Category Archives: LONDON

London Slant: Why has the V&A’s resident architect disappeared?

The maid was standing in the bedroom when I asked her whether I could take photographs. “No, I’m sorry,” she replied, politely “this is a private home”.

Tomorrow at V&A

Cracked dining table and a sculpture of Norman Swann cowering in the hearth.

I doubt whether gallery assistants at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum usually give this response, but then a frilly white apron over a black dress is hardly their regular uniform. It’s all part of Tomorrow, the brilliantly conceived installation that Scandinavian artists Elmgreen & Dragset have created in the recesses of the museum’s upper floors.

Just finding my way to Tomorrow was all part of the fun. I meandered through rooms I haven’t visited for years, beside a golden sarcophagus, among gothic Victoriana and  past radiant stained glass. Once suitably steeped in nostalgia I arrived at the imaginary residence of architect Norman Swann.

A butler nodded as I entered the suite of formal, high-ceilinged rooms. But Swann himself was nowhere to be seen. Around the swiftly vacated premises were hints that this éminence grise had fallen on hard times and, unable to pay his bills, disappeared. A film script available at the entrance gave a different twist to the tale.

But as I wandered around I began to wonder whether something worse had befallen the man—and half expected to find his turned-up toes peeking out from beneath the bed. Was that why a crystal vulture loomed over it from above?

Bedroom Elmgreen & Dragset

A vulture is poised over the rumpled bed

The black dining table had a sinister crack running through its centre. Through a locked door came the sound of running water: was it Swann in the shower or a tap left running by someone inside unable to turn it off?

All these dramatic touches were skilfully juxtaposed with the plaintive minutiae of a grand life lost,  of the old order ousted by the new. On the piano was a collection of monochrome photographs, including shots of Swann with worthies such as Margaret Thatcher. Library shelves featured august leather-bound tomes alongside Proust’s In Remembrance of Things Past and The Benn Diaries.

More poignantly, in the corner of the pristine, hi-spec kitchen, was a pile of discarded pizza boxes. Concealed behind an elegant screen stood an invalid’s walking frame. There were crumpled unpaid bills, guns, half-stuffed packing boxes, an old cardigan slung on a chair. All had been meticulously compiled from the collections of the V&A and E&D to create this unnerving scene.

By now, I’d built up so many different scenarios I could have written a film script of my own. But the time had come to step out back into the galleries. I said goodbye and thanked the maid. It was a pleasure,” she replied. “Thank you for visiting.”

V&A Elmgreen & Dragset

The steel-cold kitchen, with Domino’s pizza boxes dumped in the corner

The artists in Norman Swann's lounge.

Visitors are welcome to sit in Norman Swann’s lounge, just like its two artists, above.

Tomorrow by Elmgreen & Dragset, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Free, until 2 January, 2014.

Photographs courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

London Slant: Art lovers! Dare you visit the dairy with bottle?

I must confess that I had never read Aldous Huxley’s Island. But after an encounter with some giant purple mushrooms at the Dairy Art Centre, I now feel as though I have.

London Slant: The Dairy Art Centre

Surreal sculptures at the Dairy Art Centre.

To explain. Huxley’s 1962 novel concerns a utopia where exotic religions and psychedelia rule. It’s the inspiration behind a similarly named exhibition at the recently opened Dairy Art Centre in Bloomsbury, a gallery of contemporary art.

Tucked away in a tiny backstreet a few steps from the Brunswick Centre bustle, the building is a squat brick structure that once was a milk depository. A suitably white interior shelters behind a chic glass facade fronted by a small sculpture garden.

But if the walls are plain, the exhibition adds pops of colour and excitement, with 70 works by 40 artists including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Peter Doig and Cindy Sherman. This non-selling show spans an eclectic range from sound to mixed media, courtesy of collectors Frank Cohen and Nicolai Frahm.

