The fascinating Mr Heston Blumenthal in conversation

How many of you have your own coat of arms? Heston Blumenthal is clearly very proud of his and was rather taken aback to have several members of the audience raised their hands in response to his question! Well, he acknowledged, this was Kensington. We were gathered, with or without our own coats of arms, in the Victoria and Albert Museum to hear Heston in conversation with Dr Polly Russell, reflecting on his life and work.
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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.

In London right now we have  ‘David Bowie is’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, ‘Manet: Portraying Life’ at  the Royal Academy and  ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ at the British Museum. Then there is ‘Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901’ at the Courtauld, ‘Light Show’ at the Hayward Gallery, ‘Lichtenstein: A Retrospective’ at the Tate Modern, ‘Michael Caine: 80th Anniversary Exhibition’ at the Museum of London, ‘Treasures of the Royal Courts’ at the V&A and many more……

I’ve been busy working my way through this impressive list so here’s my quick tour for you to enjoy.

My favourite was the Bowie show which I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did, not being sure it would live up to the hype around it. It was huge fun with brilliant staging, lots of good information and range of items to appeal to different visitors from videos to costumes to information about the context he was working in and was influencing. You are given high quality earphones that pick up the really interesting commentary and great music (of course!) as you move between rooms. The final room has a huge video wall where you can watch him singing ‘Heroes’  at Live Aid in 1985 alongside a much more recent version. The song lifts the room and is a wonderful musical experience.  The title of the show is right – David Bowie is …. He is so many things and the exhibition follows his many ch-changes and showcases his immense creativity.


The British Museum hits back with its own blockbuster looking at the lost worlds of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The exhibition takes you through the everyday lives and the extraordinary events that overtook the citizens of these two towns in AD 79.  Rooms are laid out in the plan of a house with many artifacts -even a baby’s cot – mosaics and paintings. We explore the towns, the reasons for the eruptions and the final crushing impact.  You do get an insight into the last hours of these towns and the finality of the end through the contorted figures of the dying. 



Manet’s paintings are beautifully shown at the Royal Academy. The show focuses on his portraiture, ranging from figures of the day including his wife, to scenes of everyday life. We learn through a detailed timeline, what happened in his life. There were some truly beautiful paintings here including the one on the poster, although it was strange that one of his most famous A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is hanging just a mile or so away at the Courtauld Gallery.

 Picasso’s early works are on show at the Courtauld Gallery. They hold regular special exhibitions which they house in just 2 room which gives these exhibitions real focus and they are really manageable!  Tho’   small, there are plenty of great works to see and it is amazing to know that these paintings where shown when he was just 19 years old. You can see hints of where his work will head to but the paintings at this early stage of his career are  masterpieces in their own right. I really enjoyed one of his brash self portraits full of energy and confidence.  He reinvents styles of major names such as Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. The second room is more sombre, following the death of a close friend and this work is from the beginning of the Blue Period. Sadly one of the paintings here will leave the UK at the end of the show, his Child with a Dove could not be kept in the UK. 

The Light Show at the Hayward Gallery is a completely different experience as you have to get right into the exhibits – either by entering pitch black rooms or wearing foot covers to walk into another room or by taking your shoes off completely for a different room. In one room you see light as a solid beam you can break into with your hand, in others you see a bright single light as you enter but you eye adjusts and absorbs the  colour so  it becomes paler until you leave and re-enter and it is bright again. Other pieces show the beauty of light through constantly moving LEDs or reflecting light on mirrors to give as sense of infinity. Each room shows the work of a different artist so it’s an endlessly engaging show which I really enjoyed.

Just one more to tell you about as I was less keen on the Treasures of the Royal Court and have not yet got to see the Lichtenstein as it’s been quite a job to see this lot! The Michael Caine exhibition at the Museum of London was a small, fun exploration of his long career through film, quotes and photos.  As you can see from this quote there is a sense of fun in the show and the photos are mostly iconic shots of London born Michael. The films are clips from his famous movies such as Alfie and The Italian Job alongside TV interviews from when his was a new star to more recent reflective interviews on his long career.  It was fascinating to hear how he felt being the first east London actor with a proper London accent who broke into the big league of movies – at the time posh actors were imitating London voices if the parts required!

There are plenty more shows to in London, just never enough time to see them all!

Bye for now.

Enjoying autumn in London – great exhibitions

Enjoying autumn in London is not just about the beautiful colours in the parks and views along the river Thames but also about the blockbuster exhibitions.  London is famous the world over for its museums and galleries and they host some amazing exhibitions, particularly in autumn.   I’ve been to a few good ones recently so here they are!

