Jewellery brand of the month: Deer Arrow

Once again, the end of another month has arrived with surprising speed. I don’t know why I am even shocked any more. In a bid to try and forget about the utter mess that is the UK at the moment, here is my brand of the month, which is the Australia-based:


The brand was founded by two sisters, Phoebe and Lauren, in early 2015. They initially worked mainly in wood, but soon started to make brooches out of acrylic. I love ordering from Deer Arrow – the customer service is fantastic, the postage costs are surprisingly good considering the company is based on the other side of the world, and the designs are gorgeous.

My first foray into the world of Deer Arrow was this awesome Happily Never After Brooch. Turning the traditional ‘Happily Ever After’ fairytale phrase on its head, it offers a darker perspective.

happily never after brooch
Happily Never After Brooch

Unicorns are really big at the moment, and Deer Arrow’s gorgeous Unicorn Brooch is available in three different colourways.

unicorn brooch
Unicorn Brooch

The Tiny Dancer Brooch is perfect for ballet lovers, and comes in pink or sparkly acrylic.

tiny dancer brooch
Tiny Dancer Brooch

The Alice in Wonderland collection is simply gorgeous: my favourite piece from it is the Drink Me Brooch.

drink me brooch
Drink Me Brooch

Deer Arrow are continually releasing new designs and pushing themselves to create detailed and intricate jewellery. Nowhere is this more evident than with their Pyrex brooches, which feature beautifully ornate designs. My favourite is this Friendship Pyrex Brooch.

friendship pyrex brooch
Friendship Pyrex Brooch

There are lots more designs available on the Deer Arrow website, including trains, spaceships and other brooches with an Alice or a fairytale theme. I recommend following them on Instagram, too: popular designs often sell out shortly after being restocked, and they announce the reappearance of these designs on their feed.




Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky – National Portrait Gallery

I’m hugely interested in Russian culture, and so the National Portrait Gallery‘s exhibition Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky was an absolute must-see for me. The exhibition features pictures loaned from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, paintings of some of the greatest cultural figures Russia has produced, including writers, artists, actors, composers and patrons. It’s also possible to trace the development of Russian art through the exhibition, as it covers the period 1867 to 1914, and features Realism, Impressionism and Cubism.

This relatively small exhibition had several highlights for me. Ilya Repin’s portrait of composer Modest Mussorgsky, painted in 1881 just a few days before Mussorgsky died of alcoholism, is powerfully unnerving. The picture Tolstoy shows the great writer relaxing at his home, while the portrait of Turgenev is urbane and smart. The 1872 portrait of Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov is familiar to me from the cover of the author’s works, and portrays the author as pensive and gaunt. I think my favourite, however, was the 1898 portrait of Anton Chekhov by Iosif Braz. Intellectual and intelligent, the writer stares out of the painting as if challenging the viewer. I kept returning to this picture as I was going round the exhibition. The show was small in size, but contained more cultural giants than any other I’ve seen.

30 Days Wild – Days 11 to 20

I didn’t do very well in the second third of the month with my 30 Days Wild project, but here’s what I got around to. Hopefully I will do better at the end of the month.

11 June
My parents and I had a day out today. We headed to Teeside and stopped off first at Redcar. I liked the rather futuristic-looking offshore wind farm, but was less impressed with the factory blighting the view. We later stopped at Saltburn which was much nicer – I’d quite like to come back here again in the future.


12 June
I was travelling back to London on the train today so there wasn’t much time for appreciating the outdoors. However, I did make the effort to look out of the window and take in the view as we were travelling through Yorkshire.

13-17 June
Okay, so I was a bit neglectful of the project during this working week. However, I did discover the Puffin Loafing Ledge. It’s a live webcam allowing you to view puffins in the wild. They are lovely, and rather relaxing to watch.

18 June
I was indoors all day, but I was attending a study day about the “Year Without A Summer” so there was lots of discussion about nature, mountains, weather and, of course, volcanoes.

