Arts by day, sciences by night

It was an exciting week at the Natural History Museum as they treated us to a late opening on Friday night so we could meet their scientists. It was mobbed with people and we could hardly get through the crowds at each desk waiting to ask about dinosaurs, plants, rocks and mammals. This event was happening in 200 cities across Europe in other science institutions. It was a fun evening as the bars were open and everyone was wondering around with drinks enjoying the atmosphere and the special tours of the key areas. Hopefully they will do this again as everyone was having a good time in this most wonderful of buildings. Have a look at these 2 photos, one of the outside wonderfully lit and the other putting you face on to the dinosaur you see as you enter this home of natural science, an enormous diplodocus.

Art was on all around London as these weeks in September are the peak time for art exhibitions and shows. There was London Fashion Week, Decorex, 100% Design, Origins and Tent to name just some of them and this week I went to visit the last two. Origins was in Spitalfields Market where the central hall was given over to this year’s show entitled Made not Manufactured. There were hundreds of stalls selling a wide range of original pieces from small traders from glass, pottery and jewellery through to leather goods and hats and scarves. We stopped for lunch at Spitalfields as this area is really good for restaurants and we visited John Torode’s Luxe. They were busy but the wait for the food was worth it as it was very high quality. From there we went on to Tent in the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane where newer designers and more experimental work was on sale/being exhibited. Photos here are the posters at Origins, the outside of the Luxe cafe and the landmark chimney at the Truman Brewery, now an exhibition space.

More art on Wednesday as I visited three galleries that show glass items with a friend of mine who is a glass artist and we are working on how best to market her lovely creations. We went to Flow and Vessel Galleries in Notting Hill and Zest in Earl’s Court and all the folk were really friendly and helpful. They have great stuff too so do poke your nose in their doors.

I had a treat on Wednesday night as I went to a party at the Hospital private members club which was thrown by Wolf and Badger. Lots of champagne is always fun and we had a great night. We’d had lunch at Taqueria in Notting Hill where you can taste more original and authentic Mexican snacks than you find at most places. They serve one of my favourites which is hot black beans with crumbled cheese.

Bye for now,

Elephants and tennis and more sunshine…

The London heatwave continues much to everyone’s surprise and there was not a single rain stoppage at Wimbledon – must be that centre court roof acting as a anti rain device! This week’s blog focuses on the elephants and the tennis, with a street party and some Pride thrown in.

All the elephants that have been scattered around London for several weeks now were gathered together for a final parade before being auctioned off for the Indian elephant charity. I went down, as did so many other Londoners, as they were an irresistible sight. I’ve limited myself to just a few new photos but there were 250 to delight the snappers! The location was the old Chelsea Hospital which is famous for being the home of the annual Chelsea Flower Show but more famous for being the home of the Chelsea Pensioners. The hospital which was more a place of refuge for servicemen, was founded in 1682 by Charles 11 for veterans. It still does the same work for about 400 residents tho’ has accepted a servicewoman (!) and the average age is 83 for these famous red coats that we can see out and about and on special occasions. It’s a very large and grand site that you can wander round with a museum and shop so I’ve included one photo of one particularly impressive section.






Then it was off to Wimbledon as I’d been lucky enough to win 2 tickets in the public ballot for court 1 on the final day of the tournament. This meant we could get in early without joining the huge queue and spend time on Henman Hill as well as in our alloted seats. Being the last day the main event was on centre court but the Hill was great fun and absolutely packed and is a fun way to watch on the big screen – see photo. We then went onto court 1 to rest our weary bottoms (!) and saw the wonderful Martina Navratilova in the invitation doubles, and then Pat Cash in the invitation mens doubles – always good to see old champions at play. I love wandering around Wimbledon, Pimms in hand and we even caught sight of Nadal in the flesh as he waved to the crowds after his match.



Nearly forgot to mention Pride – a massive gay event which took over the centre of London with streets closed, amazing get up and huge fun being had – have a look at Trafalgar Square to see what I mean!







