Category Archives: London

UK, London – Canary Wharf, Tower of London early viewing, cheese, Pre-raphaelites exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery and lunch in a county pub

I’m staying in Canary Wharf on this trip – a place I never liked working in but really have enjoyed living in for the past two months. It is much more lively than it used to be in the evenings and at weekends and has much more of a community feel. Loads of shops, restaurants and great transport into central London. Another attraction for me is the vast number of fabulous sculptures all around – including a Henry Moore that is on loan to Tower Hamlets for a few years. Here are some examples.

Sculptures in Canary Wharf including the reclining lady by Henry Moore and the sitting man who is so life like you want to go and chat with him!

I’ve taken the opportunity on this trip to search out some unusual walks and tours and last week I used walks.org for a pre-opening visit to the Tower of London. This means you get in before opening time, watch the opening key ceremony where the Tower is officially opened (only about 20 of us) and then you are able to get in to see the Crown Jewels before anyone else has got there (sadly no photos) but this is definitely the way to visit the Tower. Our guide was a “Blue Badge” which means she has studied all aspects of London history and she was very knowledgeable as she took us around the interior and exterior parts of this wonderful structure.

Old and new in close proximity – the Tower is slap bang in the middle of the City of London and has many famous modern buildings within sight. Only in London!

Below the beefeater who explained the ceremony plus the Royal Guards and keeper of the keys march to the East gate to open up the Tower. Apparently this ceremony take place because whoever was King at the time I visited the Tower one day and just waltzed in without anyone checking who he was (those were the days) and so he introduced a daily opening and locking of the Tower – it has been done twice every day since the 14th century!

The ceremony of the Keys

I thought the sculptures below were some sort of temporary work by a resident artist for no good reason but actually these sculptures tell a story – from the 1200s the Tower of London used to house a menagerie of exotic animals – most sent as gifts by foreign countries. Sadly most of the animals died quite quickly as they didn’t like the climate and they were cramped. In 1835 150 animals were dispatched to their brand new home – the London Zoo at Regent’s Park. I never knew about that!

Memorial at bottom left is close to the site where royals – including Ann Boleyn and Katherine Howard were beheaded. Apparently Queen Victoria wanted a memorial for Anne Boleyn – no-one quite knows why but some think the stories about her that circulated were a set up and she was not as naughty as she is often made out to be.

At the National Portrait Gallery, a new exhibit called the Pre-Raphaelite sisters opened. In my teens and early 20’s I always enjoyed the image of these ladies – long flowing copper coloured curly hair, languid looks and colourful gowns – effectively these ladies seemed the complete antithesis to me so they always fascinated me.

This exhibit takes an interesting approach as each room is dedicated to one of the ladies in the group and shows artworks of them, tells their personal story and also shows art by many of them – many were talented artists in their own right not just vacuous models but they had less appreciation – as always seems to be the case. They and the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood had very close relations – and I mean close (next book I have to find is a history of all the characters – it will be saucy!). Some of these ladies came from high class families and some from working class but they were certainly fairly Bohemian in their style. Loved this exhibit – paintings by Rosetti, Burne-Jones, Millais, William Morris and many others. If you are in London it is a definite – GO!

Check out the hair – so envious!

Allegorical Parintins and drawings – love the swathes of colour

more gorgeous paintings

And of course – Millais’ Ophelia.

Elizabeth Siddal one of the Pre-Raphaelite sisters sat in a bath for this one – for a very long time. The water got very cold and she got very sick. Artists!!

A quick stop to 20th Century Art and I snapped some of my favourite female rock icons – also from my teens and early 20s.

Sade, Kate Bush, Blondie and Annie Lennox – strong female role modes of the 80s

And below a cheese moment – one of my favourite shops is La Fromagerie in Marylebone High Street – now expanded to include a café – also delicious. Well worth going to if cheese is your thing.

Is there a cheese they don’t have?

