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.
The fortnight covering Christmas and New Year is always a bit of a strange time. Frankly, I don’t know how I’m going to manage to go back to work tomorrow, seeing as I am used to going to bed late and getting up early, watching rubbish on TV and eating whatever I like. Having said that, I do feel a bit sick of chocolate and cheese, and the thought of eating a huge pile of vegetables and getting some fresh air is actually rather appealing. And as far as alcohol is concerned I really don’t fancy it at the moment, thanks to my monster New Year hangover.
I always go home to my parents for Christmas, but this year I went up a bit later, as I couldn’t get the time off work. On the plus side, this meant that I could spend the last couple of days before leaving work finishing off all the tasks I had to do, safe in the knowledge that anyone who might have sent me extra stuff had already gone on holiday. It also gave me the chance to see a Christmas show: Miracle on 34th Street in Watford.
Going home was strange, as it was to be the first Christmas in my parents’ new house. I went for a walk to explore the town, glad that I’d taken my warm coat up north with me, as it was freezing. I ended up in the local cemetery, where many of the graves date from the early 1900s and belong to miners killed in local colliery accidents, testament to the area’s mining heritage.
I then went back home and watched some of my Ghost Stories for Christmas DVD. I love the original black-and-white version of Whistle and I’ll Come To You, and the newer version is pretty good too.
I met up with my friend Elisa on Christmas Eve. We went for lunch in my old home town (nostalgia alert) and then went for a few drinks at a nearby bar. The cocktails there were lovely but so expensive – nearly London prices, which is incredible in the north! The Rudolph cocktail was pretty cute though.
For the first time on Christmas Day, we didn’t go to my auntie’s house, as she’d been invited elsewhere. This was the first time in my dad’s life that he hasn’t had to leave his home on Christmas Day – as a child he went to his auntie’s, as he got older his sister, my auntie, took over, so it was a bit of a novelty for him. Sadly we had to wait ages for our Christmas dinner as my brother didn’t get in from work until after eight – we relied on lots of chocolate and Pringles to see us through.
I got some lovely presents, including several on a somewhat similar theme:
On Boxing Day it was time for the annual trip to the sales (this year’s haul consisted mostly of Lush products and Boots Christmas gifts), followed by a family meal. After Christmas I sat around, read books, and ate more than was good for me. It was also great to see my parents’ friends, who arrived to stay for a few days after Christmas, sadly the day before I left. As usual, I came back to London for New Year and we had a house party. I definitely drank more than was good for me – the straight whisky at around 3am was certainly a bad idea – but the evening was certainly more sophisticated than a couple of years ago when I spent the entire morning of New Year’s Day mopping the living room owing to the amount of alcohol that had been spilt on the floor.
I had a lovely break and found the time to watch some TV: I never seem to have that much time for watching TV in my everyday life, but all that changes when I go home for Christmas. My mam and I watched the adorable Snow Chick: A Penguin’s Tale which followed the antics of the smallest chick in a group of Emperor Penguins. On Christmas Day my dad made us all watch Arthur Christmas, an animation which he swore was brilliant, and he was right: it’s going up there with my favourite Christmas films. On the same note, another Aardman Productions film, The Farmer’s Llamas, was very funny.
I watched the Downton Abbey Christmas special, and while I’m glad Edith got her happy ending, I’m rather glad to see the back of the show, as it got so silly in later seasons. Ghost Hunter was enjoyable, although nothing like Neil Spring’s book The Ghost Hunters on which it is based.
My festive highlight has to be And Then There Were None. It was a brilliantly done Agatha Christie adaptation, true to the spirit of the book, and utterly compelling (the presence of Aidan Turner had absolutely nothing to do with this, oh no). Sadly, despite looking forward to it for months, I found the Sherlock Victorian special rather disappointing – self-indulgent, anti-feminist and trying to be too clever by half.
So that was my festive holiday. Now to look forward!
I spent another day in St Albans at the weekend in order to spend time with some friends. We alternated visits to pubs with various cultural activities. I was excited to finally get the chance to go up the Clock Tower.
