It's such a sad sight. Bluston's window display - usually so pristine and shining - is reduced to this. The red polka dot dress which has had pride of place in the display ever since, it almost seems, I moved to NW5 is gone. I hope it's found a good home. Today is Bluston's last Saturday - the shop closes on Tuesday or Wednesday. What a painful loss for Kentish Town's high street.
I popped in to wish the own Michael Albert and his colleague well - this shop has been part of Kentiish Town since 1931. With the wonderful charm which matches the (listed, happily) shop front, I was offered a small glass of sherry and a sweet.
There's talk of a move to 'save' Bluston's - and keep the premises going as a clothes and fashion shop, with space still for the sepia portraits of the founders (you can just see that of Jane Bluston, Michael's grandmother, in one of the photos above) which are such an icon of the store.
Whatever the fate, on its last Saturday, we wish Bluston's a fond, respectful and moist-eyed farewell!
St Martin's, Gospel Oak, is once again showing a glorious index finger to the world. This most maverick of London's parish churches has got its turret back. And on Easter Sunday, the minister Chris Brice is going to preside over a special service and ceremony to mark the full gothic restoration of this wonderfully mad piece of clerical architecture - not just the Grimms' style turret, but the four smaller corner pinnacles too.
So, the back story - this 1860s church was built through the munificence of a Midlands glove manufacturer, who turned to the distinctly outlandish Edward Buckton Lamb as the architect. He delivered Morris & Co stained glass, a truly amazing wooden roof, mosaic panels, alabaster everywhere - and a curiously narrow tower topped off with a range of pointy things which are more Liechtenstein than north London.
Bomb damage (which nearly did for the stained glass too) disturbed the turret and pinnacles, and those still in place in 1945 were too insecure to be left up there. But now Chris Brice has - and what a splendid achievement - not only raised the money to restore the tower to its original design (Lottery money helped, I believe), he's also managed to oversee execution of the work.
St Martin's is, as so rarely is the case for a Victorian parish church, Grade 1 listed - though among connoisseurs of ecclesiastical architecture, opinions vary. Pevsner described it as 'the craziest of London's Victorian churches' - and I'd go along with that - while Elizabeth and Wayland Young, less generously, compared it to a duck-billed platypus.
Whatever - it's lovely to see turret and pinnacles back on the Kentish Town skyline. Hallelujah!
What a spectacular abbey, and so little known - Easby, on the banks of the Swale just outside Richmond in North Yorkshire. Our visit today was helped by an hour or so of bright spring sunshine. The whole place was enchanting.
It dates from the twelfth century, and has been in ruins since the sixteenth century - Turner pained it, with the abbey looking much as it does now. The building that has survived best - the walls almost full height, and the fine windows in tremendous condition - is the refectory, which appears to have been almost as grand as the church. My 90-year-old father particularly wanted to see Easby as it's one of the few North Yorkshire abbeys he has not visited. He was astonished by the grandeur of the buildings. It's not that far off the beaten track, admission is free, and I'll certainly be going again.
Then into Richmond for lunch, one of the busiest and nicest of North Yorkshire market towns with a very elegant central square.
My last - indeed I think my only previous - visit was in early 1989, covering the by-election which saw William Hague returned to Parliament for the first time. He's standing down in May, so my Richmond visitations have bookended his Parliamentary career. I remember the by-election campaign keenly. Both the Social Democrats and Liberal Democrats contested, and between them got 54% of the vote. If they had worked together, Hague wouldn't have had a chance. The Social Democrat, a local farmer called Mike Potter, was a strong candidate. I went canvassing with him, and couldn't understand why he shoehorned mention of his girlfriend into just about every doorstep conversation. I quickly found out. Lunching with Lib Dem canvassers, one of them made loud mention of how a middle aged bachelor wouldn't go down well with the Richmond electorate. For a liberal party, the Lib Dems were shameless in latching on to homophobic sentiments in by-elections. They did the same thing in Bermondsey.
And in case you are wondering the 1989 by-election came about when Leon Brittan took up a post in Brussels as a European Commissioner.
One of the blessings of leaving the BBC is that I don't need to be so circumspect in my blogging. So here is my prediction for May 7th - and after ... all time-stamped eight weeks ahead of polling day, and all to be deleted on May 8th if I am embarrassingly off the mark ...
