Exploring London

Kensal Green Cemetery is an extraordinary place with an astonishing variety of tombstones: Do you fancy ivy twining up crosses, you have it; angels dancing on the roof of a classical columned temple, you have that, too; there are severe Egyptian-style family vaults, as well as pointy Gothic shrines. Furthermore, it is gloriously egalitarian; royalty lies within a stone’s throw of self-made men, quack-doctors, artists, and incongruously modern gravestones with plastic flowers.

General View looking west towards the catacombs

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I write blogs, first and foremost, because I enjoy it. I’ve always been interested in history, travel, literature and the arts generally and I want to write about the places I’ve been to and things I’ve seen. I particularly love seeing places which the general public don’t normally see. As a novelist, what interests me are the stories. I want my readers to become involved, and for that, my writing must be both emotionally engaged with the topic but I must also retain my professional objectivity to ensure that what I say is accurate. It can be a tricky balance.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

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Lambeth Palace, situated on the south bank of the Thames, more or less opposite Westminster Abbey, has been the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury for over 500 years. Its garden is one of the oldest in the country, though it has, of course, undergone numerous transformations as times and garden fashions changed. The garden is open to the public on the first Friday of the month from April to September. And I’ve just been to the last open day of 2017.

The Gatehouse, Morton’s Tower, c.1495. This is the imposing entrance – you can see people queuing

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On a chilly Sunday back in March, I wrote about the Culpeper Community Garden. This weekend, I decided to revisit it. It’s still the same peaceful place it was, with people sitting under trees or on the benches enjoying the sunshine. But, in late August, the general impression is that the flowers are past their best and many of the forty allotments need an end of summer clear out.

View from east to west

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Last week, I visited the World Heritage Site of Greenwich. I particularly wanted to see the Painted Hall in the Old Royal Naval College, built by John Webb, a pupil of Christopher Wren. It was once the Royal Naval Hospital, the naval equivalent of the Chelsea Hospital for retired soldiers, the Chelsea Pensioners, and the building I had come to see had been designed as a magnificent communal dining-room for retired sailors.

Old Royal Naval College. The Painted Hall is on the left 

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This year, the Buckingham Palace State Rooms’ summer opening to the public has Royal Gifts as their theme. These are gifts that have been given to The Queen during her reign as part of the State Visits’ formal exchange of gifts. It is an opportunity for both countries to showcase their countries’ craftsmanship as well as to give something which they think the recipient will appreciate.

It is like entering in Aladdin’s cave. One of the most spectacular gifts is the ornate gold presentation tray from Ethiopia. Its inscription reads:

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Last Tuesday, I was invited to the Bloggers’ Breakfast at the Royal Mews. I particularly wanted to see the Gold State Coach, the one used at the Queen’s coronation. I’d seen it a number of times on television, of course, but I’d never seen it for real. My first impression was that it was enormous – which it is at 7.3 metres long, 2.5 meters wide and 3.9 metres high. It lives in the State Coach House and it’s quite a business to get it out when it’s required. First of all, they have to remove a false wall and a window; then everything that can be, must be got out of the way; and only after that can it be turned the necessary 90 degrees and pointed at the now-revealed door – and that alone takes two and a half days.

The Gold State Coach: it’s so big I can’t get it all in the photo

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Visiting the Musical Museum near Kew Bridge last week was huge fun and it’s something I thoroughly recommend. So what’s it about? It comprises a large collection of 19th – early 20th century self-playing musical instruments and (and this is the fun bit) most of them still work. I went on a group tour, guided by the wonderful Roy Huddlestone – now eighty-six and looking twenty years younger – who not only knows the various instruments and their stories inside out but also demonstrates them, to thrilling effect. Until you’ve heard the Popper ‘Clarabella’ Orchestrion, which, in its 1910 heyday thrilled customers in a German Bier Garten, complete with flashing lights and lit up ornamental waterfall, not to mention a bronze statue of the Pied Piper, belting out popular tunes fortissimo with full orchestral piano, xylophone, Glockenspiel, drums, cymbals and triangle, you ain’t lived.

Orchestrion from the front

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No matter how frazzled I’m feeling, a visit to Kew Gardens with a friend always sorts me out. It’s impossible to feel anything but a sort of peaceful joy when faced with trees in their new spring green, the bluebell woods, tree reflections in the lakes, and the variety of colours of the flowers in the Broad Walk. So, if you, too, feel in need of some soothing nature, here is what you can see in Kew Gardens in early May.

The bluebell woods

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