No Need For Singlets

Thurs afternoon: Meet Rachel Stevenson in St James’s, so she can borrow a rare novel from the London Library via my card. The book she’s after is ‘Rain On The Pavements’ by Roland Camberton, a first edition from 1951. It’s London-based, and eponymously enough we get caught up in one of the current sporadic showers while walking to the Tube. I also take Ms S on a tour of the Library, something I love doing ever since I found out members are allowed to bring in visitors.

In the members’ suggestions book, someone has remarked that the British Library now has a summer dress code, and that the LL should follow suit.

‘It may be hot but there is no need for singlets (sic), shorts, and all that goes with them.’

The Library’s reply on the page opposite is ‘We prefer to trust the general sense of forbearance of members.’

While walking through Waterstones Piccadilly, Rachel notices that the in-store music is one of Keith Girdler’s later jazzy bands – Beaumont or Arabesque. I check later on – it’s actually ‘Chadwick’ by Blueboy, from their last album on Shinkansen. In Waterstones, it’s followed by the Cocteau Twins’ ‘Blue Bell Knoll’. We take guesses at which staffer on the tills must be the resident indie kid.

Perhaps the band name triggers something on my inner London To Do list, because walking back through Leicester Square, I impulsively decide to finally visit the Jean Cocteau mural in the French Catholic church, Notre Dame De France. The church is next to the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Place, mere steps away from the noise and chaos of the square: those eternal Bob Marley caricature pavement artists and the seemingly daily red carpet movie premieres (security barriers and crowds tonight assembling for the new Tarantino with Brad Pitt).

But then, Cocteau was a film star too. According to the church guide, when he painted the mural in situ over a single week in 1959 he was so famous that the church had to set up anti-paparazzi scaffolding so he could work in peace. The mural’s in a side chapel and comprises a gaggle of figures from the Crucifixion and Ascension, all rendered in that unmistakable naive line style.

The artist even gives himself a cameo:

Quite why an original Cocteau mural remains relegated to ‘Secret London’ guidebooks is beyond me. More people really should see it, along with the striking altar tapestry by Robert De Chaunac, where the Virgin resembles a Disney princess:

By of contrast to all this Franco-Catholic colour and noise, I stop off to catch the evening Quaker meeting at the Friends’ House in Euston. No murals or tapestries there, needless to say. Just a modern meeting room with chairs arranged in a circle. In fact, given the building is a warren of similar rooms available to hire, I have to double check to make sure I’ve not stepped into Alcoholics Anonymous.

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