Tuesday, September 29

Moira Gemmel, 1959-2015

Sonnet attends the memorial of Moira Gemmel, a 13 year colleague at the V&A and the Director of Design. Moira died in a collision with a tipper lorry on her way to work in April. 55 years old.

Here is the Guardian's obituary:
Moira Gemmill, who has died aged 55 in a cycling accident, joined the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, as head of design in 2002. By the time she left at the end of 2014 to take up a post with the Royal Collection Trust, she had played a key role in transforming the institution that bills itself as the world’s greatest museum of art and design.

When she started, the V&A was, in every sense, notoriously difficult to navigate. Different systems of signage abounded and a variety of vested interests prevented any change. But Moira would brook no opposition and in what seemed like no time a new, coherent and elegant scheme by the graphic consultants Holmes Wood was soon rolled out. She was someone who knew what she thought and said what she meant: a breath of fresh air began to move through the museum.

She went on to develop what was called FuturePlan, and we worked together on this for 10 years. The principles were simple: work with and value the architecture and decoration of the V&A’s complex of historic buildings, open up views so that people would know where they were and be tempted on to see what was coming next, bring natural light into the galleries, provide views both to the outside world and to the garden within, which became the museum’s public hub, and find ways to make sense of the sequence and adjacencies of different displays.

It sounds simple, but it was a long, difficult and demanding process, which she led from 2005 onwards as director of projects and design. It also required charm, steely determination, a clear and coherent understanding of the overall picture and the confidence to tell me, as director, and the trustees when they were wrong. She also had to argue away the light-phobic shibboleths so sadly common among conservators and curators.

The more than 40 projects that she realised with architects and designers included two by Softroom, the Jameel gallery of Islamic art and the Sackler education centre, with its cunning reuse of the difficult spaces in the wing named after the museum’s first director, Henry Cole. She also oversaw the reinstatement and reopening of the original tearooms; Ewa Jiricna’s shop, sculpture gallery and exquisite jewellery gallery; great medieval and renaissance galleries by the architects MUMA; the ceramic galleries by Stanton Williams and the ceramic study galleries by Opera Amsterdam, and the elegant fashion gallery by 6a. Away from the South Kensington site were the Museum of Childhood by Caruso St John in Bethnal Green, east London, and the Clothworkers’ Centre by Haworth Tomkins at Blythe House, Kensington Olympia.

This represented a rate of progress easily excelling anything seen at the V&A since the 19th century. And at the same time Moira steered through the competition to design new exhibition galleries on Exhibition Road, won by Amanda Levete, with whom she worked very closely. A great promoter of new talent and an ardent feminist, Moira was the most demanding and discerning commissioner of projects, sometimes quite scary, never letting her high standards drop, but also a funny, kind and supportive colleague and boss.

She loved design for its own sake, but also believed that it served a public purpose: that good design could make life better and more pleasurable for everybody. She hoped that, little by little, the work that she led would transform the experience of those who came to the V&A so that it would feel cared for and tended, light and airy, tranquil and engaging. So the ladies’ loos needed to be lovely. Designed by Glowacka Rennie, they needed an art installation to make them really special, and I was sent to persuade the Paris-based Swiss artist Felice Varini that this was the right location for work by him. Installations, like the Random International studio's Swarm III, were commissioned for otherwise neglected spaces and what might have been an ordinary fire-escape became, thanks to Jim Eyre’s design, the beautiful ceramic galleries bridge. Moira hoped, as Cole had, that those who knew the V&A would become impatient with unnecessary and spirit-sapping ugliness and demand better in every aspect of their lives.

Always immaculately presented, Moira loved London and was the most urban of people. Yet she was born in Campbeltown, Argyll, the principal town of the Kintyre peninsula, and grew up on a remote farm in Kintyre, daughter of Helen and John Gemmill. She always retained a love of the region’s wild landscape, her family and family home, and for all things Scottish, tartan very much included. From Campbeltown grammar school, under the eye of her mother, who taught there, Moira went on to study graphic design and photography at Glasgow School of Art. This was a turning point. Though enjoying extracurricular activities far too much to be a model student, she loved the art school, found herself, and met the circle of friends who remained with her throughout her life.

