London Transport Museum

I visited the London Transport Museum as a child, but I imagine a lot will have changed since then; also, I can’t remember most of it. So I decided to visit again on Wednesday, after a visit to the Library (which I had arranged on behalf of one of the library groups I am a member of).

The Museum underwent a complete refurbishment a few years ago, and looks very smart. Housed in the old Covent Garden Flower Market, the old and the new fit together very well. The Museum is set out in such a way that you travel through time over two hundred years of history. This is great fun – you get into the lift and as it takes you up to the second floor, you can see the years counting down!

The first part of the Museum looks at the methods of transport available before the railway. London had a much lower population than it does now, and most got about by walking, except for the rich, who ventured out in contraptions like these:

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I feel sorry for the guys having to carry this

As far as the river was concerned, most people crossed via boat: London Bridge was the only bridge for several years. Back on land, different kinds of carriages monopolised the roads, and horse-drawn buses became popular:

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Horse-drawn tram

The Museum then covers the history of the London Underground, starting with the steam-powered Metropolitan Railway and following with the electrical trains of the Tube.

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Early steam train on the Metropolitan Line [flickr id=”8800428528″ thumbnail=”medium” align=”left”]
Tube carriage

From then, the museum’s scope widens further: it continues to explore the role of railway transport – including the Underground – but also encompasses trams, buses, taxis and – to an extent – cars.

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Buses, trams and taxis

Towards the end, mention is made of cycling, and there is a reference to the forthcoming CrossRail line.

I also took the opportunity to visit the exhibition Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs. Curated to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the London Underground network, it displays 150 of the best posters created to promote the Tube. Viewers are invited to inspect them all and vote on their favourite.

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Poster Art 150 exhibition

FACTS

Address: Covent Garden Piazza, London, WC2E 7BB

Website: ltmuseum.co.uk

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm (11am-6pm on Friday)

Prices: Adult £16.00, Concession £13.50, Child £2.50; under-18s free

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and Tour

I’m not really a tennis fan at all, but I thought it would be really interesting to visit Wimbledon, as it has such a long history. I went there on Sunday to look round the museum and partake in a tour, and ended up being infected by some of the enthusiasm clearly felt by tennis fans.

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club is located in south west London, and can be reached by bus 493 which goes through Tooting and encompasses both Southfields and Wimbledon stations. I actually got off at Wimbledon Park station and walked through the park, which was a lovely experience on what turned out to be a rather pleasant day. To get to the museum you enter the site at Gate 4, and the entrance is nearby.

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Entrance to the Museum and Shop

Entrance to the Museum and a tour of the site costs £22. This sounds expensive but I actually found it to be well worth it. I looked around the Museum first, which took about an hour. The Museum was renovated in 2006 and tells the story of lawn tennis and Wimbledon from the early days of the game and the first Championship in 1877 to more recent 21st-century developments. I found it to be interesting, well laid-out and informative, with fascinating items displayed including early tennis rackets, tennis-related memorabilia and outfits through the decades. I was appalled by the female outfits from the Victorian era, which included full corsets and long skirts. Frankly I’m amazed women were able to play the game at all in those clothes. There is also a hologram of player John McEnroe projected into a model of a dressing room, as well as videos and other interactive exhibits. Finally, the famous Wimbledon trophies are displayed in all their glory. These remain permanently on-site and winners get small copies to keep.

After looking around the Museum, it was time for the tour. This took an hour and a half and was a really good experience. Our guide was a Blue Badge guide and very knowledgeable. I was amazed at all the different nationalities of those on the tour – there were people from the USA, Australia, the Netherlands, India, Mexico and Thailand. It just goes to show how famous Wimbledon is the world over. We met at the statue of F. J. Perry, Britain’s last ever Gentlemen’s Singles Wimbledon Champion. His ashes are contained alongside.

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Statue of F.J. Perry

On the tour we were shown a number of the courts, and introduced to the famous Wimbledon grass which we were ordered not to touch on pain of death (not quite!). One of the courts was the location of the nail-biting 2010 match between John Isner (USA) and Nicolas Mahut (France), which at over eleven hours turned out to be the longest ever Championship match. Our guide had been there at the match, and her recollections made me – who has never watched more than five minutes of tennis in my life – wish I had been there too.

