Flying five hours south from Santiago last week to a remote part of Chile, and then travelling for six hours in a crowded minibus, seemed a lengthy journey, but well worth it.
Flying five hours south from Santiago last week to a remote part of Chile, and then travelling for six hours in a crowded minibus, seemed a lengthy journey, but well worth it. I planned to spend several days in a beautiful national park, hiking and hopefully encountering such exotic species as the condor, the biggest flying bird in the world; the mountain puma; the once almost extinct guanaco (llama); and the rhea, a Patagonian ostrich.
I'm no David Attenborough but after four days and some strenuous field trips I've been able to tick the lot off my list, with the exception of the puma. But my trip to Patagonia has reaped one unforeseen reward which would impress even Mr Attenborough, king of the world of wildlife. I have been privileged to record at close hand the mating and day-to-day behaviour of that rarest of species, the English Honeymoon Couple.
Do you recall the time, around the middle of the last century, when people got married in their early twenties, and thought it would last for ever? They went through a church ceremony (with an unsuitable selection of hymns such as "Jerusalem" and "All things Bright and Beauti- ful") followed by a reception in a local hotel that had taken months to plan, during which a granny would either get stuck in the toilet or have a seizure at the sheer excitement of it all. Then the happy couple would spend a night in a hotel near an airport and fly off to somewhere exotic for two weeks. That last bit, dear readers, was known as a honeymoon. I remember dimly doing all that around 1967, only I went to Cornwall out of season, not Chile. Next time around we didn't have a honeymoon and the third time I had to settle for tea at Betty's Café in Harrogate. Over the following decades, people started to get married later, and had to work too hard to splash out on honeymoons.
The point of an exotic honeymoon, which was to experience wild sex far from home, also seemed to have vanished. Sex is usually sorted out nowadays by the end of the third date. It's also considered far safer these days to holiday with friends than risk two solid weeks with your partner. Holidays for two are opportunities for too much conversation and recriminations.
So a sighting of the under-25 lesser-spotted white honeymoon couple has sent me into a frenzy involving hours of close-hand observation. What do they talk about? How did they choose Chile as their habitat? Do they mate twice a day? That is a considerable achievement if true, because no one here in our Patagonian hotel can raise one leg higher than two inches off the bed after hiking for seven hours up a series of mountains through snow and slush in driving rain and gale force winds hoping to spot a bloody puma.
My honeymoon couple did the kind of research you'd expect. They bought a copy of Hip Hotels and made a selection. Not for them the in-depth discussion about the ethics of Chilean politics or the late-night deliberations about the merits of Patagonia over Belize or Rio. They simply want to sleep in beds that have the right sheets, they want Jacuzzis and saunas, and New Age massages involving hot rocks. But most importantly, they want to go somewhere where there's a possibility, no matter how remote, that they might run into that other pair of extremely rare beasts, the Beckhams.
The author of Hip Hotels has made a fortune by collecting together pictures of hotels from all over the world designed by people such as Philippe Starck where the glitterati have stayed. This is 21st-century travel, based on an entirely different set of criteria from our fuddy-duddy values of yesteryear. Forget the environment, wildlife and expeditions. Hip Hotel people want décor, décor, décor. Our hotel here in deepest Patagonia, the explora, is so hip I keep expecting Sting to walk through the door. Its brochure, under the heading Adequate Clothing, tells me: "Each visitor can use the type of clothing which best suits their spirit and needs ... explora considers elegance an inner virtue". How hip is that? It's not guidance, it's almost a philosophy for Prada or Chanel. Get Karl Lagerfeld on the telephone straightaway!
Meanwhile, my honeymooners have forgone excellent Chilean cabernet sauvignon for whisky sours, cut down on the hiking and spent hours in the Jacuzzi. I feel I have let them down. They have rewarded me with hours of research material, but instead of meeting Posh and Becks they had to make do with the giant wind-burnt Janet Street-Porter.
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One of the joys of the re-hang at Tate Britain last year was discovering the brilliant photography of Nigel Henderson, on show for the first time in decades. As the ICA celebrates another Becks Futures prizewinner – this time Toby Paterson, the muralist – it's worth remembering that this establishment has always had an excellent track record of promoting the avant-garde. Back in 1951, Henderson showed experimental photographs there with Richard Hamilton, and Le Corbusier opened the exhibition. In Coronation year, 1953, Henderson put together a ground-breaking event entitled Parallel of Life and Art at the ICA with the architects Alison and Peter Smithson, and Eduardo Paolozzi. The gallery was filled with found images, not ones created by painters. It was bold and controversial. Some of it has been reconstructed at my old college, the Architectural Association, along with around 50 images by Henderson. Heavily influenced by surrealism, his images of the East End taken between 1949 and 1956 are an eye-opener. Forget the overpraised work of contemporaries such as Francis Bacon's friend John Deakin. Henderson is an undiscovered genius.
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I talked to Matthew Evans, chairman of Re:source, the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries, last week. Evans, who is also boss of Faber & Faber, has produced an excellent blueprint for Britain's poor regional museums. He proposes creating regional centres of excellence, stripping away duplication and renovating their hidden treasures. Surely the Chancellor will cough up the £250m that's needed over the next five years. Our regional museums are a national disgrace. Shabby, leaky and poorly signed, with underpaid staff, they are like ageing relatives our trendy government can't afford to forget if they take their commitment to education seriously.
Nigel Henderson's work is at the AA, 36 Bedford Square, London WC1, until 14 JuneReuse content