Seth Lakeman at The Union Chapel


Mr Donkin, my enthusiastic history teacher, tried his hardest to make the historical relevance of folk music of interest to a bunch of 13-year-olds. He failed miserably. He should have waited a few decades to introduce us all to Seth Lakeman.

I saw him last night at the Union Chapel in Islington. (That’s Seth Lakeman, not Mr Donkin.) What an amazing venue and what a stonking gig!

I’ll admit I wasn’t sure about the venue.

It’s fine, said Mr Jenkins, it’s an old church and you sit in pews.

Still wasn’t convinced – but hey, worth a go.

We got there early enough to see the support band. I wasn’t sure who they were. In truth, I’d just let Mr Jenkins arrange the whole thing, with my input being a brief ‘Yup’ to the question, ‘Do you fancy seeing Seth Lakeman?’

The Union Chapel is an incredibly atmospheric place. The lovely stained-glass windows are still in place to complement the stage lighting, with a Christmas tree and some illuminated reindeer thrown in for seasonal good measure.

There’s a bar and I fancied a drink, but it was on the opposite side of the venue from where we’d chosen to sit. Handy for the loos, but not the bar. I considered struggling through the pews to get a pint, but I noticed that most of the audience with drinks where holding on to bottled water or a mug of something. I wondered if it had been a Methodist chapel and in fact the bar only sold tea, or was there some by-law about having to serve lager in a mug to appease the relevant gods. Or perhaps they just didn’t allow alcohol into the auditorium, cos I sure as hell saw no-one drinking alcohol near me. But the guy in front did have a hot chocolate with marshmallows. And the guy two rows in front was cuddling his mug of tea with one hand and cupping a Tunnock’s foil-wrapped Tea Cake with the other.

Before I could consider the plot of Alan Garner’s Elidor (about slipping from one dimension to another inside a decommissioned church), the lights faded and the support band started up. I haven’t had such a delightful surprise in ages. Beautiful voices and acoustic folk music reminded me of Simon & Garfunkel, but they were women, and there were three of them, so there was another, deeper level to their impeccable harmonies. But there was also something Bluegrass there, mixed with a bit of Celtic – like Pictish Trail meets the Soggy Bottom Boys. Before the end of the first song, I was checking my phone to find out who they were.

Wildwood Kin – that’s who. Check them out, they are something else.

They finished their set and we all clapped enthusiastically. There was some whooping too, but we all stayed in our pews. I think the combined memories of the audience (averaging the age of 50, I reckon, but ranging from mid-20s to nearly-90s) forced us to remain seated and respectful in our pews (or was that just me?). I know I used to fear the uppy-downy dance on a Sunday morning, especially when I joined my friend at her Catholic church. It was a dance I didn’t know the steps to and often missed the beat, standing when I should be sitting, kneeling when I should be standing. It was safer to keep with the crowd, and so I did at the Union Chapel and remain seated.

Even when Seth Lakeman arrived and invited us to get up and dance in the aisles, we pretty much remained seated – except for one lone women at the far side near the bar. I admired her from afar for her confidence, but remained in my pew. The audience in the gallery were more enthusiastic though.

It wasn’t actually until the encore when Seth told us to get up, that we all, every last one of us (except for the 70-odd year old bloke just down our row and a woman with a crutch), rose up and gave the music the attention it deserved.

It seems I’m a little more taken with the antics of the audience, than with the gig itself. Not true – not true at all! It was amazing! During the short and perfectly formed solos I didn’t have time to let my mind wander to interesting diversions like ‘Is Seth short for something?’, ‘Why is the audience still sitting down?’ and ‘Does playing the violin like that hurt your neck?’.

The band were dynamic. Seth was funny and engaging between songs. The music was, like, amazing. There were a few songs I didn’t know, but we were asked to join in anyway. I probably would have obliged with the singing if I’d been standing in normal gig circumstances, but I was sitting in a pew and the guy in front would have had my tuneless drone spoiling the gig, and I found myself mouthing the word I did know in homage to my time spent in church as a girl.

