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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Boroughs of London (1): Barking & Dagenham

Welcome to my new project which is a tour of all of the Boroughs of London since Greater London was formed in April 1965. I will be looking at interesting buildings and other stuff (to be frank I'm not sure how this will pan-out yet!) London has been described as a series of villages and each Borough contains several different areas or districts all of which were probably actual villages at one time. There are 32 Boroughs and I will also include the City of London which is not actually a Borough but an administrative area (much like the status of Washington DC in the US).
In alphabetical order, Barking and Dagenham is where we start:
As the name implies, Barking and Dagenham were formerly two separate boroughs before the creation of Greater London. They were then within the county of Essex, one of the 'Home Counties' which is the name given to those counties which surround London in the south-east of England. Hand-axes and other tools have been found in the area dating from the Palaeolithic era about 10,000 years ago and the names both date from Anglo-Saxon times before the Normal invasion of 1066.
Eastbury Manor House, Barking, built 1573 during the reign of Elizabeth I
Eastbury Manor House was originally in an isolated position, on rising ground with views of the Thames across marshland to the south. Rescued from ruin in 1918 by the National Trust, the exterior retains its original appearance. Tree-ring analysis shows that the roof timbers were felled in the spring of 1566.  It's now used as a meeting and community centre.


The other truly remarkable building in the borough is (the ruins of) Barking Abbey. Like so many ancient monastic buildings in Great Britain it fell into ruin in 1539  when Henry VIII was instrumental in starting the English Protestant Reformation when the Pope would not grant him a divorce. Barking Abbey was a very important community and a major land-owner in the area with it's influence spreading for many miles around. The ruins shown below are less than five minutes walk from Barking Town centre.

Barking Abbey operated for nearly 900 years and was a vastly wealthy community
Photo: tripadvisor.com

Continuing my new experiment of naming the music I am listening to while posting or commenting - right now it's: The Proclamers 'Sunshine on Leith'. Listen on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmELS03_4So

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Painting of the Month (48) August 2014: Gainsborough

Mr and Mrs Andrews, Thomas Gainsborough c.1750
The National Gallery, London
This very interesting painting remained in the family of the sitters for two hundred years and did not become generally known until the twentieth century. It combines two genres of painting; the landscape and the conversation piece, usually showing a group of at least two people in an informal pose. Basically Mr Andrews is showing off his assets and I refer to his estate as well as his wife. She sits stiffly submissive; she too is a possession placed on a fancy Rococo-style bench. The dog in art is a symbol of loyalty.  
Thomas Gainsborough was only twenty-one when he painted this early masterpiece and it was quite pioneering in showing the realistic changeable elements of British weather.
Difficult to see in  the background (although if you can enlarge the picture you can see more clearly) are cattle and sheep on the right, middle-distance and I can just make out a couple of horses below the trees to the left. Mr Andrews has got his world under control and now he can relax although he doesn't appear comfortable holding the firearm.
Thomas Gainsborough, self-portrait 1754
Note the similarity to Mr Andrews.
One fascinating aspect of the painting is that a part of it is unfinished. Look at her lap. What could be intended for adding into that space. Embroidery? Knitting?
It was probably the hope that a small child would be added later.
Incidentally the oak tree which they stand in front of is still there today on the Essex-Suffolk border in Eastern England.
The marriage of this couple was not for love. It was a business decision that brought together two great estates. You are looking at Mr and Mrs Andrews Inc. They don't look happy do they?
As an experiment I am going to be mentioning the music that I am listening to (usually on Spotify or You Tube) as I post. Right now its Luciano Pavorotti duetting with Bryan Adams at Sydney Opera House in a 'live' recording of 'O Sole Mio'. Don't care for it much....