Immediately inside is Ai Weiwei’s Map of China, hewn from a Qing Dynasty block of wood. I loved its combination of brutish force and the way its folds and rings suggest a rich past and diversity. Another favourite was Takashi Murakami’s Army of Mushrooms (yes, it was those fun fungi again).

Some works, such as Fang Lijun’s 2007-2008, obviously channel the kaleidoscopic, tropical Island theme. Likewise, Tomas Saraceno’s delightful Flying Garden, made of transparent pillows, was suggestive of a hippy drippy world. Then there was Douglas White’s Crow’s Stove, rearing up like a malevolent palm tree about to transform into a fearful bird.

The relevance of others, such as Adriana Lara’s ink print of a Dunhill cigarette packet, Smoking Kills, was harder to fathom. But that, and works like John Armleder’s handless clocks, were no less intriguing and worthy of their place.

I’ll let my photographs tell the rest of this very visual story, but just add that the gallery offers free guided tours at 3pm on weekends. I can think of no better antidote to the winter chill than casting your mind adrift and becoming marooned on this island of brilliance and wit.

London slant, The Dairy

Works including Cyprien Gaillard’s Untitled (Rim Structure), Sterling Ruby’s RED.R.I.P. and, popping up behind, more of those magic ‘shrooms.

London slant The Dairy Art Centre

Gorgeous creatures float and fly across Fang Lijun’s vast canvas.

London Slant, The Dairy Art Centre

Douglas White’s Crow’s Stone: suggestive of the horrors that might lurk on an island paradise.

London Slant, Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei’s Coca-Cola vase: a Neolithic pot painted by the artist.

London slant, Tomas Saraceno

Flying Garden/Air-Port-City/12SW by Thomas Saraceno: two shiny confections of 12 pillows suspended in space.

The Dairy Art Centre, 7a Wakefield Street, Bloomsbury, WC1N 1PG 020 7713 8900, free, until 1 December.

London Slant: Where to read the runes in Regent’s Park

It’s amazing what you can stumble upon in London during a Sunday stroll. As I walked along the east flank of Regent’s Park, a church with two rocket-shaped towers in a rose garden caught my eye.

My gaze wandered from the church to three ivy-covered gothic arches to its right. Lit by shimmering shafts of sunlight, they hinted at some ghostly mystery.  What did they lead to? I was intrigued—and set off to explore.

London Slant Jelling Stone

My first glimpse of the Jelling Stone

I was totally unprepared for what I found: a giant rock covered in Nordic runes. Whatever was it? Fortunately a plaque was on hand to reveal all. But before I started reading I stepped round to its other side and was even more surprised.  There stood a figure of a Christ, arms outstretched and swathed in swirling golden bands. To his left was a lion in a scrolling serpent’s grip.

Jellilng Stone

The other side of the Jelling Stone

I discovered that the church, St Katharine’s, serves London’s Danish community and the stone is a cast of a giant runic monument at the town of Jelling in Denmark. The original Jelling Stone was erected by King Harald Bluetooth, grandfather of Canute, in around 965. Such is its significance that the Christ figure appears on Danish passports.

The replica was made in Denmark and brought to London for an exhibition on Danish art and culture at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1948. But at 11 tons it was too unwieldy to transport back. So it remained in London and was erected at St Katharine’s in 1955.

Jelling Stone St Katharines' church

St Katharine’s, the Danish Church, on the east side of Regent’s Park.

After viewing the stone I wandered around the gardens, looking at the 200-year-old Gothic revival houses in the precinct around the church.  Despite having visited Regent’s Park umpteen times, I had never come across this place before, or heard of this stone.

That evening I hunkered down to read a magazine, and what should I see but an advertisement for one of these houses up for sale. Not surprisingly, price is upon application for this former grace-and-favour residence of senior clerics and members of the royal household. Let’s hope that the new owner makes the most of living within a stone’s throw of the Jelling Stone. As the gloriously named antiquary Ole Worm wrote in his Monumenta Danica in 1643, people from other nations should take an interest in Denmark’s runic stones.

