Windsor Castle

I finally got around to visiting Windsor Castle. About time, too, since I live in West London, so it’s really easy to get to. I had the day off work to go on a visit to the Royal Library; this wasn’t until the afternoon so I thought I might as well go round the Castle in the morning.

It’s impossible to miss Windsor Castle when you arrive in Windsor (I got the shuttle from Slough after the train from Paddington, which goes into Windsor & Eton Central; there’s also a train from Waterloo which arrives at Windsor & Eton Riverside). It towers over the small town, and there is only a short walk up a hill to the Visitor Centre. I was initially taken aback at the size of the queue, which extended all the way down the road; however, I soon discovered that this was the queue for groups, and individual visitors could go straight through. I paid and got inside within ten minutes.

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The Castle, seen from just outside the Visitor Centre

The area covered by the Castle and the grounds is large, and I had a map and an audio guide to help me. The guides are full of information and very interesting, so I didn’t feel the need to go on one of the half-hourly Precinct Tours up to the State Rooms. I spent some time wandering about the grounds, learning about the history of the place, which has been home to English and later British royalty for hundreds of years.

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Windsor Castle
Changing of the Guard

It was around eleven by this time, so I decided to go and see the Changing of the Guard, which happens every day at this time. There was quite a crowd, but the sloping bank ensured a good view for everyone. I last saw this ceremony years ago at Buckingham Palace. It is a very bizarre event and I am not sure why so much shouting is needed. It must be quite embarrassing for the soldiers having crowds of gawping tourists standing around, but I suppose they get used to it.

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Changing of the Guard
St George’s Chapel

Afterwards, I decided to go and see inside St George’s Chapel, as I was right next to it. The chapel is beautiful and I think it was my favourite part of the whole experience. Sadly photos were not allowed, so you’ll have to take my word for it how stunning it was. Famous monarchs including Henry VIII and Charles I, as well as the current Queen’s parents and sister, are buried here, and the chapel is the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter, with ceremonial helmets – some of the most outlandish of which wouldn’t look out of place on Lady Gaga – on display inside. However, my favourite part was the small corner chapel in which Princess Charlotte is buried. This little-known Princess was the only (legitimate) child of George IV, much loved by the public, but she sadly died in childbirth in 1828; on her death, Princess Victoria – later one of our most famous monarchs – became heir to the throne. Her white marble tomb is a monument of sentimental Romanticism, with her dead body shrouded in a beautifully sculptured sheet, and angels lifting her and her stillborn child up to heaven.

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St George’s Chapel
Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House

After coming out of the chapel, I wandered further into the grounds and made my way towards the State Rooms. There are two entrances here: you can go straight to the State Rooms, or stand in a queue to see Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. In my opinion this is not to be missed. An exquisite replica of a stately home, it was built for Queen Mary by the leading British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1921 and 1924. The amount of detail is striking: you could look at it all day and still not see everything. My favourite part was the library, with tiny miniature books (later, during my Royal Library visit, I was able to see some of these books close-up!). This area also has two larger, almost child-size dolls on display: called France and Marianne, they were presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth for their daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, by the French Government during the 1938 State Visit to France. I have to say I was pretty envious of the dolls’ designer wardrobe!

Treasures From the Royal Archive

This area of the Castle is home to a series of temporary exhibitions. The current exhibition is called Treasures From the Royal Archive and I couldn’t imagine a better exhibition to catch my interest. The Royal Archive is made up of the official and private papers of the Sovereign and other members of the British Royal Family, together with the records of the Royal Household and the private Royal estates. Some of the exciting artefacts on display include Princess Elizabeth’s (the Tudor Princess Elizabeth, who later became Elizabeth I) account book from the mid-sixteenth century, the title deed for the purchase of Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace) dated 1763, and a letter of condolence to Queen Victoria from US President Abraham Lincoln on the death of Prince Albert. Some of the items I found rather touching, such as Princess Elizabeth’s (the current Queen) written account of her parents’ coronation in 1937, and the telegram she sent to her own mother on her 100th birthday.

