On Strong Women, the Banquet of Life and Two Temple Place…80/100

cofSeveral days ago I went along to my friend Alice’s house to watch a bio pic of Peggy Guggenheim. I was very much looking forward to seeing what I thought might be a peek into my fantasy future….world famous art collector of the avant garde filling her stunning Venetian palace with treasures on the artistic and human variety. Parties, laughter, love. An enviable force for cultural advancement. Yikes was I wrong. Her life was horrible. Her family, her friends, herself….horrible, horrible, horrible. And so so very sad. I think I am still reeling. (Her sister Hazel throwing her babies off the roof….) With this still fresh in my mind, I met my marvelous friend Samuel at Two Temple Place. An incredible home on the Victoria Embankment built by William Waldorf Astor, in the 1890s. A rare case of limitless money and taste coming together perfectly. It is one of my favourite buildings in London. I  fantasize that someday I am going to buy it and live in it with artistic and literary splendor. Astor only used it for twenty five years. It is currently owned by the Bulldog Trust charity, but I could make it my own very quickly. The oak-paneled staircase alone sets my heart racing. Astor was a newspaper man who loved digliterature, The Three Musketeers most of all. Characters from Dumas’ novel stand proudly on the newel posts, joined by other favourites like Hester Prynne (another strong woman), the last Mohican, Uncas and scout Hawkeye.  The Great Room on the 1st floor offers reliefs and statuettes of more famous women, some real, some not, including Anne Boleyn, the Lady of Shalott and Maid Marion. The main door is covered in reliefs of the women of the Arthurian tales. There is no particular agenda to the choices, rather a collection of fictional and historical characters who appealed to Astor. Voltaire is there as are greats of the Renaissance, including Dante, Michelangelo and Raphael, the scientist Galileo and the explorers Columbus, Marco Polo and Captain Cook. Eclectic taste, yes, but excellent, eclectic taste. The ceiling is a jaw IMG_20160421_160402dropping open timber hammer-beam mahogany roof and at either end of the Hall are stunning stained glass windows, Sunset and Sunrise. Rich in colour, they are enormous, idealized landscapes. It is the kind of room that takes your breath away at first glance.  And then you start to look and the more you look, the more you see. It is pure pleasure.

Two Temple Place is closed much of the year, available as an event and location venue, but annually they put on an exhibition and invite the public in. I have gone to many over the years and, while I have enjoyed them, consider them to be more an excuse to see the house, the gorgeous, glorious house, my gorgeous, glorious house, than whatever the display cases hold at the time.  I wanted Samuel to see this house. We are on a Beautiful Homes in London mission and I knew he IMG_20160421_155512would immediately join me under the spell. I arrived early and popped up  to the gift shop to buy a ticket for a talk later in the week, but before I did I told the lovely volunteer that I was waiting for a friend. “Tell him I will be right down. His name is Samuel and he is fabulous. He will be wearing a cape.” She smiled appreciatively. And when I returned, there they were together. “I recognized fabulous Samuel straight away,” she told me. See, we belong here. And he loved the house, I knew he would. It is the kind of house that Mame would have loved too. We are both Auntie Mame devotees. We both understand completely when she despairs “life is a banquet, but most poor bastards are starving to death.” But not us. Samuel and I are greedy gluttons for life. And here, at Two Temple Place, we overindulge, yet again, in beauty. And some bleakness too. Because the current exhibition isn’t some worthy Egyptian pots, but a retrospective of Sussex Modernism.  People who, over decades, lived together in Sussex, not as a single group, but as distinct collections of artists and writers and emigres and free-lovers and political thinkers, who found a degree of freedom in the English countryside. Freedom from war and oppression and institutionalized mindsets and society and prying eyes. On the surface, these looked like little Edens and the names attached are known the world over.  But they weren’t. With all this creative energy came great sadness and pain. Eric Gill was criminally repulsive. Virginia Woolf filled her pockets with stones and walked into the river Ouse. Relationships and children were abandoned carelessly. And Lee Miller, suffering from what we would now call PTSD from her experiences as a WWII combat photographer (she was one of the first to the camps,)  tried to drink herself to death at her Sussex home, Farley Farm.  Oh what a woman Lee Miller was. Like Peggy Guggenheim, on the surface everything a powerful, fabulous woman could be. But her life, like that of Peggy, was filled with terrible family secrets and tremendous unhappiness. The Imperial War Museum had a terrific exhibition of her work, a few years ago. What an eye for the beautiful, the simple and the evil. She went from photographing movie stars and fashionably dressed women in wartime to corpses in concentration camps, corpses she treated with the same individual respect she had the socialites, making the pictures all the more horrifying. Like the parties at Peggy’s palace, those at Farley Farm, where Roland Penrose, the great English surrealist and founder of the ICA and American Vogue model turned photographer, Lee Miller lived, hosted Picasso and Max Ernest and other great game changers. Oh if only walls could talk. Or maybe not.

