“For my tastes, when you take the location, the Elbe and the Alster together, it is Germany’s most beautiful city.” Karl Lagerfeld
The late fashion designer, who was born in Hamburg in 1933, mentions its two main rivers but Hamburg is practically an archipelago of urban islands; there’s so much water everywhere, loveliness bathed in constant reflection. The River Elbe flows right to the North Sea while the River Alster bursts into two gorgeous lakes, the Binnen (Inner) and Aussenalster (Outer). Elegant canals shoot out in all directions. There are quite a few attractive geysers too. Hamburg is good for record busting. It has more bridges than Amsterdam, London and Venice combined. Hamburg is the largest port in Germany, the second busiest in Europe and the third largest in the world. Oh, and it has more millionaires per square metre than anywhere else in Germany.
Fashion over adversity. This season is all about silhouette. Nobody – and we mean nobody – does silhouette better than Mary Martin London. Especially when montaged against the shape of history. This lady’s for turning – heads. Form doesn’t always follow function when it’s following a flight of fancy. Headdresses are a necessary accessory when it comes to haute – and we mean haute – couture. University of fashion.
The tight urban fabric of the city knits so tightly round the cathedral that it can only be entered through the Precincts which in turn can only be entered via four gates: Christ Church, Mint Yard, Postern and Quenin. Stretching the material metaphor, the cathedral itself is a multilayered multicoloured multitextured fabric of utter fabulousness. Benedictine cloisters; Romanesque crypts; Perpendicular nave; Gothic quire; Middle Age pulpitum crossing; Arts and Crafts stained glass; even a 12th century martyrdom: Canterbury Cathedral has it all. Statues of The Queen and Prince Philip are incorporated into the west front. But the best statue award must go to the tomb of Edward Plantagenet the Black Prince who died in 1376. The Prince’s canine companion is immortalised in marble, resting at his master’s feet.
It’s the last warm day of summer and soft sun streams across the hard stone floor. Pure fragrant blended incense fills the atmosphere. Vice Dean, The Reverend Andrew Dodd, preaches on the parable of the vineyard labourers’ wages and Jonah’s grumbling at God changing His mind. Unfairness is the theme. He reflects on the American Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who recently died. “She was an unlikely hero. ‘RBG’ as she was known as confronted discrimination and injustice in an extremely sensitive climate.” The Vice Dean concludes, “In God’s economy everyone is of immeasurable divine value.” The service ends with the Dismissal and the congregation pour out into a blaze of sunshine.
Andy’s spiritual journey began a long way from Canterbury or even East London. “I was sent to church as a child by non church going parents. The local church had a serious Sunday school, which I left at about age 12 when I fell out with the leader. Seven years later and having had a few scrapes with the law, gaining a criminal record, I met a couple of Christians who spoke to me about forgiveness and God’s will for our lives. This, along with my work with mentally disabled folks got me asking all sorts of questions about life and humanity. Then, playing music in a band with a Christian I began to see who God might be and who He might want me to be. So one night on an overnight bus to Blackpool on the way to some massage training – I wanted to be an osteopath – I gave my life to Jesus in Digbeth Bus Station.”
“I was ordained in 1990,” Andy relates. His first Curacy brought him south to Chatham in Kent. “I next led the All Souls Clubhouse church and community centre in London’s West End for a decade. The Bishop of London then asked me to consider the Spitalfields post. He said it needed a ‘big man’ to do the job… I sensed God’s call in his invitation and without seeing inside the church building or rectory, I accepted the post in 2003.” Under Andy’s leadership, the congregation greatly grew exponentially in numbers and strength. Ministry in the community is especially important at Christ Church: looking upwards and looking outwards.
“My new role,” Andy explains, “as Dean of Mission is principally helping churches to explore and step further into church health, growth and mission. Working with the Bishop of Stepney across three London Boroughs and some 60 churches, we need to halt the decline in Church of England attendance and – to quote a song lyric – ‘Turn this ship around’! This needs strategy, structural changes, leadership development and a new hunger across the church.” The Reverend Rider gives personal advice in his 2018 book Life is For Giving: “Your current reality will shape you for whatever is next – because God meets us where we are and wastes nothing. Your task is to read and explore your present reality, and so to see it as God sees it.”
In his autobiography he recalls his mother telling him about her first visit as a teenager to Canterbury Cathedral. Frank’s mother arranged to go with her cousin but she didn’t turn up. An elderly gentleman approached her: “Excuse me but whilst I was chatting with the friend who has just left me, I could not help noticing that you were eagerly watching for somebody who, evidently, has not arrived. Were you thinking of inspecting the Cathedral? I wonder if you would very kindly allow me to show you round. I am deeply attached to the place and happen to know something of its story.”
