Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The wrong trousers....

Persistent pedagogue Mr Gnome is forever emphasizing the importance of giving credit where it's due. Hence today's story.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that conventional male trousering is unsuitable for cycling, particularly when astride a drop-handlebar machine as pictured above (my 22-year-old Dawes Galaxy).

It's a pocket-design thing. Stuff falls out. Sensible people wear specialist clothing - or empty their pockets prior ro departure.

No prizes for guessing that, when pedalling the short distance to work today, I chose to ignore this wise counsel, absent-mindedly bunging my wallet in my trouser pocket as I left the house.

I didn't notice that the wallet was missing until lunchtime, whereupon I abandoned myself to a protracted bout of searching, wailing and self-recrimination.

Next I picked up the phone and cancelled my cards.

And then my phone rang.

A charming woman informed me that her son had found my wallet and had identified me as its owner thanks to presence within of my change-of-address card. It was awaiting collection at her house.

So in the wonderful economy of human interchange, my act of foolishness was countered by a deed of straightforward honesty and kindness.

Hence the fact that I'm celebrating the integrity of one local teenager, and of the family and school that have helped to shape those values in him.

I wouldn't dream of embarrassing him by mentioning his name. But here's a link to his school.

Thank you very much.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Obama's People

Obeying his whim of iron, Mr Gnome made a summer Sunday beeline for Birmingham and allowed Serendipity to do the rest....

His splendid discovery was the highly impressive photographic exhibiiton Obama's People, hosted by that glorious people's palace the Birmingham Art Gallery and Museum.

Following last November's election, the New York Times commissioned photographer Nadav Kander to create a series of portraits of the men and women of the new administration - from the Vice-President to the presidential body-guard.

And here they are, portrayed in big, rather stark images of a remarkably diverse group of people.

Some gaze impassively into the camera, others glance away, a few seem eager to please and one or two have a look of 'Why me?' astonishment.

Curator Rhonda Wilson (of arts company Rhubarb Rhubarb) was on hand to give an engaging talk in which she sketched the series of events which led to this high-profile art show coming not to Washington DC, New York or Paris - but to Birmingham.

(Although she didn't toot her own trumpet, it became pretty apparent that much of the credit for this curatorial coup should go to the energetic Ms Wilson herself.)

The exhibition captures something of the spirit of optimism that powered Obama's journey to the White House.

Let's pray that Obama and his people keep faith with us - and we with them.

Although photography is not allowed in the show, Rhonda kindly agreed to pose beside her favourite portrait - that of 24-year-old Keeper of-the Presidential Contacts Book Eugene Kang.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

A modest proposal

Cheerful of disposition, robust of character and tolerant to a fault, Mr Gnome eschews the moan, the whinge and the complaint. By which point the reader is doubtless well prepared for the arrival of....

But, Mr G feels a mildly overwhelming urge to offer a few apercus on the topic of the mobile telephone, as evidenced by that omnipresent modern phenomenon - the ringtone.

In his experience, many of these aural annunciations can be described by the words in the upper segment posted above.

Loud, insistent and intrusive, they karate-chop their way into daily life with their bold-as-brass tones as if to say: 'Hurry up! Answer me! Now! At once! Jump to it!'

Oh please, sighs Mr Gnome. Too, too wearying for words.

Needless to say, he is inordinately pleased with telephone tones that may be described by the words on the peaceful white background.

A glissando of harp strings, a ping as of a celeste, a bluesy solo clarinet - these and many other choices are perfectly audible, alerting the phone owner to an incoming call or text. But they do so with modesty and discretion.

Not racketing in with a gallumphing self-advertisment that would make Atilla the Hun look like Julie Andrews.

Chill, says Mr Gnome.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

La Coppola

Mr Gnome, generous to a peccadillo, is keen to 'big up' a splendid addition to the Leamington Spa food firmament.

To be honest, his experience of La Coppola on Regent Street is limited to one winter-evening visit some months ago.

That said, he enjoyed a jolly evening of excellent food and characterful, Italian service.

In addtion, the restaurant's frontage makes a charming, colourful and stylish contribution to the town's streetscape.

Jolly folly

Born plain Mary Mackay in Glasgow, the writer Marie Corelli was, in terms of sales and celebrity, the Jilly Cooper of the Edwardian book trade.

In her later years she settled at Mason Croft in Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, where she relished the role of the grandest of local grandes dames.

As befitted a life of such dizzying upward mobility, Corelli had constructed in her graden this charming folly, where, ensconced above the elm trees, she could muse and pen her next bestseller.

