Monday, 28 July 2008

Cutting the virtual ribbon

There's a shop on the corner near the roundabout. It's opposite the pub that sells pizzas cooked in a woodburning stove (which incidentally is very popular) and it's next to the estate agent's that used to be a beauty parlour.

I think the shop was empty when we moved here. At some point it became a tatty antique shop that was seldom open and hardly anything ever seemed to be sold. I think there was a hand written note taped to the window asking potential customers to phone for an appointment. At some point the shop closed down and the contents removed. Time passed and then some decorators moved in and there were clearly signs of activity. We asked ourselves 'who's moving in and what will they sell?' Blow me if it wasn't the same woman who had recently moved out and this time the shop became an upmarket antique shop. The owner appeared to have gone into partnership with someone because now there were two names painted on the window instead of one and the interior seemed to have been inspired by Martha Stewart.

More time passed but there didn't seem to be any more sales of shabby chic furniture than there were before - the only difference was that the shop looked nicer. Then more than a year ago the contents of the shop were removed yet again and this time builders moved in and began extensive renovations on the fabric of the building. I imagined that the lady who had occupied this shop had moved on elsewhere until I was told by someone working in the newsagents that this former seller of antiques had plans to turn the shop into a cafe and in time start baking her own bread because in the past this had been the site of the local bakers. This was all very interesting and my goodness didn't it take a long time to accomplish. We've watched as tons of rubble and junk were removed from the building. We've stood to one side as teams of builders have man handled reinforced steel joists in through the door way. We seen the planning application notice pinned to a lamp post and, finally, observed the shop fitters and the decorators once again transform this shop into something new.

So just recently the shop finally opened for business as a cafe and it appears to have been a success from day one. Now there are more people in and out of the shop in a morning than there were over several months when they were selling furniture - the difference is now you sit on the chairs while you drink your coffee and eat your almond croissant rather than just glance at them through a window. I was engaged in just this activity last week and, while the two 'yummy mummies' next to me discussed their pregnancies, I pondered on the efforts that must have been involved in completing this transformation. This is because I've been doing something similar but in a virtual context. I've been updating and spring cleaning my website. This is so I could launch my small range of greetings cards which you can see here and buy if the mood takes you and this announcement means that my very own shop is officially open.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Olympics lifts my spirits!

Today I have been down in the dumps and the weather here in sunny London has matched my mood as it has been raining 'stair rods' the entire day. The snails seem happy though and they are treating our garden wall like a motorway - every time I look there are more of them.

The reason for my glumness is two fold. The economic downturn is affecting publishers and they are employing fewer freelance designers for the time being so there is less work around and that's making me a bit anxious because that is the work I do to pay my way. The other reason is that I am in the throes of developing my website to allow on-line shopping (because I am about to launch my small collection of greetings cards onto the paying public) and the technical details I am having to learn is driving me to distraction.

Ordinarily I will clean the house when I come across a problem I can't solve as it helps to work off all my pent up energy and so far this week the top floor of the house is sparkling and the middle floor is looking much better too. By Friday I will be able to open the house to the public since I'll be so proud of its appearance. But by this afternoon this strategy wasn't working so I put on my wet weather gear, left the house looking like a hiker and walked across Victoria Park towards the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. I enjoyed stomping along in the rain and looking in people's front rooms while I walked so this helped to cheer me up.

This museum is the east end outpost of the Victoria and Albert Museum (known simply as the V&A) which is in South Kensington in West London. The collections and exhibitions at the V&A cover the decorative arts whereas the museum in Bethnal Green allegedly focuses on childhood but it always feel rather adult to me. I think it might be quite boring for kids although there are compensating large open spaces plus the building has a good echo so it would be great for yelling and crying and running around.

While I was dripping water all over the floor in the foyer I noticed that there was an exhibition of Olympic posters going back to the start of the modern Olympic movement so I headed for the first floor and was distracted en route by a fantastic railway set. It was in a glass case which would be far too big for a domestic setting (unless you happen to live in a stately home). It included a model of a fictional village with a railway station. There were domestic houses and shops, including a fish and chip shop. One of the houses was dilapidated, the garden was overgrown and it had a skip outside full of rubbish so the house was obviously being renovated, so that was obviously fictional! There were trains ready to pull out of the station and if I had been prepared to put two 20 pence pieces in the slot I could have watched them run round the track. And I wasn't - how mean is that.

This exhibition of Olympic posters that I finally reached has been designed to coincide with the Beijing 2008 games. I was surprised by the number of posters but there have been a lot of summer games, winter games and Paralympic games over the years. The designs of the posters have an important role in defining the character of that particular games they are promoting and I was reminded of the Mexico, Sydney and Athens games as I walked around the exhibition. I was also surprised at how often some cities have hosted the games since 1900 but I wasn't surprised that some of them had to be cancelled because of two World Wars and the Spanish Civil War.

The posters for the Munich games in 1972 were many and varied and they were also poignant because I could remember the massacre that took place at those games. The designs for the Montreal games in 1976 were particularly interesting to me because that was the summer I graduated from art college. I was barely employable when I left college but like most of my peers I found work eventually so I was very interested to see what designers, who were rather senior to me, were working on for those summer games. I wondered how many ideas were binned in the process and if those designers were subject to the whims of their clients and had to make endless changes to their work in the same way that has been a feature of my own working life. Shortly afterwards I finished my tour and I felt quite cheered up and walked back into the rain with a lighter heart.