week 24 - Debate and Debacle

Last week was all about the joys of dogtastic Battersea. This week was about Masterpiece and tidying up.

It's Sunday and I am dragging my suitcase along the seemingly endless corridors of Green Park underground station as I am 'tubing' it to Heathrow en route to New York. I began the day by making scones for my son who is in a rowing regatta this afternoon; he woke me at 7 explaining that he needed the carbs in order to perform well and if i did not make them his position at no 4 in the boat was under dire threat.

Following this I mowed the lawn- Mrs Sungoose pointed out that it needed doing, especially as I was away for a week and the grass would get completely out of hand. I finished, put the mower away and swept the boy off to meet his team. On my return I filled the car with petrol and picked up Anna ( boss of Hatfields ) and started lunch. Barbecued rhubarb may seem like a bit of an oddity but we love the barbecue and we grew the rhubarb. Marinaded in palm sugar for an hour and roasted for 5 minutes then tipped back into the sugar to cool it is a wonderful sweet and bitter pudding when garnished with thick yogurt. Preceded by sweet corn, green beans in soy and fried crispy garlic, micro burgers scattered with paprika and cosseted in mayo. Result! Lubricating this luncheon machine was Sauska 113, a crisp aromatic white that unfortunately is too delicious for only one bottle to suffice. An intense cup of Illy coffee and I am off, trudging to the station.

Years ago I envied my Mallett colleague Richard. He set off each year for Tefaf in exquisite county garb -padded jacket, bright red trousers, a canary yellow jumper and shiny brogues. The very epitome of the English gent. Admittedly he was only in his twenties, but the perfection was intense. Pulling behind him, as we headed for the Eurostar, an immaculate world traveller suitcase, it was blue, had wheels and a stylish leather handle to boot. I have to admit I wanted it. The green eyed monster of jealousy. But I am cheap and he is not. I scoured eBay. I looked in charity shops. I expended endless energy looking for a bargain. In the end, indeed, only a few months ago, I found one, bid and bought it. The result is that I now have the most annoying suitcase ever. It clips my heels and has a stupid balance. As I walk it either falls out of my hand or twists, turns and jumps like a rodeo bronco. It will do anything to avoid falling into subservient line. Mrs Sungoose told me not to buy it so obviously I must give the impression that it is the best purchase I have ever made. It so isn't. It drives me nuts. It is an inanimate direct recrimination for my greed and avarice. And I am lugging it along the platform as we speak. Dammit.

As I walk the week past washes over me. In a weird way I am not only leaving London I am also saying goodbye to the last week. It was an extraordinary week.

It began with a debate at the Ivy Club. Oscar Humphries, editor of Apollo, and Philip Mould, exhibitor and TV icon, were mediated and moderated by yours truly on the subject of whether modern art would stand the test of time or not. We quickly reduced it down to a binary choice between the 'living or the dead'. The debate raged in an amiable sort of way washed down with our sponsor's gift of Ruinart champagne. Oscar besports many a cunning tattoo - including his chest which reads 'protect me from what I want'. Philip is every inch establishment, steady argument, finely coiffed hair and masterpieces in his own stock to draw reference from. We had this game - each member of the audience was given an imaginary million pounds to spend on art. At the end they had to vote with a show of hands who would get the pot to spend, Oscar or Philip. It was fun to see an almost palpable sense of where the gathering throng wanted the money to go. I thought the maverick Oscar would win with his outré vision and cunningly self-effacing air. But Philip carried the day.

Moving into the building phase of the fair sees some issues pass and others enter the frame. Stands are all allocated and numbered, plans are being framed and pictures are flooding in to the website. One of the strangest indices of the impending fair is watching the building of the Chelsea Flower Show. As their structures ascend so ours become ever closer to their moment. We had a very jolly lunch introducing Nazy (our CEO) to the Royal Hospital team - Peter Currie, Lieutenant governor, and Andy Hickling, Quartermaster. The management of the Royal Hospital is based on military lines as their titles would suggest. There is a refreshing sense with them that if there is a job to be done then the only hurdle is how to do it quickly, efficiently and economically. There is no ego, or any other distraction. It is never a question of doubt, or concern about covering their backs, none of the paranoia associated with corporate 'health and safety', the euphemism for inertia that cripples many a business. If they want to do it, they get it done. They are completely committed to the welfare of the in-pensioners, as they are called, and the sensible and pragmatic modernisation and development of their site. At the table we are all builders and planners and it made for a very stimulating and creative lunch. Ideas for the future crackled.

Friday was a key day. We and Apollo finished the magazine and I cannot wait to see it. Oscar and his team have fashioned with us an appetising meld of both serious scholarship and entertaining reading. Natalie in our office has been working all hours to get it done and as she strode out of the office for a weekend away she had a definite triumphant swagger alongside a sense of exhausted relief. She had pulled it off!

For me Thursday and Friday were a counterpoint between California and Egypt. I had two clients in town, one on each day. California I met in the exquisite Bar de Cuisine by Poilane in Cadogan Gardens just by the Kings Road. I had not been there before and it was a revelation. The decor was pale wooden benches and seats and a broadly industrial air. This has become the paradigm set by "Le Pain Quotidian" but this was altogether a superb expression. I had a double espresso with grilled bread and butter, scattered with rosemary above a crispy sea of bacon. Dead simple but totally - distractingly delicious. Poilane bread is so moreish- it has a sourness and coarseness that could be perceived as negatives but it is amazing. With Egypt I was faced with the awful truth that I know nothing about carpets. She had rung me to say that she needed rugs for a new house in London- I had taken her and a friend up to park royal and an old university friend Mike who deals in great stuff, but mainly to the trade. He does not like dealing with actual end users. They want precise sizes and colours rather than admiring the detail, quality or rarity of a carpet. He greeted us cordially and had laid on sweet tea. So far so good. He is exceptionally knowledgeable and is happy to share and discuss but I had nothing to contribute. When I had said "ooh that's a nice colour" for the umpteenth time I could see my superfluousness written in capital letters on everyone's face. Countries of origin, ages and patterns merged into a swirl in my head and I had to sit quietly in a corner to avoid embarrassing myself even more. They were all very polite and as I drove Egypt and her friend back to town they could not have been kinder and more appreciative. But the crunch came when they wanted to see some of the best pieces at the house. Egypt kindly and gently pointed out that my presence would not be required.

So here I am, dragging that stupid suitcase off to New York and another continent where we are having a Masterpiece event and exhibitor meetings. All next week.

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