Check out 90 years of the Queen’s style at Buckingham Palace

Where ever the Queen goes she is always a focus of attention, so whatever she wears is going to be talked about; remember the fuss over her rather bright green outfit at this year’s Trooping the Colour?  When you visit Buckingham Palace this year, you can enjoy their special exhibition which traces her fashion choices during the 90 years of her life. 

Buckingham Palace, one of the great symbols of London, is open to the public each summer when the Queen goes to Scotland for her holidays. You can explore the many state rooms with their sumptuous decor, furnishings and works of art and learn about the history of this grand building.  Each year they put on a special exhibition and this year’s is called: Fashioning a Reign:90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe, and I’m going to give you a peek inside!. 

We see her how her outfits have changed over the years to reflect fashion and the first room you visit has a piece from each of her decades including matching outfits that the Queen and her younger sister wore to the coronation of George Vl,  a dress worn when she met Marilyn Monroe (or rather the other way round!) and culminating in the wonderful pink dress worn for the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony and the film of her greeting James Bond and ‘jumping’ out of the helicopter.  This last dress illustrates the level of planning involved in working on the Queen’s wardrobe as the video was made in March so the outfit had to be agreed back then for the event taking place at the end of July. What a memorable moment from London 2012. A second dress was made for the stunt jumper but we are assured this is the one worn by the Queen.

** Dresses and coronets  worm by the Queen and Princess Margaret to their father’s coronation 1937

** A Norman Hartnell dress for the 1956 film premier with Marilyn Monroe

The ‘Olympics’ dress of 2012 by Angela Kelly  

In her younger years we would often see the Queen on horseback, riding side saddle in stylish military outfits, cut away from the waist to accommodate this strange riding position. She was the first female monarch to serve in the forces when in 1945 she served in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Army) and we can see her own uniform. It’s hard to imagine Her Majesty doing car maintenance but those were tough times for the country and she wanted to do her bit. 

Queen’s ATS battle dress

We see her wonderfully tailored jackets, one of which has a flexible beret which gives the option to change the plumage to reflect the regiment she was representing or inspecting. 

The Queen has kept faith with a few top couture designers, namely Normal Hartnell and Hardy Amies and has added Stewart Parvin and Angela Kelly among others . Her unswerving support for British fashion has helped promote London’s place as a world fashion capital. This has included a small coterie of hat designers and a gallery of hats showcases a few of these. 

The famous Hartnell wedding dress from 1947 is on display with its 9 foot veil and shoes. It was a triumph as it needed to fit this historic occasion and yet Britain was still subject to rationing so care had to be taken to not overplay the luxury element – he succeeded! The theme was renewal in the post war period so springtime flowers can be seen in the embroidery. 

A wedding dress fit for a Queen

By the time of the coronation in 1953 Hartnell had a freer hand and his design looked back at the wedding dress but features much more elaborate embroidery with symbols of the 4 UK nations and the Dominion nations  The Queen was closely involved in its design and had considerable input through series of 8 reworked sketches. 

The coronation dress

Embroidery detail from the wedding dress

The Queen has many roles: head of state, head of the armed forces, head of the chivalry orders as well as a member of a family with lots of events and need outfits for each of these. Those worn on her state visits were really interesting as we saw how symbols of the country being visited were incorporated into day and evening wear. 

In this photo we can see a pink cherry blossom decorated dress worn to China next to a blue and cream dress with maple leaves along the colour join for a visit to Canada, and the yellow dress was worn to Australia giving a nod to their national colour. 

This dress was for Her Majesty’s visit to the Olypmics in Montreal in 1976 so it incorporates the Olympic rings. 

What I really liked about this section was the chance to see the dress on the mannequin alongside a photo of the Queen wearing the dress during the official visit. Firstly you can see the outfit Her Majesty wore to Saudi Arabia in 1979, being sure to cover up to respect Saudi customs. 

Here the dress for the visit to Nigeria in 1956 features a neckline which echoes African tribal necklaces. 

And finally on our mini tour of the exhibition, the green outfit Her Majesty wore for the 2016 Trooping The Colour. It was not nearly as bright as it appeared on the TV. The Queen wears bright colours so that people can see her in a crowd, especially as she is quite short (just 5ft 4in) but this year’s green must have been the brightest yet – not bad for a 90 year old. 

2016 by Stewart Parvin 

One more photo I couldn’t resist showing you because it shows the Queen during various ages, always smiling and waving to the crowds who have come out to see her as she wants to make their day. 

There is a lot more to see in the full exhibition and of course there are the wonderful rooms of the Palace to enjoy.  Don’t miss the cafe for good snacks and the shop ‘where the corgis hang out’ (!) and the wonderful gardens on the way to the exit. 

For more information about visiting Buckingham Palace and Fashioning a Reign, visit their website.

Photo credits: starred photos (**) are courtesy of Elizabth Hawksley for which many thanks


Take a trip into space at London’s National Maritime Museum!

Our famous astronaut Tim Peake may be back from space now, but you can take a trip there anytime at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.  Their exhibition Above and Beyond has lots of fun interactivity and is definitely one to put on the list for the school holidays. 

The posters as you approach are very cool and the enormous sign as you enter really makes you think – could humans be setting foot on Mars in the lifetime of our children? 

Before I ventured into space, I had a lot of fun flying with birds. It’s hard to describe this interactive experience but you stand on a spot in front of the screen and you are linked to a bird on the screen, flying across a landscape.  You stand with your arms out like wings and if you don’t move them properly the bird will crash – well it goes red for danger and you need to move sharpish to get it back on track. I found it quite compulsive and loved the scenery too. It’s best if you have a small group or family as you can fill up all the spots and ‘fly’ together. It also taught us why birds fly in a V formation as there are nuggets of education built into every section but without being too obvious. 

  Hopefully these photos will help give you a better idea of how it works:

Lots of educational info 

Looks like a skier!

Here we are flying along 

I didn’t swoop properly  – that’s me in red on the left – oops 

Oh dear, my fellow flyers aren’t keeping up either! Great view tho’..

There are lots of educational points thrown in where we see women scientist on screens, making it more inclusive and inspiring for girls visiting.  We even had a girl mini astronaut visiting with when we were there! 

She looks ready for space

I loved the Space Elevator which takes you up tin just a few seconds to way beyond the earth. Join me on my journey:

Take off bay

Going up 

Heading out 

10,000 miles from earth…

Now we are in space

You can design your own full throttle jet and then test fly it through a tricky obstacle course, which I have to admit I was really bad at!  You can see the planes of the future, hear how scientists are pushing the boundaries. There is so much to enjoy and make you think.  How about seeing the world’s lightest metal?  It’s 100 times lighter than Styrofoam and yet is incredibly strong so could change how we build cars, airplanes and even homes.  How about the incredible shrinking satellite where you can see how these once sizeable pieces of metal is now something you could easily carry in your hand.. 