The State Apartments

The next stop was the State Apartments themselves. You may remember the fire of 1992, which destroyed much of this part of the Castle: I don’t, since I was only seven at the time, but the rooms have been rebuilt and refurbished, and the effect is impressive. There is a plaque marking the place where the fire began, near St George’s Hall and the Grand Reception Room.

I found my audio guide very helpful in this part of the castle, as there was a great deal of information to impart. The Castle has been the home of 39 monarchs over the years, but it is the influence of Charles II (r.1660-85) and George IV (r.1820-30) which is most marked. Artists whose work adorn the Castle walls include Grinling Gibbons, Rembrandt and Reubens. The Apartments are still used today on special occasions.

Facilities

There are toilets at various locations, and places to sit; there are a number of souvenir shops, and you can buy drinks and ice cream, but there are no cafes or restaurants. However, you can get your ticket stamped if you want to leave the Castle for a meal and then come back. My visit took me half a day, so it would certainly be possible to see everything you want to before having to leave to get food.

In common with other Royal Collection sites, your ticket – so long as it is not bought from a third party – is valid for a year after first entry, providing you get it stamped and signed by a member of staff. There is a desk for this down some stairs to the left as you leave the State Apartments. I fully intend to make the most of this, as I live within easy travelling distance of Windsor. I would also like to have the chance to visit the Semi-State Rooms, which are only open from October to March.

Windsor Castle is definitely worth a visit: with nearly 1000 years of history, and lots to see and do, it’s a really enjoyable day out.

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The Castle, seen looking up from near the exit

New Bed

Finally managed to order a new bed, one with some actual under-bed storage. Got my housemates to help me build it, and it was fairly quick to do, apart from a horrible moment when we realised we hadn’t put the slats on the base the right way round. Listening to music kept us amused – I put on my Now! Dance CD and giggled when the highly appropriate “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off (To Have A Good Time)” came on.

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Bed: Argos (Alderbury Double); Fairy Lights: Primark; Duvet covers and cushions: Primark (from 2011)

Somerset House

The other week I headed to Somerset House to visit a few exhibitions. Somerset House always has loads of interesting things going on, and I managed to see quite a few things, all of which were very different.

In the Lightwells and Deadhouse, in the basement of Somerset House, was the unique exhibition Museum of Water. Created by Amy Sharrocks as part of the LIFT Festival, the museum is made up of hundreds of vials of water, collected by the public. Every drop of water has significance, from the tears of grief collected after a death to holy water from the Ganges in India. It’s a fascinating exhibition, and it’s easy to spend ages just looking at the labels and finding out where all the water has come from.

I also saw Form through Colour: Josef Albers, Anni Albers and Gary Hume, an exhibition of rugs, tapestries and other fabrics. Not my usual focus of interest, but I loved the use of colour.

Return of the Rudeboy in the Terrace Rooms had pictures of individuals who embody this style in the 21st century, distinguished by sharp tailoring and impeccable grooming.

Finally, I saw an exhibition of works by a Russian artist. Viktor Popkov: Genius of the Russian Soul showcased the art of this 20th century painter. He was a Soviet artist, but his work encompassed much more than Soviet propaganda, showing the lives of the working classes in Russia and their fears, hopes and emotions.

The De Morgan Centre and Wandsworth Museum

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Entrance to the building

As I had learned the week before that the De Morgan Centre and Wandsworth Museum in south London were due to close, I decided to visit both on Saturday morning. Located in the same building near Clapham, the museums were very different, but very interesting.

I visited the Wandsworth Museum first, which cost £4 and told the story of Wandsworth from prehistoric times until the present day. It was very similar to other local museums, following a chronological timeline incorporating stories of the world wars and the reminiscences of local people – but the temporary exhibition, about the history of hygiene and cleanliness in Wandsworth and beyond, was great fun.