Tuesday, 29 July 2014

My Heroes (39): Isambard Kingdom Brunel

In 2002 the BBC commissioned a poll to find who were, according to public opinion, the 100 most important Britons ever. It was no surprise that Sir Winston Churchill came first but the pleasant revelation, for me, was the man who came second - Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the greatest engineers the world has known.
Brunel pictured in front of the chains of the SS Great Britain
londoncalling.com
Like many brilliant people, before and since, he was not afraid to fail; and he had many failures in his relatively short career. Let's look at some of his magnificent achievements. His early successes included the first tunnel under a navigable waterway, (the River Thames), and the wonderful Clifton suspension bridge.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, England
theguardian.com
The Great Western Railway was one of the wonders of Victorian Britain. It ran from London to Bristol and later was extended to Exeter in Devon. The characteristic of Brunel's work was innovation and engineering originality and a high level of precision. 
His greatest achievement, however, was probably the SS Great Britain, launched in 1843 which was the largest ship in the world at that time. It sailed between Bristol and New York and Brunel also conceived an incredible scheme to extend the Great Western Railway across the Atlantic by utilising steam-powered ships!
The SS Great Britain now restored, pictured in Bristol
leeds-uk.com
He died of a stroke at the young age of 53 in 1859.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

London Monopoly (25); Final stop, Mayfair.

So, at last my journey around the London version of the Monopoly Board has come to an end at Mayfair - deemed the most expensive part of London. There is a pervading atmosphere of timeless quality, tradition and, mostly, wealth in Mayfair.
Berkeley Square Gardens in the centre of Mayfair
I believe that a Nightingale sang there once upon a time...
In 1686 a new location for a two-week long fair held in Haymarket was needed so the 'May fair' was moved to a nearby area of open fields. Development then began in a part known as Shepherd Market and the fair existed there until 1764 when it moved to Fair Field in Bow, East London after complaints from residents. And the name Mayfair stuck.
Since that time until very recently Shepherd Market became synonymous with prostitution but it's image has changed to become a charming centre of pubs and restaurants.
Shepherd Market, Mayfair (savills.com)
It is thought that the Romans settled in the Mayfair area during the conquest of Britain in AD 43 but moved their camp a short distance to the east to be nearer the Thames. However they would not have had to pay the astronomical rents that they would today! Even in the game of Monopoly if you land on Mayfair with added hotels you are likely to get wiped out.
Beautiful shop entrance in Mount Street in the heart of Mayfair
I am working on my next major London-based project to follow this. Coming to your computer soon!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Painting of the Month (47) July 2014: Matisse

Henri Matisse, The Snail, 1953
Henri Matisse, The Snail, 1953, The Tate Gallery , London
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) had a long and successful career as a painter but by the 1940s ill-health had meant a change in the way he worked. He was famous for being a 'colourist' and this picture certainly maintains that tradition, utilising a complex and clever scheme of coloured pieces of cut-out paper to depict the shell of a snail (or is it? read on!) and managing to create an enormous sense of movement.
This is one of his last creations, which he directed his students to compile. He firstly drew the outline, probably using a long pole from his wheel-chair or bed and then told the students exactly where to place the painted paper. This was then traced and sent off to be pasted in place to the exact millimetre.
Matisse himself did not call this work The Snail; he called it La Composition Chromatique. However, it is universally known as The Snail but there may be a clue that, although Matisse was well into his eighties when this was created he had not lost his sense of humour. Take a close look at the top-left lilac-coloured piece of paper. Can you see a very tiny outline of a small creature crawling along the top? That's the snail!
This image has become an iconic reminder of one of the 20th century's greatest artists. I have shown some more of his glorious output below.
I will be in France for a long weekend so replies to comments will be a bit later than usual!