19 June
I was out and about today and tried to make some time to sit outside and relax instead of running from one thing to another like someone demented. I think it worked…

20 June
Today was the longest day of the year and apparently it was a “Strawberry Moon” too. I was at the theatre after work, but took some time to have a look at it. I didn’t bother with a photo, as my mobile really cannot handle atmospheric shots of the moon.

Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers – Barbican Art Gallery

I attended the exhibition Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers at the Barbican Art Gallery. Curated by the British photographer Martin Parr, the exhibition consisted of photographs by international photographers chronicling Britain from the 1930s onwards, and it was fascinating.

The usual stereotypes – queueing, drinking tea, sitting on the beach – were present, but there were many quirky and unusual shots. Most people photographed were ordinary people going about their day-to-day lives: even the pictures taken during the Coronation of George VI concentrated on the crowds rather than the royals. The exhibition is going to Manchester later this year, and it’s worth catching it if you can.

1816: The Year Without A Summer – Study Day

year without a summer

It might not be the conventional way to spend a Saturday, but I really enjoyed my experience at the 1816: The Year Without A Summer Study Day. Following on from my Friday evening talk and concert, I turned up bright and early to enjoy a day of talks around the consequences of the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia.

The world’s biggest volcanic eruption caused severe climate change and led to poverty, famine, disease and migration, as well as influencing creativity. The talks were delivered by experts from the various fields of science, medicine, neurology, culture and history, and culminated in a panel discussion.


Atmospheric Effects of the Mt. Tambora Eruption
Prof Giles Harrison (Professor of Atmospheric Physics, University of Reading)

In this first talk, Professor Harrison gave us a bit of insight into the context of the eruption and what it meant for the atmosphere. Tambora, on Sumbawa Island, Indonesia, had a history of rare but major eruptions. One took place in around 3910 BC. In 1815, there was an initial eruption on 5 April before the ‘proper’ eruption on 10 April.

The immediate consequences of the eruption included whirlwinds, ashfall, a pyroclastic flow and a tsunami. Rock was expelled from the volcano, burying a nearby village. 71,000 people died in the nearby area, 12,000 directly and the rest by starvation in subsequent weeks. The Volcanic Explosivity Index lists the Mount Tambora eruption as 7 out of 8, the largest known historic eruption.

In the wider atmosphere, small particles of sulphur influenced sunlight and temperature. In recent years, ice cores taken from Greenland show that air samples from the time of the eruption contain volcanic dust and sulphur. It has been suggested that the art of the time, such as paintings by Constable and Turner, reflect the condition of the air and the presence of dust, but then again we don’t always know how the paints have aged over time.

At the time of the eruption, a sparse temperature measurement network was developing. Early measurements were usually taken by educated individuals who viewed such observations as a hobby, but their diaries enable us to make deductions about the weather of the period. The evidence suggests that the summer of 1816 was the coldest of the 1810s and the third coldest since 1659. Eastern Europe wasn’t so badly affected, but Western Europe did suffer with the cold and wet. The effects spread as far as North America, with, for instance, snow recorded in New York. Back in the UK, one diarist reported that their cucumbers froze.


Frankenstein’s Weather!
Prof Gillen D’Arcy Wood (Professor of English, University of Illinois)

Professor Wood was a particularly engaging speaker and his talk was probably my favourite of the day. He referenced the artistic works mentioned by Professor Harrison in the previous talk, mentioning Constable’s Weymouth Bay of 1816, painted on the artist’s honeymoon, which revealed the state of the sky. Most of his talk was concerned with the myths that built up around the summer at the Villa Diodati.

The summer of 1816 marked the return of British tourists to Europe after the Napoleonic wars. It was Mary Godwin’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont, who persuaded Mary and Shelley to visit Lord Byron in Geneva. Along with Byron’s physician Dr Polidori, they spent a legendary summer by the lake. Dreaming of a summer of picnics, walks and mountain climbing, they were instead faced with the coldest, wettest summer in Geneva for 450 years. Surrounded by starving refugees, the group spent the summer holed up in the Villa Diodati, telling ghost stories to pass the time: Byron’s reading of Coleridge’s Christabel had Shelley running screaming from the room.

