Christmas favourites

This is by no means a beauty blog and it’s not going to turn into one, but I found this list of questions on another blog and thought it would be fun to fill it in.

1. Favourite winter nail polish?

Despite buying several nail polishes this year, including the Ciate advent calendar, I struggle to find the time to apply them. I’m hoping to make time tomorrow, however, to apply my Barry M red glitter polish, which I love as it reminds me of the ruby slippers.

Barry M- Red Glitter

2. Favourite winter lip product?

I’m loving my Vaseline Crème Brulee which I had left over from last year. It’s really moisturising and tastes yummy.

Vaseline Creme Brulee

3. Most worn winter clothing piece?

I love my Victorian style winter coat from The Dark Angel. It’s amazingly warm as it’s floor-length and made of wool. I wear it as much as I can, but it’s so warm I can only really get away with it when the weather is really cold.

4. Most worn winter accessory?

I’m really into owls this year. I bought an owl hat and gloves from Primark and I love them: cute as well as warm.

5. Favourite winter scent/candle?

I don’t really use candles, although lots of people I know rave about Yankee Candles and I’d quite like to give them a try. I’m obsessed with Lush and like to wear two of their limited edition perfumes at this time of year: Snow Showers, which smells like Buck’s Fizz, and Snowcake, which has an almond scent.

6. Favourite winter beverage?

A nice glass of mulled wine is always a winner, particularly when sitting inside an old-fashioned pub on a wintry evening.

7. All time favourite Christmas movie?

I love It’s a Wonderful Life, which always makes me cry. The Muppet Christmas Carol is brilliant too. Which reminds me – I haven’t watched it yet this year!

8. Favourite Christmas song?

‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ by Judy Garland. There are other decent versions of this song, but none as brilliant as hers.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g4lY8Y3eoo]

9. Favourite Christmas food/treat?

I always eat far too much chocolate at this time of year, including the white chocolate Toblerone I always get in my Christmas stocking. I also love the garlic roulade that my mam and dad get for the cheese board. It’s so fattening I won’t let myself eat it at any other time of year, but I make up for it during the week between Christmas and New Year when I practically devour the whole thing myself.

10. What is your favourite Christmas decoration this year?

I bought my parents a William Shakespeare decoration, which they liked. I’m rather fond of it too.

Shakespeare

11. What is at the top of your Christmas wish list?

I’ve been very organised or very naughty (delete as appropriate) and bought my own Christmas presents, which my parents are going to give me the money for. Therefore I don’t expect any surprises on Christmas day: I just want a bag of chocolate coins in my stocking, as Christmas isn’t Christmas without them!

I hope everyone has a lovely Christmas, and best wishes for 2013.

Christmas Tree

Home for Christmas

Christmas always comes as a bit of a surprise: it seems weeks away for ages, then suddenly you realise it’s next week. I have been doing Christmassy things like going ice-skating. I went to the Canary Wharf ice rink with a friend for my first ever ice-skating experience. I can say with certainty that it will also be my last. I fell over twice and spent most of the time clinging on to the side for dear life. After fifteen minutes I gave up and went indoors to sit in the bar with a glass of mulled wine.

I came home to the north east on Wednesday and have already been to see my brother’s band playing at the Angel in Durham. I’m going to the pantomime tonight in Sunderland, which should be fun!

Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men – Museum of London

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On Sunday I visited an exhibition at the Museum of London, entitled Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men. It explores the relationship between the trade in dead bodies and the study of anatomy in the early 19th century, and was inspired by the 2006 excavation of a burial ground at the Royal London Hospital, in which evidence of dissection, amputation and anatomical examination was found. I am rather squeamish and was worried that the exhibition would be a bit gruesome for me, but despite a few icky bits I was fine. The exhibition was sensitively arranged and the bones and anatomical models on display were generally presented from a scientific point of view.

Surgery during this period was difficult and dangerous, made even more risky by the lack of anaesthetic. Surgeons needed to develop their knowledge of anatomy and disease, and the best way to do this was by examining and dissecting real bodies. However, demand far outstripped supply. Religious beliefs, superstitions and personal feelings meant that the vast majority of people were terrified at the prospect of their bodies being cut up after death. In addition, they did not want to be equated with murderers, whose corpses were habitually donated after being hanged.