Yes this is a lunch of cauliflower cheese and burrata. No judgement!

Autumn has arrived and I met my friend Terry for a lovely pub lunch at the Duke of Cumberland in the village of Easebourne -Henley – in West Sussex. I was very impressed with the outdoor smoking area top right – yes that is a fire and plenty of room for smokers to sit and chat. Also interesting that many old telephone boxes in small villages, rather than being pulled down due to lack of use in a digital world, have been repurposed as storage for defibrillators – great idea.

Those views on a sunny Autumn day – bliss

UK, London – Selfridges, Greenwich, British Museum, Mary Quant and Tim Walker at the V and A, Sky Garden, the rainy City of London

It’s been a busy few days with catch ups with old friends and lots more to see and do in London.

First stop was coffee with Fiona at the wonderful new Brasserie of Light – Selfridges are always reinventing themselves and much of the ground and basement floors have also been re-done – they seem to have no Brexit worries:)

Selfridges and the Brasserie of Light – even the toilets are fab!

Then I met with Sue at the Sky Garden followed by lunch at Searcy’s in the Gherkin. As usual it was rainy but somehow the City of London always looks good in the rain (just as well considering London weather) and I love that the Sky Garden is free and a public space (but you do need to book tickets online in advance).

Sue in the Sky Garden

City of London from on high

After lunch Sue and I headed off to the Victoria and Albert Museum to see the Tim Walker exhibit with a stop at the Mary Quant homage.

Quant items of fashion plus having her hair cut by Vidal Sassoon and a couple of PVC raincoats – so trendy

Tim Walker is a unique photographer – especially famous for fashion and celebrity photos and his bright colours. For part of this exhibit he also took inspiration from some pieces in the museum and then did his own thing – the exhibition is called Wonderful Things. Well worth a visit.

Tim Walker likes to colour in his animals and he is very partial to flowers

Tim Walker photographs Grayson Perry and Beth Ditto in his own unique way letting them be equally as unique

Humans and hollyhocks combine seamlessly and Tilda Swindon looks amazing

Some friends of mine – John and Jenny – told me about “Britain’s Sistine Chapel” in Greenwich. I was a bit stunned as I had never heard of the Painted Hall which has recently been restored and reopened. Here is what greets you as you walk in:

This building which is part of the Royal Naval college in Greenwich is awesome and the paintings mostly by John Thornhill are a fascinating display of Britain’s naval strength, the science of the day and the security of the monarchy following the Act of Succession ensuring no more arguments about Catholic or Protestant monarchs! A lot of these buildings within the Royal Naval college buildings were built to house and take care of retired seaman who had served their country in their youth.

External vies of the Naval College buildings at Greenwich – a few are now parts of a classical musical school and you can hear lots of practising going on as you wander about – these are people who know how to play!

Some ceiling scenes including William and Mary and King George 1 plus the British naval might

Finally an excellent three hour walking tour run by Context Travel – an organisation whose tour guides are often art historians and who aim their tours to small groups (we had just four) who want to learn stuff. This is just my kind of thing and as they are in other cities too I am sure I will be using them again. This program was called Crash Course British Museum and gave a really good walk through a themed approach to some of the 8 million artifacts held by the BM!

The grandeur of the British Museum and the infamous Elgin Margins from the Parthenon!

The Old Library and the Grecian style classic statue of a man throwing a discus

And to sign off my favourite quote of the last week from C S Lewis (of Chronicles of Narnia fame) and seen at the Tim Walker exhibit

UK, London and the surrounds – Oxford, Blenheim, Windsor and Dulwich

I am still getting out and about while in London and last weekend my friend Lorna organised a weekend in Oxford/Blenheim.

First stop was the Bodleian Library – one of only a handful of libraries that are copyright libraries – meaning that a copy of every book published in the UK MUST be sent there. Given they are now at a 1000 books a week being published here in the UK it is not surprising that they have had to expand their premises to other locations in Oxford but also several miles of underground space in Swindon to store all of these.

