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 The weekend was busy. After seeing Hir, I stayed overnight in London, due to plans on the Sunday.

A little while back, I saw that Sir Ian McKellan was doing a one-man show, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Others & You  to raise funds for the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, as the theatre wasn't given any Ats Council funding at all in the latest round of grants. 

Given that it was a fundraiser, tickets were, of course, expensive, and at first, I didn't think I could afford to go. But then, just s the tickets wet on sale, I got some money from my bank to say 'sorry we fucked up and locked you out of your account for months', so I decided that it should be spent on something frivolous and self indulgent, and booked my ticket!

I booked for the matinee, which meant I had time to visit the National Gallery - one current exhibition is The Caged Bird Sings, a tapestry triptych designed by Chris Ofili.

It's very beautiful. The gallery has displayed it in one of the side galleries and persuaded Ofili to create a mural of temple dancers to surround the tapestry. 





It is stunning, and the colours of the tapestry are incredibly effective against the greys of the mural.




I hadn't realised the exhibition was there, until I went into the Gallery, so it was a lovely surprise! It's on until 28th August, so plenty of time to see it if you wish!

I also had time to see a second small exhibit (in which photos were *not* allowed) of some of the works of Giovanni da Rimini, who created beautiful religious art work in Rimini in Italy in the early 14th century. I do have a soft spot for medieval art!

And there was just time to visit this,one of my favourites of the collection!

Then I met up with a friend for lunch. At her recommendation, we went to Yauatcha in SoHo, where we ate vast quantities of delicious dim sum (the Venison Puffs were my personal favourite), although sadly I hadn't time for dessert, so I shall be forced to return at some point...

And so, we parted, and I set off to see Sir Ian McKellan!

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Rather than trying to travel home late at night after my theatre-going on Saturday, I stayed overnight at a hostel close to St Paul's Cathedral. So I took the opportunity to take a few pictures of the cathedral from a slightly different angle from usual!

Then, in the morning, as it was Sunday and I was so close, I decided to go to the cathedral for the first service of the day.

It's years since I've been to St Paul's, and I had forgotten how opulent and visually impressive it is (even the Baroque is not my favourite architectural style)

There is also something quietly impressive about participating in a service in such a building,  Although it seems that even St Paul's can't muster a large congregation at 8 a.m. - there can't have been more than about 25 people attending!

St Paul's Cathedral Choir looking east, London, UK - Diliff

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

After the service and checking out of the hostel, I went to the Victoria and Albert museum to see their current exhibition - Opus Anglicanum. For those (like me!) not fluent in Latin, this means, simply, 'English Work', and refers to embroidery, created in England during the 12th to 14th Century when, apparently, England led the world in creating such work.

The Toledo Cope, 1320-30, England.

© Toledo, Tesoro de la Catedral, Museo de Tapices y Textiles de la Catedral

The exhibition isn't huge, but it is fascinating. Most of the embroidery which has survived is ecclesiastic, as items such as vestments were kept carefully, and in some cases, high-status Bishops or other priests would be buried in their best vestments, so these were preserved in their tombs.  There were one or two non-ecclesiastical items, most notably the funeral achievements of the Black Prince (1367), and a fragment of a 14th C. horse trapping.

Fragment of Horse Trapper - 1330-1340

Extraordinarily, some of the items in the exhibition have been loaned by the current owners, which are the same churches or institutions they were originally made for - 700 or 800 years ago!

Detail from the Steeple Ashton Cope (1330)

I would have liked it had the exhibition included a little more background information - more details of the saints depicted on the garments, and the other images - I am not sure whether all the birds on the Toldeo Cope are symbolic or primarily decorative, for instance, but despite this, I enjoyed the exhibition.

The museum helpfully offered a little booklet which had crib sheets for each of the pieces, telling you which saints and bishops were depicted (I particularly enjoyed the images of St Margaret of Antioch, who had a Dragon) , and also a helpful diagram explaining what copes, chasubles and orphreys are, for those not intimately familiar with vestments!

After visiting the exhibition, I had time to visit some of the rest of the museum. I found a rather nice 15thC tapestry depicting the Trojan War, for instance.

And of course, no visit to the V and A would be complete without a trip to the cast court, which features 19th C plaster cast reproductions of Italian sculptural masterpieces...

for Nathalie
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On Friday I had a day off work to go to London - back in March, I booked to see 'Farnelli and the King', as I missed the original production at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse, and then was able to organise some other interesting things to do while I was up in London.

I started with a visit to the British Museum to see their exhibition 'Celts : Art and Identity' which I found very interesting.

Hunterston Brooch - AD 700-800 (c) National Museums of Scotland

The exhibition is broadly chronological, and makes the point that 'Celt' has had different meanings and implications at different periods, and did not originally include the countries or regions, such as Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany or Cornwall which we think of, today, as the Celtic countries!

It includes exhibits illustrating the exchanges of ideas and influences between different cultures - Roman flagons found in Celtic burials, Torcs showing different styles, including those with Roman and other influences, Roman monuments and jewelry showing Celtic influences, and also information about how the styles varied between those part of the British Islands which were conquered by Rome, and those which were not.

St Chad gospels Vellum AD 700–800. (c)  Lichfield Cathedral

Later, there are the Monastic and Viking contributions and influences - including some glorious illuminated manuscripts, and replicas of a number of  early Celtic crosses.

One of the most dramatic exhibits is the Gundestrup Cauldron, loaned by the National Museum of Denmark, which has amazing scenes inside and out, of gods and hunters and animals and faces - it is truly stunning, and it is astonishing to think it is over 2,000 years old!

Gundestrup Cauldron : Denmark 150 BC(c) National Museum of Denmark

After visiting the exhibition,  (which I strongly recommend), my next event was at the National Theatre - they are holding a series of 'Platforms' with various politicians, actors, directors and others speaking about their work.

The one attended was hosted by Andrew Marr,publicising his book, 'We British : The Poetry of a People' , following on from National Poetry Day on Thursday.

