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Mothers and fathers used to bring up children: now they parent. Critics used to review plays: now they critique them. Athletes podium, executives flipchart, and everybody Googles. Watch out – you’ve been verbed.
Last October Faber & Faber took a full-page advertisement on the back of the Guardian Review. It was not, however, advertising books. Instead, it invited aspiring authors to sign up for the creative-writing courses organised by the ‘Faber Academy’. Among the tutors were Tracy Chevalier, Helen Dunmore and Esther Freud.
The sale at Christie’s New York on 9th November 2006 was every auctioneer’s nightmare. In the spotlight was a rare Blue Period Picasso, his Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto (The Absinthe Drinker), being sold by the Andrew Lloyd Webber foundation. The estimate was a staggering $40 to $60 million; but at the eleventh hour, ownership of the portrait was claimed by a little-known German academic called Julius Schoeps.
For many art lovers, the Sensation exhibition of 1997 was a cultural disaster akin to the sack of Rome. The Royal Academy, home for 200 years to the nation’s most accomplished painters and sculptors, was given up to the shock troops of BritArt, with Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Marcus Harvey to the fore. Chief of the Visigoths was Charles Saatchi, the man whose collection made up the show – to some a fearless champion of contemporary taste, to others its arch villain.
In the autumn of 2002, N’Deaye Ba was to all appearances a deeply enviable young woman. The beautiful 30-year-old actress had recently married her director boyfriend; together they had bought a new house in Bristol, where she was to spend the next six months filming Casualty. But on the day of their move, N’Deaye received the results of a blood test showing that she had contracted a little-known disease called lupus. It was the beginning of a two-and-a-half-year battle which would cost her her looks, her marriage and ultimately her life.
In the summer of 1920, a sixteen-year-old girl presented herself for work at 50 Gordon Square in the Bloomsbury area of London. Her name was Grace Germany, and she had been sent by an agency in Norwich to act as housemaid to Mrs Vanessa Bell. It is possible that she knew her employer to be one of the leading artists of the day; what she cannot have guessed at was the unconventional nature of her household – or that she herself would be part of it for more than 50 years.
The Richard Temple Gallery lies in what its owner admits is ‘a slightly obscure backwater’ of Holland Park, West London. It is far from the orbit of the art dealers who tread the ‘Golden Mile’ between Sotheby’s and Christie’s in the West End; and even in local terms its footfall does not compare to that of Cath Kidston, the colourful homeware designer a couple of doors down. At present, however, it is very much on the map for two of the greatest cultural institutions in the world, the Louvre and the British Museum. The focus of their interest is one of the most extraordinary sale-room discoveries of modern times: a sixth-century Egyptian icon valued two years ago at £3,000, and now thought to be worth millions.
This weekend, lovers of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler are gathering at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta for one of the biggest publishing events of the year. The launch of Rhett Butler’s People by the American novelist Donald McCaig is expected to signal a gold rush for booksellers second only to the final Harry Potter. A sequel to Gone With the Wind told from Rhett’s point of view, it will have an initial print run of one and a half million copies.
The New York Antiquarian Book Fair is the most exciting event of its kind in the world. This year’s, held in a former military drill hall on Park Avenue, drew a particularly glamorous crowd, following a pronouncement in American Vogue that book collecting was the fashionable hobby of the moment. Among the works for sale were a fourth folio of Shakespeare’s plays and a first edition of Frankenstein; but for curiosity, few competed with the three leather-bound volumes being touted in that last week of April by the owner of a small shop in Greenwich Village.
Even before they are opened, the thousand-odd boxes stacked for sale in a converted Hampstead stable tell a story. ‘Aliens’; ‘Lumpy Pop’; ‘Pocahontas Toys 2’; ‘Other Fish’; ‘Pilgrim Souvenirs’; ‘Bigger Salt and Pepper’; ‘Pencil Sharpeners 7’ – these are just a few of the descriptions neatly appended to their cardboard sides. Bizarre yet meticulous, they represent the private passion of the late Jonathan Gili – film-maker, publisher, and (according to the former head of conservation at the British Library, Nicolas Barker) ‘one of the most individual collectors of anything anywhere’.
Jordan is known to expatriates as ‘the Middle East for beginners’, and you do not have to go far in Amman to understand why. The well-laid roads are filled with smart cars, gleaming as best they can in a country which consists largely of dust; the pavements beside them are cooled by the shadows of new hotels and office blocks. But now and again, between the high-rises, you catch sight of an open patch of land where a shepherd in a keffiyeh tends his scrawny flock: a reminder that for many of the five million people in Jordan, life has not changed greatly since Biblical times.