Only current Oxford students (and the odd expert who can prove they really need to) can look at the books in this library and no-one can take them out. All a bit elitist if you ask me but of course but Oxford can be like that and at least they are slowly digitising all the old books (this roots of this library started in the 1300s) so that the rest of the world can access them too. No pics allowed inside which was a shame as it is all rather splendid.

Bodleian library and surrounding colleges

The Divinity Room at the Bodleian and the Bridge of Sighs

After lunch we headed over to the Ashmolean Museum for a wonderful exhibit on food and Pompei. Basically because of the carbonisation caused by the volcano they have been able to accurately identify the Roman diet of the time and this exhibit focussed on Stuart, frescos and real examples of what and how they ate. Strangely mesmerising.

Extracts from Pompei. They used to rear door mice in the jar (this mouse is fake) but the jar isn’t.

The resin lady of Oplontis – perfectly preserved at the time of her death and holding both gold bangles but also cheap beads – maybe given to her as a gift by a child and had sentimental value? The mosaic skeleton was to remind the eaters that however much they ate they would all end up looking like this:)

On Sunday morning we stopped by the Oxford Botanical Gardens which were charming and looking lovely even though the main flowering season is long gone.

In the Botanical Garden which are just at the edge of town so very accessible

Sunday afternoon was my first trip to Blenheim Palace – the place Winston Churchill was born – but which he didn’t inherit as he was not in line to do so. This is an impressive “pile” as they say but what made the visit great for me was the addition of a temporary artist in residence – Maurizio Cattelan – who is known for his satirical sculptures including the one of the solid gold toilet which had been installed for use as part of this exhibition but was then stolen three days later. He is irreverent and questioning of the status quo so I admire the people who allowed him to include his work here – it was very cool – but some of the more traditional little old ladies and gentlemen who were visiting were clearly a bit horrified.

Lorna and I both thinking we own Blenheim!

Cattelan works sprinkled amid all the old stuff

The beautiful Consuelo Vanderbilt who was forced to marry into the Churchill family by her mother – and who was welcomed only because she brought in lots of money that could be used for upkeep of Blenheim – does this sound like Downton or what?

More of crazy Cattelan and what remains of the gold toiletO:(

A little boy kneeling from the back? An evil dictator begging for forgiveness on the right?

And on Monday I spent the day in Windsor with a friend from my last cruise Sian. She lives there and kindly agreed to spend the day visiting the castle and having lunch. We had an excellent time and this is another very impressive British castle with amazing artworks inside – but no photos allowed.

External views of Windsor Castle, plus the Queen’s apartments – bottom left and a view over the countryside of Eton College

And one more to finish off with – a visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery with Marjory to see the Rembrandt and Light Exhibit. Dulwich is a leafy area of SE London that most people have never heard of. And the gallery in it is equally unknown but it shouldn’t be because it is delightful and a nicely manageable size. This exhibit was lit in conjunction with a well known cinematographer so that the light effects that Rembrandt was so good at – whether external, natural, internal or candlelight can be shown off to best effect. Well worth a visit.

Rembrandt intimate females and light

Rembrandt shows everyone else how to do light

UK, London – Royal Academy Antony Gormley exhibit and tea at Fortnum and Mason

If you are visiting or living in London I definitely recommend a stop at the magnificent Gormley exhibit at the Royal Academy. Having seen Another Place in Crosby last week I was especially excited to meet up with my mate Barbara and see what the RA had in store for us. We were not disappointed.

Just walking through the courtyard to the building gives you a thrill

Then into the first rooms of sculptures

There were about 20 different variations of metal planks all depicting a male in different positions – so clever

From tiny pip to fully mature apple on one side and a sliced bread with teeth marks tracing on the other

A lot of the pieces allow for full interaction – this one you can walk around or through

Getting lost and trying not to trip up inside the metal movable spirals

The iconic steel Gormley male figures were in abundance

And they are always available for a photo op

These don’t look as much like men when you see them with the naked eye but you can really see the curves in a photo. One of these is not a Gormley!

