Saturday, 31 July 2010

Non-salad days

Have you ever had one of those days when you’re feeling pretty dreadful and possibly a little hung over, (as I was after an evening out with friends who were over from Dubai) and, to make up for it, you eat you eat and eat… and EAT!

I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast because I don’t actually remember, but I’d imagine it was somethingorother comforting like Marmite on toast. Then I had a meeting at Borough Market. A cup of coffee hardly ever passes my lips, but on this occasion it was very strong, neat stuff with sugar.

Afterwards, I suddenly felt like exploring the market, but I couldn’t cast my eyes beyond the signs for pig farmers and free bones (presumably for dogs, or stock, rather than weird voodoo ceremonies).

Focusing on the burly guys chopping up racks of ribs and tearing dead animals apart was well nigh impossible in my fragile state.

However, some of the more voluble stall holders managed to lure me over to try out some curries.

Yes, at 11.0 am I was sampling the delights of Thai and Malaysian chicken dishes, full of spices and …

by the time I reached the Caribbean curry my vision was somewhat out of focus and I was beginning to feel a little queasy (though don’t get me wrong guys, the flavours were totally delicious!)

Next port of call was a café on the main road, where I steadied myself with a mid-morning vegetarian calzone toasted sandwich. Yum.

Actually any carbs would have done the trick, but this certainly hit the spot and I was ready to make the trip back to my office, where I polished off a bag of salt and vinegar crisps on arrival.

You’re probably feeling as ill as I was by now, just reading this. Nevertheless, I put in a good afternoon’s work before heading off for … a fish and chip supper at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Perfect!

Armed with my curiously cheap ticket, I entered the hallowed ground, where men strode purposefully towards dinner.

Although dizzy with expectation, it was probably not a good idea to look up at the towering floodlights...

However, the space age stands and media centre were really impressive. Not sure what the bell is for.

Inside was… fish and (not so authentic or hand cut) chips with divinely mushy peas. I didn’t really want you to see the dollop of butter on the side of my plate - evidence that I'd greedily tucked into some bread beforehand too...

And all watched over by arty portraits of cricketing heroes like Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Viv Richards, Imran Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq and this curiously cricket ball coloured, bare-chested man below, who I think is Brian Lara?

The only thing missing was vinegar.

It was such a pleasure to retire home to bed, though on the way back I stopped to admire this wonderful monument to the marvellously curious game – now also played at night.

It really was rather special and worth remembering – perhaps in a Cooking up Memories journal from ShopCurious. Do check out these lovely books – they’re great as gifts and are totally priceless.

By the way, have you ever had one of those days? Surely I’m not the only one - do tell...

Will you?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Flower filled Summer opera gardens

Summer opera festivals are a time to appreciate the joys of music and nature. Seasonal opera venues are usually in the grounds of magnificent country houses, each with their own uniquely beautiful gardens.

Italian is the traditional language of opera, so it’s hardly surprising that many famous opera gardens have a distinctly Italian flavour.

Garsington Manor’s Italian Garden Pool is one of the most romantic spots to share a pre-opera picnic, amongst classical style stone statues, whilst enjoying sweeping vistas over the Oxfordshire countryside.

Although the opera is moving to pastures new next year, you’ll still be able to visit the garden through the National Gardens scheme, as well as local events.

The house and gardens were restored from near dereliction by the wonderfully eccentric Lady Ottoline Morrell and her husband, Philip, who mixed with London’s Bloomsbury set in the 1920s. Lady Ottoline, a six foot tall redhead sounds curiously fascinating. She was described by Vita Sackville-West as, “a very queer personality…with masses of purple hair, a deep voice, teeth like a piano keyboard and the most extraordinary assortment of clothes, hung with barbaric necklaces… a born

I was wondering about her exploits as I took a stroll around the kitchen garden, sipped a glass of champagne beside the pretty dovecote, and soaked up the scent of classic passion red coloured roses…

Grange Park Opera in Hampshire is rather different, sitting as it does amidst a working agricultural estate, owned by the Baring family. Lord Ashburton apologized for the curious appearance of surrounding fields this year, as sheets of biodegradable wrap covered the maize crop to prevent damage by late frosts...

Ingeniously, the plants grow up through the cover, which eventually disintegrates into the soil. You can see the difference in the amount of greenery that’s visible from these two photographs, taken only a week apart.

Although GPO, as it’s affectionately known, isn't quite so Italianate, it’s got some really dramatic features, like the stunning cedar tree, which becomes ever more magical as the light fades in the evening.

I’m also especially fond of the little twinkling trees at twilight, but then I’m a sucker for anything sparkly.

The opera season at Glyndebourne has an altogether more international following, but the gardens are decidedly English.

Artists in residence have also added their unique touches to the landscape and house, in the form of paintings, photographs and sculptures – like Nic Fiddian-Green’s imposing monumental horse heads.

Here you’ll spot elegantly dressed opera goers picnicking by the lake, beside a field of sheep (grazing on the other side of the the ha-ha), or under the monkey puzzle tree.

Others wile away the afternoon by wandering around the grounds, enjoying the authentic charm of country garden style and the natural beauty of the Summer flowers.

If you’re London based, Holland Park has its own opera season, whilst The Garden Opera company hosts events across the country, including London – they’ll even put one on in your back garden, if you so desire.

By the way, when it comes to finding appropriately dressy accessories for a grand operatic occasion, may I suggest some of the exquisite handmade wooden rings by the Maggio sisters at ShopCurious. With delicately hand painted images in the style of Old Master paintings, each of their Italian garden inspired rings is a one-off work of art. They’re great as special gifts and keepsakes too, especially if you're keen to revive fond memories of flower filled Summer opera gardens.

Are you?

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Exhibition in right royal fashion

Not only is the House of Hardy Amies the pinnacle of stylish decoration, but it also has a wonderful energy and a lovely staff - with the potential to be the source of inspiration to aspiring Amies’ of the future. Moreover, to celebrate the first visit of Queen Elizabeth II to the house in July 1950 (when she was still a Princess), a new exhibition in the Archive Room at No.14 Savile Row features previously unseen sketches, documents, original pictures, letters and garments belonging to members of the House of Windsor. When I took a sneak preview, I found myself signing the visitors’ book directly after members of the Windsor family...

‘The House of Windsor in the House of Hardy Amies’ was officially opened by HRH Princess Alexandra at the end of June 2010 and can be visited until the end of the year, by appointment only. The exhibition features rare sketches of creations produced over 40 years of collaboration with HM The Queen as well as original and duplicate items made for The Queen and other members of the Royal Family – including HRH Princess Michael of Kent (a muse to Sir Hardy Amies), Lady Diana and the Duchess of York. A photograph of the house’s latest muse, Lord Frederick Windsor, is also on prominent display.

One of the main highlights is an incredible giant-sized album, in which Amies collected images and swatches of the various outfits worn by The Queen over a period spanning several decades. This provides a curiously fascinating history of royal dress though the years, as well as an insight into the media coverage of fashion and social reporting during the period.

Amies’ interest in maintaining the photo journal appeared to wane in the latter years, as evidenced by the increasing dearth of photographs in the oversized album...

and the replacement of carefully handwritten pen and ink italics beneath old fashioned cuttings from the daily press by haphazardly placed Post-it notes, atop picture stories from the likes of Hello Magazine.

What I really love about the Amies house is that’s it’s a place of real character. It also seems to reflect the essential character of its clientele – even HM The Queen: The warmth of her personality, along with genuine sincerity and kindness, positively shine out from the letters exchanged between Her Majesty and Sir Hardy Amies.

The house is full of quirky curiosities, like the collection of royal biscuit tins, similar to the ones available at ShopCurious, celebrating HM The Queen’s Coronation in 1953, royal weddings and other regal occasions. Apparently, the heirloom tins were used by Hardy Amies’ couture seamstresses to store their buttons and sewing threads – and now they take pride of place amongst the exhibits.

If you’re able to a secure a place on one of the exclusive private viewings, I’d highly recommend a visit to this extraordinary showcase of our national heritage. What’s more, this retro royal fashion extravaganza is bang on trend.

Are you?

Musical interlude

I was invited to see the musical Oliver! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on Tuesday. What an evening! On a balmy (aka hot and sweaty) Summer night, we were packed into the auditorium with hundreds of tourists, school children and noisy fans. But the show was great – in fact, I was curiously surprised at my reaction to a popular art form that I might otherwise have gone out of my way to avoid.