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Plaque recording the longest match in 2010

Near the beginning of the tour, we were shown the large board showing the results of all the Singles matches from Wimbledon 2012. Our guide explained that even the best players can be beaten by up-and-coming stars, and this is part of what makes tennis such an exciting game.

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Boards showing the 2012 Wimbledon results

After a look around No. 1 Court (not to be confused with Centre Court), we were shown and given the chance to climb up Aorangi Park, so called because it was constructed on land previously leased to the New Zealand Sports and Social Club. It is a popular place for visitors to sit during the Championships because a giant screen is placed above the stairs by No. 1 Court showing all the matches that take place in that court. The area has been known informally as ‘Henman Hill’ and ‘Murray Mound’ as it has been commonly used by fans of these two British players.

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Aorangi Park [flickr id=”8767013072″ thumbnail=”medium” align=”left”]
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View of No. 1 Court, showing where the large television screen is placed during the Championships

Later we were shown the players’ reception, where they are required to sign in each day during Wimbledon. We also visited the press room, where players are required to give interviews to the media if requested to do so. We were offered, and a lot of my fellow tourists took the opportunity, the chance to sit in the seats ourselves and get our photos taken! I chickened out, partly because I would have been on my own, and it would have been a bit weird.

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The players’ reception [flickr id=”8764322605″ thumbnail=”medium” align=”left”]
The Press Room

Our guide took us past an old-fashioned roller, originally pulled by horses to ensure the grass was smooth enough for tennis. She explained that the roller played an important part in the history of Wimbledon – if it wasn’t for it breaking, the club officials would never have come up with the idea of holding a tennis tournament to raise money for another. After the success of the first tournament, a second was held the following year, and the year after that… the rest, as they say, is history.

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The Pony Roller

Finally we headed to Centre Court. On the way, we passed the boards on which are engraved the names of all the Wimbledon Champions dating back to 1877.

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Championship Winners’ Boards

Centre Court itself looks rather similar to No. 1 Court, but there are several important differences: it is the only court to have a Royal Box, and is currently the only court to have a roof (though one is planned for No. 1 Court in the next few years). If it should start to rain, the roof can be activated; normally folded like a concertina at either end of the court, it folds out and is ready for play within 40 minutes, which is very good news given the unpredictability of British weather.

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Centre Court

There the tour ended, leaving me, as I mentioned earlier, with a new-found appreciation of the game of tennis. Unfortunately, the ballot for tickets for the 2013 Championships closed at the end of last year, and I don’t think I am quite dedicated enough to get up early at a ridiculous hour and queue for day tickets. However, I intend to register for the 2014 ballot when it opens in August, and see what happens.

FACTS

Address: The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Church Road, Wimbledon, London, SW19 5AE

Website: wimbledon.com/en_GB/museum_and_tours

Opening Hours: Museum open 10am-5.30pm (5pm in winter); tour times vary

Prices: Museum only – Adult £13, Concession £11, Child £15; Museum and tour – Adult £24, Concession £21, Child £8

Barocci: Brilliance and Grace – National Gallery

Always keen to find out more about art, I popped in to the National Gallery on Saturday to catch the exhibition Barocci: Brilliance and Grace before it closed on Sunday. Federico Barocci (c. 1526-1612) was born and spent most of his life in the Italian city of Urbino. He was widely admired in his time, and crowds of people would appear to view a new altarpiece by him. He developed within the Italian Renaissance tradition, but was also instrumental in pioneering the Baroque style.

I’m far from being knowledgeable about art, in fact I’d never heard of Barocci until this exhibition was advertised. However, the beauty of his paintings, the warmth and humanity of them, was clear as soon as I saw his work. Barocci was a spiritual man, embracing the Catholic Counter Reformation, and this comes across in his religious paintings, which are more lively and moving than a great deal of Christian art. I particularly liked The Nativity (1597).  One of my pet hates in art is seeing grotesque cherubs or putti, chubby and smiling, and they seem to be everywhere – but here, the baby Jesus actually looks like a real baby, and is beautifully worked.

