My second Ramin Karimloo gig in a year – truly, I have been spoiled. This gig rounded off 2019 nicely, in the intimate surroundings of The Other Palace.
Ramin sang lots of Broadgrass-style songs as well as songs from his latest album, From Now On, and other musical hits. No matter how many times I see him live, I am always left wanting more.
Throughout the show, Ramin kept hinting about an exciting forthcoming announcement. It turns out that he will be starring in a concert production of the musical The Secret Garden at the Palladium next spring. That is definitely going on my list!
George IV: Art & Spectacle is the latest exhibition to take place at the Queen’s Gallery, London. This king, who spent many years as Prince Regent (giving the Regency period its name) before taking the throne in his own right, is portrayed here as a keen art collector whose legacy can still be seen today.
Growing up, George was not allowed to leave the country owing to the orders of his father, George III, so instead he collected works of art from all over Europe and the east, as well as paintings of subjects closer to home – his family, and earlier monarchs. His energies were first directed at Carlton House, his London residence, which he filled with art, sculpture and furniture, but his vision eventually outgrew this comparatively small living space. Famously, he established the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, and on becoming king he instigated work at Windsor Castle and Buckingham House, transforming the latter, under the care of architect Thomas Nash, into Buckingham Palace.
It seems that George did have a keen eye: he collected works by the likes of Rembrandt, as well as commissioning works of his own. He enjoyed literature too, keeping a collection of Jane Austen’s works in each of his residences, and inviting Sir Walter Scott to dine.
One thing I found interesting about the exhibition was that George, spending money lavishly at a time of economic hardship for many of his subjects, was widely disliked, and this image of him has coloured our perception. I’m not really surprised, and it makes me wonder if having this exhibition now was really a good choice, as poverty levels in the UK reach crisis point. Not long ago, there was criticism over a plan to refurbish Buckingham Palace during this time of austerity, and however much George IV embraced the arts, I feel similarly about his own spending, fascinating as this exhibition was.
I managed to catch the Secret Rivers exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands on its very last day. The exhibition looks at the history of several of London’s hidden rivers, many of which have been covered over, re-routed or used for other purposes.
First to be examined was the Walbrook, which flowed through the heart of the City of London. This river was often used for ritual (the Temple of Mithras, which I’ve previously visited, was nearby), and the items found in it bear witness to its role at the centre of life in Roman times.
Secondly, the most famous lost river, the Fleet, was explored. This river was located outside of the City, and as such originally played a role at the heart of rural life, before an increasingly dense population helped to pollute the river (during the fourteenth century, people used to build houses with toilets extending out over the river, so that waste would drop directly into it – one of the items recovered from the river was a three-seat medieval toilet). Eventually it was covered and used as a sewer, though you can still swim in the Fleet up at Hampstead, where the outdoor pools are filled with water from this river.
From here, the exhibition explored the contrasting ways in which rivers were used. The Neckinger in Bermondsey, for instance, was heavily polluted and had several mills along its banks, while the Westbourne in west London was used to create the ponds in Hyde Park. The Tyburn, now covered over, has been the subject of a campaign to restore it and use it for fishing, while the Wandle has been uncovered at several points, making it a haven for wildlife. There is also the Lea, still used for recreational activities and transformed towards central London by the construction of the Olympic Park.
Finally, the exhibition looked at the works of art that have been inspired by the hidden rivers. Of particular interest to me were the various books, which I plan to seek out in the future.
I visited the BFI Southbank to attend a panel discussion about 90s Kids’ TV shows. This is exactly my era so I was incredibly excited.
First of all we were treated to a montage of TV shows including Chucklevision, The Queen’s Nose, Art Attack, Power Rangers, Clarissa Explains It All, and many many more, including shows I know and those I wasn’t familiar with. Afterwards, there was a panel discussion featuring actor and writer Sir Tony Robinson, performer Francis Wright, and producer Catherine Robins.
Naturally enough, the discussion focused on the shows that the panel members were involved in. This began with Maid Marian and Her Merry Men (my personal favourite), and it was interesting to hear Sir Tony’s stories and anecdotes about the production of the series. I was particularly excited when Marian and Robin from the series, Kate Lonergan and Adam Morris, made an appearance and came up to the front to talk about their experiences. Another show we heard about was Five Children and It, as Francis Wright was responsible for operating the puppet Psammead.
