Sunday, 13 July 2014


This weekend has been much quieter than last. Which is probably just as well, as it has been a long and stressful week.

Highlights of the weekend included the Mowing of the Lawn (Friday evening), the Tesco Delivery - which is wonderful, as it  means I have food in the house again. More importantly, I have 2 pints of Häagen-Dazs salted caramel ice-cream. Although probably not for long. 

The Vacuuming of the Living Room (Saturday Afternoon), and Doing of The Laundry (Friday *and* Saturday).

I would have liked to manage a bit more sleep, but don't seem to have mastered the 'not waking up at crack of dawn' part of that. And, to be honest, am also a bit crap at the 'going to sleep when I go to bed' part, too.

I baked some cookies, and one of my Dad's cousins called in to see me, and the new house, this afternoon, and ate some of them.

Apparently I didn't win the office football sweepstake. Although as I had not really been paying much attention to the football I had not got my hopes up, so that was alright.

And there was a very nice sunset.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Hedone (because it deserves a post of its own)

Having spent an enjoyable morning admiring art old and new, we made our way to Chiswick, where Nathalie had booked lunch at Hedone, which was recently classed as the 63rd Best Restaurant in the World, and which has been awarded a Michelin Star.

The restaurant is owned and run by chef (and former lawyer and food blogger) Mikael Jonsson.

I have to say, the man can cook.

I am not a food blogger. My review would be pretty much "Oh my god. So good. More please"

So I shall mostly just post pictures, and you must use your imagination. 

We were very restrained. 

We didn't go for the full tasting menu, 'just' the 4 course lunch with wine pairing. Which was wonderful. 

First, there were the amuse bouches. I'm not sure that my bouche was amused, but it was certainly happy. As it was when we were brought bread - simple, but perfect. 

Then the official start of the meal, with slow cooked duck's egg, green peas, girolles and apricot.
Then Liquid Parmesan Ravioli, onion consomme, mild horseradish, smoked guanciale. It's hard to identify a favourite part of this meal, but if I have to, I think it might be the liquid parmesan ravioli. I don't know how you make make such a thing. Black magic, probably.

Did I mention that there was wine, too, with each of these lovely dishes? When we arrived at the main course, Slow cooked leg of Coucou de Rennes chicken, coco de Paimpol, confit tomato, we moved from white, to red wine.  Perhaps that is why we were so easily seduced into adding a cheese course to our  meal?

The cheese was gorgeous - I even enjoyed the Forme d'Ambert, and I don't usually like blue cheese. 
Dessert was Oatmeal Parfait with Cherries and was perhaps the least successful of the dishes, as the cherries were chilled, and their full flavour didn't quite come through. Although it was still delicious.

A truly wonderful meal. (and one eaten in excellent company!)

Mikael Jonsson.
I snoozed in the train all the way home, dreaming of glorious food.

Monday, 7 July 2014

What I Did in London (Part 4) More Art

After the fun on Friday, I had anticiapted that Saturday might feel like a bit of an anti-climax, but no.

Nathalie and I had talked about returning to the Barbican, to go round the rest of the J-P Gaultier exhibit, but when we realised that it didn't open until 11 we made other plans, and went to the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House instead, first to  see the 'Tattoo Art Today', which features artworks in various media, commissioned by the exhibition from 70 different tattoo artists. 

There were no tattoos.
River Avon Mud Hand Spiral (1984)

The exhibition was about the artists showing their skills using paint, sculpture, photography etc, with the theme of 'Time' tying them together.

 It' not a big exhibit, but it's interesting (and free!)

We then went on to look at the rest of the Courtauld Gallery's collection, including their current exhibition, 'Bruegel to Freud, prints from the Courtauld Collection'. 

I particularly liked this piece by Richard Long,  in the 20th Century British Art gallery. 

(The Van Gogh, and the Gaugins and Renoirs are quite nice, too) 

I also found the peacock-winged guitar-playing 14th Century  Angel rather appealing, too.

And of course, the building itself is very impressive. I enjoyed the staircase..

And so - onwards, for we had lunch to eat, and that deserves an entire post of it's own...

