Not so long ago I was passing what I still call the Tate Gallery, but is Tate Britain, and noted a host of brightly coloured awnings on the parade ground opposite what is now part of Chelsea College of Art. This was pleasing; the piazza is usually bare, but for a very few self-consciously positioned trees. Perhaps there was a market? That would be a welcome addition to the neighbourhood.
It turned out that there was a market, sort of. It was a one-off event called Artsmart, which claimed to offer "everything you want in a curated art and design market" as part of a promotional programme linked to London's University of the Arts. This comprises six London art colleges, and the market was intended, so the blurb said, to bring students, graduates, recruiters and potential purchasers together.
Unfortunately, Artsmart and I got off on the wrong foot. The first hitch was probably hidden in the word "curated". Someone has to do the "curating", and that someone, it stands to reason, must be paid. Which meant that this was a market with an admission charge – a bit of a contradiction in terms. So the square was closed off, with a single entry point and a requirement to buy a ticket, at a price – £6, as it turned out – that was nowhere advertised.
When I asked how I was supposed to know this, a couple of pleasant, but somewhat baffled, girls objected that Artsmart had been well publicised, mostly on the internet. I suggested that visitors to the Tate opposite, not to speak of curious local residents, might have been interested in wandering over, but might be put off by the fence and the price. To shut me up, they gave me a complimentary ticket – so thank you. I have to say, though, that my mood wasn't lightened by what I found, which was generally inferior to what you can find at Spitalfields and the other craft markets that dot London on different days of the week.
And it occurred to me that this was a classic example of quite a closed, specialist group believing that, by simply projecting itself over the internet, probably on its own website, it is reaching the widest possible audience. At this market, I came across almost no one who was not in some way an insider – as a student, graduate or teacher. No tourists from the Tate; no locals.
There has been much talk recently about how the internet, while offering unprecedented opportunities to broaden knowledge and experience, also allows people to remain in their own little worlds. As always, though, there is a third way, illustrated here. The internet encourages quite exclusive groups to believe they are reaching the widest possible audience, when in fact they are speaking only to themselves.
Bravo to an audience that gave the Italians their due
Even if you were listening on an indifferent car radio, as I was at the start, it was apparent within five – even two – minutes, that we were in for an amazing, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime, experience. The choir and orchestra of the Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome were performing Rossini's William Tell on the second night of the Proms. In the first interval, it was as though the presenters could not decide whether to let loose the superlatives, or show due BBC restraint. But the effect was grudging, as though they didn't quite want to admit that an Italian ensemble, albeit one whose origins go back to Palestrina, were routing their international peers in discipline, tone and touch.
The second interval offered a too-short interview with the conductor, Antonio Pappano, who has been responsible for restoring the Academy to its present glory, and a totally discordant recording of a trashy poem and some jazz from some Proms-related event. So disconcerting was this that I tested the radio reception to check that no pirate station was depriving me of the last two acts. Finally it was back to Rossini, and the electric atmosphere in the Albert Hall.
Maybe it was because the professional critics had little time to meet their deadlines, that their response seemed strangely clinical. It was left to the amateurs to tell it how it really was. Sample the comments of those who were there from the BBC website. Try this: "What an extraordinary experience... it leaves one reeling with delight", or this: "Despite standing for five hours, I am still buzzing with the sheer delight of that extraordinary event. It was an honour and a privilege to have been there." It was a privilege to have been listening, too.
The mystique of the apothecary is outdated
It's quite a long time since I had a prescription to take to the chemist's. I found that some things have changed, and some have not. Although most medicine now comes in neat, labelled packages, what has not changed is the ponderous mystique that surrounds what goes on behind the counter. I was told it would take 20 minutes to "dispense" tablets that I knew came in a packet – a packet indeed that I could clearly see on a shelf that was practically within reach. When I asked why they couldn't just ring it up, I was told tartly that there was a queue.
Returning 20 minutes later, I tried again. It then transpired that an additional reason for the time taken (something that has changed) was the need to "enter your information in the system". The purpose is apparently to make it "easier next time" and "so that any mistakes can be traced back". Fine, but if this is what happens each time someone submits a prescription (and has their name shouted out when the packet is finally "dispensed"), you can well imagine that highly personal data passes through quite a few hands, not all of which may be as scrupulous as they should be. Phone hacking, contrary to current impressions, is not the only way to obtain saleable information.