What I hadn’t realised was that the support band were even more supportive in the main event. New songs from a collaboration between Seth Lakeman and Wildwood Kin were aired and when the rest of the band returned to the stage, the women hung around in the background to provide backing vocals and some Celtic reels.

The music roller-coastered from beautiful ballads to breakneck-speed fiddling – it was dynamic and forced you, even seated, to pew dance and the floor bounced and vibrated with tapping feet and clapping hands and pew drumming. It is always such a pleasure to experience accomplished musicians playing a great set.

It was an awesome night of music, full of atmosphere, new musical finds and a slightly numb bum thrown in for good measure!


The new album Ballads of the Broken Few is available on CD & vinyl.

Goth City

Goth Central

You wonder, as you walk in to the curiosity cabinet that is the Whitby Museum, why you have never visited it before! At first glance it appears to be an old fashioned museum stuck in a Victorian time warp. And that’s correct – it has all of the dry display cabinets of the old Geological Museum in London’s South Ken, coupled with the eclectic collection of Forest Hill’s beautiful Horniman Museum. And it’s true, some of the exhibits have been in the Whitby Museum for so long that their typed up description label is fading on yellowing paper, so much so that in some cases I had to photograph the label and enlarge it on my phone to be able to read it! It’s actually quite a charming little foible of the museum.

But did I just mention the electric nature of the Horniman Museum? Well, bless me, it has competition with the Whitby Museum – if you’d like to consider museums which have the most wide ranging and frankly quite bizarre collections I’ve come across. The Hancock Museum of my childhood (circa 1970) had a similar atmosphere, but the amazing thing about Whitby is that the collection is housed mostly in one room. It’s not large by museum standards, but it is absolutely packed to the brim with artefacts and oddities.

imageThe gory Hand of Glory

A handy returnable laminated guide sheet is handed to you when you hand over your £5 entrance fee, but it doesn’t give you the full gist of what’s in store. Wandering around I found many displays pandering to my wide range of interests, from the huge collection of ammonites (a favourite obsession of mine), to the collection of cameras collected over the last century (tying in with my love of photography), to the handicrafts section (my other job alongside picture research), to the cabinets packed with china and glass (both lifelong passions) and the amazing miniature models (harking back to my early days studying precision modelling). There’s also a standing stone with cup markings, for goodness sake (… thinks back to the many holidays spent dragging my kids round fields looking for wild versions… ).

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And if you’re looking for weird juxtapositioning, opposite  the stone you’ll find a grandfather clock alongside a ceiling height totem pole!

imageThen there were the work related exhibits – the orrery in the explorers exhibition tying in nicely with my four years of working on the orrery and tellurion model making magazines, the amazing fossils, including the huge ichthyosaurus embedded into the wall of the museum, harking back to the geological and fossil publication I worked on a few years back.

It may have been synergy that guided me to Whitby and the museum during the October half term holiday and leading up to Halloween – and neither disappointed on the gothic front. Whilst a fine selection of goths roamed the streets of Whitby looking for the Bram Stoker experience, the ghoulish highlights amongst the museums collection left a more subtle skin-crawling impression.

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Top of the list were the incredibly haunting faces of the dolls in the toy section, the boat of bones – a model of a gun ship made by French PoWs during the Napoleonic wars from the bones left over from their meat rations, and best of all, the creepy Hand of Glory – a desiccated human hand found in a local criminal’s home kept as good luck trophy (and in fairness, the guy was never caught!).


I felt that perhaps I was on a nostalgic journey, enjoying hunching over the wood and glass cabinets the way I used to with the semi precious gems in the Geological Museum in days or yore. I felt that I was enjoying the museum so much because it transported me back to my childhood. I felt that no child in its right mind would enjoy such a dry display in these days of instant entertainment. And as I look around over the top of the cabinets, I was one of 5 adults all around my age, who seemed to be the only visitors to the museum – hmmm, what would a child make of this museum, I thought.


After a brief trip upstairs for a speedy journey through the history of the wedding dress, I arrived back in the main room to find it full of families – one girl dragging her mum to see the stuffed birds in their display case, and a family pouring over the amazing dolls house back in the children’s toys section, and one boy gobsmacked by the tale his dad told him of Victorian headmasters beating naughty children with the cane displayed in the education display case. An older girl gazed at the carved Whitby jet trying her best to photograph it through the reflective case.