Sunday, 6 July 2014

What I Did In London (Part 3) Truth and Fourplay

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.

(there are a few more pictures on Flickr )

What I Did in London (Part 2) : Art and Couture

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!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

What I Did in London (Part 1)

I travelled up to London yesterday morning, to meet up with N and A and to see Neil Gaiman at the Barbican.

The day started with a good omen - at Chippenham, all of us  in the quiet coach were told we would have to move, due to a fault with the door lock. Which would have been annoying, except that they moved us all to 1st class. Which was nice. It did amuse me that after we'd all moved, the conductor made an announcement, apologising for the delay and inconvenience, and then apologising specifically to the 1st class passengers for the [long pause] inconvenience. Poor 1st class passengers, being invaded by the common herd!

Once arrived in London, I checked into my hotel before heading over to Tate Modern to see the Matisse Exhibition 

I enjoyed it. I'm fairly familiar with his blue dancers, but there were lots of other pieces which I didn't know, including stained glass (and studies for other windows) and 'Oceania', which Matisse had on his own studio walls.

Celebes (Max Ernst) 
I was also pleasantly surprised that the exhibition was not overcrowded, unlike other exhibitions I've seen recently!

After seeing the Matisse, I also wandered through some of the other galleries, getting my fill of surrealists. 

Turns out that the Tate has some rather nice pictures. I haven't been for a while, and I tend to forget, between visits.

There are also some nice views from outside the gallery.
I always rather enjoy the fact that you get Tower Bridge, and the Shard, and the Globe, all in one relatively small piece of skyline!.

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Pleasures of anticipatation

This weekend is going to be fun. It will include friends, food, Matisse, Neil Gaiman, and probably some other art, too.

Hopefully, it will not include any delays or other transport problems.

I'm pretty sure there will be extensive blogging and photos, once I'm home. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

A Quiet Week

It's been a fairly quiet week.

On Tuesday, my brother, his girlfriend, and another couple they are friends with, came to say over night in order to be able to get up early with a view to getting a reasonable pitch at the Glastonbury Festival. 

It was lovely to see them, and we had a nice, relaxed evening and were even able to sit outside on the patio to enjoy the last of the sunshine, before going to bed.

They got up very early, and very quietly, and presumably did less queuing, and got a better pitch for their tents,   than they would have done if they had started from Manchester that morning! I have been feeling for them, today and yesterday, as I watch the torrential rain showers, and the thunderstorms, from my warm, dry house :).

Today I have been catching up with various errands and things - I got my hair cut, which I found less stressful than usual, as I remembered, for one, to wear my contacts, so I could actually see what was happening.

I called in at the Theatre Royal, to book some tickets for the new season. 

Then I visited Toppings bookshop, to pick up my ticket for their event with Sandi Toksvig next month, and inevitably bought a couple of books. 

also called in at Mr B's to collect my pre-ordered copy of Shaman Rises, which is book 9  of C.E.Murphy's Walker Papers series. I have spent the past week re-reading the other 8 books so I am up to speed. I may have bought another book, too.. 

But then it is the first day of Independent Booksellers Week, so buying shiny new books from both my local independent bookshops is pretty much obligatory. And I only had 5 more books when I got home than I'd had when I left. Well, 10 if you count library books.

Sticking with the bookish theme, I then went on to complete my registration at my local library (the house move means I now live in a different county, so I couldn't just transfer my membership across. 

Now, I just need to do the housework parts of the 'to-do' list . . .

Monday, 23 June 2014

Nick Harkaway at Mr B's

I have blogged before about Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, one of Bath's 2 lovely independent bookshops. They have lovely events, with writers and conversation and food, and on Wednesday, the writer in question was Nick Harkaway, author of 'The Gone-Away World', 'Angelmaker' and, now 'Tigerman'.

The evening didn't start too well for me, as I had forgotten that They were closing the road in Dunkerton, so I had to go the long way round, and then I got held up because there had been an accident (not, I think, too serious - the police were there, and a 1st response car, but all the people seemed to be standing around and talking to each other).  