I was particularly impressed by the interior of the neo-classical building, with its grand staircases, wide corridors and roomy bar spaces, which were a pleasure to behold: Spacious, elegant and redolent of a bygone era of theatrical splendour, adorned with ornate cornicing, gilt framed paintings, and high ceilings with dramatic antique light fittings.

Afterwards, at a dinner held in the magnificent Garrick Club, cast members including the show’s star, Russ Abbot, were in attendance. It was here that I asked Russ where he had learned to sing. Turned out that years ago he’d sung in a backing group, along with a fellow backing singer – none other than Mr Elton John!

I was genuinely surprised at how good a singing voice Russ Abbot has - and he seems to be a really nice guy too. In this production, he makes the role of Fagin his own, adding his trademark style of wit and contemporary interest to Dickens’ curiously insightful storyline.

This is a very entertaining performance and well worth seeing if you get the chance. The sets are also amazing, with backdrops of Victorian London that include St Paul’s Cathedral and quirky British touches, like Bill Sykes’ aggressive little bulldog.

Yesterday, I also discovered that the ingeniously arty Nananapgirl, winner of the Curious Paper Dolls contest held by Are you ShopCurious? at Polyvore had received her prize – a pair of vintage Christian Dior sunglasses. Apparently, they made her look like Elton John, so she’s given them to her son’s finacee, and says, “Who knows where these vintage treasures have been before their trip out to Australia, but they will soon set out for a wedding in Canada and then the new owner’s one in Las Vegas, where they will be splendid.”

Anyway, I’m so pleased these shades have found a good home - and that their cool retro style can be appreciated across the generations... Talking of which, I was also struck by the curious fact that Elton seems to be popping up a lot in the conversation lately. I hope you don’t mind…

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Flowers, fashion and photography

This is not the Chelsea Flower Show, but the new flower inspired exhibition by seven world class photographers at the Diemar/Noble Gallery in London is well worth a visit.

There’s no doubt that flowery decoration is currently in vogue. However, dismiss from your mind the rails of frilled and floaty floral dresses currently filling our chain stores, and distinguished purely by their prosaic Polyester prettiness.

Aside from their innate beauty, flowers are often awarded allegorical significance by curious minded creative types, and are subject to all manner of intriguing artistic interpretations - as in the fascinating works on display in this show:

Photographer Lisa Creagh wanted to combine the handmade elements of detailed and painstakingly constructed handicrafts (like needlework, lace making, quilting and crochet) with the digital possibilities of twenty first century photographic software.

She sought not only to capture the moment, but to also reflect the ‘rich and elaborate patterns of decorative arts… associated with the seasons and cycles of birth and death’ in her ‘Instant Garden’ collection. One of her digitally stylized photographs (above) is based on the design of a floral Persian carpet, with softly lit flower petals, reminiscent of those in Dutch Still Life paintings.

Neeta Madahar photographed her friends alongside plants whose flowers have women’s names, such as Poppy, Orchid and Primrose. Photographs in her Flora collection are styled in the fashion of vintage Hollywood glamour images, with a little bit of a modern twist.

The sitters for the photos suggested the emotions they wished to convey through their portraits. However, a theme central to all is the rejection of conventional fashion models: the photos are a comment on the requirement for women to live up to fantasy ideals of the female form.

This curiously evocative composition (right) by Dora Maar reminds me of Audrey Hepburn, who was often photographed together with flowers. However, the unique oversized 1930s print on show at Diemar/Noble Photography is of Assia, Maar’s favourite model.

Maar herself, admired in the art world for her avant garde and surrealist imagery, is actually most famous for being the sitter, muse and partner of Pablo Picasso and, of course, ‘The Weeping Woman’.

28 Day Flower Diary by Kate Owens is a series of digital bouquets that mirror Victorian floral arrangements, which were used to express unspoken feelings. Owens wished to make visible the physical, sexual and emotional effects of the menstrual cycle. She wanted to contrast the uncontrollable forces of female nature with attempts to repress emotional urges through occupations such as floristry which, in the past, were seen as a way of keeping women occupied and out of trouble.

My, how times have changed! Nevertheless, expressing a love of all things floral is something that’s probably been a constant through the ages.

Anyway, if you’re a flower fancier, you should definitely check out the Italian garden inspired hand painted bangles that are newly available at ShopCurious – and do pop into the gallery to see these fabulous photos, and many more too.

Will you?