The ‘resurrection men’, or ‘body snatchers’, stepped in, raiding churchyards to provide the surgeons with the corpses they required. They were feared by the population at large: the exhibition displayed an iron coffin used to protect its inhabitant from being removed, and other artefacts designed to prevent grave robbery. This fear is understandable, especially given the publicity surrounding those body snatchers who did not stop short at robbing graves, but actually resorted to murder. Still, the bodies were necessary to the surgeons in order to broaden their knowledge of anatomy, and thus enable them to save lives.

I was interested and surprised to learn, at the end of the exhibition, that there is still a shortage of bodies for dissection at the beginning of the 21st century. Maybe there needs to be some sort of campaign?

Aldwych: The Secret Station

I am a massive geek when it comes to the Tube and I am trying to visit every station on the London Underground map. The London Transport Museum has an events page which I check regularly and I was thrilled to see that they were opening up Aldwych Station, closed since 1994, for tours. I didn’t have to go alone – a couple of my friends were interested in visiting too. We queued up outside the station entrance last Friday night – a bit different from our usual end-of-week shenanigans.

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The station, on the corner of the Strand and Surrey Street, was named Strand when it first opened in 1907 but renamed Aldwych in 1915 when another station (which later became Charing Cross) was given the name of Strand. The Aldwych name was printed on a canopy extending from the front of the station, which was removed when it closed: this is why the station façade bears the name Strand.

The station was doomed from the beginning: when the Piccadilly Line was created by the merger of two separate projects, Aldwych was left as a single station on a short branch south from Holborn. Though it had two tunnels, only one was generally operated as a shuttle service; it was rarely crowded even during rush hour, and from 1917 was closed every Sunday. The second tunnel was bricked up during the First World War and used as secure storage for National Gallery paintings.

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The light use of the station was such that in 1922 the booking office was closed and tickets were sold from booths inside the lifts. In 1958 the line was used only during rush hour, and in 1994 the station was closed to the public for good, owing to the prospect of replacing the ageing lifts: London Underground felt that the cost could not be justified. An extension of the line to Waterloo station was proposed on several occasions but was rejected each time owing to complicated political reasons. I feel this is a shame as if this had gone ahead I’m sure it would have been well-used.

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I was fascinated to learn about the history of the station during the tour. We began by meeting in the booking office, where one of our guides gave us some background information and pointed out some features of note. The ticket office itself was built in the 1980s as part of the upgrade to the ticketing system, however other ticket booths were original ones and much of the tiling and flooring dates from 1907 when the station was built. The wash basin in the ladies’ bathroom is also, apparently, an original one, and I was impressed by the Art Nouveau designs above the lifts.

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After the short talk we were given a little time to look around and take photographs, a procedure which was repeated at each point on the tour. After this it was time to make our way downstairs. Long-time users of the London Underground will probably be familiar with the seemingly never-ending spiral staircases built into stations such as Covent Garden and Goodge Street. This staircase was similar but it didn’t seem to take nearly as long to reach the bottom, perhaps because I was excited about the tour!

Our second stop was by the lifts. Six lift shafts were – inexplicably, according to our guide – installed, but only two lifts were ever actually built. You can look through the railings at the dark, deep lift shafts: I found this rather spooky.

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Next, we visited one of the platforms. This platform was in use as a shuttle service up until the closure of the station in 1994. A working Tube train still exists on the line. This platform is frequently used for filming, owing to its old-fashioned look and feel. The original tiles still exist, though have in some areas been painted over. Movies set in the mid-20th century are those most commonly filmed here, such as Atonement (2007) and The Edge of Love (2008). Contemporary films tend to use the old Jubilee Line platforms at Charing Cross, as they were closed more recently and therefore have a more modern appearance. Our guide told us that the posters on the wall, as well as the picture of the Tube map, were not original and were actually put up for filming.