Perhaps I was wrong then, perhaps kids today appreciate the object on display more if it’s not surrounded by all singing, all dancing interactive gadgets.

I wondered again, as I left the museum, why I hadn’t visited it before now. I’d had, after all, a mere 50 years of visiting Whitby on a regular basis! If you find yourself in Whitby – on a seaside holiday or as part of a gothic retreat – I would highly recommend the museum. You can find it in Pannett Park, open daily and costs a fiver for adults (concessions £4 for seniors and £3.50 for students). Children under 17 go free.

National Glass Centre


I’ve been a regular visitor to the National Glass Centre for many years now. It celebrates the glass-making heritage of Sunderland in a unique building, with its unassuming, industrial entrance in direct contrast to its show-off riverside façade.  I love the entrance which dips away from what is ostensibly the roof of the Centre, drawing you down into a progressively enclosed channel of claustrophobia before propelling you through the doors and back into the light.

In the early days I became a ‘friend’ and spent many happy hours there with my children in the great interactive gallery with its imaginative explanations of the history, the properties and the possibilities of glass.

img_2381Verdant Seascape Sculpture, Fritz Dreisbach

My recent visit was interesting. It’s been a good few years since I was last there, so I dragged my sister along for a trip out. She was quite surprised that I wanted to have a look around – thought I’d be more interested in heading straight to the cafe for a coffee. But I managed to stop her in her tracks and drag her around the recently renovated top deck of the centre, completed a couple of years ago after a £2.3 million overhaul.

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Now, I might eat my words here, but I do believe that the National Glass Centre appeals to all ages. In the early days when it first opened, one side of the top floor was dedicated to an informative, hands-on, children-friendly exhibition. After a few years it started to look a little tired; worn out by little hands and big, hell bent on lifting flaps and turning cranks. It’s been replaced by a more subtle display of the history of glass making on the Wear – imaginatively done, with archive images and phone points to listen to the voices of workers from the Jobling, Pyrex and Corning factories of days past. There are peep-hole displays with a fine selection of locally made glass oddities, glass displays with front and back transparency to tempt you into the next section, and a fine rotunda-style film show. Sadly, the lighting in the rotunda was too intense and introductory film show, which offered much in the way of eye-candy with beautifully photographed glassmaking processes, was too weak to compete. I’d like to think they’ll have it sorted by the next time I visit.

Meanwhile there’s a dedicated kids’ area in the Learning Studio, adventure backpacks and family workshops. And of course, there is always that perennial enjoyment for kids – running across the 6cm thick glass roof while terrified parents look on – hoping to their own personal god that the glass is strong enough to hold their weight. Best ever fun my children had was lying on the glass roof making faces at the tea-drinking customers in the cafe eight metres or so below!

img_2377The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, Andrew Miller

The temporary exhibition when we visited really appealed to my sense of recycling – Andrew Miller’s ‘The Good, the Bad & the Ugly’. I love his philosophy behind the exhibition, a collection of discarded objects, apparently worthless, but considered for their history, their previous design credentials, their past emotional attachments and their ultimate rise in status as a work of art. I’m sure that there will be the odd observer who will look at Miller’s work and exclaim, ‘It’s just a load of old rubbish!’ – and yes, they’d be right, but the ‘rubbish’, like the work of Joseph Cornell to Ai Weiwei, has been thoughtfully combined to create a compelling piece of art.

Finally done upstairs and having paid our suggested, but not compulsory, donation of £5 each, my sister finally got me to the lower level and the much sought-after cup of coffee. The Glass Yard cafe here has won awards, and it’s a fine place to sit and watch the Wear wander past the huge panoramic windows on its last leg to the North Sea. It’s also next to the amazing gift shop, which has introduced me to a few glass artists in the past, including Peter Layton at London Glassblowing (where incidentally, I’ll be trying my hand at glassblowing in the new year. Exciting stuff!). As often happens, I managed to spend a wee amount on a piece made at the NGC, and you can actually wander down the corridor at the far corner of the shop and sit yourself down for spell of glassblowing voyeurism.