This is located on the High Street of St Albans. It was built between 1403 and 1412, the only medieval town belfry in England. It is designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It’s possible to go up the tower at weekends during the summer months, at a cost of £1 for adults (children go free). The climb is very steep and rather tough, so if you’re unfit you may wish to reconsider!
We were exhausted by the time we got to the top of the tower, but it was worth it because the views were amazing.
Later we visited the Roman remains in the park, before finishing off in a number of pubs.
At the weekend I visited some friends who have recently moved to St Albans in Hertfordshire. We embarked on a magical mystery historical tour.
Our first stop was Verulamium Park, so called because it lies on the site of the Roman city of Verulamium. It has a pretty lake with ducks and moorhens and on the edge there is a pub, called Ye Olde Fighting Cocks. We didn’t visit the pub on this occasion, but we did have lunch there the last time I visited. Apparently the pub holds the Guinness Book of Records title for being the oldest pub in England.
We walked away from the lake and came to the remains of the City walls and outline of the main London Gate. During the legendary drought of 1976, planes flying overhead could see the outlines of the old Roman city, made visible by the lack of grass, which had withered away in the heat.
The Hypocaust Mosaic is nearby, covered by a purpose-built building. It is beautifully preserved and, in one corner, the hypocaust – or method of underfloor heating – can be seen.
Following this we visited the nearby Verulamium Museum, containing many objects of everyday life, more mosaics, and a couple of skeletons. It cost £5 to enter which we thought a bit pricey, but there were some interesting things to see. We didn’t go to see the nearby Roman theatre as you had to pay separately to go in, and none of us felt like forking out more!
Walking back into town, we could see the abbey – officially St Albans Cathedral – in the distance.
We decided to go inside.
The first thing that struck me was the gorgeous ceiling.
The rood screen, known as the Wallingford Screen, dates from around 1480, but the statues date from the Victorian period and are replacements of those destroyed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
This figure – a replica of an original on display in a case elsewhere in the Cathedral – stood above the Poor Box.
There were several interesting things to look at, including this skull.
The shrine of St Alban still draws pilgrims to the abbey. Alban died around 300 AD; he lived in Verulamium and the story goes that he gave shelter to a Christian priest, who converted him. Alban changed clothes with the priest, who escaped, and died in his stead.
This ancient structure was designed so that priests could watch over the shrine constantly.
The Cathedral is unique in having very good and visible wall paintings, relics of the pre-Reformation days, which incredibly survived the Dissolution.
I loved this gorgeous window.
Finally, we visited the Museum of St Albans. This was a free museum and we both enjoyed it. My friend was impressed when she found her street mentioned on one of the information boards. My favourite thing was the stocks: you could put your head and hands through and be pelted by (cloth) fruit and vegetables. Hours of fun!
St Albans is a nice place to visit if you want a bit of history. There are some lovely pubs too, and I definitely want to climb the tower when it reopens in the spring.
The exhibition told a chronological story from the earliest evidence of human presence in the British Isles, through to the first appearance of Homo sapiens in Britain. I found it fascinating to learn about the presence of early humans. Among the items on display were a skull from the earliest known Neanderthal in Britain, bones from the animals that lived during that time, and tools and other evidence of human habitation. Over the last million years, humans have been present in Britain on and off, depending on weather and other conditions. Other amazing creatures have been here too, including mammoths, rhinos and lions.
Evidence of human presence has been found mainly in the south: the north and Scotland experienced longer and more severe freezes, meaning that evidence could have been destroyed. Finds have been discovered at places such as Kent’s Cavern in Devon and Happisburgh in Norfolk.
I was interested to learn that when Homo sapiens superseded Neanderthals, the latter’s genes were not wiped out entirely. Apparently most humans (except for those most closely descended to the original Homo sapiens who came out of Africa) have some Neanderthal genes. Two purpose-built models show how the species differed.
At the end of the exhibition, there was a video with six celebrities talking about the results of their own DNA analysis. It was interesting to see the huge range and scope of their DNA origins, from Scandinavian and Asian to Native American. I wonder what mine would say?
