History

One thing I really enjoyed about the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Ocean Liners exhibition, was seeing new, and unexpected, works by 20th century artists I’d long admired.

Take Edward Ardizzone, (1900-1979). I knew him as a children’s book illustrator but didn’t know that the P & O Line had commissioned him to produce three large murals for the first class children’s playroom on board the Canberra in 1960-61. This is a detail from one of them.

Left hand side of Edward Ardizzone’s ‘Canberra’ mural

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Earlier this week I was invited to the preview of the new blockbuster exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum: Ocean Liners: Speed and Style. If you want a bit of luxury and glamour – and who doesn’t? – this is a must see exhibition. So this week I’m inviting you to come with me back to the glory days of the Ocean Liner and let me take you on a luxury five day London to New York trip – no expense spared.

Cunard poster

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It’s been a chilly, damp week and I’m longing for a bit of sunshine, so today I’m revisiting sunny Sardinia, a fascinating island, full of interest. And it’s a beautiful country, especially up in the mountains.

View at Serra Orrios. Note the cork oak with its bark stripped in the foreground

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This is one of my favourite objects in the British Museum. It’s an automaton of a nef, that is, a model of a galleon, the state of the art ship of the 15th-16th centuries which epitomized European power and expansion at the time. The model shows an ungainly-looking vessel whose massive sails are furled, and with its foremast, a main mast and mizzen mast sticking up with the crows’ nests awkwardly curled round them.

Gilded copper and iron nef, c.1585, 90 cms high from the port side.

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Mr Little’s auction house, Barnard Castle, Co. Durham. I am about eight and I spot an interesting-looking orange book on an old table. It is Little Women. I pick it up and show it to my mother who says in surprise,  ‘Haven’t you read it?’ I shake my head. She takes the book and marches off to find Mr Little; two minutes and half-a-crown later, the book is mine.

My copy of ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott

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Power dressing is not a modern phenomenon, as the new exhibition Charles II: Art and Power at The Queen’s Gallery amply shows.

King Charles I by Edward Bower, 1649

The exhibition opens with Edward Bower’s remarkable portrait of King Charles I at his trial before the High Court of Justice in the Great Hall of the Palace of Westminster in January 1949. It is obvious that the King knows exactly how to convey his contemptuous refusal of the court’s right to try an anointed king. He sits on a red velvet armchair – and refused either to stand or to take off his hat – his accusers were not his equals and he didn’t owe them any courtesy. His hat is tall, wide-brimmed and visible; it must have been carefully chosen to make the maximum impact.

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I’ve always had a soft spot for Charles II (1630-1680). I know he is often thought of as a lascivious, extravagant king, always short of money and having running battles with Parliament. I see him rather differently. Partly because, I confess, I find him a very attractive man; I know this shouldn’t affect a rational view of him 337 years on, but there we are.

  1. Charles II by John Michael at his coronation. He wears King Edward’s crown and holds the newly made orb and sceptre. 

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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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There’s something very serene about the combination of birds, particularly swans, and water. Sometimes, waterfowl can be aggressive towards each other birds, or squabble about food, but, generally speaking, they move gently but purposefully, and I find looking at them very calming. I was brought up in the country and trees, water, birds and wildlife generally is something I miss.

Leeds Castle and waterfowl

I was thinking about this last week when I visited Leeds Castle in Kent. The castle itself is built on an island in the River Len and surrounded by a wide moat which is almost a lake and next to Great Water, another lake. The walk there, through woods by the river and passing yet more ponds and lakes, means there is plenty of room for waterfowl.

Black swan and white swans, mallard and coot

I loved the contrast between the dramatic black swan and the other white swans, whilst smaller mallard and the occasional coot provided the supporting cast. I’d had a tiring week and, as I watched them, I could feel the tension leaching out of me. I could stop and admire them; I didn’t have to rush.

White swan and cormorant

I stopped again by the cascade garden and walked to the middle of a scarlet, vaguely Chinese-looking bridge which faced a cascade at the end of a large pond, where another swan was majestically sailing. Nearby on the low stone edging, a cormorant stood awkwardly, its neck stuck out at an angle.

White swan

As the white swan floated past, the cormorant slipped into the water and followed, looking ungainly, almost as if it was half-submerged.

Canada geese and a stray mallard on the grass in front of the larger pond

In the distance,  you can just see the small green train on the left crossing the green on the far side of the lake which takes visitors straight to the castle. I preferred to walk through the woods but it’s a couple of miles and there’s no doubt the train is quicker, besides giving the visitor a ringside view of the castle itself.

It was all very good for the soul.

Elizabeth Hawksley

 

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