cofIt was with these two very strong women in mind that I went to see the Lady Emma Hamilton exhibition at the Maritime Museum. Again, a tremendous life. From abject poverty of the coal-mining variety to the most famous woman of her time. She is, of course, best known for being the mistress of Lord Nelson. But she was so much more. A superb performer, a consummate hostess and, when war broke out with France, a skilled diplomat. A great beauty, yes. But a powerful and ever inquisitive brain, as well. And a really sad life. Is there a theme here? Oh, I  hope not. And in the case of these three, one could easily argue that the sadness came first and their success was, if not a solution to at least a catalyst for their success. So not wax wings melting so much as the necessary supports missing, or in the case of Emma, the cruel fickleness of societal norms. In the funny twist of history, we might love them, adore them, honour them far more now than they were in their own lifetimes. Their sadness doesn’t diminish their accomplishments, quite the opposite actually. And anyway, who wants an unlived life?

The bright lights can burn hot, yes, but the alternative isn’t worth considering. Fortunately, I am reminded of this on a regular basis, so no temptation for that path. Just recently, someone I knew vaguely decades ago told  me I was “an inspiration.” This was not meant as a compliment, rather a mocking indictment of my life, because his choice of a small-minded, joyless, curiosity-free existence makes him a better person, so he claims, and (this is my favourite part), he and the people he lives with are “genuine.” Genuine what?? one is tempted to ask, lots of descriptive nouns at the ready!  What does that make me and mine? Zombies, vampires, aliens, Animagi, if you prick us, do we not bleed?  Fine. Go ahead. Stand before Auntie Mame’s laden banquet table with your mouth defiantly sewn shut. There is enough unavoidable misery in this world as is, I will never understand the conscious pursuit of. But then misery does love company, perhaps that is the lure, just not my company!

sdrSo that is the great trick isn’t it, to find the right level between skin scorching brilliance and obscure pointlessness. Maybe to acknowledge both, but stay a generous distance from the bottom and at least a sensible distance from the top end…a gentle warm glow without the flames. Be discreetly wealthy enough to own Two Temple Place and fill it with art and books,  and Edward James’ Mae West Lips couch (designed with Salvador Dali), trust me, it looks perfect here, and of course interesting, way outside the box kinds of people, but never, ever, ever trend on Twitter. Yes, that seems a good plan.  A very good plan indeed.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion



On Carrying On and the Westminster Horror….79/100

cofMy hurt, beautiful, beloved city of London. Such terrible, senseless, pointless misery.  Westminster Bridge is unnerving at the best of times, overloaded with tourists and selfie sticks and shell game con men, but it does have some spectacular views. Yesterday, the views were horrific, the stuff of nightmares. All those people,  all those children. A friend asked if it was selfish to think of one’s own children at times like this. “No,” was my response. Though I can’t. I can’t possibly, for even one moment, think that they might have been there. If I did, I would never let them out of the house ever again. But I haven’t stopped thinking about those French girls. And their parents. Oh, I can’t imagine what their parents are going through. I’ve also been thinking about the group of high school girls from New York City I had on my Cathedral tour on Tuesday. Their teacher did not want them to see Bill Viola’s video installation, Martyrs, that hangs on the end of the Dean’s Aisle. “They are not worldly enough for that kind of reality,” she told me. I am sure I looked incredulous (they were 14 and 15 years old!),  but moved them along, as she asked. Martyrs does, after all, deal directly with reality. The reality of a world that is filledDSC_6301.JPG with violence. I wonder how that teacher spun yesterday’s events? Hiding from truth doesn’t make it go away, it just makes it harder to accept. And the truth is that London has long, long been a favourite spot for terrorists. Yesterday’s attack came one day after the accused terrorist turned peace-seeking politician Martin McGuiness died. Before Islamic State sympathizers was the IRA and the Suffragettes before that. Perhaps this explains  why Londoners rose to the challenge on the afternoon and have remained sensible since. Keep Calm and Carry On, and all that.