The De Morgan Centre was free with my Art Fund card. The De Morgan Foundation owns ceramics and oil paintings by William and Evelyn De Morgan, a husband and wife active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their work was key in the Arts and Craft movement, and several paintings had a distinct Pre-Raphaelite style. I don’t normally like ceramics, but those on display here were unusual and beautiful.

Ickenham Hall Open Day

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Ickenham Hall

I’ve been to the Compass Theatre in Ickenham a couple of times: a theatre attached to a beautiful old building called Ickenham Hall. The Hall had a free Open Day on Sunday, so I went along to take a look around and attend a talk.

Dating from 1740, the Georgian Ickenham Hall is Grade II listed. It’s a beautiful building, though in need of some repair, for which the Friends of the Hall are trying to raise money. Exploring it is very exciting, especially given that some doors have been boarded up and walls taken down; it’s fun trying to spot where changes have been made. Unfortunately the building suffers from some dodgy paint colours and, most horribly, neon strip lighting in the beautiful old rooms, and apparently as it was given listed status after these lights were added, they can’t be removed. I do hope this situation can be resolved somehow, as it would be lovely to see the house restored to its full glory.

Vikings: Life and Legend – British Museum

The Vikings: Life and Legend exhibition at the British Museum has proved very popular, so I made sure to book well in advance. I was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t as busy as I’d expected – perhaps the BM have decided to control numbers when it comes to entering exhibitions.

I went to the exhibition with five friends, but owing to the need to book in advance, we were all due in at slightly different times. It didn’t matter though as we were each absorbed by the exhibition while we were in there, and we were able to compare notes afterwards.

There was a great deal of Viking archaeology: the main thing I took away from the exhibition was that the Vikings liked bling. The bigger and more bejewelled your brooch, and the more precious the metal from which it was made, the more important you were in Viking society. There were a few brooches that took things a bit too far: they were huge, designed to be pinned to the side of tunics, and had massive spikes which could easily put out the eye of the person standing behind you. Further evidence that size mattered to the Vikings came in the form of boats: the remains of a huge longship form the focal point of the exhibition, and are very impressive.

I liked the way the exhibition emphasised how the Vikings traded with other societies, borrowing ideas and sharing their own. Another of my favourite items was a brooch covered in little bears, the result of this kind of inspiration. However, the display did not shy away from examining how the Vikings were fond of a fight. They didn’t always win though – at one chilling point we saw the remains of several Viking sailors and warriors, killed during a raid and buried where they fell.

I would have liked to find out a bit more about Viking mythology and belief – there was some information at the end but not as much as I would have liked. However, I really did enjoy the exhibition and thought it was definitely worth the advance planning.

Ragged School Museum

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Ragged School Museum

One sunny Sunday I headed to London’s East End to have a look around the Ragged School Museum. It is open on the first Sunday afternoon of every month for anyone to visit, and for school groups at varying points during the week. The building, and those adjoining, was once the largest free or ‘ragged’ school in London, and was founded by Thomas Barnardo, now famous for the children’s charity that bears his name.

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Victorian schoolroom

It is possible to have a ‘lesson’ in the school’s Victorian classroom, but I left that to the kids, and looked over the rest of the museum instead. It has a very interesting display on East End history, as well as information about the school and Barnardo himself. There is also a Victorian kitchen at the top of the building.

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Victorian kitchen

This interesting little museum is definitely worth a visit. It would be ideal with children, but there is enough to see for adults, too.

FACTS

Address: 46-50 Copperfield Rd, London, E3 4RR

Website: raggedschoolmuseum.org.uk

Opening Hours: Wed-Thurs 10am-5pm; 2pm-5pm first Sunday of each month

Prices: Free

Matisse: The Cut-Outs – Tate Modern

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I got up early on Sunday to visit the Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition at Tate Modern. I’d booked my ticket in advance for the earliest possible time, hoping for a less crowded experience, but unfortunately it was still pretty busy. A worthwhile experience, though.

