This month I’m celebrating a relatively new British brand:
MukkaChunks is run by Rachael, a designer and maker based in Yorkshire (but soon to relocate to the Midlands!). I’m yet to purchase any of her beautiful pieces but I’m sure I will get my hands on at least one by the end of the year.
Top of my list is the beautiful Sweet Patricia Forget me Not Brooch. £5 from each sale also goes to the Alzheimer’s Society.
On the very last day of the James Cook: The Voyages exhibition at the British Library, I popped down to pay it a visit. Luckily, like all exhibitions at the BL it opens late on Tuesdays, so I was able to pop down after work.
August 2018 marks 250 years since Captain James Cook’s first voyage sailed from Plymouth. This exhibition examines each of the three voyages in chronological order, using original artefacts created on board ship and collected from the places Cook and his crew explored. It examines the impact the voyages – which increased awareness of many of the coasts and islands of the Pacific, unknown to Europeans despite being inhabited for thousands of years – had on the modern world, both for the British and for the people who inhabited those places, both positive and negative.
I liked the way the exhibition was set out, with Cook’s travels clearly delineated – there were plenty of maps and globes on display to show where he went. Cook’s voyages took him to South Africa and South America, Australia and New Zealand, and many islands in the Pacific, as well as, of course, Antarctica. Cook’s ship was the first to ever venture into the Antarctic Circle, and I was excited to see the entry in the ship’s log marking this momentous occasion. For most people, though, Cook’s encounters with the original inhabitants of the places he visited are probably of greater interest. While not every interaction Cook and his crew had with these people was negative by any means, there was mistrust, misunderstanding and conflict, and his voyages helped pave the way for the colonialism of later centuries, and all the atrocities that went with it.
Artefacts such as logbooks, diaries and published works are displayed, as well as paintings and drawings by crew members and those employed as artists. There are also a good number of objects and works of art made by Aboriginal, Maori, Polynesian and other peoples to attempt a more balanced perspective.
I thought the exhibition did a good job of examining Cook’s voyages, their impact, significance and consequences. I’m very glad I made the effort to go before it closed.
Chislehurst Caves have been on my list of places to visit in and around London for ages. I finally got round to going on Bank Holiday Monday, along with a friend. I thought they would be an ideal place to visit whatever the weather turned out to be like – they’re underground, after all! The Caves are really easy to get to – Chislehurst station is about fifteen or twenty minutes from Charing Cross, Cannon Street or London Bridge, and the Caves are only five or ten minutes walk from the station.
The only way to visit the Caves are via guided tour, which can be booked on arrival. While we were waiting for our tour, we had a look around the visitor centre – displaying various documents and artefacts associated with the caves – and eating in the good-value cafe. The website states that tours take place once an hour, but they seem to vary this according to demand: it was fairly busy when I went and there seemed to be tours every fifteen minutes. Our tour lasted about an hour, and we got a good look at the Caves and heard plenty of stories about them – some true, others more dubious.
While the name would suggest a natural phenomenon, Chislehurst Caves are in fact entirely man-made, mined for flint and lime-burning chalk from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century. William Nichols, the Vice President of the British Archaeological Association, theorised in 1903 that the mines were made by the Druids, Romans and Saxons. This is the theory put forward on the tour and it was only when I got back home and did some searching that I discovered it has now been more or less discredited.
This doesn’t prevent the tours from focusing on the Druids quite heavily, including a mock demonstration of a Druid sacrifice (which, to be fair, was emphasised to be only speculation). At one point we stood very still and had our lamps taken away so that we could experience what the caves were like in absolute darkness. This was quite exciting albeit somewhat spoilt by some idiot using their phone as a light. I do wish the website instructions about not using flash photography or the light function on mobile phones had been adhered to, as it would have made the tour a more pleasant experience for everyone.
I enjoyed hearing about the resident ghost, supposedly a woman whose skeleton was found when a natural pond was emptied and filled with rocks during the war. During the second half of the twentieth century, a reward was offered to anyone who successfully stayed in the Caves overnight; only one person ever successfully completed the challenge, and it is no longer running.
During the First World War, the Caves were used as ammunition storage by the Royal Arsenal. In the inter-war years, mushrooms were grown in the damp tunnels, but this came to a stop with the outbreak of World War 2. One of the most fascinating aspects of the history of the Caves is their use as an air raid shelter in this war: local families spent their nights here in specially-allocated bunks, and there was a hospital area on-site. One baby was actually born here, and christened in the chapel we saw at the beginning of the tour. The Caves later opened as a tourist attraction, and many rock stars played concerts here during the 1960s, including Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie.
The Caves are definitely an interesting place to visit and a tour is a good value way to spend an hour or so. I do wish it was made clearer which stories about the caves are true and which myth: I felt the tour was rather sensationalist in parts, and really the caves are interesting enough without this. Still, I did enjoy my visit and I do recommend Chislehurst Caves.
Address: Caveside Close, Old Hill, Chislehurst, Kent, BR7 5NL
I only really became aware of Frida Kahlo when I bought a brooch from the brand Baccurelli a few years ago. Since then I’ve read a few articles, largely prompted by the new exhibition at the V&A, which I was lucky (and quick) enough to get tickets to.
Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up was made possible by the collection of the artist’s work that was found in her home in 2004, locked since her death fifty years previously. The exhibition focuses on her life and her self-expression, featuring her clothes, makeup, jewellery, accessories and self-portraits. While I would like to explore more of her art, I feel that her life is so fascinating and was so central to her work that I don’t think the exhibition’s focus is misplaced.
Frida was born in 1907 to a Spanish-Indian mother and a German immigrant father. Her mother, Matilde Calderón y González, and her father, Guillermo Kahlo (he changed his name from Wilhelm when he immigrated) was a photographer. Frida often accompanied her father on his assignments and developed a fascination with photography and the way it could be used to explore the self. Many of the photographs in the exhibition, both those taken by Frida and those made by others, show how she played with and shaped her identity, in one picture donning a male suit, in another photographing her and her mirrored reflection (reminiscent of her painting The Two Fridas), with others showing off her love for traditional Mexican dress.
Aged twenty-three, she went to Mexico’s most famous painter, Diego Rivera, to ask him his opinion on her art. The two fell in love and married, beginning a lifelong relationship, despite several affairs on both sides. Though they divorced once, they remarried again the next year. They set up home in La Casa Azul, Frida’s former family home, filling it with Mexican folk art and inviting many distinguished visitors to stay. Among these visitors was Trotsky (with whom Frida had a brief affair). As Communists, much of the couple’s work was related to workers’ rights, but while Diego tended to create large dramatic murals, Frida’s work was usually smaller and more intimate in tone. The pair made many trips to the USA, which Frida loved despite disagreeing profoundly with the US on many issues.
Frida experienced health problems throughout her life. Aged six, she suffered from polio, leaving her with a damaged right leg which many years later had to be amputated. At eighteen, an accident left her with further life-changing injuries, putting a stop to her studies and dreams of being a doctor. Disability and illness shaped her life, and Frida was often in great pain, but she worked to overcome it and not to be defined by it. Bedridden for many months after her accident, she painted lying down, using a special contraption created by her mother. Frida spent large portions of her life in bed, recovering from illness or operations, and transformed these experiences into art: in one picture, she has painted herself lying curled up on a hospital bed, while next to her another version of herself stands triumphant, bearing a Mexican flag.
One room particularly demonstrates the various ways in which Frida moulded her image in both compliance with and defiance of her circumstances. She frequently wore stiff fabric or plaster corsets to help support her spine, and often decorated these with symbols and drawings. She also wore flowers in her hair, weaving ribbons into her plaits in a traditional Mexican style, and used cosmetics, particularly pink and red lipstick and nail varnish from the US brand Revlon. The brightly-coloured shawls, tunics and long skirts she wore served the double purpose of allowing her to embrace her Mexican heritage and hide her corsets and damaged limbs. Many of these are displayed in the final room, some dotted with paint splashes reflecting how they were an integral part of Frida’s identity, not worn as a costume. Even when she was bed-bound, and not expecting any visitors, Frida still wore her bright clothes and put on her makeup. Her jewellery, too, was important to her: she wore large, striking necklaces, earrings and rings made of precious metals in traditional Mexican designs, as well as jade beads taken from Mayan tombs.
The video clips in this exhibition show Frida’s beauty and charisma. She is smiling and laughing, showing no signs of pain or suffering, although as she makes clear in her art and her personal journal, what is on the surface is not necessarily a reflection of what is inside. Her art is important, but after seeing this exhibition I feel like her life was also a kind of art, which she shaped with integrity and courage.
The exhibition looks at the history and significance of the Summer Exhibition, displaying a mix of artwork which made an impact at the time, and pictures showing visitors actually at the exhibition. Satirical cartoons suggest the crush created by this popular venue, while William Powell Frith’s work shows the great and the good attending the Summer Exhibition during its Victorian heyday.
The show displays significant works by Reynolds and Gainsborough, as well as Turner. There is a small room dedicated to architecture, while sculpture is interwoven with painting and other more traditional forms of art. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of artworks by women on display, although the number of women elected to the Academy was in the past embarrassingly small. The exhibition does not shy away from controversy, covering the former perceptions of the RA as stuffy and old-fashioned, while Sargent’s painting of Henry James, attacked by suffragette Mary Wood, is displayed.
After the overwhelming busyness of the Summer Exhibition, The Great Spectacle is much calmer, displaying fewer works of art that, nevertheless, are of great significance. I found it to be well worth a visit.
Recently I paid a visit to Kew Palace as part of a special event. The Palace comes under the care of Historic Royal Palaces, and is the smallest palace in the organisation’s collection. It’s very rare that it is possible to visit on a standalone trip – it is located in the grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, and you can usually only see it as part of a visit there.
Kew Palace is the smallest of all the royal palaces. It was originally built as a fashionable mansion for wealthy London silk merchant, Samuel Fortrey, in 1631. The building is often known as the Dutch House, as it was built in a supposedly Dutch style of architecture. Kew and nearby Richmond, as well as the now-defunct White House (of which the kitchens still remain near Kew Palace), were loved by the Georgians, particularly George II and Queen Caroline, followed by George III and his family. Kew Palace, much more intimate and personal than most royal palaces, proved a useful retreat for the king when he suffered from illness.
