People like us

One of the great nurturing forces of the English artistic scene just got a little bit more ruthless.

Arts Council England, that bountiful matriarch, had its pin-money cut by £100 million, after its uncompromising government carried out a spending review last October.

It has since been sitting at the kitchen table with a box of tissues and a pocket calculator, working out how to make ends meet with so very many mouths to feed.

Around 1,300 venues asked for money and last year 849 were successful. But in a night of the long knitting needles, Mother Art has cut 154 groups free of her apron strings.

It should be noted that she has invited 100 fresh new orphans in from the cold: it seems this has been a very convenient set of cuts in more ways than one for Arts Council England.

One of those who now has their nose pressed up against the poor house window is the theatre I used to run, three nights a week.

Housed in a beautiful old mansion, home to important men of past ages, it is a shabby chic haven for hippy chicks like me. It has had a procession of powerful families in residence for centuries.

It faced the identity crisis so many great houses went through in the twentieth century, becoming war hospital, and luxury flats, before the first director moved into the attic floor to claim it for the arts.

My parents knew him, and visited him there; their folk group met in the old building as soon as it was fit. It grew, using local talent. Some of that talent has gone on to the very biggest time: Hollywood and A-list fame. The place hosted Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festivals, and many household names.

The very moment I joined the workforce there, oddball as I undisputedly am, I felt at home. The place hummed and buzzed with creativity, but far more than this: a certain mindset has always been attracted to the mansion house and its strange little theatre.

The lateral thinkers, those that walk to the beat of their own drum; the flamboyant and the eternally surprising: it seemed that here at the house, we all fell in step.

Since then I have felt privileged to be strangely different, because I have great friends who are also the polar opposite of average.

We found our metier. We are good at idiosyncracy.

These are the hallmarks of my friends: they have an easy charm, an endless curiosity, an open heart and a tolerance which is humbling; they are problem solvers, thought-teasers, tale spinners and dream weavers.

Each one in their own way is steadfast as an oak. I can talk long into the night with each about anything and everything. They tolerate my shabby house, my boisterous extended family and my smelly dog. When they meet each other they smile and welcome and talk.

I am beyond fortunate.

I have heard of other groups of people who succeeded in finding like minds. I believe Ralph Waldo Emerson struck up friendships with Louisa May Alcott’s family.

She said of him later: “Acquaintance with such a man is an education in itself, for ‘the essence of greatness is the perception that virtue is enough,’ and living what he wrote, his influence purified and brightened like sunshine.”

Theirs was a happy acquaintance. Another group found its way to each other in West London, and then took the world by storm, like a diamond with many facets.

At the dawn of the twentieth century a group of men came down from Cambridge. Leonard Woolf was one of them: so was EM Forster, and economist John Maynard Keynes, Artist Roger Fry and critic Desmond MacCarthy.

Gradually they came to settle in Bloomsbury, London.

The women in their lives over the next years were equally brilliant, the most notable of whom was Virginia Woolf. I refer to many of them by their married names: the list also included artist Vanessa Bell, Woolf’s sister,  novelist Rosamund Lehmann and  Mary MacCarthy.

And somehow, like a candle flame to a moth, others began to be identified with these like minds: Woolf’s nephew, Julian Bell, Vita Sackville West, Julia Strachey and Frances Partridge.

Intellectually voracious, they questioned boundaries which had been set since time immemorial. Love triangles and even quadrangles were part and parcel of this complex group of people from a cross-section of artistic disciplines, who were a world away from the norm. Together, they fell in step.

They were strangely different, because they had great friends who were also the polar opposite of average. Their very metier was lateral, original thought.

Today I walked through Bloomsbury Square Gardens on a warm Spring day. They were all out on the lawns, the picnickers, the quiet readers, the lovers, the bag ladies. There was no trace of a group of like minds which rocked the world in the first half of the twentieth century: why should there be?

All the same, though I never knew these strange and extraordinary people, I felt at home. While intellectually we stand in their towering shadows, it’s good to know of a group of people who walked to such a very singular drumbeat.

Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme: ‘Metier’. If you fancy having a go you can find her here


24 thoughts on “People like us

  1. Loved this. Especially:

    We found our metier. We are good at idiosyncracy.

    These are the hallmarks of my friends: they have an easy charm, an endless curiosity, an open heart and a tolerance which is humbling; they are problem solvers, thought-teasers, tale spinners and dream weavers.

    Who could ask for anything more?

  2. A hippy chick… Funny how one paints a picture in one’s mind of the bloggers we frequent. I’ll have to add the ‘hippy chick’ aspect- hadn’t had it in there before.
    I find that there is an almost instant knowing when one has encountered a like-minded person. Something in the way they are stands out and reflects back as a mirror.

    1. That’s odd, I wrote that and cut that paragraph, Zoe, because I had too many words! 😀 Wonderful to be joined by a like mind, thank you. It’s been ages…we miss you!

  3. What a great post, makes one wish to have lived then and been one of them.

    I don’t think they walked together, they danced, in ways so unusual that no one else fitted the beat for the steps they executed so well together.

    To find fellow souls on your journey of discovery is the most valuable discovery.

    Thanks Kate

  4. While I lament the cuts, I understand the necessity. Anyway, aren’t artists supposed to starve in their garretts? I’m certainly doing my bit 🙂

  5. Being one who often wishes she could have frolicked with the likes of Louisa May Alcott and her ilk, I enjoyed this post very much, Kate. When we visited Concord, MA, home to Emerson and Thoreau and Alcott and more, we sat for awhile on a bench, and just soaked up the essence of their characters. I can understand your feelings at Bloomsbury Square.

    Cuts, and more cuts to the arts are made here in the States as well these days. Somehow, however, I think that the brilliance will still shine through. Hope.

  6. Idiosyncratic theatre management- I didn’t know about that part of your life! You multi-faceted woman, you! Have you ever visited the idiosyncratic independent theatre in Chipping Norton? It is fantastic, with an integral gallery. It is a theatre much of the time, but a cinema at others. (I went last week to see ‘Never Let me Go’. ) They have just heard they have some continued funding..

      1. They also run classes. I go there for a writing group in term time. I had hoped to find a picture of the murals: fantastic murals all over the walls inside the bar, foyer etc, including the loos. But no pictures found! The man money spinner is an annual panto, which has to be booked up months in advance.

      2. Money spinners are all-important 🙂 Low brow, but they pay everyone’s wages…there’s a lovely atmosphere to places like that. The writing group sounds great!

  7. I’ve gotten to this so late…but I love this post. Lucky you, I’ve adored the Bloomsbury gang since I stumbled upon an old movie entitled Carrington.. after that, I read much for a while about that set. Such a lovely write ~ oh, and so saddened by all the cuts, your libraries as well… I’m certain we are headed down the same path in the States..

    1. Library scene, hello! And thanks for coming along! There will be other groups of like minds, I’m sure, but this one has always caught our attention, hasn’t it, what with Woolfe in the forefront. Glad you enjoyed the write.

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