Sit here to test out jet you have designed!

I should have mentioned the shop earlier as they do have great things for sale but the best bit for me was having my photo taken as an astronaut!  This goes well with my Mars passport from inside the exhibition. 

Ready for take off!

See you on Mars! 
Isn’t this a great T-shirt!

So, with the school holidays upon us, it’s well worth taking your family to Greenwich as there is so much to see and do there.  There’s the Cutty Sark and the Greenwich Meridian and the Royal Observatory as well as the National Maritime Museum which has more than just this one exhibition.  It’s a full day out and great fun if you take the Thames Clipper there to enjoy see the Thames all the way from central London. 

Check out  these great places to visit in Greenwich
Bye for now

What’s On in London Summer 2016


Here’s your Summer 2016 newsletter giving you a taster of the exciting events coming up in the next 3 months in our capital. If you want to hear more about anything listed (or other things you’ve heard about) send me an email ( and I’ll get right back to you.
Have a look a Sue’s blog on the website ( to read about what I’ve been up to lately – a peek into life in London. I’m also on Twitter at @itsyourlondon so do join my 3900 followers for the latest news!
Hope you enjoy your newsletter; let me know what you think!
Best wishes,
Sue Hillman


·       July The Proms season begins for the 122nd time and there are over 90 varied and magnificent concerts over 8 weeks making this the world’s greatest classical music festival. Held in the Royal Albert Hall, big names and old favourite pieces feature alongside new commissions and lesser known work. Highlights include a Strictly Come Dancing Prom, Bryn Terfel in Boris Godunov, a night of gospel singing, a celebration of Latin American music for the Rio Olympics and Quincy Jones reviewing his career including collaborations with Miles Davis and Michael Jackson.
·       August. The Notting Hill Carnival is a huge event, the largest street party in Europe. There is a massive parade of music and costumes, sounds stages blasting out everything from reggae to rock and roll, all kinds of great street food, dancing in the streets and tons of fun to be had over the 2 days when millions of people come to Notting Hill for a great time.
·       September The Mayor’s Thames Festival, Totally Thames, brings the river alive for the whole month, we are expecting the river to be buzzing again this year and the riverside restaurants will be joining in with special menus and events.  London Fashion Week takes over the fashion and shopping world across London and the Weekend is open to the public.


  • July   Breakfast at Tiffany’s opens at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Pixie Lott in the role of Holly Golightly made so famous by Audrey Hepburn.  After a long preview period, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 & 2 opens for real at the Palace Theatre, although tickets are impossible to find. Into The Woods and the Menier Chocolate Factory is not the usual version with ’10 actors, one piano and boundless imagination’! The Trial of Jane Fonda at the Park Theatre imagines what happened when Jane met US soldiers who served in the Vietnam War confronting her about her visits to North Vietnam when she was named ‘Hanoi Jane. Staring Anne Archer as Jane. Through The Mill at the Southwark Playhouse looks at the life of Judy Garland through the filming of the Judy Garland show in 1963. Jesus Christ Superstar comes to the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre 45 years since it first opened.
  • August Yerma comes to the Young Vic starring Billie Piper in this emotional role.  By contrast the Old Vic brings us Groundhog Day, the musical by Tim Minchin based on the famous much loved film.  Kenneth Branagh’s season at the Garrick Theatre when he takes on the role so famously associated with Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer.
  • September Much excitement about the opening of  Pinter’s No Man’s Land at the Wyndham starring Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, set in a Hampstead pub where 2 older writers compare stories. The Royal Court’s A Father Comes Home from the War parts 1, 2 & 3 looks interesting, set in the American Civil War it is the story of a slave’s dilemmas. The Libertine starring Dominic Cooper has had a long build up at the Theatre Royal Haymarket due to its star and its racy tale based on a true story.  As the evenings get cooler the indoor option of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe is attractive with its offering of the Two Gentlemen of Verona. For hardier fold Pride and Prejudice is on at the Regent’s Park Open Air theatre.

  • July The buzz in the art world is still the new Tate Modern extension which opened mid June and their new show is Georgia O’Keeffe, the largest retrospective shown outside the USA with over 100 works by this pioneer of 20th century art. At the National Portrait Gallery a new show of work by William Eggleston, an influential American photographer whose exhibition in 1976 led to photography being recognised as a contemporary art form! David Hockney’s 82 Portraits and 1 Still Life opens at the Royal Academy, each work features someone from his life, in the same chair, is the same size and has the same background colour. A new public art installation at St Pancras station by Ron Arad is a monumental blade of shiny aluminium which slowly rotates – a must see!
  • August  Not many openings this month so don’t miss the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition closing this month – the world’s greatest open entry art show!  A film poster exhibition Summer Screen Prints at Somerset House looks fun, running alongside their outdoor film screenings in their magnificent courtyard, with each poster an original interpretation each of the films showing. Also at Somerset House are the World Illustration Awards, in their 40th year and rather under publicised I must say!
  • September Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy brings together some of the most celebrated arts from this period of American art including Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning alongside less well known figures including women who struggled to be seen at the time. The Tate Britain hosts the contenders for the annual Turner Prize, always stirring up some controversy in the art world.

  • July Don’t miss the bargains in London’s famous July sales where everyone from the High Street to Harrods slash their prices. Spitalfields Market has regular events including an Independent Label Market in July.
  • August Summer is the best time to visit London’s numerous street markets: Portobello, Columbia Road, Camden, Greenwich and many more. Any day of the week one of these great markets will be just the place to while away the summer and grab some unique purchases.
  • September  London Fashion Week is a chance to get ahead of the fashion curve with catwalk shows and splash out on some new clothes too, with collections  looking ahead to spring/summer 2016. This year it stays at the Saatchi Gallery on the Kings Road after a successful move last year.


  • July  A much awaiting exhibition at the Museum of London marks the anniversary of the Great Fire of London in 1666 with an interactive, immersive experience called Fire! Fire! Great for all ages but I guess particularly good for the school holidays. The Museum of London is also organising visits to Billingsgate Roman House and Baths, which are rarely open and this is a great chance to tour these remains under the buildings of London.
  • August  Few new openings in August but there is time to catch Exhibitionism at the Saatchi Gallery, the popular Rolling Stones show. Also worth a look are: Above and Beyond at the National Maritime Museum, a chance to explore space travel through fun interactive exhibits, At the British Museum the Sunken Cities is a fascinating exploration of ancient underwater cities, brought up to the surface for us to enjoy with films of how they were found on the sea bed.
  • September The Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition is called You Say You Want a Revolution: Records and Rebels 1966-70. The title say it all really, looking at the turbulent times of the late 60s, its revolutions, records, performances, activism alongside fashion, film and design.  Also at the V&A is the Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery, showcasing an art which England excelled at from the 12th to the 15th centuries. These ancient elaborate, luxury embroideries, with their exquisite craftsmanship, will be displayed alongside contemporary works to give them historical context.


