27 August 2014

Notting Hill Carnival 2014: 2 seasons in 2 days!

Was it the chilliest and wettest August bank holiday Monday ever recorded? It certainly felt like it as the rain poured down and soaked us to the skin but did it wash out the Notting Hill Carnival? Of course not! The crowds braved the weather and the dancers in parade carried on as if being completely drenched was perfectly normal for them.

As a resident of Notting Hill I've been going every year for 12 years now and have never seen a day like it. The forecast was ominous and on the day the weather websites told me there was a 90-100% chance of rain and the temperature would hover around 15-16 degrees (or 59-61 if you prefer). So we donned our rain macs, our sturdy shoes and headed out like the brave Brits we are. And there it was, the carnival, carrying on like nothing was wrong and we had a great time. Naturally rum punch was required for medicinal reasons and a couple of well earned breaks back at home to dry out were a local's privilege!  I was so happy to hear the mesmeric drumming of the group I see every year and always try to find them in the parade to follow their wonderful rhythmic beats. There they were, dripping wet but drumming up a storm hour after hour - well done guys!

Not very encouraging for Carnival day 2

My favourite drumming group

Carnival Sunday had been an altogether different scene with sunshine and warmth so here is a series of pictures from a day of t-shirts and flip flops - a more traditional carnival look.The first day of carnival is billed as family day and the emphasis in the parade is on the brave kids who walk and dance alongside the floats hour after hour and withstand the hundred of photographers asking them to smile - well done kids!

This was the 50th year of carnival, or so the T-shirts said, but was it? Exactly when carnival started is a matter of some debate as is finding the person to take the honour of setting it in motion. Two women seem to be the most likely candidates: Claudia Jones and Rhaune Laslett.  Claudia staged an indoor carnival in 1959 and further events followed until 1964 when she died. The original event was held in response to the Notting Hill race riots of 1958 to help heal these wounds and focused on the Caribbean community.   In 1966 the first outdoor event was held in Notting Hill organised by Rhaune and was a multi-cultural celebration to bring the diverse communities of the area together.   So, just where 50 years comes from is anyone's guess but carnival is not the place to be asking picky questions but the place to go with the flow so let's carry on with more photos to enjoy.  The theme this year was the steel pans and there were great floats of pans treating us to their distinctive sounds.

I'm always sad to see the end of carnival as it is such a great event to visit and also seems to signal the end of summer. This year's rain seemed to be telling me that summer really was over and it was going to soak me to prove that point! 

If you've never been to carnival, put it in your diary for next year and make sure you come along and join the fun.

Bye for now,

22 August 2014

Lights, action and rain: Annie Hall at Somerset House

We never learn! The British summer is unreliable at best and yet we love to have outdoor events which test our stoical nature and inevitably involve a lot of plastic!

When the sun was shining, I was tempted by the idea of viewing the classic Woody Allen film 'Annie Hall' in the glorious surroundings of Somerset House. I'd not seen the film for decades and had been reminded by a great film poster exhibition in Somerset House which was inspired by the film season. 

The poster exhibition is a series of delightful screen prints each offering an original take on one of the films showing in the Film 4 Summer Series, now in its 10th year of braving the weather. The 2014 series has shown17 cult films, classics and premiers new work. Somerset House had teamed up with the Print Club London to show these excellent prints, each a reimagining of one of the films in the line up . See if you can spot Rosemary's Baby, Annie Hall, Ghost Busters, ET, Mad Max 2, A Fistful of Dollars, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in these photos:

As the evening of  my film screening draw close the glorious summer took its leave and sent us heavy showers of rain instead which bounced ferociously off the pavements. We waited until minutes before the film was due to start and dodged the last shower to find the final spot of ground to throw our blankets and plastic sheets on. The sight of hundred of fellow film lovers covered in Film 4 ponchos was amusing but I did feel sorry for those sitting on sodden blankets. 

Poncho city

Annie Hall was a great watch and kept us entertained despite the chilly evening. It felt very fresh and it was hard to believe it was released in 1977. A charming but not sentimental tale romcom from before they were called that with a series of cameo appearances from Paul Simon, Christopher Walken and J eff Goldblum- all looking so young. It turned out that outdoor cinema in a British summer is worth it after all!

Woody looms out of the dark

Classic Woody and Diane Keaton

Bye for now,

11 August 2014

Behind the film set of Belle at London's Kenwood House

Have you wondered where you can see a famous blue door, where James Bond blasted out of M15, where Bridget Jones lived and Diagon Alley? In London of course!  London is much used as a film set and you can easily spot scenes from famous films as you wander round and I know this more than most as I live in Notting Hill where fans of the film are always hunting down the blue door (it's at 280 Westbourne Park Road by the way). That much loved movie links us to my film set for today, Kenwood House, as this beautiful house also appears in Notting Hill, but more recently featured in Belle.  