Just one more thing to mention is our annual street party. Where I live in Notting Hill we are in a cul de sac which has a little garden in the middle so each year the neighbours gather in it to catch up and have a few glasses of wine together. It’s always great fun and makes London feel like it’s a neighbourly place to live rather than the big beast it can seem like sometimes…




I’m off to USA for a couple of weeks so don’t think there’ll be any blogging until I’m back on 23rd so have a great time!

Bye for now, Sue

A whole lot of lunching going on…

It’s been a week of lunches and a tea, a theatre trip, the Van Gogh big show, a photo exhibition and a singer. So here goes….

After a bit of lull recently, it was a good week for lunches. It started on Monday with a trip to Raymond Blanc’s new brasserie in the City. This was week one so we got a 50% discount which

really helped the wallet. It’s a good looking place (see these interior and exterior shots) and the food was good but not as special as I hoped from Raymond. The following day saw a trip to Hereford Road, Notting Hill where the menu is very gamey and shellfishy and we loved the potted shrimp and venison pie.


Hibiscus in the West End has 2 Michelin stars and thanks to another special offer *(3 courses and a glass of champagne for £29.50- what a winner) we could relax and enjoy the extra special cuisine. And finally, we took a lovely pot of afternoon tea at the home of fine teas, Fortnum and Mason, in their new Parlour cafe. The stairway is amazing with the butler in this photo and just being there makes you feel posh.

There was culture to be had at the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy which features many of his beautiful painting alongside letters between Vincent and his brother Theo. They chart his early days as a self taught painter and how he honed his craft to the wonderful later work and the support his brother gave him all through. He did most of his great work in about 6 years which is a mind boggling achievement.

At the Lichfield Studios in Notting Hill a marvellous exhibition of photographs by Malick Sidibe. He took photos in his studio of people who popped in to have shots taken in Bamako at the time that Mali was gaining Independence. He also went to night clubs to capture the exuberance of the time. 2 photos on this one – one of the Lichfield Studios and one of a wonderful photo of a woman from the brochure


This week’s theatre trip was to see ‘Polar Bears’ at the Donmar theatre. Great acting and a plot full of questions but few answers which was confirmed when we bumped into Celia Imrie at the bus stop on the way home. She was one of the stars – yes, she agreed it wasn’t very glamorous going home on the 390 to Notting Hill! She asked us whether we thought the lead man had committed the murder – I thought so and Celia said she wasn’t sure. Lovely lady to stop and chat with us.
One final bit of fun in London to report on was the chance to see Rebecca Poole singing at The Commander restaurant in Notting Hill. She does a great smokey jazz show and is certainly one to watch out for in the future.


Can’t wait for next week. Bye for now,


Days in and days out

Picking up the extras that were bounced out from last week’s bumper full list, we have days out in Cambridge and days in at the Cabinet War Rooms.


A day out to Cambridge from London is a great way to see a bit more of England and really do-able as the train takes about 45 minutes. You can see the famous colleges and can even go inside some of them, you can get run over by the masses of students on bicycles, go punting on the river and mooch around the old streets to your heart’s content. Cambridge is full of wonderful old buildings and we really enjoyed the sunshine too! Another treat was to see the famous Harry Potter platform at Kings Cross as my train to Cambridge left from platform 9. Here’s a selection of Cambridge photos and one from Kings Cross!


Back in London, Sunday was another beautifully sunny day so we walked along the Thames and then visited the Cabinet War Rooms where they have restored the actual rooms used by Churchill and the military to battle out the Second World War. They are marvellously evocative of a time of national peril and the courage of those who battled for our freedom. They’ve added a major Churchill exhibition making it a big visit. Here’s one photo of the Thames at it sparkling best, one of the outside of the Rooms and one of the Churchill’s underground kitchen – not sure he had much time for cooking though!

A couple of cinema trips this week to contrasting venues. One to the very newly opened Vue cinema at Westfields with spacious seats and a huge high quality screen (The White Ribbon was the film) and the other was the Coronet in Notting Hill, a independent cinema which began life as a Victorian theatre in 1898 (Shutter Island was showing here).
Restaurants visits this week included my local favourite, Aphrodite, where the Greek food is really high quality and the welcome is always warm. A trip to South Kensington saw visits to Brindisi for their tapas and to La Cave a Fromage for their wonderful smelly cheeses!
Bye for now,

Here comes the sun!

