Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Sobering Up

This subtle but arresting image came just before Christmas from my friends Keran James and Michael Keenan who run the Studio 1.1 Gallery in London's Redchurch Street.  After a bitter year for so many people, I thought it was very appropriate.  It has an even more elegiac quality when you know that this is the site of the Battle of the Somme which took place during the First World War between 1 July and 18 November 1916. One of the most traumatic military operations ever recorded, there were more than one and half million casualties. 

Saturday, 19 December 2009

That Time of Year

With apologies to Madame Yevonde for messing up her photograph

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Heroic and The Unheroic

London's Imperial War Museum

I was lucky enough to attend The Sun newspaper’s Military  Awards, affectionately known as The Millies at the Imperial War Museum on Tuesday.  You could describe it as a mini Oscars ceremony for the heroes of our armed forces on active service, except that every one of the recipients who had put his or her life on the line neither wept nor postured on the podium. They all spoke articulately with impressive modesty and it was, if my smudged mascara was anything to go by, terribly moving. 

Princes William and Harry presented awards and showed they had inherited  the natural compassion of their mother, Diana, and the good humour of their father, Prince Charles.  There was an affecting moment when a bereaved mother laid her head on Harry’s chest and he responded by putting his head down towards hers and his arm round her shoulder.  Nothing fake about that.

You can read more about it all on The Sun's website here.

But it was not a mawkish occasion at all.  A host of famous actors, comedians, and icons of popular culture added glamour to the presence of men and women in uniform and there was a real buzz of excitement.  I myself had a teenage moment on being introduced to Alexander Armstrong of Brit comedy duo Armstrong & Miller. 

That man is so gorgeous, so amusing.  It’s lucky he hadn’t changed into his Royal Airforce uniform to do one of their signature sketches (World War II pilots speaking chippy street slang and claiming their human rights in the face of the enemy) or I might have not have been answerable for my actions.

At our table I sat next to a really charming man, Michael Ball, heart-throb singer and actor who has just finished starring in Hairspray.  I warmed to him instantly when he confessed to leading a mutiny in his school cadet force, which took the form of firing blanks at their commanding officer.  Not clever, not heroic, not funny.  Except it was, very.


 I hope my pals abroad will enjoy being introduced to Armstrong & Miller in one of their most famous sketches.  You can find more of this perfect juxtaposition of the heroic and the absurd on You Tube.

Images from top: http://www.london-se1.co.uk, http://www.digital-tv.co.uk, http://www.onenationmagazine.com, http://upload.wikimedia.org

Sister Act

I dedicate this to my three lovely older sisters. I saw White Christmas as a child and wanted this costume so badly.

That gorgeous night club  in full. This is also dedicated to Toby Worthington who reminded me of Rosemary Clooney's torch song 'Love, you didn't do right by me' and Stefan of Architect Design who just loves Rosemary Clooney . It's also for everyone who laments the fact that these divine, sophisticated nighteries no longer exist.

Monday, 14 December 2009


Continuing my fantasy horsey theme, I go from War to Merry-go-Round.   Anything to relieve the look of Christmas ..

Whoops, this beauty comes from the film White Christmas

And I played around with the image on photoshop

© Rosie West

I love this restaurant and the diamond window panes, but I can't remember where I found it.  

Greedy collector Jean-Paul Flavand from Paris seems to have cornered the market here!
From: Obsessions by Stephen Calloway, pubd. Mitchell Beazley 2004

Thursday, 10 December 2009

War Horse

I have just been to see War Horse at the New London Theatre in Drury Lane.  Adapted from a story by Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo, it is set at the outbreak of World War I in a Devon village.  A chap who's had a few too many ales buys a colt at an auction and his son forms a deep attachment to Joey as he grows into a fine hunter. Unfortunately the wretched father sells the horse to the Army and the young lad must follow him to the battle front in the hope of  being reunited with his beloved equine friend.   It is a poignant story and the staging is impressive in its minimalism, the use of projection, lighting effects and alarming sound.  But undoubtedly the stars of this production are the horses.  