Monday, 23 June 2014

Spotlight on a Website (9): NASA Astronomical Picture of the day

This occasional series looks at websites that I often visit. NASA's Astronomical Picture of the Day (click to view) is always accompanied by an expert description and features some of the most beautiful and jaw-dropping images to be found on the Internet.
THE SUNFLOWER GALAXY, Image Copyright: Bill Snyder, Sierra Remote Observatories
AURORA OVER NEW ZEALAND, Image Copyright David Weir, Earth & Sky Ltd
ROVER ARRIVES AT ENDEAVOUR CRATER ON MARS
Image Copyright: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, NASA
HUBBLE ULTRA DEEP FIELD 2014, Image Copyright, NASA



Friday, 13 June 2014

Painting of the Month (46) June 2014: Christian Furr

Queen Elizabeth II. 1995
When he painting this picture of Queen Elizabeth, Christian Furr was the youngest artist ever to have painted her. She was 69 years old and he was a mere 28 year old. The work, commissioned by The Royal Overseas League, hangs in their headquarters in St James, London. Royal portraits
historically told so many stories beyond what the paint on the surface showed. Attributes of power and wealth sent a clear message to the viewer but I really like this picture very much because of the humanity on show.
The Queen looks like she is having to suppress a grin and, correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't the artist captured a twinkle in her eye? She choose Furr herself to paint this portrait.
Furr was born in The Wirral, Cheshire, England in 1966 and his art usually looks more like these works:




Saturday, 7 June 2014

London Monopoly (24): Park Lane

I am now looking at the final,two-property Blue set on the London Monopoly board. My journey is almost complete.
Park Lane seen from Hyde Park. Sadly the road now has three lanes in both directions which has turned it into a much less attractive place. You cross the road to the park via an underpass now.
I've just checked on the internet; you can buy a four-bedroom flat/apartment on Park Lane for £16 million ($24m). Hurray, because it's bound to get snapped up quickly at that price. Park Lane runs north-south and forms the western boundary of central London and the eastern boundary of Hyde Park. In former times it had the rural atmosphere of a country lane - now it's one of the busiest thoroughfares in London. At one end it forms a right-angle with Oxford Street at Marble Arch and, three-quarters of a mile away, at the other end it, forms a right-angle with Piccadilly at Hyde Park Corner. 
Park Lane is synonymous with wealth and exclusivity in London but it does not have the allure that it once did; there are very many other places in the capital for multi-billionaires to live so no need to worry about them. Also there are locations with much more charm than Park Lane.
I think this quote from Wikipedia sums it up nicely: "Park Lane owes much of its fame to its being the second most valuable property in the London edition of Monopoly."
The next and final element in the London Monopoly board series will be Mayfair - unique among the other properties on the board in that it is a district not a thoroughfare.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Ypres, Belgium

YPRES
I just got home from five days in Ypres (pronounced Eepra) with my friends. We go to Belgium, without our ladies, every year to taste the food beer and take in some local 'culture'.
Ypres has a fascinating history. 100 years ago the First World War began and this little town stood in the way of the German advance into France. Most of its medieval and other buildings were flattened by relentless German bombing but were amazingly reconstructed as close as possible to the original so that now it has the unique feel of a 'new' medieval town.
The Cloth Hall, built from about 1200, pictured just after The Great War (WW1)
The reconstructed Cloth Hall today
The Wipers Times
The British soldiers had difficulty pronouncing the town's name so it became known as 'Wipers'. They produced a satirical newspaper called The Wipers Times from September 1916 until the end of the war, in which soldiers could get away with ridiculing their officers, who tried to close it down but the generals realised that it was good for morale so it was allowed to keep on publishing. You can see a brief clip from an acclaimed BBC TV Film about the Wipers Times here . The general sitting behind the desk is played by Michael Palin of Monty Python fame.
The Menin Gate
This marvellous memorial to 5,000 men killed in action but who never had a final resting place is situated at one of the ancient entrances to the walled city. Every single day of the year at 8pm the Last Post is played and a solo Scottish piper plays a lament.  (Amazing Grace on the evening that I was there).