Professor Wood drew parallels with modern-day climate change, citing a phenomenon called “climate shock”. He discussed the stages of response to climate shock: creative sympathy, political violence, and the “flight into hell”. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Byron’s Darkness and other works can be read as creative sympathy, but there were other, less obvious consequences: the first bicycle prototype was invented to replace horses, many of which had died, while in a bid to deal with the problem of starvation Robert Peel established the group which would evolve to become the British Board of Health. Still, unrest was common. In Britain in 1816, there were riots and protests by starving peasants. Rural communities all over Europe experienced starvation, leaving their homes and seeking shelter and food elsewhere: hence the “descent into hell”. One wealthy figure gathered 25,000 refugees, travelling around Europe, setting up soup kitchens and preaching the imminent apocalypse. ‘Starvation medallions’ were produced as mementoes of the occasion.


‘Not yet saved’: Europe after the fall of Napoleon
Prof Robert Tombs (Professor of French History, University of Cambridge)

Professor Tombs talked about Napoleon, defeated at Waterloo in 1815. Admired by Byron, Beethoven, Shelley and Goethe, he was exiled to St Helena where he acquired much sympathy. His carriage was brought to London, where 100,000 people visited it. Byron bought it and used it to travel around Europe. Wellington, rather oddly, acquired Canova’s statue of the nude Napoleon. It can still be seen in Apsley House. He also “took over” Napoleon’s mistress.

Contemporary cartoons by the French show the English in a bad light, and many of Balzac’s novels featured English characters who were ‘bad’. Back in England, Napoleon was burned in effigy. A ‘geopolitical revolution’ was set in motion.

The fast growth of populations and cities, as well as the influx of newly unemployed soldiers, meant that famine and unrest were common problems. The ‘Bread or blood’ riots in Ely in May 1816 led to the hanging of 83 individuals – an unusually high number. Poor relief was eventually increased, but the consequences of these events lasted many years.


Lightness, Darkness and the Creative Brain
Prof Michael Trimble (Emeritus Professor of Behavioural Neurology, UCL)

This was another talk which I found especially interesting, exploring the connection between the weather (of 1816 in particular) and mental health. Professor Trimble started with a brief history, going back to Greek ideas about the four humours, a Platonic theory promoted by Hippocrates. Galen referred to a “Darkening of the mind”, and in later years a number of books on the theme of melancholy were published: Thomas Horclewe’s My Compleint (1420), Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) and An English Malady (1733) by George Cheyne.

News reports indicated a wider spate of melancholy during 1816, but was the weather responsible? Esquirol’s French Maladies of 1845 suggested that climates and seasons can have an effect on melancholy, while Henry Morselli’s study of suicide in 1881 suggested that the dreariness of the northern climate might be more likely to influence such actions. Weather was seen as a proxy for the human condition.

The influence of the weather on mental state declined as the science of meteorology advanced. However, Seasonal Affective Disorder was first described in 1984. A recent study suggests there is no association between seasons, sunlight and latitude, but a recent review of psychiatric hospitalisations confirms a seasonal pattern, especially for bipolar patients. A literature review from 1979-2009 suggests that the highest number of suicides occurs in the spring and early summer.

Professor Trimble moved on to speak particularly about Beethoven and Schubert. Beethoven’s father and grandmother were alcoholics, his mother a melancholic. A lonely child with few friends, he hated authority and suffered greatly when his mother died. He suffered from depressive episodes in 1812-13 and 1816-17 when his productivity vastly decreased. He may well have been bipolar.

Schubert might have suffered from cyclothymia, being possessed of a bright side that coexisted with a morbid aspect. He tended to experience increased productivity during the spring and autumn, composing very little during the summer. Evidence seems to suggest that while there is no direct link between mood and weather, those already suffering from a condition such as bipolar might be more likely to be affected by it.