Back in August, I went up to Scotland for a week on the Caledonian Sleeper train. I didn’t want to go for a standard class cabin as they are for two people and I didn’t want to stay with a stranger. So I decided to compromise – on the way up I went for the super frugal option and sat in the normal carriage (which wasn’t as bad as it sounds) while on the way back I splashed out on first class!
It’s a shame the Caledonian Sleeper goes from Euston, as it’s possibly the ugliest station in London. Still, this didn’t stop me from being excited. I didn’t sleep very well on the way up, but I didn’t mind as watching the sun rise over the Highlands was amazing. I could hardly believe that I’d gone to sleep in crowded London and woken up surrounded by hills and deer.
The train got into Inverness at eight o’clock in the morning which gave me a whole day before I had to go and check in to my B&B. I left my luggage in the station lockers and decided to go on a Loch Ness cruise. This was fun but it was windy out on the loch – I’m definitely glad I took a coat! As part of the trip we also had a look around Urquhart Castle and the Loch Ness Centre, which was a kind of multimedia exhibition looking at the story of Nessie. This was surprisingly well done and fairly balanced, looking at all the possible explanations for ‘Nessie sightings’ in an interesting way. Needless to say I didn’t spot Nessie myself!
Later that day I visited Culloden, which is a short bus journey out of Inverness. It’s essentially just a field, but the visitor centre is excellent. It has an exhibition which is presented on two sides of the corridor, looking at events from the English and the Scottish points of view. There is also a room where you can stand and be surrounded by a filmed re-enactment of the battle, as if you were really there – this was rather frightening!
I walked through Inverness to reach my B&B. It’s a relatively small town and I liked it a lot. Some bits were slightly run-down but there was a Victorian market and some attractive buildings, and down by the river it was really nice. I also took the chance to go to the theatre while I was there. I found out that there was a National Theatre of Scotland/RSC co-production called Dunsinane, a sequel to Macbeth, being performed that week at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness. I enjoyed it even though it took some liberties with the original – such as Lady Macbeth turning up alive and well.
I was hampered during my stay by not having a car. I could have explored much more of the surrounding area if I’d been able to drive around and stop at will. However I managed to see a lot via the train! I had a day trip to Aberdeen, which was very… grey. The Maritime Museum was fairly interesting and I had a look around the Tolbooth and the art gallery.
Back in Inverness, I went to the Gellions pub where William McGonagall once recited his poetry.
I went on a day trip to the Orkney Islands. This was amazing! It involved an incredibly early start and a long coach journey but it was worth it.
We visited the capital of the Orkney, Kirkwall.
I got to see the prehistoric village of Skara Brae, which was just incredible. It has been really well preserved and though you can’t walk through it (or it wouldn’t be well preserved any more) they have made a replica that you CAN walk through so you can picture how it all used to look.
Also on the tour I visited the Ring of Brodgar, which is a stone circle a bit like Stonehenge, though the setting is much more atmospheric, I think. It reminded me of Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ books, in which the heroine goes through a stone circle in Scotland and ends up in the middle of the Jacobite rising – I could almost imagine I could travel back in time with the stones myself!
As the coach went past some of the lagoons which lie between the islands, I could see rusty skeletons of old ships poking out of the water.
Our guide told us that they were old WWI ships that had been decommissioned and brought here during WWII in order to create a barrier preventing German U-boats from getting through. Only, one did manage to get through and sunk a ship, killing hundreds of seamen. Apparently, years later, the widow of one of the men who died was granted her last wish on her death – to be buried with her husband. So her ashes were taken down into the sea. It’s a sweet, but very sad story.
The tour also found time to stop at the Italian chapel. This was a beautiful little Catholic church built by Italian prisoners of war during the 1940s.
I travelled on a lot of trains during my trip. As well as taking the train to the west coast and going on to Skye, I had a ride on the Strathspey steam railway. It stopped at the station which was used on the BBC drama Monarch of the Glen.