Sunday, 6 December 2009

How Not To Handle Handel

 I was excited when an old friend got three tickets to English National Opera’s The Messiah at the Coliseum on Friday.  Then I saw a review in The Guardian and a nice big picture of the chorus in an assortment of high-street clothing hugging each other during the Hallelujah Chorus.  I searched around for a blindfold to put in my handbag.  D. had not entirely clocked the fact that this was über-cool Deborah Warner’s production, the first  major attempt to stage Handel’s majestic oratorio.

I sensed her excitement mount with the plaintiff notes of the orchestra tuning up. Those notes resolved themselves into a glorious baroque sound and a gauzy curtain lifted on a sea of light. Curiously, this resolved itself into London traffic  at night  projected on the black marble floor.  Then a beautiful grid of suspended golden lilies slowly rose and a scene was assembled:  a hotel bed in one sector, a line of chairs at the back (the dole queue?) and some benches Stage Right which I interpreted as church pews. Oh, and a computer console beyond but I didn’t have much of a theory for that.  What a ghastly mess.  On strolled the chorus, like a crowd of weekend travellers at Paddington Station.   Catherine Wynn-Jones, the sublime mezzo soprano dressed as a Building Society clerk sat on the bed, why?  Now a little kid ( the future of mankind? search me) runs around, jumping over benches and playing on the computer.  Then a maid comes on and strips the bed, extravagantly folding sheets and duvet. (Off you go - now! - back into the wings. Some of us want to concentrate on the chorus.)

There was some choreography too. I actually loved the girl in the blue hoodie expressing her joy at The Annunciation. (The one with her jeans tucked into a pair of tan leather boots and the grey cardi was the angel.) Then again, the idea of the crucifixion was given power by some brutal contact improvisation amongst the symbolic golden props. A tricky one, that. (Our friend Andrew noted that Deborah Warner always has a ladder in it somewhere.)

I don’t mind experimental theatre but this was a fatuous conceit, attempting to make it the ‘outreach’ Messiah  using lame 21st century metaphor.   By the second interval and an infantile nativity scene (mothers snapping their darlings on camera phones awwww) the seats were mysteriously emptying.

  The woman next to me was thinking of getting back to Leicester early but I suggested it would be a shame to miss ‘I know that My Redeemer Liveth’, one of Handel’s most poignant arias. Imagine how I couldn’t look at her when it was delivered from a hospital bed with the soprano getting a blanket bath into the bargain.  I have never laughed in the Messiah before.  Then the nurses pulled the sheet up over her head and I felt a bit bad.  But, really, I could have wept for the whole cast.

D.  may have been embarrassed at first but we retrieved George Fredrich Handel from this tragic contextualisation, thanks to the astounding orchestra and the electric singing.  Then we tried to ponder the notion of the Sacred and the Profane.. A bucket of champagne did help it all go down.

Images: George Fredrich Handel by Mercier ca 1720 here;  The E N O  Messiah  photo: Tristram Kenton The Guardian;  Fra Angelico: The Annunciation 1438-45; Piero della Francesca Nativity c 1470

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

My Hobby Horse

Thanks to my  partner-in-crime in the Blog 'hood  Little Augury for featuring my horsewomen (here). She makes me sound a lot grander than I happen to be but then I did admit to wearing a tiara once.  Live by the sword, blush by the sword, I suppose.   

I shouldn't omit those whip-crack-away rodeo girls.  Love them.

Images © Rosie West

Washing Up and Stuff

A woman is washing up and clearing away the dishes after Sunday lunch.  She's going on about her marriage and her thwarted ambitions.  Is that all there is to her life?

A short but disturbing film  'Washing Up'  was made by my eldest son Will West.  It stars the wonderful Pam Miles who happens to be married to distinguished British actor Tim Pigott-Smith. Their son, Tom,  composed the score. So rather a family affair.  Oh , and it was my debut as an art director!  

