Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sherlock Holmes at The Museum of London

It's no secret that I'm a massive bookworm. So it's with a little reticence that I admit that my fascination with Arthur Conan Doyle's pipe-smoking detective sprung from not the novels but the recent BBC series. The slick design of the episodes, repackaged for a 21st century audience, paired with the Cumberbatch-Freeman bromance - it was love at first watch. I've since seen all the episodes multiple times and am slowly reading my way through the novels. So it made perfect sense to drag my equally Sherlock-smitten boyfriend along to the Museum of London for the eponymous exhibition. Where better to stage an exhibition about a 'man who never lived and will never die' than in the ancient centre of London, a city synonymous with Sherlock? 

Photographs aren't allowed apart from at certain points in the exhibition, so I can only share a few pictures with you. But that's good because it means I can avoid spoiling the great Sherlock memorabilia on display! 

Alex and I fell head over heels with whoever curated and designed the exhibition when we saw the entrance. Through a bookcase panel! Too amazing. It set the scene for the rest of the display, loosely resembling the interior of 221B Baker Street.

The viewer is immersed in Sherlock-themed visual material from the outset - from the original Sidney Paget illustrations to the posters of the panoply of TV and film adaptations spawned by the novels.

There's also a wealth of mid-to-late Victorian imagery of London - paintings by the likes of Whistler, old maps, sketches - and above, an incredibly detailed engraving of London seen from a hot air balloon towards the end of the 19th century. As you can see from the boy's face, he was particularly enamoured with this section.

My favourite section? A column of postcards set into glass that invited the visitor to play detective and search for a particular missive related to the Sherlock stories...

And then we had a little bit of dressing up. This seems to be a bit of a theme when we go to museums nowadays.

Ok, I clearly wasn't the height the curators had in mind for their target audience (and this is me on my tiptoes...) And I seem to have lost my hand. Curious. Definitely a case for the one in the deerstalker...

Alex was a much more sensible man-sized height.

The door to Sherlock's gaff.

And upon crossing the threshold of the door, we were greeted with cabinets upon cabinets of props. Everything from the dressing gown worn by Cumberbatch in the latest TV series to various violins played on by a range of Sherlock incarnations (and accompanying reedy audio clips), delicious-looking type writers, the different types of tobacco ash...and, of course, a cornucopia of makeup and wigs as utilised by Sherlock, master of disguise.

The dressing up didn't end with the exhibition, by the way. The Sherlock-themed offerings at the Museum of London giftshop allowed Alex to indulge in a little wearing of his favourite Victorian millinery. Yup... my boyfriend is a hat man.

The Sherlock exhibition is on at the Museum of London until April 2015 and entry is £11.45/£9.45 concession. You can have a mosey through the website here, and there seem to be a range of events on offer that I'm quite tempted by too - Sherlock-themed cocktail hunt, anyone?

Feeling peckish, we rounded off our evening by catching a tube into central London to hang out at a couple of places we've enjoyed frequenting since we started dating a few years ago. First up...

...Wong Kei! Famed for the rudest waiters in Chinatown - and the cheapest food. It's supposedly had a makeover but the décor looked just as 90s (think the kind of furniture and flooring they used to have in McDonalds) as it always has. And I like it that way.

I know my Chinese food (maybe I'll do a post on the best affordable Chinese dining in the capital at some point!) and Wong Kei's food is nowhere near the top of my list. But like I say, it's cheap and plentiful and ideal for a date when you're a bit broke like us. And I'll never say no to a plate of roast duck and crispy pork belly...

The best thing about scrimping on your dinner is... can splash out on dessert!

Al and I love Gelupo. We shared a tub of coconut, pistachio, and chocolate, ricotta and black pepper. scoops. Yum. Gelupo also had all sorts of Halloween treats on offer (yup, that's how long my blogging backlog is...) and I thought they looked great.

These are the kinds of spiders I like. Quite different from the hairy creatures that struggle out of the plughole towards me when I'm trying to take a shower...

