Posts Tagged ‘John Lewis Partnership’

The Saturday job at the chemist provided extra work throughout the holidays which in turn provided me with the cash required to clothe myself as a wannabe hippy in flared jeans and a selection of groovy cheesecloth tops and t-shirts. In a parallel life I was studying for ‘A’ levels, spending copious amounts of time in the art room, wading around in rivers on geography field work or having a wonderful time being properly introduced to Shakespeare by one Mr Herman Peschmann, a diminutive yet cantankerous German who resembled a shell-less tortoise. He had a slight problem pronouncing the word ‘three’ so we spent every lesson forgetting where we were in the text just to hear him repeat ‘Act Three; Scene Three’ which just happened to be on page thirty-three.  To our immature sixth-form minds this was hilarious but he got us through those exams and left us with a lifelong appreciation of the bard.

As if the pressures of the looming exams weren’t enough, we were subjected to our career interviews.  Remember those? You’d be ushered into a makeshift office the size of a broom cupboard (come to think of it, it was the broom cupboard) where an earnestly whiskered elderly woman with bad breath wearing a beige home knitted cable cardigan and flat sandals shuffled a few pamphlets and talked about secretarial college. Or the army.

In days of yore it wasn’t the natural progression to opt for three years at some ivy clad institution slogging your way through every optic in the student union bar and then take a gap year funded by your cash flashing parents – it was still perfectly acceptable to go out to work – and what’s more, there were actual jobs available for those with an inherent  work ethic but fewer theoretical credentials.

With the naivety of youth and a head swimming with implausibly grand ideas of becoming the next Mary Quant, buyer for Harrods or Sunday supplement editor-in-chief I settled in front of Miss Careers-Advice who suggested sweetly that as I had no intention of further education I should definitely think about becoming a secretary. After my dreary filing experience at the bookshop any notion of admin filled me with horror.  I didn’t like to tell her that I didn’t want to BE a secretary, I intended to HAVE one. I left that broom cupboard with a handful of her leaflets and deposited them swiftly into the nearest bin.

I began to panic a bit when several friends suddenly decided that they wanted to be teachers and signed up for various universities. Perhaps I ought to look for something beyond the sixth form, if only to keep the adults in my life from asking what I’d be doing post exams. I trawled through volumes of college prospectuses and finally found what appeared to be a course tailor-made to my lofty, fast-track ambitions. A one year diploma in periodical journalism (an academic year of course means September to June – things were looking better by the minute) at the London College of Fashion in Central London. Marvellous! All my boxes ticked and a year swanning around Oxford Circus: what more could a girl ask for.

I applied, was interviewed and turned up on my first day where I quickly realised that this was going to be the longest year of my life. My fellow course mates, most of whom owned a Chanel handbag, seemed to be treating this as a state-funded finishing school opportunity – a respectable interlude between exclusive boarding school and getting married to a City banker then heading off to the Shires to produce multiple offspring. However, I happily discovered a couple of kindred spirits – one of whom transferred to St Martin’s art college after the first term – leaving me and Val to endure and make the most of whatever came our way.

I have to admit that we probably didn’t embrace our time there quite as we should. We spent considerable time in the nearby Phoenix pub bemoaning our fate over half a Shandy before being dragged unwillingly around all the London fashion shows by Miss Jackson who in her time had been a Fleet Street fashionista but was by now retired and well past her sell-by date. While most of our peers were swooning at the sight of the editor of Vogue in the front row and possibly waiting to prostrate themselves in front of her, Val and I were frantically writing our reports and working out the quickest way back to Oxford Circus to be the first in line for cheese on toast in the canteen before the dreaded evening sessions began. These sessions involved learning a version of shorthand (T-line) which I never got to grips with (smacked of admin) and which I failed dismally.  Then there were the cosmetic science lessons where all I can remember is producing my own hand cream using something called Isopropyle. A word that for some reason has stuck in my memory all these years but which I’ve never had cause to use. The only useful journalistic training we gained was a block of six weeks taken at the London College of Printing. Based at the Elephant and Castle – a less than salubrious area of south London which came as a shock to the haute couture brigade who I don’t think had ever ventured across the Thames, this was where we learned from working journalists about editing, deadlines, printing and the reality of working on a daily paper.  We created our own dummy newspapers, selected stories, set up interviews, had our work rejected. It was fast, fun and furious and Val and I loved it which made returning to the fluffy world of fashion even harder but at least we knew where we didn’t want to work come the summer.

