Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A wild goose chase?

In 1954, when rebuilding my recently-bought bombed-out house in the Fulham Road, London, I completed two large (2’ x 4’) paintings of Chelsea Football Ground.
The subject was a fairly obvious one at the time as my house (less the original top floor, as I didn’t have enough money to rebuild it) stood right beneath the supporting wall of a stand at the southern end of the ground.
The local district then was an artistic one, with studios all around, the Italian Village and, a stone’s throw away, where Henri Gaudier-Brzeska had lived in penury.
One of my two paintings was of a corrugated, part cover, of a stand at one end of the ground. It was titled “Neighbours on Saturdays” (football was only played on Saturdays at that time). The other was “Chelsea v. Wolves. Sillet’s Penalty Goal. Jubilee Year”.
The former picture I tried to sell for £36, and failed – even when it was exhibited at a smart West End gallery. The latter work found a ready buyer who worked with me on the house. He was probably a plasterer or electrician. I sold it to him for £5. I recall that I had forgotten to paint in some vital part of the scene. So I added it for him.
I retained the grandstand painting, and at one time was about to give it as a wedding present, but the proposed union came to nought.
A Christie’s expert in the field of English 20th century painting (James Gould) saw the painting and suggested that I sell it at his auction rooms. Why not?
The corrugated part cover of the stand depicted in the painting became known as “the shed”. And that end of the ground is still known as “the shed end”. So the painting was re-titled “The Shed, Chelsea Football Ground”. It had considerable provenance added, and sold for £28,000 (the buyer having to pay Christie’s £30,600).
By this time I had already started to paint again, after a writing break of 27 years, and had become interested in both recording past works in the form of a collection of photographs in an album, and listing items of my art sold privately, by galleries, or at auction.
Among the private buyers listed, I found that my second football painting had been bought by Thomas Young, Stafford Mansions, Battersea. I decided to try to track down the picture.
After a gap of some 50 years the chance of finding Mr. Young and/or the painting would be pretty remote. But I not only wanted to see it again, to photograph it and, if possible (should I tell him about the Christie’s sale?), even offer to buy it back.
No amount of computer searching on the Internet came up with anything that might help me in my quest. So I referred to my large-scale map of London, located Battersea, and a Police Station where I might obtain information. I set off. Surely the police would know the whereabouts, past or present, of Stafford Mansions.
It was cold, wet and windy when I located the station, but it appeared to have been closed for some time. So I thought that a publican or someone like the driver of a cab or minicab might be of help. So I set off once more.
Beneath the insalubrious surroundings of railway arches, light industry and heavy traffic, I entered a pub, and ordered beer and lamb’s liver. I sat down near to a distinguished-looking gentleman, of possibly mixed sexual orientation, who was reading a newspaper and enjoying a pint. He was rather too smart to be in a pub like this one, and looked a little out of place.
I asked him if he was local (having seen that his newspaper was a Battersea one). He was. Yes, he knew Stafford Mansions, and recommended a long walk to it through the park. But a bus would be quicker – and warmer. I took the bus. To have spoken with a knowledgeable local was my first stroke of luck.
Map reading my way then to Albert Bridge Road, and walking along it toward the bridge and River Thames, STAFFORD MANSIONS stood in a row among a lot of other red brick Edwardian buildings.
Now came my next piece of good fortune. Leaving the building were two gentlemen, who were obviously good friends.
“Do you know, I asked, “if anyone called Young lived in their block?”
The answer was “No”. In fact, they had been lived there for 35 years and no one of that name had been a resident to their knowledge.
They were sorry to be of no help. The two left to walk down the street, with the elderly one running his fingers through his grey hair, saying that his name was not Young but he felt and hoped that he looked young.
So there we are. Somewhere, hanging on some unknowingly lucky person’s wall, is that £5 painting. Will it ever, do you think, re-surface?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Stews, Stews, Stews, or Casseroles, Casseroles and Casseroles

To make these wonderful winter fillers and warmers there are a few basic things to do.
In olive oil fry chopped onion and garlic until transparent – or even golden browning. Then add the meat – any old meat, though the time to cook the stew will depend on the cut, remembering that the cheaper cuts will take longer but taste better.
A sprinkling of flour stirred in at this stage will thicken the final juices. Add salt and pepper.
Next add the prepared vegetable, or vegetables of your choice. Using only one kind of vegetable will help to determine the uniqueness of your dish. Think of cabbage, carrots, artichokes, fennel, courgettes, tomatoes, pumpkin or squash as possibilities.
To add cubed potatoes will save you from having to cook them separately but will detract from the clear-cut taste of your effort. Mashed potatoes are excellent. They absorb the delicious juices. Crusty bread to dip in is also good.
You will want to flavour your stew with a herb or spice. Now is the time to add it, but do not throw in your usual mix. Keep the taste pure and simple. One herb or spice will do. Try cumin, or caraway, nutmeg, mace, dill, sage, star aniseed, bay leaf, coriander (seeds or chopped leaves), the pared skin of orange or lemon, olives (green or black) and heaven knows what else that takes your fancy. But be careful of curry powder, as you will inadvertently be making a curry.
It is time for the liquid content. Stock or stock cube(s) in water is enough. The liquid in which you have boiled vegetables is good. The stock from boiling chicken bones and the like in a pressure cooker (for speed) is excellent. But you may want to jazz up the liquid a bit by adding something to it – like tea, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, ketchup, oyster sauce or chilli sauce. But remember that you have already added one herb or spice, and that should be enough.
Be careful about adding wine, fortified wine or spirits. Use them sparingly and not very often.
When cooking these stews or casseroles on top of the stove, the thickening may catch and ruin things. So do not overdo the flour, and keep a close eye on matters. If the liquid is too much or too thin, cook in the oven or on top of the stove with the lid off to allow the liquid to evaporate.
With these ideas in mind the winter will become far more pleasurable. But keep it simple.
And when your plate is nearly clean, but still warm, do as the French peasants do – faire chabreau. That is, pouring a little red wine into the plate, swilling it around, and drinking the result – directly from the plate. It is alright for me, because when it comes to cooking, I’m a peasant.