It’s March 1st, St David’s Day (patron saint of Wales) and the sun has finally burst through after a seemingly endless winter of snow and rain. Optimism returns!

I’m still recovering from the big Africa trip and one annoying follow on from a great holiday can be the post return bug and I got a humdinger! So I’ve been stuck in a lot of the week so this blog will be a little thinner than usual but next week’s looking good already.


I sneaked out to one of my favourite shops in London, the Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill – yes the travel bookshop from the film ‘Notting Hill’. Well, the one it was based on – for real film buffs, the interior to exterior shots were filmed around the corner on Portobello Road itself and the interior shots were done in a studio but when you go into the shop it certainly has the feel of the real thing. As a travel bookshop it’s lovely and I rarely get out without a purchase as they have wonderful guide books and broader travel literature and even great CDs. They’ve just started a series of evening talks so we went to see Hugh Thomson reading from his book ‘Tequila Oil Getting Lost in Mexico’ and telling us a bit about how the book came about. Really interesting and entertaining and the title refers to a rather evil sounding drink which I will be avoiding for sure… And of course, here’s a snapshot of the exterior of this famous shop much photographed by visitors.
A local gallery, The Muse, were having a preview evening for Justin Piperger’s new works including cartoons, bold colours and some more functional pieces with household objects in his paintings such as clocks and tea towel holders. It brightened up a rainy evening of which there have been rather too many of late so we are all looking forward to the start of March. Apparently Justin will be painting in the gallery a couple of days a week, so I might just pop in and see how he works.

The Noisettes played at the Roundhouse this weekend and it was a show of huge energy and fun. This fabulous venue has great sound and the Noisettes’ lead singer Shingai Shoniwa is an amazingly stylish, eccentric, talented and friendly performer (see slightly blurred photo) and the show was a burst of sunshine on a Sunday evening. The show was sold out and the floor was jumping!



Bye for now,




Bye bye snow… we think…

It was a strange week of contrasts in London weather wise and hopefully this will be the last weather report for a while as we’ve all got a bit more obsessed by it than usual! On Tuesday/Wednesday we had loads of snow, more than before, and here’s a picture of my garden to give you an idea of how it looked and how dark it was! Sadly my photography course in the London Wetland Centre of all places (!)was cancelled due to the snow but hopefully will be rearranged soon. By the weekend we were submerged by rain and then on Sunday at last, the sun came out. Perhaps more snow to come this week – enough! Today is grey and officially the gloomiest day of the year and we are all supposed to be at our lowest ebb, so I hope you are all feeling ok!

So, what to do to cheer ourselves up? I took an art tour in the east of London with a company called Artfeelers run by the wonderfully enthusiastic and knowledgeable Claire Flannery. A group of 8 of us set off with Claire to see some of the less well known galleries showing contemporary art around Bethnal Green and Claire introduced us to the artists. We went at our own pace and we had the chance to talk about the art as well as have great input from Claire. Here are a few photos to give you a flavour of our walk: a fabulous squirrel on the wall (and a one with Claire!) Then we have a wonderful bookshop and gallery called Kaleid where beautiful artists’ books are lovingly displayed along with large pieces as you can see on the wall behind the table. We went to A Foundation which had an interesting range of work, including this fabulous gold helmet, displayed in this wonderful airy white space. Finally onto Caveman Bob, a video piece of a cave where a man lives with a narration of his world in the cave. The whole thing is set in a container and the interior is cave like – amazing…. (Also visited but not photographed was Martin Sexton’s gallery)


The whole tour takes a couple of hours and I recommend going along to see new stuff in good company. for more info.






Regular readers of this blog will know about BookSlam, a monthly night of fun in Notting Hill with book readings, performance poetry and music. This month’s was not a vintage for us as the book was heroin chic and the poetry was a bit all over the place but the singer was wonderful and worth watching out for in the future, Josephine Cnyama from Manchester has a great voice and good songs.


Restaurants to let you know about include Langtry’s where the history of the place was the key feature. Lily Langtry has an amazing story which saw her rise from an educated vicar’s daughter from Jersey to London socialite, to Prince of Wales’s mistress and an actress who took America by storm. She lived at 21 Pont Street from 1892-1897 in the Cadogan Hotel which now houses Langtry’s restaurant. As if that wasn’t enough for one hotel, Oscar Wilde was arrested in room 118 in 1895 meaning that he may have been arrested when she was staying there – what a night!

