Fun in the sun at Somerset House

You may have heard already and it’s true, we are having great weather this year in London and this spring has been the warmest and driest on record. Londoners really know how to make the most of any bit of sunshine and my trip to Somerset House last week gave me the chance to see a perfect example of this. That visit was topped with a trip to the theatre to take in a new play.

Somerset House is an amazing place, dating from 1801 and is most famous to Brits as where all the birth certificates were kept. It was also: the nation’s Stamp Office where every newspaper was stamped before distribution; where the Royal Academy of Arts began; and, the home to various government offices. It still houses government departments but it is more famous for its wonderful courtyard (which was once just a car park!) and fountains, its restaurant, its exhibition and the events in the courtyard. Currently in the courtyard is an amazing exhibition by Ai Weiwei, the famous Chinese artist who was behind the Olympic Birdsnest stadium in Beijing and the Sunflower Seeds exhibition of 100 million pieces in the Tate Modern. Sadly at the moment he is in prison in China but his work speaks out for him. Here we have 12 massive bronze animal heads depicting the traditional Chinese zodiac called Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads. This is his first major outdoor exhibition in London and Somerset House’s first outdoor modern sculpture display.

The day I went to see them was very warm and sunny so we could enjoy the heads while families enjoyed themselves running in and out of the fountains. People of all ages couldn’t resist running through the changing fountains and the kids stripped off to their swimmers and there was no stopping them! We however enjoyed a light lunch at Tom’s Kitchen within the main building and remained fully clothed!

Another good reason for visiting Somerset House is the Courtauld art gallery where you can view a wonderful collection ranging from some of the most famous impressionists and post impressionist work – Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, Degas – and some more modern pieces – Bacon, Hepworth and Nicholson – and many older pieces too – Ruebens and Brueghel. For a mere £4.50 entry to what is termed a small museum, you can treat yourself to a journey through some great art.

Photos are: a view of the full courtyard; various shots of the zodiac heads and people playing in the fountains.

This week’s theatre trip was to see Butley at the Duchess Theatre, a piece by set in the world of academia in the 1970s. The undoubted star of the play was Dominic West, playing the once great professor whose decent into drink has lead him to rail against the world and those closest to him. We were treated to a question and answer session with the whole cast afterwards which was great as we were in the front row for this and I was reminded of my close up moment with Dominic West when he was at the Donmar so here’s our photo!


Bye for now,

Sue

‘Twas the last blog before Christmas…

Nearly the end of the year and this is the last blog before Christmas, and depending on how the travelling goes next week, it could be the last of the year. England has had more snow than it can cope with on the roads, railways and at our airports which has been very sad for people trying to get home to be with friends and family for the festive period. I’m off to Kent first and then to Dartmouth for New Year so fingers crossed I get to both…. And I hope you get to where you want to be as well.

The last weeks of 2010 have been snow dominated which is really surprising for this time of year s we don’t usually get this much snow until February and it’s been colder than for many decades – global warning eh! London had a couple of major ‘dumps’ as they are called tho’ it seems an odd word to me. So of course here are a set of photos from my locality including the biggest bus queue in London where at least 12 number 52s were stuck due to the smallest hill – poor show! See if you can spot the snowman…

Some of the best exhibitions are the small ones and I visited the Courtauld Gallery to see the Cezanne’s Card Players series. He painted several of the same group in similar positions showing his appreciation of the peasants and their lives. It was wonderful and just this single room of paintings gave me a much deeper understanding of Cezanne. The Courtauld Gallery is a small gem which is packed full of great works and only £6 to get in!It is known for the its collection of impressionist and post impressionist masterpieces, thanks to the collector Samuel Courtauld It is the front part, the entrance gate, of the Somerset House complex which houses an ice rink at this time of year in its beautiful courtyard. I dropped in during a snow storm and it was good to see that this did not deter the brave skaters.

It’s panto season so we booked into our local Notting Hill version of Sleeping Beauty which gave us the usual chaotic good fun show at the Tabernacle. It has plenty of improvisation (for which we mean – somewhat under-rehearsed!) and some great in-jokes and splendid acting from the tiniest of kids. We boo’d we hissed and chanted ‘behind you’ with the best of them and finished the show with full rendition of Slade’s ‘So here it is, merry Christmas’…. Very festive!
That’s all for this year except to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a great 2011.

Bye for now,
Sue

Four seasons in one day time of year

It’s May and we’ve had sun, warmth, rain and chills already but the blossom is out and if you can dodge the rain and keep a scarf to hand it’s looking beautiful. Here’s a photo of Westbourne Grove at its finest and I’ll spare you the shots of the rain! The May gathering of narrow boats at Little Venice was a victim of the weather but was still very jolly and the photo attached is – I have to admit – from last year’s event but it looked just the same this year apart from the sun when we popped in for a look this morning! It’s a wonderful sight right in the middle of London.

My visitors over the weekend wanted something a bit different in terms of exhibitions so we set off to Somerset House for their River Sounding installation and the Pick Me Up Graphics Fair. Bill Fontana’s River Sounding is a really unusual and fun experience. It’s a sound installation and as you walk around the subterranean storage areas and alleys under Somerset House sounds of the River Thames follow you giving an atmospheric feel whether there is a picture projected onto the old brickwork or just a passageway to walk through. These areas are normally closed to the public so it was fun to explore them. A few photos may help – a couple of the projected images and a view of the passageway so just image watery noises to accompany them!

Somerset House’s Pick Me Up Graphics Fair was a show of new work and also a chance to watch prints coming off the press. The work was extremely varied and ranged from accessible to fun to strange and eye bending! I’ve attached a snap of the printing and one of my favourite prints (thanks to Natsko Seki)

There was a good stand up comedy show at the Amused Moose with the compere Mark Dolan being our favourite. The venue was unusual as the comedy section was a set of chairs on the dance floor of a nightclub which was all mirrors and lights but the acts were funny and we left before the nightclub really got going…..

Dining report this week includes Franco Manca, a new pizza place in Chiswick which was a fun, lively room with a good buzz and tasty pizzas. We also had a return to Aphrodite, my favourite local Greek restaurant. The big treat was a visit to Cafe Anglais for a special occasion lunch which lasted several hours. The chef here is Rowley Leigh who has a good name in the London restaurant world which we reckoned is well earned.
Bye for now,
Sue

With a visit to the theatre on the sunniest afternoon of the year so far, an art exhibition at the Tate and a boat ride on the rainiest one, Somerset House in the sun, a Michelin star (well 2 stars actually) lunch, and a film preview, it’s been a good week.

The Tate Modern is showing an exhibition of the work of Van Doesburg and the International Avant Garde. I’d not heard of him but really enjoyed the wonderfully laid out exhibition. He started an influential magazine, De Stijl that became a movement and you can see Mondrian and the like in his work which is called ‘geometric abstraction’. We had lunch in the members’ room which has a wonderful view over the Thames but it was a rainy day so no good for photos. The Tate building itself is wonderful and worth a photo from a previous day. We took the boat to the Tate Britain which is a great ride and had a quick browse around the older Tate brother. What a treat to be able to visit 2 great museums in one day.

One of the big tickets in town for the theatre is Jerusalem starring Mark Rylance and we opted for a matinee for this 3 hours blockbuster and yes it was warm and sunny that day! It’s a powerful play about Johnny Byron (Rylance) who lives outside of mainstream society and the play takes swipes at both lives with wit, bravado and some menace. Worth the ticket and the 3 hours!

Somerset House was showing 100 years of world photography in aid of homeless charity Crisis. There were wonderful shots from famous photographers, including one from Malick Sidibe whose solo exhibition I’d seen the week before (strange coincidence) and some from people helped by the charity. The famous shots were of a previously homeless man and Prince William, taken by each other and the first shot of a royal taken by an ‘ordinary person’. The fountains were on full pelt in the fabulous courtyard and made for great fun for all ages.
Michelin stars this week were courtesy of The Ledbury, Notting Hill and very nice it was too. these lunch deals are affordable and the place was packed, including a large table of French people who were not on the 2/3 course lunch but the 5 or 6 by the look of it!
The film preview was a new film called Boogie Woogie, which is the name of a Mondrian painting in an odd coincidence having seen some of his work at the Tate early in the week! It’s all about the London art world and was enjoyable but a little bit too ‘in’ that world. Great cast from Gillian Anderson, through Akan Cummings, to Charlotte Rampling, Joanna Lumley, Christopher Lee and Stellan Skarsgard.

Just one more thing – there are dinosaurs in Oxford Street! Don’t believe me? This photo was taken from the bus just by Selfridges….
Bye for now,
Sue

Merry Christmas….everyone!

Last week’s theatrical theme carried on into this week with 2 more stage based evenings. One was high octane A list as we got much sought after tickets for the Misanthrope starring Keira Knightley and Damian Lewis. An excellent expose of shallow lives in rhyming couplets. The second visit was the local pantomine (oh no it wasn’t!!) which was performed with gusto and enthusiasm and the chaos on stage only added to the fun. We had the chance to sing along Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas ..everyone’ which really put us in the festive mood. It was directed by Alfie Allen, brother of Lily Allen who I went to see in concert at the Brixton 02 Academy a few days after so it was a family week and their Dad was at Lily’s show. It was a snowy night but worth the effort to see her perform what she said will be her last show but let’s hope not.

Yes we had snow in London! It didn’t lay in the centre of town but caused huge excitement for a few hours.

Lots of lovely London Christmas lights to show you in these photos. The most beautiful were the delicate cut out fairytale images at Tiffany’s in Bond Street but the most fun were in Carnaby Street – see previous posting. The most comic was the penguin with the pink wig in Ted Baker South Molton Street, a pedestrianised shopping street which also gave us this original blue arch look. Also worth a mention is St Christopher’s Place, another pedestrian shopping area with lovely hanging lights.

London is full of ice rinks during December and they all fight to be considered the best location which is a tough competition between Tower of London, Natural History Museum and my winner, Somerset House. This weekend they also had a Christmas fair where a few more unusual presents were purchased but I can’t tell you what just in case the recipients are reading this!

Festive eating and drinking saw our annual visit to Julie’s in Holland Park which is a most beautiful restaurant full of tiny side rooms and alcoves. We dined in a room which was just big enough for our table of 5 and all our presents. Festive mulled wine drinking took place at the Ground Floor – First Floor. They’ve made a festive effort so deserve a photo and are well placed right at the heart of Portobello Road so you can see a few stalls outside even tho’ it was quite late in the day. which is the bar below a restaurant which is called – you’ve guessed already, First Floor! Wishing you all a very merry Christmas. I’ve one more blog for 2010 so catch me next Monday.

Bye for now.

Art, art and more art….

There have a couple of big highlights this week and loads of arty things too. It’s been quite a week!
Frieze Art Fair is a stand out event in the London art world – and the world art world too I gather. We had tickets for the private viewing on the day before opening so had a special look at both the art and the people who live in the world of private views. And the free champagne was an added bonus…. Huge buzz, some strange art and fabulous people, all in a big marquee in Regents Park. A wonderful time was had.
The other big highlight was a charity do for LEPRA – look it up, they do important work. This was a private party held in the new Club at the famous Ivy restaurant. They have a wonderfully impressive glass entrance which sets the exclusive tone. Stephen Fry was hosting the event and I had a chat with him which was a great pleasure, for me, bless him! There was a raffle and I won theatre tickets (how lucky was that) and an auction of fabulous gifts including some original paintings (more art!) and all kinds of interesting people to chat with, and oh yes, some champagne. On the way out I saw Matt Smith, the new Doctor Who, and can confirm that David Tennant will always be my favourite!
It was a huge week for art in London and as well as Frieze I went to Origin fair in Somerset House where artists where showing and selling beautiful jewellery, ceramics and small items of clothing, all very lovely. It was a clear bright day and the Thames was glistening from the terrace outside Somerset House.
On Sunday there was the Autumn Fair in Teddington where I went to see Keith Hern’s wonderful photographs and yet more jewellery.
Finally on the art theme was a visit to Wanted Gallery in Notting Hill for the final evening of the Thomas Osternberg Sculpture Exhibition. It’s a great small gallery and they have a strong programme coming up so I’ll be keeping an eye on them.
What else?? A strange Koren vampire movie called ‘Thirst’ which was not my thing at all as it was rather, unsurprisingly really, bloody and the sound track was slurpy, crunchy and altogether too horrid! It was on at my friend’s club so we could recover in lovely surroundings before venturing out afterwards.
That seems enough for one week so bye for now.
Sue
Sue Hillman