Marr explained that he had looked at the British Islands, not simply England, in order to be able to look at the different facets of the current country's history. He introduced each poem, and stated that he had chosen the poems for the evening to try to include some which might not be familiar, by poets who were perhaps not the best known (so nothing from Shakespeare, for instance).

The poems were read by Mark Gatiss and Fenella Woolgar, with additional, occasional comments. (John Donne, for instance? "Absolutely Filthy") Which, as he was reading 'To his Mistress going to bed', is fair comment! Other poems included Aphra Behn's 'The Disappointmentt' ("Probably the first poem in English about premature ejaculation - unsuitable for Radio 4") and poems of protest such as Walter Raleigh's 'The Lie' and A E Housman's gay protest poem 'The Colour of His Hair'.

As one would expect, the readings were excellent, and the comments were entertaining!

I had to rush off afterwards in order to get to the Theatre for Farinelli and the King, but it was a very enjoyable 45 minutes. And *very* reasonably priced - tickets were just £4 - I was surprised there weren't more people there, and if I lived in London and could get to the National more easily, there are several more Platforms I would be interested to attend.

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My next Bath Kids Lit Festival event took place on Saturday afternoon, and featured Children's Laureate Chris Riddell, and Michael Rosen (who have recently collaborated on a book of poems for very young children).

I admit that I mostly booked it because I like Chris Riddell's work, and I could not make it to his solo 'Goth Girl' event, and I did feel a little bit conspicuous because I was not accompanied by a child, but despite that it was fun.

Chris was live-drawing to the poems as Michael read them. The Poems are mostly very simple rhymes, playing with words and actions, and eminently suitable for small children and Michael was encouraging the audience to join in, (which they did - with great enthusiasm) but adding his own little touches.

The pictures were projected onto a big screen on the stage behind Mr Rosen, who could not, therefore, see exactly how Chris was representing his poems..!

Michael Rosen:26.09.2015

For instance, a poem about (among other things) dancing fruit, resulted first in a picture of orris dancing mangoes, followed by  sneaky picture of a Morris Dancing Micheal Rosen...!

It was a lot of fun, and quite a few lucky people from the signing line went home with original Chris Riddell drawings!

(I went home with a signature in my copy of 'The Sleeper and the Spindle' and a signed copy of the latest 'Goth Girl' book, so I was happy!)

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I don't live all that far from Weston-Super-Mare, although I very rarely visit, but when I saw that Banksy (and others) had created a pop-up amusement park there, I thought it was worth a visit.

Tickets are not easy to get.. either you go to Weston and queue for hours, and maybe you get in and maybe you don't, or you try to catch the website in one of the brief moments when tickets are on sale and available, and pre-book.

Which was what I managed to do. So on Sunday, I set off on my way to Weston.

It started to rain as I left the house, which seemed appropriate, and as I got closer to Weston I found myself feeling more nervous, which I rather think is due to the fact the only reason I ever used to go to Weston was for driving lessons, and to take my test (we had to go to Weston as we didn't have any roundabouts or dual carriage ways nearer home).

However, on this occasion, no-one made me do an emergency stop, or a three point turn, although I did have to do some reverse parking on a bit of wasteland which had been co-opted by the council as a spare car park.

It was still pretty grey and grim when I arrived in Weston, (to be fair, it's pretty grim even in glorious sunshine. . it is a town which would like to grow up to be Blackpool, but can't quite make it.. It is a perfect venue for a subversive theme park.

It starts with a queue (even if you have pre-booked), but I had brought a book for that. Then once you get through the queue there is an airport-style security checkpoint, with meticulously hand-crafted cardboard surveillance cameras and x-ray machines, and convincingly grumpy 'police' who randomly take people aside to search, and to question for offences such as smiling or looking cheerful (while telling other attendees to 'move on, nothing to see')  Accompanied by nervous laughter from those selected. . .

Once inside, things get even more interesting.

Stallion : Ben Long

There is a magical castle (a little battered, of course) and some amazing, gigantic sculptures, including the Stallion made entirely from scaffolding, which I loved, and a pair of articulated tanker lorries which were either dancing or mating...

Big Rig Jig : Mike Ross

There are sideshows - where you can try to win an anvil at an anvil-shy (like a coconut-shy, but with anvils..) or try to catch plastic duckies (dead ones, from a pool with an oil-soaked pelican in the centre, of course)

There is a ferris wheel, and one can play mini-gulf  (like mini-golf, but with added oil-based war)
There is also a merry-go-round, which is almost normal, (and available for the children to ride on)  until you look closely, and realise that there is already one passenger on the roundabout...

And then there is extra art. There is a pickled unicorn, by Damien Hirst, some of the most disturbing crockery you are ever likely to see, by Ronit Baranga, not to mention some trophy heads which are a worrying mash-up of wedding cake, false teeth and great, curving horns..

In a another gallery there is more art, including an embroidered car, a mushroom-cloud of a tree house (or perhaps a tree-house of a mushroom cloud), by Deitrich Wegner, and a perfect, macabre fairground horse.

It is here, too, that one of Banky's own pieces (Mickey Mouse engulfed by a snake) is to be found,  along with lots of other art, some amusing, some disturbing, almost all thought-provoking. (I enjoyed Kate Macdowell's box of mice (each with it's own human ear), and Jessica Harrison's china tattooed ladies.

Did I mention Death?  He is there, too, spinning around on the dodgems, to a raucous rendition of 'Staying Alive'.

There is a lot more, too. It's all weirdly fascinating, often depressing, in places thought-provoking and in others surprisingly funny.

And the determinedly grim and grumpy staff are a constant reminder of how any sane person would be, if working in an amusement park and not contractually required to smile...!

I had reservations about going, and I nearly decides against it when I saw the queue, but I am glad I persevered.

(more photos on Flickr if you are interested)
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As our visit drew to a close we decided to visit the Louvre. I'd been once before, when I was still at school, and had a vague memory of visiting the Mona Lisa, but that was all, and I don't think that my mother had ever been before.

