I remember when Christmas jumpers were uncool. When Mark Darcy wore one in Bridget Jones’s Diary and it wasn’t a good look. Thankfully (in my opinion) things have changed, and a festive jumper is a strong choice for the season. I’ve collected a few of my favourites below.
My jewellery brand for November is a relatively new UK-based brand:
SMILE AND MAKE
Based in Newcastle-under-Lyme, the brand’s designer, Lucy, has created some absolutely stunning designs recently. They proved so popular that I wasn’t in time to get hold of any, but hopefully I will be able to get hold of some in the future!
Just to note that there aren’t any direct links to the pieces below, because they’ve all either sold out or are not yet available. I recommend following Smile and Make on Instagram to be alerted when pieces will become available on Etsy.
As well as Canada House itself, I’ve always wanted to visit the Canada Gallery, the art gallery attached to the main building that showcases art with a Canadian theme or connection. Unlike the House itself, which is only open on occasion for guided tours, the Gallery is open much more regularly, and you don’t have to book. The Gallery is probably overshadowed by its bigger and more famous neighbour, the National Gallery, but it’s well worth a visit in its own right; it’s small, the perfect size for whiling away a few spare minutes.
Exhibitions change regularly, so repeat visits are worthwhile. On this, my first visit, the exhibition consisted of work by Scottish artist Barbara Rae. Inspired by her namesake and fellow Scot, Dr John Rae, who explored Canada’s Arctic in the 1830s, Barbara set out to traverse the Northwest Passage herself, encountering dramatic icebergs, polar bears, native Inuit and the northern lights. I loved the resulting artwork, which seems infused with the magic of the changing colours of ice. Alongside these works, a selection of Inuit sculpture both complements the main exhibition and carries its own unique authority. This exhibition runs until 16 February, and no doubt more good quality exhibitions will follow in future.
I’ve wanted to visit Canada House for a while, but the tours were always booked up, until I got lucky and ended up on the website just as the new dates were announced. When the day arrived I made my way to Trafalgar Square and queued up with the others to go inside. You have to show photo ID and put your bag through an airport-style scanner; security is important here, though once you get in the atmosphere is much more relaxed.
The building dates back to 1824, when construction first began. It’s the oldest building on Trafalgar Square, with the exception of the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Originally two buildings, used by the Union Club and the Royal College of Physicians, it became Canada House in 1923, officially opened in 1925 by King George V.
On display on the ground floor is the throne King George used, as well as a number of ceremonial keys. The various rooms of the house are named after either Canadian provinces or notable Canadian figures, and are often rented out to various groups for events. The rooms are full of Canadian art and it’s for this reason that the tours are really run; there are many impressive pieces to look at.
We started on the ground floor and made our way up floor by floor; I absolutely loved the dramatic chandelier that dominates the staircase.
Along the way we saw some incredible artworks, carpets and sculptures, all with a Canadian connection. Finally, we ended up right at the top of the building.
Beehives are kept on the roof and honey is collected from the bees who live here. We were able to go out onto the roof and experience a fantastic view of Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.
Canada House is an amazing place to visit and I’d recommend a tour to anyone, whether or not you have a specific interest in Canada.
I’ve spent a lot of time at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich over the last couple of years or so, taking tours, exploring and learning more about the area. I was excited to sign up for the Unlocked tour, which promised to showcase even more of the complex.
Meeting at the Old Brewery pub, we were taken first to the Admiral’s House, with its lists of former governors of Greenwich hospital, and its rich decoration. One corner was bombed during the Second World War and has since been rebuilt, but much of it is original. One particularly fancy room was used in disciplinary cases, so wouldn’t have been too pleasing to the average sailor’s eye. The most notable artefact in this building was probably the long table which is supposed to be the table on which Nelson’s body was laid out in the Painted Hall after it was returned to England after the Battle of Trafalgar.
Next, we headed into the building now used by Trinity Laban – I’ve been here several times before for concerts, but had never noticed this particular entrance, leading into a sixteenth-century undercroft fomerly part of Greenwich Palace. Over the years it has been used as a wine cellar, a coal hole, and a bar – a hook left over in the ceiling was used to hold a disco ball in the Seventies. The creepy face carvings were originally planned to cover one of the seventeenth-century buildings, but that plan was scrapped as being too expensive, and they ended up down here, where most of them have lost their noses thanks to Navy recruits practising their swordsmanship.