London Slant: The art of the dinner deal

Summer is traditionally open season for London restaurant deals. It’s the time of year (along with January) for swanky dinners without fear of fainting at the bill. So, come August, I was off, grabbing all those special offers while the sun shone.

We all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Nor will you get a value menu at a decent (let alone great) restaurant at 8pm on a Saturday night. But 6.30 pm on a Monday is fine by me. And I’ll happily have my post-prandial espresso in the lounge if the table needs turning for those with pockets deeper than mine.

London Slant -Savoy Grill

The famous hotel sign just above the entrance to the Savoy Grill.

So, first up was the Savoy Grill. Well, wouldn’t it have been churlish to ignore Gordon Ramsay’s £26 three-course dinner with champagne?  I knew it was going to be fun the minute I stepped inside and into what seemed like a glamorous 1920s film set. The bubbly sparkled, and dull-sounding dishes (root vegetable salad followed by ravioli) sprung to life in my mouth with unusual herbs and spices, delicious dressings and flavoursome sauces. A millefeuille with crunchy-crisp wafers layered with luscious fruits and cream brought the evening to a decadent end.

I loved the retro decor of the Savoy Grill, but was less enthused by the recent makeover of the rest of the hotel. Where they got some of the artwork from (a Far East factory?) I dread to think. Much more to my my visual taste was my next port of call: Tramshed in Shoreditch. I do like to see a pickled cockerel and cow above my table (thank you, Damien Hirst) when I’m dining out on chicken salad and steak frites. And especially when a cocktail and Ronnie’s amazing apple pie are thrown in for £16.

London Slant Tramshed

Damien Hirst’s pickled cockerel and cow dominate the carnivorous carnival at Tramshed, Shoreditch.

Scanning the menu I spotted all sorts of nifty prix fixe treats year-round. So I plan to return for more simultaneous eating and art appreciation. I’m fired up to try Indian Rock chicken curry, for instance, and more of Ronnie’s puds. Then there’s the Chapman Brothers’ wallpaper and the Cock n’ Bull Gallery in the basement downstairs . Even the staff’s T-shirts are a collection of works of art.

But now here comes the good news. We’re well into September, but the deals haven’t stopped. If anything, they’re popping into my inbox even faster than before. I’ve had a free bottle of Prosecco to celebrate my birthday at Pizza Express  (I recommend the crispy-thin Da Morire Romano pizza – truly to-die-for – in their Coptic Street branch, a former dairy with patterned tiles).

Maybe some geek inside my laptop has marked me out as a sucker who can’t resist a tempting offer. Whatever, next week I’m off to the Cinnamon Club (a 3-course Indian menu, with cocktail, for £24). It’s adjacent to the Palace of Westminster and is known as a haunt of Lords and MPs. Could the parliamentary recess possibly have any bearing on my deal?

I found my deals via Time Out, Top Table and direct from Pizza Express.

London Slant: Inside the house of Britain’s richest man

Imagine the house of a man who in the 1940s was the wealthiest self-made man in the UK.  An industrialist who during his lifetime gave around £1 billion to charity in today’s terms.

Walls covered in Rembrandts and Monets? Vistas of formal gardens and lakes? At the very least a gold tap or two?

Nuffield Place, National Trust

Nuffield Place, designed by a pupil of Lutyens, built in 1914 and acquired by William Morris, later Lord Nuffield, in 1933.

Probably the last thing you’d conjure up would be “school-of-Hyde-Park-railings” art and carpets covered with stains from his wife’s wayward Scottie dogs. But prepare to be surprised when you enter Nuffield Place, home of the late Lord Nuffield, near Henley in Oxfordshire.

When I walked into the garden of this recently opened National Trust house it was  like arriving at a vicarage fete. Bunting was strung across the 1930s-style Coronation Cafe and families clustered on the lawn tucking into sponge cake with cups of tea.