The same day, I also went up the Cairngorm Mountain on the furnicular railway. It was freezing on the top, but there were some spectacular views.
I also went to Dundee for the day. It took about three hours on the train, but I was dying to go for two reasons. Firstly, because it was the hometown of William McGonagall. I saw the Tay Bridge (Mark 2) with my own eyes – it was so long and the river so wide that it really brought home just how terrifying it must have been for the passengers who died when it collapsed.
The second reason was to visit Discovery Point, where Captain Scott’s Antarctic exploration ship RSS Discovery is kept. I’m really interested in Antarctica and especially the ‘heroic age’ of exploration. I loved the museum – the ship itself has been sympathetically restored and the exhibitions inside the building have been really well thought out.
You can’t go to Scotland without visiting a whisky distillery. I chose to visit Glen Moray, mainly because it was the only one I could reach via train.
I came back with a lot of alcohol, particularly beer.
I had a great time on the way back in my first class cabin – sadly grey and modern rather than the wood-panelled warmth I always associate in my mind with sleeper trains – but it was great having my breakfast brought to me in the morning!
I didn’t get a chance to go to Glasgow or Fort William, or travel on the famous West Highland Line, but I may be going back next year with my mam. I hope so – I had a brilliant time and I’d love to see some more of Scotland.
The exhibition has been designed to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the accession of King George I in 1714. It examines the Georgian age in all its chaos, innovation, prosperity and poverty. The first section looks at life in Georgian Britain, showing how the legacy of the Georgians is all around us in the architecture, culture and literature of our time. The remainder of the exhibition is divided into sections, looking at the architecture and urban culture of the period, the role of shopping and consumerism, and leisure pastimes including theatre and sport. It is a superbly informative and fascinating exhibition, and I strongly recommend paying it a visit. The exhibition runs until 11 March next year.
Tate Britain bill the exhibition as “the first exhibition exploring the history of physical attacks on art in Britain from the 16th century to the present day”. Iconoclasm – deliberate destruction of works – has been around in various forms for centuries, and perpetrators have acted from widely varying motives, whether religious, political or aesthetic.
The exhibition begins with the Reformation and the destruction of stained glass windows and statues in churches and monasteries, the result of Henry VIII’s break with Rome and later the influence of the Puritans. Decapitated statues of Christ, smashed stained glass and fragments of Winchester Cathedral’s rood screen are displayed. However, the room that really made me think was the ‘suffragette’ room. Several suffragettes used to go to art galleries and deface paintings, such as Edward Burne-Jones’ Sibylla Delphica (1898), often in protest at the way women in art were idealised while real women were being denied basic rights. While I am in complete sympathy with the sentiment behind what they did, I can’t stand the idea of art being destroyed.
What surprised me was that I felt the same about the modern art in the next room. A random member of the public threw blue paint on Carl Andre’s Equivalent III (1966) in protest at the fact that ‘such rubbish’ was being revered as art. And he had a point – the ‘artwork’ in question was a group of bricks arranged in three layers. Frankly you could see the same thing on any building site. And yet – I couldn’t help feeling that this was wrong, that vandalising something that another person spent time and energy and care on creating just isn’t right. After all, however little time it might have taken to put the work together (and however much it might look like it was thrown together in five minutes, we don’t know that, it could have taken ages), it would have taken even less time to throw a tin of paint over it. Also, by damaging the artwork so that it had to be removed from public view and repaired, he was depriving other people from seeing it for themselves and forming their own opinion – even if said opinion was simply “this is shite”.
I’m not really a tennis fan at all, but I thought it would be really interesting to visit Wimbledon, as it has such a long history. I went there on Sunday to look round the museum and partake in a tour, and ended up being infected by some of the enthusiasm clearly felt by tennis fans.
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club is located in south west London, and can be reached by bus 493 which goes through Tooting and encompasses both Southfields and Wimbledon stations. I actually got off at Wimbledon Park station and walked through the park, which was a lovely experience on what turned out to be a rather pleasant day. To get to the museum you enter the site at Gate 4, and the entrance is nearby.