It was interesting that all three panellists seemed to think the 90s were something of a golden age in childrens’ television: I’ve always thought so but I lived through it, I wondered if it was just nostalgia, but apparently not. It seems officials were more willing to take risks back then, and to educate as well as entertain.
I left the event with my only regret being that I chickened out of asking Kate and Adam for a picture.
The UK jewellery brand Tatty Devine turns 20 this year, and to celebrate has launched a touring exhibition, Misshapes: The Making of Tatty Devine, which kicks off in London before visiting various cities around the UK. As a longtime fan of the brand, I paid a visit on its first day.
The free exhibition, hosted at the Lethaby Gallery, King’s Cross, tells the story of how Tatty Devine founders Rosie Wolfenden and Harriet Vine met at Chelsea College of Art and began to work together, making jewellery out of guitar plectrums, leather samples and other bits of so-called “junk”, running a market stall selling their wares, and eventually, after a trip to New York, settling on acrylic as their main material. With the aid of a laser cutter, they began making jewellery from this versatile substance, and over the years have refined their techniques, pushing the boundaries of what acrylic can do.
I was interested to see examples of the pair’s early work, as this was long before I became a fan of the brand. Some of the early pieces were pretty cool – I wouldn’t mind a keyboard belt. I also didn’t know that the Tatty Devine logo was supposed to resemble the logos in old-style 50s records.
Examples of pieces from every stage of the brand’s heritage were on display. I did find myself with a big wave of Tatty regret as I viewed pieces that have long since vanished from stores (especially the fortune teller statement). However, I also saw a couple of pieces that I do own – one being the William Morris brooch.
I really loved the exhibition as a big fan of the brand. After its stint in London, it will visit various venues around the country – so keep an eye out!
The Red Bull Soapbox Race is held at Alexandra Palace in London every summer. After years of watching it on TV (races from around the world, not just London), I decided to go and see it for myself.
It’s a long walk from the station to Alexandra Palace, and it’s up a pretty big hill, too. (Naturally – they need a hill for the race). Not going to lie, I was shattered by the time I got to the top. It was a warm day, too, which didn’t help.
Refusing to descend the hill again until the end of the day, I made sure to hang about near the top of the course. Here, I could see the soapboxes begin their races, as well as take in the pre-race “show”. Soapboxes queued up here waiting their turn, so I was able to get a good look at them before they set off. My favourite was the Mr Bean-inspired soapbox, with one member of the crew dressed as his teddy.
The one downside of attending the event in person is that you only get to see the soapboxes at one stage of their race, potentially missing out on spectacular crashes further down the line. There are a few video screens here and there, but you have to be in the right position to be able to view them. Still, you do get to experience the great atmosphere.
The origins of writing can be found 5,000 years ago; it began in different places around the world at different times and for different reasons. One of the main advantages of writing was the possibility of communication across time and space: we can, if we understand the alphabet and language used, read what somebody wrote several thousand years ago. Various writing systems and styles have developed, many of which have common ancestors. I found it fascinating to look at different systems and see how they developed from older ones.
Materials and technology have changed over the years, beginning with carved letters produced by a stylus in wax. The ancient Egyptians used papyrus before paper was developed. Handwriting, too, has undergone changes, created first with quill pens then fountain and ball point. Medieval manuscripts gave way to the printed word, which at first emulated the handwritten style. Calligraphy remains a valued, albeit niche, skill even since the development of typewriters and then computers.
Learning to write has always taken time and effort, even from the very beginning. Learning how to form letters is an important part of education for young children. The future of writing surely involves technology, with the increasing use of emojis, but people are still interested in notebooks and pens.
I managed to make it to the Science Museum‘s exhibition The Sun: Living With Our Star before it closed. The exhibition looks at the history of humanity’s knowledge and beliefs surrounding the Sun and the part it plays in our actual and our imaginative lives.
Early humanity’s belief in sun gods searched for explanations as to why the Sun appeared to rise and set every day; we see statues of sun gods from various cultures, including one of the Sun being pulled across the sky by a chariot. In the early sixteenth century, Copernicus challenged the idea that the Sun went round the Earth, supported by Newton 200 years later. From the earliest times, sundials were used to tell the time: there are examples from the Anglo-Saxon era on display. Later, the development of clocks made the Sun less important for telling the time, and nowadays standard time is taken from a network of atomic clocks.