Last time I went was before the Pyramid was built, so I had not seen that before, in person.

I liked it.

Particularly the spiral staircase leading up to ground level, under the pyramid.

We decided that we would start by visiting some of the better known masterpieces, so we started with the Mona Lisa, (beautiful, but unsurprisingly, rather crowded)

In order to get to her, we passed through galleries of other Italian art - I particularly enjoyed Ucello's Battle of San Romano, (not least, I must confess, because I correctly identified it as being by Ucello before looking at the label!)

The Winged Victory of Samothrace

We then visited the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which is a little bit headless, but otherwise glorious. She is Greek, dating from around 190 BC. Apparently she may originally have stood above a pool of water, so that the (stone) ship on whose prow she stands may have appeared to float. I would love to see the Louvre display her that way..

As we were on a roll with ancient Greek sculpture, we moved on to visit Aphrodite of Milos, more famous as the Venus de Milo who manages to look very serene despite the huge crowds around her!

I also found  this lovely little blackwork vase of an owl. I should have been very happy to take it home with me had that been permitted!

There was an exhibition on, about the discoveries made in Bulgaria, of a number of Thracian burials - there were vast quantities of grave goods, many of them in gold or silver gilt, and none marred by any trace of restraint!

Fascinating stuff!

We then visited the wonderful Islamic Art department (via Coptic Egypt).

Unlike the famous highlights, this section of the was almost deserted, and we were able to admire the beautiful tiles, woodcarvings and mosaics almost alone.  

Which was a treat.

By this stage, we were starting to become exhausted - there is only so much art one can take in at any one time, so we wandered back through the courtyard to visit the Horses of Marly, before heading out of the museum and into the Tuileries Gardens for a late lunch.

We then spent the final afternoon wandering around the ile de France. We had thought we might visit Notre Dame, but after seeing the queue to get in, decided that we didn't want to go as badly as all that!

Instead, we wandered along the banks of the river, watching boats go past, and admiring the various bridges, including those where the railings are collapsing under the weight of 'love-locks'. . .

It made for a rather nice, relaxed finale to our holiday!

Our journey home  the following day was slightly marred by a security alert at the Gare du Nord which resulted in our standing in a very large queue for 40 minutes, while the security services carried out a controlled explosion on someone's luggage, but fortunately this was done swiftly enough not to delay our train.

(More photos of the trip, for anyone who is interested, on Flickr)

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We moved on (after lunch, of course!) from Cluny to the Musee D'Orsay, which started life as a railway terminus, and which now holds lots of 20th Century art, including lots of Impressionist paintings, and sculptures.

It's a nice building. I like that the exterior still has the names of all the towns and cities that the trains used to go to. And I like the big clocks, and the fact that you can go inside and peer at out Paris through the clock face.

Oh, and the Art is pretty good, too.

Seeing famous artworks in real life is always a little odd - there is that shock of recognition,at seeing something so familiar for the first time. And then you start to look more closely, and realise that the eyes in Renoir's paintings are always and distinctively Renoir's, for instance.

(and, slightly embarrassingly, I realised for the first time that Monet actually painted that woman with the parasol twice, once facing left and once right..)

I enjoyed the Art Nouveau exhibits, which included a wonderful plate by William de Morgan, with Eagles (there was a glorious dish with griffins, too, but the angle was wrong to get a picture of that (it was much richer in colour than the picture at that link suggests)

And then we could wander past the Degas's and the Rodin sculpture, and past the Polar Bear, and then there were the Van Goghs, and I do love Van Gogh's work.

There were some Gaugins as well, but it is the Van Goghs I was really drawn too.

After all of the art, we were exhausted and had to have some very expensive tea in the museum restaurant (with another Big Clock!)

There comes a point when tea is, at least temporarily, more important even than great art.
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Day two of our trip started with a visit to theMusée national du Moyen Âge (which used to be known as the Musee de Cluny).

The museum is housed in the former Benedictine Abbey of Cluny, near the Sorbonne, in very attractive buildings.
It is famous for housing the 'Lady and the Unicorn' series of medieval tapestries, but also has a huge collection of other artifacts.
Swabian wood carving
When we visited, the museum was holding an exhibition of Swabian wood carvings.

These were impressive by virtue of their age and state of preservation, but I have to admit that they did not appeal to me very much aesthetically - it is extraordinary that they have survived since the 1500's.

Stained glass - Partridge
The Abbey was built on the site of a Roman Bath-house, parts of which remain,  and the museum also has a number of pieces of Roman carving (mainly the heads and bases of various columns) as well as later additions such as statues from various churches around Paris. (Apparently a lot were removed as they were seen as Royalist, during the revolution)

Ivory Casket - 1300
There is some stained glass (I enjoyed the Partridges), and other art work, including reliquaries, a few illuminated manuscripts and some works in ivory.
I particularly liked an intricately carved ivory box from around 1300, illustrated with scenes of knights and ladies, and courtly love.
And a gold rose, which is delicate and perfectly formed.
Then there are the tapestries themselves.

The 'Lady and the Unicorn' series consists of 6 linked tapestries, 5 of which illustrate the five senses, and the 6th, "À mon seul désir"  which has been interpreted in a number of ways, including as love, free will, or even renunciation of the emotions or passions raised by the first 5 senses.


The tapestries are large, and all show the arms of the Le Visite family. They have been dated to the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th Century, and are charming.
"À mon seul désir"

As well as the Lady, and the Lion and Unicorn, the tapestries all have lots of other birds and animals in the background

Mostly rabbits, but there were also hawks, storks, foxes and a  magpie.
There was also something which the guide said was a baby unicorn, although how they decided it wasn't just an ordinary foal (it had no horn) they did not disclose.
I have a particular weakness for the rabbits, although there was also a rather nice stork or heron, lying on it's back in order to fit among the flowers!
The 'Lady and Unicorn' tapestries are not the only ones, there are also a whole series of 23 tapestries detailing the life of  St. Stephen, completed in 1490. (There is a scene where his body is exposed to the beasts, which features a rather lovely porcupine).
There are others showing daily life, including one of a woman spinning using a drop spindle, which includes a cat playing with the thread - obviously cats have changed very little since the 1500s!