It’s great to see such artists at work moulding the glass to their own fancy, seemingly unfazed by the tremendous heat of the furnace (for lovers of eco-friendly facts, you’ll be happy to know that the heat from the furnaces is also used to heat the building). The NGC has had links with the University of Sunderland for some years now – it’s only fitting that a city so emphatically linked with glass-making is now teaching the next generation of artists.

The National Glass Centre sits on the north bank of the River Wear in Sunderland – entrance is free with a collection box for the generous.

Newton vs Thatcher


I recently found myself in Grantham with a few hours to kill, so true to form I sought out the nearest museum…

Sadly, Grantham Museum has been hit by funding cuts and this is reflected in the quality of some of the displays. Not all, though. There are some imaginative arrangements going on here, but the display boards invariable sport a spattering of typos and, more heinous from my point of view, bad quality, pixelated images!

It’s a small affair, slightly minimalist in layout, but covering the main points of interest from these here parts – Barnes Wallis and the Dambusters, transport links, D-Day landings and Thatcher, the Milk-Snatcher. But most interesting as far as I’m concerned is the small exhibit dedicated to Isaac Newton.

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I hadn’t realised Newton hailed from Grantham – perhaps he’s been overshadowed by a more invidious inhabitant – but soon got an inkling with the Newton Shopping Centre and sign posts pointing to the Isaac Newton School. Newton moved into the home of William Clarke in Grantham at the age of 12 so that he could attend the town’s grammar school. There is a replica of his foster father’s apothecary shop included in the exhibition, along with a cast of his sundial, an interactive display of the town during Newton’s lifetime and his death mask, which was used to sculpt the marble likeness for his tomb in Westminster Abbey.


Thatcher’s display has a late 1970’s sitting room with a telly, running a continuous loop of her victory over Jim Callaghan and the Labour Party. Alongside is a timeline of her ‘successes’ and a display case holding her shoes and handbag. I wondered if in years to come someone would think to display Obama’s toilet bag or Blair’s shower cap in a museum. But then, perhaps someone is actually interested in such trivia.

The museum was threatened with closure by local council cuts and is now run mainly by volunteers. After an interesting hour mooching round the museum I headed to the small cafe at the front of the building, tempted by the coffee machine I’d spotted on my way in. Sadly though, it appeared to have been hit by the cuts too and the elderly volunteer waved a jar of instant at me asking if this would be OK. Nope, I don’t think so. I opted for a tea instead, which duly arrived in a cardboard cup. I would have passed on that too had I realised…

While we we were waiting for the kettle to boil (a veritable lifetime!) the volunteer made small talk and suggested a pilgrimage to the home of Margaret Thatcher after my visit to the museum. A pilgrimage! I would much rather slit my own throat, and I told him I was much more interested in the architecture of the town and its links to Isaac Newton, (The rest of the sentence ‘…than some foul politician who spent most of her time in office dismantling the lives of those least able to defend themselves.’ remained unspoken.) In spite of my obvious antipathy to Grantham’s greatest leader, the staff were very helpful and informative about the museum and the town, which is situated on the route of the Great North Road. The hotel in which I’d just spent the previous night was apparently, a main stopover and had links to English royalty from days of yore, including Richard III and King John. So off I went to have a closer look and continue my tour of Grantham…


Grantham Museum is situated right beside the tourist and arts centre and admission is free. Check out their facebook page too.

Normandy & the Conquerors


We’ve just spent a week of warfare in Normandy. It wasn’t our intention to have a holiday there slap bang in the middle of the D-Day commemorations, nor did we intend to rock up at Gold Beach on the actual anniversary.

But we did, and it was a strange thing.

Arriving in the midst of a sea fret we gazed out at the strange shadows emerging from the bay. Bit by bit, the mists cleared and within minutes we were bathed in steamy sunshine. The atmosphere, too, seemed to sway between melancholy and celebration, with equal numbers of visitors meditating on the events of 72 years ago and those dressed in 1940s kit out for a bit of a party.