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The station was used as a shelter during World War II and played host to a large number of people. The poor facilities gradually became replaced with chemical toilets and metal bunks, and a canteen, first aid post and a library were installed. Entertainment was put on for the benefit of the shelterers and church services were even held on Sundays.

Our final stop was at the other platform, which was bricked up and used as storage during World War I. It was used for the same purpose during the Second World War, when the Victoria and Albert and the British Museum moved many valuable artefacts down here, including the Elgin Marbles. The tiling on this platform is unfinished, suggesting that heavy use of the station was not anticipated even when it was first built. The original track, including wooden sleepers, is still in place here. Filming has taken place on this platform too, and some of the posters were put up for this purpose. Others, however, were placed here to test out new forms of paste before using them on the rest of the Tube: as our guide pointed out, since some of the posters have been here since the 1970s, the paste must have been effective!

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Sausage rolls with your shoes, anyone?

This platform has also been used to test designs for other London Underground platforms, including the new Victoria Line in the 1960s, and the refurbishment of Piccadilly Circus in the 1980s. However, the original Strand station name can still be seen on the tiling behind the posters.

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Standing in front of the original ‘STRAND’ sign

After the tour, we headed back upstairs and were given mulled wine and the chance to hear the TfL Choir in action. They sang classic music hall songs including ‘Daisy Bell’ (1892) and ‘Let’s All Go Down the Strand’ (1904) as well as several Christmas carols.

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I had a brilliant time on the tour and I’m really glad I went. I feel it was worth paying the extra £5 for an evening tour (the daytime tours cost £20, the evening tours £25) for the mulled wine and the concert. Further visits to the station should be posted on the London Transport Museum’s events page, which I recommend keeping an eye on.

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Thanks to the tour guides, many of whom are volunteers, for their knowledge and enthusiasm. I would like to credit the Aldwych: The Secret Station booklet handed out at the end of the tour for providing me with extra snippets of information which I used in this post.

A December at Somerset House

I had the day off on Friday and spent the afternoon checking out the exhibitions at Somerset House. This place, on the north bank of the Thames near Temple station, has a lot going on, most famously – at this time of year – the ice rink. I’ve never been ice skating in my life, but it does look fun, and the surroundings are beautiful.

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I arrived via the Embankment and the first exhibition I came across was Valentino: Master of Couture, in the Embankment Galleries. This exhibition displayed personal letters and other items from the designer’s personal archives, as well as outfits spanning over fifty years. These were interesting and extremely varied: I had my own favourites, which were generally the fifties-style outfits, but there should be something here to appeal to everyone. The exhibition concluded with  the wedding dress of Princess Marie Chantal of Greece, which was beautiful, but not as nice as Kate Middleton’s wedding dress as far as I am concerned. There was also a small section looking at how different design effects are achieved, including the famous Valentino rose.

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I enjoyed the exhibition, but I think it was quite expensive (£12.50) and would be of greatest interest to design students or those with a strong interest in fashion. I would have liked to learn more about the context of the items on display. However, I did enjoy looking at them.

The next exhibition was free, and I actually enjoyed this one more. Tim Walker: Storyteller displayed the photographer’s unusual, fantastical and dreamlike pictures, many of which are fashion photographs taken to promote a specific brand. There were also celebrity pictures including striking images of Helena Bonham Carter, the Pythons and Tilda Swinton. Props used in several of the photographs, including a giant skeleton, an enormous and rather creepy doll and jelly-mould hats, are shown alongside the images in which they appear. I thought the photographs were beautiful and unusual, often with narrative, nightmarish or bizarre undertones.

Finally, I revisited the Courtauld Gallery (for free, with my National Art Pass) to look at the small one-room exhibition Peter Lely: A Lyrical Vision. Lely is most famous for his portraits of the beauties of the court of Charles II, so it was interesting to see landscapes and paintings on Biblical and classical themes, completed before he began to concentrate entirely on portraits.

After visiting all of the exhibitions I popped into the Christmas shopping gallery, but I didn’t buy anything as it was all a bit expensive.