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

How Kindness Boosted My Body Confidence

We've all got our body hang-ups. On a bad day, mine make me want to crawl into bed and sob. I've got an inexplicable dimple in my forehead. Calves that will never be as long and slim as I'd like. Skin that tends to misbehave even though I'm in my twenties. The latter had me feeling highly self-conscious one day a few weeks ago. I was suffering from a breakout thanks to a cold that involved blowing my nose, thereby irritating the skin around my philtrum (the groove above your top lip!) Yeah, I know, sexy. Feeling rubbish, I'd opted for comfy (read: scruffy and old) clothes, and hadn't bothered to put on any makeup or wash my hair, let alone run a brush through it. London, unlike me, was on top form, so during my lunch break, I went outside to photograph the surrounding area on my phone (as above!) When an old lady approached me, I thought she'd ask if I wanted her to take my picture for me - but instead she asked if I would model for her right there and then. I was surprised. And frankly a bit horrified, given my appearance.

I stood there awkwardly as the  auntie (who introduced herself as Noriko) snapped away with her manual camera - all the while, telling me how beautiful I looked. And although she was probably being charming to try and get me to open up a little, I couldn't help but feel warm inside. It's so lovely to receive a genuinely nice compliment from a stranger, don't you find? It sounds horribly shallow, but my body image was so low that day that Noriko's comments were exactly the boost I needed. I'm sure I sat up straighter, communicated with my colleagues more boldly and worked harder that afternoon. And it made me think: perhaps if I had more self-confidence, I'd perform like this every day.

This week, Noriko emailed me her photos. In the accompanying message, she told me that she had come to the London Bridge area in order to take photos of the Shard. When she saw me, though, she said that she felt that something 'triggered' in her to ask me to model for her - and was glad that her intuition proved to be right, because she ended up winning a competition run by her photography club using the shots. I know that I will never ever be a model, but thanks to Noriko's kind words, I've definitely been feeling more confident since. Noriko, ありがとうございました ! Though yours was an unpremeditated, random act of kindness, you ended up making me feel so much happier about myself.  

I know my body hang-ups can impair my self-confidence - and even my productivity - a lot of the time. So I'd love to know - how do you get over yours (if you have any, that is?) 

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Art of the Brick

Are you prepared for a trip down memory lane? Well, there's an alternative exhibition in town. The medium? Thousands upon thousands of little Lego bricks. I've never seen Alex so excited to see an art show - except for the Sherlock exhibition (but more on that another day!) Nathan Sawaya, a big-shot American lawyer, hung up his legal wig in order to pursue his love for the little bricks, and this exhibition showcases all the sculptures he's made from Lego since. Including the beauty above. When I saw this incredible T-Rex piece on Lisa's blog, I knew I had to go and see it. You all know what a palaeontologist wannabe dino fan I am by now. Here's my personal highlights from the show!

In the first few rooms are Sawaya's Lego-fied replicas of the Old Masters - pieces that everyone knows by sight, and that I as an art historian must know by name (or risk humiliation)! Sawaya pays homage to van Gogh's Starry Night, Leonardo's Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's sculpture of David, Rodin's Thinker and more. Alex and I were particularly drawn to his version of Munch's The Scream, having seen one of the originals at the Nationalmuseet when we visited Oslo in January (before I started this blog!)

On a sidenote: I love the Nationalmuseet. It was almost empty when we visited, but the work inside was fantastical and mainly unknown to me. A real gem.

The serene blue light in this room lent it a hushed, underwater atmosphere. 

What I imagine when yoga instructors tell me that I'm holding a heart-opening pose.

Lots of ways to read this one. Do the hands represent the manacles of society? Are they guiding the man's every move? Or are they trying to pull him back from the edge?

And the star piece of the exhibition, given an appropriately Jurassic Park mood with jungle sound effects piped over the loudspeakers. Let's face it, it was always going to steal the show for me! Apparently Sawaya spent a whole summer labouring over this one. Lego and dinosaur skeletons - a match made in geek heaven.

At the end of the exhibition, there's a buzzing room full of visitors making their own Lego creations. I was never a Lego aficionado back in the day, but Alex, number one Lego fan, whizzed around the room looking for bits and pieces to complete his rocket thingy. Space missile. Whatever. (I'm not jealous at all...)