From the cliff top above the small town of Arromanches-les-Bains, a sobering glance out to sea reveals the remains of the landing port build by the Allies. Not much remains of Mulberry harbour, but enough to get a general idea of the scale of the thing, built prefab-style in sections towed from Britain and built in the days after the initial landings.

Luckily, Arromanches itself was spared much of the bombing that devastated other communities in Normandy and as we looked down from the cliff towards the seaside town you could make out the strains of Scottish bagpipes and French choirs, performing on the now-peaceful promenade in remembrance of the fallen of D-Day and the subsequent liberation of France.

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The cliff-top bears witness to the remains of the battle with rusting gun emplacements and floating bridges. The latter form an unlikely backdrop to the memorial honouring the sappers of the Royal Engineers, where we stopped a-while. Just down from the memorial, past the statue of the Virgin Mary and a row of multi-national flags is the Arromanches 360° Cinema.

The Cinema bombards you with images and sounds of D-Day, while down in the town itself is the Musée du Débarquement gives more detail about the Mulberry harbours and the turn of events following D-Day if you want to immerse yourself in the action or learn more about the context.

Tootling along the coast to Gold Beach we started at Ouistreham and Sword Beach, landed by the British Paratroopers, past Juno Beach, taken by the Canadians, and if we’d continued up the coast, we would have hit Omaha Beach, where US troops landed. It seemed that most nationalities chose to invade again (on a much more peaceful scale) in a show of unity, and throughout Normandy while we were there British, Canadian, American, German and (of course) French flags flew together as the region celebrated an all-encompassing accord of peace.

Driving south west of Arromanches, past the fields full of cars and camper vans and pedestrians spilling on to the roads, we headed to Bayeux. Leaving behind the memories of twentieth century warfare, we went in search of a less sophisticated, yet no less barbaric, battle.

Growing up in the UK, you can’t avoid the date 1066 – it’s our history! But it’s also the history of Normandy and one if it’s most famous sons, William the Bastard, soon to be William the Conqueror, and the amazing tapestry telling the tale of his accession to the English throne.


Now, if I’m honest, I didn’t think much of the Bayeux Tapestry when I was a kid. I thought the figures were a bit basic and the story-telling a bit confused. But, hell – what did I know. Seeing it now, being able to appreciate the historical context and the skill of the embroiderers, I was quite taken with it. I have over the years as a professional picture researcher had to research the tapestry for various publications, and of course, it’s ideal for depicting a king (three of them are featured) from the days before photography. But seeing it in real life with the imaginative and humorous commentary was really worthwhile.  The museum housing the tapestry also includes a gallery showing the techniques and materials used to make the tapestry, the history background, genealogical charts and a cinema presentation – all described in both French and English (though actually, some of the translations could have been checked out!) But fair play to them, how many museums in the UK have extended French translations, with or without the odd grammatical error?

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What you don’t see in school when you’re learning about the Battle of Hastings, are the delightful caricatures in the friezes above and below the main event of the tapestry. Yes, we’ve all seen William, and Harold with the arrow in his eye, and Halley’s comet – but who’s managed to spot the naked man with the unfeasibly large penis, the dragons and griffins, the soldiers nicking battle trophies and the little Gilliam-esque details?

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Tapisserie de Bayeux - Scène 57 : La mort d'Harold

Hasting and D-Day were separated by nearly nine centuries of turbulent warfare throughout Europe. I wonder if in the 28th century the D-Day beaches will still be tempting tourists. I’m sure if they are, the visitors will be greeted with the same friendly attitude which welcomed us. Normandy, on the eve of the UK referendum, was flying the flags of almost every nation under the sun; outside Bayeux Cathedral where a whole row of union flags flew to honour the British who fought for France’s liberation, at tourist sites where flags of every nation seemed to be represented, and in small towns where the flags of the EU nations flapped alongside the EU flag. Everywhere there seemed to be flag-inspired symbolism of tribal unity and it would be a shame to turn our backs on a united Europe which has held its peace now for over 70 years.

