18 April 2014

It's a good year for Georges!

George is a popular royal name and we have a potential future King George, baby Prince George, making a big impact on the world. Britain has had 6 King Georges so far and one day he will most likely be number 7!  This year London is celebrating all things George as it's 450 years since George 1st ascended to the British throne in 1714 and started off the Georgian era.  Many of major museums in London are holding exhibitions which are marking this event and it's a great opportunity to learn more about how the first King George came to the throne and how he and his descendants lived. 

Firstly a quick word about how George from Hanover who was 50th in line managed to become King of Great Britain and Ireland!  The previous monarch, Queen Anne, didn't have any children to follow her (despite 17, yes 17 pregnancies!) and the nearest heirs to the British throne were all Catholic and had been banned from inheriting by the Act of Settlement. So the great and the good looked around and came up with George's mother, Sophia, who was a grand-daughter of James 1. She died before Queen Anne so didn't take the throne herself so it passed to George, the last British monarch to be born outside of Great Britain.

One exhibition worth a visit is at the Queen's Gallery where they are holding 'The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714-1760', focusing on George 1 and 11. The Queen owns a vast amount of art and treasures which form the Queen's Collection and over 300 objects from her palaces across the United Kingdom have been brought together to give us insights into life and tastes of the early Georgians. We were extremely fortunate to be invited to visit and to be shown round by the curator, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, whose enthusiasm and deep knowledge were a delight.

Grand approach to the Queen's Gallery
Imposing entrance to the exhibition

We can see the faces of the key players through the portraits in the first room of the exhibition:
George 1

George's mother Sophia who was the blood line for his inheritance

We can see how impressive Georgian rooms would have looked through the period layout used with large paintings on all the walls, tables and chests along the walls and highly decorated items around the room.  This room is packed with old masters as the Georgians were keen collectors and we can enjoy several works by Rubens.

A grand Georgian room
A wonderful Rubens with a statue in front of a horse and rider to mirror it

Rubens with our guide, the wonderful curator

The  collection of miniatures is beautiful

This was a time of great social change and Britain was developing into a world power through war and trade, with increasing prosperity at home. Britain at this time can be described as the world’s most liberal, commercial and modern society which was free, enlightened and diverse with considerable wealth on show.  Two paintings by Canaletto show London's development but the collection also has Hogarth's famous 'Marriage a la mode', a satire on contemporary life exposing its hypocrisy and poverty.

Canaletto's London looking west
Close up looking west towards Westminster
Canaletto's London looking east
Close up looking east
Hogarth's Marriage a la Mode

Success in war was important to these Georges and in a section dedicated to this you can see some fascinating items from Culloden, an infamous victory of George 11 against the James, the catholic heir to the throne. There are battle plans and orders to spies and lists of dead and wounded one both sides, telling part of the story of this dreadful day. 

Battle plan for Culloden

Hand drawn plans

Spies everywhere!

 A further room has more wonderful furniture and paintings. We see their love of excess through the extravagant dining table and extraordinary tableware.

Fine furniture and regal paintings
Impressive dining table and furniture
A glorious harpsichord

Very over the top salt cellar in the form of a crab and shell

More tableware!

As we left we bumped into huge crowds gathering for Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, no doubt enjoying this spectacle against the blue skies

Buckingham Palace
Busy morning at Buckingham Palace

There a a great deal more to see in this exhibition than I can bring you here, so do go along and find out more about our first King Georges. 

Bye for now,

7 April 2014

Flying into London.

As many of you will know I've been in Africa for 9 weeks working on a voluntary project in Ghana and then joining a tour of West Africa. It was an amazing adventure and I feel very happy that I played my part in building a primary school in a very hands-on way! Our tour took us on the roads less travelled in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, The Gambia and Senegal and there are many stories to tell about these dusty red roads but they are for another time...

I always love flying back into London as it's one of the great sightseeing landings you'll ever experience. It was a clear and sunny day and I was lucky enough to get some photos to share with you. I had made sure I had a seat on the plane with a best views - always ask to be seated on the right side of the plane When you are landing at Heathrow, the usual route is across south England and then a left over the 02 dome, following the river Thames all the way to your landing at the world's busiest airport. It really makes me feel like I am home again as I check off all the famous landmarks of London from the Orbit, Tower Bridge, and St Pauls, along to the London Eye, Houses of Parliament and the massive expanses of London's green royal parks. 

Join me for the last 10 minutes of my flight as we head into Heathrow.

Spot the 02 dome as we take the big left turn to follow the Thames as it curves around the Docklands. 

Below us is Greenwich Park where you can stand on the Meridian line

The tower blocks and waterways of Canary Wharf sitting on the strangely named 'Isle of Dogs' - theories abound as to where that came from!