All of which meant that I got to Bath late, and had to scratch plaintively at the door of the shop like a delayed cat, to be let in. And then try to sneak in to a gathering where the only available seat was in the 2nd row which you absolutely can't do without people looking at you.

Anyway, once the embarrassment factor of causing a disturbance had settled I was able to start listening to Nick, who was reading an extract (about the English, and T.S.Eliot, among other things) from 'Tigerman'.  Which was very, very funny. 

And then there was conversation. The evening was nominally themed around Father's Day, but as often happens at Mr B's, due to the conversational nature of the evening,discussions around the theme were only a minor part of the evening!

Nick talked about various things which led into the book, including his own experience of a close encounter with the Esso tiger, and of learning to shoot while in Thailand.

There was also some discussion about his experience of fatherhood, and in particular the protectiveness which comes with that, and about other notable fathers in literature.

As always with a Mr Bs event, there was a break in the proceedings for food and mingling - on this occasion, the food part of that included a lemon drizzle cake with blueberries in, which was such stuff as gastronomic dreams are made on...

And there were some interesting (mostly travel related) conversations over food, too.

Finally, Nick signed copies of his books for us. It was a thoroughly enjoyable night, and I am looking forward to reading Tigerman, now I have my very own shiny copy!

Saturday, 14 June 2014

'Intimate Apparel'

Last night I went to the Ustinov Studio in Bath (which is a small, studio theatre attached to the Theatre Royal) to see a production of Lynne Nottage's Intimate Apparel
Tanya Moodie as Esther

I visit the Theatre Royal pretty regularly, but this was the first time I've been to the Ustinov, which is a much smaller (and newer) theatre.  I really enjoyed the evening.

I have to admit that I'm not familiar with Lynne Nottage's work, but based on this performance, I have been missing out, and would like to see more of her work.

The play is set in New York in 1905, and is an imagined history of the author's own great-grandparents. Esther (Tanya Moodie) is a 35 year old seamstress, who has lived in the same  boarding house for 18 years, since walking to New York to seek work, and who sees other girls coming and going, moving on to marriage and motherhood.  She longs for love, and dreams of opening her own beauty parlour where poor, black women such as herself could go to be pampered and treated well.

Esther then receives a letter from George Armstrong (Chu Omambala), a labourer on the Panama Canal. Being illiterate, Esther relies on two of her clients, wealthy, unhappily married Mrs Van Buren (Sara Topman) and singer / prostitute Mayme (Rochelle Neil) to read the letters to her, and to compose replies.

Esther also has a friendship with Mr Marks, (Ilan Goodman) a Jewish haberdasher with whom she bonds over a shared love of fine fabrics.

Tanya Moodie's performance is perfect, creating a deeply moving, poignant character, longing to be loved.

George is a less obviously sympathetic character, particularly in the second half of the play, and I was slightly distracted by his accent, which seemed to slip from the Caribbean, to Bristol, to Ireland.

Over all, however, this is a fantastic performance, of a great play. And it's on in Bath until 28th June, so if you live locally, there is still time to see it. (and it is in London after that)


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Dave McKean: 9 Lives

Did I mention that I really love Dave McKean's work? I really love Dave McKean's work. So going to London to see a live event, with him playing and singing his own music at the British Library was too good to resist. 

Dave McKean
Having spent the afternoon at the Foundling Museum, I got to the Library in plenty of time, and was able to have a cup of coffee and admire the Steven Appleby art on the walls (there was an event relating to his book, 'The Good Inn' after the Dave McKean event, and the library appeared to have focussed on that)  before going in to the Auditorium to see and hear Dave McKean.

He was accompanied by a quartet of other musicians, and performed a total of 9 pieces, each accompanied by one of Dave's own short films, all different, and all amazing!

The 9 songs were:

Tempest - a melancholy song of rain, and rising floodwater.

Sheepdip, Johnson and Dupree
His Story - a haunting story from McKean's book 'Pictures That Tick' - the film was a animated version of the art which appears in the book, and left me thinking about the connection between parenthood and childhood, and memory.

Sheepdip, Johnson and Dupree - this was one of the songs which McKean performed at the 'Late at the Library event a couple of weeks ago - I think it would be fair to describe it as weird, but in a good, entertaining, way...