The day ended with a panel discussion featuring Judith Bingham, one of the composers featured in that evening’s Byron in Switzerland concert, and chaired by Ian Ritchie. The day as a whole was incredibly interesting, and if I felt like I was back at university again, this is all to the good. I enjoyed the chance to stretch my brain properly.

1816: The Year Without A Summer – Introductory Talk – King’s Place

Kings Place is an arts and conference venue just north of King’s Cross. It only opened a few years ago, but has already gained a reputation for hosting high quality music, spoken word and arts events. Recently, a weekend of events took place entitled 1816: The Year Without A Summer. It consisted of two concerts and a study day exploring the events of this momentous year, the result of the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia.

Before the Friday evening concert Beethoven and Schubert in Vienna, which I reviewed on my theatre blog Loitering in the Theatre, I attended the introductory talk, delivered by curator of the programme Ian Ritchie. He summarised the exceptional climatic, cultural and historical contexts in which Beethoven and Schubert were living in 1816 and explored how their work might have been affected.

Ritchie explained that all of the music in the evening’s concert had been composed in 1816 by either Beethoven or Schubert, both of whom were living in Vienna at the time. The period was already a time of great change, with the growth of Romanticism after the Enlightenment and the recent defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. Prometheus, inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, was a popular cultural figure: Beethoven wrote a piece of music on the subject, initially dedicating it to Napoleon, but after becoming disillusioned with the French leader he crossed out the dedication (Byron was another figure who wrote in praise of Napoleon – composing an Ode to Napoleon – but who later became disillusioned). Inventors, such as George Stephenson, Humphrey Davy, and Michael Faraday, were making new scientific discoveries, and Luigi Galvani was attempting to reanimate corpses using electricity (from whence we get the term “galvanise”.

The Mount Tambora eruption of April 1815 was the biggest volcanic eruption for hundreds of years. It caused a shifting ash cloud leading to crop failures from Ireland to the east coast of the USA, the coldest winter since medieval times, and the development of a new strain of cholera in India. When Byron decided to go into exile from the UK, he arrived in Switzerland to find a country suffering from crop failure and famine. Along with Percy Shelley, Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley) and Doctor Polidori, he spent the summer in the Villa Diodati, experiencing terrible weather instead of the glorious summer he had hoped for. Byron wrote a poem about the experience, called Darkness:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream,
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless; and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air
To be continued…

As meterological science was in its infancy, people didn’t know why the weather was so bad: some predicted the end of the world. In such circumstances Beethoven and Schubert wrote music in Vienna.

Schubert was only 19 at the time, compelled to write even though he had only one paid commission this year (a cantata, now lost, coincidentally also called Prometheus), composing over 100 lieder in 1816. Unable to marry his fiancée as he couldn’t support her, he was also rejected by his hero Goethe, so it is understandable that his work from this period sounded rather melancholy. His lieder from this period rarely use poems relating to summer, and his music is often sad and reflective.

Beethoven also faced disappointment at this time, partly owing to the death of his brother. Though this was a fallow period for him, he did produce the first recognised song cycle. Did the pair of composers ever meet? Possibly not – Beethoven was an established composer at this time,  and moved in higher circles, while Schubert was still a student and relatively unknown at this stage.

The short talk was really enlightening, and whetted my appetite for the evening concert and the next day’s events… on which more in the next post.

Translating Bulgakov: New Perspectives on a Russian Master – Pushkin House

Pushkin House is a Russian cultural centre in Bloomsbury which regularly hosts events related to Russian art, literature, history and so on. I attended a talk, Translating Bulgakov: New Perspectives on a Russian Master, which discussed the life of the Russian writer. It was chaired by publisher Alessandro Gallenzi and featured Hugh Aplin, translator of The Master and Margarita, and Roger Cockrell, translator of Bulgakov’s Diaries and Selected Letters.

The library at Pushkin House
The library at Pushkin House

I’m a huge fan of Bulgakov and The Master and Margarita is one of my favourite novels, so I was really interested to attend this discussion. If you haven’t read it, the book it is about what happens when the devil turns up in Soviet Moscow with a motley retinue including a talking cat – read it, it’s wonderful.