There is also the Abbot's chapel, which is small, but exquisite.

I loved the delicacy of the stone carving in the ceiling.

It is not a museum I am familiar with - this was my first visit, but it is well worth it. We spent most of the morning there, and it would not have been difficult to stay longer. We mostly only left because we got hungry!
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The main reason for going to London (this time) were to meet up with N and A, and to see Neil give his lecture, but happily there was also time for other fun things.

When I first got to London, I met up with N and we had a delightful lunch at Nopi, Yotam Ottolenghi's restaurant.

I did not know before that yogurt could be caramalised, but it seems that it can... !

(the restaurant also has the most disconcerting bathrooms ever - they have infinitely reflecting mirrors, a  little like an unusually refined funfair...

Very elegant to have around the basins, but I am not wholly convinced that having multiple, full-length mirrors, in a lavatory cubicle is entirely appealing...)

After lunch we went to Foyles, for some book shopping. They had a delightful display of penguins in the window  (the artist was Chloe Spicer) . The penguins were made from, and celebrating the Penguin 'Little Black Classics'.

I was a little sad that perfectly good little books had died to make the little penguins, but they do seem to be happy, book-loving penguins, so I shall get over it!

I had not intended to buy any books, as they are heavy to carry, and I do have several lovely local bookshops, but I was unable to resist temptation. I have never found it easy to leave a bookshop without buying books, or indeed to pass a bookshop without going in.

Only two of the books I bought were full size, though. . . I did bring some little black penguin classics home with me, although I have not the skill to turn them into actual penguins after reading them..

We had time for some tea and cake before heading to Neil's lecture, and also to admire the beautiful Burmese cat living at N's BandB, which was very nice!

On the Wednesday, I had most of the day to myself, as my train was not until late afternoon.

I started off with a visit to Leighton House Museum, the former home of Frederic, Lord Leighton, who had the house built in 1866, and then extended a few years later to house Leighton's collection of tiles and other artifacts collected in the Middle East, and it is an amazing building.

(photo of 'The Roses of Heliogabulus from exhibition website)

It is also, currently, housing an exhibition of Victorian artwork owned by Mexican collector Juan Antonio Pérez Simón, and featuring in particular, Alma Tadema's The Roses of Heliogabalus, which was displayed in a rose-scented room!

For me, the highlight was not the artwork, but the building itself.

(photo of Arab Hall from museum website)

The house features the wonderful 'Arab Hall',a beautiful space, decorated with  Iznik (Turkish) and Syrian tiles, and modern tiles made by William de Morgan to compliment the originals, and fill in the gaps.

The hall is topped by a glorious golden dome, and contains a fountain.

I had arrived just as the museum opened and was lucky enough to have the hall to myself for a time, to enjoy the tranquility and the beautiful details.

The entrance hall is also lovely, with the most glorious peacock-blue tiles on the walls, although frustratingly, you are not allowed to take pictures, (and the selection of postcards was very limited :( )

The exhibition is ending at the end of this month, but the house is open all year round, and is more than worth visiting!

After leaving Leighton House, I moved on to another exhibition (also close to ending!) - the Sherlock Holmes exhibition at the Museum of London.  

The museum have the outside of the museum in an appropriate manner, and inside are all sorts of interesting things - after entering through a 'secret' door, there is a lot of information about Victorian London, including maps (some showing the routes taken by Holmes and Watson in specific stories, and the method of travel ( foot, cab, rail etc)

There was art, both contemporary art and photographs of London (Including a slightly unexpected Monet!), original illustrations from the stories, and a selection of posters and other artwork relating to various other iterations of the stories, including the Robert Downey Jnr. film, and a french pornographic film..

Further into the exhibition were some of Conan Doyle's original manuscripts, and information and artifacts related to criminal investigation in the Holmes era, plus examples of clothing, accessories etc. of the period. (including theatrical make up and props)

And, of course, props from some of the dramatisations, including Benedict Cumberatch's coat from the BBC's Sherlock.

I found it entertaining, but not quite the 'must see' which some of the reviews I have read suggested.

I finished up by wandering around the rest of the museum, including the parts devoted to Roman and Medieval London, before heading back to the station (and a *very* crowded train home.

Now to start planning what I shall do with my next visit to London, when I shall have another couple of days . . .

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Saturday morning was devoted to dull but necessary tasks, such as getting up far too early for a Saturday in order to get a 'flu jab, buying food, doing laundry and getting a cat-flap installed ready for when the kittens are allowed out.

The afternoon, however, was much more fun.

This year's Bath Festival of Children's Literature has begun, and one of the events was 'In Conversation with Dave McKean' which took place on Saturday afternoon at the Holburne Museum.

I was  particularly keen to see Dave McKean, partly because I love his work, but also as his event last year had to be cancelled, as he was prevented from getting to Bath by major road delays!

He started his presentation by apologising for last year, and explaining that he had arrived in Bath 3 hours early, this time, to ensure that there wasn't a repeat of that issue!

He then gave us a whistle-stop tour of some of his works, with illustrations,  concentrating in particular on the work he has done with children's books.  It was particularly interesting to me to hear him explaining to people who might not know, who Neil Gaiman is, with particular reference to his Crazy Hair!

He also talked about his work with David Almond (in glowing terms, and pointing out first that David was sitting in the audience!) Richard Dawkins and S.F.Said, speaking a little about the techniques he had used for some of the different art works.

He mentioned that his new film, Luna, is out soon. He didn't play us the trailer, as it is not a children's film (apparently it has just been classified as a 15) but did mention that it will be showing in Bath next month, and that he will be doing a QandA, but he did play us Sheepdip, Johnson and Dupree whicch was fun.