As the title suggests, the exhibition covers Matisse’s cut-outs, which he began to create towards the end of his life as ill health meant that he became unable to work and paint in his usual way. I think there’s something really inspiring about an artist driven to create by any means possible, overcoming obstacles to continue making work, and the cut-outs aren’t the childish simple pictures I’d wondered they might be. The images are deceptively simple and show how Matisse used colour and shapes in a creative and original way. My favourite pictures were the famous snail and the carnival images, especially the horse.

Boring IV Conference – Conway Hall

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On Saturday I attended the Boring Conference, held at Conway Hall near Holborn. This was the fourth such conference, although the previous ones had been numbered 1 to 3 while this one has been given the appellation IV – a move to Roman numerals (as was explained to us at the beginning of the conference by founder James Ward). The conference aims to celebrate the mundane and the everyday, finding fascination in supposedly dull and boring things.

James Ward (@iamjamesward) gave the first presentation of the day, looking at highlights from the 1990s Saturday night ITV show You Bet!. I had never heard of this show, but I have clearly been missing out. Participants attempted bizarre challenges which included identifying cast members of The Bill by only their ears or noses, and balancing an egg between an engine and a carriage. One particularly bizarre stunt showed a couple of boys identifying their friends by looking at their belly buttons.

Continuing the media theme, Martin White (@martylog) spoke about film titles translated into German. These hilariously literal interpretations of English language humour included such gems as “A Magical Nanny in a Further Adventure” (Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang), “Unbelievable adventures in a crazy aeroplane” (Airplane!), “The City Neurotic” (Annie Hall) and, perhaps best of all, “The Annoying Man” (The Cable Guy).

Valerie Jamieson (@valeriejamieson), former particle physicist and current features editor at New Scientist, talked about ‘boringology’, or the “science of boring”. She spoke about the science of watching grass grow and seeing paint dry, as well as the accuracy of the phrase “as dull as ditchwater”. Her talk proved very interesting: we learned that grass grows from the root up, that ditchwater is actually full of life, and that most of the action in drying paint happens during the first twenty minutes.

Next up was the Wolverhampton-based dentist Toby Dignum (@dignut), speaking on the subject of calendars. He talked about how the ancients measured the calendar, how Caesar introduced leap years, and how Pope Gregory rejigged the calendar again in 1582, ‘resetting’ it after centuries in which the few minutes left over each year gradually added up moving the calendar out of its original place. I’ve always been slightly confused about the Julian and Gregorian calendars, so it was good to finally have this cleared up. Another fascinating fact I learned was that the Best Before date on a packet of crisps is always a Saturday.

Another of my favourite talks came from Ali Coote (@alisouthsea), based in Southsea, who shared her memories of working in an ice cream van. The trials and tribulations of the job proved very interesting, and I enjoyed her clear enthusiasm about ice cream, including the right way to make a 99!

Martin Zaltz Austwick (@martinaustwick), a lecturer at UCL, spoke on the unusual topic of eggs. Eggs are very versatile and the science behind them is really quite exciting. Martin mentioned the #eggchat topic he started on Twitter, to encompass facts about eggs and recipes involving them, and the resulting Twitterstorm involving angry vegans!

Before lunch, there was time for one more presentation, this time from George Egg (@georgeegg) – an interesting egg-theme seemed to be developing – who gave a talk on the meals you can make using the equipment provided in hotel bedrooms. From toasting pitta bread in the trouser press, to boiling pasta in the kettle and frying eggs on irons, there is little limit to what you can make. I am not sure how thrilled hotel staff would be, though, to go into a room and find an eggy iron!

After lunch (super-cheap salads from Waitrose… score) it was time for the afternoon presentations. The PM session kicked off in fine style with Rhodri Marsden (@rhodri) demonstrating the similarities between 198 of the world’s national anthems. The crucial fact I took away is that many, many of them have the same three chords at the end.

Next, Francesco Tacchini (@RuffNuff), Julinka Ebhardt and William Yates-Johnson from the Royal College of Art showed us their Space Relay project: “a hovering object that explores and manipulates transitional public spaces with particular acoustic properties”. To be honest I wasn’t all that excited about this at first, but I actually really enjoyed the presentation: it was interesting to see the public’s reaction to the sphere, and the different references it suggested, including The Prisoner.