The talk began with Hugh Aplin exploring why The Master and Margarita was not published, or even submitted for publication. Bulgakov was well aware of the censorship issues in the Soviet Union during the mid-20th century. He was able to publish during the 1920s as that was a much more relaxed era, with satire and other forms of writing permitted. The Master and Margarita featured both a highly non-realistic storyline and the presence of Christ – neither of which were advisable in the stricter climate.

Roger Cockrell focused on the trials and tribulations Bulgakov endured. He managed to establish his reputation against all odds, gave up medicine to focus on writing, and kept going even in the face of constant rejection and censorship. He found it tough to earn a living, having a complicated relationship with the Soviet government and with the theatre, particularly Stanislavsky’s Moscow Arts Theatre. His play about Molière was never produced.

During his lifetime Bulgakov was known primarily as a playwright; his last prose works published in Soviet Russia came out in 1925, but his plays enjoyed greater success. In 1928, he had three plays running and another in production; one of the three was The Days of the Turbins, based on his novel The White Guard, inexplicably a favourite of Stalin’s (it was about a family of White Russians).

Bulgakov’s widow worked to ensure his fame, and by the 1960s some of his works had at last been published. Today, he is popular in Russia, but in Putin’s modern nation some artists are still regarded with disfavour, and Bulgakov has not escaped censure. The idea of erecting a monument to the author at Patriarch Ponds in Moscow has met with a lot of resistance.

Hugh Aplin was asked about the challenges of translating The Master and Margarita, and if there was anything still left to translate. He commented that regardless of the quality of the source material, the translator must always act as an interpreter. There are some inconsistencies in the text, which he mentions in his notes. In Russia, a number of different editions of the work have been produced based on the various versions Bulgakov worked on throughout his life, such as The Great Chancellor and The Prince of Darkness.

Roger Cockrell was asked how Bulgakov could physically manage to survive in the circumstances in which he found himself. He said that though the writer found it very difficult – he was often wracked with self-doubt, and was continually denied a visa when he begged the government to let him go abroad – he believed in the importance of writing and of literature, and this helped to sustain him. I admire Bulgakov so much – he achieved a great deal in incredibly difficult circumstances and I truly admire his commitment to literature.

Corinium Museum, Cirencester

Church of St. John the Baptist

On the way home to the North East, I took the train to Cirencester, where my parents were due to arrive and pick me up. Actually, Cirencester doesn’t have a railway station any more so I ended up at nearby Kemble and had to get the bus. I arrived in the town a couple of hours before my parents, so decided to go and check out the Corinium Museum.

The Corinium Museum
Museum foyer

The museum is named after Roman Cirencester, which was known as Corinium. The museum tells the story of the town from earliest times to the modern day, and much of it is concerned with the area’s rich Roman heritage. The Roman section of the museum is full of mosaics, gravestones and even a Roman garden that has been reconstructed outside. The mosaics are beautiful and surprisingly well-preserved, and displayed to their greatest advantage within the airy space of the museum.

2016_0604CoriniumMuseum05 2016_0604CoriniumMuseum06 2016_0604CoriniumMuseum11 2016_0604CoriniumMuseum15 2016_0604CoriniumMuseum17

The museum eventually moves on to look at Corinium/Cirencester life after the Romans left, moving through the medieval period and the Civil War and winding up with the Victorians.

The museum helped me to pass the time waiting for my parents by learning more about the town I was visiting. It’s definitely worth popping in if you’re in the area.


Address: Park Street, Cirencester, GL7 2BX


Opening Hours: 10-5 Mon-Sat, 2-5 Sun

Prices: Adults £5.20, children £2.50, under 5’s free

30 Days Wild – Days 1 to 10

So recently I signed up to take part in 30 Days Wild for the month of June. I heard about it on Twitter, and it seemed like a good idea. Being outdoors is supposed to be good for you, and what with work, theatre and various exhibitions I spend the majority of my time indoors.

The website has lots of ideas and suggestions of things to do this month, and it’s definitely worth checking out.

