Fran, Mick, Chris and Me…

These little stories are about two unrelated events that both have something in common – they both involve a certain amount of namedropping.

Part One

Many moons ago, I  studied sculpture  at St Martins ( take note Jarvis Cocker). There were some pretty big names teaching there at that time; Anthony Caro, Phillip King, John Hoyland, Frederick Gore and more. However, the amount of sculpting I did was limited slightly by the lure of various drinking establishments in nearby Soho.  One of these was the renown French House, run at that time by archetypal Frenchman, Gaston Berlemont.,_Soho


Monsieur G Berlemont

 Monsieur Berlemont was unique and fearsome, but he was also a welcoming landlord.  Soho at that time was reaching the end of an era. Its gradual decline as a magnet  for artists, writers, performers and various other “characters” was inevitable as the old guard  gradually faded away in a haze of gin fumes. Read Daniel Farson’s books for an evocative account of the period.  My college friend Simon ( who was later to become the Art Critic of the London Evening News) and myself would head  most lunchtimes towards Dean St where an opened bottle of Cotes du Rhone awaited us on the bar.  Amongst the regulars at the “French” was painter Francis Bacon.

Mr F Bacon

Mr F Bacon

One day as we were heading into Soho for our liquid lunch, we spotted the renown artist, reeling towards us. As usual he was  looking worse for wear with drink. On passing us he stumbled and fell towards the busy traffic along Old Compton Street. With lightning reactions I grabbed the legendary painter by the left arm and hauled him back out of danger. Back on the vertical,Bacon straightened himself up and headed off without a murmer . I was disappointed, a small painting was the least I might have expected by way of thanks after saving the life of one of the greatest painters of the 20th Century.

Part Two

A couple of years ago in Dymchurch we set up something called the Traders and Residents Group. This committee (and I use the word loosely) comprised all and sundry, basically anyone with a view on the state of the village.  Our original aim was to ensure the construction work on the new seawall did not adversly affect the economy of the village..  I was “lucky” to be elected Chair  of the Group, it was a bit of a poisoned chalice as it happened.  The way things turned out though, the seawall construction work actually brought the village to life. Birse Coastal, the contractors were incredibly considerate to the community, great communication, friendly professional workforce. They also gave the village cafe’s loads of much needed winter business. In fact Birse won a prestigious national award on the strength of the Dymchurch project.  Most mornings half the population of the village could be found on the seawall watching with amazement at the incredible feat of civil engineering that was taking place on their doorstep.

The “Dignitaries” I’m the one on the right who got the dress code wrong..

As is always the case, towards the end of the scheme, the bigwigs were invited to observe progress.  Lord Chris Smith, Chair of the Environment Agency and Baron Howard of Lympne  ( MIchael Howard to you and me)  turned up with their entourage to view the magnificent expanse of concrete.  To my amazement I too was invited in my role as Chair of the Traders committee. We were all issued with lovely shiny new safety wear and the dignitaries were ushered into a large (bulletproof?) black limousine for a tour of the wall.

To me the word “Gobsmacked” is the ugliest word in the English language, normally I wouldn’t dream of using it. In this instance however, it somehow seems quite appropriate. I found myself in the back seat of the limo sandwiched between Baron Howard and Lord Smith. Even Terry Preston our beloved Parish Council Chairman didn’t get a look in. Actually I think they were as surprised as I was to see me sat between them.   Making polite conversation and playing at being a “dignitary” was fun while it lasted though. The Traders and Residents committee folded shortly afterwards, (a blessed relief) and my glory days were over, at least for the time being…..


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