Not the Soseki Museum, or damn you, Brexit

I had a couple of reasons for wanting to visit the Sōseki Museum in Clapham. One was that I am trying to visit every museum in London, including the little ones. The other was that I was genuinely interested in the subject: Natsume Sōseki was a Japanese author who spent two years living in London from 1902 to 1903, sent there to study by the Japanese government (apparently the worst two years of his life). I’ve read and enjoyed one of his novels, I Am A Cat.

The museum, run by Ikuo Tsunematsu, was filled with books, prints and artefacts relating to the writer’s life. Last year it was announced that due to increasing costs and dwindling visitor numbers, the museum would be closing in the spring of this year. I made my way to Clapham today and had some trouble trying to identify the house: according to the Internet, the location was 80 The Chase, but the blue plaque was on the house opposite. Googling to discover more, I found out that owing to the financial uncertainties resulting from the Brexit vote, the museum actually closed at the end of September last year, meaning that I had a wasted journey and I now have yet another reason to curse Brexit – as if I didn’t have enough already. Anyway, here’s the picture of the house, with only the plaque remaining to show that Sōseki lived here.



Address: 80 The Chase, London, SW4 0NG

Opening Hours: Closed because Brexit

Prices: N/A

Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans – Royal Academy of Arts

Royal Academy

What attracted me to Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tymans was the promotional picture of one of James Ensor’s paintings: a pair of skeletons fighting over a fish, pulling it apart in a kind of grotesque tug of war. Ensor, who lived his whole life in Ostend, Belgium, specialised in this kind of bizarre picture. This exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts has been curated by artist Luc Tymans.

Perhaps surprisingly, the pictures were largely painted in the late nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries, because their macabre imagery seems from a later time. There is a proliferation of skeletons: fighting over fish, huddling by a heater to keep warm, inspecting chinoserie. Ensor painted himself as a skeleton on more than one occasion. If I hadn’t known better I would have thought that the artist was from Mexico, there were so many skeletons.

So many pictures seem to show a fallen barrier between this world and the next, with subjects including angels and masked revellers, and many have a black sense of humour. I especially liked the bad doctors and the dangerous chefs, with horrific but blackly comic imagery.

A self-portrait of the artist shows him wearing a traditionally feminine bonnet and a perfectly calm expression. Ensor was obviously someone who didn’t care what people thought of him and was happy to go his own way, in life as well as art.

James Ensor, 'Skeletons Fighting Over a Pickled Herring'
James Ensor, ‘Skeletons Fighting Over a Pickled Herring’, Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique

Ealing Dolls House Museum

Ealing Dolls House Museum

Who knew Ealing had a dolls house museum? Not me, even though I’ve lived in the area for approaching six years. I found out about it via a blog post and decided to pop over this Saturday.

Located on Haven Green, just across from Ealing Broadway station, the museum is well signposted – you can’t miss the building with the bright yellow sign outside. Entry is £1 and while the museum is contained within just one room, a great deal is packed into it.

Immediately on the right as you enter are four dolls houses decorated for the seasons. If only it was possible to decorate real houses like that! This side also had examples of older and modern dolls, and I even spied a doll version of Jim from the Royle Family.

The most interesting bits for me were the dolls from different countries. I can’t pretend to be able to identify them all and I do wish there had been more detailed labels. I particularly liked the Japanese dolls that came with their own story from traditional folklore.

At the back I found more assorted dolls (maybe the Doll Museum would be be a more appropriate name than the Dolls House Museum). There were some china dolls very similar to ones I had as a child. I had one in particular called Georgina that I loved. She had long ringlets and a pink satin dress. I don’t know what happened to her. I suspect my parents threw her out, along with my other china doll with plaits and a floral dress – my mam always did find them a bit creepy (I don’t know why I didn’t, to be honest).

At the other side of the room were selections of doll house miniatures, which I loved. I just love really tiny things.The picture frames especially were adorable. To finish off there were some ornaments and other doll house miniatures, while in the centre of the room there was another doll house to admire.

This museum is pretty interesting if you like that sort of thing. It’s small, and I don’t know if it would be worth making a special visit to Ealing for, but if you’re in the area it’s certainly worth half an hour of your time.


Address: 12 Haven Green, London, W5 2UU

Opening Hours: Saturday 10am-2pm

Prices: £1

Happy (belated) New Year!

Happy New Year!

