Banksy, sunflowers, Lake Balaton, Herendi
I KNEW my website was out of control when a net-surfing friend e-mailed to say my online archive was bigger than CNN’s.
The synchronicity that took him to its banks on a sunny afternoon between the wars probably saved my mother’s life.
I had never seen Lake Balaton, but when the chairman of Herendi porcelain invited me to visit his factory I knew I would finally have the chance to take a look at this special place in my family’s mythology. My mother told me the story many times: she was canoeing on a calm day, when a freak wave turned the little boat over.
My mother was an athletic young woman, who swam as strongly as she wielded the canoe paddle, and she wasn’t bothered about a ducking. Sometimes when her canoe capsized she was able, with a twist of her body, to right it again, swinging a full 360 degrees — other times, the hull stayed stubbornly in the air and she would have to swim free.
But on this occasion, her leg became trapped under the bench of the canoe. Muti had taken a gulp of air as she rolled over, let go of her paddle and put her hands on the frame to wriggle free. As she pushed, an excruciating pain ran from her knee to her hip. The leg was caught at an agonising angle, and she could not bend it to ease it out.
Struggling to free herself, and fighting the urge to scream underwater, Muti tried to double up, leaning around the side of the canoe to push her face above the surface of the water — but the further she leaned, the more the canoe rolled away from her, keeping her mouth just inches from the air.
My mother realised suddenly that she was going to drown… and at that moment she felt strong hands around her shoulders and her waist, trying to drag her free. The rescuer hauled her clear of the water, so that she could gasp a life-saving breath, and then dived to help free her leg.
Muti was just 18, and of course she fell hopelessly in love with her brave, quick-witted saviour. If he had not spotted her canoe capsize and realised that she hadn’t swum to the surface, she would have been dead within a minute or two. And I would never have been born.
They were married in the great synagogue in Budapest, the city where my father was born and my mother had lived since she was a year old. Earlier this year I made my first pilgrimage to that beautiful synagogue, and was deeply moved by its spiritual splendour.
In a different way, I sensed the presence of God too as I stood and gazed across Lake Balaton.
Another dramatic sight awaited us on the drive to Herend. A field of sunflowers, like a Van Gogh hallucination, bowed their heads to us in the breeze. I could not resist running from the car to be photographed in the sea of yellow petals.
At Herendi, the porcelain workers hung out of the windows to shout greetings. One young man waved from a doorway, beaming all over his face, with a pair of bent china ladles that were welded together.
“If you want me to fix those, you’re out of luck,” I said, but the workers insisted the spoons were a cosmic coincidence — they had made thousands of ladles and never seen two wrap themselves around each other in the oven before.
The chairman, Attila, offered the spoons to me as a gift — he even signed them, with my Sharpie! That’s the first time I’ve seen a bent spoon signed by anyone but me.
My mother was a great collector of Herendi, and she would have been proud to know her son had been asked to design a range of their famous platters. I showed the art director some of the plates and chargers I created for Poole pottery in England several years ago, and sketched a few design suggestions.
As I toured the factory, marvelling at the vast workroom where 150 talented women were copying designs onto porcelain by hand, I felt a thrill at the thought they could soon be adding my art to their world-famous catalogue.
Another kind of art gallery took my breath away as I walked through an underpass near Waterloo station in London. Every square inch of the walls were painted in grafitti, some of it in the instantly recognisable style of Banksy.
What really caught my eye was a sculpture. OK, it was actually a signpost, but it had been artistically bent, possibly by a passing truck. Or perhaps I’d done it myself, just by walking past. I decided to claim the credit, and signed it.
That’s the first time Banksy and I have shared an exhibition.
Later that day, I was ‘papped’ — snapped by a paparazzo as Hanna and I strolled into a restaurant in the West End. “Maybe I should throw a tin of baked beans at him, like Hugh Grant,” I told Hanna.
“He’d throw it back,” she pointed out. She’s right — and there’s no chance, after all, that we’re in danger of finding ourselves splashed across the front page of the tabloids. The last time I got papped was in Cannes, earlier this summer, when 300 long-range lenses swung away from a starlet for just a moment, to stun me with a barrage of flashguns.
Did I ever see a single one of those pictures in print? Not a chance. I should have been wearing a bikini!
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“There is no spoon!”
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