Nuffield Place National Trust

Visitors to Nuffield Place had parked their vintage cars outside the house.

Some fabulous vintage cars were parked outside, their owners milling around in flat caps and tweed. The scene was set for stepping inside the world of William Morris (1877-1963), a man who left school at 15, began a bicycle repair business with £4 capital, then moved into cars in a massive way.

By the mid 1920s Morris Motors Cars was earning its founder a fortune. But instead of spending it on a fancy home he gave away the money to medicine and education. His Nuffield Foundation, College and hospitals are still active today.

As I explored the house I was struck by visitors’ exclamations: “That’s just like my grandmother’s dressing table” and “I had one of those when I was a child.” It’s a perfect time-capsule of mid-20th-century life and of someone whose driving force was business and benevolence, not showing off to guests.  It’s a place to delight in the quirky innovations and gadgets that Lord Nuffield loved, such as his automatic match striker in the drawing room.

Visitors are free to ramble through the pine-panelled billiard room and the sitting room with its wireless and 1950s-style cabinet TV.  Upstairs is a dressing room with the one display that shows this is no ordinary middle-class home: its owners’ velvet and ermine coronation robes. There’s a sunroom full of equipment that Lord Nuffield liked to tinker with, including fire extinguishers and an ultraviolet lamp.

But for me the house’s highlight was Lord Nuffield’s bedroom and more specifically the huge tool cupboard by the end of his bed.  Every man has to have his shed and how luxurious to have it at your feet: shelves packed with clocks, wires, screwdrivers and even equipment for mending his own shoes, with stick-on soles.  In among them nestle curios such as his appendix in a jar.

Nuffield place National Turst

The multimillionaire’s bedroom, with furry hot water bottle, curiously wired reading lamp and bedside sword.

Nuffield Place National Trust

Inside the bedroom tool cupboard, just as he left it: Lord Nuffield’s pickled appendix and equipment to mend his own shoes.

So who was this dynamic entrepreneur who preferred to hunker down in padded sofas rather than to schmooze and entertain? Let’s leave the last word to a plaque presented to William Morris by his golfing buddies, dedicated to “A sportsman and good egg”.

* Even if you don’t have a vintage Morris car you can motor to Nuffield Place from London for a great afternoon out.

National Trust photographs, from top, courtesy of James Dobson, (vintage car by London Slant), John Hammond and Cristian Barnett.

London Slant: Rush to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum

While Britain dithers over whether to build Boris Island or expand Heathrow I hear that Holland’s Schipol is positioning itself as London’s major airport. If so, maybe the reopening of the Rijksmuseum can be considered London’s hottest new cultural event.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Henry Moore exhibition in the gardens of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

So hop on a plane and head to Amsterdam fast. Because the museum has reopened after a 12-year closure with a stunning temporary Henry Moore show. It’s the icing on the rich and delicious cake that’s the makeover of the museum itself.

I arrived at the Rijksmuseum entrance as a rush hour stream of cyclists pedalled past. Their campaign to stop the proposed blocking of this route through the heart of the building was partly why the museum remained closed so long. I’d been warned there were huge queues to enter, but when I arrived at 9.05 I walked straight in.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The Gallery of Honour, with Rembrandt’s Night Watch at the far end.

I hot-footed it to the Gallery of Honour where Dutch old masters are arrayed. It’s a magnificent sight, with alcoves of Golden Age works leading up to Rembrandt’s Night Watch, dramatically displayed at the far end.

When the museum was built in 1885  the names of featured artists were inscribed high on this gallery’s walls. The rehang of this revered space reveals a fascinating change of tastes. Frans Hals and Jan Steen are still here, Hobbema has gone and Vermeer (who, unbelievably, was unrated) has now been brought in. It’s wonderful to see his milkmaid calmly pouring from her jug centre stage—especially since I’d pipped the heaving scrum and had her all to myself.