After the event he signed books - sadly the  event bookseller had not brought any copies of his new book Pictures That Tick (Vol 2) - they only had older ones (all of which I already own!) but Dave himself had brought along some spare copies of Jazz (in Quotes) which is a limited edition collection of illustrated quotes, which was produced for SDCC, so I was able to get one of those, and to get Dave to sign a couple of my existing books.

All in all, a most satisfactory evening. And when I got home, I was able to book a ticket for the screening of Luna.

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As you'll have seen from the last 2 posts, I had a lot of fun on Friday in London, but the actual reason for which I went was to meet up with Nathalie and Alex, and to see Neil Gaiman reading 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains', accompanied by live music from the FourPlay string Quartet and illustrations from Eddie Campbell.


Nathalie had succeeded in getting front row tickets, so we had an excellent view. The show was sold out, (although I noticed that the seats behind us remained empty all evening, which made me sad, as I'm sure there were people who'd have loved them, and didn't get tickets)

Fourplay came on (bringing with them 2 violas, one violin and a cello) and started the evening with their version of the Doctor Who theme, (which, frankly, I think the BBC should pick up on and use for the new season)


They then played two other pieces, (I was enjoying myself too much to make notes of the titles, but I've bought a couple of their CDs so I should be able to hear them again!)

And then they introduced Neil, who was wearing a beautiful deep red waistcoat as well as his usual black. Very fetching!

He read us 'The Day Saucers Came' and a story called 'Adventures', and also sang 'I Google You' (with additional lines about Vine!)

During the interval, was able to buy a copy of 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains' , signed by both Neil and Eddie, and met another friend, Maggie.

In the second half of the evening, Neil read 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains' while Eddie Campbell's illustrations were projected behind him, and Fourplay provided musical accompaniment. Of course, this is not the first time that I have had the luck of seeing Neil read with music and other participation (that honour goes to the Fortunately, the Milk event, last October.) This was very different, except that both show how much fun having Neil read to you can be, and how much other artists and performers can add to the experience!

The story originally appeared in the anthology Stories, by the way (if you don't have a copy, go get one. Lots of great stories by lots of different writers. And get a copy of the new, illustrated version of the story, too ).

Hayley and Eddie Campbell

And it is tragic and chilling and oh so very, very good. Particularly with Art, and a String Quartet.

Once the story was over, both Hayley and Eddie Campbell joined Neil on stage, and threatened strange and terrible revenge for the killing of a number of Campbell's in the story. (I do hope Neil makes it through the Scottish performance. I find it a little ominous that it's billed as the very last. . . . .)

And then, as he was concerned that the tale might have left us a little down, and that it was a little lacking in feelings of warm fuzziness, hugs and bunnies, he decided to sing us a cheering and uplifting song, so that we could all leave light-heartedly.

It is possible that they may be better songs to achieve this aim, than Psycho. (which, I have to say, is scarier when sung with the backing of a string quartet, than with a ukulele. Or it is if you are in the front row)

It's just as well that my walk back to the hotel was only a few minutes long. And well lit.

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Yesterday was, according to the BBC (who, I feel sure, checked) the hottest day of the year so far, and when I left the Tate it certainly felt like it, particularly after walking along by the Thames, and taking the moving sauna tube, so I decided to head back to my hotel to change, and freshen up, before heading to the Barbican.

Just before I got to the hotel,  I saw a couple of people walking in the opposite direction, and thought vaguely 'that bloke looks a bit like Neil'. Then they got closer, and I realised it was Neil! And Hayley Campbell. Which was a nice surprise. And encouraging, as it seemed to suggest that the evening's show would be happening!

We said hello, and Neil introduced me to Hayley, who I haven't met before (although we've tweeted) then they went on (presumably to the Barbican, for sound checks and things) and I went on to my hotel, where I looked in a mirror and realised that I was in even more of a dire need for a shower and change of clothes that I'd thought :( (although I suppose it proves it really happened. If I imagined bumping into Neil & Hayley by chance I'd have imagined myself looking cool and collected, not scruffy and sweaty)

Once I was feeling, and looking, a little more human (thank you, rainfall shower!) I walked back to the Barbican, and went to their 'Digital Revolution' exhibition, which was fascinating.

There are various old video games, from Pong onward, to try, and then some glorious pieces of interactive digital art.

My favourite was Chris Milk's The Treachery Of Sanctuary, which allows you to become a flock of birds, or to grow wings. Beautiful and haunting.

I didn't have time the whole exhibition, and may try to make time to go back, if I am in London again before it ends in mid-September.

I then met up with Nathalie, and we looked around the second of the exhibitions at the Barbican; The Fashion World of Jean-Paul Gaultier.

Nathalie's hat, and Jean-Paul Gaultier's

Nathalie's glorious new hat fitted right in!

There were lots of amazing clothes - and many of the mannequins wearing them had faces projected onto their blank faces, so that they blink, or appeared to speak, as you pass. There is also a mannequin dressed as JPG himself, in striped jersey and kilt, speaking in French and English about the exhibits..

We didn't have time to view all of the exhibition as we had a dinner reservation at one of the Barbican's restaurants. I would like to go back to see the rest, if I have time. . .

However, despite having to leave the exhibition before we'd seen it all, it was good to be able to sit down, and talk, and eat.

(although despite eating in 'The Gin Joint' we didn't actually try any of their many gins... there wasn't time for cocktails after we had finished eating..!)

All great fun, and we have not even reached the main event of the day, yet!

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My last post was about my trip to see 'The Hothouse', which was the main purpose of my day trip to London. However, that didn't take all day, I had time to take in a few other points of interest.

I started by going to The Illustration Cupboard, a small gallery/shop, which is currently showing the illustrations from David Almond / Dave McKean's new book, 'Mouse. Bird, Snake, Wolf' .