So. I'm not sure I would deem some of Sawaya's work 'art' exactly - not in the fine art sense, anyway. I think the curators are aware of this from the fact that they encourage the photo-taking and sharing on social media, as usually photography is banned at exhibitions (and often for good reason, too.) If you're in London and looking for a serious art show to see, I'd recommend going to see Late Turner at the Tate Britain (preferably after seeing the Mike Leigh film!) That's got bags of emotion, colour and raw talent - and the tickets are about the same price as this. But everyone's idea of what constitutes art is different, and although Art of the Brick wasn't completely my cup of tea, it might be yours. With a lighthearted vibe reminiscent of a theme-park (Legoland) at times, it's definitely one to take the kids to. Or, alternatively, your Lego-loving significant other...

The exhibition will be running at the Old Truman Brewery off Brick Lane until January 2015, and you can buy your tickets here

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hurricane Sunset

A couple of weeks ago, the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo swept through England, raising the usual furore on the weather reports. Truth be told, we were barely affected here in London. What the tail end of Gonzalo did bring with it was the first taste of winter - freezing rain droplets on my cheeks, gusts and bluster, and a sunset that set the sky on fire, almost reminiscent of Turner's The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons at times. Walking through the park at the time, I gaped up at the sky as other commuters hurried past me, eager to escape the icy sting of the rain. Fascinated by the ever-changing colours of the sunset, I couldn't resist photographing the process, from the initial flaming orange hues to a short respite in the form of a weak rainbow, and finally the sombre blues of dusk tinged with gold. I'd like to think that Turner, fascinated as he was by the invention of the daguerrotype, might have done the same.

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hix Oyster and Chop House

I'd been gunning for a visit to one of Mark Hix's restaurants for quite some time. Hix fuses great British food with great British modern art in his eateries - in Tramshed there are pieces by big names like Damien Hirst, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Michael Landy...the list goes on. According to his website, food and art are the perfect marriage, and as an art historian, I'm duty-bound to agree! My mum's a big oyster fan, so when her birthday rolled around this year I decided to book Hix Oyster and Chop House in Farringdon.

On walking into the restaurant I clocked the giant Tim Noble and Sue Webster neon hanging on the wall immediately. When reflected in the mirror, it reads 'fucking beautiful'. Oh, for the love of modern art.

You'll have to forgive me for completely forgetting the specifics of the dishes that arrived on our table. That's what you get when you order a round of very delicious apple elderflower cocktails at the start of the meal and forget to note down what else you ordered...

I started with the 'Heaven and Earth' dish. Sticky black pudding perched on a bed of crushed potatoes.

My sister and mother went for the oysters, and they were so good they ordered another platter, letting me sample a couple. They tasted fresh from the sea, salty and acidic from a light dousing of lemon juice and red wine vinegar and shallot sauce.

The mains came next, and this is the point where things go a little fuzzy. I'm pretty sure I ordered duck but can't be 100% sure, since the plate's been taken off the menu since! Unfortunately, all I remember about the actual bird was that the meat was a bit chewy and I had to work hard to get it off the bone. The vegetables and accompanying side of creamy mash went down a treat though.

Mum chose sea bream and Briony got her meat fix with hanger steak and bone marrow, accompanied by an unctuous béarnaise and chips. 

We chatted about how Briony's university term has been going so far over our cornucopia of sides and admired Mum's earrings.

Dessert for me came in the form of a hedgerow trifle. This is always the kind of pudding I make a beeline for, but it was a little too sweet and rich for me and I couldn't bring myself to finish it. 

And for my sister, a Peruvian gold chocolate mousse. It may not look much, but trust me. This. Was. Sensational. It slipped down all too easily, leaving a completely unexpected kick of flavour in the back of the throat, almost like alcohol, that left me addicted. 

A trio of chocolate truffles to celebrate my mother's birthday provided a lovely full stop to the meal - a very sweet touch from the waiters.

I think Briony's chocolate mousse, the elderflower cocktails and the oysters were stunning, but I have to be honest and admit that the rest of the meal didn't overly wow me. I may have been a little tipsy after the cocktails, but the fact I could barely remember what my main was must mean it wasn't all that memorable. The hit and miss elements might just be down to my bad ordering though - all three of the dishes I ordered have been taken off the menu now, while the Peruvian gold chocolate mousse, hanger steak and oysters remain. I also really enjoyed eating in the presence of modern art and thought the service was impeccable. And I'd definitely go back just for that Peruvian chocolate mousse... 

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