Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘UK & IRELAND’ Category

Imperial War Museum, June 4th, 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 5, 2015

Today started with a pleasant breakfast at Caffe Russell … a short stroll from the hotel through Russell Square.  There’s a pretty fountain, and lots of dogs rampaging around in a well-behaved British kind of way, and people sit outside in the sunshine with their briefcases and read the paper. Breakfast is unexceptional but the coffee is good and the wait staff are very friendly and nice. (Yes, you read that right, the coffee is good. It’s like Melbourne coffee).

We took the tube to Lambeth North via Piccadilly Circus, making the acquaintance of friendly Poms who’d been to Australia en route. We started chatting with the first one when he made a joke about making squeezing onto the train an Olympic sport and I said that the Poms would win that event for sure – and it turned out he’d been to Perth though not to Melbourne. Conversation started with the second one when he noticed the Tassie Wooden Boat Centre logo on Tim’s windcheater, and it turned out that he’d worked in Tassie for a year or so, and had spend a little time in Melbourne too. It’s friendly encounters like these that make me work harder at learning foreign languages, because I want to have similar experiences in other countries too, if I can.

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The entrance to the Imperial War Museum is dominated by these massive naval guns from WW1 battleships. They can fire 15″ shells for 29km, and those yellow things in the picture are the shells. It’s quite horrible to think of these things raining death and destruction at sea. But there were more than a few sobering artefacts in the museum, as you’d expect…

The purpose of our visit, however, was to see the Fashion on the Ration exhibition.  (Sorry, no photos allowed).  I was interested in this because my mother was a young woman during the war, and so her young womanhood was spent mostly in uniform.  She was in the ATS, driving POWs up to Leith Fort in Scotland, and ferrying supplies across the channel and salvaging spare parts from wrecked vehicles from near the front.   According to the signage, the ATS uniform was thought to be the most drab, and the lisle stockings a lot less desirable than the smart navy ones worn by women in the other services.

It was fascinating to see how women managed to make the most of the ration and still look quite smart.  There was a lot of mend-and-make-do, and they made sure to wear aprons and wrappers to protect their clothes when they were doing housework, but there were Vogue patterns for some stylish frocks and some amazing accessories made from plastic salvaged from the factories.  There were sobering vignettes about the dangers of factory work: some women did not like to have their hair tied back in those drab nets, but suffered terrible injuries when their hair was caught in the machinery.

When I saw a lifesize image of Dior’s New Look which so captivated my mother after the war, I mentioned it to Tim – and was immediately asked about it by some schoolgirls who were there visiting the exhibition.  The signage was really well done, I thought, but perhaps it had more impact to hear about these things from a real person?  The girls gathered around me and asked about this and that, and so I told them how when my mother was their age that she would have had very few clothes compared to them, and that she was thrilled by the new designs that used so much more material when the restrictions were lifted some years after the war.  We talked about how boys like her brother (my Uncle Pat) were only allowed to have shorts until they were 13, and men couldn’t have turn-ups on their trousers.  And I showed the girls how they wouldn’t have been allowed to have so many pleats on ther uniforms that they were wearing either. They were just at the age when clothes really start to matter, so they were really interested…

They didn’t know anything about food rationing so I told them about how it was still in force when my older sister was a baby so that there was just one egg for the family for the week, and how it was a disaster when as a baby she threw a shoe out of her pram unobserved and my father tramped the streets afterwards looking for it, but never found it.   I suppose all this is so long ago for school kids now, that it’s ancient history!

From there we went upstairs to the Heroes exhibition, which profiled the numerous VCs from Britain’s wars, and then we went to the Holocaust Exhibition.  It was very sobering, especially seeing the scale model of Auschwitz which showed the dreadful process in a ghastly white snowy landscape.  On the lower floors there was an exhibit about Britain’s secret operations, from the Enigma codebreaker to MI5 and MI6, and there was also a vivid exhibition about one family’s experience of WW2.

All in all, it was much better than I had expected: I thought there would be more about weapons and equipment, but it mainly focussed on people and the impact of war.  I probably would never have gone to this museum if not for the Fashion on the Ration exhibition, but I’m really glad we went.