  • July The Soho Food Festival returns with an array of top restaurants putting their wares out into the streets to create a great buzz and endless temptation and all in a good cause as it raises cash for a local primary school.   Lots of talk about Berber and Q Shawarma Bar in Exmouth Market – reinventing the kebab – looks worth a visit. Samarkand in Charlotte Street brings us Uzbeki cuisine with a lounge bar offering caviar and vodka. Calcutta Street, bringing Bengali home cooking and communal dining, sets up its first permanent residence in Fitzrovia. After 18 years in Barcelona, Sagardi set foots in London for the first time (and in the UK for the first time) with Basque cooking.
  •  August.  The BBC Good Food Festival returns to Hampton Court with top chefs doing demos, stalls, tastings and demonstrations all in the beautiful grounds of the Palace. Chicama on the Kings Road will bring us Peruvian style seafood. Butifarra is also Peruvian, serving street food – sandwiches, ceviches and watch out for some sweet afters!  Blanchette East is the new opening of the successful Soho place offering small French plates to the Shoreditch crowd. One Aldwych are getting excited about opening a new restaurant headed by Eneko Atxa, chef at 3 Michelin starred Azurmendi Bilbao, bringing rustic Basque cuisine (yes, Basque seems popular right now)
  •  September  Elystan Street is a new venue from the former chef of 2 Michelin starred The Square, Phil Howard. Anzu in St James Market is the new upmarket offering from the Tonkotsu folk. A favourite restaurant is Casse- Croute in Bermondsey and they are branching out just around the corner with Pique-Nique offering breakfast, lunch and rotisseries. Shaun Rankin moves into the Mayfair hotel Flemings with his Jersey heritage bringing modern British booking to a new restaurant called, you’ve guessed, Shaun Rankin at Flemings.  One more to look forward to is Margot from the former Maitre d’ at Bar Boulud, Paulo de Tarso, offering rustic Italian food.


  •  July The famous Flower Show takes over the grounds of Hampton Court for a wonderful weekend in a more relaxed atmosphere than the Chelsea equivalent and it’s much easier to get tickets too. Buckingham Palace starts its summer opening when the Queen goes on her holidays and she lets us look around her London home and be amazed by the huge room, amazing decorations, fabulous furniture and great paintings.   Hyde Park is home to great music as it Kew Gardens.
  • August  Clarence House, the official residence of Charles, the Prince of Wales and Camilla is also open to the public, but just for August as he has shorter holidays than the Queen! The BBC Good Food Festival comes to Hampton Court’s grounds to tempt you with all kinds of goodies and top chefs from Michel Roux to John Torode and Mr Bake Off Paul Hollywood and
  • September  The Last Night of the Proms is streamed live into Hyde Park so thousands can wave flags and sing their hearts out. Buckingham Palace is open to visitors for another month as the Queen is still on her holidays!  Kew Gardens host Write On Kew literary festival with interviews, readings and signings by top names such as Tracey Chevalier, Fay Weldon, Marian Keyes, Robert Harris and Alan Johnson and so many more.


  • July Wimbledon has moved on a week this year so July now has the second week of this great tournament and the hopes of the nations rest on Andy Murray.  In the cricket, England play one of the test series against Pakistan at Lords and there is plenty of county cricket matches at the Oval and Lords.  The annual Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium brings big names as usual in what will be a Rio Games warm up – Usain Bolt, Jess Ennis-Hill and David Weir are big draws but loads more stars will be there. Ride London is a massive cycling event for the public and elite competitors. 
  • August. All eyes will be on Rio for the Olympics this month. The 4th test match between England and Pakistan will be played at the Oval, County cricket will be in full flow at all the London grounds. The Premiership start in August, which always feels too early for the football season.
  • September  Eyes return to Rio for the Paralympic Games where Team GB will be looking for a good medal haul. The Tour of Britain wheels into London and we may see some of the Tour de France stars in town. The cricket season is ending as the Rugby Union Premiership gears up. For something beyond the usual sports, the WWE Wrestling takes over the 02 giving you a chance to see the ‘Superstars and Divas in action’!             


  • July  The festival season is in full flow with British Summer Time – full of the biggest names from legends such as Carole King to Stevie Wonder, Mumfords and Take That. Kew The Music which has one of the best settings for Gipsy Kings, Simply Red, and of course Jools Holland. Somerset House rivals Kew for setting and brings us a wide range of styles including Jack Savoretti, James Morrison and St Germain. Lovebox in Victoria Park brings us Major Lazer, George Clinton and Norman Jay MBE. Let’s not forget the nightly Proms season which kicks off in July and stretches through to September.
  • August  The festival South West Four on Clapham Common brings us the biggest names in dance music including Rudimental, Dizzee Rascal, Chemical Brothers and Armand van Helden. Prepare yourself for the Notting Hill Carnival – 2 days of very loud music to get us all up and dancing in the streets. Look out for Gaz’s Rocking Crew and the nearby dub reggae truck which are my favourites or get your ears blown off on All Saints Road!
  • September  The festivals are still with us as On Blackheath returns with a wide range of acts from Neneh Cherry, Roachford to Hot Chip and James or Squeeze or Edwyn Collins.  The wonderful Proms come to an end with a simulcast in Hyde Park but before then you can see a line up of Rick Astley, Frankie Valli, All Saints and the multi-talented Tim Minchin.  It’s retro time around London with concerts by Billy Joel at Wembley, Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd at the Royal Albert Hall and Ronan Keating at the Apollo. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds headline at the Brixton Academy.

*All listings correct to the best of my knowledge but exact details should be checked with each venue. 

The new Tate Modern opens in London

I’ve been watching the extension to the Tate Modern grow for the last 5 years, seeing the twisted pyramidal shape emerge as the exterior changed from a white cladding to a brick lattice which matches yet is different from the original Tate.  They are both part of an old power station site so in a nod to its origins the first Tate building is now called the Boiler House and the new Tate is the Switch House. 

Hailed as a gallery for the 21st century, a significant addition to London’s cultural scene,   the Switch House brings us 10 storeys, a whopping 60% of new exhibition space and a focus on new interactive forms of art, more women artists and a wider representation of international artists.  

Tate Modern London
Viewed from the south 

Undoubtedly the building is the star, it’s light, has wonderful shapes within it and outside, the materials are gorgeous wood and raw concrete and the panoramic views afforded from the top floor are among the best in London.   It sits happily alongside the Boiler House and looking across from one to the other when you are inside makes perfect sense. They have achieved a contrasting yet co-ordinated feel between the two buildings, helped no doubt by using the same architects, Herzog & de Meuron. 

Here are some views of the interior of the Switch House, showing the sweeping spaces and the effect of the lattice brickwork on the interior light and shadows. 

Glorious wooden floors and benches, smooth the the touch 

Entry to The Tanks

The area called ‘The Tanks’ which was opened up a couple of years ago, return to form the basement of the Switch House. Here you can find the floor plan, showing just how much extra space the Switch House brings to the Tate Modern. 

Looking across to the Boiler House gives you a new perspective along the enormous gaping space of the Turbine Hall:  You’ll spot a new installation by Ai Wei Wei, a monumental sculpture of a tree made of dried tree parts from all over China. I saw it being assembled the week before like a massive 3-D jigsaw.

Up on the 10th floor is an external viewing platform around the outside of the building giving the chance to see 360 degree panoramas across the whole of London which few can match. 

What about the art? I’m more of a painting/sculpture art lover so some of the more abstract items left me unmoved. There are very few paintings and a lot of very new work but some familiar names and some intriguing pieces drew me in and I did find something to enjoy in most of the rooms. It feels new, contemporary, bold and, of course, challenging.  Here are just a few examples to give you an idea of what is on display:

Mark Bradford, yes a painting!

Marwan Rechmaoui – a map of Beirut in rubber 

A room dedicated to Louise Bourgeois

Yes, live macaws with a sign saying they are well looked after!

Lots of fun in a box of mirrors by Yayoi Kusama

Roni Horn’s beautiful pink glass box

Bubbles frothing from David Medalla 

Maria Metz’s aluminium piece 

There are restaurants, cafes and bars in the Switch House as well as existing Boiler House offerings so there is plenty to refresh you as you explore these 2 extraordinary buildings. 

For more information check out their website

Bye for now,

Maria Merrian’s Beautiful Butterflies, catch them now!

It is always a treat to stumble across a new artist, especially one who has a fascinating life story to amplify your interest in their work. Maria Merian is a perfect example of this, a little known botanical artist from the 17th century who changed what we know about the life cycle of the butterfly through her exquisite art. 

The Queen’s Gallery in London has access to the Royal Collection and luckily for us George lll was a great collectors of Merian’s work and their summer exhibition twins her nature drawings with a group of Scottish painters, but more about them later 

Born in 1647, Maria Merian  was encouraged to draw and paint by her step father and by the age of 13 was already painting insects and plants from actual specimens. She was fascinated by the metamorphosis of caterpillars to butterflies and in 1679 she published her first illustrated book focusing on insect metamorphosis. How did she gather her scientific knowledge?   She was a great observer, collector and documenter and as a child she had ready access to books on natural history and built on this background when she lived in Amsterdam, building contacts in the scientific community. 

What really made me see her as an admirable pioneer was that in 1699 at the age of 52 she set sail for Suriname in South America with her daughter. Can you imagine what that was like for a woman at that time? She had become frustrated with only being able to examine and paint dead specimens in collections,  so she went in search of live ones. She spent two years in Suriname, studying animals and plants and examining their life cycles, and although her plan had been to work there five years, illness cut this short. Her work from Suriname was published on her return and we can see her fabulous work bound into a large precious book in this exhibition. As a botanical artist she left work of great beauty but also scientific breakthroughs through her direct observation of species new to the old world. 

Her paintings are so bright, so detailed and feel so fresh that it was a delight to be able to see them. Here is a selection for you to enjoy too:

A copy of her illustrated book on insects from Suriname 

The headline exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery is Scottish Artists 1750-1900 which has some fine paintings but they were more traditional and not as surprising as Merian’s work, however, they are worth a visit. These paintings were collected by several royals from George lll through to Queen Victoria, a famous lover of all things Scottish. On display are  portraits of George and his family, Victoria’s first meetings as a royal and a selection of lovely scenes of the Scottish countryside, commissioned by Victoria. The Scottish painters did travel outside of their homeland and a fine picture of Cairo from 1840 caught my eye with its timeless quality. 

George lll by Allan Ramsay
View of the gallery with George next to his family

Queen Victoria meets her Council  on her fist day as queen  by Sir David Wilkie

The cast list of Queen Victoria’s Council 

‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie by John Pettie

Edinburgh from 18 24, still recognisable today by Alexander Naysmth

Balmoral Castle by James Giles

Cairo by David Roberts

For information about tickets and opening times for the Queen’s Gallery as well as more about these two exhibitions click here . 

Bye for now

Full disclosure:  as is customary in the travel business, the entry ticket for this preview visit was provided free of charge.

What’s on in London this Spring

I send out a seasonal newsletter to subscribers but I wanted to share with with my blog readers too so here’s the It’s Your London Newsletter for Spring 2016. It’s full of great listings for April, May and June so I hope you’ll find some stuff you will enjoy: 
April Over 35,000 runners in the London Marathon take over the streets and the nation’s hearts as they struggle past the sights of London to raise incredible amounts for charity, keeping going long after the elite runners have reached the end on the Mall. The crowds are huge and it’s great fun to join in to cheer them on to the finish.
May The magnificent Chelsea Flower Show is the greatest flower show in the world and it gets us in the mood for gardening with all that fabulous colour and design. Let’s hope we get some London sunshine too.  Don’t miss the very British Canal Cavalcade when scores of brightly decorated canal boats gather in Little Venice for two days of fun.
June Our Queen has 2 birthdays, her real one in April and her official one in June and this year it’s her 90th so there will be all kinds of celebrations as well as the usual royal event called Trooping the Colour. You can see the royals ride past if you get to The Mall well ahead of the start and don’t forget to take your flag to wave at them. The end of June sees the start of Wimbledon when we all go tennis mad for 2 weeks and SW19 is the place to be.
April Lots of excitement about Sunset Boulevard coming to the Coliseum starring Glen Close and I have a ticket so let’s hope it lives up to the hype. Transferring to the West End at the Savoy is Funny Girl starring the excellent Sheridan Smith – I also have tickets for this so April is looking good.  Doctor Faustus at the Duke of York’s is also getting a lot of attention due to its star Kit Harington from Game of Thrones.  More musical fun from Show Boat from the great Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein at the New London Theatre.
May I was surprised to see that the version of Jekyll and Hyde opening at the Old Vic is a dance production, an intriguing option. At Shakespeare’s Globe you can catch Midsummer Night’s Dream and hopefully it will keep dry for those standing in the uncovered section, which is a lot of fun.  More Shakespeare at the Garrick where Romeo and Juliet has stars turns from Derek Jacobi and Lily James. The Print Room is staging Beckett’s novels in their festival Beckett in London bringing his prose to the stage.
June There is always a lot of Shakespeare on the London stage but this year it’s the 400thanniversary of his death so even more plays are being staged. The Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park brings us Henry V with a female actor in the role of Henry, a nice twist from when the bard wrote his plays and all roles were played by men.  On a lighter note, Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the Haymarket Theatre Royal stars Pixie Lott. Michael Crawford returns to the stage for the first time since 2011 to star in a musical version of The Go Between at the Apollo.  
April To celebrate the arrival of spring, a free exhibition at the National Gallery brings us Dutch Flowers, exploring Dutch painting from its beginnings in the early 17thcentury to its peak in the late 18th.  The Tate Britain has Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979, exploring this pivotal period in British art and its legacy. The Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition, the world’s largest photography exhibition, showcases over 500 of the winners and shortlisted photos across all categories from photojournalism through to fine art landscape.  Let’s not forget to mention the Saatchi Gallery’s blockbuster Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones sure to be the most visited in London this month.
May Painting with Light at the Tate Britain looks at art and photography, and the interplay between these forms, from the Pre-Raphaelites to the modern age, a wide sweep indeed. More photography at Somerset House when Photo London opens, bringing together 80 of the world’s leading galleries and offers specific exhibitions such as the war photographer Don McCullin.  Damien Hirst’s gallery Newport Street hosts a Jeff Koons exhibition called Now.
June At the Courtauld Gallery you can see paintings by Georgiana Houghton, a spiritualist medium whose abstract watercolours were ‘guided’ by artists including Renaissance masters – intriguing!  The National Portrait Gallery hosts the annual BP Portrait Award, the most prestigious international exhibition of contemporary portrait painting.  The National Gallery’s Painters Paintings has work from the collections of artists such as Matisse, Reynolds and Van Dyck, exploring the motivations for collecting and the influence of these works. 
April This year’s St George’s Day has a special Shakespeare theme to celebrate his 400th so look out for events across London offering food, fun and market stalls. Borough Market is one to head for as they will be going all out to celebrate.
May Carnaby Street’s Shopping Party promises to be the ‘ultimate shopping experience’ with restaurants and bars joining the array of cool boutiques and live music for their evening of retail therapy.
June  The Spirit of Summer Fair at Olympia exhibition centre has everything you never knew you needed for your home and garden and yourself. The Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane hosts the 25thAnnual Graduate Fashion Week so check out what the latest trends will be and spot some up and coming names.
April The British Museum’s new major exhibition is Sicily: Culture and Conquest, telling the fascinating stories of how the waves of invaders have shaped the cultural identity of this Mediterranean island.  The Victoria and Albert Museum will be expecting a lot of interest in their new exhibition Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear tracing developments from the 18thcentury to the present day.  
May Another big show from the British Museum is Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds with wonderful artefacts from two recently rediscovered sunken cities at the mouth of the Nile.  May sees the enjoyable Museums by Night event where a wide range of museums in London and across the country offer late specials over a 4 day period. This is a great opportunity to see some of the smaller museums out of hours.
June There is an Engineering Season at the Victoria and Albert Museum, highlighting the contribution and importance of engineering in our everyday lives. There will be a special garden installation in the courtyard, an exhibition looking at the life and work of Ove Arup and a gallery looking at London’s role as an engineering centre.  One museum to catch up with is the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising which has moved to new larger premises to give their displays more room to breathe.  It’s a nostalgia fest and fascinating to see how packaging has changed and yet stayed the same since Victorian times.
April Let’s hope it’s a warm spring as Four Winters opens in Gloucester Road offering liquid nitrogen ice cream with its roots in Jordan.  Ex Nahm chef Andy Oliver opens a new Thai restaurant Som Saa in Spitalfields after successful temporary versions. Also moving on from temporary to permanent basis is Walter and Monty in the City, billed as ‘street food with Michelin expertise’ they offer charcoal grilled meat and fish with eastern flavours. A first London site for Mexican Cielo Blanco, inspired by the barbacoa markets of Oaxaca.
May Foleys in Fitzrovia, run by ex Palomar chef Mitz Vora, will be “experimenting with food from around the world with trade route twists and influences”. Also branching out on his own is ex Bar Boulud maitre’d Paulo de Tarso, opening a rustic Italian restaurant in Covent Garden. A new Galvin opens at the revamped Athenaeum on Piccadilly.  New city wine bar called Humble Grape offers wine and small plates off Fleet Street.
June Listed for ‘late spring’ or ‘early summer’ are several new restaurants which are not committing themselves to an exact date, often the way….  Samarkand will be a new place in Charlotte Street offering Uzbeki cuisine in the old Fino location. Tandoor Chop House planned for Covent Garden from the team behind Hoxton Hotel and Egg Break looks interesting – and English chop house with a touch of Indian spices. Farang in Borough is part of the new development in Flat Iron Square where Seb Holmes will be offering Thai food at its best.
April The London Marathon starts and ends in royal parks – Greenwich and St James’s – so if you are watching the race, enjoy the parks as well. April sees the reopening of The Banqueting House after several months of restauration work so now’s a good time to admire its amazing painted ceiling by Rubens and hear of the role this room has played in dramatic historic events. Hampton Court Palace is celebrating 300 years of Capability Brown, the palace gardener (!) with a special exhibition of his drawings.
May  Richmond Park is a wonder and is home to a large herd of deer, in May you can take a guided walk to learn more about it. Kensington Gardens is hosting the Vogue Festival with shows and talks from leading international designers including Tom Ford and Donatella Versace.
June Regent’s Park is home to the annual foodie extravangza that is Taste London.  St James’s Park is where you will find the Trooping of the Colour, an extra special event this year as it marks the Queen’s 90th birthday.  A week before the main event they hold the rehearsal which offers a great chance to catch the pomp and circumstance with a closer view – no royals tho’.
April The big event in April is the London marathon with over 35,000 runners and thousands more lining the streets throughout the course to cheer on the brave souls who battle on to raise millions for charities. County Cricket is starting its season and the Harlem Globetrotters come to the 02 Arena to show off the basketball skills. Also at the 02 Arena is the mad world of American WWE Wrestling, although I’m not sure it really is a sport is it?
May It’s a big summer for football with the Euros next month but we have the small matter of the FA Cup at Wembley to round off the English season and the Football League play-offs.  Twickenham hosts the Rugby Union Premiership finals and the World Rugby Sevens Series is also in London .Golf’s PGA is at Wentworth, just outside London 
June England take on Sri Lanka at cricket at Lords in the 3rd Test, Men’s and women’s Hockey Champions Trophy take place in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. However, June is all about tennis as we are treated to 2 major events in London, Queens which is the warm up on grass for the main event, Wimbledon starting at the end of June.
April  Good to see Tinie Tempah is back with a new album and shows at the Brixton 02 Academy. The Vaccines are on a the Royal Albert Hall as part of the big annual Teenage Cancer Trust bash as are New Order, Everything Everything and Simply Red and Dave Gilmour. Bryan Ferry brings elegance to the London Palladium.  Adele brings her major to London’s 02 Arena as part of her major UK tour – tickets like gold! Brit award winner James Bay plays the Apollo and Muse’s well reviewed tour comes to the 02 Arena.
May Donovan Turns 70 tells you want you need to know about his show at the Palladium. Not quite as old but still been around a while is Bryan Adams playing at the 02 with his oddly named ‘Get Up Tour’! Talking of strange tour names, Iggy Pop has this nailed with his ‘Post Pop Depression Tour’ at the Royal Albert Hall. May is quite the month for older performers with Ralph McTell, Elvis Costello, OMD, Yes, Rita Coolidge to name but a few.
June.  The oldies theme continues as the festival season kicks into gear. One of my favourites is back: Bonnie Raitt at the Apollo where I saw her many years ago.  Check out this list of big names in town this month: Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen, AC-DC, Tom Jones, Foreigner, Adam Ant, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Barry Manilow on his ‘Last Time’ tour and Art Garfunkel. 
Enjoy London!

My African Adventure 2016

After 2 months of great adventures, of wonderful experiences in 2 African countries, armed 2800 photos I sat down to work out how to share all this. No one wants to see thousands of photos – well, just me – so I set myself the task of choosing just 5 pictures to sum it all up so here they are!

Most of my trip was focused on volunteering and as usual I had signed up for a building project.  This year my challenge was to immerse myself in hut building for families affected by AIDS in rural west Zambia. When I say ‘immerse’ I really mean it as there is no way to avoid getting covered in termite mud and gloves don’t work so it’s a real hands-on experience.  

The huts are made of wood, mud with a metal roof and we used shovels, saws, hammers and people power as there is no electricity anywhere near the site. It’s satisfying, hard work, especially when the villagers joined the volunteers and the local building crew to speed on the work. Sometimes it felt like it would take for ever to finish a house on a baking hot sun filled day but knowing about the people who will move into the houses makes it worth it as they are families who have taken in children orphaned by AIDS, currently living in very poor conditions. 

Here I am filling the wooden structure with mud balls:

After 5 weeks of building mud huts I was very fit and ready for some adventures so I set off for Livingstone to take on one of the more extreme ways to visit the Victoria Falls. 6 years ago we had explored the Falls from the Zimbabwe side and I had seen the microlights buzzing around  and decided I wanted to have a go only to discover that they fly on the Zambian side not the Zimbabwean. So, finding myself back in the area, a microlight flight was top of my list to sign up for. I was a bit nervous as we waited at the take off site for my turn to come round but as soon as I sat down I felt safe. The microlight itself was robust, the pilot was excellent and once you are in the air the sight of the Falls takes your breathe away.  It was just a 15 minute flight but well worth it and another one ticked off my bucket list. 
Photo 2 shows me in mid flight over Victoria Falls with Craig my excellent pilot.

Zambia is a big country and I was in danger of just seeing a small slice so I took a 6 hour bus ride to Lusaka – or rather seven and a half hours because the bus broke down and we had to wait for another to come along and squeeze us all in. I gained a better sense of the countryside, the typical village and the floods the suddenly swamp the roads in the rainy season. I was on my way to a safari in the little known South Luangwa National Park which is in the east part of Zambia and required a small plane ride to reach it to avoid an even longer bus ride.  

It was well worth the journey as in just 2 days I saw plenty of zebra, elephant, giraffe, even a leopard walking on the path and several lions as well as many small less ‘glamorous’ animals.  We watched one pride of lions being chased off a stretch of land by a large herd of deafening, trumpeting elephants and 3 lionesses sat by the road for over half an hour watching the elephants and watching us so I experienced the rare treat of making eye contact with a lioness who was just a few yards away. I was a little nervous, fearing her making a single leap into the open sided safari vehicle but she was not interested in me and went back to staring at the elephants. 

Here is that lioness!

My next destination was Sudan to join an organised tour and learn about this country which I knew very little about beyond Gordon, Kitchener, the Nile and Darfur. When I announced I had booked to go there, I was greeted with more then a few raised eyebrows and mostly asked ‘is it safe?’ Yes it is. There are very few tourists and once you venture beyond the banks of the Nile there are miles and miles of empty barren desert.  The people are very friendly once they got over the shock of seeing a foreigner and I was delighted to find their first words are invariably ‘welcome’ and I did truly feel welcomed.  

The children are particularly fascinated by a white woman with red hair and on one visit to some impressive ruins (at the wonderfully named Western Deffufa!) we were become the centre of attention for a group of excited schoolgirls who had huge fun posing for pictures with us. They were also pretty skilled photographers, somehow….

The school girls and the tourist:

Nubia is northern Sudan and our tour was centred here. The numerous ruins are impressive although often very ruined and little excavated. Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt and they shared the many dynasties of Pharaohs for centuries so the sculptures and carvings are of shared gods and symbols, except for the lion headed god which is only found in Sudan. What is not shared with many of Egypt’s great sights are the crowds as we had most of the sites to ourselves which gives them a special magic. 

The busiest of the archaeological wonders were the pyramids of Meroe as there was a BBC America film crew installed, making a documentary of the area so watch out for programme coming out later in the year which should be aired in the UK as well.  Sadly they did not film me arriving at the pyramids on a camel but it was very Lawrence of Arabia I can assure you. 

Pyramids of Meroe, Sudan

I could write enough and post enough pictures to fill scores of blog posts but I have stuck to my discipline of just 5 photos to illustrate my African adventure of 2016 accompanied by some short text to give you a just flavour of it all. I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you ever want to hear more, do let me know!

Back to London based blogs next week…

Bye for now,

What’s on in London this winter 2016

Here’s my seasonal newsletter for January, February and March 2016 with highlights and a range of events, shows, exhibitions that might brighten up your winter!
JANUARY A big tradition of the festive season is the January sales with massive bargains at all stores from the small to the very grand, from a local shop to Harrods. Watch out for Burns Night on 25th when you’ll find Scottish traditions breaking out all over London so why not try some haggis this year!
FEBRUARY Love is in the air with arrival of Valentine’s Day so watch out for special lovvie events.  Ready yourselves for Pancake Day races around London, one of the best being at the Guildhall in the City where the livery companies race and toss pancakes while wearing their very special traditional costumes! February also brings us the Chinese New Year, a big event in London, as we welcome the year of the Monkey. 
MARCH St Patrick’s Day is big all round the world and London is no exception as the Guinness flows and we have a huge parade and dancing and bands so get out that green outfit and join in the fun in Trafalgar Square. The 162nd annual Boat Race will see the river Thames and the local pubs full of cheers as the 2 crews zip past.
January Shakespeare’s Globe kicks off 2016 with The Winter’s Tale. Eddie Izzard, perhaps one day Mayor of London, brings his Force Majeure Reloaded show to The Palace Theatre for an evening of surreal brilliant comedy. Acclaimed writer Caryl Churchill’s new play Escaped Alone opens at the Royal Court. Ralph Fiennes stars in Ibsen’s The Master Builder brought to the stage by David Hare at the Old Vic.
February Hopefully not reflecting the weather, The Tempest opens at The Globe in their beautiful indoor Sam Wannamaker Playhouse. Former Friends star Matthew Perry brings his own play The End of Longing to the Playhouse theatre and also stars in it. The Dominion theatre stages War of the Worlds by H G Wells with a score by Jeff Wayne who will conduct a live orchestra – I wonder how they will portray the Martians! The National Theatre brings us Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, charting this blues singer’s struggles for recognition. Battlefield at the Young Vic is based on the Mahabharata, a dramatic tale of a family torn apart by a great war.
March  Charting the story of the famous record label, Motown the Musical at the Shaftesbury theatre will have you singing along. I’ve got tickets already for Les Blancs at the National, a powerful African story. One of last year’s most impressive, if disturbing, plays and performances returns to the stage at the Wyndham’s so don’t miss Denise Gough in People, Places and Things. The Old Vic continues to showcase key British talent with Timothy Spall in the Caretaker.
January One of my favourite painters is featured in a new show at the Royal Academy called Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse. Outside of the galleries the London Art Fair 2016 at the Business Design Centre Islington is a major event in the art calendar with over 100 galleries represented with modern and contemporary work. There are few other new openings this month so it’s time to catch a number which close soon, including The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize show at the National Portrait Gallery, The World Goes Pop at the Tate Modern and Liotard at the Royal Academy.
February Delacroix and The Rise of Modern Art opens at the National Gallery. Vogue 100: A Century of Style can be seen at the National Portrait Gallery with beautiful photographs commissioned by the magazine since 1916. The Courtauld Gallery has 2 openings this month – Botticelli and the Treasures from the Hamilton Collection, including his drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy. Their 2ndshow is Bruegel in Black and White: Three Grisailles Reunited, a rare chance to see these 3 paintings together.
March A display of Tracey Emin’s work, including My Bed alongside 2 of Francis Bacon’s work chosen by Emin can be seen at the Tate Britain. The National Portrait Gallery is showing Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky, a selection of great works on loan from Moscow.  The new exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery is Scottish Artists: from Caledonia to the Continent with works from the Royal Collection from 1750 through to 1900.
January The January sales are a big event and massive bargains are to be found in the grand department stores, designer boutiques and the reliable chain stores.
February The big news for February is the winter London Fashion Week which will showcase the spring/summer collections followed by London Fashion Weekend when they let the likes of us in to peruse what’s new.  It’s a good month for fashion as Somerset House are hosting The International Fashion Showcase for emerging fashion designers on the theme of Imaging Utopia, spread over 15 galleries.
March As the days get longer and the temperatures warm up, make the most of London’s street markets:  Portobello on Saturdays; Camden market any day; Spitalfields most days but best on Sundays; Borough food market Wednesday to Saturday; and, Columbia Road flower market on Sundays.
January  An exhibition from last year which slipped through the net is at the Museum of London Docklands where The Caribbean’s Great War looks really interesting in their impressive gallery called London, Sugar and Slavery. There are some key closures this month:  The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Fabric of India exhibition and their Shoes: Pleasure and Pain; and, Celts: Art and Identity at the British Museum.
February  The Science Museum’s new show Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mechanics of a Genius explores his incredible inventions with models, drawing and interactive games as you would expect at this creative museum.
March At the Victoria and Albert Museum a major show called Botticelli Reimagined will explore his enduring influence, looking across the centuries his impact on art, =fashion, design and film through 500 of his work and examples of those who have been touched by his art from William Morris to Andy Warhol.
January The Swan at the Globe with its great views of the Thames and St Pauls reopens after refurbishment. A new restaurant on a familiar site sees 100 Wardour Street, a new D&D venture, take on the old Floridita site, carrying on their tradition of music in the lower floor. London favourites the Galvins are turning their Spitalfields venue into a pub called Hop tho’ not your average pub as the food and drink will be posh and they will be serving de luxe hot dogs!  January sees Burns Night so seek out some Scottish food to celebrate and bravely try some haggis!
February Duende from the Bravas Tapas folk of St Katherine’s Dock opens in Covent – I really like this place so hope the new opening lives up to their original restaurant. Tom Sellers of the massively successful Restaurant Story opens a new place called Restaurant Ours in Kensington and promises to have a dramatic design with 3 enormous interior trees!  Close to me will be a new Italian restaurant with a menswear upstairs when Chucs opens with a garden terrace and coffee bar. Oliver Maki, big in Kuwait and Bahrain, opens in Soho with his contemporary sushi. Good news for those who like to plan, Pitt Cue Co are opening a new venue in the City as we hear they will take bookings!
March  Sourced Market is a new deli/café/wine and beer shop in Marylebone stocking 100 small artisan food and drink suppliers fine goods.  Some of the February openings say ‘late Feb’ which usually means March so check the February listing just in case……
January Twilight Tours of the Tower of London will open your eyes to the spooky and gruesome history of this historic site but please don’t have nightmares.
February  A Charity Gala at the Tower of London brings the stars of the West End stage into the Tower for 2 nights of variety acts including some with the famous Beefeaters.  The Tower is busy in the evenings this month as Nightwatchers returns, an after-hours immersive experience of a shadowy world of surveillance in modern and Tudor times – sounds scary but fun.
March Sporty times at Hampton Court Palace where their half marathon takes in the palace grounds and the Thames paths.  More sedate fare but still needing some endurance is their Dusk til Dawn Sleepover with entertainment, tours of the palace, a meal and a chance to sleep inside the palace. Kew Palace reopens at the end of March after its winter hibernation.
January The World Snooker – The Masters comes to Alexandra Palace, snooker’s biggest invitation event. Also at Alexandra Palace are the World Championships of Ping Pong where unsung hero Englishman Andrew Baggaley is defending his title. The football season pushes through the 2 cups with key rounds being played in the League Cup and FA Cup with plenty of London teams on show. NBA Basketball can be cheers on at the 02 Arena where Orlando Magic face the Toronto Raptors.
February The Six Nations starts with matches at Twickenham where we will be looking to England to offer more than they managed in last year’s World Cup. The football League Cup will be played at Wembley.
March  The Six Nations continues. The annual University Boat Race sees Oxford v Cambridge for the 162nd time with Oxford leading Cambridge 81 wins to 79 (for those of you good at maths, there was one dead heat in 1877 which makes the numbers right). The Velodrome in the Olympic Park is the venue for the UCI Track Cycling Championships, full of the top names – mostly British hopefully!
January Trevor Nelson’s Soul Nation comes to the Jazz Café. The reformed (ie back together, I can’t speak for anything else being reformed!) Libertines play at the O2 Arena. Also coming back are the Corrs, also at the 02 Arena. Hozier are at the 02 Brixton as are the Maccabees. Ron Pope and the Nighthawks take on Koko
February Jess Glynne plays the 02 Brixton as do Twenty One Pilots, and Jo Harman plays the Jazz Café. Jason Derulo comes to the 02 Arena and Gabrielle Aplin is at the 02 Empire Shepherds Bush. Old favourites Fun Lovin Criminals can be seen at the 02 Empire Shepherds Bush and Massive Attack take on 02 Academy Brixton supported by Young Fathers. (Check the 02 Shepherds Bush as they have roof problems so some shows may be moved)
March Rudimental come to the 02 Arena with ’We are the Generation’ and Ellie Goulding plays there too. Leona Lewis comes to the stage of the London Palladium. Wolf Alice is at the Forum and Lianne La Havas is at the Royal Albert Hall.  C2C – Country to Country music festival rolls into the 02 Arena and old favourite The Stranglers take to the stage at the 02 Brixton Academy. 
Enjoy London!

Christmas lights in London 2105

It’s that time of year again when London comes to life with festive lights in all the major shopping areas. I’ve been out and about checking them out for you and my view on 2015 is that some new ones are great, some areas have kept with old favourites which is no bad thing  but some of the major shops have not made much effort this year and one major street is just not up to our high standards. 

Carnaby Street’s 2015 offering wins as usual, it’s fun, it suits the street and is new and fresh and even looks good before it’s completely dark!

Carnaby Street

A Carnaby Street side street
Carnaby Street 

Trafalgar Square hosts the Christmas tree sent each year by the people of Norway to express their ongoing thanks for our support during the 2nd World War. This year it’s been a bit battered by a storm which hit the capital just after it went up, so it’s slightly crooked but as lovely as ever, especially when reflected in the fountains. 

Trafalgar Square

Oxford Street has stuck with it’s massive baubles which works well for them and I was pleased to see that South Molton Street have kept with their elegant blue arches.

Oxford Street at the Selfridges end

South Molton Street

Covent Garden has gone for enormous mistletoe this year which I liked and had some fun to it and they have kept their enormous Christmas tree and the striking silver reindeer.

Giant mistletoe in Covent Garden

Covent Garden’s tree

Covent Garden’s silver reindeer

This year’s big disappointment is Regent Street where they have replaced their successful reindeer antlers with the 12 days of Christmas with small shiny triangles which are too small to bring much light and large circles with projected video animations which I couldn’t quite fathom and the circles are not always lit on both sides.  Apologies for a poor photo to match!

Regent Street 

The Strand has joined in this year with a jolly look in blue which brightens up this part of the city: 

The Strand

Two of our major stores, Selfridges and John Lewis, usually have inventive and playful festive window displays but this year they are unimpressive and so have not made this gallery of the light show of 2015. 

London hosts ice rinks outside many of the famous landmarks such as the Tower of London and Somerset House, and the Natural History’s rink is one of my favourite sights especially when the kids have a go. 

Skating a the Natural History Museum

Finally, I visited the posh shopping streets of Mayfair to see their lovely display, again kept from last year, of delicate, feathery lights. 



I hope you enjoyed this visit to London at Christmas, it’s a great time of year to come here and even the shorter days are a bonus as you can see the festive lights from late afternoon onwards before enjoying a mulled wine in a cosy bar. 

Bye for now,


4 horses and 100,000 balloons in London!

You don’t expect to 4 horses to appear in the river Thames nor to find 100,000 balloons in Covent Garden but then London is always coming up with the unexpected to keep us guessing.  

Public art is one of London’s great strengths and my only complaint is that sometimes it is too short lived, it’s gone before we realise we need to rush to see it and I’m going to show you two perfect examples of this in today’s blog post. 

The Totally Thames Festival lasted all of September and saw a range of events and exhibitions of all things Thames related. You could enjoy all manner of river races, Tall Ships, concerts inside the Tower of London and a night of poetry readings celebrating wild swimming!  It was the horses that really caught my attention. I read about 4 life sized horse statues that had appeared on the foreshore at Vauxhall, a piece entitled The Rising Tide,  so I set off, at low tide, to find them and learn more.  

Skirting round the outside of MI6, much loved of the Bond franchise and not at all secret, I took the slipway normally used by the Duck tours boats, down to the river. My timing was spot on as the Thames was at low tide so there was no danger of falling in and drowning – I’m not being dramatic, I just can’t swim! However, despite a helpful warning from the man guarding the slipway, I managed to step on the softer area of the foreshore and spent the rest of the day walking nonchalantly around London with one foot covered in grey mud!

One very muddy foot

Turning my attention back to the horses I was amazed how powerful they were. The Rising Tide is a piece by Jason deCaires Taylor, an underwater sculptor.  The artist is known for his focus on conservation and climate change and these themes are clearly explored.

Each horse is a life size shire horse with their wonderful large hooves and powerful bodies There are 4, a number that may be a nod to the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. Placing them within sight of Parliament seems to ask questions of lawmakers, questions which the sculptor feels they are ignoring, choosing instead to make damaging deals and compromising policies. 

It was a delight to be able to wander around the horses and see them from all angles, to get so close you could touch them without guards telling you to keep away. Photographers, both the iphone folk and those with tripods, were there in big numbers, taking away their own digital memories. A passing beach comber was rather non-plussed by horses and crowds appearing on his regular patch but showed us a few pieces of metal he had found, including a very worn coin and a belt buckle which he dated as Victorian.

The head of the horses has been replaced by the head of an oil well pump giving them an eerie futuristic look.  Two of the horses have male figures, looking like business men or politician whereas the other two carry children giving us the contrast of those with responsibility for what is happening now and the hope for the future. 

Horse with an oil well pump in place of a head

As the tide comes in the figures are submerged until the heads alone are above the waves and I would have loved to have seen this dramatic sight but after a month, the horses and their riders moved on and we are left with the fleeting memory of this wonderful work.

The thousands of shoppers who crowd into Covent Garden were treated to another short lived art installation when balloons outnumbered people for just one month. 

100,000 white balloons, each one of a different size, floated delicately under the Victorian roof of the South Hall. French artist Charles Petillon created a work called Heartbeat to delight and intrigue visitors. Pulses of light run through the balloons making the experience of viewing them rather hypnotic and symbolising the beating heart of the market, now and stretching back into its past. 

I loved the fragility of the balloons that become almost solid in such numbers and how the light changed so much even in the hour that I was there. Each time I looked back at the roof I saw a different colour, a new shape, almost like watching clouds change and reform. 

For those who like to know the behind the scenes info, the balloons were blown up by people, 25 of them who spent 5 nights and a lot of puff to make sure there were 100,000 perfectly filled balloon to form this work.  

Now, both art installations have gone and we look forward to whatever comes next. London is full of surprises but sometimes you have to be quick or you miss them, passing moments in a city of such enduring history. 

Bye for now,