Finally, we headed beneath the Chapel to the Victorian skittle alley, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit ever since I heard about it. This space used to form part of the hospital, the underground location handily muffling the cries of patients undergoing operations. In the nineteenth century, the retired sailors living here, bored with the lack of entertainment, asked permission to construct a bowling alley down here. The balls used were practice cannon balls made from extremely heavy wood; it was not unknown for sailors to make bets with people they met in the pub and get them to use a ball that was ever so slightly rugby ball-shaped, thereby ensuring that they would never hit a strike. When it came to the sailors’ turn to have a go, they knew at what angle to throw the odd-shaped ball to ensure they were successful.
There ended my Unlocked tour (except for a free drink waiting back at the pub). I’d definitely recommend the tour: my guide was really friendly and knowledgeable and I was very excited to finally get the chance to see the skittle alley.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year – no, not Christmas, Halloween. I’ve been distracted by work and my friend’s wedding recently, so I hadn’t planned as much as I would have liked, but I managed to squeeze in a few fun things to mark the occasion.
First up was a trip to the Royal Academy to check out the PsychoBarn, Cornelia Parker’s amazing creation inspired by the house in Psycho. I wore my Odd and the Sparkly brooch to visit, just because.
On Tuesday I attended a screening of a classic silent film Der Golem (it’s German) at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, complete with live musical soundtrack. Considering the film is almost one hundred years old I thought the special effects were pretty impressive. Sadly, they didn’t provide English translations of the text displayed between the scenes, so I had no idea what was going on.
On Halloween itself I went to see a play about a Victorian séance. It was promising but ultimately unsatisfying, and I began to wonder if I would have been better off having a night in with a horror film or a book of ghost stories.
Speaking of which, I spied a book on a friend’s Instagram with the most amazing cover that I immediately decided to track down myself. The book was Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book and was full of apparently true stories of ghostly experiences in houses all around the country. I might take these claims with a pinch of salt, but they were entertaining nevertheless.
As well as Halloween, it was also Dias De Los Muertos – the Mexican Day of the Dead. The V&A held a late to mark the occasion and I went along with a friend. We made a beeline for the crafting area where I made a mask – now displayed on the wall at work – and painted a skull necklace. Despite my known lack of artistic talent, it wasn’t too bad.
So far, my only purchase from this brand has been the special poppy brooch made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. All profits are donated to the Royal British Legion. I purchased the small brooch, the picture below shows the large.
Yeah, sorry about that title. Anyway, after my enjoyable if exhausting walk following the route of the Fleet, I decided to walk the course of another London river and fellow Thames tributary – the Wandle. This river flows from Croydon to Wandsworth, and I began my walk, as this Londonist article suggests, in Morden.
The Wandle has in its time powered many working mills, despite its current appealing rural-lite setting. It has avoided the fate of becoming a covered sewer and instead is a haven for wildlife (although, with an exception of a few ducks and one perplexed-looking moorhen, I didn’t actually see any on my walk).
I got off at Morden Tube station and headed towards Morden Hall Park, across the Wetlands Boardwalk which is now, apparently, home to newts, frogs and herons. Beyond the park, across the tram line, I walked past Deen City Farm, a working urban farm which introduces young city kids to farm animals – an excited pair I passed on my walk were being taken there by their dad.
After a short walk taking in a housing estate I reconnected with the river as it flowed past Merton Abbey Mills.
Past Merton High Street, I ventured into Wandle Park, through which the river was diverted many years ago. Crossing the river I reached Wandle Meadow Nature Park, a former brickworks and sewage farm. This section of the walk was rather quiet and eerie, but I soon made it to the small River Graveney, passing numerous families out for a walk before reaching the Wandle once again.
I crossed Plough Lane, a busy road near the former Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium, and embarked upon a fairly long section of path on the left hand side of the river. I was surprised to see anglers fishing on its bank, while the electricity sub-station loomed in the background. After a while I reached Earlsfield, passing the familiar Tara Theatre before venturing towards King George’s Park.