IMG_1743We had an indifferent lunch at a nearby pub called The Three Stags – which had the most interesting wallpaper I’ve ever seen!  Until I looked properly I thought it was just another set of nostalgic images that you see everywhere, showcasing British country life.  But no.  On closer inspection, the images turned out to be social commentary.  On the top RHS you may be able to see the man in a suit striding past with his mobile phone  – oblivious to the homeless person sitting on the park bench.  And below that on the LHS, you can see a man being held up by a robber.

Tomorrow we’ve off to Amsterdam,  so we bid farewell to the lovely people at the Montague who have looked after us so well.  It will be our first trip to the Netherlands so we are really looking forward to it:)

 

Posted in Museums, UK 2015 | Tagged: | 11 Comments »

A day for family and friends, June 3rd 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 4, 2015

Today was a day to catch up with family and friends. In the morning I met up at the London Review Bookshop café with my sister, her daughter and my three grand-nieces, including meeting the littlest one for the first time. So much to talk about! But yes, I did find time to buy a new book: three novels in one by Henry Green, so I shall be ready for Henry Green Week next time it comes along.

At lunchtime, we had a blogger’s lunch.  Yes, all four of us are bloggers!  Stu from Winston’s Dad wasn’t able to be with us due to a recent bereavement but he was with us in spirit as we met up again with expat Aussie Kim from Reading Matters, and had the pleasure of meeting Jonathan from Intermittencies of the Mind for the first time.  Jonathan is also a fellow contributor to The Works of Emile Zola,  so there was much bookish talk over a splendid pub lunch at the Marquis Cornwallis in Bloomsbury, not far from our hotel.

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(Tim who blogs at The Logical Place, took the photo, so he’s not in the picture. Great photo, Tim, thanks!)

Posted in UK 2015 | 15 Comments »

Indigenous Australia Exhibition at the British Museum, June 3rd 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 3, 2015

In the afternoon we visited the Indigenous Australia Exhibition at the British Museum.

Nobody was taking photos so we thought we’d better not, but there is a video at the BM website that shows some of the paintings.

The exhibition was smaller than we were expecting, and I had thought that there would be more artefacts that had been taken back to Britain by the early explorers and settlers.  Still, it was interesting to see the original of “Batman’s Treaty” and that notorious poster that was used to show the Aborigines that British justice would be applied to both the indigenous people and the settlers.  (Which of course it wasn’t.)  There were examples of tools, weapons, basketwork, and jewellery and so on, and the signage was quite well done I thought though it glossed over some things such as the number of indigenous language groups that have been lost or are endangered.

It was also interesting to see the reaction of the other visitors.  It was quite clear from their avid attention to the signage that they knew very little about indigenous art and culture, so (whatever the politics of museum v indigenous ownership), I was pleased to see that this exhibition has increased awareness of the oldest living culture on earth.

Contemporary Australia doesn’t come out of it too well.  There was a video timeline that showed the Apology and the return of traditional lands by Gough Whitlam but as you’d expect, even though it was tactfully handled, there was more about unfinished business.

There was an intriguing video at the end of the exhibits, of a man weaving a basket, claiming to be the only person who still knew how to do this particular type of weaving using a wood called ‘wait-a-while’.   It was intriguing because as far as I know, basket weaving was – and still is – women’s work.

I was delighted to see Kim Scott’s Miles Franklin winning novel That Deadman Dance on sale in the shop afterwards!

 

Posted in UK 2015 | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Courtauld Gallery, London, June 3 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 3, 2015

We had a leisurely breakfast at the Russell Square café overlooking the park, and then set off for the Courtauld Gallery, now housed at Somerset House (the building that originally housed my birth certificate, when it was where births, marriages and deaths were registered.)
The building is gorgeous, with an especially stunning staircase:

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We’re just off to dinner now, but will add some of my photos of the artworks when I get back. (Unless I drink too much champagne…)

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Just back from dinner at the Cosmoba Cucina Italiana – nothing special, but a tasty meal and the service was friendly and efficient:)

Here’s some photos of artworks I especially liked at the Courtauld:

Update, a bit later: Hmm, the slideshow isn’t working.  It’s not the effects of champagne, I didn’t have any.  Maybe the images are too big and take too long to load.  Maybe the ISP here at the hotel isn’t very good.  I’ll try again tomorrow.

