July 15, 2013

Salubrious Solitudes.

One of London’s most exclusive address is a haven for incurable oddities. “Go down Piccadilly and turn right before the Royal Academy. You can’t miss it.  Ask the porters for… .  Oh, and please, please, bring a decent bottle of wine”.  I’m on my way to meet a client.

‘Lucky you’ was the standard response of those whom I told of my assignment. And anyone who knows this handsome chunk of real estate — said to be the oldest apartment block in London — will understand just how lucky. It is not only the W1 postcode, nor the fact that Fortnum & Mason is your local grocer. It is more to do with the feeling, summed up by one long-term resident, that "to live here is to live in history".

OK, you may tense on hearing the Fortnum’s clock distantly chiming an ersatz version of The Eton Boating Song, but apart from that, you are firmly back in the 19th century. Those who wish to genuinely plunge into this rarefied world — and the place really has changed little over the past 200 years — will need plump wallets and a good deal of patience.

All the apartments (sets) are on leases.  In 1804 it was decided by the trustees that "in order to exclude improper inhabitants" there was to be no "Profession, Trade or Business". It’s a little easier to get in now. Some old-timers say the place has lost a lot of its dotty English character; that due to the escalating rents, it is becoming the preserve of bankers. However, from the cast of characters I witnessed it’s the haunt of bachelors, or of married men who try to lead bachelors’ lives — the dread of suspicious wives, the retreat of superannuated fops, the hospital for incurable oddities, a cluster of solitudes for social hermits.

I fear some of the more monastic and strait-laced types will not thank me for saying this, but a rakish aura still hangs over it like the smell of cordite around a cannon (Lord Byron famously smuggled in his lover Lady Caroline Lamb in dressed as a page boy to beat the no-women rule).

Take Alan Clark, the late Tory MP and diarist. The porters loved "Clarky" and still talk about the old boy fondly. It was in B5, a set he described as "the straitened quarters of an Edwardian bachelor on his uppers", that he seduced two girls young enough to be his daughters, having performed an identical service for their mother in an earlier era. You may recall this tryst resulted in her husband, Judge Harkess, roaming around London looking for Clark with a horsewhip.  On another occasion, after flooding a fellow tenant’s cellar, Clark asked contritely if there was anything he could do. "Yes," came the splenetic reply, "go and lie down in Piccadilly and wait for a double-decker bus."

Incurable oddities; “The Place” is made for them.

July 5, 2013

Like Freckles or a high IQ…

…you either have it or you don’t.

If you analyze it, it makes no sense. If you imitate it, it does not look quite right.  If you disguise or undermine it, it just keeps bobbing back.  Style – that uncanny ability to make something out of nothing or everything - is as stubborn and unavoidable as the people who have it.

Style is as simple as the shape of a lapel or as complicated as the length of a glove in relation to the width of a sleeve and the size of a hand.  It can also be as unexplainable as the gleam of a certain wall color in candlelight.  Style is the swing of a hem; the perkiness of a fresh flower pinned to a belt; or a pair of shoes so well cut and kept that one cannot tell who designed them or when.  Style is maddeningly obtrusive, snobbishly minimal, ruthlessly luxurious, or touchingly plain.  There are no rules.  If you got it, you have got it-only death or a definitive move, say to a nudist camp, can cause you to lose it.

To be fair, style is more about a sense of culture, tradition, confidence, and daring than following fashion trends.  Money can, of course, aid and abet style, but it certainly cannot create it. If you think you can acquire instant style be exhausting platinum credit cards, you probably also believe that grocery shopping at Fauchon makes one a terrific cook.  Wrong.  The price of style has more to do with personality than purchase.  Admirably put-together persons, or spaces, possess an instinctive sense of time and place.  They rarely allow obstacles such as “correct” to get in the way of looking great. 

In general, the copy syndrome does not hold much mineral water here. People with style never look like anyone but themselves, and their living spaces reflect that as well.  

I had an acquaintance who could make something smashing out of a few yards of Astroturf and a tube of superclue.

The rest of us...

...simply have to "make due".