Our first sight of the iconic Tower Bridge and the Tower of London to its left

The new buildings of the City are clear to see - the Shard (bottom left) and the Walkie-Talkie (the dark fronted, white rimmed building to the mid left of the photo)

Can you make out the dome of St Paul's Cathedral? Once the tallest building, it's now dwarfed but still an incredible building 

Another big curve of the Thames brings us to the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament

Here's a great view of Buckingham Palace, set in green parkland - I wonder if the Queen was at home?

London is one of the world's greenest cities and in the next 2 photos you can see the huge expanse of Hyde Park which runs into Kensington Gardens which were too big to fit into one photo, even from the air!


The Royal Albert Hall has an unmistakable round shape with its accompanying monument, also celebrating Prince Albert's life. His death left Queen Victoria devastated and she sought many ways to keep his memory alive.

We are about to land when a final great sight comes into view - the magnificence of Osterley Park and House.

We landed safely and I was home. London kindly greeted me with sunshine and warm weather and she was looking her very best. I was good to be home....

Bye for now.

10 January 2014

What is the Fourth Plinth in London?

If you go to Trafalgar Square in the centre of London you'll see the instantly recognisable Nelson's Column, the magnificent 4 lions, the fountains and the National Gallery. You may not notice that there are 4 giant plinths, 3 of which are topped by statues of the classic generals on horseback variety. 

However, there is one empty one in the north west corner. I say empty but for the last 7 years it has hosted a wonderful variety of innovative artworks. We've had a golden boy on a rocking horse, Nelson's ship in a bottle and a series which was open to the public to pitch for one hour on the plinth doing anything (legal) they liked and this ran every hour for 100 days! It was an amazing outpouring of public expression but I did feel sorry for the folk who were given a wet 2am slot. It was streamed live so at least they were seen virtually even if only close friends and family battled in to see them live....

Golden boy and rocking horse
Nelson's ship in a bottle looking towards Nelson's Column

The 4th plinth was supposed to be home to a statue of William 1V but funds ran out and it has remained empty tho' the subject of much debate. As South Africa House runs along the east side of the square and was the site of much anti apartheid campaigning, a statue of Nelson Mandela has long been a favourite choice for a long term resident. Or perhaps Queen Elizabeth 2nd? 

Our current resident is a giant, 4.72 metre high, blue cockerel (rooster) and that will be in place, dividing opinion, for 18 months in all. I love its vibrancy and boldness but have no idea why the artist chose a cockerel!

Planning is underway for the next 2 pieces which will be unveiled in 2015 and 2106 and the decision is due early 2014. I went to the exhibition of the choices so have a look and see what you think:

Number 1 Marcus Coates 'Unmade Monument'

Number 2 Hans Haacke 'Gift Horse'

Number 3 Liliane Lijn 'The Dance' (these move in shifting shapes)

Number 4 David Shrigley 'Really Good'

Number 5 Ugo Rondinone 'Moon Mask'

Number 6 Mark Leckey ' Larger Squat Afar'

My choices? First pick is The Dance and second is Really Good. Sadly it's not a public vote so let's see what happens when Boris Johnson announces the winners.

I'll be away for several weeks now but back in the spring to bring you more insights into life in London.

Happy new year!


16 December 2013

Christmas lights in London - part 2!

As we hurtle towards Christmas, I wanted to bring you some more pictures of the street lights and shop displays that are giving London a really festive look. 

Every year since the Second World War Norway has sent London a huge Christmas tree to thank us for our support in the fight against Nazism. The annual lighting ceremony is a popular event in the build up to Christmas and is always a beautiful sight, especially when seen across the fountain and water. 
Trafalgar Square, London
A moment of reflection
The photo was taken through a bus window so apologies for the blurriness but it shows you the annual fun event which is Santa Con where hundreds, or more probably thousands, of people dress up as Santa and roam around London all day. They usually gather in Trafalgar Square but this year this famous venue was hosting a Nelson Mandela memorial so it looks like they were making Marble Arch their home this year!

Santa Con at Marble Arch
Santas are also to be found in most of the big stores and this unusual version made of Lego was in John Lewis with some less festive companions from Star Wars!
Watch out behind you!
There are loads of skating rinks across London, many of them in famous historic sights and this one is a favourite, with the ghostly shape of the Tower of London in the background. 

Skating in history
 Or you could head over the Natural History Museum and try out their rink:

Watch out for the dinosaurs!

 Carnaby Street always gives us an inventive take on Christmas lights and this year's lovely robins are delightful

 Piccadilly Circus has turned the statue of Eros into a giant snowglobe to the amusement of all who pass by.

I was really pleased to see the giant reindeer had returned to Covent Garden as he is so cheery with his blinking red nose! 

A giant Rudolph
 Covent Garden has a festive look all through with the alleyways looking great and serving hot chestnuts to give a wonderful Christmassy smell.
Deck the halls with boughs of holly...
 Just one more to show you as I liked this shop window, bringing together several symbols of London with a festive feel.

Bye for now,