Firstly, just one photo of the great colours in Hyde Park:

Hyde Park colours

Ansel Adams is one of the most famous and influential photographers in the world and his new show at the National Maritime Museum takes his love of water as its theme, Ansel Adams: Photography from the Mountains to the Sea.  These wonderful black and white photos span his whole career starting with a first showing of his first photo, taken at the age of 14!  He was no longer going to school at that age so his parents sent him to the World Fair in San Francisco, where they lived, to see the world and its artists on display. It seems that was time well spent and his first photo, which features a water reflection, was the start of a journey which led to the extraordinary large scale prints of Yosemite that he is most recognised for.  He was a pioneer of both scale and the eye popping detail he achieved in his studio where he printed every shot himself. 

The massive prints are taller than me that’s for sure and come from a private collector in Texas who had real problems getting them up to the room for display and had to put them on top of the lift to manoeuvre them through to top floor. I’m sure they looked great there and the procedure had to be reversed to get them out for this exhibition.

We were shown around privately by the curator, Philip Prodger, and were allowed to take a few photos but sadly that’s not the case normally.

The man himself


One the right is his 1st photo


These are taller than a person!


Amazing quote


His famous Yosemite photo on the right

The National Maritime Museum is worth spending time in as it’s full of wonderful exhibits including the coat that Nelson wore at the Battle of Trafalgar and you can see the hole where the fatal bullet entered – luckily he’d already won the battle!  Outside the museum is my favourite piece from the 4th Plinth art project in Trafalgar Square – Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle. This witty piece is a 1:30 scale model of Nelson’s ship The Victory (good name!) with sails symbolic of African identity, linking Britain’s maritime and colonial past. 

Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle

 In complete contrast, I visited two fashion based exhibitions. The Hollywood Costumes at the Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the best presented shows I have seen in a long time. They use video and computer generated information boards to bring to life a huge number of iconic costumes from Darth Vader to the Adams Family, a Wookie to Dorothy’s shoes, from Indiana Jones’ outfit including the whip and how it works to Jonny Depp’s pirate outfit.There are great case studies of the process which takes a script through to a finished set of costumes in films such as Ocean’s Eleven.  No photography is allowed inside so you’ll just have to go and enjoy, or read the V&A’s own account.

 The other fashion themed exhibition is Chanel The Little Black Jacket at the Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea. They had the great idea of taking the famous Chanel black jacket and getting a range of celebrities and artists to wear it as they wished and it looks completely different on each person. The lighting was a little underpowered and we thought having a jacket for each visitor to try own and take their own photo would have just made the show. However there were some fun shots to see and it’s amazing how one garment look so different. You can pick up a free poster and of course buy Karl Lagerfeld’s new book featuring all 113 photos!

Sarah Jessica Parker


A wall of little black jackets!


Another take on the jacket…..

 It’s a busy time in London – when isn’t it!  So I hope to be posted a few shorter blogs very soon.
Bye for now

Loving the Victoria and Albert…

This week’s blog has a peek inside the V&A, the Victoria and Albert Museum, one of London’s great treasures. They have a few different sites but the one in South Kensington is the leading one. They tell us that it is ‘one of the world’s greatest museums of art and design with collections unrivalled in scope and diversity’ and who am I to disagree! You can explore 3,000 years of amazing artefacts across such a range of media from fashion textiles, carpets, glass, ceramics, metalwork, photography, paintings, jewellery and more…. They have special exhibitions but the permanent rooms are extraordinary especially the rooms of statues and the cast room where the casts include huge Roman columns – have a look at the 2 photos of these. One item I can’t photograph is the Ardabil carpet that is only lit for 10 minutes per hour because it is so delicate. This carpet dates from 1539/40 and is one of the oldest dated carpets and one of the finest in the world The outside of the building is impressive and an elaborate glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly hits you as soon as you enter as do the V&A monograms in the marble staircases. They even have a courtyard with a pond to splash in (best if you are under 10 years old tho’) and several cafes to rest the weary sightseeing bones in and refresh yourself. Enjoy the photos and book yourself a visit. It’s free and will delight any visitor – there really is something for everyone.

Don’t you think Sundays, when the weather is getting chilly and a bit wet, are just made for a great big roast lunch? This week we went to Rosa’s in Notting Hill where the roast beef with roast potatoes, parsnips and a yorkshire pudding was absolutely excellent. Followed up with apple crumble and clotted cream made this the perfect Sunday lunch – if a little too filling for me! It’s a little place with a lovely local feel – have a look for yourselves and give it a try!
We went to the Lonsdale bar, also in Notting Hill, for a quiz night which was great fun despite the fact that we did not manage to win – not sure how that happened! The quiz master was comedian and actor (Torchwood for those fans among you) Tom Price who was very funny and a great host. I’ll be definitely be back for more, the quizzes are every 3rd Wednesday of the month so pop that in your diary and check them out!