Bayeux Tapestry images courtesy of Wikipedia

Pebble Homage & Antony Gormley’s Land

Pebble Homage
© Sue Jenkins 2016

Pebble Homage has been going on in Aldeburgh for the last 12 months. It’s a great idea – enjoy the pebbly beach, pick up a stone and imbue it with your thoughts. Some people have simply added their name, others have embellished with the art of illustration rather than words, and then there are other much more intellectual offerings.


The participative art installation at the Aldeburgh Beach Lookout has been running alongside the Antony Gormley installation on top of the Martello Tower further along the beach. The suggestion is to add a thought to your pebble inspired by the walk to the tower. Sadly, I’m not sure all participants had read the blurb!

Our walk to the Martello Tower was interrupted by sea wall works and we were diverted through the yacht club to get to our destination. Not actually sure if we were trespassing, but it was worth it to get a closer view of Gormley’s sculpture – one of a series of five figurative pieces called Land commissioned by The Landmark Trust. From the base of the tower, the human form seems to be constructed from numerous weathered metal cubes of varying sizes, looking rather like Iron Man contemplating the magnificent and powerful view of the churning North Sea. Gormley would like us to reflect alongside his five sculptures; find a moment for meditation and our place in this environment.

Land, Antony Gormley
© Sue Jenkins 2016

The Pebble Homage too, would like us to look at our relationship with the beach, the waves and the endless sky and bring something noteworthy to our pebble poetry. The pebbles will be returned to the beach waiting for some unsuspecting recipient to benefit from its message. Reading one or two of the stones, I suspect a lot of thought had gone into the process of choosing a clever phrase, not necessarily connected to the experience of stumbling across the beach, but to prove the writer as a serious philosophical being. Few people, though, had managed to get beyond the need to sign and date their pebble. And then there was the one that just said ‘Bum’.

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So, I suppose in general, there’s a lot of self interest that emerges from such contemplation – no surprise there – and it has shown itself in the simplest sense with a name on a stone. But there’s a lot of humour too and its strangely satisfying to find one of the decorated pebbles beyond the immediate environs of the Lookout and adjacent table, having already started on its journey to spread its stoney message.

© Sue Jenkins 2016


Monet, Monet, Monet
it’s a Gardener’s World!

Royal Academy

I knew there was a reason I’d been avoiding the Monet to Matisse (Painting the Modern Garden) exhibition at the RA.

The world assumes that everyone loves Monet and the impressionists, and it’s probably right in most cases, but I’ve never been a great fan. Coupled with the frustration of seeing some of those beautiful flowers depicted with just a few touches of colour – never quite understood why I couldn’t achieve the same effect! Tripled by the realisation that most of the people there are going to be elderly garden-types… if you know what I mean…

But then a friend mentioned her interest in the exhibition and I dug out my ‘Friends’ card and off we trotted – typically for me, just as the exhibition was nearing its final days.

The exhibition is huge and, as expected, full of ladies of a certain age. I found it quite exhausting, both the overwhelming culture daze and the elderly visitors. I have a problem with people on their phones or listening to music in public places when they disappear into their own little world, oblivious to the people around them. The same is true of the aural guides dished out to exhibition visitors. Many times I was elbowed, barged and stepped on, having become invisible to the earphone-wearing elderly – and sometimes to those not even wearing headsets.

On occasion, the layout of the galleries made it difficult to view the paintings at their best (that is, from a distance for the Impressionist paintings) and I think I would have been happier to see a reduced number of paintings. For me, there were two outstanding Joaquín Sorollas on display and I could have done without the others, though I’d be happy to spend my day gazing at the vibrant beauty of all three Emil Nolde paintings chosen for the exhibition. The Making a Garden installation with its cold frames and miniature greenhouse falls short of showing the essential inspiration for the exhibition – the humble flowering plant, and serves only as a clever idea to house the archival material in Robert Carsen’s exhibition design. I thought I would enjoy his approach to displaying the paintings, but I’m not sure I quite got it.