Neon - a strange, ghost story of a song, set in Venice (or a Venice-like city.

Mixed Metaphors - this was an absolutely beautiful piece of animation, the title sequence from 'Luna', (with no titles on it, as yet) beautiful images of paper birds, and flight. It made me  long to see the full film.

Words - another segment from 'Luna'.

The Coast Road - The coast road started life as an art exhibition (which I sadly missed) and became a book (which I happily have). Dave read the full story, with the artwork creating the film, and with the other musicians providing the music. It's a poignant, but ultimately optimistic story, about despair, hope and art.

June - another of the songs which McKean  performed at 'late at the library'.This was apparently written in response to a challenge from his pub music group (and I do wish I lived near a pub where people wrote new songs every month!), and involves a mince pie, and cleavage, and is is solemn and sober as that suggests!

finally,  The Cathedral of Trees, a haunting finale to the evening. Dave explained that this was written as part of a collaboration he is working on with a theatre company called 'Wildwalks' (I think) for an immersive production called 'Callisto and the Wolves'  It was strange, haunting, and beautiful (also, the earlier part of the piece, which was filmed inside what I assume is McKean's home, gave me bookshelf envy!)

It was a fantastic evening, and I was very happy to be able to speak briefly to Dave after the event, to get  book signed and to give him some chocolate! Because of the Steve Abbleby event (I assume) the library had not made any specific arrangements for Dave to sign, and they didn't have any of his books for sake, which was a shame.

I would like to be able to mention the other musicians by name, as they were excellent, but unfortunately I was too busy listening to the music and watching the films when they were introduced, to make notes, so I can't provide their names. They were excellent, though.

To my frustration, I got to Paddington about 90 seconds too late to catch the train I had been planning on, so I had to wait an hour for the next one, and finally reached home just before midnight, but it was worth it. I'm glad I went. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Thomas Coram's Foundling Hospital

When I booked to see Neil Gaiman and Tori Amos at the British Library, I saw that there was another event, involving Dave McKean performing some of his own music, and happily there were 2 performances, one on Friday evening, and one on Saturday evening, so I was able to book for the Saturday without having to book a day off work.

I got a train up to London, around midday on Saturday. The Dave McKean event wasn't until 6.30, so I had a few hours in London, and I decided to go to a museum I've not previously visited, The Foundling Museum, which is close to the British Library.

The museum is on the site of Thomas Coram's original Foundling Hospital - Coram was a sea captain, who became appalled at the sight of children abandoned and dying on the streets of London, and who campaigned to get a Royal Charter in order to set up a foundling hospital. He wasn't particularly well connected, and it took him 17 years to get what he needed, but he got his Royal Charter signed by George II in 1739, and founded a ' Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children

The hospital was so popular that they had to introduce an application process, and parents were encouraged to leave a token to allow them to identify their child if they were ever able to return to reclaim them. 

The museum has a lot of the tokens on view - some serve to illustrate how poor the parents were - there are little twists of ribbon, beads, even playing cards. There are also more distinctive tokens - a bone fish (probably a gambling token) and a medallion which was a season ticket for Vauxhall pleasure gardens.

The children were given new names when they were admitted, and (if not reclaimed by their parents) were apprenticed once they became old enough, with a view to them becoming productive members of society.

Coram may not have started with much in the way of influence or connections, but he managed to achieve both - William Hogarth became a Governor of the hospital, and designed its coat of arms, and the original uniforms, as well as donating art works. 

Handel supported it, conducting charity concerts, including performances of his 'Messiah' Oratorio there, to benefit the hospital, and remembering it in his will. 

As well as information and exhibits relating to the history of the hospital, the museum has a lot of art - the current displays include copies of Hogarth's Rake's Progress' etchings, together with modern interpretations and reflections of similar themes, by David Hockney, Yinka Shonibare, Jessie Brennan and Grayson Perry

It made for an interesting, thought-provoking, and occasionally heart-breaking afternoon. 

The Coram organisation still works with children and  their families, although they no longer run children's homes directly. And the museum is well worth visiting, if you have the opportunity.