The names of 5,000 soldiers are inscribed onto the inner walls of the memorial. The men were from Great Britain, Canada, Australia, India, the West Indies and all over the British Commonwealth. It is thought that up to 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the Ypres Salient in the Great War including French, Belgian and German as well as the Commonwealth men.
A small number of Belgian soldiers on bicycles with machine-guns held a large German cavalry battalion at bay for a long time but the Belgian Army, unlike the British one, was ill-trained and amateurish but very brave. Although the Germans eventually bombarded Ypres into ruin, they never occupied it during that war but Hitler went there in triumph in World War Two.
These days the Belgians are able to turn their efforts to better things such as excellent food and drink. If you get the chance to go don't miss it!




Friday, 9 May 2014

Painting of the Month (45) May 2014: Camille Pissaro

Autumn, Camille Pissaro, 1875
I enjoy the colour, the composition and the subject matter of this picture. 
Sometimes I think it's possible to over-analyse paintings so I will let this little gem speak for itself and say no more. Enjoy!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The 200th 'To Discover Ice' Post

My original idea for my 200th post was to link to my ten favourite posts, but I have changed my mind and decide to do this instead:
Regular readers of this Blog will be aware that I don't write much personal stuff. The only reason this is so is because I don't really think anyone would be interested but I really enjoy reading other people's writing about themselves in many cases. However, when my grandson had cancer at the age of five in 2010. I found it helpful to talk about and was really buoyed by the tremendous support from my Blogging friends.
My daughter Laura with Sonny in 2011
Sonny, now 9 and fully recovered (with his sister Lois, 6)
This is a good opportunity to thank all of those who provided support and prayers through that difficult six months:
  • All the remarkable staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital, the world's leading children's hospital in London.
  • The staff and classmates at Sonny's School, Ilford Jewish Primary School, who took Lois, then aged 3 under their wing.
  • All of our family and friends who gave love, support and cooked food at that time.
  • The amazing 368 people across the world who joined the 'Supporting Sonny' Facebook page.
  • All the Bloggers who joined the group and gave valuable support via this Blog.
  • The generous charities who gave, and still give, unquestioning support.
  • ....and Sonny himself who is a kind, very bright, loving and caring boy who is wise beyond his years.
Witness this recent conversation-
Auntie Linzi: "It's no good kids, you will never guess the password for my phone!"
Sonny: " Lois, Auntie Linzi was born in 1977. Try 1977."
Auntie Linzi: "Damn!."
I will return to my former idea of linking to some of my favourite past Postings at a later time. Thank you for being there!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

London Monopoly (23): Liverpool Street Station

Only two more London Monopoly Board posts after this one!
Exterior of Main entrance to Liverpool Street Station, London
The Railway Station
Liverpool Street station is one of the many central London railway termini. Located in the north-eastern corner of the City of London, it is the terminus for the West Anglia line to Cambridge and the much busier Great East Anglia main line to Norwich as well as many local commuter services to parts of east London, Essex and Hertfordshire and the Stansted Express, a fast link to London Stansted airport. There has been a station on the site since 1840 and the current building was greatly modernised in 1993. Liverpool Street was built as a dual-level station with an underground station opened in 1875.    In World War One the station was the target of one of the first-ever daylight bombing raids by fixed-wing aircraft. The deadly German attack killed 162 people.
The busy interior of Liverpool Street Station
The Wonderful Story of the Kindertransport
In Nazi Germany in 1938  the infamous Kristallnacht took place In the build-up to World War two. On that night swarms of SA Paramilitary forces destroyed thousands of Jewish homes, businesses and Synagogues in Germany and Austria. 30,000 people were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Meanwhile non-Jewish civilians and German authorities looked on without intervening. Shock waves reverberated around the world. The Times of London wrote: "No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenceless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday."
A delegation of British Jewish and Quaker leaders approached the UK Government who agreed to allow unaccompanied children to come to the UK as refugees. This was the start of the Kindertransport. In all 10,000 children, who would otherwise surely have perished in the Holocaust, came to the UK and were fostered here. Their arrival-point in London was Liverpool Street Station where there is a moving memorial to them. 2,000 of the children remained in England after the war and became valued members of society. Many of them joined the British Armed Forces. Four of them became Nobel prize-winners.
Frank Meisser's bronze memorial sculpture
www.warmemorialphotos.co.uk
My next post will be my 200th and I will be creating a review of my favourite posts over the last four years.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Painting of the Month (44) April 2014: Alma-Tadema

