Antony Gormley's Peckham manhole cover

Alice Jones' Arts Diary: Ed Balls learns the piano, West End welcomes expenses scandal and Joanna Lumley meets

Mind that manhole cover, it might be a work of art. Ten years ago Antony Gormley was commissioned by Thames Water to create a series of manhole covers for the Thames Valley. The project never went ahead but a unique prototype remains at the junction of Maxted Road and Sandison Street in Peckham, south London, near the artist's old studio.

The design is the outline of Gormley's feet, cast in iron to look like ripples in a pool. “It's not a particularly great work of art or anything. It's just an ordinary manhole cover but you're invited to go stand it on it and feel yourself suspended, as it were, between the great infinity of the blue dome of the sky and this river of human ordure that is flowing beneath your feet”, says Gormley. Cyclists should be careful of skidding over it, he adds. “I try to avoid them. I try to ride my bike in the middle of the road. I think that's the only place to do it successfully.”

The artist chose the urban feature as one of his favourite places for The Artists' Museum, a Camden Arts Centre project in which artists are asked to treat London as a vast museum and curate an exhibition out of its treasures. A map and podcast guide to Gormley's top five, which also includes Parliament Hill and Greenwich Foot Tunnel, can be found online at

Piano Politics

In May Ed Balls claimed that he was more bothered about passing grade eight piano by the time he is 50, than he was about being part of a future Labour government. Now the public can judge whether the Shadow Chancellor should give up the day job when he makes his concert debut at King's Place, London. Balls will join 12 other amateur pianists to play Schumann's 13-part Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) on 8 December. The event is organised by the pianist Lucy Parham, who teaches piano to Edward Fox, Simon Russell Beale and Alan Rusbridger. They will also play at the event. Balls only passed his grade one last year and will play the final part, The Poet Speaks. Is he up to the task? “I haven't heard him play yet. We'll have a runthrough on the morning,” says Parham. “The parts vary in difficulty, from Grade 3 to 7 in standard. Simon Russell Beale is really good so he got the most difficult one.”

The Duck House

He went to see Mojo but George Osborne might give The Duck House a wide berth when it opens in the West End next month. The new farce, by Dan Patterson (Mock the Week) and Colin Swash (Private Eye), is based on the expenses scandal. Nadine Dorries, Andrew Mitchell and William Hague are all the butt of jokes in the first five pages alone. It's not biased, at least. Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman also get skewered in the opening scene.

Absolutely Fabulous

First Attenborough met Björk on Channel 4. Now Joanna Lumley is to hang out with for a BBC documentary. The actress has been “intrigued” by the Black Eyed Peas rapper since she saw him carrying the Olympic torch, and will travel to his Los Feliz mansion to interview him. Next, Delia Smith tours with Jay Z and Alan Bennett takes tea with Lady Gaga. Possibly.

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Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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