After graduating in 1981 she moved to Aberdeen, where she helped set up Citygirl, a listings magazine that was lively and fun but eventually went bust. So Moira got a job at Aberdeen Art Gallery and found herself planning and staging exhibitions, under the directorship of the artist Ian McKenzie Smith.

In 1997 she became head of design and exhibitions at the Museum of London, under Simon Thurley. There, working alongside Magdalen Fisher, who became her closest friend, she was responsible for exhibitions including London Bodies, Terence Donovan's London and Vivienne Westwood. She also oversaw long-term displays such as the World City Gallery and a network of “outsites” that showed archaeological finds where they had been discovered.

A Scottish dimension to Moira’s legacy will come in 2017 with the opening of V&A Dundee, a scheme to take the V&A’s name and exhibitions north and create a design centre for Scotland. She also took charge of the V&A’s pioneering relationships with two Indian institutions: the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbaii, and the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The exhibition programme, which on Moira’s initiative employed so many emerging designers, gave rise to more V&A exhibitions travelling to more places around the world than from any other museum. An honorary fellow of the RIBA, a judge of the Architect’s Journal Women in Architecture awards and chair of the V&A Illustration Awards, Moira excelled at finding ways to ensure that the winners she wanted got the recognition she knew they deserved.

As director of capital programmes at the Royal Collections Trust, Moira had been looking forward to the opportunity to work on Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. Brave, brilliant and beautiful, she was the brightest and best of a generation that transformed the V&A.

She is survived by her parents, her brother, Andrew, and sister, Jennifer.

Moira Gemmill, design director, born 18 September 1959; died 9 April 2015

Sunday, September 27

Back To The Pitch

Eitan crosses
Eitan has a weekend of football: Yesterday it's Hampton v. Eton (nil-nil) and today it's the Lions v. Ashford Town - another pitch close to Heathrow airport (The clubhouse bar open at 12 noon, when we arrive, and it's a line for the beer and hard liquor). 

On the pitch, the Lions up 2-0 before succumbing to an equally matched team who score 4 unanswered points before Sheen claws back one to make it a respectable 4-3.  Eitan says: "It was disappointing." Me: Is that it? Eitan: Yes.

So, meanwhile, the Rugby World Cup going on in the background. Since many of the games held at Twickenham Stadium in Richmond, it is impossible to miss the action (and traffic). Last night Eitan and Shaheen go to Richmond Fields to watch the England vs. Wales on a number of super sized outdoor screens set up for the occasion. The entire country watch England lose in the last 10 minutes. These dudes are big. Hard to say the more brutal: Rugby or American football. The latter have helmets which serve as a battering ram and the offensive/defensive line take 60 collisions a game equal to a 25 mph car crash. More concussions, too.

My tomato vines deliver a wonderful autumnal fruit. These babies have been with me since April and I'm always sad to see them go. Daylight savings can't be far away.

Christian And Lisa Get Married

Deb and Lisa
Christian's wedding a wonderful affair full of joy and celebration.

The weekend starts Thursday afternoon in Palm Springs for poolside drinks under the shade of the massive San Jacinto Mountains which rise up behind us. People arrive from near and far including friends I have known for 30 years or more.

Christian an I get some solo time on a Friday morning 70 minute run in the boiling desert which nearly defeats me but he shrugs off, no worries. From there is is the evening reception, sunshine yoga, toasts, dinner and (of course) dancing including a late night "silent disco" where the DJ spins tunes heard via our headphones creating a strangely intense and intimate scene (and allowing us revellers to keep going well into the night ).

The nuptials overseen by Berkeley friend Perry whose battle, and win, against cancer makes her words the more deep. Eric's poem rings true and Paula's singing and dancing to "More Than A Woman" brings it all home. I reflect on our friendship and our love of music that binds us. The sun sets and the party begins.
Sonnet and Stephanie
Most of all I am overjoyed that my dear friend Christian has found somebody so perfectly suited for him and the rest of his life. Lisa part of the extended Berkeley family.
Paula and Christian
Cal defeats Texas on a Texas missed PAT in the final seconds of the game (scores reported to guests)

Joshua Tree

Yucca Brevifolia
We spend the day in Joshua Tree National Park, about an hour's drive from Palm Springs.