The entire museum gets my resounding thumbs up for its brilliant integration of fine and decorative arts. The story of the Netherlands, against the backdrop of the sea, is vividly conveyed through skilful juxtapositions of paintings and objets d’art. Showcases of vases, clocks and pieces of furniture are set among pictures of similar age and style. I thrilled to items that would never normally grip me, such as silverware and porcelain.

The building itself is a treat. I followed an architecture trail that led from the decorative neo-Gothic Great Hall, with its stained glass windows, to the new Asian Pavilion, where works are displayed in zen-like calm.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Holland’s ties to the sea are visible throughout the Rijksmuseum. Objects mirror paintings throughout.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Paintings are matched with fabulous drinking cups covered in swirling sea creatures emerging from the waves.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Shiva Nataraja (King of the Dance), part of the excellent Asian collection, now has a stylish, light-flooded home.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

A row of dazzling kimonos, ancient and modern.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The greenhouse supplies salads for the museum cafe.

When the Rijksmuseum closed for the evening I headed into its gardens, where the Moores were bathed in sun. I peeped into the greenhouse where vegetables for the lunches served in the museum cafe are grown. Then it was on to Sama Sebo, the Indonesian restaurant next door, for a first rate rijstafel. Fortunately I’d booked a table: it was shoulder-to-shoulder—just as the space in front of the Night Watch had become.

*Check out City Airport for an Amsterdam flight: save time and outrageous train fares to larger airports. Henry Moore is on until 29 September.

London Slant: Walk with Vincent van Gogh through Brixton

“I walk here as much as I can…it’s absolutely beautiful here (even though it’s in the city).”  This is how Vincent van Gogh described his neighbourhood when he lived in London as a 20-year-old man. The Dutchman arrived here in 1873 and spent several months working as an art dealer, well before he headed to Paris and Provence. Some of his first stirrings as an artist date back to his London years, when he discovered illustrations in newspapers that would later inspire some of his masterpieces in paint.

Van Gogh Walk

Lavender, irises and olive trees on the street that’s become the Van Gogh Walk.

Now his compliment to the area in Brixton where he lodged has been repaid. A short street opposite his home has been turned into Van Gogh Walk, a garden oasis with planting inspired by his paintings. There are irises and lavender, and trees arranged to mirror his famous cypresses. Art installations and sculptured seats reinforce the theme. I don’t doubt that some sunflowers are sprouting as I write.

Van Gogh in London

Trees inspired by Van Gogh’s paintings of cypresses.

All are interspersed with excellent panels describing Van Gogh’s months in London and apt quotations from his letters home beautifully carved in stone. As he wrote: “There are lilacs and laburnums blossoming in all the gardens, and the chestnut trees are magnificent.” Although Van Gogh had not yet embarked on his quest to become an artist, he clearly appreciated nature in what was then the largest city on earth.

Van Gogh in London

The house where Van Gogh lodged in London, with its blue plaque.

The nearby house where Van Gogh lived, 87 Hackford Road, has a shiny blue plaque, but could do with a good lick of paint and more substantial restoration work. It was recently sold to a Chinese buyer who indicated his intention to turn it into a centre for art. I trust it will be spruced up soon.

Van Gogh was sacked from his London job, and went on to work as a lay preacher in Isleworth and as a teacher in Ramsgate, before returning to Holland where he began to study art. But his stay in London came at an impressionable age, and it was at Hackford Road that he fell for his landlady’s daughter, although the sentiment was not returned.

Since I visited the new Van Gogh Walk I’ve been delighted to see that it has been highly commended in the Living Streets awards. And it’s not just the street that merits an accolade. I was also taken by the clever bicycle hangers, for safe storage in an area where it’s often difficult to bring bikes inside.

Van Gogh in London

“Bicycle hangars”: what a great idea.

Hopefully Van Gogh Walk won’t just be a pretty spot to linger but may also inspire local people on art adventures of their own. After sitting beneath twisted olives branches you can follow the route Van Gogh walked every day to his Covent Garden workplace, but stop off at the National and Courtauld galleries instead and see how he interpreted these trees in paint.