 It lasts six minutes. 


Sunday, 29 November 2009

Princess Style: Margaret


Photo: Cecil Beaton

Little Augury has invited me to name ten eternal beauties. I plumbed the depths of originality and included Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly , I couldn't help it. But then, casting around for some that may not be on other people's list in L A's upcoming post, I remembered Princess Margaret whose allure was displaced in the popular imagination by the slightly vacuous beauty of Princess Diana.

Photo: Cecil Beaton

Margaret, who died in 2002, was the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth as most will know. She went from classic English rose to sophisticated beauty when she married society photographer and all-round creative, Anthony Armstrong Jones (Lord Snowdon as he became). Earlier she had fallen in love with Group Captain Peter Townsend but was not allowed to marry him. A small matter of his earlier divorce. This brought her the sympathy of the nation and together with her later divorce from Snowdon followed by her 'affair' (whatever that was) with the young Roddy Llewellyn, she was generally perceived to be a lonely and unhappy woman. In the shadow of her elder sister, she never really carved out an identity of her own and yes, there was whiff of scandal around her.

Photo: unknown

 I don't think she was the sad case she was made out to be at all. She had the social life of a diva and was well-known for keeping her courtiers and friends up late into the night carousing. A patron of the arts, in particular the ballet, she was highly intelligent. It was possibly the saddest aspect of her life that she never fulfilled that potential. She could behave like a diva: let her hair down, seduce her companions into thinking she was after all quite normal and then suddenly remind them of her status. But I would imagine that on a good day she was, in the words of poet Ernest Dowson, wild and sweet and witty. Amongst Lord Snowdon's artistic circle of friends she flirted with bohemia. Being friends with the genius of comedy, actor Peter Sellers, there is a very jolly home movie of the princess (presumably directed by him) doing a comic routine herself. And that was after she was filmed doing the washing up.

Photo: Lord Snowdon (I hope!)

With a flawless complexion and eyes like sapphires, Pincess Margaret was more stylish than the Queen. Whereas Elizabeth has kept virtually the same hairstyle all her life, Margaret's continually evolved. My favourite was a gamine cut with a fringe, but generally it was long and flamboyantly styled. Her wardrobe was often romantic, sometimes a little vulgar, occasionally stuffy but generally she exuded glamour. I can't get enough of looking at her as a younger woman. It was terribly sad when, at the end of her life, she was cast down by a stroke and an unfortunate accident where her feet were scalded in the bath. She was, finally, frail and wheelchair bound. Let's not go there.

Photo: Norman Parkinson [?] At her home in Mustique (That' John Lewis fabric there!)

This faintly cheesy You-tube clip brings together static images of some gorgeous moments of her life and some of the sadder ones too. Do enjoy it. (And click x to get rid of the advert)

Monday, 23 November 2009

From elasticated trousers to elasticated bracelets : one for the Marble Halls of Embarrassment.

I was in Brazil and found myself at a dinner as the No. 2 Guest of Honour. That’s not difficult, you just have to turn up in the company of the No. l G of H. I was happy to find that ten of us were on a round table - don’t start me on that top-table cruel joke where you stare glumly out at all the happy bastards chatting right left and centre and the hapless person each end feels like a pariah. The words coconut and shy come to mind.

What was I saying? Dinner was convivial, slightly hard work, but we were oiling the diplomatic wheels when it all imploded into embarrassment. Why was that? Because my wrists are too damn big aren’t they. My official gift was a beautiful bracelet of semi-precious geological specimens with a gold clasp. I opened the velvet lined box, admired it, oohed and ahhhed, felt sick to my stomach and put it by my wine glass. Phew. But uh oh, out of the corner of my eye, I see one of the wives pull her chair back and advance towards to me. I know what’s coming. I’m thinking ‘Off you fuck darling!’ but she has to wrap the bracelet affectionately round my wrist, it’s obvious. I could have told her it would leave a yawning gap that no amount of pinching the skin above my racing pulse would close.