The gallery exhibiting the ‘Gardens of Silence’ suggested that the gardens depicted were ‘devoid of human presence’, which I think is tenuous at best. Yes, I agree, there is not a living figure in the paintings, yet they are imbued with human presence. With the exception of one or two more natural gardens, the rest are full of man-made manicured lawns and trees, tables set for tea, lights burning in distant windows, decorative statues and urns and idealised landscaping.

There are some absolute treats though – the amazing (and huge) Agapanthus Triptych at the end of the exhibition – reunited in Europe for the first time in 65 years. The wall of Monet’s Water Lilies is interesting – of the five, my friend and I chose totally different favourites and second-bests, proving that it really is each to their own where art is concerned. We both agreed though, that in the Avant-Gardens gallery, Kandinsky’s amazing abstract Murnau The Garden II was the most appealing painting – and, for me, of the whole exhibition.

You can catch Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Mattisse at the Royal Academy until 20 April 2016.

Shame on you, Greenwich Council, Ikea & English Heritage!


Sainsbury’s forward-thinking eco-store was built in Greenwich in 2000 and has won many accolades – RIBA Journal Sustainability Award Winner, RIBA Regional Award Winner, Design Museum’s Design Sense Award, and shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.  When it opened, it scored the highest achievable environmental rating for a retail building and was the first store to be awarded an ‘excellent’ BREEAM rating too. In 2014 it was selected as one of the ‘100 Buildings for 100 Years’ by The Twentieth Century Society.

Sadly, less than two years later, the building is being demolished.

Sainsbury’s outgrew the building and, learning from its pioneering store, went on to build an ecologically-sound, energy-saving building up the road. The store and the site were sold to Ikea, who intend to replace it with a much larger building. In spite of widespread local opposition, Ikea were given permission to build a store in an already seriously congested area of south east London. Greenwich’s Labour-majority council approved the deal, regardless of objections by local councillors, both Labour and Conservative, and the public.

It would seem that in a world where we are continually trying to think of our children’s future by reducing greenhouse gases and traffic pollution, Greenwich Council would think twice about permitting the destruction of such an eco-friendly building and opening their arms to Ikea and its associated traffic nightmare. Greenwich is after all a thriving urban community, not an out-of-town retail park.

While The Twentieth Century Society were dishing out their award, Greenwich Council was plotting the building’s demise. An attempt to have the building listed was rejected by the Secretary of State for Culture, Sajid Javid, and English Heritage, who questioned its architectural importance. Sadly, its designer Paul Hinkin, latterly of Chetwoods Architects, died soon after the decision in the full knowledge that his pioneering retail building would be demolished.

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From the moment Sainsbury’s Greenwich opened its doors, local shoppers were joined by architectural students, parties of Japanese tourists and alternative technology aficionados in admiring the finer points of the building. Now all we have to admire is a growing pile of rubble at the rear of the store, slowing making its way to the façade which will be demolished this weekend.

What a great message to send out to the world about our environmental credentials.

Shame on you all!

Plague, Fire, Revolution – Samuel Pepys at the National Maritime Museum


You know what it’s like when there’s something right on your doorstep and you don’t think to have a proper look at it because you can see it anytime… and then, too late – it’s gone? Well, I was in danger of missing out on the Pepys exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich for exactly that reason. Right on my doorstep and months of good intentions to visit culminated in a last minute dash on the penultimate day of the exhibition.

And was I please I did!? It was up to the usual high standards of the Maritime Museum – imaginatively laid out and engaging, covering all the usual amazing highlights of that one decade in the 1600s.

Beheading God’s chosen ruler, a brief flirtation with republicanism, a deathly epidemic and a big fire. Everything covered with great images, portraits and exhibits. The Restoration theatre kept me entertained for ages, moving only to ease my achy bum from the hard benches. The animation depicting the Great Fire of London with voice-over reading from Pepys’ diary was very well done; exciting and poignant, and again moving only to reduce the pain caused by the hunting stool-style seats which were too narrow for my chunky hindquarters.

With each area covered by the exhibition is an interactive screen with images from the diary. Touch the screen and a translation of Pepys’ shorthand allows you to read his entry, with highlighted sections annotated for further clarification. In the plague section I was very excited to read about his witnessing a plague victim left out for collection in a lane by Coome Farm. Excited, because thats my home! Not the farm itself, but my home is a Victorian terrace build on land once belonging to the aforementioned ‘Coome Farm’.