And, as the saying goes, nothing is ever wasted. As the end of the summer term approached, job vacancies trickled in to our tutor at the college. We were encouraged to go for as many interviews as we could. While the Edina and Patsy’s of this world held out for a position on one of the glossies some of us decided to have a bash at anything. So it came to pass that a position presented itself in the press office of the John Lewis Partnership, based at their flagship store a block away from Oxford Circus. I went along for an interview, they liked me; I liked them. It was settled. I said goodbye to the chemist’s forever. I was going to be a partner.

Oh, and by the way, for anyone who has ever thought that the characters of Edina and Patsy in the sitcom ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ are way too over the top, please let me reassure you that they aren’t. I have known people exactly like them – I only wish it had been me and not Jennifer Saunders who had created them. Here’s a hilarious reminder:

 

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Our latest sojourn west during the extended Christmas break reminded me of other recent visits to Cornwall, in summer, when the days are long and the light is sharp. Although Cornwall is beautiful at any time of year, early summer’s my favourite – before the hoards of holiday makers descend, blocking the roads with their caravans and filling the cafés up with their blotchy sun-burned skin.

St Ives

St Ives

Go west as far as St Ives – the quintessence of a West Country seaside resort; a perfect picture postcard of a place.

Stroll along typically narrow, Cornish cobbled streets, hear the constant cry of gulls as they wheel overhead; breathe in the salt air, rub shoulders with weather-beaten locals and wander around the harbour to marvel at the latest bounty coming in from the sea on little fishing boats or just spend time lazing on miles of glorious sandy beaches. Do all the things you would do at the seaside.

However, there’s another side to St Ives. The town is well known for being a place that entices artists to stay and enjoy the clarity of light for which it is famous. There’s the Tate Art Gallery right on Porthmeor Beach, housing ever changing exhibitions. The Leach Pottery, a museum dedicated to the work of Bernard Leach, (founding father of the renowned Cornish potters), is well worth a visit and can be found at Higher Stennack, a steep walk to the top of the town.

But to find the most magical of places you must get past the plethora of Olde tea Shoppes selling cream teas; get past the fudge shops, the shops selling surfing equipment, the bead shops, the shops selling crystals and polished fossils, the upmarket casual fashion shops, the bucket, spade and sun cream shops and wind your way around the backstreets until you find yourself in front of a curved, high stone wall and an unprepossessing door. It’s not easy to find, even with the help of the brown tourist signs which are all a bit skew-whiff – but perseverance will be rewarded, especially if, like me, you are a fan of 20th century sculpture.

For this is the site of Trewyn Studio – the home of the English sculptor, Barbara Hepworth – the place where she created some of her most seminal works and ultimately, the place where she died tragically in a fire in 1975. Originally from Yorkshire, Hepworth was one of several artists who settled in St Ives  during the 1940’s. She bought Trewyn in 1949 and remained there all her life. According to her final wishes the place is now a museum showcasing her works and is managed by Tate St Ives.

The museum houses a useful timeline documenting her life and work and then upstairs in a light and airy room, are models, plaster casts and miniatures of some of her larger pieces. Step through another door at the top of the stairs and you are outside in her wonderful walled garden.

Step out into the garden

Step out into the garden

There are many of her larger works here in bronze, stone and wood – resplendent amongst the foliage – one form complementing the other.

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To one side of the garden is her studio, left almost untouched – as if she was but a breath away. Her tools are out on the bench;

The studio - as it must always have been

The studio – as it must always have been

her coats hang on hooks;

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paint pots, ancient tins of glue and varnish line the shelves.

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Trewyn is an inspiring place and one I have returned to – always in sunshine. I’d like to see it in wet weather too as raindrops would provide another dimension to her sculptures – some of them, especially the bronzes, invite the addition of water.

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Hepworth’s ‘Dual Form’ outside the Guildhall in St Ives

Years ago, when I worked just off London’s g-jackson-winged-figure-sculpture-john-lewis-store-oxford-street-london-by-barbara-hepworth[1] Oxford Street,  I used to walk past a Hepworth sculpture every day. Mounted on the wall on the corner of the John Lewis department store, her piece entitled ‘Winged Figure’ stands poised, like the Phoenix rising from the ashes. The John Lewis store had to be rebuilt after the war on its current site where, according to baffled business analysts in our current economic climate, business is booming.

I like to think that the commissioning in 1961,  by the John Lewis Partnership, of Hepworth’s prophetic sculpture has had something to do with it.

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