Tuesday, 26 May 2009

A S Byatt

Published amidst much acclaim, A S Byatt’s latest novel The Children’s Book well matches its publicity – at least in length. Weighing in at over 600 pages it promises to be a long read. I am just starting on it and will report as I go along. But why read it? you might ask. Well, it features amongst its main characters a potter, apparently beautifully and convincingly woven into the narrative. The Acknowledgments mention Edmund de Waal, who not only invited the author to visit his studio but ‘allowed me to put my hands into a wavering pot’. Another adviser and helper was Mary Wondrausch, ‘whose book on slipware – apart from being full of interest – was also full of technical information and delectable vocabulary’. All very promising.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

High camp/high art

Love it or loathe it there is no denying the sheer splendour of the Baroque, which the current exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, exemplifies in good measure. Several years in the making, it looks at the way the Roman Catholic church, the aristocracy and the state saw the Baroque as a way of exhibiting and reasserting their power and authority at a time of great scientific and technological development. Armies of architects, painters, sculptors, musicians, actors, writers and craftsmen produced work that was lavish, ornate, highly detailed and ostentatious in its use of precious material. Pottery, then relegated to second place by the sheer beauty and technical sophistication of imported Chinese porcelain, does find a modest place in this confection, namely in the Tulip Vases. Standing some five feet tall, the impressive structures, intended to show off the newly imported tulips – and other flowers – was built in sections and decorated with highly detailed blue and white patterning, While the form was essentially European, the decoration was a liberal interpretation of Chinese blue and white. Despite forebodings before I went, fearing too much sweet and not enough angst, I enjoyed the show, partly because the work had the courage of its convictions – it found little support in the more puritan atmosphere of Britain – and partly for its sheer celebration of skill. High camp or not, it unashamedly revels in the material world. Baroque 1620-1800 continues at the V&A until 19 July.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009


Where there’s a will there’s a way, so the old saying goes. Such determination was given a new twist when drug smugglers, intent on achieving their aim, constructed a 42-piece crockery set, complete with plates, bowls, cups and saucers, fit to grace any table, made out of compressed cocaine. Spanish police seized 20kg of the pots, which had been sent from Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city, to Barcelona via London. The cocaine was intercepted following a tip-off about the suspicious looking package that had been sent by recorded delivery. The consignment was intended to be reprocessed and sold in Catalonia in northeast Spain. A man is being questioned. If the pots in question had been used for making tea, what a high old time the tea party would have been.

The ‘pottery’ was not the only ingenious ruse invented by devious smugglers. Spanish police detained a Chilean man aged 66 with a broken leg whose ‘plaster cast’ was made out of cocaine. The man, arrested at Barcelona airport, was also found to possess six beer cans and two hollowed out stools that contained the drug. The broken leg proved to be genuine and the police think it may have been specially broken to legitimise the cast. In all 4.8kg of cocaine was found – quite a haul.