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Posted in Art Galleries, UK 2015 | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

National Gallery of Ireland & National Museum, Dublin, 5.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 6, 2010

This morning we walked downtown to the National Gallery of Ireland and the National Archaeological Museum, enjoying the crisp sunshine and the quiet streets.  In Baggot Street there are sculptures to admire, and also beautiful flower boxes on the Georgian houses that line this part of town.  Many of the houses have very impressive front doors, so much so that tourists can buy table mats that feature ‘the doors of Dublin’ (though one taxi driver told us that the reason they are all painted different colours is that when in the past they were all painted black, a drunk couldn’t distinguish which one was his, so now they are all the colours of the rainbow.)  The letter boxes, however, are shamrock green, not the pillar-box red that seem to be the norm everywhere else.  (I think we can guess why this is so in Ireland.)

Also, for the first time in my life, I saw locks.  There is a small canal nearby and these locks manage the flow of water as it flows downstream.   Locks have intrigued me ever since I read Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, (which tells the story of their journey along the Thames between Kingston and Oxford in the 19th century) but I have never seen one and never really understood how they worked.  I was amused by the sign warning passers-by not to swim…

En route, we visited the Merrion St park, in search of the Oscar Wilde statue.  Dublin is full of sculptures of its famous men and women, and remarkably they are all recognisable representations of the subject.  Even when the statue surmounts allegorical whatnot, as some of them do on O’Connell St, the statue still looks like its subject.   It must be city policy to ensure that the statues can be identified by ordinary people, but if contemporary Irish sculptors are anything like those we have in Melbourne, I bet they don’t like it and would rather do something more abstract…

Before long we were at the National Gallery and it is wonderful.  Taking photos is, of course, not allowed (except in this little space between the galleries) so I can’t show you any of the wonderful paintings we saw in the special exhibition of the ‘rediscovered’  master of the Golden Age of Dutch painting’  Gabriel Metsu, but you should get some idea from this link.  He was a contemporary of Vermeer and scholars like to quarrel about who influenced whom, but who cares, his paintings were wonderful.  I like these so-called genre paintings because they are full of intriguing details like little foot-warmers or a lady’s mules tossed off beside her bed.  He paints a lot of dogs too, big ones and little ones, and many of game birds, but no cats, not as far as I could tell in what is quite an extensive collection.

There is also often a little story behind the image, as with the two adjacent paintings of a man writing a letter and his lady-love receiving it.  We know that the letter is a love-letter because there is a painting behind the seated young man and the frame is decorated with doves, and we can tell that the letter she’s received is a love-letter because her serving woman has pulled aside a curtain covering a painter of a ship on stormy waters.  This was apparently a common allegory for the travails of love in those days! 

The gallery also has a very good collection of other Dutch painters, a Caravaggio and heaps of his ‘school’, some very fine 18th and 19th century portraiture, allegorical and religious paintings, and scenes of rural life.  One particularly striking (and very large) painting was of some street urchins playing at soldiers.  I think it was called The Military Parade, or something like that, and it was a very powerful satire on the pomp and ceremony of the British occupation. I wish I’d written down the artist’s name…

After a cup of tea, we then set off for the Archaeological Museum, round the corner in Kildare St.  It isn’t huge, but that’s because they have split the collection between four separate museums.  We didn’t have time to visit them all so we chose the most interesting…

It features a wonderful collection of prehistoric finds from the Bronze Age, and there are numerous cabinets showcasing hoards of weaponry and metalwork that show the sophistication of Irish craftsmen in this period.  The prehistoric gold collections are breath-taking: fabulous necklets and bracelets, clothing clasps and so on…most impressive of all are a set of massive hollow golden balls, bigger than tennis balls, each with a hole through it so it is believed they were strung together as a kind of necklace. 

Once again we weren’t allowed to take any pictures, and sadly the website is a bit mean about sharing any images, so the only picture I have is of Tim outside on the steps –   wearing his new Irish cap.  I’m sure it is some kind of joke they play on unwitting tourists because it is constructed with a medley of different tartans….

