Sebastian’s Button

Saturday 16 June. I DJ at the Last Tuesday Society shop at 11 Mare Street. The event is to mark the opening of an exhibition of Sebastian Horsley’s art, though there’s also quite a few exhibits which count as posthumous relics of his life, as in the medieval saint sense. One is his Filofax appointments diary, open at the week in which he died in 2010, now mounted in a box as if it were just as much a considered artwork as his huge paintings of crosses and sunflowers. It is art as souvenirs of a life. Which is one way of describing all art.

I wear his silver velvet suit, the one that his girlfriend Rachel Garley picked out for me. Rachel is there herself, as is Ms Manko and Jason Atomic – people I knew from my Kash Point days. A few people say hello who read my blog, which is always nice. Particularly when they buy me drinks. Someone says the suit makes me look like… (wait for it)…  ‘David Bowie during the Serious Moonlight tour’.


Monday 18 June:  one of the buttons on The Sebastian Shirt has broken, its plastic clasp split. So today I look for a replacement. In his book (and in the Tim Fountain stage play), Sebastian quips about needing covered buttons because ‘there’s nothing so rude as an uncovered button’.

It is only now that I realise just what the phrase ‘covered button’ truly means. It means that not only has the shirt been handmade, but the buttons have been handmade too, covered with the same material as the shirt. I don’t think I can cut a piece off the shirt to do this – that feels rather wrong. It is, after all, made by Turnball and Asser, shirtmakers to The Prince Of Wales.

So, seeking a replacement, I take the broken button to John Lewis. They’re not much use, as they deal only in the uncovered sort.  Then to The Button Queen shop in Marylebone Lane. They are very nice but they send me away to hunt down a ribbon of matching material first. This feels too much like hard work. I like errands to be self-contained and finite, not to give birth to further errands with no end in sight.

Taylors Buttons in Cleveland Street saves the day. The business has been going for over 100 years, and the lady who runs it, Maureen Rose, has herself owned the shop for 60 years.

Ms Rose suspects correctly that I want the problem solved with zero further effort on my part. She finds some white material in a bag and makes me a replacement button on the spot. It takes her about two minutes, and she charges me £1.

News story about Maureen Rose here.


Evening: to the Wheatsheaf pub in Fitzrovia, for a book event hosted by the Sohemian Society. Cathi Unsworth talks to Laura Del-Rivo about her wonderful 1961 novel of bohemian Soho life, The Furnished Room. Ms Del-Rivo describes the sense of needing to find other bohemians in her youth vividly – the sheer relief at discovering the shared houses and bars where there were people like her. These days all one needs to find people as strange as oneself is just to go on the Internet; back then, you had to move house.

Afterwards I chat with Travis Elborough in the alleyway outside. Suddenly a taxi drives through – Ms Del-Rivo and the rest of us have to stand aside – and out gets Ben Goldacre, who is a kind of Cult Author of today. He happens to be on his way to something nearby, but stops for a quick chat. It’s all Very London – different worlds of writers, different interests, but always colliding.

Another Very London moment is when I arrive before the talk and join Travis as he chats to a blond woman. I’d assumed she was some friend of his. In fact he’d arrived by himself, and has known her about five minutes; it’s just that the atmosphere is of such unabashed and open friendliness, the kind people might associate more with New York. Halfway through the event, she is sitting with us when, without a word, she gets up and leaves and is never seen again.

A line from The Furnished Room (paraphrasing), which seems Very London, 50s and now:

‘But what exactly are you looking for?’

‘Something to look for.’


The Furnished Room has just been republished by Five Leaves, available here. Highly recommended.

I love this photo of Laura Del-Rivo, taken by Ida Kar in the early 60s:


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Being And Doing

Weds 15th: to the Last Tuesday Society shop for a talk by Philip Hoare on Decadence. Specifically Decadence as personified by Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward and Stephen Tennant. Maud Allan gets a look-in too, as part of the ‘Cult Of Wilde’ in the early twentieth century, when Wilde’s name and work were synonymous with deviancy. Public arbiters of moral decency used him as a warning, while those into anything naughty used him as a beacon or a code.

Mr Hoare points out how Wilde’s appearance changed from being fairly deviant itself – long hair and stockings – to short hair and conventional suits when he was actually getting up to the deviant activities. The other change was that he had become known for making art as much as being a work of art. Coward had his outré appearance too: the dressing gown and cigarette holder. But he’d become famous as a writer first. The image was a way of branding his work; a trademark, sealing it and enhancing it. Stephen Tennant, however, was someone who was famous in the 1920s for looking striking but failed to do much he could point to. When he got older and lost his looks, he tried to become a novelist but failed to even finish his debut attempt, Lascar. Mr Hoare says Tennant rewrote it so many times, it’s impossible to put together a version for publication.

The talk is sold out, and I wonder how many are here for Tennant per se. Certainly Hoare is the main Tennant expert, being the author of the only biography, Serious Pleasures. It’s been out of print for the best part of twenty years, so people who’ve read it are now a kind of cult themselves: enthusiasts of lesser known camp figures. John Waters and David Walliams are fans of the book.

In his slideshow, Mr H shows an image that’s not in the biography: a still from a 1928 home movie. Tennant is dressed as a blind beggar boy, languishing by a river in rags and white face make-up. Somewhere between Narcissus and Ophelia, he looks shockingly beautiful yet otherworldly, like a character from a film by Jean Cocteau, Kenneth Anger, or Derek Jarman. What’s particularly unexpected is that the camera is held by Oswald Mosley. If only he’d stuck to making films.

Earlier today: to the NPG to catch the Ida Kar exhibition. Kar photographed Stephen Tennant several times, one of the 1960s pictures making it into the Hoare book. None are on display at the NPG, which is a shame as it’s subtitled ‘Bohemian Photographer’. If anyone was good at just being bohemian more than anything else, it was Tennant.

Still, I enjoy looking at the umpteen proper writers and artists she snapped, from Stanley Spencer sitting under his umbrella (indoors) to a teenage Sylvia Sims, looking like the sort of girls that go to the LTS balls. Vintage yet curiously 21st century.

There’s also a portrait of Laura Del Rivo in the early 60s, who I don’t know much about. Alert eyes, unkempt bob hairdo, wearing what looks like a smock and smoking a cigarette. Actually, she looks a little like Patti Smith, except ten years earlier and British. She wrote ‘The Furnished Room’, a novel set in the bedsits of Bohemian London, so I really should get hold of it.

Just as Beaton’s image of Tennant in the black mackintosh inspired Philip Hoare to find out more, I come away from this portrait keen to read Ms Del Rivo’s book. Like all art, and like concerts, a good portrait should leave the onlooker wanting more.

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