Possibly less idyllic when viewed from point of view of the servant who had to climb the stairs in all weathers to clean the grate and re-fill the coal scuttle.

Ever hospitable, Madame Corelli hosted parties on the Avon aboard her gondola, imported from Venice.

Bringing a Venetian gondola to Warwickshire betokens a certain level of style.

Madame Corelli went a step further - and imported the gondolier as well.

And that, for me , equals chutzpah.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Browns study

So regular and enjoyable are Mr Gnome's visits to this buzzingly popular Oxford eatery, that he's astonished to discover he's been blogging for almost two years - and has yet to bestow his accolade upon it.

To be honest, Browns is managing pretty well without any bigging up from Mr G.

In terms of medium-priced eating out, Browns ticks every possible box: a straightforward menu of well-cooked, substantial dishes; attentive, friendly, speedy service; pleasing decor; nice loos - and excellent opportunities for people-watching among the diverse, all-age clientele.

Tonight an elderly gent at next table sported a cherishable Victorian smoking cap.

Mr G reckons that over the last decade he has eaten at Browns roughly five times per year - and the standards of vale and service have been consistent throughout.

With the young, cheerful staff gearing up for this week's graduation onrush, Professor Gnome is delighted to confer a Starred First.


Sunday, 21 June 2009

His beautiful laundrette

Community-spirited, minimalist and squeaky clean, Mr Gnome is unashamedly a massive fan of that splendid institution the launderette.

Havens of warmth and well-thumbed magazines, laundromats continue to provide valued service to the community - where else to take one's double duvets for their monthly/quarterly/annual wash?

Mr G is particularely fond of the Sparklean Laundrette in Stratford-upon-Avon's charming Old Town, conveniently sited on the corner of Bull Street and Sanctus Street.

The establishment offers 'added value' inasmuch as it is patronised by members of the nearby Royal Shakespeare Company - thespians have the same laundry needs as lesser mortals.

Where else is it entirely possible to encounter Lady Macbeth applying a squirt of Vanish to a well-worn T-shirt ('Out damned spot!')?

Mr Gnome once found himself co-laundering with a leading actress from the popular telly series The House of Elliot.

Something about which to get in a lather?

Saturday, 20 June 2009

High praise

More than ten years ago, kind friends invited me to a performance of a Handel opera. As it turned out the evening brought surprise that led to rare and lasting pleasure.

During the first act a tall young man strode on to the stage, portraying one of those hard-done-by exiled monarchs, usurped by an evil brother/uncle/cousin, who are two-a-penny in the deliciously dippy world of eighteenth-century opera.

And then he sang.

For me, the clarity, purity and manly strength of that voice brought one of those rare experiences of being unable to tell the music from the music-maker - so perfectly did the one complement
the other, in this outpouring of yearning and loss.

The dodgy storyline, the bizarre posh-Goth makeup, the faux classical setting - none of these mattered in comparison to the music.

Time stood still.

The singer is Andreas Scholl.

And, of course, this may not be your 'thing'....

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


Mr Gnome raises resounding hurrahs for the superbly useful phenomenon that is the iPhone.

Ownership of this gnome-sized and coolly elegant design miracle is akin to having a tireless Jeeves at one's constant beck and call.

Apart from housing calendar, diary, internet browser, address book, birthday reminders and to-do lists, the iPhone uses a 'global positioning system' so that it knows its exact location at any time.

So what? So plenty.

At a touch of the screen, the phone instnatly offers lists of the nearest restaurants, cinemas, taxi firms - and so on.

Ditto with train times, plane departures - and much more. All bypassing expensive inquiry phone calls.

One could jabber on....

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Bike boar

An unexpected gift arrives from my friend Michael Burton - this minuscule bicycle and its determined, tusky rider.

Michael's ability to create vividly characterful creatures from silver has brought delight to many throughout his long career.

More about MB here.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Going swimmingly

Mr Gnome is unable to restrain his human associate from recording his achievement of a 'special category' swim.

In this case the categories are a combination of 'most northerly' and 'most unexpected'.

But such was the dazzling sunlight and the turquoise / azure glamour of the waters of Port Ban beach, that he was unable to resist the call of the water.

Cold? Definitely. But once you've launched out, and are horizontal in the top layer of water, it's surprisingly less chilly than on first entry.

The horseshoe-shaped cove was still, and glassy-clear. Away in the distance beyond the rocks guarding the entrance to the tiny bay, the Irish Sea thundered.