Belle is the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle who was the daughter of John Lindsay, a British Naval Officer, and a African woman, Maria Belle, who was enslaved in the West Indies. He took his daughter home with him in 1765 and as he was away at sea she was brought up by his uncle Lord Mansfield. This is where Kenwood comes in as she lived there for 30 years. 

Dido was brought up as a gentlewoman alongside her cousin Elizabeth. The two of them feature in a famous painting attributed to Johann Zoffany which was unusual in showing them as equals. I'll not give away too much of the film but I would recommend seeing it for the good performances, thought provoking story and the grand film set. 

 Kenwood House looks across the huge green expanses of  Hampstead Heath and from here you really feel like you are in the countryside. I used to visit Kenwood every year for the concerts held in the natural bowl leading down the lake  in the photo and it was magical as the sun went down and the music floated across the water.

The house itself has been closed for refurbishment for a year but now you can visit the house to explore its splendid rooms, its gorgeous library and its surprising art collection. More good news about visiting is that it is free to tour the house. 

This elegant building dates from the early 17th century and remodelled by Robert Adams in the early 18th century and it is his work that we can admire, especially the library which is one of Adams' most famous interiors.

There is plenty of art to enjoy with a collection of masterpieces from a Rembrandt self portrait to a paintings by Vermeer, Landseer and Gainsborough. In the grounds there are a number of notable sculptures including a Barbara Hepworth and a Henry Moore.

If you happen to be visiting Kenwood in May, you'll be treated to a vibrant displays of rhododendrons showing nature's best colours and here's just one photo of the beauties we saw:

I am pleased to report that to complement the wonderful house, gardens and grounds they also have a really good cafe with excellent cakes and snacks where you can rest and refresh yourself.

For more information check out the Kenwood page on the English Heritage website.

Bye for now.

29 July 2014

Buckingham Palace opens for summer 2014 with a look at the Royal Childhood

Fancy a nose around Buckingham Palace? Luckily HM The Queen kindly leaves London for several months each summer so can pop in!  As well as enjoying the sumptuous state rooms of Buckingham Palace, you can visit their special exhibition which changes each year. For 2014 we have 'Royal Childhood' as the theme, no doubt inspired by Prince George's first birthday. They have well loved toys and pristine ones, childhood outfits and gifts to the royal families from the time of the future George lV in 1767 through to Prince George of Cambridge.

Entering by the side door, sadly not through the front entrance, you are soon into the heart of the official royal residence in London.There is a no photo ban on the state rooms but we could snap away in the special exhibition.

The impressive front of Buckingham Palace with the family waving from the balcony!

The Royal Childhood in its elaborate setting

I've picked out my favourite items but there are over 150 items in all spanning over 250 years and many generations of the royal family. The blanket intrigued me as I can't imagine how Queen Victoria had the time or the inclination to make her own!

Royal nursery chairs

Blanket made by Queen Victoria  in 1883 for her granddaughter   

17th century cradle used by Queen Victoria's daughter

Casket with the teeth of Queen Victoria's first children

Royal outfits feature strongly and I enjoyed the display of mannequins in front of photos of the same outfit:

HM Queen, a young Prince Charles and his Scottish outfit
The Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in pink coats

Princess Di with Prince William in green shorts

Other charming gems were the earliest remaining dress belonging to a Princess Victoria in around 1830 and a delightful silk plaid dress from 1844 worn by a Prince!

Fit for a Princess
Fit for a Prince!

Saving your child's drawings and writings happens in all families and the royal are no different so Prince Charles's art work and the Queen's note book are on display, although I doubt they ever got stuck onto the fridge!

Prince Charles aged 8

Now aged 9

Princess Elizabeth writes to her friend

What struck me was that the royals have much the same toys as the rest of us but they are much much bigger and better!  One great example of this is Prince Andrew's fully functioning James Bond car with rotating number plates, a working smoke screen and which is big enough for a child to sit in and drive. There is a miniature caravan which you could live in and Parisian dolls dressed in Lanvin!

Fancy a spin?

The royal caravan

Poshest of dolls
There are some delightful films playing as you go round the special exhibition, showing the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret having dancing lessons, various royals pushing their children around in carts and the fun sight of Princess Margaret chasing after Prince Charles and Princess Anne!


Prince George does appear in a few photos but this show is mostly about his parents, grand parents and much further back than that!


After enjoying the palace and the Royal Childhood, visitors are rewarded by the great cafe overlooking the enormous gardens where the cakes come with chocolate crowns on! Suitably refreshed you are ready to attack the shop with quality royal themed gifts for all tastes. A new feature this year is the Family Pavilion with games, a rocking horse and a stage with a dressing up box to entertain younger visitors.  The gardens are delightful and so tranquil you can forget you are in the middle of London until you catch a glimpse of the palace again.
Quality cakes at the Queen's cafe

The tranquil landscaped gardens

The nuts and bolts:
Opening dates:   26th July - 31st August and 1st - 28th September
Entry prices:       2014 - Adults £19.75, over 60/students with card £18, under 17s £11.25 and     under 5s free (timed ticket fee of £1.25 per ticket)

Bye for now,