They are gorgeous (there's a full list, with images, on the gallery's site), and since I got home I have been looking down the back of the sofa in the vain hope of finding £1,500 or so, so I can go back and buy one.(I especially like 'They Made a Wolf', if anyone has a sudden urge to buy me an unbirthday present). The gallery also has lots of other nice art and prints.

My second non-theatre-y indulgence, after the play finished,  before I caught my train home, was more art, at the National Gallery, which has the advantage of being close to the theatre, and of being free, so its possible to call in and spend a little time visiting a few highlights, without feeling that you've wasted the visit.

I spent most of the time I had looking at some of the galleries earliest works, among them one of my personal favourites, the Wilton Diptych, which was made for King Richard II, at the end of the 14th Century.

I love the way that the angels all wear Richard's badge (even if some of them look pretty bored).  I particularly like the white stag on the back of the diptych.

I also enjoy the other early works - the gallery has a couple of Uccellos (including a delightful St George and the Dragon (which seems to show that the dragon was in the RAF, so it seems a little unpatriotic to have killed it...)

Leaving the Gallery I found that Trafalgar Square was full of many competeing groups of Morris Dancers. Which was unexpected. I'd noticed that the pub I ate lunch in seemed to have an unusually high number of men in white with bells round their knees, but I just put it down to the local clientele!

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A couple of weeks ago, I saw Nick Harkaway (@Harkaway) tweet about a project which both he, and Neil Gaiman have contributed to, together with Tom Abba and Artists' Collective, 'Circumstance'.

(Picture (c) the project)
The project, 'These Pages Fall Like Ash' is an interactive story, part book, part city exploration with downloaded content, part personal imagination.

I booked a ticket (or bought a book, depending how you chose to look at it) and on Saturday travelled to Bristol to take part.  I picked up my book (beatifully packaged) from the Watershed, and got started.

The book is a beautiful little thing, made from wood and paper, and it tells two stories, or two halves of one story, one set in the Bristol we know, the other half set in a parallel city, with characters who may, or may not, know and remember one another.

The book also contains clues to locations within Bristol, at which you can download further parts of the story, using a smartphone or tablet. You have to find the right place; the content is stored on hidden hard drives, so you have to be in the right part of the city.

I wasn't able to complete the whole story (?stories) - the project hasn't been finished yet, there is still some digital content which hasn't yet been uploaded, and I had trouble with a couple of the sites, but it is a very interesting concept, and it caused me to look at the city in a way I hadn't done before.

I must have passed the hairdressers in St Nicholas Street numerous times, but had not noticed the veiled bust, for instance.

I hope I shall have time to go back and revisit while the project is up and complete, to finish the stories, but if I don't , I think some of the digital content will be available as a pdf once the project is over.

And I believe that there are plans for other, similar projects in other cities.

It's definitely an interesting and innovative piece of art, and I'm glad I joined in.
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Some time ago,I booked tickets for two of the British Museum's headline exhibitions for this year: - Ice Age art and Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, so Saturday morning saw me on a train to London, to visit the BM and see them both.


I started with Pompeii. Well, to be truthful, I started with a very nice lunch at a lovely little French bistro not far from the Museum, but after that I went into the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition.

I was lucky enough to able able to visit both cities, about 18 months ago, together with the Archaeological museum in Naples, so I was not sure whether there would be many things I hadn't already seen (although of course I had no problem with seeing them again!)

Kitchen Mural

The exhibition is arranged by rooms, a little as if looking around a Roman house -  starting with the street, and moving in to an Atrium, Bedroom, Kitchen, Garden and so forth.

Many of the items were familiar - the 'Cave Canem' mosaic, for example, and the portrait of the Baker, Terentius Neo, and his wife, (which is the headline poster for the exhibition), others were less familiar.

I don't remember seeing the more technical exhibits, such as pipes and valves which looked startlingly modern, or the fountain head in the shape of a rabbit, before.

There were also various pieces of furniture which I had not seen before - the poignant carbonised cradle, for instance (I'd seen it in TV documentaries, but not in person), a small household alter, and personal items found with some of the bodies, such as a surgeon's implements, a child's charm-bracelet and a key.

There were also items such as loaves of bread, dishes of figs, pomegranates and grain, all carbonised, and therefore preserved for over 2,000 years, which are just astonishing!

Garden fresco

One of the most dramatic and memorable parts of the exhibition, however, has to be the Garden frescos - 3 walls of gardens, with gorgeous and life-like plants and birds.

The exhibition does include a small number of the famous casts - one of a guard dog, and others of a family of four - parents and two young children, but the exhibition focuses on life rather than death. It's very interesting, and I'm glad I went.

(There are more pictures in the Evening Standard's review, here, and on the Museum's own website)

After this, I wandered upstairs to visit Noggin the Nog the Lewis Chessmen, and a few other bits and pieces, while I waited for the time-slot for my entry into the Ice Age exhibition.

One of the things I like about the British Museum is how big it is, and how much stuff there is, so if (like me) you have a poor sense of direction, you tend to wander down a corridor, or turn a corner, and stumble upon the Mespotomanian Queen of the Night, or a glazed brick guardsman from the palace of Darius of Persia (both of which I saw in between Pompeii and the Ice Age..)

20,000 year old Bison sculpture

The Ice age exhibition was, to me, a little bit of a disappointment - they sell timed tickets, but seemed to have been greedy and overestimated how many people could reasonable view the (mainly small) at once. The exhibition itself is also fairly small. The curators have added some modern pieces, such as Matisse sketches and a Henry Moore sculpture, to highlight how close the relationships between modern and ancient art were.

Despite my grouching, there were some lovely pieces - a beautiful bison, and a lovely horse. And the swimming reindeer, which is part of the permanent collection, and one of my favourites.

It's fascinating to see the skill and accuracy of the sculptures, and to realise that they were created with nothing but bone and stone tools!

An interesting day. Long, but I'm glad had the chance to see both exhibitions.