Only found here in the Mojave Desert is the Joshua tree, the largest of the yuccas. Its height varies from 15-40 feet with a diameter of 1-3 feet. They grow 2 to 3 inches a year, takes 50 to 60 years to mature and they can live 150 years.

Joshua trees (and most other yuccas) rely on the female pronuba moth for pollination. No other animal visiting the blooms transfers the pollen from one flower to another. In fact - the female yucca moth has evolved special organs to collect and distribute the pollen onto the surface of the flower. She lays her eggs in the flowers' ovaries, and when the larvae hatch, they feed on the yucca seeds.

Without the moth's pollination, the Joshua tree could not reproduce, nor could the moth, whose larvae would have no seeds to eat. Although old Joshua trees can sprout new plants from their roots, only the seeds produced in pollinated flowers can scatter far enough to establish a new stand.

Mormon pioneers are said to have named this species "Joshua" tree because it mimicked the Old Testament prophet Joshua waving them, with upraised arms, on toward the promised land. This unique species grows abundantly at Joshua tree.
(Source: park info guide)

Downtown LA

Morning sun, up since 2AM
We fly to Los Angeles en route to Palm Springs and CW's wedding to Lisa.  We stay at The Standard in Downtown Los Angeles where we meet Catherine and Catherine's daughter Anneke for a game of ping-pong followed by dinner.

It is hard not to be struck by Los Angeles, which is clearly on the move. Downtown, which was deserted in the 1980s and 90s, is back with new skyscrapers on the build, the Broad Museum (Eli Broad, the wealthy founder) opening this month, the hipsters found across the valley sprawl. Hollywood and Trojan football. 10 lanes of traffic.

Los Angeles was always the superior city to San Francisco in size, culture and  arts, then overtaken during the early halcyon days of Silicon Valley until recently, as San Francisco rents go through the roof and anybody outside of tech (and only a few inside tech) can afford to live there.  It's become an outpost for Google and Facebook and Twitter and AirBNB employees.

Sonnet's Russian Hill studio was $800 or $900 a month while today likely 5 or 6x that (It was a lovely flat with bay views from nearby cross street of Union and Jones; there was always parking but sometimes it took some circling).

Monday, September 14

Some Dialogue

Sonnet: "I want your mobile phones. 6PM. That's the rule."
Madeleine: "No way."
Me: "It's the house rule. I have nothing to do with it."
Madeleine: "Who makes the house rule then?"
Me: "Talk to your mother. She's the Executive Director."
Sonnet: "Executive Director?"
Madeline: "I am not giving up my mobile phone. I need it to wake up in the morning."
Me: "I will wake you up in the morning. Jump in the bed, smother you with kisses."
Madeleine: "No way."
Sonnet: "I'll wake you up then."
Madeleine: "Uh, I don't trust you."
Madeleine: "There was that one time you didn't wake me up."
Me: "Yeah, Sonnet, one time in four years. I wouldn't trust you either."
Madeleine: "I'm not giving up my phone."
Eitan: "I'm good with it."
Madeleine: "OK. I'll right a contract then."
Me: "Now we're talking. 'I, Madeleine, can keep my mobile phone until 8PM.' "
Me: "And I will do the dishes.. .."
Madeleine: "Yeah, right."
Me: "Until 2017."
Madeleine: "No way!"
Me: "I'm just getting started. Then there's the backyard... "
Madeleine: "May I be excused ?"
Me: "Sure. Just leave your phone on the counter."
Madeleine: "I'm not giving up my mobile phone. ..."

Eitan: "I want to go to Airhop instead of Thorpe Park" [Dad's note: Eitan's 15th birthday, with a bunch of friends, is coming up. Airhop is a 'trampoline world' while Thorpe Park is an amusement park.]
Me: "You'd rather go on a trampoline than a terrifying roller coaster?"
Eitan: "Yeah, I guess."
Me: "Why don't you just go over to Helen and Martin's and use their trampoline?"
Me: "You guys can pick apples."
Me: "And make apple pies."
Eitan: "Dad we are not going to make apple pies."
Me: "We can all wear aprons."
Eitan: "Whatever."
Me: "It's all set then. It's going to be the best 15th birthday ever."
Me: "Shall I text the gang?"
Sonnet: "Your Dad is just joking. I think."

