Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Stephen Bayley

The design guru on arrogant boys, and the brilliance of Steve Jobs

Stephen Bayley

October 19 2011
Stephen Bayley

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Vauxhall, where I live, is a gritty, but convenient, part of central London. Unfortunately, the Luftwaffe got here before me and a legacy of fine Regency houses and ghosts from Handel’s Pleasure Gardens are compromised by the looming presence of remedial, hopeless, vast, post-war housing projects. Now things are on the up. Knight Frank has identified the area as a property hot spot: this is because half way between Battersea Dogs Home (which, in these inclusive days, is known as Battersea Dogs & Cats Home) and MI6 they are building the new US Embassy. There is symbolism here, between spook and pooch, if you ask me.

Anyway, from Vauxhall it’s my pleasure and privilege to pass on foot most days through the back streets of Westminster, as I did this morning. I take special delight in the premises of J Wippell, supplier of clerical shirts and clergy cassocks. Hereabouts the pavements are narrow and there are many pedestrian bottlenecks and chicanes. Over these pinch-points, pupils of Westminster School hold careless, arrogant sway. I’m not exactly a doddering dotard (I can do a surprisingly brisk 10k for someone of my age and habits), but it’s noteworthy that I have never, ever experienced a Westminster pupil say or gesture “after you” at any point where the space runs out. Instead it’s always an implied “me first”. I wrote a good-humoured letter about this unfortunate lapse in public civility to the head master, Dr MS Spurr. An efficient secretary immediately assured me of a prompt reply. That was three weeks ago.

On to the Louise Blouin Foundation in that netherworld where Notting Hill becomes Shepherd’s Bush to record The Money Programme. I have an ancient connection here: in the 1980s I inhabited a pre-minimalist white box in the basement of the V&A known as The Boilerhouse. My chilly and monochrome ceramic office was used by The Money Programme in its titles to convey, I think, the stylish thrust of Mrs Thatcher’s economy. On the other hand, it was also scouted by an agency as a set for an ad about paracetamol.

The recording was about Steve Jobs. I arrived too late to meet Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, but had asked the crew to quiz him on which Steve was Lennon and which Steve was McCartney. He was flattered by the comparison and laughed, but declined to answer. The other interviewee was Charlie Dunstone of Carphone Warehouse, one of Apple’s biggest customers. What a nice tribute to Jobs: to have technology, retail and design all pay sincere respects. That’s Jobs’ achievement: to see Apple as a complete unity. Meanwhile, the architect John Pawson tells me that Jobs’ insistence on travertine marble in the Apple Stores has led to a global supply problem with this luxurious finish.

Last appointment of the day was at The Worshipful Company of Founders, located in Cloth Fair, Clerkenwell, where John Betjeman once lived. I was giving the annual lecture and my theme was a very un-Betjemanly one about how to revive industrial culture in a civilisation where no one can explain how a rivet works, but everyone wants a Mulberry handbag. There were lively questions from the floor. How to change our casino into a workshop? I said: put Formula One on the national curriculum and make the study of Apple compulsory.

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