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Today turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day. I had to go around half way to Wells, in order to get a new headlight bulb put onto my car, so it seemed reasonable to go the rest of the way and to look at the Swans currently dotted around the city.

The swans are a temporary art project, and there are 60 of them in all - I think I found around 35, which considering that I only looked in the town centre, I felt was quite good.

It's hard to pick a favourite, but if I have to narrow it down, I think my top five would be:

5.Swan About Town

I loved the art on this one, which includes scenes of Wells, including a picture of the town hall inside it's wings.

4. Hot Fuzz.

As the name suggests, this Swan is based upon Edgar Wright's film, Hot Fuzz, (and sponsored by Edgar Wright and Working Title Films). It is currently living at the Police Station..

 and it carries pictures of the swan scene from the film, in a wonderfully recusrsive way..

3. The Swanster

A gorgeous dragon swan, a little let down by its name..

And I suppose, that as birds are really dinosaurs in disguise, it isn't surprising that a swan might turn out to be a dragon is disguise (or vice versa)

2. Up Before the Beak.

This is a legal Swan. How could I not love it?

I think it's the half-moon glasses which make it just perfect.

1. Guinevere - She Built a Nest of Silver Leaves

This swan is the only one which is actually in the moat of the Bishop's Palace, which is of course where swans in Wells belong.

It's not clear whether, like her real-life counterparts, she has learned to ring the gatehouse bell to demand food...

I'm glad I was in time to see so many of them (I have a Flickr set of all the ones I found) - I think that they are due to be gathered in over the next few days, after which they will be auctioned off.

After seeing the swans, I called my friend J, who lived across the road from us when we were at school, and who still lives very close to where we both grew up. We've not seen each other for almost a year, however, so it was great to sit in the sunshine and catch up.

Altogether, an excellent day, and it ended with the 1st episode of the new series of Doctor Who, which made me very happy. (I'll stay spoiler-free, for those who haven't seen it yet)

How was your Saturday?

More Art

Jun. 23rd, 2012 04:35 pm
marjorie73: (Default)
The AFP art show wasn't the only one I went to while I was in London; having a morning free after the gig, I looked into what exhibitions were on, and then headed down to The Queen's Gallery (which is tucked round the back of Buckingham Palace), where there was an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical drawings.

They were absolutely fascinating, and beautiful. The drawings in the collection cover quite a lengthy period in da Vinci's life, and the exhibition explained how in the early sketches, he was very much influenced by the accepted wisdom about anatomy - showing, for instance, a man's spine connecting to his penis, and the woman's spine going into the womb, then in later works showing much more accurate pictures, although in some cases with inaccuracies based on extrapolation from animal dissections (animals presumably being easier to get hold of than people)

The exhibition also had side by side comparisons - modern medical models displayed along side Leonardo's drawings, which showed how accurate his observations were. Amazing.
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At the gig on Monday, Amanda announced that the venue would be open again on Tuesday afternoon for the art, so I decided to go back.
The gallery was deserted so I was able to spend as long as I wanted with the art works.

On Monday, I'd found myself wandering around, and every so often I would see a picture and thinks "that's gorgeous, I wonder who made it?" and then I would read the label and, about half the time, realise that it was an artist I already knew of - some, like Kyle Cassidy and Molly Crabapple I was expecting, (you can buy prints of Molly's pieces here)
Molly Crabapple's art
Others, like Raliel, I should have anticipated but hadn't,Other artists included Judith Clute, Michael Zulli, David Mack, (I immediately loved his pieces, but it took a long time for the penny to drop and to realise that he also did the art work for the 'I Will Write With Words of Fire' prints from neverwear)

Some of the artists were new to me - I immediately fell in love with Vladimir Zimakov's linocuts,(also available as prints)

and was impressed with the photography skills of one Neil Gaiman, who seems to be a newcomer as a visual artist...

I was impressed, too, with the ability of one Amanda Palmer to draw so well, in addition to the singing.

Kambriel's gorgeous 'The Killing Type' dress presided over all, with bullets (or shell cases?) in the bodice..

Alone in the gallery, I was terribly tempted to see if I could take it off the mannequin and try it on myself. I didn't, but when I tweeted about it later, Kambriel said she would have let me, had she been there. I wish she had been!
Kyle Cassidy's 'Bed Song' art
But there was one piece of art which I kept returning to. The set of 5 pictures by [ profile] kylecassidy, of people, naked, in bed. I kept returning to them because the pictures are beautiful, of course, but also because they felt so real - the people in the pictures. The pictures were beautiful, and so were the people in the pictures.Every curve, every line, every sign of lives lived. Seeing them on Monday night, during Amanda's show, I loved them. Seeing them the following day, in the quiet of an empty gallery, I was moved to tears.

(22.06.12. Edited to correct attributions)
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So, as everyone must know now, Amanda Palmer decided to fund her new album via Kickstarter, and was spectacularly successful. I initially signed up just for the CD level reward, but then, after failing to get tickets for the public gig on Wednesday, and realising that I really wanted the Art Book, too, Not to mention the fact that every Amanda Palmer gig I have been to has been so much fun that I would always go to one, given the chance, I decided to take the plunge and back at that level. All of which resulted in my getting on a train on Monday, to go to London, to the Kickstarter Backers' VIP Art Opening and Gig..
I think it is fair to say that the gig lived up to and beyond my expectations!
The gig was at Village Underground, in Shoreditch, and was easy to spot. For a start, the club has several Underground railway carriages on the roof, and to be going on with, there was a typical Amanda Palmer queue outside - lots of happy people, dressed in a vast range of styles from ballgowns and dinner jackets to the most casual of clothes. While we queued, we talked, and as we got closer to the entrance a young gentleman (who we later learned is AFP's cousin) arrived and serenaded the queue upon the bagpipes!

On getting to the head of the queue there was the inevitable frisson of fear lest my name turned out mysteriously to be missing from the guest list (happily it wasn't!) and then the pleasure of being given a goodie bag, which included a mask and a free book, and stickers, and a felt-tip pen (do not forget the felt-tip pen, best beloveds). And all of this before the gig even started.

