Wednesday 30 September 2020


My last visit to the V&A a few weeks ago was slightly lack-lustre; I was pleased to be back but it felt lifeless, only the ground floor open, no exhibitions, no buzz. This week - it was fabulous. And as someone who hates booking in advance - perversely, I'm never in the mood when the day comes - I was thrilled to be able to book my ticket for their Kimono exhibition only an hour before I needed to set out.  A spontaneous outing - how exciting is that!

And it was gorgeous ... one exquisite thing after another (and so much more enjoyable with hardly anyone there!) One of my favourites was a C19 summer kimono relating to a famous passage in Japanese literature when the hero comes to a bridge through the iris marshes and composes a poem of homesickness for his wife.

And this is for a young woman ... sparrows and bamboo in the snow. Apparently, to wash a kimono you have to unpick it, then stitch it together again - although I suppose if you can afford silken sparrows in the snow, you can afford a laundrymaid. 

This famous actor (C1805-10) famously wore a stage costume with a design spelling out the message 'I don't give a damn.' His fans rushed out to copy it - like C19 kimono punks. 

Frederick William Burton, 1873

And look how kimono caught on abroad ... I want one! That actual kimono survives and is in the exhibition.

And to end with some Japanese feminism c1890, this is Daydream of a Woman Giving a Speech (and making men listen!) I'm sure she'd have got on well with Mrs Pankhurst.

Monday 28 September 2020

Bit of a chilly day for Chelsea Physic Garden - but how lovely to see grapefruit growing outdoors in London - the tree was weighed down with fruit - as well as kiwi fruit (a few) and lots of pomegranates.  The Scots Guards were playing show tunes on the lawn and I shivered and enjoyed it. Pleased to see that Sir Hans is still in pride of place!
There have been some fascinating talks for Chelsea History Festival - still available online - and I recommend Charles Spencer (a brilliant speaker) on The White Ship and Ben Macintyre on Agent Sonya:


In a quiet English village in 1942, an elegant housewife emerged from her cottage to go on her usual bike ride. A devoted wife and mother-of-three, the woman known to her neighbours as Mrs Burton seemed to epitomise rural British domesticity.

However, rather than pedalling towards the shops with her ration book, she was racing through the Oxfordshire countryside to gather scientific intelligence from one of the country's most brilliant nuclear physicists. Secrets that she would transmit to Soviet intelligence headquarters via the radio transmitter she - was hiding in her outdoor privy.

She went on to become a best-selling children's writer, East Germany's answer to Enid Blyton. I definitely need to buy the book.

Monday 14 September 2020

 'Palace of art' built up by 'real Henry Higgins' reopens: The Arab Hall in Leighton House

It's been years, maybe decades since I last visited Leighton House - but wow! Wouldn't you just love to host a party here? Preferably wearing  a gown like this. This was a lovely Sunday afternoon outing. (And the staff seem able to manage a simple one-way system without turning it into a joyless manoeuvre for jobs'worths.)

Wasn't so keen on my visit a few days ago to Pitzhanger Manor: the house seemed scruffy and neglected, and a banal, noisy exhibition has Hogarth's Rake's Progress - back at Pitzhanger for the first time in 200 years - sidelined in a tiny room. Meanwhile, several competing sound installations made it impossible to hear any one of them. They have some lovely small exhibitions here; this isn't one of them. Not worth the detour, even when the detour is only crossing the road on the way to Tesco; and at nearly £8 to get in, I'd file this under, "You must be joking!' Sir John Soane's Museum reopens shortly: free of the deadening municipal stamp  of Ealing Council - and free to get in!

St. James's Church, Piccadilly | Mayfair & St James's Association

After several weeks tied to my desk, I've been out and about this week - and had the inspired the idea of going to a lunchtime piano recital at St James's, Piccadilly. I sat up in the gallery - one person per pew - and enjoyed my view of architectural details. The audience spanned 'much older and wrinklier than me' down to a row of young lads with spectacular Mohican haircuts. I'm not very musical but this was the first live music I'd heard in months - and it was fabulous. I'm planning on making it a weekly date. Followed by a browse in an almost empty Fortnum & Mason's. (Perhaps I could Eat Out to Help Out in the chocolate department?) 

Sunday 6 September 2020

 Chiswick Flower Market Opens in September

Well, that was disappointing. The first new public flower market for 150 years - and there weren't any flowers! Honestly, none - just house plants and bedding plants - and I was looking forward to coming home with armfuls of dahlias. It has been billed as the Columbia Road of the West - I think I'll stick with the Columbia Road of the East. Only too happy to Buy Flowers to Help Out - but I came home disgruntled without getting my purse out! 

Saturday 5 September 2020

 Chelsea History Festival | The place to explore history

Lots of interesting talks coming up at Chelsea History Festival and they're mostly free if you listen online rather than go in person; which isn't quite the same as being there but free v £15 and it might be raining focused my mind! I've booked - quite a few!

Friday 4 September 2020


At least autumn means something decent on TV! It's so long - decades - since I read The Singapore Grip that I honestly can't remember anything about it. I've only seen the first episode of the new ITV series but it's a great cast and hugely enjoyable so far. In fact, quite the best thing that's been on TV for ages. 

Thursday 3 September 2020


Nereid Monument | The Kosmos Society

This has always been one of my favourite rooms in the British Museum and the nereids have a wonderful élan. I was surprised how busy it was today; the busiest place I've been in months - but, to my delight, hardly anyone at the Parthenon marbles,  When I say busy, of course, it was nothing like the heaving throng that you get in normal times - which is why I hardly ever go there. It's good to be out and about again even if it does feel regimented. Later I went for a stroll through Bloomsbury which was looking suddenly autumnal.

Tuesday 1 September 2020

Jules Dupré - The sea, after 1875 (Ordrupgaard museum) Detail cr. Alexandre  Behnam | Art, Painting, Outdoor
Jules Dupré - The sea

This was one of my favourite paintings recently in the Royal Academy's Gauguin and the Impressionists exhibition. I've never come across Jules Dupré as far as I can recall - but that is properly wet sea and, maybe because it's months since I've seen the sea, I felt very drawn to it. 

Snowy Landscape, Eragny, Evening - Camille Pissarro

I'm not wild about Gauguin (anyway, he's tagged on the end of the exhibition almost as an afterthought) but I do love Pissarro and this snowy scene - though it doesn't reproduce well - lit up the whole gallery and kept drawing me back. It's glowing when you see it for real. 

Camille Pissarro, Plum Trees in Blossom, Éragny (The Painter's Home)
Camille Pissarro, Plum Trees in Blossom, Éragny (The Painter's Home)

All the works come from Ordrupgaard in Copenhagen - where I visited once, about 30 years ago,  so apart from a few that were familiar from exhibitions, over the years, they all seemed new to me. 

Woman With a Jug, c1858-60, by Édouard Manet.
Woman With a Jug, c1858-60, by Édouard Manet.

It did seem strangely busy at the Royal Academy; rather more jostling than anywhere else I've been. I felt quite put out - I've been enjoying my peaceful gallery visits as as a definite COVID-plus!