This week Paul Shackleton, our bike hero at the V&A, puts his questions to Sir Mark Jones for us. Thanks Paul!
Sir Mark Jones was Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum for over 10 years from 2001 to 2011. Sir Mark was well known by staff at the V&A for cycling to work, which he did on a daily basis. It is fair to say that the V&A has been transformed under Sir Mark’s direction and is now achieving its ambition to be the world’s leading museum of art and design. Sir Mark has now taken up his role as Master of Saint Cross College, Oxford but will miss Kensington and Chelsea very much.
How long have you been cycling?
I learned to cycle as a child but if you mean cycling to work then that would be since the mid 80s, circa 1985. I used to ride a moped but it was easier to walk the kids to school and then continue to work by bicycle. Back then I cycled to work at the British Museum along the towpath of the Grand Union canal.
Tell me about your bicycle(s).
I prefer riding in an upright position. I now have a Pashley and chose that as I needed a large frame – I am about 6’4”. It is heavy and rather eccentric which helps to deter potential thieves. For me cycling is not about speed but getting from A to B while also having an opportunity to look about – I frequently take different routes to provide variety in the journey.
Have you ever worn lycra?
How far do you ride each day?
While working at the V&A I rode around 6 miles from Bermondsey in 35 minutes or so. At least 12 miles a day plus quite a bit more if there were meetings to attend outside the museum. I use the bike for nearly all the nearby meetings as it is more reliable and quicker, although I often took the tube to the Museum of Childhood as that can be a bit too far.
Do you have a favourite café destination in Kensington and Chelsea?
Casa Brindisa in Exhibition Road.
You were the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, a very high pressured job – was your bicycle ever a metaphorical or literal means of escape?
Oh yes, cycling is time away from emails, text messages and newspapers, it is a time to focus on the here and now. The pleasure of cycling is that it engages you in the present. I also cycle for practical reasons. I remember waiting for a bus to get to work from Camberwell and 4 buses passed me without stopping, they were all full. I am pro-cycling, it is a good thing, un-polluting and it provides some exercise.
What will you miss most about Kensington and Chelsea (apart from the V&A)?
The restaurants, shops, the Serpentine Gallery and other museums.
Any advice for people who want to take up cycling for the first time?
Yes. Don’t take this as negative but cyclists must ride as though other road uses will pay no attention to you. Ride defensively, keep away from the inside of lorries and always remember that your safety ultimately rests with you. And enjoy it! Don’t be competitive or worry about how fit or fast other cyclists are.
Are you looking forward to cycling in Oxford?
Yes, but it is so small it may not be necessary to cycle as much as I have in the past.
As far as I can find the V&A collections do not feature an adult bicycle (there are children’s bicycles In the Museum of Childhood) – is there a place for the bicycle in the V&A as an example of excellent design? If so do you have anything in mind?
Well there are bicycles in the Science Museum but they are concerned with the functional whereas the V&A would focus on the beauty and design. It would have to be a very beautiful bicycle – not to the extent of being impractical, but there are some very beautiful bicycles that might qualify.