Tons of steel hanging from what looks like a glass ceiling but has somehow been reinforced.

This piece was designed by Gormley especially for this room at the RA

The final rooms had an enormous hanging metal sphere and another one filled with mud, stones and water – in the RA!!!

Flooded room in the RA was quite a shock!

As we headed out we visited one of the other rooms which had an array of coloured window displays plus a massive table filled with biscuits that you could interact with – my edible masterpiece is below.

The baby is in the courtyard outside the RA and is of course by Gormley!

A fab exhibit and we finished our day by crossing the road to Fortnum and Mason for afternoon tea – although I seemed to have stumbled into the Xmas department (yes again – grrr) en route – not so happy then but much happier after tea:)

UK, London day trips – off the beaten track. Banksy, Henry More, William Blake, a Michelin meal and Ian Dury

An unexpected visit to Bristol meant that my friends Sylvie, Andrew and I signed up for a Banksy and other street art tour – Banksy comes from Bristol and it is a city of significant street art. From a period when the local council constantly painted over street art to one that encourages street art festivals – this city has an excellent selection of non commissioned and commissioned street art. This was a great 3 hour tour and a good way to see the city too.

Banksy’s Well Hung and the Mild Mild West (reference to Bristol) and the latest from JPS

Sadly Coat of Arms (gets it??) and the flowers are due to come down soon due to demolition plans

Robin Banks (get it?) uses his well known motif “The Vandal” – a badly behaved banker.

Stick Man manages to make very simple images show pathos

Sesk always paints a local person he meets. The tiger/dragon thing looks like he is scratching the passers by!

Also with Sylvie and Andrew we planned a visit to Perry Green (near Bishops Stortford) – the home and grounds of the sculptor Henry Moore. The house tour was excellent and really gives insight into the man and his art – no photos allowed. The grounds house many of his works and they look even better when you get weather like we did.

Reclining figures – large on the hill, smaller on the grounds and Sylvie and I trying to blend into the art

Double Oval, Family Group, Goslar Warrior and Two piece reclining figure

My friend Christine celebrated her big birthday earlier this year so we had a belated super meal at Michelin starred The Clove House in the old Shoreditch Town Hall. Every course – and the meal took us about 4.5 hours to eat – was delicious. We enjoyed the wine pairings too.

Food to drool over

I don’t care what anyone says – I love a bit of foam!

Christine enjoyed her wine pairing:)

A new exhibit of William Blake’s work has just opened at the Tate. I visited there with one of my cruise buddies – Chris. Blake was rather a pompous man who had high views of his own art compared to others – he was not therefore the most popular of people. He worked closely with his wife and she is featured heavily in this exhibition as she is thought to have coloured in some of this book illustrations.

Book illustrations including an original of the Tyger Tyger burning bright poem

A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the whole of the Canterbury Tales pilgrims

Everything from Isaac Newton to Pilgrim’s Progress to the Name of the Beast is 666!

The Ancient of Times – maybe his most famous piece

And finally a lovely day at Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park where we were celebrating Lorna’s birthday. We found the Ian Dury chair – Reasons to be Cheerful – just down from Harry’s Mound (a place where there is a gap in the trees and a telescope enabling you to clearly see the whole of St Paul’s cathedral – which is quite a distance away). The chair has a bar code so you can immediately listen to some Dury classics – which we did.

Hit me with your Rhythm Stick; it’s nice to be a lunatic – hit me, hit me, hit me – one for my Brit generation:)

UK, Harry Potter special – somewhere near Watford…and London

Skip this if you are not even slightly into Harry Potter but if you are here are some experiences I had at Warner Brothers – The Making of Harry Potter near Watford – an easy day trip for anyone in or visiting London (trains to Watford Junction and then 10 minutes on the HP bus for GBP3 to the Studio.)