Bye for now,

Happy 2010 – here’s to the new decade

So, that was 2009 but before we let it go, have a look at my list of my 2009 favourites if you scroll down you can see what they were. It was a fun year but it went in a flash and I guess 2010 will speed by too so let’s see just how much we can cram in. You can see how I do by following my blog and hopefully the blog will give you an insight into life in London and what a good time you could be having if you were to visit us here.

As for the closing days of 2009, I spent these in Iceland which was even colder than London but not by much! We had a great time and saw some wonderful sights including the huge Gullfoss waterfall which was almost frozen over and so was I after staying on the viewing platform rather too long taking photos. We bathed in the Blue Lagoon which is a very large outdoor heated thermal pool and was a wonderful experience if a little weird as it was about -5 degrees outside making the dash back inside a major challenge. Although I did hire a robe to save my body freezing as I hurried back to warmth, they were not hiring out flip flops and my feet were so cold that I’m warning everyone to take some! But worth it….


We saw super heated water and steam shoot up into the sky at the original geysir (at Geysir of course!) which gave it’s name to all big spouts across the world. Then we stood in their rift valley where the American and European tectonic plates meet and are pulling apart with nature’s scary force – a treat to see for all geographers.


We ate lots of fish, tasted the lobster which was really langoustine, the hearty soups and had very few vegetables but fruit at breakfast helped balance this a little! Our hotel was trendy and warm but in a sign of their troubled times we only had 3 TV channels as the provider had gone bust. Icelanders seem resigned to the fact that they lived above their means and the crash must be lived through.


The days were short as the sun only rose at 10.50 giving the days an odd pattern but some wonderful light made up for this especially in the views across the harbour to the nearby mountains, a view which was amazing from their modern cathedral which looks like the space shuttle.


Here are a few photos to enjoy in the warmth of your own home…



So, now I’m back in London gearing up for 2010. But first a quick look back at 2009 with my list of some favourites:


Favourite event: Notting Hill carnival and 4th Plinth event in Leicester Square
Favourite restaurant: Wolseley in Picadilly
Favourite show: Matthew Bourne’s ballet of Dorian Gray at Sadlers Wells
Favourite bar: The Oak, Notting Hill
Favourite theatre: Inherit the Wind starring Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic
Favourite thing to do in London: take a Thames Clipper up the Thames on a clear day seeing Tower of London, Tate Modern, Globe Theatre, Houses Parliament, London Eye – can’ t beat that!

Favourite event: being on Centre Court Wimbledon for the first ever match under the roof

Favourite exhibition: Maharjas at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Favourite film; Slumdog Millionaire


Here’s to a wonderful 2010 for all of you!
Bye for now,

Exhibitions and exhibitionists

Last week was full of exhibitions. It was the World Travel Market in London’s massive ExCel exhibition centre out east in the Docklands. It was sadly only for travel trade people, sadly because there must have been a stand from every country in the world and for a lover of travelling it was heaven. However, I was a there a couple of days for work and restrained myself from spending too much time looking at the wonders of South America and Africa.

It was a misty couple of days and the photo from the terrace captures that feel in contrast to the mad, busy, bright interior of the event.

I’ve been to a couple of great public exhibitions this week. One was a photographic delight – Beatles to Bowie: The 60s Exposed. This traces the course of the 60s and its pop stars through brilliant photography and magazine and album covers. It’s great fun to see all these icons in their earlier seemingly innocent times when we know what is in store for them. Each caption mentioned a key song from that artist at that time so there was shameless singing along from many visitors, including us at one point I must admit!
The second was at the wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum who are hosting the Maharja: Splendour of India’s Royal Courts. It’s a tour through their world over a couple of centuries of colour and excess. We saw fabulous jewels and paintings and even their 20th century luxuries when their commissions kept Rolls Royce and Van Cleef & Arpels extremely busy. There’s a lot of information and it look nearly 2 hours to get around and a coffee afterwards in the extravagantly decorated V&A cafe was essential.
From a lost worlds of Indian princes and the 60s to a film about lost millions and the internet but all about living lives on the public stage. ‘We Live in Public’ won the documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival and traces the life of Josh Harries, a pioneer in the cyber world through his rise and crash including a section where he lives with his partner on camera 24/7 in a fore runner of films and TV to come. Josh himself was at the cinema for Q&A afterwards which was strange as the film portrays him as an interesting but very unsympathetic character, both of which were borne out in person. We squeezed in cocktails at the Criterion bar and a wonderful lunch in one of Soho’s authentic Italian restaurants – Il Porchetta – huge bowls of lovely pasta and very reasonably priced.
It feels like winter is nigh and the Christmas lights are coming on all over London – more on that next week and perhaps some photos.
Bye for now.
Sue Hillman