LONDON SLANT: CANTERBURY TRAILS

It’s a centuries old tradition that come the warmer weather travellers set off from London for Canterbury. It was a rambling ride in Chaucer’s day. But thanks to the Mo Farah and Sarah Storey Javelin trains that zoom out of St Pancras, the journey now takes under an hour.

So, one bright Sunday morning I found myself sharing a southbound carriage with two young women on the Walk of Shame. Both were curled up asleep. Two pairs of sparkly, spiky heels formed a decorative arrangement on the table.

The conductor appeared and they confessed: “We have an issue”. Cue cleavage-waggling and an elaborate yarn about how they’d lost their tickets when some clothing went missing the previous night. Duly ejected at the next stop, they tottered off along the platform in their remaining party gear.

Our train plunged into the most beautiful bucolic scene: lush water meadows with cattle grazing among reeds and flowers. Eventually the towers of Canterbury Cathedral reared up behind, but the goal of my journey lay elsewhere. I’d come to see the newly refurbished Beaney House of Art & Knowledge—a rather academic name for a museum-cum-giant cabinet of curiosities that was huge fun to explore.

Beaney Canterbury

The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury.

Beaney Canterbury

Inside the newly refurbished galleries.

A fanciful 1899 building on the High Street, The Beaney’s doors open to some wonderful paintings, ranging from old masters to contemporary works. But I was equally taken by more unexpected displays. I admired a mummified Egyptian cat, a stuffed armadillo, a Venus flower basket (the skeleton of a sponge) and ancient garnet brooches dug up when the building was restored.

Venus flower basket

One of many curios: the Venus flower basket, a sponge skeleton.

But what I most enjoyed was making the acquaintance of two eccentric Victorian gentleman travellers and the quirky treasures they brought back.

One, Stephen Lushington, was both MP for Canterbury and Governor of Madras. Jane Austen wrote of him: “He is quite an MP. I am rather in love with him. I dare say he is ambitious and insincere.” He returned home with a huge collection featuring a sword guard with a demon devouring an elephant and a mace decorated with intricate flowers.

And then there was the Reverend Henry Landsell, whose adventures took him across Asia during the 1870s. There are photographs of him posing in outrageous local costumes in Siberia and the Stans. From Kashgar he brought back a leather face slapper, captioned “for slapping naughty women’s faces in prisons”. From Burma came decorative objects ransacked from the Royal Palace of Mandalay. More practical were the embroidered trousers he bought in a Tashkent bazaar, which he found “warm and useful” when travelling by horse.

I could have spent hours sitting on the Beaney’s little portable stools, peering at every detail of these intriguing objects. But a late lunch called, so it was off to The Goods Shed, for melt-in-the-mouth roast beef and a vegetable platter. We sat at wooden tables on a dais above the farmer’s market in full swing to one side. I’m sure that every carrot, splash of oil and slice of bread came straight from the organic stalls busy with shoppers down below. Great atmosphere, great food.

The Goods Shed Restaurant

The Goods Shed Restaurant, close by Canterbury station.

As I sipped my locally brewed beer I suddenly remembered those two girls on the train. Were they still staggering back home on their stilettos? Or had they managed to bamboozle another ticket inspector with a more convincing Canterbury tale?

LONDON SLANT: A SERPENTINE MEANDER

The swallows have swooped in, roses have burst into flower—and the Serpentine Pavilion has sprouted in Kensington Gardens. There may be other signs to the contrary, but these three arrivals announce that summer, unequivocally, is here.

Serpentine pavilion

The Serpentine Pavilion: a dazzling addition to Kensington Gardens.

Anything involving London’s Serpentine Gallery is always an event. Its exhibitions invariably catch the zeitgeist: thought-provoking, off-piste, fun…I rarely regret the pilgrimage to check them out.