My friend and I met with the other participants at the Elizabeth Gate of Kew Gardens, which is next to the common, and were taken to the Palace. Our first port of call was actually the nearby kitchens, originally a part of the White House.
We drank wine and wandered through the vegetable garden. There were a few interesting things to see in the kitchens, particularly George III’s bath, which was rediscovered a few years ago. George would come over to the kitchens to have his bath in order to save the servants from lugging hot water over to the palace, and I started to picture King George in Hamilton singing one of his songs in the bath.
Our tour of the palace itself began on the ground floor and encompassed the whole house. We learned about King George, his wife Queen Charlotte and their fifteen (!) children, all but two of whom grew to adulthood. George and Charlotte tried to set a moral example to their subjects, but their children rebelled, the sons gambling, drinking and taking mistresses and the daughters – trapped at home – embarking upon affairs with members of the Royal household.
The bedrooms of two of the daughters can be found on the top floor, dismantled now but still containing the ancient fireplace that was brought there from (it is believed) Richmond Palace. Charlotte was reluctant to allow her daughters to marry; her attitude is harsh but somewhat understandable given her husband suffered frequent bouts of illness and madness (probably porphyria) and she was often frightened of him. Charlotte eventually died in the Palace: en route to attend the double wedding of her sons William and Edward, she fell ill and the wedding took place within the Palace, where she died later in 1818.
As part of this ‘hidden’ tour we got to explore the attic, formerly the home of the servants and full of nooks and crannies, as well as graffiti left over from the palace’s use as changing rooms in the mid-twentieth century. We also saw the undercroft, originally built in Tudor times with excellent examples of stonework.
The Palace fell into disuse after the death of Queen Charlotte, and Queen Victoria gave it and the nearby Queen Charlotte’s Cottage to Kew Gardens in 1898, to mark her Diamond Jubilee. The Palace has been open to the public ever since, apart from a break in 1996-2006 for refurbishment and restoration.
Nowadays, the Palace is open to Kew Garden visitors during the warmer half of the year. It is also possible to visit on a special Curious Kew evening tour, as I did. The next is due to take place on 20 September 2018. I definitely recommend it as a small but perfectly-formed place to visit.
Address: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Richmond, TW9 3AE
After leaving the north and going back to London, I only had a few days back at work before heading back up north again – this time to Cumbria for my cousin’s wedding. My mam and I met up with some family members in Windermere the day before. I was rather sorry we weren’t staying longer in that hotel because it had a massive bookshelf and I wouldn’t have minded reading some of them.
The wedding itself was held at the Wild Boar, just outside of Windermere, so called because the last wild boar in Westmorland (which along with Cumberland was a county that now makes up Cumbria) was killed in the vicinity.
The venue had low ceilings and wooden beams and was generally very atmospheric. I wore a dress from Collectif and massive earrings from Tatty Devine. The bride and groom brewed their own beer for the wedding and I drank rather a lot of it, so I had to go for a lie down after the meal. I came back refreshed, but sadly my mam had a headache so we couldn’t join in with much dancing.
It was really nice to see family again, and weddings are always exciting, anyway. This one had flower dogs, who were massively cute. The wedding was a humanist one, which I’ve never experienced before, but which was very personal to the bride and groom.
The next day, my mam and I had an extra day in Bowness-on-Windermere, so we went on a boat trip out on the lake, and then went to see Mamma Mia 2 (which was awesome) in a lovely old-fashioned cinema.
We had Thai for tea but we didn’t stay out late because we were both absolutely shattered! We got the train back the next day – we separated at Oxenholme and I caught the train back to London.
I’ve been to the Courtauld Gallery a number of times while I’ve been living in London, sometimes to attend special exhibitions, sometimes just to view the permanent collection. It is small compared to the likes of Tate Britain and the National Gallery, but that just makes it more manageable.
The Gallery, located in the North Wing of Somerset House, was founded by Samuel Courtauld, and initially included mainly Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. It now has a wide range of art including religious Renaissance paintings, Old Masters and twentieth-century art. There are around 7,000 drawings as well as prints, decorative arts and a sculpture collection.
Although the gallery is best known for its 19th- and early 20th-century works, the Courtauld’s galleries extend back to the early Renaissance, featuring some 7,000 drawings as well as prints, decorative arts and a fine collection of sculpture.
’Twas in the town of Sunderland, and in the year of 1883,
That about 200 children were launch’d into eternity
Her Majesty’s grief for the bereaved parents has been profound,
And I’m glad to see that she has sent them £50
Later that week I popped to Sunderland with my parents, who go every weekend. We visited a few shops and had a coffee in Marks & Spencer. It’s such a shame there are so many closed shops and dingy streets, as there are some really nice areas, and the city does have so much potential as well as a rich history – as marked by the ‘Propellers of the City’ monument to Sunderland’s shipbuilding past.