ideal manifestation of your material and how can a good structure give you momentum?
4. The relationship of pictures and words – Which comes first, the pictures or the words? Creating a dynamic relationship between your text and images.
5. How to write a pen portrait – Drawing on The Gentle Author’s experience, different strategies in transforming a conversation into an effective written evocation of a personality.
6. What a blog can do – A consideration of how telling stories on the internet can affect the temporal world.
The course will be held at 5 Fournier St, Spitalfields on 6th & 7th June from 10am -5pm on Saturday and 11am-5pm on Sunday. Lunch catered by Leila’s Cafe and tea, coffee and cakes by the Townhouse.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book a place on the course.