The room temperature drops ten degrees. Hosts give each other panicky looks and then No. 1 G of H, my very own Sir Galahad, gallops to the rescue. ‘Ah you see, my wife has rather well-developed wrists from windsurfing’. What?? I grew out of my wetsuit in 1990. But I run with the ball. ‘Oh yes, definitely yes, from hanging off the boom. Like this’. To ease the embarrassment that has never quite left me, I thought I would share with you the idea of me in my evening dress from Harrods Fat Girl Department flexing my biceps, wrists clenched doing pull-ups in the air. It was absolutely horrible. Next day I was allowed to go and change the bracelet for an elasticated one. Huh.

All images © Rosie West

Sunday, 22 November 2009

To Christmas shop or not to Christmas shop?

Top image: Paul Outerbridge
Below: Modern Toss card. Their blog here
Bottom: The Original Poster

Friday, 20 November 2009

Desert Dystopia

Recent photographs of Dubai, which keeps growing out of the desert at an alarming rate, come from a new blog called A Caged Bird Sings. Do they remind you of 'Metropolis' (1927) Fritz Lang's famous sci-fi dystopia ? This is Dubai's Airport.

Fritz Lang's Metropolis

That tinfoil airport again

Dubai skyscrapers crouching in the shadow of the tallest building in the world


That same Dubai aesthetic. Eerie, no?

One big construction site

Dubai Photos © Olivia Grabowski West at A Caged Birds Sings. Olivia happens to be my daughter and she set out with such gusto on her blog to feature her life in pictures that she shamed me into abandoning my computer games and trying to revive my own drippy blog.
You might also like her website here.

Nicky Haslam - 'The Alchemiser'

'One does interpret their life as well as their desire for beauty'

'Hi Society', a riveting BBC4 documentary about Nicky Haslam, informs you about the multi-dimensional talent and personality of a man who has brazenly kept himself in the spotlight for over four decades. It will also amuse you, touch you and possibly outrage you. An upper-class Englishman (and how), he is the only interior designer to have been profiled in Vanity Fair.

I highly recommend my British chums to watch it on BBC I-player here until 8th December and apologise to everyone else who cannot access this treasure house of tv repeats. Luckily, I have polished up my shorthandwriting skills to transcribe a few of many playful quotes and throwaway lines.

The reporter, who followed Haslam for a year of his hectic existence (there were assignments in Moscow, New York, the Home Counties; a star-studded ball he threw for Janet de Botton; up to five A-list parties a night..) concludes that he is an 'alchemiser'. (What's the difference between that and an alchemist, I wonder?) Clearly, cornices and sock drawers are only a fraction of the services on offer to his clients.

Now comes the snobbery and the condescension which Haslam himself only toys with to provoke and amuse. Actually he is too interested in and curious about people to put them down and his charm is intoxicating. But Christopher Gibbs speaks with the hauteur of old money as he explains that Haslam transforms his clients' lives utterly and 'introduces them to a world where they can wave at people they see in the newspapers'. I really don't like the tone of his voice. World of Interiors founding editor, Minn Hogg gives a patronising but jolly account of his role and you can't suppress a laugh here:

You're partly a shrink, I think, when you are the decorator. You are giving the wife such fun all the time and you are giving the husband the most terrible headaches. He doesn't know that the fringe costs £500 a metre .. a cushion a thousand pounds, are you mad?.. but it has to be a bit of give and take on that. In a way he becomes the boyfriend of the wife but that is safe because he's homosexual and the husband's jolly glad she's got something to do all day, and it's huge fun for her and he takes her around [...] giving her a marvellous time.