Frank’s mother acquiesced and was soon taken by the stranger’s silver tongued eloquence. The teenager was treated to an exhaustive tour of the cathedral and its history, travelling back in time from Huguenot refugees to Geoffrey Chaucer to St Thomas Becket and ending with St Augustine. Or should that be beginning? As the tour drew to a close, the stranger said, “It would be very interesting to me if we might exchange cards.” Frank’s mother didn’t have one but she accepted the stranger’s card without a second glance or first for that matter. Only on the train home to Tunbridge Wells did she look at it. The card read “Charles Dickens”.
Mall rhymes with hall if you’re American and means your local shopping centre. Aurally, in the States it’s interchangeable with the term for a gangster’s girlfriend. Mall sounds like the French word for ill if you’re English. For Londoners, Mall has a Pall. Mall if you’re Kentish must surely be associated with the loveliest street in Faversham. Only 340 metres long, The Mall in Faversham is full of visual delights. It’s unusual to find architectural beauty abutting a railway station. But here we have Mall House and Wreight’s House for all to see, two Georgian gems on the right side of the tracks separated by the two metre wide Ticklebelly Alley and 70 or so years of history. They may both be red brick dormered slate roofed sash windowed houses with fanlighted columned entrances but the former is mid 18th century and the latter early 19th century.
“I shall never finish answering this question,” says Jo Bailey Wells Bishop of Dorking in the Foreword to Reverend Andy Rider’s book Life is For Giving. The Bishop is responding to Mary Oliver’s poetic enquiry. “Every day presents challenge and opportunity which call for some adjustment (or at least tweaking) of whatever plan I held. At least for me, that’s the way life retains its wild and precious character, its flexibility and grace.” The Summer Day includes the lines, “I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed.” Paying attention, falling down, kneeling, we continue our wild and precious lives unabated. Lunch in Frog and Scot, Deal – another town with a Ticklebelly Alley, will follow Eucharist.
No justice no fashion. How many people does it take to do a Mary Martin London fashion shoot? Counting. A host. A fashion designer. A fashion photographer. A fashion photographer’s assistant. A set photographer. A videographer. A lighting technician. A stylist. Two makeup artists. Two hairdressers. One headdress stylist. Four models. A ballerina. A chauffeur. A muse. That’ll be 20. Oh plus five security. Make that 25. Big wigs plus fashion’s finest. Everyone authentically leading their best London lives up a level. Forgetting fiction, correcting the truth. A September Sunday. No just as fashion.
On location at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Westminster. By 9am the collective creative energy is palpable. Ballerina Omozefe is practising her moves while classical music reverberates off the marble Durbar Court. “I’m dazzled by this space. It’s amazing!” She shares, “I started learning ballet aged four. I’m five foot six inches but I’ve an unusually long inside leg measurement of 33 inches. Resilience is so important for the amount of training you need to do to be successful. You need the ability to endure pain. It’s constant training – like being an athlete. Odette and Odile in Swan Lake is every ballet dancer’s dream role!”
“This is like a film set! The lighting is lovely!” exclaims leading photographer Monika Schaible upon seeing the Grand Staircase. More exclamations follow when half Lebanese half Sierra Leonean model Yasmin Jamaal surprises in a regal black and crimson extravaganza. “TC! Totally couture!” Yasmin responds, “I feel like a queen.” Cecil Beaton said of Tallulah Bankhead, “Her entrance is always dramatic.” Yasmin, anyone? Not content with setting the catwalks alight, Yasmin has hit the silver screen. She appears in the new James Bond film No Time To Die. Her summary is: “It’s a really exciting movie. There are a lot of stunts. Working with Daniel Craig was so interesting.”
Leila Samati is another international model. Originally from the Algarve in Portugal, she came to study International Business in London. “My favourite models are Naomi Campbell and Adriana Lima who modelled for Victoria’s Secret.” Leila can add the “super” prefix to her job title: she’s been crowned Miss World, Miss Africa Great Britain and Miss Guinea-Bissau. “Mary’s dresses have amazing details,” she observes. “You can tell the hard work that goes into pieces she produces. They’re so elegant.”
The third female model on today’s shoot is Londoner Kiki Busari. “This is my first shoot with Mary. She’s so creative. I’m loving the whole period theme. It’s like an historic costume drama!” Kiki adds, “Mary is the hardest working designer I know.” She can’t wait to show her young sons Saint and Angel the stills. Freelance stylist Joel Kerroy is here “to make everyone and everything camera ready”. When not perfecting shoots, Joel puts together look books for the likes of Jeff Banks and Burberry. He thinks, “Mary’s clothes are so elegant and extravagant. They’re eleganza!”