In the grounds of a Renaissance palace outside Bucharest, a family in seventeenth-century garb is strolling beneath the dappled shade of the chestnut trees. The father – ginger-haired, bearded and moustachioed – is of ratty appearance, and drags one foot awkwardly behind him; the children run to their mother’s embrace clasping fronds of leaves. Suddenly, a deep Scottish voice startles the peace of the sylvan glade.
The subject of loos is inescapably hilarious. You will not find anyone more serious about it than Richard Chisnell, the head of the British Toilet Association – yet the moment you start talking to him, those pesky metaphors start creeping in. The government, he tells you, has washed its hands of its responsibilities; the BTA has been inundated with complaints; bureaucrats talk a lot of hot air.
In a yard in South London, four men are attempting to move fourteen apparently immovable objects. Ten of these are life-size human figures weighing three quarters of a ton each, which – because of their delicate patina – cannot be touched; the next three, which resemble lethal games of spillikins, consist of hundreds of welded steel spikes that threaten to blind anyone who gets too close; while the final one, made up of large ball-bearings, not only cannot support its own weight, but is still being worked on by a young man with a chisel whose look says, ‘Pack this, and you pack me with it’.
Last Sunday night, the Revd David Jenkins gave the strangest sermon of his life from the pulpit of an elegant Romanesque church. The congregation, who had come from all over the world to hear him, sat attentively in their pews. At the end of the service, some knelt in silent prayer; other raised their arms with a cry of ‘Hallelujah!’ before filing down to the crypt for an informal discussion. It was in many respects like any other Christian service – except that the church existed only in cyberspace.
In the gloom of a converted oast house in East Sussex, 60 people stare at a slide of an elegant woman in Victorian dress, leaning against a bicycle. ‘Question one,’ says the projectionist. ‘This princess’s 25th birthday was also her brother’s wedding day. What was her name, what was the date, and who was her brother?’
Four days into filming BBC2’s new spy drama, there is real-life skulduggery afoot. Last night a truck loaded with props was stolen from outside a Cambridge hotel and emptied of its contents. ‘It’s never happened on any production I’ve worked on before,’ says the bewildered producer, Mark Shivas, ‘and I’ve worked on a lot. Heaven knows what they’re going to do with a heap of old bicycles. But at least they didn’t get the portrait of Henry VIII.’
The island of Taprobane is a pocket-size paradise lying 200 metres off the south coast of Sri Lanka. Until the 1920s it was merely a rock, rising 60 feet out of the sea; but then a romantic Frenchman called the Comte de Meauny bought it, built an exquisite Palladian villa on the top, and laid out an equally exquisite garden, rich with orchids, palm trees, bougainvillaea and frangipani. Today it belongs to Geoffrey Dobbs, a Hong Kong-based entrepreneur renowned for his parties, which are wild, and his temper, which is unpredictable.
Felicity Hill, the director of Learning for Life, tells the story of an 11-year-old boy she met while working in a school in Pakistan. ‘He was obviously very upset, and said that he’d had to drop out of school because his father had died: he was now the sole earner for the family, and he had five brothers and sisters to support. I thought he was just going to ask me for money, but he didn’t: he said, “I want to make sure my brothers and sisters go to school, but I’m not sure that I can afford to pay for their fees and their uniforms and their books. Can you help me?” ’
Who is the queen of Hollywood? You might be tempted to say Julia Roberts, Oscar-winning beauty and the world’s most highly-paid actress. But in terms of sheer clout, Julia must cede the title to Pat Kingsley, a 67-year-old publicist whom some would like to see cast as one of the three witches in Macbeth.
There cannot be many people who felt starved of political coverage during the general election, but Sister Eustochium was one of them. ‘I find politics utterly absorbing and fascinating,’ she says. ‘Andrew Marr is my hero. I miss all of that – but there you go, you can’t have everything.’
Simon Connolly and Louise Ellingham are the very model of a modern professional couple. Simon, 42, is a successful criminal barrister who glides to work from their flat in Hampstead on a BMW 1100 motorbike; Louise, two years younger and so chic that she makes Wallpaper look like wallpaper, runs her own PR company – or at least she did, until her life was changed by the events related here. Off duty, they are amiable, sociable and ever ready to laugh, and you can easily imagine them sunning themselves on their yacht in Barcelona. What you cannot begin to imagine is the trouble they had getting it there.