Sunday, September 13

Inglorious Beginning

Stag Brewery football pitch
It's all the same to Rusty and just as well as the Lions open their season losing 2-nil to The Barnes Eagles, an inferior team, who barely avoided relegation last year. The Eagles are a bogey who play us well and today no different : we had possession maybe 80% of the game and missed some easy shots  - Eitan had a long chip shot hit the upright and Louie missed an open goal he would otherwise hit in his sleep. Eitan takes it hard as team captain. We have a quiet ride home.

So what to make of Jeremy Corbyn, the new Leader of Labour, moving the party to the left and receiving commendation from Russia and Hamas ? Half his ministers bolt rather than serve under his extreme positions on defence, spending, tax and governing.  It seems Labour coming unhinged following this year's elections. Blair brought Labour to the middle and retained power for 13 years. If Labour fractures it could mean the end of them. But Corbyn could be exactly what Labour and the country need: Fresh thinking, a different vision and a new way forward.

Eitan: "I'm going out. To a party."
Me: "Oh?"
Eitan: "Yeah. It's in Teddington."
Me: "Who's party? Who are the parents?"
Eitan: "It's a girl from LEH." [Dad's note: Lady Elanore Holles is an all-girls sister school to Hampton school.]
Me: "Why am I just hearing about it now? [Dad's note: It is 6PM, Saturday]
Eitan: "Mom knows about it." [Text: Sonnet do you know about a party tonight? Sonnet: I know nothing about a party]
Me: "How are you going to get there?'"
Eitan: "Um, by bus. To meet some friends in Richmond. Then we will go to Teddington together."
Me: "How?"
Eitan" "I don't know. Bus again or something."
Me: "And how will you get home?"
Eitan: "Why do you have to make such a big deal out of these things?"
Me: "Because I'm your father and we have rules in this house." [Dad's note to Moe: Life repeats itself]
Eitan: "Ok, I won't go then."
Me: "Sounds about right."

Sunday, September 6

Super Sonnet

Our gal at mile 13
On a chilly Surrey morning, Sonnet bangs out the Richmond Half Marathon, somehow sneaking in the training since winter. The course starts in Kew Gardens, runs along the Thames until Ham House, then returns to finish at Old Deer Park near the Richmond High Street. While (she insists) it was not for time, her 1:50 puts her pretty close to the PB of 1:48 she ran four years ago when she was bloody well trained. It is a celebration.

Eitan in Bitburg, Germany, this weekend for the Olympic Development Program (ODP) that assesses and selects players to join the player pool for ODP Europe.  If successful, he will be invited back to future camps to train at a high level and compete with local European teams.  Sonnet drops our man off at the airport, 6AM, and off he goes with a few dads and the other ODP hopefuls.

The Cal Bears win their opener in style against Grambling State, a lesser team in a lesser division. Still, hope springs eternal.

Friday, September 4

Back To School

And with an abrupt summer's end, Eitan and Madeleine return to school, 10th and 9th grade, respectively (since the UK begins formal education one year before the US, they are in the equivalent of 9th and 8th grades). Even worse: homework the first day. Only Rusty is happy to have everybody up at such an early hour.

Eitan enters the GCSE zone (General Certificate of Secondary Education) which determines where he will go to university - unlike US colleges which look for rounded candidates who excel in sport or music or the arts, Britain mostly ties its future generation to several standardised tests. This places a huge burden on the kids to deliver on the day, which I do not favour. Eitan and Madeleien will spend the 18 months revising. The school system is optimised for the test, new learning be damned.
The GCSEs are rigorous, recognised abroad, taken in a number of subjects usually over two years, with students selecting a handful of electives.  Eitan will tackle history, geography and drama.

Sonnet, too, gears up for the fall: her next exhibition (2017) will be on Cristobal Balenciga. She is invited to speak on post-Second WW fashion in Italy at a conference in Brighton and to contribute a chapter to a book on same for early 2016. Me, I've got €2bn to raise.