Table set
New Year’s Day meal

This sounds rather late considering we’re well into January by now. In my defence, I’ve been busy and 2017 sort of crept up. I spent the few days between Christmas and New Year in a bit of a stupor, like I always do – even more so given I didn’t have to head back down to London on the 30th like I usually do. I spent New Year with my brother, because I don’t really see him much these days. It was just a small house party with me, him, his girlfriend and a couple of friends, one of whom fell asleep at 10pm and duly had a moustache drawn on his face (not by me!). We mainly played a lot of Jackbox Games, and had Jägerbombs at midnight instead of champagne. The next day my parents had their usual New Year’s Day party and we played a game called Coggle, which involves writing down as many things as you can think of in a particular category beginning with a certain letter. It’s really frustrating when you’re writing a list of “vegetables beginning with the letter P” and the time runs out and you realise you’ve forgotten something really obvious like potato.

Food and drink
Midnight Jägerbombs. Classy.

On the second of January – a bank holiday – I travelled back to London, in time for a four-day week at work, during which I tried to settle back in to office routine and helped to finish the last of the Christmas chocolates. In a bid to get more exercise, I decided to try and walk to the theatre: I’ve worked out that most of the off-West End theatres I visit are around an hours walk from work, which is totally doable, so long as it’s not pouring down with rain. This week I walked to the Southwark Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre, which I’m sure has done me some good.

This weekend I’ve taken the chance to have a proper rest – technically, it’s still Christmas, anyway – but I’ve also been more productive than I expected, as I have:

1. Seen Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. I hardly ever go to the cinema these days; I think I only went once last year, and that was only because my mam wanted to go. However, I really wanted to see this film, so off I went. I loved it – and the ending surprised me. I can’t wait for the next instalment.

2. Finally seen The Sound of Music. I put off watching this film for years, mainly because Mary Poppins had put me off Julie Andrews (I Can. Not. Stand. Mary Poppins. The character, more than the film. Arrogant, smug and stuck-up). This proved to be unfair as she really is rather good in this. Actually, the whole thing is wonderful and I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to find this out. And I call myself a musicals fan.

3. Changed my room around. For some unknown reason I’ve had my bed in the middle of the room ever since I moved in. Having to walk round the bed every time I wanted something from the other side of the room was a tad annoying, and so I decided to spend the first weekend of the new year productively, and sort it all out. So I pulled everything out from under the bed and moved the bedside table onto the landing and hoovered the other side of the room and pushed the bed over to the side and shoved everything back under the bed again. Phew. That was my exercise for the day sorted.

What have you been up to at the beginning of the year?

What I watched on TV over Christmas

Happy New Year! As I stumble through the beginning of another year, back in London, settling back into work in a luckily still-quiet office, I’m taking the opportunity to catch up on all those TV shows I missed over the Christmas period when I was busy reading, visiting family, and eating my own body weight in chocolate. Then I thought: why not write a post about all the Christmas television I enjoyed? Why not, indeed, so here it is. N.B. Most of these shows were on the BBC, mainly because I find the iPlayer so easy to use. Other channels are available.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong
I always feel a bit smug when I talk about Mischief Theatre, the company behind Peter Pan Goes Wrong, because as a theatre lover I was one of the first people among my friends and acquaintances to discover them and their brilliant début The Play That Goes Wrong. I’ve dragged friends along to both that and Peter Pan and they have all, without exception, loved them. This is their special filmed-for-TV version of Peter Pan Goes Wrong, featuring David Suchet. It isn’t as good as the live show, but it’s still laugh-until-you’re-on-the-floor hilarious.

The Witness for the Prosecution
Not quite as good as last year’s And Then There Were None (not entirely because of the absence of Aidan Turner), the 2016 Agatha Christie drama for the festive season was still an impressive offering. It may have been bleak, but it was gripping.

Inside No. 9: The Devil of Christmas
I love Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s creepy and bizarre series and this Christmas special featured a folkloric figure that seems to have become more popular in the last couple of years – Krampus. Very funny as usual with a dark twist at the end, and gloriously filmed in a 70s style.

Life in the Snow
I have a bit of a thing about the Arctic/Antarctic so I really wanted to watch this documentary about animals who live in the snow. Obviously I loved the penguins the most, but the owls and the Arctic foxes were incredibly adorable too.

Red Bull Soapbox Race
A bit of a departure from what I usually watch, but my dad loves this show and binged on it over the festive period, and I grew addicted to it too. It’s on Dave, a channel which I wouldn’t normally watch (I don’t even know if we have it in our house in London) but I’ve just discovered Red Bull have their own TV channel so I can watch it online! Hooray! Basically, the show involves ordinary people – some with specialist knowledge, others with none at all – building soapbox cars and racing them. They decorate them in elaborate fashion and perform pre-race sketches. Sometimes these homemade cars do pretty well and fly down the course, other times they fall apart mid-race or crash dramatically into the side partway through. I’m really not a sport or racing person at all but this is just so funny. Races take place all over the world and it’s coming back to London this summer – I’m so tempted to get a ticket and see it “live”.

I’m not too gutted about the end of the festive TV season, because January means a new series of Great British Railway Journeys. Woo hoo!

What did you enjoy on TV over Christmas?