Our adventures in Dublin have come to an end now for we are off to Bordeaux tomorrow.  Thanks to a flight cancellation by Aer Lingus we will be spending much of the day at Gatwick so there won’t be any updates tomorrow…

Posted in Dublin 2010, Ireland 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Christ Church Dublin 4.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 5, 2010

Posted in Dublin 2010, Ireland 2010 | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Dublin Writers’ Museum, 4.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 5, 2010

We visited the Dublin Writers’ Museum today… 

Please visit my ANZ LitLovers blog to see my impressions.

Posted in Dublin 2010, Ireland 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

The Chester Beatty Library & Dublin Castle, 3.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 4, 2010

                                  

After lunch, we set off for Dublinia (a museum about Viking Ireland) but we were waylaid by Dublin Castle.   We were walking right past it and it was open – how could we not go in?  

It’s in excellent condition, and all open to the public except for the interior for which one has to book a tour.  After our long walk from our hotel and then the Trinity College tour we were too tired to hang around for that so we contented ourselves with wandering the grounds and visiting the Chester Beatty Library…    

It’s fascinating to imagine these places in use. Cold and draughty, I bet, but the people probably felt safe and secure inside as people in gated communities do today.      

The British had some sort of castle here from the 12th century, though what we see now dates mostly from the 18th.  They held on till handing it over to Michael Collins and the provisional government of Ireland in 1922, probably never imagining that they would end up relinquishing their entire Empire by the end of the 2oth century… 

   In amongst the grounds there is one of Dublin’s great treasures: the Chester Beatty Library. Beatty was an American mining magnate who liked collecting  Oriental art and books, and when he died he left most of it to the city of Dublin because he spent most of his retirement years here.  It’s an amazing collection, one of the best we’ve seen.       

Source: Wikipedia

 

On the first floor there was an exhibition of his artworks from the Mughal Empire in India (before they were conquered by the Iranians) and the illuminated manuscripts have the same charm as the medieval ones that were exhibited at the State Library of Victoria last year.  Texts were surrounded by exquisitely detailed pictures of everyday life, and the princes were shown engaged in all kinds of princely activity from riding elephants to loafing about on decorated chairs.  The colours were fresh and alive as if they were painted yesterday, and the originals are augmented by excellent computer generated closeups on the walls.      

Source: Wikipedia

 

Upstairs, the  Sacred Traditions gallery showcases Beatty’s collection of religious texts and artworks.  To see the 2nd and 3rd century papyrus of the gospels is a wonderful experience; I love all forms of ancient texts whether they are on scraps of Babylonian clay or the Rosetta stone. They all represent a supreme moment in human history when man moved on from the oral tradition to writing his ideas and memories down so that they could be passed on to future generations.      

      

There was much else: Beatty collected from all the great religions and there are texts from Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism and so on. Definitely a must see attraction for anyone visiting Dublin, but by the time we reached the roof garden at the top my ankle was causing major grief and it was time to head back to the hotel.      

PS WordPress is jumping around all over the place tonight and moving my pictures and text about without any instructions from me, but I am too tired to mess about with layout! 

Posted in Dublin 2010, Ireland 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Trinity College & the Book of Kells, 3.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 4, 2010

We really enjoyed our visit to Trinity College and the Book Of Kells.     

Tim looking sceptical!

 

We signed up for a tour led by one of the College students, and although we have some doubts about the veracity of his anecdotes, it was very entertaining.  We were shown all over the college, including (because we were a small group) some parts not usually shown to tourists, and it really is a very impressive place.      

Sir George Salmon, Provost

 

This gloomy looking character at right, Sir George Salmon, (Provost of Trinity) we were told, was strongly opposed to the enrolment of women, declaring that it would happen ‘over his dead body’ which it did because he died four days before the first woman enrolled.  (Wikipedia says he actually agreed to it in 1901 three years before he died in 1904.)     