As a librarian, I was looking forward to Andrew Male’s (@AndrewMaleMojo) session on Eric Clapton’s bookshelf; the actual talk was very different to what I had expected, yet very entertaining in its own way. Male developed a bizarre obsession with Clapton’s bookshelf after seeing it in a number of documentaries. He identified the books that Clapton had and tried to work out what they said about Clapton himself, in a very funny talk.

Ben Target (@bentarget), with French accent and a packet of cream crackers, delivered a presentation supposedly about his family while continually stuffing crackers into his mouth. To be honest I didn’t really ‘get’ this one. It wasn’t particularly funny or interesting – I know this is the ‘boring’ conference but I don’t think this kind of ‘boring’ is the kind that was meant!

Emerald Paston (@emeraldpaston), an assistant producer, talked about a list she made as a child, ambitiously consisting of “every boy’s and every girl’s name ever”. In total her list encompassed 523 girls’ names and 572 boys’ names – an impressive count! What I liked about this list was what it revealed about the psyche of a child/young teenager: the names ranged from Noddy and names taken from Harry Potter to the names of Greek gods.

Another of my favourite presentations came from John Grindrod (@Grindrod), author of Concretopia: A Journey Around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain, who revealed “the secret modernist agenda hidden in Ladybird books”. This was very funny and some of the images shown were brilliant: “a cross between Swallows and Amazons and North By Northwest”, as he said. Ladybird books included pictures of high-rise flats and prefab schools, as well as airports, roads, and a disturbing number of nuclear power stations.

Marc Isaacs could not make it to the conference so his award-winning documentary was shown instead. Lift, made in 2001, was filmed in the elevator of a tower block in the East End of London. It captured the lives of those who live in the tower block, and was by turns funny, touching and illuminating.

A discussion of inkjet printers from the 1990s followed, facilitated by Mark Dean Quinn (@markdeanquinn). He had a seriously impressive knowledge of these printers and got into conversation with another printer enthusiast in the front row.

Nathaniel Metcalfe (@natmetcalfe) talked about being a fan of the actor Deep Roy. His was a touching talk describing how he maintained a fan site for the actor for years, until his popularity shot up after he starred in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The penultimate presentation was delivered by Helen Zaltzman (@helenzaltzman), who gave a very funny talk on the sociological lessons which can be learned from cookbooks of the 1950s and 60s. This was hilarious and I couldn’t help thinking that it was no wonder everyone was thin in the 50s – the food was too disgusting to eat!

Finally, and perhaps most impressively, Vincent Connare (@VincentConnare), an American typographer, spoke to us about his most famous creation, Comic Sans. Comic Sans is the font we all love to hate, but Connare’s talk on how it came about was very interesting, and I was intrigued to learn that it was inspired by the Watchmen comic.

I really enjoyed the day: despite the name, it was a really interesting conference. I learned a lot and if I can, I would like to go back next year, to Boring 5, or V…

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Paloma Faith at the Roundhouse

I went to see Paloma Faith at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm on Tuesday. The last time I saw her was at Glastonbury 2010 when I am sure she was high – she kept giggling madly and acting all spaced-out. Maybe that’s just her though? Anyway, she definitely seemed more with-it on Tuesday, performing tracks from all three of her albums, particularly her most recent record, ‘A Perfect Contradiction’.

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I loved her first album and really like her most recent one, which is more grown-up and soulful. I think my favourite track is ‘Can’t Rely On You’ which is really catchy (that’s the extent of my ability to analyse music I’m afraid). I was pleasantly surprised by the songs she performed from her second album: I was really disappointed with that one but I thought the songs sounded better live, and encouraged me to go back to the album and listen again.

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The venue itself was great: I’ve been to the Roundhouse to see Shakespeare but this was the first time I’d attended a gig there. The space worked really well and was a perfect size. A good night indeed!