Something I've wanted to do for a while was to visit the Allen Jones retrospective at the Royal Academy. I've always loved the unashamed colourful eroticism of his work, particularly Table and other sensually posed mannequins. So after breakfast in The Wolseley (bacon sandwich on the back seat of a Hornet) we drifted slowly down Piccadilly in the bright morning light to the RA. One distinct advantage of getting up at five o'clock for this kind of visit to London is that you can drive down the motorway relatively unimpeded by traffic, drive through Regent's Park at dawn with giraffes and penguins waking up and then as it's Sunday park virtually where you like all day for nothing.
After I'd had inappropriate thoughts looking at the girl with the glass table on her back we wandered into the first of the main galleries to be confronted by the above. I'd never seen it before, and it knocked me sideways. This is Male Female Diptych, 1965, and I could've stared at its immense size for a long time. Until it occurred to me just how badly lit it was. As indeed, apart from a room filled with mannequins, was everythingelse. I understand that paintings should be kept out of sunlight, but surely galleries must have lighting rigs that fully illuminate pictures properly? I brought the subject up with what I supposed was an 'attendant' (when due to her immobility I'd first mistook her for an exhibit). She a) appeared to have no view whatever and b) also appeared not to understand anything I said. So I moved down a flight of stairs to another room where an older woman looked as though she was openly seething at having to circulate amongst so many fetishistic fantasies. Either that or she'd taken exception to my Routemaster bus seat patterned scarf. I said nothing. My third attempt was with a chap who said "This stuff really isn't my thing" and nodded us towards the exit. The girl in the mini shop was more forthcoming, but still couldn't help us. So we're still in the dark.
Far more welcoming was our pit stop in Limehouse. I hadn't been in The Grapes in Narrow Street for a long time, but thankfully so little has changed. The Thames at high tide (and low come to that) is right outside, there's the good natured hubbub of a Sunday lunchtime and the beer's good. It's part-owned by Sir Ian McKellen, who must surely find the wooden stairs to the upper floor a bit narrow for his wizard's hat.
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)
"Open this book with reverence. It is a hymn to England". Clive Aslet
"Enchanting...delightful". The Bookseller "Cheekily named" We Love This Book
The Cigarette Papers
"Unexpectedly pleasing and engrossing...beautifully illustrated". The Bookseller
"Until the happy advent of Peter Ashley's Cross Country it has, ironically, been foreigners who have been best at celebrating Englishness". Christina Hardyment / The Independent
More from Unmitigated England
"Give this book to someone you know- if not everyone you know." Simon Heffer, Country Life. "When it comes to spotting the small but telling details of Englishness, Peter Ashley has no equal." Michael Prodger, Sunday Telegraph