So, my reckoning is that the two main parties are indeed neck-and-neck - neither excites much public enthusiasm, but it is clear that Ed Miliband isn't greatly trusted by the electorate. That personal awkwardness really matters and the political message is muddled. So I reckon that the polls have got it right, but as the campaign draws on the Tories will edge ahead, and even allowing for the bias towards Labour in the way that constituency boundaries are drawn, my guess is that the Conservatives will be the largest party in the new Parliament, though probably not by much.
I reckon that the SNP will do a little less well than the current polls suggest but will still emerge as the winner of the largest number of Scottish seats - more than thirty. The Lib Dems will do better than the polls point to, but will still lose a lot of seats, and will be down to under thirty MPs, and so will be relegated to the fourth largest party in Parliament.
The UKIP challenge is fading a little - they could get 10% of the vote and probably three or four MPs. The Greens will be somewhere around the 4-5% mark - but will do well to keep their sole current MP.
And if all this comes to pass, what happens then? Try this:
This isn't what I want to see happen - I just think it's entirely feasible and perhaps more likely than any other scenario. In that great journalistic cop out: time will tell.
I had the chance for a bit of a wander today - and popped in at the Freedom Press bookshop, hidden away (and I really mean hidden away) down an alley at the side of the Whitechapel Gallery. It's the sort of place that's always worth a good rummage. The new stock is largely anarchist or that way inclined - but there's also some second-hand sections which are much more diverse.
For the first time, I think, I went to the guy in charge and said one of his books simply shouldn't be on sale at all. A work of philosophy by Herbert Spencer once owned by, and bearing the signature of, the anarchist Matt Kavanagh, and with copious pencil notes either by him or someone else. This should be part of the Freedom Press archive held at the Bishopsgate Institute - I hope that's where this book will be heading.
I was happy enough with what I did pick up. I got a 1924 edition of Bertrand Russell's Justice in War-Time with the ownership signature of John Hewetson, one of the defendants in the renowned Freedom trial of 1945 which was about, yes, justice in war-time.
The other really nice book was J.M. Guyau's 1891 volume Education and Heredity: a study in sociology - bought above all for this splendid bookplate.
Tom Keell was the mainstay of the Freedom Press for a decade either side of the First World War.
The book also has the ownership signature of the educationalist G.W.S. Howson.
Why Freedom is disposing of its library in this way, I really don't know. It's not even raking in lots of money.
From there to Bishopsgate, where the library often has shelves laden with items for sale - there's usually a few things of interest amid, on this occasion, a remarkable number of titles about Stalin.
This is my favourite of the handful of items I picked up at Bishopsgate today - a pamphlet by the renowned historian E.P. Thompson about the struggle for a free press. It was published in 1952.
This pamphlet looks at the history of the movement for a free press, and concludes: 'Today the Daily Worker has become one of the last channels for the circulation of free opinion, the only paper to stand between the people and the unprincipled campaign of lies and war propaganda of the capitalist press.'
Four years later, E.P. Thompson walked out of the Communist Party - largely because of disagreements over freedom of expression.
And in case you are wondering about the title of this blogpost: We're All Normal And We Want Our Freedom: Tribute To Arthur Lee & Love is a 1994 tribute album for the band Love and its leader Arthur Lee. The album was named after a line in their song "The Red Telephone" from the album Forever Changes. The phrase originated in Marat/Sade, a play written by Peter Weiss.
To the marvellous, cavernous Union Chapel in Islington last night - the 'Congregational cathedral' - to see the equally illustrious (and ancient) Fairport Convention. You can see three of the band above - including the two real veterans, Simon Nicol on the left and Dave Pegg in the middle (it's Chris Leslie on the right).
Alongside quite a bit of entirely respectable new material, Fairport also delivered a handful of their vintage hits, including 'Crazy Man Michael', the peerless 'Matty Groves' and as the encore - inevitably - the hugely evocative 'Meet on the Ledge'.
I reckon if you take the combined age of the five current members of Fairport Convention and head that far back into the past, you will be well into the first Elizabethan era.
Simon Nicol dedicated 'Crazy Man Michael' to the daughter of Sandy Denny, who was in the audience. Sandy Denny was the band's quite wonderful lead singer until shortly before her tragically early death in 1978 - and the magic she wove over Fairport is still much missed.
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