The Bank of England Museum

After my trip up the Monument I walked up to the Bank of England. Here I visited the Bank of England Museum.

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Bank of England Museum

This is a small, free museum at the back of the Bank. It is free to enter and is open Monday to Friday. When you go in you have to go through airport-style security – understandable I guess, given the proximity to the Bank.

For a free museum, there is quite a lot to see. Exhibitions explore the history of the Bank of England, which was founded in 1694. The inside of the museum has been designed to resemble Sir John Soane’s original design for the vestibule area. Sadly his building was demolished in the mid-20th century to enable a new, multi-storey building to be constructed. I liked looking at the different images of the Bank throughout the years, as well as examples of the different bank notes and coins produced over time.

The most surprising section of the museum was a small display devoted to Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind In the Willows. He worked at the Bank for many years and wrote his famous novel during this time. A first edition of the book is on display.

The Bank of England Museum is well worth a visit if you are in the area. It is informative and interesting and best of all free.

FACTS

Address: Bank of England, Threadneedle Street, London, EC2R 8AH

Website: bankofengland.co.uk/education/Pages/museum/visiting

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-5pm

Prices: Free

Florence + The Machine at the O2

My day off ended with a Florence + The Machine concert at the O2. Three years ago I saw Blur in Hyde Park and Florence supported them. At the time I thought she was awful and I would never have predicted that three years later I would pay to see her and her band at a gig. Either she has improved or my tastes have changed. Perhaps both. Either way, I had a great time.

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The Monument

As mentioned in my previous post, I had the day off work on Wednesday. I managed to pack quite a lot into my day. After leaving the Queen’s Gallery I headed east on the District Line and got off at Monument station. I’d been meaning to look at the Monument itself, erected to commemorate the Great Fire of London, for some time.

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The plaque on the side of the column explains more about how and why it was built.

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What I didn’t know was that you can actually climb up the Monument. For the grand sum of £3 you can struggle up a winding staircase inside the column, emerging to a series of stunning views over London.

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The Shard
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Tower Bridge
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St Paul’s Cathedral
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It’s a long way down…

It was a windy day, but the top is covered with netting so there’s no chance of falling off the edge. Though it was cold, it was bright and sunny and I found I could see pretty far.

The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein – The Queen’s Gallery

I really like the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. It has rotating exhibitions which change every few months or so, and when you buy a ticket you can get it converted into a 1-year pass enabling you to go back as many times as you want over the course of the year. I had the day off on Wednesday and visited the Gallery for the third time this year, in order to see the exhibition The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein.

I studied the Reformation in Europe as part of my History A Level and many of the pictures in this exhibition were of figures I am familiar with. One painting, which appeared in the first room, was of Desiderius Erasmus, a hugely important intellectual figure and inspiration to Martin Luther who kickstarted the Reformation. In our class he was known as ‘Daddy Rasmus’.

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‘Daddy Rasmus’

This painting, and many others at the beginning of the exhibition, was by Albrecht Dürer, a German painter and printmaker who is commonly regarded as one of the greatest artists of the period. I recognised several of his engravings, including the Knight, Death and the Devil, from A Level textbooks. Much of his work has a strong Gothic feel, and he utilised classical imagery in his work. He drew and painted many of the prominent figures in the Northern Renaissance.

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Hans Holbein the Younger is known for his work at the Tudor court; he came to England from Germany where he first developed as an artist. Sketches, drawings and paintings by him show his ability to capture in detail the expressions and personalities of the figures of the period.

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The work of other artists was also represented in the exhibition: tapestries, altarpieces and paintings all capture the important themes of the period, reflecting the turbulent age in which they were created. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were a time of dramatic change in Europe, with intellectual exploration, religious questioning and a shifting of the balance of power. The works of art portrayed here are interesting in their own right, but are also emblematic of the wider issues of their age.

Death: A Self-Portrait – Wellcome Collection

I was intrigued by the poster for Death: A Self-Portrait, the current exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, as well as the title of the exhibition itself. I visited the exhibition on Saturday with two of my friends, after having lunch at the African Kitchen Gallery next to Euston Station (which I highly recommend).