The Nativity by Barocci
The Nativity, 1597

Ranger’s House

Ranger's House
Ranger’s House

Having an English Heritage membership card means that I can visit all EH properties for free. I took advantage of this on Sunday when I visited Ranger’s House, located in Greenwich in south east London. Ranger’s House is home to the Wernher Collection, a number of works of art originally collected by Sir Julius Wernher (1850-1912).

The house is open for guided tours only, twice a day from Wednesdays to Sundays. Booking in advance isn’t necessary, though you might wish to telephone first to make sure the house isn’t closed for an event. I took a gamble and just turned up for the 11am tour, and the gamble paid off.

The house is a Georgian villa by Greenwich Park, and has no association with the Wernher family. The collection was moved here several years ago, after the previous collection of Jacobean paintings was moved out. It is a beautiful house and is a lovely setting for the rich collection of artefacts it holds.

Wernher was a diamond magnate who made his fortune in South Africa before turning his hand to collecting. He was especially fond of medieval art, and many of the objects in the house are religious paintings or artefacts from this era, although Wernher himself did not have a particularly strong religious faith. He also collected jewellery: his knowledge of diamonds enabled him to identify and appreciate quality pieces, and there are some beautiful examples on display, including cameos and intricate lockets.

Other items included pottery, household items and general ornaments. One of my favourite objects was an owl made from a coconut, with its head, feet and wings formed of silver. Downstairs, a number of rooms were laid out in the style of the rooms of Wernher’s house Luton Hoo: they reflected the different tastes of Julius and his wife ‘Birdie’, with a bright pink sitting room where the lady of the house entertained, to a deep green study which Julius preferred.

I enjoyed my visit to the house: it was something a bit different and unusual, and the objects on display were stunning. It isn’t too badly priced either, so it’s definitely somewhere worth a visit.

FACTS

Address: Chesterfield Walk, Blackheath, London, SE10 8QX

Website: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/rangers-house-the-wernher-collection

Opening Hours: Guided tours only, from March to September.

Prices: Adult £7.20, Concession £6.50, Child £4.30; under-5s free. English Heritage members free.

Hatfield House

Hatfield House
Hatfield House

On Saturday, I visited Hatfield House with some friends. We had been meaning to go there for ages as it’s only twenty minutes out of London, but these things always end up taking a long time to organise. We weren’t sure about the weather as there were some ominous black clouds hanging in the sky. However, we luckily managed to avoid the rain, if not the wind.

Hatfield House is famous as the place where Elizabeth I grew up. In fact she was told that she was the Queen of England beneath an oak tree in the grounds. The house she lived in, however, is in fact the Old Palace; the current house was built by Robert Cecil, the first Earl of Salisbury, in 1611. The whole estate remains in the hands of the Cecil family.

Hatfield House
Hatfield House

We arrived at eleven and the house didn’t open until midday, so we went for a walk in the gardens. We wandered through the formal mazes and  planned gardens, peeped in at the window of the Old Palace, and walked through the meadow. Round the back of the house, we could see a herd of deer.

The house itself was magnificent and imposing. It is finely decorated in the Jacobean style with dark wood – I loved the richly detailed staircase. As we all studied the Tudors for A Level History, we were excited to find several original paintings of Elizabeth I, including the famous Rainbow Portrait. My favourite room was the Library, which was filled with books from floor to ceiling. It had stairs and a balcony, and a comfortable-looking window seat. At the end of the tour, we visited the kitchen which proudly displayed lots of random utensils.

The tour took a lot less time than we thought – it was only half past one when we came out – so we decided to go to the pub. The pub we found seems to be a notable one in the literary world.

The Eight Bells
The Eight Bells
Dickens plaque
Dickens plaque

Hatfield House was fun, but I don’t know if it’s worth the full price (around £15). I took Tesco vouchers which made it much more reasonable. I think they should open more rooms, as the tour didn’t really take that long. However, the rooms that were on display were beautiful. I’m pleased, anyway, to have finally visited this place.

FACTS

Address: Hatfield, AL9 5NQ

Website: hatfield-house.co.uk

Opening Hours: Approx. 11am-4.30pm

Prices: Adult £16, Senior £15, Child £8; under-5s free.

The Big Reunion at Newcastle Arena

I watched the Big Reunion show on TV and loved it – it really took me back to those 90s/early 00s days of cheesy pop music when I was a teenager. When the tour was announced, my friends and I snapped up tickets for the Newcastle show on Sunday 5 May, and I’ve been excited about it for months.

We had really good seats, pretty near the front. Seven bands were involved – 5ive, B*Witched, 911, Blue, Liberty X, Honeyz and Atomic Kitten. Apart from B*Witched, I wasn’t a major fan of any of these bands at the time – I didn’t own any CDs or go to any concerts – but over time I’ve come to realise that they all made some brilliant pop music.

First on stage were 5ive, sadly minus original member J, who didn’t want to take part. The rest of the band made up for his absence, however, belting out ‘We Will Rock You’ with gusto and following with ‘Everybody Get Up’.

5ive
5ive

B*Witched were up next. Now in my early teens I completely loved them, and in fact my first ever concert, here in Newcastle Arena back when it was named the Telewest Arena, was a B*Witched show. I didn’t double-denim it this time, but I loved singing along to ‘C’est La Vie’ and the follow-up ‘Rollercoaster’.

B*Witched
B*Witched

Up next were 911, who launched into ‘Party People’ and got the crowd screaming straight away. It was good to see that the passage of time hasn’t stopped Lee, Spike and Jimmy from being able to execute impressive dance moves including a couple of backflips. During ‘A Little Bit More’ the band got everyone to light up their phones and wave them in the air – the result was actually quite beautiful.

911
The crowd
The crowd

The Honeyz slowed things down with their most famous song, ‘Finally Found’. I was actually surprised to find out just how many hits they had, as I had always thought of them as one-hit wonders. When they sang ‘End of the Line’ I was reminded that I used to love this song and I had it on a mix tape!

The Honeyz
The Honeyz

Atomic Kitten bounced on to the stage next, singing their hit ‘ Right Now’. I felt sorry for poor Kerry as she’d been put into what looked like a boiler suit while Tash and Liz were wearing pretty skirts. The band sounded really good though.

Atomic Kitten
Atomic Kitten

Liberty X came on next, performing ‘Thinking It Over’. Some of the bands on this tour are planning to release new material and embark on their own tours, but Liberty X announced that they were going to break up for good after the Big Reunion tour finishes. This is a shame as they did a really good job.

Liberty X
Liberty X

Finally, Blue took to the stage to perform their hit ‘All Rise’. Blue were a little after my time – they were popular when I was in the sixth form – but I do like several of their songs and I enjoyed their performance. They finished off with a powerful rendition of ‘Breathe Easy’.

Blue
Blue

After an interval – during which I purchased a B*Witched mug from the merchandise stand – the bands took to the stage again, this time in a different order. The Honeyz sang their hit ‘Take It Lying Down’ which I really like, while 911 performed ‘Bodyshakin” and ‘More Than a Woman’. Blue sang ‘Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word’ while B*Witched came out with umbrellas for the brilliant ‘Blame It On the Weatherman’.

Blame It On the Weatherman
Blame It On the Weatherman

Liberty X pleased the crowd with ‘Just A Little’ while 5ive got everyone singing along to ‘Keep On Movin”. Finally, Atomic Kitten performed ‘Whole Again’, before everyone got back on stage at the end.

Finale

Finale

It was a brilliant night – would it be wrong of me to go to one of the Christmas shows too?!

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum – British Museum

The other week I visited the British Museum to see the long-awaited exhibition, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum. I’d booked in advance to visit after work on a Friday afternoon, and a good thing too, as it was completely sold out.

It’s unsurprising that the exhibition is so popular, as the destruction of the city of Pompeii by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 is legendary. Less well-known, perhaps, is the similar destruction of the nearby city of Herculaneum at the same time. The exhibition explores the lives of people living in these two cities, and also their deaths.

Entering the exhibition, a handful of artefacts – a stool and a painting, preserved by the eruption – are displayed, retrieved from the wreckage of the cities. Alongside these sits a cast of a dog, one of the most famous items from the area, forever fixed at the moment of its death.