Once I’d reached the other side of the park, I found myself in Wandsworth.
I walked through the busy town centre and past the old Ram Brewery buildings before reaching a sluice gate containing a bell, on which is inscribed ‘I AM RUNG BY THE TIDES’. Just a little further and I had reached the island in the middle of the river as it flows into the Thames.
I enjoyed my walk and it was a lovely day for it – clear and cool and crisp. I found the signposts and directions to be somewhat lacking, and had to open my trusty Google Maps at several points, but this may just be because I have a terrible sense of direction. In any case, I was pleased to feel as though I’d accomplished something.
I have no artistic ability whatsoever, but for some reason when my friend asked me if I fancied coming to a pottery class, I said yes. Despite being convinced that I couldn’t possibly create anything good, I turned up on Saturday morning ready to give it a go.
The class took place in Banbury, where my friend lives, at the Banbury campus of Banbury and Bicester College. It was pouring with rain when we arrived, so we were glad to get inside and check out the equipment.
We were shown how to create a basic bowl on the wheel, which was operated by a foot pedal. Our instructor made it look so easy – but of course it wasn’t. The first time I threw a lump of clay down onto the wheel, it didn’t stick hard enough, so when the wheel began to go around the clay flew off at speed.
Over the course of the next few hours – with a break for tea and cake kindly brought in by another course attendee – I produced a number of ‘interesting’ pieces. What I realised is that you might have a particular bowl shape in mind, but the resulting piece won’t necessarily resemble the picture in your mind. My first ‘successful’ piece looked more like a plant pot. I was able to paint this piece too, and chose a nice bright red for it (no patterns – I’m far too inartistic for that!). Sadly we only had time to paint one piece, but the natural clay is still a nice earthy colour.
I tried to make so many standard bowls, but they all collapsed, until finally – success! Towards the end of the session I decided to have a go at making some egg cups. Despite being a proper adult I still eat my boiled eggs out of shot glasses, so the thought of owning an actual egg cup was a pleasing one. I’m not convinced the first egg cup will be able to stand up on its own, but the second seems sturdier.
My creations will need to be fired in the kiln twice and then they will be ready for pickup. I had lots of fun in my pottery class and I would definitely recommend seeing if an FE college near you runs similar classes – it’s something different to do and you feel a real sense of achievement when you have created something.
I went out to explore north London on Sunday and discovered a wonderful little gem in Enfield. Myddelton House Gardens cover eight acres and have been restored to reflect their fascinating origins as the work of Edward Augustus Bowles, a self-taught gardener, artist and botanist.
Myddelton House was built in around 1812 and named after Sir Hugh Myddelton, an engineering ‘genius’ who created the New River, which flowed through the grounds between 1613 and 1968. The Bowles family lived in the house for many years. Edward Augustus Bowles was born in 1865 and, apart from a few years away, lived in Myddelton House until his death in 1954. His work on the Gardens brought him fame, and his philanthropic actions made him a beloved local figure.
I reached the Gardens via Turkey Street Overground station followed by a short walk. There were a few other visitors around, but the place was pleasantly quiet. The house is beautiful, but not open to the public; a small museum recounts Bowles’ life and work, displaying some interesting artefacts. There is also a small cafe, which I spent some time in after exploring the Gardens.
There is lots to see: ornate lawns give way to wildflower meadows, yew and pine trees can be seen, despite the lateness of the year crocuses flower sporadically. There is a ‘Tulip Lawn’, which I imagine is impressive in the summer, and the wisteria apparently flowers beautifully in May. One corner of the Gardens is dubbed the ‘Lunatic Asylum’ as it is dedicated to unusual plants.
Bowles liked to collect random artefacts to decorate his gardens, including stones from London Bridge, pieces from the original St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Enfield Market Cross. There are some beautiful Victorian glasshouses which are still used to grow fruit and vegetables.
I was very impressed by the Gardens and I imagine they are even more beautiful in the spring and summer. I would like to go back, and I’d recommend them to anyone in the local area.