Saturday, 29 November 2014


For many days an unwanted tea-tray was propped against the wall next to our back door. It was waiting to be re-cycled via the charity shop next to the railway station so, on my way to catch the 10.37 to Liverpool, I dropped it off. I've donated many redundant possessions to that shop and I've noticed that the ladies (never a man) behind the counter don't even look at what I plonk in front of them. They treat objects which I consider useful and of some value with exactly the same lack of interest as they do a trivial ornament. They look at me and say "Thank you so much. Do you have a gift-aid card?" Still, I made sure the tray was clean.

Before leaving home I read about a housing regeneration scheme in Stoke-on-Trent, the former epicentre of pottery manufacturing long enmired in what appeared to be terminal decline. But all is not lost, apparently. During its heyday the workers acquired formidable skills and the good news, for those who remain, is that they are in demand once more. The surviving companies are having some success in the markets where the "Made in Stoke" label still retains a cachet. And well-regarded designers are locating their workshops to Stoke so as to take advantage of the skills and facilities there. Recognising this, the housing scheme aims to foster communities of people rooted in the city, its heritage and its future.

Among the examples quoted to illustrate the potteries' finest achievements were the Minton Peacocks, four-foot high majolica facsimiles, brilliantly painted and glazed. Twelve were made but only nine are accounted for, as a result of which they are extremely valuable. I know it's a mere coincidence (these things do not 'happen for a reason') but, later that day, the first thing I noticed at Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery was - a Minton Peacock. Normally I would have walked past such a piece with no more than a nod at its irrelevant magnificence but, this time, I just had to stop and examine it. I admit that, while pottery peacocks don't do it for me, they do have a certain presence.

Actually I was at the Walker to view the exhibition of works chosen for the John Moores Painting Prize, having earlier been at the Tate where there is a lot of Andy Warhol's output on display. Maybe it's because Warhol's work is so familiar that I was less interested by it than I was by the freshness and variety of expression in the prize paintings.  Incidentally, the manager of the Walker told me that we have Margaret Thatcher to thank for the preservation of Liverpool's permanent collection of art: she nationalised it so as to save it from being sold off by the bankrupt city council of the day. Whether it's true or not, his anecdote did prompt me to take a closer look at the collection.

Returning to Manchester I saw that the station concourse had acquired some of the trappings of Christmas. Tesco had erected a tent and its people, dressed in elf costumes, were offering little plastic cups of champagne to passers-by. It seemed a counter-intuitive sort of marketing ploy for a company whose share price has recently been ruined by scandalous misrepresentation of its accounts, but I may go again tomorrow to see if there's any left.

Then I dropped into the charity shop, ostensibly on the lookout for interesting novels, but with a surreptitious eye on the china ornaments and bric-a-brac. Unfortunately coincidence did not repeat itself:  there were no four-foot high pot peacocks. And even if someone were to bring one in, I'm sure the ladies would make no comment.

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