Village Underground is a big, warehouse style space - all red brick and girders, and made a good backdrop for all the wonderful art.

There was time to look around, and admire it, and to trade the little cards marked with 'The Very Hungry Caterpiller' for drinks at the bar, and to admire the outfits of the other guests, and then, and then, the music started.

First up, Princessin Hans - who sang to us of passive-aggression, got lots of audience participation, and ROCKED in a wonderful silver dress and almost equally wonderful ginger beard...

And later, Amanda chatted with us, and encouraged us to talk, and drink, and admire the art, and swap books,
And we did. and I think it was round about that point in the evening that I got to meet up with twitter-friend @MsClara, who is even more beautiful and entertaining in person, (and her husband, the marvellous Mr. Mitch Benn. And then there was a further musical interlude, this time with strings, by Jherek Bischoff - wonderful, beautiful, wordless music.
and it was the kind of evening where you sit on the floor of this space, and close your eyes to focus on the music, and then you open them and realise that the person who just sat down on the floor next to you is Neil Gaiman...
Then - the invasion of the Grand Theft Orchestra - there were masks, and flashlights, and a beautiful woman in a beautiful dress, and saws and knives and a loudhailer and new songs and old.
And the music spilled out into the audience, and the audience surrounded the band, and at some point there was a singalong 'last christmas' too, although I can't quite recall why..
Amanda sang 'The Bed Song', and 'Trout Heart Replica' from the new album, and Neil sang 'Psycho',
and EVERYBODY sang 'Map of Tasmania' and the 'Ukulele Anthem'.
and then - did you remember the felt-tip pen, best beloveds?
This was the writing on a rock star part of the evening,

There was so much love and so much happiness and laughter...
And then evening started to wind down, and there was chatter, and hugs, and signing of books (did I mention there was a book in every goodie bag?) Amanda and Neil visited a couple of 2nd hand book shops in Charing Cross Road to buy books for everyone, and Amanda was telling us whether each book we showed her was a 'Neil Book', or an 'Amanda Book' (Mine was a Neil Book, and one day someone browsing my bookshelves is going to wonder why I have a copy of Micheal Chabon's 'The Final Solution' signed by Neil Gaiman, and I will explain it is because it has Sherlock Holmes, and because Neil was married in Michael's living room, and they will probably give me a funny look and move on. And I won't care, because to me it will be another reminder of a wonderful evening, full of friendly strangers and magical art, when Amanda Palmer kissed me.
marjorie73: (Default)
OK, I bet that got your attention!
I've been following Russell Tovey on twitter for a while (he plays George the Werewolf in 'Being Human', was Alonso in the Doctor Who / Titanic Christmas episode, and Henry Knight in 'Sherlock') and he has been tweeting about the play he is currently starring in, 'Sex with a Stranger', by Stefan Golaszewski.

It sounded interesting, so I booked myself a ticket, and set off to London early this morning. It was cold. Very cold. The journey took a little longer than expected, as my first train got delayed, so we went rather a long way round, but fortunately there are plenty of trains from Swindon (where I was changing), and I'd left myself lots of time. I enjoyed sitting in a nice, warm train as it travelled though wintry landscape, especially as it was a beautiful bright, sunny, clear day.

London was freezing cold - literally. There was ice on the fountains in Trafalgar Square, and snow still lying under some of the trees in St James' Park. The mounted sentries at Horseguards looked rather cold (although not as cold as the poor un-mounted chap. I suppose that the fact you are sitting on a horse, even if you have to keep completely still, must give you a little warmth.

There were a lot of people in Trafalgar Square, as part of Amnesty International's day day of solidarity with Syria - and massive numbers of police, although there seemed not to be any problems, so far as I could tell.

After fortifying myself with some good beer, and mediocre fish and chips in a pub just off Whitehall, I popped into the National Gallery for an hour or so. I like it there.

Today, I looked in on a couple of my favourites: Rousseau's 'Surprised!' and Stubbs' 'Whistlejacket', for instance, and checked that the Van Gogh 'Sunflowers' doesn't say 'for Amy' on it, then wandered (via 'The Ambassadors' and a completely unexpected (to me) Da Vinci cartoon ) into the Sainsbury Wing, where they keep the medieval paintings. It's amazing to see paintings which are over 500 years old but still so bright and clear.

Richard II's diptych, painted in around 1395, is stunning, for instance.

I then headed over to Trafalgar Studios for the play itself.

It's short, and has just three cast members.

Adam Russell Tovey
Grace Jaime Winstone
Ruth Naomi Sheldon

We start with Adam and Ruth, making their way back to Ruth's flat, via night buses and cabs and a kebab, making awkward conversation to fill that all-to-long gap between picking one another up in a night club, and getting back to Grace's home so they can have sex. There are a lot of awkward silences, and both actors are very convincing. It's funny, but in a slightly unsettling, too close for comfort kind of way. Ruth originally comes across as brash and confident, but as time passes exposes her own insecurity.

As the play continues, there are flashbacks to Adam preparing to go out, from which we learn that he has a partner, Ruth, and see the build up to his night out, including Ruth's half-formed suspicions, and Adam's angry response to them. There is a scene where we see Grace compliment Adam on his shirt, and then jump back, to see Ruth, alone on stage and in total silence, carefully ironing it for him, ready for his evening out.

The play doesn't resolve these issues - we don't see any of the aftermath of Adam and Grace's one night stand.

I was very impressed by all three actors. The studio is tiny, seating fewer than 100 people (in 3 rows) so it's very intimate, and there was very little in the way props (and no physical scenery at all - just light and sound) which must make it harder to capture and keep an audience's suspension of disbelief.

I'm glad I went. (oh, and for what it's worth, Tovey takes his shirt off, twice, allowing one to admire more than just his acting skills...!)
(There are some amazing pictures taken by photographer Elliott Franks, of the cast, here)


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