And what better advertisement hoarding could the gallery erect than its pavilions, temporary structures designed by international names which have popped up here every summer since 2000. Following a parade of wacky designs by starchitects like Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry and Oscar Niemeyer, for 2013 it’s the turn of a comparative unknown, Sou Fujimoto from Japan. Knowing the Serpentine’s knack for backing winners (I recall an exhibition years ago with a pickled sheep by a young artist called Damien Hirst) I think we can be assured that Fujimoto is One To Watch.

I like to use my annual pavilion foray as an excuse for a stroll through Hyde Park’s glorious swathe of green. This year I set off from Lancaster Gate and plunged straight into the freshly restored Italian Gardens. Their spouting fountains and urns with tumbling flowers made an exuberant start to my stroll.

Next landmark was the Henry Moore Arch, now happily back in place after it became unstable and was off show for 16 years. It looks terrific reflecting in the Serpentine, framing the vista towards Kensington Palace. Just beyond is The Magazine, an historic former munitions store, which is being transformed by Zaha Hadid into the new Serpentine Sackler Gallery. It’s due to open later this year with exhibition space and a cafe. Mark your cards for the opening now!

And so to Fujimoto’s pavilion, a non-building or at least one that seems to have vanished, leaving only its shimmering scaffolding behind. You can see it as many different forms: billowing mist, a mass of phone masts…but it struck me as a magical oversized child’s climbing frame. I’ve never seen so many grown-ups clambering around with such glee, beaming down from the highest points as if to say “I’m the king of the castle”. I stepped gingerly from one glass box to another, never sure whether I was planting my foot on thin air, and confess to feeling quite superior when I secured a lofty perch.

Rock on top of another rock

Rock on Top of Another Rock outside the Serpentine Gallery.

Rock on Top of Another Rock eventually drew me on my way. This teetering monument by artist duo Fischli/Weiss is so dramatic in this natural setting it’s a shame it will move on next March to the Middle East.

And so to a waterside coffee among yellow irises fringing the Lido as a bunch of swimmers battled the waves. And along the lake to The Dell and Rose Gardens, bursting with colour and scent. At Hyde Park corner my carriage awaited—on the Piccadilly line.

LONDON SLANT: MR FOX, I’M ON YOUR TAIL

It started, innocently enough, around four years ago. Returning home one Thursday night, there he was. Tripping along the pavement with his nose in the air.

This was the most urbane and elegant of foxes, entirely at home in his central London domain. He’d left his top hat and silver cane with the doorman and was about to have dinner. It was all set out and waiting for him in the black bin liner for the dustman by my front door.

Over time, he became less of a bachelor gadabout and settled down with a mate. I’d spot the pair of them curled up in the sun on the conservatory roof opposite. Aaaah, I thought. They look like a cosy couple on the beach. Then, late one evening, I heard terrifying wails from over the garden fence.

Sure enough, a few weeks later three little cubs came scampering over a wall. A lighter colour than their parents, they looked like delicate ghosts flitting among my ferns.

Fox

Mmm…I wonder where I can dig another hole?

Then, one morning I awoke to find a huge pile of earth at the end of my tiny garden. Someone had dug two huge holes and uprooted plants. Next to this, like a calling card, was some unfortunate creature’s desiccated skull. My suspicions as to the perpetrator seemed to be confirmed when a cheeky face with pointy ears peered down over the fence and looked as me as if to say “What are you doing on my patch?”

So now they’re no longer loveable neighbours. In fact they’re full-on pests. Google told me they hate the scent of urine, so I peed in a bucket, poured it on newspapers and shoved them down the hole.  Cayenne pepper was mooted as a deterrent, but didn’t work (perhaps because the use-by date was June 2002?). I then bought a product called Scoot that had no effect and was all set to get lion dung from London Zoo until a friend said it, too, definitely doesn’t work. As far as I can see, there’s absolutely nothing we can do to see them off.

Does anyone out there have any other ideas? Help, before we’re overrun!