I had to laugh at the sign outside the exhibition door. It read:

No photography is allowed in Death

Well, I can’t imagine it’s easy to transport cameras to the other side.

The exhibition is based on the collection of Richard Harris, a former antique print dealer based in Chicago. He has amassed a diverse and fascinating collection of objects and artworks exploring attitudes towards and the iconography of death. The collection prompts questions about the role of art in exploring attitudes to and ideas about death, and the existence of a collection at all suggests a desire to somehow escape or transcend death.

For a free exhibition, Death: A Self-Portrait is extremely comprehensive, containing about three hundred artefacts spread over five rooms.

 

Contemplating Death

The first room looked at how death and mortality might be contemplated. It displayed several memento mori (Latin for “remember you must die”) artefacts, including Adriaen van Utrecht’s 1643 painting, comprising a skull set in the midst of assorted items including flowers and a pocket watch. The desire for personal possessions seems to contradict the knowledge that we are all going to die: it is commonly said that “you can’t take it with you”, whether the ‘it’ is money or valued possessions. Perhaps our love for things is a way of fighting against the idea of mortality?

 

The Dance of Death

I found this section bizarre, but brilliant. The Dance of Death, or Danse Macabre as it is more commonly known, appeared first in the medieval period when death was at the forefront of peoples’ minds: plague, famine and war conspired to kill off individuals in their hundreds. Death was the ultimate leveller: it came to peasants and nobles alike. I have come across images of the dance of death before, in the course of my historical studies. Pictures of grinning skeletons dancing with humans are both amusing and morbid. My favourite item on display was a giant skull made largely out of plasticine during the last few years in South America. Looking more closely, you can see the shanty towns of South American cities, crushed by capitalism and Western culture: tiny books with recognisable covers – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Great Expectations, Catch 22 – lie in layers at the skull’s eye level.

 

Violent Death

This section was, I thought, the most disturbing. Here, images showing violent death, often in war, were displayed. I studied the First World War for A Level English Literature and one of the ideas that came out of my studies was that World War I was the first in which the horror and violence of war were truly condemned: before that, the honour and glory of soldiering was emphasised. Francisco Goya’s ‘Disasters of War’ series, produced in the wake of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1810-20, seem to disprove this theory. They are disturbing, vivid and brutal images; at the beginning, only the invaders are violent, but towards the end brutality is evident from both sides. Jacques Callot’s ‘The Miseries and Misfortunes of War’ of 1683 also contributes to the debate, while Otto Dix’s ‘The War’ of 1924 is equally violent, but in a way less immediately disturbing, given that the horror of World War I is well documented.

 

Eros and Thanatos

Eros and Thanatos are the contrasting instincts towards life and towards destruction, according to Sigmund Freud. In this room, our fascination with death, pain and disturbing phenomena is examined. Anatomical studies reflect the knowledge gained from the dissection of the dead, while postcards of lovers, or of friends playing cards, have been made to look like skulls. I found this room intriguing too, and especially loved the postcards, which were very clever.

 

Commemoration

The final room examined the ways in which we commemorate the dead, suggesting that the varied ways different cultures achieve this have one thing in common: to connect with the dead and our ancestors. From the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico, to the American families posing with skeletons, they are all about exploring our relationship with the dead. Other interesting artefacts in this room included Tibetan ceremonial cups and Aztec vessels, as well as a rather frightening grave guardian from a Pacific island.

 

Conclusion

I thought this exhibition was excellent: well put together, thought-provoking and varied. At the end, there is a video which shows Richard Harris discussing the exhibition and there is also a chart which provides much food for thought, showing the ways in which people died during the 20th century. The larger the circle, the greater the number of deaths, and related methods of death are linked together. Some of the results were to be expected – the high proportion of deaths from cancer, for example – but others I found surprising, such as the huge numbers dead from diarrhoea. A few I actually found reassuring: the number of deaths caused by air travel accidents is tiny by comparison to most other causes.

This free exhibition is on at the Wellcome Collection, near Euston, north London, until 24 February 2013, and comes highly recommended.