So far so good ? Now, what do you think of this? The reporter made an inventory over the months of all the things that Haslam deems 'common'. Splutter with outrage, mouth your apologies for committing one of these solecisms, feel smug you agree or just have a good laugh. After all some of it is simply pricking pomposity and much of it is bollocks and he knows it:

people who say their gardens have their own little micro-climate, swans, champagne flutes, Christmas parties, organic food, anyone Scottish, non-Russians with Russian girlfriends, film stars, complaining about the smoking ban, celebrity chefs, pronouncing the 't' in trait (it's a French word), pronouncing the 'e' in furore (it's also a French word), coloured bath towels, drinking cappuccinos after eleven, the Caribb_ean, Art Deco, scented candles, garlic on your breath, framed photographs of anyone non-Royal, Morocco, bottled water, not knowing the words of hymns, queuing at Annabel's, St. Tropez, relaxing, cufflinks, fur coat on men, three-quarter length trousers on anyone, tasseled loafers, jet-lag, wheat intolerance, sushi and above all, loving your parents.

See what I mean?

Love him or loathe him, the social butterfly Nicky Haslam has been friends with Tallulah Bankhead, Andy Warhol, David Bailey and god knows who else down the years. One of his ex lovers in the film suggested that his confinement to bed for three years with polio as a child, unable to move more than his eyes and his hands, explains his need not to miss anything now. His mother brought her exotic friends to his bedroom to amuse him and he accounts his terrible ordeal as rather wonderful. I imagine his memoir 'Redeeming Features' will be engaging, witty, teasingly snobbish and name-dropping to the hilt. But also poignant.

Images: Top, At the Prado Congo Art Party at the Double Club February 2009 (Photo Tim Whitby/Getty Images)

Below, from Nicholas Haslam here

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Tiara Time!

This is the time of year when you can spot a lady with the sort of sculptured hairdo I used to see at my mother’s bridge parties: folds of interlocking backcombed hair, glistening with lacquer and concealing enough hairpins to jam an airport x-ray machine. It’s a gorgeous sight with a diamond tiara atop. You can’t really wear one unless you provide that order of padding.

At today’s State Opening of Parliament peeresses in evening dresses crammed the red leather benches of the Lords’ chamber and gave some relief to the sea of red gowns with white fur collars tied with a black ribbon that the peers (male and female) wear on this one occasion a year. Some of the Queen Titanias who choose to wear a tiara will have left home by 9 am like that, startling commuters, but they had probably been up since dawn with their hairdressers. I know of one stylist who goes round to a string of clients on her motorbike to fix the ice on their pretty heads.

Nancy, wife of Viscount Astor wearing her tiara with the Sancy diamond at the State Opening of Parliament in 1948

It’s a long wait for the Queen to arrive wearing the Imperial State Crown to take up her golden throne and read her speech that is written by the Government. Incidentally, darlings,it’s so nice to see it worn instead of having to jostle the crowds in front of the crown jewels at the Tower of London! Also, it's far better to sit on the Labour benches and look across to the Tory ladies, who clearly have the greatest tally of tiaras. I saw some whoppers and longed for binoculars to inspect them but then I didn’t want to get caught on telly snooping.

c 1996 Lady Haden Guest a.k.a Jamie Lee Curtis takes her seat. I remember the press photographs at the time showed that this was a simple gold laurel leaf design. Perfect.

I also spotted the fakes. What’s the point of that? I don’t know. I do know actually because once I wore one from Butler & Wilson myself. Try anything once (except folk dancing and incest) is my motto. I am embarrassed about it now. A lovely ancient aristocrat offered to lend me hers but I have a block head and this was far too dainty. Besides, she had told me in her crackly voice, unable to pronounce her ‘Rs’ that someone women wear a tiawa with all the gwace of a cart horse. I decided to wun a mile at that point.

No carthorse here. Loelia Duchess of Westminster photographed by Cecil Beaton in 1931 wearing a kokoshnik halo-shaped tiara. I have seen this, or something very similar, in action!

The Queen arrives at the Palace of Westminster in what I suppose you could call her travelling coronet. The Imperial State crown weighs about 37 ounces and would be difficult to get out of a coach in. She dons that in the robing room which houses her coronation throne.

I personally think that all the beauty of this bling is surpassed by the young Queen herself in this video, giving us a guided tour of the crown she wore today.

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