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 -1912),  A Roman Art Lover
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was a controversial Anglo-Dutch Victorian painter. He was born in the Netherlands and settled in England in 1870 and spent the rest of his life here. To me he is an odd mix of the sublime and the faintly ridiculous. He drastically fell out of favour soon after his death in 1912 and after the First World War there was a sea-change in the Arts with the rise of Modernism, which was characterised by Freudian theory, philosophy, industrialisation and political theory - a complete break with past.
Alma-Tadema's subjects were based on Classical Antiquity in a kind of super-realism. Since the 1960s his importance to Victorian painting has been re-evaluated and his reputation somewhat restored. The important thing to rememberis that, of course, the paintings didn't change; just the 'expert's' opinions of them. So the lesson from that is - don't be afraid to like what you like, unfashionable or not!
Whatever one may think of these pictures, the fact which cannot be denied is his great photo-like technical ability.
Anacreon Reading His Poems at Lesbia's House 
Selfie of the artist
Kiss
.





Thursday, 27 March 2014

Albeniz: Cadiz


Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz y Pascual 
Hardly flamboyant at all!

Isaac Albeniz, 1860 -1909, was a virtuoso Spanish pianist and composer. I love his music which never fails to put me in a good mood so I hope, if you spare a few minutes to listen, that you will get that same pleasure! I have put links to some of his works at the end of this post. Although he never composed explicitly for the guitar much of his work has been successfully transposed for that instrument and some of his compositions are better known these days as guitar works. I am thinking principally of pieces such as Asturias.
He is most famous for the Suite Española  and his other suite Iberia, both of which are based on specific styles of regional Spanish folk music. The Suite Española consists of eight pieces of which my favourites are Granada and Cadiz. Both of these have been transposed into fabulous guitar versions. Here are links to piano and guitar versions of both:
During the Segovia piece you will see a photographic selection of locations in Granada, Spain starting with the Alhambra Palace, a truly magical place in a beautiful city. I don't suppose I'll ever get there again but I've got the music forever.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

London Monopoly (22): Bond Street

I am now on the home straight of my tour around the London Monopoly board and the real estate values are rising sky-high! Bond Street is the final property of the Green Set.
Bond Street by James Gilray 1796
Fashionable 'gentlemen' are forcing ladies to step into the road as they crowd the pavement (sidewalk). Gilray is also satirising the female fashion of wearing vertical feathers on their hats.

Bond Street is one of the world's most expensive retail locations on a par with Fifth Avenue, New York and the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris. It is divided into New Bond Street and Old Bond Street in the southern half  but is effectively all one street. The auction house Sotheby's has been located there for over a century and at one time Bond Street was synonymous with art dealers and antique shops but, inevitably, high-fashion boutiques now dominate. This makes it a lot less interesting. Something of note is a sculpture of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting on a park bench. Tourists are fond of sitting between the two while having their photo taken.
"The statue, which is named ‘Allies’, was created in 1995 by Lawrence Holofcener, an artist with dual nationality who was commissioned by the Bond Street Association to commemorate 50 years of peace in the area. It features life-like bronze statues of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, with their faces crafted into permanent smiles as they share a silent joke." www.mayfair-london.co.uk
Bond Street is named for Sir Thomas Bond 1620–1685. head of the syndicate which developed the area although the street as it is now was founded in 1700. The most famous residents were probably Admiral Horatio Nelson and Lady Hamilton.
A typical Bond Street store front.
Coming next in this series:Liverpool Street Station with a wonderful story from before the Second World War. 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Painting of the Month (43) March 2014: Lebasque


The Blue Robe (1920)