I visited with my friend Christine who knows everything about the Harry Potter books, movies and memorabilia – she even has her morning alarm set to hear Stephen Fry reading from somewhere in the Harry Potter books (for the record I wake up to the Four Tops – baby I need your loving!).

Anyway this blog is especially for Christine and also Ella in Melbourne who I know is a huge fan and just has to visit this place.

On arrival you are greeted by newspaper cuttings and large signage so you know you are in the right place. Take three hours as your minimum for looking around – it is huge and fascinating. One guide told us she had been 28 times before becoming a guide and the first time she spend 7 hours here – and honestly that would be easy to do as there is so much to see and take in. This place is a homage to the movies and the creativity and love with which they were made over 10 years.

The external entrance area to the studios

The cupboard under the stairs and the original glasses worn by Daniel Radcliffe are on the shelf

Some of the HP movie posters

The Great Hall

Wands anyone? Christine has 32 – now 33 as she bought Draco Malfoy’s while we were there. Also set items from the Yule Ball

Potions Classroom, Dumbledore’s office, the cauldron and more

The Quidditch, Tom Riddle’s grave, the deathly hallows (I think?) and the fabulous Ford Anglia

Dobby, Hagrid, scary spiders, Prof Umbridge’s office

The train to Hogwarts and me making attempting to crash through Platform 93/4. The lovely purple Knight Bus.

Gringotts Bank in all its glory. I think JKR does not like banks – they are staffed by miserable goblins and then the bank is totally destroyed!

Some of the gruesome goblin latex faces

The treasure in the bank vaults and the total destruction of Gringotts

Diagon Alley – they looked for somewhere to use but decided they could only build something to match the imagination of this place as described in the books

The giant model of Hogwarts

An amazing day out and then followed the next day by a visit to MinaLima in Soho. An incredible four storey narrow building with everything Harry Potter but things like limited editions of book prints, spells, wallpaper etc. It is an amazing place to walk around whether you are a fan or not and it was doing a roaring trade too (Christine you helped with their takings on that day) – and there was not one child there – indeed hardly anyone under 40! Def worth a stop.

Christine outside MinaLima – a place I had to drag her out of as I wanted my lunch!

UK, London – off the standard tourist track

Given this is my home town I tend to blog less when I’m over here and only cover things I’ve not seen before – so here’s a pot pourri or some more off the beaten track places I’ve been to in the last ten days.

Firstly some black and white pics of the City of London and even on a gray day the architecture and splendour shine through.

St Paul’s from the Southbank

Golden Hinde, Southwark Cathedral and the Globe Theatre

The Wobbly (Millenium Bridge) and Remains of Winchester Palace

The Walkie Talkie building and the Monument

St Paul’s

Then off to Brixton for an excellent David Bowie Musical walking tour. You walk around spots where he was brought up and Nick plays Bowie songs in full along the way as you stop by iconic places such as the Ritzy Cinema and the Brixton Academy.

David Bowie musical walking tour in Brixton

As a big Ottolenghi fan I was excited to visit his newest restaurant Rovi with my friend Lorna to celebrate her birthday – as ever the man is a genius! Select a number of the small dishes to share – that way you get to taste more of his inventiveness. Lobster roll and ribs were my favourites.

Rovi in Fitzrovia

A trip to the Tate Modern is always worth it as the building is a design marvel. I visited the Olafur Elliasson exhibit – it was futuristic and cool. Finishing soon I think.

Tate Modern

And then I finally got to see Hamilton – it was worth waiting four years for – if you can get a ticket GO.

Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre

And a highlight was visiting Chihuly Nights at Kew Gardens with my friend Peter I am a massive fan of this glass artist and the installations all through the park are wonderful. Not sure my photos do it justice but did my best. Am going back to see it during the day too. A must see.

The magic of Chihuly glass sculptures at Kew

More awesome glass by Chihuly