Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Stephen Bayley

What does a guru actually do?

Stephen Bayley

Image: Brijesh Patel

October 05 2010
Stephen Bayley

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I am often asked what gurus do on a daily basis. This is by people who are infuriated by my address: (in case you want to join them). Before I explain, I want to do a bit of bold exculpation. Someone first called me a “design guru” in about 1985. I decided to accept this with what I like to see as a nice mixture of self-deprecation and irony, although it does not – I concede – always come across like that since the phonic nuances so necessary to irony do not easily express themselves in print.

It was at the same time that someone else (in fact, the great architectural critic Martin Pawley) called me the “second most intelligent man in Britain”. This has ever since been at the top of my curriculum vitae since the purpose of these things is to be noticed. Some people find this infuriating too, but they do not realise that it was a joke: in 1985 Peter Jay was lazily called “the most intelligent man in Britain”. And at the time he was getting divorced, being sacked and going bust.

Anyway, this guru awoke early. I enjoy a complicated sort of laziness which means I’d prefer to be awake at 6.30 and spend two hours reading the paper, rather than have to rush. With the tube strike, the Boris bikes are in an even worse state of chaos so I walked. Across the old plague pit of Vauxhall Park, past the Henry Moore on Millbank (or maybe it’s a Barbara Hepworth; I never can tell). Around the back of the Tate Old Fashioned. I nod at the statue of Millais and think it curious that so gorgeous a painter should be memorialised so grey and damp. Through that wonderfully quiet red-brick Pimlico-Westminster border area: always pleased to get a glimpse of the Page Street Lutyens.

A takeaway coffee from Caffè Nero on Marsham Street: wonderful to have Gauguin on the paper cups. Why did no one think of that before? Past Faith House; a more chilling institution could not be imagined. Through Westminster Dean’s Yard and into St James’s Park. I adore it that the pelicans are descended from an 18th-century gift given by the St Petersburg ambassador. Past the Athenaeum, through St James’s Square and the always thrilling Wren Church. Cross Piccadilly and into Soho. It is an extraordinary privilege to have such beauty and delight on a daily basis and I never tire of it.

So, I am in my office at 10am. And here I will stay until 6pm. Extraordinary, I think, that given my status as self-unemployed and with superior access to lots of technology, I could “work” anywhere from Marina del Rey to Mazzorbo… yet insist on the bureaucratic rituals of a salaryman. With the sole exception of sending my old patron-antagonist and nowadays old friend Terence Conran an amusing photograph of a pissoir for his birthday, I will have spent nearly eight hours staring continuously at an Apple Studio Display. Gurus, you see, enjoy not only complex laziness, but familiar rituals.

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