From the earliest times the Sun has been associated with good health. Apollo was the Greek God of the Sun, light, truth and healing, while apothecary shops often had the Sun as their symbol. In the 1880s, scientists learned that ultraviolet light can kill TB bacteria: sunbathing was encouraged, and sanatoriums were opened, often in places like the Swiss Alps, emphasising fresh air, sunlight and good food. Later, suntans became fashionable, as holidays in the UK and abroad were seen as a sign of wealth.
On the other hand, sun exposure has risks, many of which have always been known about. In recent times there have been campaigns to reduce sun exposure and lower levels of skin cancer. Inuit people have been using snow goggles to protect their eyes from the glare of the Sun for thousands of years; the first sunglasses as we know them were used by Venetian gondoliers in the 1700s. Sunglasses became fashionable in the 1950s but rarely offered ultraviolet protection; modern ones are usually UV-resistant.
The exhibition explored how we have taken power from the Sun, using it for heat and electricity. The Olympic torch from the 2012 Olympics was on display: each time the ceremony is held the torch is initially ignited by sunlight, with a curved mirror used to focus the flame. The Sun was responsible for one of our biggest energy sources, coal, which is made of plants and vegetation buried and transformed over millions of years. Interestingly, even in the nineteenth century some people were aware that resources such as coal were finite: a book from 1867 warns that coal will not last forever. More recently, solar power has been used as an energy source, and there have been attempts to recreate the Sun on earth with nuclear fusion: a project called ZETA aimed to do just that in the 1950s, though the claim of success in 1958 was later proved false.
The final section of the exhibition looked at how we have observed the Sun over the years and discovered more about it. The Sun is made of hydrogen and helium, discovered by splitting light into a rainbow structure through the use of a prism; this conclusion was first put forward by astronomy student Cecilia Payne in 1925. More recently, the European Space Agency Solar Orbiter is one of the most ambitious solar missions ever attempted, aiming to fly closer to the Sun than the planet Mercury. It is hoped that the mission will help us understand the origins of the solar wind.
Jewellery of the exhibition
To this exhibition I wore my Eclectic Eccentricity Helios Vintage Sun Necklace, along with a pair of brass star earrings from the same store and a sterling silver sunstone ring from now-defunct jewellery store Cheap Frills.
I almost completely forgot about the Russia exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, but luckily managed to make it there on the very last day. The exhibition was actually divided into two sections, together encompassing history, photography, war and revolution.
Shadows of War: Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea, 1855 was the first part of the exhibition. Fenton was the first photographer to document a war for public consumption. He spent four months in the Crimea, from March 1855. His pictures capture the reality of war and the lives of soldiers in the field. There are some incredible shots, including pictures of the infamous “Valley of Death” (from the Tennyson poem, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’) littered with cannonballs, as well as images of important figures from the war. One of my favourite pictures was of a soldier clearly suffering from shellshock, something which was not really known about or considered at the time.
The second part of the exhibition was Russia, Royalty & the Romanovs, concentrating on the reigns of the numerous monarchs who made up the Romanov dynasty. There were some fascinating paintings and artefacts, including the picture of Peter the Great, highlighting his seagoing achievements (which he partly developed during a visit to London). Some beautiful Faberge eggs were displayed, but probably the most poignant item was a small suit made for the young Tsarevich Alexei.
The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution is a free exhibition at the Science Museum, looking at the life and death of the Russian royal family during the Russian Revolution. It explores their family life in the years running up to Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication, the family’s murder in Ekaterinburg in 1917, and the eventual identification of their remains using DNA technology.
The science used to identify the remains of the Romanov family is the main point of the exhibition, but there is plenty of filler leading up to that, much of which I already knew having read up on Russian history and visited the St Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg where the family are now buried. However, there was a very interesting display showing how Queen Victoria passed on hemophilia to many of her children and grandchildren. The DNA section was also fascinating, showing how DNA from living royals including Prince Philip was used as a comparison to enable scientists to identify the remains.
In any case, it’s a free exhibition and well worth a visit.