It’s a bumper season for exhibitions in London

There are always great exhibitions worth visiting in London, often at smaller, less well known museums.  However, sometimes blockbuster shows hit town at the same time and this is one of those times. Londoners and visitors are frantically trying to get their hands on much sought after tickets for this spring’s top shows.  I’ve been away from London for 2 months on my volunteering trip to Africa (read more here) so I was really keen to catch up. Continue reading

And they are off… the 157th Boat Race!

Late March in London brings out the crowds lining the banks of the Thames to watch The Boat Race which has now been staged for 157 years! It’s a strange event as it has no overall sporting significance as it’s not part of any rowing event, no points are gained, it doesn’t lead to anything but it amazingly popular and its longevity speaks for itself. Oxford and Cambridge universities field a team each and they race from Putney Bridge to Chiswick Bridge in a mad dash that lasts around 17 minutes. We went to the start in Bishops Park about an hour before the 5pm set off and only just secured a vantage point as both banks of the river we packed with thousands of spectators. . It all dates back to 1829 when it was started by 2 school friends who each went on to one of the 2 universities and has been held every year since 1856, except for the two world wars. The teams both wear blue but importantly Oxford are dark blue and Cambridge light blue. This year Oxford won relatively easily after such a cracking start that they were ahead even when they reached us just a few minutes from the starting line. They flew past in a blur of blues jerseys, showing incredible power and they were so fast the the flotilla of following boats had to rev up to keep close to them. Til next year then! Photos show: the warm up racers getting into their boat; crowds finding a good vantage point on the roof opposite us; the 2 teams approach us just after the start – have a look at the crowds on the river bank!; the teams zoom past us and you can see Oxford are already leading; the chasing flotilla: and, the crowds left after the race had past us – they all went to watch the big screen so got to see the rest of the race happen. One of the great delights of living in Notting Hill is the number of cinemas we have (4!) and that we have some historic, quirky ones too. On Saturday we went to the Coronet on Notting Hill Gate which has gone for an all red interior look – see photo! It’s a place with history and famous among locals for being one of the last cinemas to allow smoking – in the upstairs section. It was opened in 1898 as a Victorian theatre and was considered one of the finest outside of the West End. It became a full time cinema in 1923 and claims to be the oldest in London, It now tends to attract the phrase ‘faded grandeur’ but shows good films at reasonable prices and you can even sit in the circle, from where the photo was taken, for a much better experience than many small screens can offer. We saw ‘Limitless’ which despite its title, was not as good as we hoped…… For film buffs, this is the cinema used for the scene in ‘Notting Hill’ where Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant watch a film, and Hugh has his prescription diving mask on which still makes me laugh after many viewings!







Bye for now,




The big freeze…

London is usually not too cold in winter and the last few year’s we’ve been spoilt with mild albeit often grey months. Then came the end of 2009 and the start of 2010 and we’ve had snow, freezing weather and ice, ice, ice! Central London, where I live, is always warmer so it’s not been too bad but further out there have been several inches of snow and very slippy pavements. Given that us Brits love to talk about the weather in normal times, this has taken over all conversation! So, as a picture tells a thousands words, here are a few photos of Notting Hill in the snow:

I’ve not stayed indoors too much and have 2 interesting art visits to report on. The Ed Ruscha exhibition at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank was a great exploration of the use of language and graphics. The show reviews his 50 years of painting and with a few short paragraphs of background to guide us through we really enjoyed the wit and visual inspiration. One of my favourite was the word faith written large in a typeface invented and used by the Vatican for catholic texts, simple but evocative.
Our second visit was to an installation in the Tate Modern to see Miraslaw Balka’s big black box. It’s a huge metal and girder structure which fills one end of the massive turbine hall. As you walk in it’s a bit like walking into the lowered ramp of a space ship and as you enter further all the light disappears, you grab the hand of the person with you, sticking the other hand out in front of you and proceed very slowly into the deep, deep black. Eventually you reach a soft velvety wall and you’ve made it to the end. Turning round you see that there is in fact plenty of light behind you and you can easily see where you are! It’s a brilliant way of experiencing a journey into darkness and the unknown. Sadly it’s references are to 20th century Polish history of the Holocaust and Ghettos not spaceships.
Bars and restaurants still needed visiting and my new favourite bar is downstairs at Hix in Soho. Hix is a owned and run by the chef Mark Hix who has the very successful Hix Oyster and Chop House in the City and his original venue in Dorset. It was the bar we were after however and it was great fun, admittedly probably not as busy as on a non snow evening (there I go again about the weather!). It was cool, comfy and a good range of people and although you have to buy some food due to something about a licence, the home made parsnip crisps were a revelation!
One other evening out was to a local pub. I’m always being asked about good pubs and they are hard to find so I am very happy to recommend The Churchill Arms in Kensington. It’s big but cosy, full but not crammed, has loads of decorations but looks fun not silly, has good cheap Thai food and was the first British pub to offer Thai food to its, no doubt, surprised punters!. It’s also very famous for it’s massive hanging baskets so watch out for a photo of that coming soon.
Bye for now.