Mary reveals, “The Georgian fashion shoot that my muse Stuart Blakley modelled in last year filled me with inspiration for the period theme. The Return Collection is Marie Antoinette meets tribal meets avant garde.” Unbelievably the outfits showcasing the collection at this shoot were all designed and made by the fashion artist in just under three weeks. By early afternoon, the shoot is in full swing. There’s nowhere grander or more entrenched with story than the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and there are no grander clothes more entrenched with story than Mary Martin London.
Memorable fashion moments are fleetingly created and permanently captured. Omozefe’s tippy toed croisé, plié and grand jeté. Yasmin working a dress of straw. Leila balancing a gargantuan Georgian wig on her head. Hassan strutting his stuff. Kiki taking a selfie with a Victorian bust. And the final memorable scene: the alternative royal family proudly descending the Grand Staircase illuminated by late afternoon sunlight. It’s as if Armand Constant Milicourt-Lefebre’s portraits of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie have sprung to life and – joined by two Dauphines – been augmented by greater beauty, exquisiteness, relevance, and contemporaneity. High above in the golden coffered dome an inscription glitters: “Praise Thee O God Yea Let All The People Praise Thee O Let The Nations Rejoice And Be Glad”. Far below, everyone is present. Everyone is on point. Everyone is in awe. By 5pm it’s a wrap. Time to party.
“What an anointing to be filled with God’s joy!” rejoices Mary. “It gives me great pleasure to create. It’s emotional. I’ve done fashion shows and shoots all over the world. I’ve been to Ghana, South Africa, south of France, you name it, I’ve been to a lot of places. I express myself in my clothes with my moods: happy, sad, crazy, kooky, whatever it is you know I just express it on my clothes. It’s just a natural thing for me. A lot of people seem to love the eccentric clothes I make and you know I love showing the clothes and I love the catwalk. But I’ve never shown at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before. What a privilege. This is a first! It’s all exciting for me! I’m on point!” Cecil Beaton said of Tallulah Bankhead, “Her vitality is dynamic; she can sustain fever pitch ad finitum.” Mary, anyone? At the wrap party everyone agrees this is the start of something big. Really big. First comes the Black History Month exhibition in Foreign and Commonwealth Office. And there’s more, much more to come. Justice fashion.
It’s the most architecturally satisfying aesthetically appetising crossroads in County Tyrone. To the northeast, a coffeeshop. To the southeast, a church. To the southwest, a school, To the northwest, a country house. All oozing rural charm. Welcome to Gortin. The ‘t’ is pronounced “ch”. The main approach to the crossroads could hardly be more dramatic. An inland corniche snakes through the purple heather topped Sperrin Mountains in a downward spiral (Gortin Lakes on one side, Gortin Forest on the other) before plummeting into the valley of the Owenkillew River to arrive at the crossroads. Time to go for a wee dander. If the crossroads is considered the western end and St Patrick’s Catholic Church accessed off Chapel Lane the eastern end, that means Gortin High Street is the princely length of 585 metres long.
The Auld Bank Coffeeshop is a single storey dropping to two storeys to the rear three bay building facing the high street. “Auld” meaning “old” is pronounced “owl”. Its rough cut stone and brick quoined exterior is more associated with east of the River Bann villages such as Hillsborough and Moira. Ulster Bank closed its branch in 2015 and the building owner, Blakiston Houston Estates Company, converted it into a coffeeshop. A very popular one at that, serving the best panini west of the Bann. The bank was built in 1845 with a gabled porch added in 1980. In true late 20th century style, the fanlight and sidelights surrounding the entrance door have a post modern feel to them. The interior has been opened up; simple ceiling mouldings provide an unpretentious backdrop to the café.
Beltrim National School is a long single storey white rendered with slate roof building looking across the road to the cemetery. A juxtaposed case of early life meets everlasting life. To either extremity of the façade is an entrance (one for boys, one for girls) separated by six tall windows. Both entrance doors are painted farm shed red with a school name plus date plaque (1899). Completely symmetrical, the former school turned youth club portrays provincial architectural perfection. So contained, so uncontrived.
There’s nothing castellated about Beltrim Castle. Alright, remnants of an early 17th century bawn are integrated in the garden wall. Tyrone people call country houses “castles”. Locals refer to nearby Baronscourt (firmly in the country house category) as “the castle”. Alastair Rowan believes the current appearance of Beltrim Castle dates from the 1820s and notes its overhanging eaves. The house is incredibly attractive in an understated Ulster way. The five bay entrance front has a fanlight over its entrance door as big and grand as one on any Dublin townhouse. To the rear, Beltrim Castle’s return wing is nearly as long as Gortin High Street or at least a terrace lining it. The estate is privately owned by the Blakiston Houstons but the gardens are occasionally open to the public.