Diary

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The Independent Online
Sculpture is unexpectedly in the news. If you stand in Trafalgar Square, beside Nelson's Column and facing the National Gallery, you will see to your left an empty plinth. A Royal Society of Arts committee chaired by the caterer Prue Leith is seeking to fill this most public of spaces. The favourite proposal is apparently a bronze Baroness Thatcher emerging from a tank turret, though the public, if consulted, may well think differently. Would such a divisive figure withstand a bout of New Year's Eve drunken revelry? The Queen Mother might fare better.

But the Royal Society of British Sculptors has even grander designs. It has Westminster council's backing for a new sculpture trail along Whitehall and through Parliament Square, linking the National and the Tate Galleries - the traditional and the new. Believe it or not, there are 41 sculptures on the route, but as the RSBS president, Philomena Davidson-Davis, points out, they are neither properly lit for dramatic night-time impact nor furnished with informative plaques; so tourists and natives alike ignore them. Only Nelson's Column and Winston Churchill's impassive presence outside Parliament receive much attention. Did you know that Rodin donated The Burghers of Calais to the adjacent Victoria Tower Gardens, or that the piece of grass opposite, used for television interviews with MPs, is home to an appropriately titled Henry Moore - Knife-edge?

One outcome of a new sculpture trail would be lots more public patronage for British sculptors. Under the RSBS plan, the bleak, windswept section of the Embankment along Millbank, currently without adornment, would be allocated to 20th-century Britons: a perfect place for works by Barbara Hepworth, Elizabeth Frink or Anthony Caro. Like most arts organisations worth their salt, the RSBS is busy on a pounds 10m bid for Millennium funds, to be spent on five city sculpture trails. They won't choose the other four cities until the autumn, but I nominate Cardiff, Edinburgh, Bristol and Leeds to join London.

There is a a new air of worldliness within this esoteric society of 230 or so artists, stimulated by the astute presence as vice-chairman of Sir Peter Michael, a multi-millionaire who chairs and owns a third of Classic FM. After trying to commission sculptures for his manor house in Berkshire, he says he spotted the need for a more businesslike approach. Last week, the society, under his chairmanship, launched The Sculpture Company, which will put anyone wishing to commission a new work in touch with the sculptor, handle payments and guarantee delivery.

This service is badly needed, as I realised when telling a businessman friend about Sir Michael's initiative. My friend told me he had recently bought his first sculpture at a show. As he did so, the artist burst into tears. The friend, concerned, asked his daughter, a painter, to go and find out what was wrong: did it have sentimental value to the young woman? The daughter returned: the sculptor only expected to sell one piece of work a year, she said, and this was it. She was crying with relief.

Which was roughly how I felt on leaving last week's launch party of Women in Journalism. I stumped up pounds 100 to be a founder of this self-help group in the hope that somehow the British press would be encouraged to fall in line with the police force and start promoting able women to the top jobs. I thought it might also be fun.

But the launch was a vast heaving party in the library of the Reform Club, where everyone clung desperately to the little party they'd arrived with. "You don't look very well," said Glenda Bailey, editor of Marie Claire, bleakly regarding my less-than-power dressing.

Then a young woman in a bright red suit came up to me. "I know who you are. I read your column," she said.

I smiled encouragingly.

"You have four children. You shouldn't be here. Go home to them."

I know I should be made of sterner stuff. But I fled.

It took until Sunday, when the sun came out, for me to recover my equilibrium. One of the great joys about hating all games that require teams of grown men to play with balls is that, at moments of peak sports viewing, you can have the country to yourself. We went strawberry picking, a whole acre of juicy red berries just waiting for sugar, cream and the onset of proper sport (Wimbledon). Pick-your-own - the harvesting of choice produce which you have neither had to plant or tend - is enormously satisfying, one of those basic pleasures that children enjoy as much as grannies. As we plucked we debated whether the sweetest and best strawberries were the warm ones lying on the straw spread around the rows of plants, or those suspended in the air. This required a great deal of on-the-spot sampling, but led to no firm conclusion. An issue we may have to return to next Sunday.

Thank goodness, farmers don't weigh you before and after.

The sun was still shining as I walked past lunch tables crowding the pavements, only to dive underground to Orso's, the trendy, cave-like media restaurant in London's Covent Garden. I was lunching with Alan Boyd, the man who brought Blind Date to British screens and now runs Reg Grundy Productions (which makes Neighbours). His company specialises in global production, taking a standard programme format, then making local versions. He says they are working on an Italian Neighbours - the magic ingredient is added melodrama. "Programmes are like oak trees. You plant the the same seed, but it develops according to local conditions, so they turn out quite differently. It is not like having a McDonald's, which tastes the same wherever you eat it," he says.

After coffee he goes back to his office, to rehearse a presentation to the BBC for his latest entertainment show. New programmes ideas are literally acted out in front of top television executives. The Grundy producer takes on the role of a Bob Monkhouse-style presenter and other staff are roped in to play contestants and audience, laughing and clapping on cue. Some people still go to work for fun.

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