Henri Lebasque (1865 – 1937) was a French post-impressionist painter and a friend of Henri Matisse. Perhaps not technically brilliant but I like his colourful scenes of the times he lived in. He painted several pictures featuring views through open windows which was a popular genre at the time.
See, for example 'Open window at Collioure' by Matisse (left) and the painting by Raoul Dufy (below). Lebasque painted mainly female figures often in a domestic or rural setting and, as was the fashion at the beginning of the twentieth century, a great colourist. Yellow and purple are on opposite sides of the colour wheel and bring out the best in each other as can be seen here in the contrast between the yellow fields and the purple of the distant hills and the curtains. What is surprisingly common in art is the back view of the female subject; there are many examples of this in the history of art.
Click here to see a whole collection of such views. Although there is more detail in the foreground of this painting, the composition leads the eye to where the woman appears to be looking - out of the window.


Monday, 17 February 2014

London Monopoly (21): Oxford Street

A further stop in my journey around the London Monopoly board.
Selfridge's, Oxford Street, London. Opened in 1909.
At one and a half miles long Oxford Street is Europe's busiest shopping street. For the main part it is full of all the multinational and international stores that most UK High Street's will have; the big names cannot afford not to be there. This makes it rather unremarkable in some ways. Toward the eastern end at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross Road there are the relatively smaller stores with a few independents and nearer to the western end at Marble Arch, near one corner of Hyde Park there is, for me, the saving grace of Oxford Street - the department stores. Personally I think Selfridge's is the best of these.
It is rather underrated but I prefer it to Harrod's. Somehow the staff seem to be less under pressure and are more pleasant and there is an excellent bookshop.
Oxford Street is only open to taxicabs and buses and no other private or commercial vehicles during the day.
Oxford Street is known to have existed for at least two thousands years but not under that name of course. The Romans called it Via Trinobantina and it formed part of the route into London from the south-west (Hampshire) and out to the north-east (Colchester in Essex). It was the route that condemned prisoners were taken by from Newgate (now the Old Bailey Criminal Court) to Tyburn to be hanged (now Marble Arch). Incidentally people are hanged whereas pictures are hung!
Oxford Street after a heavy German bombing raid in April 1943 (Getty Images)
Oxford Street today
At the halfway point is Oxford Circus, which is where Regent Street crosses Oxford Street. It features something unique for London - diagonal pedestrian crossings.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Painting of the Month (42) February 2014: Van Gogh

This is an iconic image by one of the most revered artists of all time - Vincent Van Gogh. At first glance you may think there's not much to it but come closer and Bazza will enlighten you.....
Wheat Field Under Threatening Skies also known as Wheat Field with Crows.
 Painted in July1890, the month in which he died, by Vincent Van Gogh.
Many people would recognise this as Van Gogh's work even if they had never seen it before. The thickly applied paint, individual brush-strokes and subject matter are all typical of his art. It is thought that this may have been the last picture he ever painted but it was not; it was certainly one of the last few. It is well known that he suffered with mental instability for much of his life and it is easy to define turbulence and impending doom in this picture. In which direction are the crows flying? It's hard to say, isn't it? Look closely at the central path which leads one into the painting. Where is is it going? It's going nowhere; it doesn't disappear so much as stop. Dead. This is a subject that would usually be enriching and uplifting but Vincent has managed to convey his chaotic state of mind. He took his own life shortly afterwards. In a way it is like looking into another person's thought processes and yet it is 'only' a landscape painting. I find that fact incredible.
The impending summer storm depicted here has sometimes been interpreted as Vincent's suicide note but, of course, all interpretation of art is very subjective.
This was one of a series of wheatfield paintings that Van Gogh made in this unusual elongated format 50cm by 100cm.
Footnote: Americans usually pronounce his surname as 'Van Go', Britons as 'Van Goff' and the Dutch (who should know best) sound like they are filling their mouth with phlegm when they pronounce his name!
I promise that my next post will be something more cheerful!