Week - 74 - From the Cafe Royal to the Langham

On Tuesday morning I got lost trying to find the Cafe Royal in Regent St. Hard to believe of a born and bred Londoner, but I had never visited before. A London legend since its heyday at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries when it was the place to dine, it closed in 2008 and four years later, after a transformation, by one of England's best-known architects David Chipperfield, it re-emerged from its chrysalis in 2012 as a fancy hotel. So much history, so much an icon of Belle Epoque London, and yet I was visiting for the first time - for breakfast, somehow incongruously - and I had to be there by 9 am. At 5 minutes to 9 I was haring up and down the street with an increasing sense of panic. For some reason Google maps indicated that I had arrived but as I stood on the street, it was plain to me that I had not. Looking over the road for inspiration the name suddenly appeared on the other side of the road - and there it was, right in front of my nose. Finding myself in the lush interior of the Domino room and both calming and cooling down, I was warmly greeted by the effervescent and beautiful Heather Kerzner, the host of this event - and because of the tube strike it turned out that I was far from the last to arrive, to my huge relief. Heather is chairing this year, once again, the Marie Curie charity night at Masterpiece. This morning was her 'call to arms'. Her team of the elegant and the glamorous were thrown into a fever of excitement by her stirring words about the upsetting but invaluable work of the Marie Curie nurses who bring comfort to those who are dying.  A nurse spoke eloquently too about her experiences and all felt moved by the personal but unemotional, matter-of-fact way she described the attempt to bring hope to those in despair and comfort to those for whom there is no hope. Nazy spoke about Masterpiece and endorsed the feelings of all of us by committing the fair to trying to raise a record sum for the charity. Last year, we raised nearly £850,000; this year the challenge is to do even better and break £1 million. It was astonishing and humbling to witness so many people undertaking to work very hard for the charity simply for the benefit of others, with no personal gain at all. These powerful guests at the Cafe Royal are going to spend the next couple of months calling in favours and cajoling their friends so that someone dying of cancer, someone they will probably never meet, can have a last moment of calm. I cycled away proud to be associated with this selfless effort. I too, in a small way, gave myself to the charity, offering to be auctioned as a guide to the Paris trade for a day. It will be fun for me but it would be great if I encouraged someone to help Marie Curie too. A few hours later I was chugged! This is a word which combines 'mugging' with 'charity'. Outside Waterloo station there was a young man working for Marie Curie - he was wearing their signature Daffodil badge and was charmingly but forcefully approaching all who walked past. I had foolishly taken off my Daffodil, which might have acted as a protective talisman, and he walked over. Twenty minutes and a long exposition later I just about escaped without signing over the deeds to my house, but I had promised to send him tickets to Masterpiece. At every level, from £1 to £1 million, the charity are working flat out.

On Wednesday morning, I I made my way to Ascot from Waterloo. Another first for me - having never actually been to flat racing I was very excited by the prospect. As a very small child I used to go to my grandparents for lunch at the weekend. My grandfather, my father and I were ushered upstairs to his office. My principal memory of that room was thebig cupboard that opened to reveal a treasure trove of glasses and bottles. from which I was allowed to take a bottle of Britvic orange -I can still conjure the smell of that cupboard and the intense chemical orange of the drink. We then all had our hair cut by the barber who arrived from Trumpers. At the same time, we watched the racing on my grandfather's huge and very modern 'colour' tv, and he would place bets via the open telephone line on his desk. All the while two vicious Burmese cats prowled around scratching and generally making a menace of themselves. I remember them as being almost the same size as myself, but the mind does play tricks. So whilst racing never became an interest of mine, it is embedded in my psyche in a way I cannot analyse or fathom. Arriving at the station and walking up the hill to the race track I could have been anywhere doing anything but as soon as I entered the building I was thrown back in time to my youth and my grandfather's office. I had been invited by Henry who has only recently started working in the marketing department of Ascot. We are exploring the idea of linking in some way the racecourse to Masterpiece and he gave me an extensive tour of the facilities and the entertaining options. Eating and drinking in a corporate box we admired the views. I am not a gambler outside of antique dealing(which can sometimes be seen as a gamble).The balance between winning and losing does not work for me: the joy of winning simply does not sufficiently compensate for the pain of losing. But clearly others do love it. My fellow visitors to the meeting buzzed about checking the odds and making complicated bets about who would win and who would finish in other positions. I watched as their faces and moods rose and fell - it is easy to see how intoxicating this sort of activity is. We went down to the enclosure and it was exciting to be so close to the horses, their grooms and the riders. Everyone is written in miniature; and everyone is incredibly skinny. The horses' veins and ribs stick out and their nervous energy is palpable. The racing itself seemed to me, in the end, secondary to the tapestry of the day. So much was new and exciting, colourful and noisy, and I am looking forward to my next time.

Back in London I rushed off to the Blain Southern dinner celebrating their international show of the work of Lynn Chadwick. The location was the Roux restaurant at the Langham hotel. Blain Southern is a gallery that is ostensibly new but is actually the reincarnation of the once renownedbut now defunct firm Haunch of Venison,  founded by Harry Blain and Graham Southern, as the names above the door. They have retained their historic team including Adrian Sutton and others so that the company seems very familiar. I remember Graham telling me that the new business would be very small and discreet. Today, only a couple of years into its new life, they have huge premises in Hanover Square, and galleries in Berlin and New York. Tiny!  Socially dinner was a peculiar fusion of local and global. A surprising number of Stockwell residents - neighbours of mine, familiar and previously unknown - were present, counter-pointed by a smattering of arts journalists, collectors and curators together with many members of the Chadwick family. This year at Masterpiece Blain Southern are bringing an outstanding large-scale work which will be on show at the centre of the fair. They are also bringing a new work called 'Masterpiece' by a couple known as Tim and Sue. We feel very closely linked to the gallery because of their support and encouragement. Dinner was very jolly and brisk challenging conversation took precedence over the food. As the evening closed I left feeling privileged to be connected to such a dynamic group.