Tuesday, 29 September 2009


How to define a term as slippery as 'cool'? I've a feeling that any attempt in that direction would be, well, more than a little un-cool.

I'll content myself with a modest certainty that I recognize it when I see it.

Take last Sunday afternoon.

A gentleman, en route to a 'do', has had the misfortune of his car breaking down.

The members' rescue service comes to his aid.

To have the AA arrive promptly may be regarded as good fortune.

But to have its red, yellow and black livery blend exactly with your clan's tartan?

That's cool.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Happy day

Mr Gnome was possibly the smallest of the many guests who gathered in Leamington Spa to celebrate with Ben and Richard (top) their recent lifetime commitment and civil partnership.

Ben and Richard, kind and generous to a fault, benignly overlooked Mr Gnome's flouting of their gentle encouragement that all guests should fall in with the day's 'black and white' theme.

This minute faux pas was overshadowed by the style and panache with which the human guests of all ages proved the power and impact of a 'restricted palette'.

No surprise then that the day also provided a checkerboard of contrasting moods and emotions as we were invited to join Ben and Richard in looking back at the journey that has brought them thus far.

Our hosts were at pains to acknowledge with grace and humour, the many roles that family and friends had played in their story.

And, with modest sincerity, they left us in no doubt of the centrality of their 'faith journeys' to their decision to make this public commitment.

Here's the text of the address given during the service.

Mr Gnome had a ball and has decided that 'by sporran' is to be his new transport of choice.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The trouble with homonyms

So all-consuming was the routine of boarding school that I rarely gave a thought to what life was like for my schoolfellows when we returned to our various home for the holidays.

A boy named Piers was the exception, simply because his descriptions of his life at home included an element that was, to me, utterly entrancing.

He told me that he spent all of his spare time 'at the wreck'.

The wreck? How totally fantastic. I pictured him and his chums playing pirates more or less for real: shinning up the fraying rigging, crawling over the quarterdeck and descending into the murky depths of the hold in search of doubloons, pieces of eight and all forms of piratical paraphernalia.

How I envied Piers.

Years later, while visiting friends, I asked where their children were.

'Oh they're playing down at the wreck - let's walk down there an collect them.'

My heart skipped a beat and I accompanied them with a certain amount of eager anticipation, combined with a hint of concern at the parents' matter-of-fact attitude to the extraordinary privilege bestowed on their children.

We reached our destination soon enough.

No galleon, no rotting timbers, no flutterimg skull-and-cross-bones. Instead, a grassy field, some goal posts, a metal climbing frame, some swings.

In fact, a perfectly serviceable municipal recreation ground. The Rec.

The scales fell: possibly the most poignant disillusionment of my life thus far.

The picture is the work of the talented artist L M Lowry.

Friday, 18 September 2009


Occasional fashion maven Mr Gnome offers his advice to stars of stage and screen, particularly when a looming date with a red carpet propels them into a state of semi-paralysed 'frock shock'.

Such was the sad condition of the dazzling Cate Blanchett when she called up Mr G a few days ago from her home in the Antipodes.

It was a matter of moments for Mr Gnome to point CB in the direction of fashion's 'next big thing' - the retro-licious 'crocheted by my mum' look.

Think 1970s, think ponchos, think shirts with rounded collars, think big patterns - and then go bigger.

To be frank, a close look at Ms Blanchett's fabulous frock prompted moments of semi-spooky deja vu. My late mother, an enemy to idle hands, created umpteen cosy blankets from woollen squares, dispatching then on completion to one or other of the world's trouble spots.

Could one have found its way down under?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Setting a Bard example

No stranger to the commendation 'You're a brick', Mr Gnome has impulsively turned metaphor to reality by sponsoring a 'brick in the wall' of the transformed Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

To be frank, Mr G's action is motivated by equal measures of charity and exasperation.

For months he's been overhearing my frequently repeated statement: 'I must get around to making a donation to the RST's Transformation project.'

Justifiably piqued by human procrastination, Mr G has taken matters into his own small but capable hands - and, voila, a brick has been laid, and a rather charming certificate issued.

And, shamed by a gnome, I have finally done the right thing and sponsored a brick on my own behalf, requesting that it be dedicated to Dom Gregory Miller, about whom more later...

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Awning gap?

Would-be restaurant reviewer Mr Gnome commented enthusiastically last year on Leamington Spa's tip-top La Coppola eatery.

As well as commending its value-for-money menu and cheerful service, Mr G noted that La Coppola's unusual frontage made a charming and colourful addition to the town-centre streetscape.

Fast-forward to now and the distressing news that owners Charlotte and Parham Ahmadi are obliged to remove the awnings, shutters and window boxes that lend their premises its zestful individuality.

It seems that Warwick District Council's building inspector Keith Turner feels that the ground-floor awning has 'unbalanced the architectural harmony' of the terrace.

And according to the report in the Leamington Spa Courier, he also opines that 'the upstairs awnings "completely alter" the appearance of the building and their bright colour is "out of place and unduly conspicuous".'

Oh please, sighs Mr Gnome.

La Coppola is conspicuous? How dreadful.

It's colourful? Quelle horreur.

It has unbalanced the street's architectural harmony?

Of course it has, opines Mr G. In the way that a ray of sunshine unbalances a blah day.

Mr G urges Mr Turner to relax, pour himself a crisp glass of Frascati and allow a hint of whatever is the Italian equivalent of bonhomie to steal into his soul.

It's not too late to change your mind, Mr T.

Resist blandness, proclaims Mr Gnome.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Sojourner Truth

I'm ashamed to admit that until today I knew nothing of the remarkable Isabella Baumfree (1797-1883).

Born into slavery in Swartekill, New York, Isabella grew up to be a fearless campaigner for abolition, temperance and the rights of women, choosing to rename herself Sojourner Truth.

Her lifespan stretched from the earliest years of the United States to the reconstruction following the devastation of the Civil War. My two great-aunts were young children at the time of her death.

Her activism was based firmly on her Christian faith.

I guess that Truth, as an old woman, may have felt a certain satisfaction at the progress that had been made in her lifetime. Never again in the United States would her experience as a nine-year-old be repeated: she was sold as a 'job lot' along with 100 sheep - for $100.

She's possibly best remembered for her speech 'And ain't I a woman?'

A great woman whose name should be better known.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Fancy this

Finding himself in his local M&S today, Mr Gnome swiftly abandoned himself to the timeless allure of the fondant fancy.

How to classify this very particular confection? For Mr Gnome, the FF is a wee bit too special for an ordinary tea or coffee break, freighted as it is with memories of formal 'high tea', where its pastel cheeriness would enliven the table with an air of frou-frou frivolity.

While a substantial, home-made (of course) cake would be the unquestioned diva of the tea-table, the fondant fancy was its sparky soubrette - its irrepressible charm enhanced by a hint of larky vulgarity.

If there's anything to cake-related re-incarnation, one can predict how the glorious Barbara Windsor will be coming back.