Journeys with Janus
Amongst the Roman pantheon of deities sits Janus. Representing beginnings and transitions, this is the god after whom the month of January is named.
Depicted as having two faces, one looking back to the past and the other looking in the opposite direction towards the future, Janus captures perfectly the duality I always experience as the year draws to a close. There is some sense of being poised on the cusp of a fresh start, but there’s a much sharper pang of nostalgia for times and people past. New Year’s Eve is not, I must confess, my favourite time of year. But, in an effort to transform my melancholic state into one of gratitude, I share below fleeting glimpses of some of our loveliest memories from 2017.
After the busyness of the festive season, we went into semi-hibernation mode during the first few weeks of January. That said, one afternoon we did venture out to Keele to see a little gem of an exhibition being hosted by the university. Entitled Back to the Drawing Board it displayed the design work of husband and wife team Peter Rice and the late Pat Albeck. Whilst Rice specialised in theatre set and costume design, Albeck concentrated her creative output on the textiles, pottery and paper products which have enlivened thousands of households since the 1950s. Standing below row upon row of her cheerful tea towels, strung up like flags above our heads, was a curiously uplifting experience which made me realise that these playful, colourful designs must have been like a breath of fresh air after the Second World War and protracted deprivations which followed in its wake.
Only now, as I sit here writing this, do I realise that two other treasured memories from 2017 also captured something of the energy and optimism which infused many aspects of the mid-twentieth century. In March we saw the stage show of An American in Paris at London’s Dominion Theatre. Set against the backdrop of the post-war era when society, as much as bombed buildings, was being reconstructed, this blockbuster musical tells the story of love triumphing over duty as Lise Dassin, a beautiful young French woman and aspiring dancer succumbs to the charms of ex-GI and would-be artist Jerry Mulligan. There’s so much about which to enthuse: the clever set design, polished performances and the wonderful melodies and lyrics of brothers George and Ira Gershwin. But it was a little line of dialogue from Mulligan’s friend, pianist Adam Hochberg, about creative inspiration being found in the joy of life rather than its misery, that stayed with me long after the curtain had fallen on the show.
The other highlight of 2017 which, in part at least, has its roots in the post-war period was the Christian Dior, Couturier du Rêve exhibition which we visited at the Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Celebrating seven decades since Christian Dior launched what came to be known as ‘The New Look’, this was the most stunning, extensive and beautifully displayed exhibition of garments imaginable. It was all overwhelming, but two sections in particular took my breath away. The first was a room where the influence of gardens on Dior’s designs was examined amongst literally hundreds, if not thousands, of intricate and botanically accurate paper flowers dripping from the ceiling and climbing up from the floor. And the second was The Grand Nave where spectacular ball gowns were displayed against a backdrop of projected images inspired by the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Although the garments inevitably took centre stage throughout the exhibition, the curators paid homage to the Dior atelier by lining an entire area with row after row of white toiles. It was a visually arresting way in which to celebrate the dedicated craftsmen and women who worked with such tireless perfection to transform the designs of Dior and his successors into reality.
Such exacting craftmanship lies close to our heart. So much so that in 2017 we launched a business called The Creative Concierge Agency which connects creatives with people who want to commission luxury bespoke gifts. It’s an idea we’ve been scoping for some time but it wasn’t until we participated in London Craft Week back in May that we realised the extent of the marketplace. Having the opportunity to meet people involved in creative endeavours spanning everything from watch-making and carpentry to appliquéd wallpaper and hand-woven rugs was a hugely encouraging experience and one which we hope to repeat in 2018.
More often than not craftmanship is as much an expression of precision engineering as it is artistic vision, a prime example being that of classic cars. This is an area for which Mr Moore harbours a particular passion so the Silverstone Porsche driving experience was the perfect way to celebrate his birthday in the summer. Everything was absolutely spot on. Even the weather was perfect and Mr Moore had a ball wizzing around the track in three different generation 911s while I sat on the viewing terrace soaking up both the sunshine and the atmosphere.
Whereas our grand day out at Silverstone was carefully planned well in advance, the other automotive highlight of 2017 was a purely chance encounter when we stumbled across The Bonhams Bond Street Classic Car Auction. Mr Moore’s eyes were on stalks at the sight of so many gorgeous cars gathered together and he was especially thrilled to see a 1929 Bentley ‘Le Mans Replica’ for sale because his father’s cousin once owned an original. He should, methinks, have hung on to that. Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing. My head was turned by a splendid cream 1960 Jaguar XK 150 with sumptuous red leather seats. I could just picture myself motoring along country lanes with the soft top down, wearing a headscarf à la Grace Kelly. But the most memorable moment of the afternoon wasn’t what we saw. It was what we heard: the closing moments of bids for a 1966 Austin Mini Cooper, previously owned by Brian Epstein and Ringo Starr, being broadcast live from the auction room. Bids finally closed at £102,300 with Geri Halliwell being named the proud new owner. It seemed a most appropriate transfer of custodianship.
We’d never been to an auction before and even though we were mere spectators, we were absolutely buzzing when we left. In fact, almost all of the memories I have shared with you thus far have left us fizzing with excitement. That’s not to say, however, that we don’t value more contemplative experiences. Indeed, at the end of June we decided to take a different sort of holiday and booked a few days at a shepherd's hut in Somerset. With few distractions we were able to enjoy that rare pleasure of doing nothing more than sitting and reading or watching the wildlife from out of the window. It reminded me of the peace to be found in disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. Not for the world would I have traded seeing the moorhen chicks swimming on the pond or the tiny wren hopping around in the bushes for the latest update on Facebook or Twitter.
Recalling that wren reminds me of another highlight of the year: The Lost Words at Compton Verney. Combining the work of poet Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris, this beautiful and thought-provoking exhibition was both a ode and a lament to words such as wren, acorn and bluebell which are, apparently gradually disappearing from the vocabulary of our children. It is sobering to learn of a recent survey which revealed that British primary school children more readily identify Pokémon characters than UK wildlife. Language must, of course, evolve and we accept that change is inevitable but can we really expect the next generation to value things they can no longer even name?
One person who, whilst being an urbanite for all of her life, is well versed in all aspects of British flora and fauna is Mr Moore’s mother. Despite being in her 90s, she still tends her own garden and is always eager to extend her horticultural knowledge. This being so, we were delighted to take her to a Gardens Illustrated talk being given by the doyenne of all things herbal, Jekka McVicar. Held at Westonbirt School on Mothering Sunday, it was a lovely gentle afternoon which reinforced the joy to be found in the joy of others.
I was reminded of that again a few weeks later when we celebrated Mrs Moore Senior’s 91st birthday with dinner at The Ivy in London. Indeed, if I could relive just one memory of 2017 it would be the sight of her, perched on a stool at the bar, sipping a champagne cocktail. Her defiance of the stereotypes usually associated with age is nothing short of inspirational. The secret of her longevity and wellbeing? Gardening and the regular consumption of tomatoes. So as we turn with Janus to face a new year, let that be a lesson to us all. Growbags and secateurs at the ready!
Copyright Pamela Moore 2017