I’m inclined to think that our guide told us more than a whopper or two.  When he found out we were from Australia he told us that Trinity wasn’t letting The Book Of Kells tour any more since they’d lent it to Australia where something had been spilled on it.  Not true!  We checked, and there was some minor damage but that was from the vibration of the plane’s engines on the long haul flight, and not because some drongo spilled his coffee on it! I know (because I’ve read about it in our National Gallery’s magazine for members) that the procedures for the loan of art works are meticulous, and I’m not really happy that people went away from this tour thinking that Australians are careless with precious treasures on loan.  We are so far away from the great art centres of the world and most Australians can’t afford to see these works of art unless European galleries lend them to us so I would hate to think that anyone really believed what he said…     

Also dubious was his story about the unpopular professor who was harassed by some drunken students one night.  When they broke all the windows in his rooms (at left) he retaliated by firing at them and they promptly went back to their rooms to get their guns as well. A gun fight ensued and the professor was mortally wounded.  None of the students was convicted of his murder because they were British aristocrats, he said, but I bet it was more likely that all the witnesses were drunk and they couldn’t prove identity.    

What is true is that the books in the Trinity College library are shelved not by Dewey but by height. There are literally thousands of grand old books there (some of which were on display) and although now specific titles can easily be found because it’s all computer catalogued, it must have been a nightmare for the librarians in days gone by!   There are also splendid busts of various alumni including Jonathan Swift and Samuel Beckett, as well as other great men of letters,  (no women, of course), and a very interesting display about the British/Irish in India, some of which was quite chastening to read.   

What is also (probably) true is that the spectacularly ugly modern buildings (in the Brutalist style i.e. large lumps of concrete) have won architectural awards and that the plants which were supposed to decorate the one supposedly inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon all died because of the composition of the concrete.   

Source: Wikipedia

 

From the tour we went in to see The Book of Kells.  It’s beautifully displayed, augmented by other illuminated manuscripts because (of course) one book, even with four pages on show isn’t really enough to captivate a horde of tourists.  There was an ancient bible from the 6th century, and various other works on vellum, as well as cabinets showing the tools they used and the sources of the colours such as lapis lazuli.   

We found all this fascinating, but we’d walked a long way from our hotel to the city centre, so we adjourned for lunch to a nice pub nearby…

Posted in Dublin 2010, Ireland 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Bus tour, Dublin, 3.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 4, 2010

Whenever we visit a city entirely new to us, we like to take one of the Hop-on-hop-off bus tours that whiz around the city showing the most popular tourist attractions.  It doesn’t take very long and it helps Tim (our navigator) to orientate himself to the city and then we can find our own way around (mostly) without getting lost.

So we started our day in Dublin with The Bus Tour.  Photos, of course, were taken from the bus, but sometimes one can get a better shot from the top of the bus than down at ground level, and this was certainly the case with Christ Church…

It was not quite the case with the Wellington monument, seen here listing somewhat like the Leaning Tower of Pisa – but that was because the bus took off again just as I pressed the shutter!  It’s interesting that there are still so many ‘British’ aspects to Dublin because I had assumed that many of their artefacts might have been razed with independence, but not so.  This monument (which dwarfs the Phoenix monument see at left) commemorates Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon, and it is still there in Dublin’s splendid Phoenix Park – a huge park – the biggest of its kind in Europe.  It was originally the king’s private hunting grounds but was ‘given to the people’ some time in the 19th century (I think).  It’s bisected by a long, long avenue with open park and woodland on one side (which the guide assured us still had deer in it) and the zoo and the president’s palace on the other.

As you’d expect, the guide was more enthusiastic about the Guinness Storehouse – which, he told us was the most popular attraction in Dublin – than he was about Dublin’s literary history, but he did point out the James Joyce Bridge (which didn’t seem especially Joycean to me), and he noted Trinity College’s literary alumni, about whom more in a later post.

I got the biggest thrill out of our drive down O’Connell Street, where I saw the monument to ‘the liberator’ that I had identified in Chapter 6 of Ulysses. Here it is, ‘the hugecloaked Liberator’s form’  where Leopold Bloom sauntered along his way!

The Martello Tower is closed at this time of the year (sigh) but the Writers’ Museum is open and so there is plenty more to see tomorrow…

Posted in Dublin 2010, Ireland 2010, LitLovers pilgrimage | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »