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,

5 December 2013

All at sea in London with Nelson and Turner!

There are many reasons to visit Greenwich - the Cutty Sark, the world's meridian, the painted hall, the Queen's House and the permanent collections at the National Maritime Museum are a few of them. Now there are 2 more great reasons as the National Maritime Museum has opened its Nelson Galleries as well as a wonderful exhibition about Turner, one of my favourite painters. I was luckily enough to be shown around by the Curators for both exhibitions which is a privilege so if you ever see one advertised, do book yourself onto it for the inside track you get, bringing the exhibition to life. 

Firstly Turner whose work is dominated by the sea but this is first time that an exhibition has explicitly featured this, so 'Turner and the Sea' is very welcome. We can see 100 paintings from his first exhibited work through to his latter masterpieces. Accompanying paintings show his influencers, particularly the Dutch sea painters the van de Velders.

The sea was also a dominating influence on Britain at that time with fears of invasion and the growth of the navy which makes a neat link with the Nelson galleries which I feature below. We see his work grow and develop as the exhibition takes a chronological approach. The display gives the viewer plenty of space and light to enjoy the sections and themes and to admire the brilliance of his work. 

His first exhibited piece from 1796 - Fishermen and the Sea

His most famous - the Fighting Temeraire 1839

His beautiful take on Venice 1834

The extraordinary Battle of Trafalgar 1823
Turner felt a great affinity with the working man and many of his paintings feature sailors, and dock workers. 

Keelmen Heaving Coal by Moonlight 1835
Turner never went anywhere without a sketch book and to me these are every bit as impressive as the finished works. One room has several cases showing these books as well as preparatory works.

A 'sketch book'

This final room has a breath taking collection of his final seascapes which caused considerable controversy at the time with a great deal of sniping from the critics. To our eyes they look as if they could be from the 20th century not the mid 19th, as he was painting beyond the rules and conventions of his time.

The impressive final room

Staffa, Fingal's Cave 1832
This is one of his last paintings before his death in 1851. The Turner bequest left his work to the National Gallery, subsequently to the Tate and over 20,000 pieces were donated and are kept for us to enjoy.
Snow Storm- Steam-boat off a Harbour's Mouth 1842

You'll need a good rest before heading to the Nelson Galleries and there are plenty of good places to eat in Greenwich, including an Eel and Pie shop if you are feeling brave enough for this east London speciality! Back in the National Maritime Museum, up on the top floor, is a new set of galleries dedicated to Horatio Nelson, one of Britain's greatest naval heroes who won the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the subject of the wonderful Turner painting photographed above. Sadly he died as the battle was won but the nation was extremely grateful and his legend lives on as we enjoy Trafalgar Square in his honour and visit his tomb in St Paul's Cathedral
The impressive and nautical entry to the museum
The galleries take you through Nelson's life but also gives the visitor an intriguing insight in the times Nelson lived in. The exhibition is called Nelson, Navy and Nation and all three elements are explored for us in fascinating detail. We learn about life on the battle ships and not just for the officers, and the lasting impact the victory had on the nation. The collection of 'tat' that was made to celebrate Trafalgar and Nelson's previous victory in Egypt is fun to see, from mugs to wallpaper his face was on everything and it feels rather contemporary in nature but our celebrity obsessions are nothing new. 

The high point for me is the return of Nelson's jacket from France where it's been on loan awaiting the new gallery.  We are so lucky to have the jacket he was shot and killed in and you can see the bullet hole is the left shoulder where the French sniper's bullet entered and lodged in his spine, leading to his death at the age of 47. He was a slight man and the jacket has an elegance and a poignancy as a unique historical garment. 

We also learn about British society in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and how the popularity of the navy waxed and waned and the sheer scale of the dockyards, especially at Portsmouth which were the biggest industrial complex the world had ever seen. At the more personal level, we see the love tokens exchanged before sailors went off on their perilous, long and unpredictable journeys and the letters sent home.  Contrary to popular myth of the King's shilling, most sailors were not press ganged, except during war, as the work was attractive with generally good conditions. These were skilled men so captains would not want random men pulled off the street to be manning their ships. However, with an official entry age of 11, some were not so much volunteers as volunteered!  For those further up the social scale, the navy was seen as a respectable profession for a gentleman. One other unexpected piece of information was the number of women on board these ships, some for the obvious reasons but others accompanying their husbands.

Nelson's strategic and tactical genius is highlighted and you can explore this through a very impressive interactive game with both French and English fleets so you can experience the battle plans and how they played out.  It had not been all success for him and I was fascinated to read a letter Nelson wrote following a previous defeat in battle where he says he will learn from his mistakes - and he did! 

The exhibition really makes you think about the importance of the Navy at that time to this island nation and the impact that Nelson had on his era. These new galleries will give the visitor a great deal of food for thought and are well worth a visit.

Lots more to report on in my next blog.
Bye for now,

25 November 2013

Finding Dr Who in London!

Saturday's 50th anniversary Dr Who show was brilliant, very confusing but brilliant! As a self confessed David Tennant fan it was great to see him back as the Doctor in a programme that gave us all the Doctors, including the one yet to come as we saw the eyes of Peter Capaldi. 

London has loads of Doctor Who references but 2 things you can go and are the Tardis in Earl's Court and the magnificent shop in West Ham. Here's what you'll find.....

As you come out of Earl's Court underground station you'll do a double take as there it  is, a Tardis, just sitting there. I looked around for quite a while but couldn't find the Doctor or any aliens but I'm sure they were around somewhere!

London is, of course, full of places that have appeared in Dr Who, not least Trafalgar Square where the Tardis was dropped into during the anniversary special with Matt Smith dangling off it. He really was hanging off it according to an interview I saw so no special effects there.  Big Ben was famously crashed into, the Thames Barrier was flooded when a giant spider alien was holed up inside and Buckingham Palace nearly destroyed by a flying Titanic!

If you want to get your hands on some memorabilia and your very own key to the Tardis, head out to West Ham where the Dr Who shop will satisfy your every need.  Your approach is via a long road,  the West Ham football ground, another long road, the monument to Bobby Moore and finally the shop appears disguised as an ordinary row of shops. But stepping inside you find a treasure trove of Dr Who stuff to buy and a secret museum. 

Arriving at the Dr Who shop

It's absolutely full of stuff to buy

I was visiting the shop back in August when we were waiting for the identity of the next Doctor to be announced so I had a good chat with the shop owner about it and he was right, it was to be Peter Capaldi - inside knowledge perhaps? 

For the very reasonable fee of £3 you are given your own key to the Tardis which is the entrance to the museum and getting that all important photo is free! 

Inside the Tardis is a museum which is much bigger than you would imagine from the outside! Inside it is jam packed full of genuine Dr Who monsters and outfits which have appeared in the shows themselves and often crop up at various fan events around the world and Comiccon.

Fortunately no human inside the cyberman

K-9 and a dalek plunger


Old style dalek with a different top

Matt Smith's jacket with sonic screwdriver in the pocket

Me and my scary new friend!

And finally, of course, I couldn't resist including a photo of my with my favourite, the 10th Doctor (and so much more), David Tennant! We were at Comic Relief at BBC Television centre last March.

It's time to move on from Doctor Who so keep an eye open for my next blog about the Turner and Nelson exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Bye for now