It had fashion, art, science, architecture and a real taste of the period. So much so that I feel I need to read his diary in full. (Something I’m a ashamed to say I’ve never done.) There were ‘Eureka!’ moments when I thought, yes, that explains it all, moments of clarification in the complicated line of Royal succession and, finally, the great realisation that, in my opinion, Sir Christopher Wren was a dead ringer for Christopher Walken.

Apart from the slightly uncomfortable nether quarters, I don’t think I’m able to find fault with the exhibition, and had I seen it sooner, I would have definitely been back for a second viewing.

If you are in Greenwich on bank holiday Monday, go and see it – 28 March is your last chance. Worth the trip – I promise you!

Old Bones

I’ve just met the oldest man in Yorkshire! Well, I think he is. He’s definitely the best fossilised bloke to emerge from beneath God’s own soil, and he’s definitely the most notable tree burial in the county.

Meet Gristhorpe Man. He was discovered by William Beswick, a local landowner, who donated his find to the Scarborough Philosophical Society and the Rotunda Museum. The museum curator’s 17-year-old son, William Crawford Williamson, compiled the excavation report and some of the comments and observations made by the young geologist in 1834 proved spot on. In 2005 further investigations at Bradford University shed more light on the incredibly well-preserved remains (thanks to the Philosophical Society boiling them in horse glue!) and now Gristhorpe Man is back in his home town (or at least a short walk from it) residing in Scarborough’s Rotunda Museum, just a few miles from his burial mound.

The Rotunda Museum is a delight in its own right; a lovely sandstone column overlooking the sands of Scarborough’s South Bay. It’s small, but perfectly formed. The bottom floor allows access, toilets and a mini shop. Stairs or lift to the next floor opens up to two wings of prehistoric galleries. One concentrating on dinosaurs and the other exhibiting two of the museums finest archaeological finds – the 4.5-meter-long Speeton Plesiosaur from the Filey coast and Gristhorpe Man himself.

The thing you need to know is that these are the actual remains of Mr Gristhorpe. No casts or replicas here! We have a lovely little nook with the intact skeletal remains on one side, the lid of his hollowed out oak coffin opposite, and at the end you can view a small selection of grave finds. Interestingly, here you can find Williamson’s original notes side-by-side with the later findings of the researchers at Bradford University.

I know the Rotunda is a small museum, but I was surprised that there weren’t more people making the most of it – especially in the foul weather assaulting Scarborough that day! One woman had dragged her family in from the rain and proceeded to instil some enthusiasm into her teenage son, but he was more interested in checking out his reflection in the grave finds display case and altering his fringe accordingly.

They soon left the gallery and I was free to examine more of the story of Mr G on my own, including the digital reconstruction of his 4000-year-old face, animated and telling us something of his life and time. Turns out he was probably about 60 and 6 feet tall when he died, and a seriously important guy while he was alive. Sadly, DNA tests were inconclusive due to the horse glue casserole of 1834.

On the top floor of the Rotunda, in contrast to the modern interactive galleries downstairs, you find yourself in a delightful circular (obviously) gallery full of curiosities collected by and donated to the museum over the previous two centuries. Fossils and archaeological finds from Egypt and Peru lie side by side with an early 18th century cello and vintage photos of Scarborough. The display cases themselves need to be admired too. Dating from 1850, it’s a lovely circular curiosity cabinet, displaying the fossils according to their associated strata. But to be honest, the educational aspect was lost on me, I was too busy working out how to fit one in my own home, including the lovely old original spiral staircase to the upper gallery (sadly not accessible to the general public). The whole gallery is designed to be flooded with light from the skylights in the raised dome, and doing a pretty good job considering the grey conditions beyond. It’s such an amazing space; I didn’t want to leave.  But leave I did – off into the rain to visit the nearby Art Gallery….

… which is included in the price of the Rotunda entry fee of £3. Yes, £3! And it lasts for a year!