Following this introductory scene, there is a short video looking at the lives of those individuals who lived in the cities. This consists of videos of modern inhabitants of the Bay of Naples, many of whom live lives not dissimilar to their forebears. The exhibition takes pains to emphasise the similarities between us and the citizens of AD 79 Pompeii and Herculaneum, while not discounting the many differences.

The ‘life’ aspect of the exhibition was the biggest, and I liked the way it was laid out – like a house, with rooms such as the bedroom, kitchen and atrium. It began with a street scene: the objects displayed here had been taken from the streets and public areas in which they were originally placed.  These included signs, shop fronts, and tavern murals. The latter were among my favourites in the exhibition. They were humorous pictures of ordinary people engaging in normal tavern-based activities, such as drinking, gambling and a little romance. Latin inscriptions narrated the tales, helpfully translated in captions underneath. One particularly amusing scene showed two men arguing over the game they were playing, with one calling the other ‘c*cksucker’.

Continuing in that vein, I was surprised to discover that several ornaments and fixtures used by the citizens were decorated with penises (peni??). They were not the rude, slightly indecent symbols they are today: rather, they were lighthearted cultural symbols representing fecundity and fertility. These decorations suggest that however similar these people were to us, they were very different in several other ways. Another stark reminder of this was a statue, displayed in a corner of the ‘garden’ area, with a sign to warn parents of small children that they might want to keep them away. This statue showed the god Pan enjoying, shall we say, an ‘intimate’ moment with a goat, and presented the prudish archaeologists of yesteryear who discovered it with a quandary – was this really the sort of thing that the literate, civilised, cultured Romans were into?

Other artefacts, presented in the exhibition rooms corresponding to those which they would have belonged in Italy, were more mundane: decorative tiles, a small stool, a bed, jewellery, shells containing makeup that still bore traces of cosmetics. And yet, the mundane nature of these objects make the highly unusual and sudden death of their owners all the more shocking and tragic. One particular item I found the saddest of all: a wooden cradle. Empty on display, it had been found with its tiny occupant still inside.

The exhibition illustrates how the different conditions in Pompeii and Herculaneum have allowed archaeologists and scientists to build up a fuller picture of life at the time. The larger industrial city of Pompeii was engulfed by a pyroclastic cloud, killing its inhabitants and burying the city under a massive layer of ash. This allowed the shape of the bodies to be preserved once they rotted away, as they left behind their shape inside the ash. In the smaller seaside town of Herculaneum, the pyroclastic cloud was even hotter, reducing bodies to nothing and turning wooden artefacts to charcoal.

The people of Pompeii and Herculaneum were getting on with their lives, going about their day to day business, when they were overtaken by tragedy. Towards the end of the exhibition there are displays of meals, prepared but never eaten, which illustrate just how sudden the eruption was. Finally, we see some of the individuals discovered by archaeologists when the sites were first explored. One lady was cast in resin, more durable than the traditional plaster of Paris; she had been found lying down, accompanied by jewellery. Four family casts are displayed together, frozen at the moment of death. One child throws its head back against a wall. The other cuddles close to its parents. It is truly heartbreaking to see these casts, and imagine the pain and fear that these people must have felt all those years ago.

This is truly a fantastic exhibition – not that I would have expected anything less from the British Museum. Booking in advance is essential, unless you want to take the risk of turning up early in the hope of day tickets. The exhibition runs until the 29th of September and I certainly recommend it.

Beyoncé: the Mrs Carter Show at the O2

From Pink to Beyoncé in less than a week – two concerts at the O2, but two very different experiences. I was amused by the differences in the crowds for the two gigs – at Pink all the misfits with crazy hair showed up, at Beyoncé everyone was dressed up to the nines with ridiculously high heels and I felt rather underdressed.

Beyonce

The energy and anticipation in the arena were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. When Beyoncé stormed on stage to sing her opening number ‘Run the World (Girls)’, the screaming was incredible. This woman is a brilliant performer, a great dancer and a very good singer.

Beyonce

I did enjoy the concert but not as much as Pink’s last week. It felt a little disjointed in parts and it annoyed me that Beyoncé would often only sing parts of songs before launching into others. Having said that, I did have a good time.