Entrance to the Museum and a tour of the site costs £22. This sounds expensive but I actually found it to be well worth it. I looked around the Museum first, which took about an hour. The Museum was renovated in 2006 and tells the story of lawn tennis and Wimbledon from the early days of the game and the first Championship in 1877 to more recent 21st-century developments. I found it to be interesting, well laid-out and informative, with fascinating items displayed including early tennis rackets, tennis-related memorabilia and outfits through the decades. I was appalled by the female outfits from the Victorian era, which included full corsets and long skirts. Frankly I’m amazed women were able to play the game at all in those clothes. There is also a hologram of player John McEnroe projected into a model of a dressing room, as well as videos and other interactive exhibits. Finally, the famous Wimbledon trophies are displayed in all their glory. These remain permanently on-site and winners get small copies to keep.
After looking around the Museum, it was time for the tour. This took an hour and a half and was a really good experience. Our guide was a Blue Badge guide and very knowledgeable. I was amazed at all the different nationalities of those on the tour – there were people from the USA, Australia, the Netherlands, India, Mexico and Thailand. It just goes to show how famous Wimbledon is the world over. We met at the statue of F. J. Perry, Britain’s last ever Gentlemen’s Singles Wimbledon Champion. His ashes are contained alongside.
On the tour we were shown a number of the courts, and introduced to the famous Wimbledon grass which we were ordered not to touch on pain of death (not quite!). One of the courts was the location of the nail-biting 2010 match between John Isner (USA) and Nicolas Mahut (France), which at over eleven hours turned out to be the longest ever Championship match. Our guide had been there at the match, and her recollections made me – who has never watched more than five minutes of tennis in my life – wish I had been there too.
Near the beginning of the tour, we were shown the large board showing the results of all the Singles matches from Wimbledon 2012. Our guide explained that even the best players can be beaten by up-and-coming stars, and this is part of what makes tennis such an exciting game.
After a look around No. 1 Court (not to be confused with Centre Court), we were shown and given the chance to climb up Aorangi Park, so called because it was constructed on land previously leased to the New Zealand Sports and Social Club. It is a popular place for visitors to sit during the Championships because a giant screen is placed above the stairs by No. 1 Court showing all the matches that take place in that court. The area has been known informally as ‘Henman Hill’ and ‘Murray Mound’ as it has been commonly used by fans of these two British players.
Later we were shown the players’ reception, where they are required to sign in each day during Wimbledon. We also visited the press room, where players are required to give interviews to the media if requested to do so. We were offered, and a lot of my fellow tourists took the opportunity, the chance to sit in the seats ourselves and get our photos taken! I chickened out, partly because I would have been on my own, and it would have been a bit weird.
Our guide took us past an old-fashioned roller, originally pulled by horses to ensure the grass was smooth enough for tennis. She explained that the roller played an important part in the history of Wimbledon – if it wasn’t for it breaking, the club officials would never have come up with the idea of holding a tennis tournament to raise money for another. After the success of the first tournament, a second was held the following year, and the year after that… the rest, as they say, is history.
Finally we headed to Centre Court. On the way, we passed the boards on which are engraved the names of all the Wimbledon Champions dating back to 1877.
Centre Court itself looks rather similar to No. 1 Court, but there are several important differences: it is the only court to have a Royal Box, and is currently the only court to have a roof (though one is planned for No. 1 Court in the next few years). If it should start to rain, the roof can be activated; normally folded like a concertina at either end of the court, it folds out and is ready for play within 40 minutes, which is very good news given the unpredictability of British weather.
There the tour ended, leaving me, as I mentioned earlier, with a new-found appreciation of the game of tennis. Unfortunately, the ballot for tickets for the 2013 Championships closed at the end of last year, and I don’t think I am quite dedicated enough to get up early at a ridiculous hour and queue for day tickets. However, I intend to register for the 2014 ballot when it opens in August, and see what happens.
Address: The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Church Road, Wimbledon, London, SW19 5AE