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 2015’ 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.


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.


(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…)

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 »