Friday Arts Diary | 8 November 2013

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Exhibition

World Press Photo 2013

Friday 8th November – Tuesday 26th November

Southbank Centre, Royal Festival Hall

This year’s World Press Photo winners capture a world in jarring transition, at scales ranging from the intimate to the industrial. The winner of the Spot News category may well become an enduring image of the Israeli-Palestine conflict; ‘Gaza Burial’, taken by Swedish photojournalist Paul Hansen, depicts the chilling scene of two dead toddlers, killed by an Israeli airstrike, being carried by their weeping uncles to a mosque, down a hazy, narrow alleyway.

 

Radio

I'm Sorry I Haven’t a Clue

Monday 11th November, BBC Radio 4, 6:30pm

Series 60, Episode 1

The preeminent and completely silly Radio 4 panel show – or, as it calls itself, the ‘antidote to panel shows’ – started in April 1972, and it shows no sign of slowing as it begins its diamond jubilee run. Prepare for the usual surreal, witty musical diversions from Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor, joined by guest panelist John Finnemore. Jack Dee morosely chairs the affair, and Colin Sell ties the whole thing together at the piano. As the wonderful Humphrey Lyttleton once ended a round: ‘All good things must come to an end, so let's carry on.’
Recorded at the Playhouse Theatre in Weston-super-Mare.

 

Music Festival

London Jazz Festival

Friday 15th November- Sunday 24th November

Various venues around London

This year marks the 21st birthday of London’s biggest city-wide music festival. All grown-up, the festival is now spread across ten days, and takes in an extraordinary range of live music played in venues of all varieties, from Snarky Puppy’s slot at Shoreditch’s red-bricked Village Underground to the soulful voice of Natalie Williams playing the once-smoky, still-venerated stage of Ronnie Scott’s in Soho.

 

Film

Gravity

Released: Friday 8th November, 2013

Critics and audiences are falling for Alfonso Cuarón’s latest effort, which has just broken the all-time box-office record for an October release, grossing over £250m, and has so far earned a meta-rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Gravity stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as greenhorn medical engineer and grizzled astronaut forced to work together after a straightforward shuttle mission goes drastically wrong.

Or, if sci-fi isn’t your thing, and you’re in London on Monday 11 November, you can head down to Leicester Square to try and catch a glimpse of Jennifer Lawrence at the premiere of the new Hunger Games film, Catching Fire.

 

Comedy

Stewart Lee: Much a-Stew About Nothing

Leicester Square Theatre

4th – 30th November, 7:15pm (Mon to Sat), 4pm (Sat)

Tickets £17.50 (Mon to Thu), £20.50 (Fri & Sat)

The dry, sardonic and obnoxiously meta comedian - once proudly ranked the 41st  best stand-up of all time, and made infamous after penning ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera’ - will be in residence at the Leicester Square Theatre this month, presenting ‘a mixed bag of unrelated ideas, read off of some crumpled bits of paper’ in preparation for his new TV series in 2014.  If jokes about William Blake and 20-minute Beckettian digressions about a man made of carpet remnants sound like your kind of show, grab a ticket now, as it’s likely to sell out fast.

Paul Hansen accepts his World Press Photo award (Getty Images/Robin Utrecht)
ANN RONAN PICTURES/PRINT COLLECTOR/GETTY IMAGES
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The amazing lawnmower man

How ex-bank manager Clive Gravett became obsessed with Edwin Beard Budding, the inventor of the lawnmower.

It’s midday in the Museum of Gardening. Clive Gravett, the founder, curator and owner of most of the exhibits here, is pondering a relatively unimportant item in his collection: a glass tube, about a foot long. “Blown glass,” says Gravett, leaning in close, “so it’s probably early Victorian.” This, he explains to a curious visitor, is the work of George Stephenson, the “father of railways” and inventor of an early miner’s safety lamp. It’s a device for straightening cucumbers.

Stephenson’s triumphs are listed on a plaque nearby, but this museum, located in a corner of a garden centre in Hassocks, West Sussex, is one of few places on Earth where a luminary of Stephenson’s stature must stand in the shadow of a more exceptional figure. The Museum of Gardening is a shrine to Gravett’s hero Edwin Beard Budding, who in 1830 made one of the great intellectual leaps of the 19th century. He invented the lawnmower.

Budding was one of those bright-eyed tinkerers so common in the 1800s – a “machinist”, according to his epitaph. Legend has it that he was sitting one day at a cloth-cutting apparatus, watching a bladed cylinder travel over wool and cleanly remove the nap. He glanced out of the window to where men were working a lawn with scythes, and had a sudden moment of inspiration. Surely this cutting cylinder could be used just as easily on grass as on cloth?

In that instant, the lawnmower was born. “And it’s barely changed to this day,” explains Gravett, a sinewy man in his early sixties with icy blue eyes that thaw when he gets excited. “Compare it to the fine-turf mowers of today. It’s the same thing. You have a roller, a cutting cylinder, and a drive. That’s his design.”

Gravett was destined to fall for Budding. The son of farm labourers, he wanted to follow his father into horticulture. “I planned to stay on the farm but my mother said, ‘You don’t want to end up like us, living on tithed property.’ She gave me a bit of a push.” Instead, he went into banking and – smart, energetic and blessed with an unforced quirkiness – rose to be branch manager.

“Thirty-five years later I was very disillusioned,” he says. “I’d seen a lot of colleagues waylaid by stress, and I thought: ‘No, you’re not going to do that to me.’ We got our branch to the top of the list and I resigned, and accused [then RBS chief executive] Fred Goodwin of corporate bullying in my resignation letter.”

He then started up a small horticultural business. It was while tending the gardens of a retired solicitor in Ditchling that he discovered four old mowers in the garage. “He said he wanted to dump them,” Gravett remembers. “I took them away, found there was an old lawnmower club, and it went from there.”

Gravett is cagey about how many lawnmowers he owns, but it’s somewhere around a hundred. That’s not many, he suggests, given that antique lawnmowers are hardly pricey. It might seem excessive, though, given that there’s no lawn on his property. Many of his mowers reside at the museum. They are huge and bulky and strangely insectoid in the 19th century, with motors coming in about 1904, and then the weight drops away until the Flymo arrives in the 1960s – a gorgeous piece of domestic futurism, more manta ray than machine. “A lot of collectors are quite funny about Flymos,” he observes.

Gravett loves to talk about the magic of restoring a lawnmower. “Some Ransomes mowers can be difficult to date,” he says, “until you strip the cutting blade back to the metal and see 1907 or 1911, and you’re the first person to see that since it was put together.” His real passion, however, is research. It’s the research that brought him to Budding.

Born in 1796, the illegitimate son of a farmer (“his mother was probably the housemaid”), Budding was a clever child, training in carpentry and then engineering. As well as the lawnmower, he designed an early pepper-box pistol, and in the 1840s, a few years before his death, he invented the screw-adjustable spanner. None of these made him much money: they arrived too early. His lawnmower was so ahead of its time that he had to test it at night – “possibly because of prying eyes”, Gravett says, laughing, “but possibly because people would think he was stupid”.

Today, Gravett remembers Budding though his museum and charity, the Budding Foundation, which supports young people across education, training and sport. He is still looking out for lawnmowers, and urges everybody he meets to check their shed for forgotten treasure.

There is one machine he doesn’t have in his collection: a Budding. “Nobody has a Budding,” he sighs. “He probably made a few thousand, but the wars gobbled up scrap metal. Even so, I like to think one might be found.”

But Gravett managed to get close to his hero a few years ago when he took a trip to Dursley in Gloucestershire, where Budding is buried. “Nobody had written about his grave, so I decided to find it. I researched the churchyard, and the council provided me with a map to the plots.” The border fence had been moved twenty years earlier after six graves were taken away. When he found Budding’s plot, it was right up against the new fence. “We’re lucky we didn’t lose him.”

The grave, like Budding’s legacy, showed signs of neglect. It was overgrown and covered with brambles. Gravett lights up at the memory. “I cleared all the brambles off, and then, since I happened to have a 100-year-old lawnmower in the back of the truck, I hefted it over the fence.

“I mowed as close as I could to his resting place.” 

This article first appeared in the 05 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain