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,




The amazing London marathon and some star spotting!

The big event in London this week was really big – the London Marathon! But keep reading to the bottom to find out the star spotting….

The London Marathon claims to be the largest in the world with about 36,000 runners pounding the streets of London to conquer the 26.2 miles of agony. The elite man runner got round in just over 2 hours beating the course record but for the mere mortals it was 4 hours plus of pain and ecstasy on finishing. I found a great viewing spot on a bridge over the course to cheer them on and snap some of the fun sights. How people can run wearing the mad outfits is quite beyond me but it raises extra money for charity and that’s what drives most of the brave runners on. You could see the pain on their faces but many were cheery and smiling as they had one more mile to go to the finish outside of Buckingham Palace. Have a look at a small selection of photos: the runners flooding along the Embankment by Charing Cross; the rhino and lion; a tiger; Kate Middleton (!); a WaterAid toilet; pantomime dame (lots of men in dresses – any excuse!); the clown; the runaway bride; the chicken; and, the man with artificial legs who was an hour ahead of anyone else in these photos!

The Tate Modern has been showing the wonderful Sunflower Seeds installation by the artist Ai Weiwei but last week he was detained in his homeland by the Chinese authorities so I started the Twitter hashtag #releaseAiWeiwei and was really pleased to see that the Tate have taken it up on their building – or we just came up with the same slogan! Either way I hope it works..




One show worth seeing was E.O. Hoppe’s photographs at the National Portrait Gallery which was really interesting. From his studio portraits of the famous faces of his day to his realistic street photos of the poorer citizens, we saw a wonderful range of work in the 150 photos on display. The photo of the very small boy in a pearlie king outfit over his stripey jumper and worn out shoes was funny and very sad at the same time as his poverty was clear to see. In contrast celebrity and royal faces also graced the walls from a very young Margot Fonteyn to the future King George V and Queen Elizabeth


And finally, the star spotting which took place in the green room at recording of the Graham Norton TV show where I got to have my photo taken with one of my absolute favourites- David Tennant – and the rather lovely Josh Grobin who moved right up the favourite list. They were both completely charming and very handsome. Still recovering….

Bye for now,




Just one word – chocolate!

London was the best place enjoy National Chocolate Week 2010 and Vinopolis was chocolate central! They are normally the home of wine but for one week they were hosting Chocolate Unwrapped where the major chocolatiers were exhibiting and some giving talks. There were tasting opportunities at each stall and extraordinary choc sculptures of steam trains and even shoes! Some stalls were offering competitions and raffles and I won a signed copy of Working with Chocolate by Mark Tilling in an Action Against Hunger charity raffle so watch out for some splendid sweet making by yours truly! One of the talks was given by Paul A Young who was really entertaining and handed out tasters such as marmite truffles which were surprisingly good. His top tip was to put salt into your chocolate mix as it soops up the flavour – give it a go. Photos are of: Paul A Young himself; some of the sculptures; a beautiful displays of cacao pods; and, the finished product all lined up and ready to eat. All that chocolate before noon was a real challenge!


One other big excitement was our visit to Ai Wei Wei’s new exhibit at the Tate Modern where he has installed over 100 million painted porcelain sunflower seeds. Originally it was to be an interactive event with visitors walking in amongst the ‘seeds’ but it was decided that the resulting porcelain dust was too dangerous for us and now we can only watch from the sidelines and hold a single seed handed around. Rather sad for the artist I’m sure. It is a truly impressive sight and the accompanying film gives more insight into the work. It raises questions about mass productions, the ‘made in China’ label we are so familiar with and issues of individuality as each seed is different from the millions of others, each painted by hand. The seeds themselves hark back to the famines under Mao when sunflower seeds were the only food for many citizens. The photos give you the full view of the Turbine Hall with its grey carpet of seeds and a close up of the seeds themselves.


That’s all for this week’s blog as it’s late going to ‘press’ -sorry about that.


Bye for now,