Au revoir, Tony Benn

At Stratford Library, March 14, 2005
At Stratford Library, March 14 2005

Not ‘totallygone’ at all, of course. Just a few steps ahead of the rest of us…

Here, giving a talk at Stratford (atte Bowe) library on 14th March 2005. He’d just left Parliament “to spend more time in politics” and was promoting his latest set of memoirs.  Interested but not excited by the idea of going, I was persuaded to do so by a wiser, smarter friend.

My mother (a dyed-in-the-Missoni Thatcherite) joined us and, when I told her of his death this morning, she said “oh, I never liked him, until I met him”.  The evening was a memorable one; he was extraordinarily knowledgeable but never patronising, fiercely intelligent but never cold,  very posh but never snotty.

He felt, he said lately, no fear of death, but saw it as “a great adventure”.   I took this image of him nine years ago today and even then the title of his memoir was eerily prescient. As I fetched it from the archive this morning, I called to mind a passage from Donna Tartt’s recent novel The Goldfinch.

…in whatever wink of consciousness that remained to me I felt I understood the secret grandeur of dying, all the knowledge held back from all humankind until the very end: no pain, no fear, magnificent detachment, lying in state upon the death barge and receding into the grand immensities like an emperor, gone, gone, observing all the distant scurryers on shore, freed from all the old human pettiness of love and fear and grief and death.

Free at last.

Les Champs Numeriques: Nice’s Promenade du Paillon

Concealed beneath the greenery: A network of fibre-optic cables and next-gen connectivity hardware
Concealed beneath the greenery: A network of fibre-optic cables and next-gen connectivity

Nice’s Coulée Verte – or, loosely translated, ‘Green Corridor’ – replaces two monumental, aspirational but irredeemably ugly brutalist structures; its central bus station (Gare Routiere) and a spectacularly hideous public car park. Both sported huge roof terraces complete with tennis and baseball courts, ornamental gardens, interesting stairwells etc., but all were neglected, abandoned, and the projects were ultimately unsuccessful. The Promenade du Paillon, reports Nice Matin1opens September 2013, replacing these sorry structures with a  remise en beauté des 3 hectares de verdure, avec sous-sols intelligents (fibre optique, réseaux internet, électrique): a return to beauty comprising 3 hectares of greenery with (get this) subterranean connectivity.

1. Nice Matin Mar 15 2013

Back to Basics: Sharon Stone at Cannes

Sharon Stone, voted ‘best dressed’ by Forbes,
at the Cannes premier of “Behind the Candelabra”


More than 20 years after flashing her assets at Michael Douglas in  Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone returns to watch him seduce Matt Damon in Behind the Candelabra. 

The French have a strong taste for Hollywood nostalgia and went crazy at her unexpected appearance  – last year’s visit by Bruce Willis elicited a similarly rapturous response.

Wearing the colours of the Côte d’Azur, Stone was among the last to mount the red carpet – entirely alone.

Bow flyover: who would have thought?

Bow Underpass, London
“Who would have thought you could make a route under a bridge in the dark?”

Congratulations to my friends and clients,  Adams & Sutherland architects, winners of the Architect of the Year Awards 2012 in the Public Realm category.

Above, the underpass at Bow flyover in East London is likely to be a lifesaver. One of the city’s most dangerous junctions, 2011 saw two cyclists die there within the space of two months.

A textured, non-slip walkway and lighting at floor-level give a very ‘indoor’ feel to what would otherwise be a highly unwelcoming space.

One of the judges commented that “Bow Riverside is so unlikely as a project: who would have thought you could make a route under a bridge in the dark, but they’ve pulled it off”.

Scooped! a kiss from Jean Dujardin

Jean Dujardin at Cannes, 2011
Jean Dujardin wows the crowd at Cannes, 2011

Somehow, I managed to steal a kiss from Jean Dujardin, who was wildly popular with the French crowd at Cannes, and wholly unknown by everyone else, back then in May 2011. Somehow, all the fuss seemed to be about Uggy, the dog, winner of that year’s Palm Dog award. Paw on the pulse, as they say…

So last night’s Best Actor Award, the first to a Frenchman, is proof that kissing as many people as possible brings you good karma, and not glandular fever, after all.

Sprouts on Broadway

Brussels sprouts on a rainy day in Hackney's Broadway Market. Surprisingly appealing.

They’re green, children loathe them, and they give you gas.

However, adulthood brings enjoyment of all kinds of weird things, and veganism even more so.

Slow-roasted sprouts with kürbiskernöl are among my favourite things, as are sprouts on a stalk. Had I seen these as a child, my life might’ve been entirely different.

For more information on these wonderful creatures, see the Standup for Sprouts campaign. Absurd but healthy fun.

Swan, meditating, St James’s Park

Swan, St James's Park

This swan caught my eye one sunlit evening as I crossed the park. Although the image required a bit of retouching – removing debris from the surface of the water and upping the contrast to remove a green tinge from the lake, as far as’nature’shots go, it’s a relatively natural one.

I Love Paris (I): St Germain des Pres

Trois couleurs rouges, Marché St Germain des Pres

One of the greatest photographic challenges posed by Paris in winter is the city’s lack of colour. The dull skies paint the city grey but colours, when they do appear, seem unexpectedly vivid…

Lady in red, Pont Neuf, Paris
My mother cutting a dash of red against the monochrome backdrop of Paris en hiver

Mushroom magic: the season is upon us…

Mushrooms, London's Borough Market

This vivid mound of mushrooms, at London’s extremely trendy Borough Market, is worth its weight in some heavy metal, if not gold. If, however, you’re prepared to don your wellies and get your hands dirty, you can save yourself a small fortune, impress your mates and burn off a few calories, tramping about in the damp.

So, with the mushroom season fully underway, I thought it a good idea to unearth an old photo from the archive and use it as an excuse to share with my friends, family, and others of you a few links to help you get the most from your foraging without ending in hospital.

Two important pieces of advice common to all sites; never, ever try anything you’ve picked off the forest floor without having identified and washed it thoroughly, and never try to induce vomiting if you or your companion becomes violently ill – seek medical attention immediately.

So, if you’re not completely discouraged, go forth and forage.