Back to the current times, we also popped into one of the many Persian restaurants in around Paddington. This one, Sadaf on Westbourne Grove, serves the typical stews and kebabs and has the tough task of taking over from one of my favourite restaurants (a Lebanese called El Fairuz) and sadly is not quite as good.

I’m caught up with plans to visit Africa as I go on Saturday for a 3 week overland trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls. Can’t wait but loads to do….. So one more blog then I’m off.


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.

David Tennant!

My blog’s being posted a day late this week – sorry! I’m busy helping my mother move house and opportunities to get online have been a bit limited but we are nearly sorted – phew. Also means very few photos this week.

Last week was dominated by my excitement at seeing David Tennant! Anyone who knows me is well aware that I think he’s absolutely gorgeous so the chance to see him close up was not to be missed. I was at the London Film Festival catching a good Spanish film called ‘Three Days with the Family’ made with new actors and technical staff. I enjoyed this although I was hoping to get my ear in with Spanish and it was in Catalan so more difficult to follow. The London Film Festival is a brilliant event with hundred of films of all genres and nationalities packed into a few weeks in October. So many stars were in town there were red carpets rolling out all the time!

On the way out I came across a huge crowd waiting along the red carpet to see the stars of ‘Glorious 39’ arrive. Bill Nighy, Jenny Agutter, Hugh Bonneville came and went and then the screams started for David (not just me!) See photo for closeness but it’s a bit blurry due to all the other flashes going off….

The same afternoon I got ‘wristbanded’ as I was passing Leicester Square and gained access to the special night time party to celebrate the launch of the Michael Jackson film ‘This is it’ We saw videos of Michael’s career on the huge screens and all kinds of folk interviewed on stage as part of the red carpet – Westlife, Harry Connick Jnr, Scarey Spice, JLS, Diversity, Tao Cruz, Peter Andre…… More screaming but this time not from me.

Thursday saw this month’s Book Slam at Notting Hill’s Tabernacle and the star was undoubtedly Roger McGough with his witty, insightful and accessible poetry read with charm and warmth.

There’s not been too much time for eating out this week but I did spend a fun evening at the Chepstow in Notting Hill which is one of my favourite local bars. We had a few drinks and then got caught up in their weekly quiz and had we joined properly, might have done rather well but who knows…..

That’s all for this week.
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 Hillman

Star struck!

The highlight of last week was a trip to the Donmar Warehouse to see Dominic West, lately of ‘The Wire’, being interviewed. He’s an unassuming and amusing interviewee and the time passed all too quickly. He talked about his career, The Wire and his new play opening in a few weeks – a 16th century Spanish play called ‘Life is a Dream’ which is quite a contrast to 21st century urban Baltimore! Thanks to the intimate nature of the theatre we’d seen him walk past us on the way in and wondered if we might see him leaving. So after a few minutes, when the main crowd had left, Dominic came out and posed for photos. I would never normally do this but he was there and I was there so I asked and you can see the result…… What a lovely man!

We topped the evening off with drinks and dancing at Ronnie Scott’s upstairs bar to recover from all the excitement. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we’d been sitting outside Bar Italia earlier which is opposite Ronnie’s and enjoyed great people watching, Soho really is the place for this.

Yesterday I did part one of a photography course using East End markets as a way of learning more about taking shots of people and busy places to give a stronger impression of the character of somewhere. We wandered around Petticoat Lane and Brick Lane and although my photos weren’t as good as I’d hoped, it was fun and I’m looking forward to part two next week. Brick Lane had some amazing graffiti and here’s one photo that did just about work. It was fun to see the markets on a busy Sunday and we were all tempted by the wonderful food smells and extraordinary bargains- perhaps we will succumb next week.

Had a lovely lunch at Bloody French in Notting Hill – yes it really is called that! We chose the very authentic French Onion Soup and had a good gossip. Notting Hill is packed with high quality and interesting restaurants and I do my very best to work my way through them all!

Bye for now,