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Write little…

Write little, but say a lot.

A New Year’s resolution courtesy of Gond artist Bhajju Shyam, who weaves his own vivid sense of my home city in The London Jungle Book.

When asked by his co-authors, Sirish Rao and Gita Wolf, what kind of feeling he would like the reader of the book to go away with, he said: “I want them to have the essence of what I felt. There is no need to show everything. I would like you to write little, but say a lot.”

A lot, like this:

When Two Times Meet

I have combined the rooster, which is the symbol of time in Gond art, and Big Ben, which is the symbol of time for London. I have turned the dial of Big Ben into the eye of the rooster, because it seemed to me that Big Ben is like a big eye, forever watching over London, reminding people of the time. Symbols are the most important thing in Gond art, and every symbol is a story, standing in for something else. So this painting was the easiest for me to do, because it had two perfect symbols coming together.

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Trusty and welbeloved…

Around about the time that Henry V’s longbowmen were winning their famous victory at Agincourt, his pen was setting English on its way to becoming the language we know and love today. “Trusty and welbeloved, we grete yow often tymes wel…” so begins the first letter in English that we know of by a King of England, sent in 1417 to all the citizens and aldermen of London. Six hundred years on, the spelling has aged but the meaning remains clear – a warm greeting to the people who had helped finance Henry’s French wars.

By adopting English as the official language of court, Henry opened the way for it to become the language of diplomacy, of trade, of entertainment – a truly international language of Hollywood and Hinglish, of shares and Shakespeare. As historian Malcolm Richardson says, “Henry’s legacy to the English language was more fruitful to his people than his legacy of military glory and conquest, which soon crumbled in less able hands.”

More fruitful to Henry’s people, and to the estimated 1.5 billion English-speaking people around the world today.

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Listen to purple trees…

Wandering through Covent Garden with my daughter on our way to see our favourite painting in the Courtauld Collection, we came across Wrdsmth’s arresting appropriation of this K6:

A call to keep the creative spirit we all share as children, to colour outside the lines, to watch green oceans and red bears, to listen to purple trees.

Picasso put it well, as well: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

A long while ago, I did a piece for a client that riffed on the same theme:

He may only be knee-high to a grasshopper, but you can learn a lot from this young fellow…

There’s something about a beach that capture’s a child’s imagination.

Give them a stretch of sand and some sea and who knows where it will lead. New adventures? New friends? New experiences? Maybe just wet feet and hands. But one thing’s for sure: children will happily spend hours on a beach doing the things that us grown ups are all too often far too grown up to do. Things like exploring, discovering, rooting around and joining in, sharing stuff, trying stuff out just for the hell of it. Generally having the time of their lives.

The kid cartwheeling on the sand. Or the grown up snoozing in the deckchair. Which one’s the more inspirational?

That’s not to say we should all act like ten year olds. Just that we can all draw inspiration from how a ten year old acts. Management consultants talk about empowering, innovating, re-engineering… It’s often difficult to see what it is that they’re actually getting at – right here, right now, in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. For a different, more enlightening point of view, we could do a lot worse than watch, listen and learn from the cartwheeling kid.

Who knows, we might even end up doing a few cartwheels ourselves.

Some things bear repeating, with different hues and tones each time.

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I eat rubbish…

Wandering across the Wobbly Bridge on my way to the amazing Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition, I caught sight of an old friend with a new banner:

The anodyne “Cleaning the river together” has replaced the arresting “I eat rubbish” – a far more characterful call-out for a hard-working platform that catches the detritus of the Thames as it flows down and out towards the sea.

So come on, let’s get the old banner reinstated – the new one’s rubbish.

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Oh! Kersliver…

To the Southbank with the family for a free singalong with the lovely Cerys Mathews and assorted London folk, all gathered to dip our voices into Hook, Line and Singer – Ms Mathews’ mighty fine collection of songs to singalong to.

Among the songs we sang was an early version of Clementine, which included in its lyrics a wonderfully evocative phrase describing how the ill-fated Clema falls into the river: Oh! Kersliver.

Conjuring and combining a curse and a slither – when I hear the phrase I can picture poor Clema trip-slip-sliding down the bank to her death. Oh kersliver indeed!

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I’m upside down…

Wandering along Floral Street many moons ago I spotted this cardboard box:

Just goes to show how a few simple words that talk directly to you can add a whole lot of character.

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Cooking with dragons’ flames…

On my way back from a client meeting in the West End I came across this wonderfully clear and characterful description by the great Quentin Blake:

Children flying through the air with fruit and sandwiches, a trampoline you can’t see, cooking with dragons’ flames – the writing’s as vivid and quintessentially Quentin as the drawings on the chairs.

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Sunny free range people…

I came across this rather fine job ad on the window of the Flat Planet cafe, Great Marlborough Street, the other day. Ironically on the site of a former AN Other Coffee Chain, it struck me as a refreshingly engaging alternative to the cookie cutter communication of cappuccino corporations.