Recently it was time once again for Castle Reunion drinks at the Counting House in Corn Hill followed by dinner. As with last year my Suffolk chum from Durham University days rounded up ten alumni, as the term is, to assemble and swap stories about their careers, offspring and in some cases grandchildren. The difference this year was twofold – we were requested to find the dinner venue and, owing to my error in asking, to come up with this year’s “Big Question” to the assembled company designed to elicit deep, meaningful and philosophical conversation. The latter, I can reveal, was “What are you personally optimistic and/or pessimistic about?” while the former was La Sauterelle at an unassuming little place known as the Royal Exchange.We were on the gallery level that you see with the three illuminated windows not the floor level café. The Exchange is no longer a bank but given over to smart retail and dining space.
Last year we travelled up to town on the coach and whilst very cheap, it was really quite an awful way to go. So this year we took the train and even though it was on the privately run modern, monopolistic incarnation of Bunuel’s GWR (“God’s Wonderful Railway” or Great Western Railway for my non-British readers) it was nevertheless considerably more pleasant and although about three times the price it was about twice as quick and arrived at Paddington station and not Victoria coach station which I can assure you is much to be preferred.
Previously we were fortunate enough to stay at our friend’s club in Mayfair however this year it seems that the club now has a policy of pricing club members’ guests out of such activities so we chose accommodation in Lincolns Inn Fields, the site of one of the three Inns of Court, close by the city but also on the edge of Covent Garden and near to many of the main galleries, museums and general sights. London is such a diverse city that it is possible to find an affordable hotel facing onto a lovely peaceful garden square in such close proximity to the all the hurly-burly of the Great Wen; in other words a few minutes walk from Holborn underground station.
As we arrived at midday and the hotel let us check in early we headed off back to Covent Garden and after a quick, rather undistinguished burger we took a short stroll down memory lane for my benefit. Way back in the mists of time I began my career in the market research industry on the first floor of this building on the corner of Wellington and Russel Streets with a little company called Field RAT (which stood for Research Analysis and Tabulation). Some years later I was back in Covent Garden in Southampton Street working for the DP Bureau of National Opinion Polls. That turned out to be my last ever job in London before departing for Terra Australis.
Leaving the past behind we headed for the National Portrait Gallery to see the new exhibition “Vogue: 100 Years of Style“. Now I am no fashionista but this was a very interesting show more from a social history than fashion perspective. The photographs were organised chronologically by decade which enabled the viewer to understand the changing styles not just of the clothes themselves but more importantly the style of presenting them. In the early years leading up to the twenties the magazine was still using artists to draw and paint pictures until photography took over. The great message for me was seeing the watershed moment in the sixties so clearly. Up to that point I think that it would be true to say that fashion was the preserve of the upper classes. The photographers, the models, the clothes all conveyed a sense of a small privileged class. With the sixties, well we all know what the sixties was supposed to have meant but the democratisation of the fashion industry was evident with designers such as Mary Quant and a whole new way of photographing the models. The subsequent trend that emerges is the development of the “supermodel” most often in the form of the “ordinary” girl discovered by model agencies and moulded to their purposes though increasingly these models began to exert more self-determination. Think of Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss in particular.