I’ve written up a diary of the first third of my month – I spent much of it on holiday but I still didn’t manage to get in as much “wildness” as I probably should have. Still, I made a little effort.

1 June
I had a really busy day and almost forgot about the challenge, but at the last minute I remembered and took some time to smell the rose that’s been on my mantelpiece for nearly a month. It means a lot to me, because I took it from the stage of the Globe theatre after the last ever performance of their two-year world touring production of Hamlet, and I probably should have pressed it while it’s still fresh, because as it is I’m going have to try and figure out another way to preserve it. In any case, it still retains some of its scent, and it was a useful reminder to “stop and smell the roses” every once in a while.

2 June
I was going to a concert after work, and decided to get the tube part of the way and walk the rest. My walk took me about twenty minutes. I suppose some people would say that walking through central London isn’t their idea of fun, but I like it, and I think the fresh air did me some good.

3 June
I had a busy day but I went to the theatre in the evening, and on the way back took the time to look around me at the rather rural tube station to see what I could see. Sadly the greenery surrounding me was more triggering to my hayfever than anything else, but at least I tried.

4 June
Today I travelled to Cirencester to meet my parents and go home with them. While I was waiting for them to arrive I headed to the local museum where there was a relaxing Roman-style garden. On the way home, we stopped off to meet their friends, who live by a canal in the Midlands. It was beautiful, but then my mam got bitten on the leg by some random creature – a timely warning of the dangers of the outdoors.

Roman garden

5 June
I was exhausted today and spent the day inside, so my search for wildlife was pretty much restricted to looking through Twitter at pretty photos of birds.

6 June
Today I spied the wagtail that has made a habit of visiting my parent’s garden. My dad has named him Will the Wagtail. My mam keeps calling him Willy Wagtail but my dad keeps correcting her.

7 June
I spent the majority of today at the hairdresser, followed by a trip to the local pub quiz with my parents, so not much time for “wildness” today. However, I got hold of some of my favourite childhood Enid Blyton books that happen to feature birds, animals, flora and fauna and wildlife generally – does that count?

8 June
Today we went to Seaham and enjoyed the bracing air and the sea view. I have to say though that my favourite part of the trip was the ice cream parlour, ‘Lickety Split’. This is super popular in the summer, with queues stretching a long way down the road, but luckily we went on a chilly June weekday afternoon and got served pretty quickly.


9 June
My mam and I went for a little walk this morning: there’s a rather strange building in the village with a charity shop on the ground floor and a room full of old photos. It was actually quite a nice day, weather-wise, which made a change.

10 June
Okay, so I failed miserably today. I didn’t do much at all except sit around reading books, few if any of which had an outdoor theme. Oh well, there’s still the rest of the month.

Looking back on the first ten days, I’m actually surprised at how little time I spend considering the outdoors and at how difficult it was for me to fit anything related to “wildness” into my life. It’s something to think about and something to address during the rest of the month.

By Me William Shakespeare – Inigo Rooms, Somerset House

I went to see the exhibition By Me William Shakespeare, held at the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House, part of King’s College London, before it closed. The exhibition was an opportunity to view Shakespeare’s will, as well as other documents relating to his life. It incorporated research, scientific analysis and a digital installation, with the nine “most nationally important” documents selected by academics from the London Shakespeare Centre at King’s and specialists from the National Archives.

Although the exhibition doesn’t sound like much, consisting as it does of nine documents, the curators have done a great job illuminating what they all mean and exploring the context. Documents on display include Shakespeare’s Last Will and Testament (he famously left his wife the “second best bed”, though the exhibition does make clear this was not necessarily the snub it is thought to be), as well as those that include four of his six known signatures. One document refers to the infamous incident when Richard Burbage and Shakespeare dismantled the Theatre in Shoreditch and rowed it across the Thames, where they rebuilt it as the Globe. Another concerns the dowry dispute in which Shakespeare was involved because he lodged in the house of the family concerned.

As a lover of Shakespeare, this exhibition was a real treat for me and I enjoyed it, although non-fans may find it a bit dry.