cofI was on the Tube early this morning. The Northern Line was its usual sweltering crush of humanity. While there was intense competition to give the pregnant woman a seat, when the lady next to her announced that she too needed to sit down as, and I quote, “I don’t like changing temperatures,” no one budged. Kindness in crisis, certainly,  but there are limits. And that is the beauty of London. Brave, strong, unflappable, and fantastically matter of fact. So what were Londoners up to this morning? Changing their social media profiles to elicit sympathy?, penning pithy memes to share with the world?, engaging in some sort of cringey piggy backing on someone else’s grief?, group hugs? Like hell. They were getting on. Getting on, with a level of sadness and an even higher level of  admiration and  respect for the police and emergency workers and heroic passers by, without whom this tragedy could have been so much worse, certainly, but getting on. A quick glance at Instagram proved that my friends were clearly out and about in town…shopping at Borough Market, admiring a tree in bloom, creating something interesting, or, in my case, at the Royal Academy with a good friend, chatting and looking longingly at the Gary Hume prints (which are for sale!!!!). This isn’t to suggest we are heartless, quite the contrary. I think emotions are running deep, and tonight’s vigil in Trafalgar Square will be plenty weepy, but until that time, we will go about our  lives and let the Tube station announcement boards speak for us. Those “Thought for Today”  get us through the ordinary days, even more so on the extraordinary. My own station reminded us that we are stronger united than divided. Well, we were certainly united in not giving that climate fussy woman a seat.  Tower Hill  told us that the rarest and most beautiful flower is the one that blooms in adversity. Making the social media rounds (sodig don’t know if an authentic station sign) is a message politely reminding terrorists that: “This is London and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on. ” The wisdom doesn’t stop at the ticket hall, however, as the platforms are plastered  with Cabinet War Rooms’ posters of  Churchill and his various empowering phrases, such as “we must not lose our faculty to dare, particularly in dark days.” Indeed, Mr. Churchill, indeed. So strap those boots on and go.

I may not have been born and raised here, but I claim London as my own. And I am proud. Shocked and saddened, but unbowed. And carrying on. As are we all.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion


On My Own Private Protest…Wine at Home House 78/100

img_4706_2Well Mr. Trump has started out exactly as he promised his supporters he would. Why this has caught the world by surprise is, well, surprising. He is not a subtle man. Nor does that river seem to run to any depth. He blurts something out and then uses blunt force to make it happen. Yet, a mere week into his presidency, his travel ban sent the world into a frenzy. Chaos everywhere. More placards and protests. More defiance, on both sides. So, are we truly at the beginning of the end? And is all this anger productive or simply self-indulgent? I ask these questions honestly, because we are living in a time that demands DEMANDS that everyone we know think the same way we do. It is a time when “news” from Huffington Post and Buzzfeed is considered to be of equal value, if not more so, to that of well established periodicals. Discourse and discussion have gone the way of leaded gasoline. To disagree is tantamount to treachery of the highest order. Disheartening. But the new world order. And not limited to the United States. One only need listen to the current Brexit debates in and outside the Commons….yikes, plenty of bullying and scare-mongering going round there too. This is not to say I agree with any of the current administrations. But, I am not sure I believe everything coming out of the opposition either. Hysteria abounds. It is time for thought, but we live in a world of instant reaction. So what to do? I have absolutely no idea. But I know what I like, and what I value, and that often the timing in my life is exquisitely sweet.

Several days ago, my gorgeous friend Sara, British of Iranian heritage, got the “gang” together, meaning the art crazy group that often winds up together at art shows and fairs. This includes Iranians, Russians, English and us, the Americans. What a fabulous collection. About a year ago, I started calling it my CIA watchlist group, and joked that if Trump got elected I might be in trouble….hmmm.

The gathering, by coincidence, happened on the same day that Trump announced his ban on all people from 7 countries, including Somalia. For many long hours, it appeared the Somali born British citizen , athlete supreme SIR Mo Farah wasn’t going to be able to return to his family in Oregon. This man is a national treasure. The Home Office, and public opinion, went into melt-down. The ban also includes Iran. And so it was ALL the talk on the night. My Iranian friends are a sophisticated and well travelled bunch. LA is a particular favourite destination, as well as Miami, New York…all the great US cities. Suddenly…no more. Shocking, even if he had warned it was coming.

It was then, sitting on the couches in Home House, a ridiculously fabulous private club in central London, surrounded by Iranian beauties,  that I realized I had inadvertently staged my own little anti-Trump protest. Not with shouting and banners, but with wine and friendship. Trump is a tee-totaller. Which is fine, admirable even. But he is also a control freak and so no one around him may drink either. Ever. Wine flowed at Home House. So did the conversation. I love interesting people who have had totally different tastes and experiences from me. It is the way to learn things, explore things, my curiousity is boundless. Samey samey doesn’t make me feel safe, it just bores me. I am rarely bored. And it was a fantastic night.

Then another bit of delicious serendipity, today on Radio 4’s Midweek was the world renowned, Nigerian born, British psychiatrist, Head of Psychiatry at Birmingham University,  Professor Femi Oyebode. He is also a poet. He shared a snippet from a poem about voting in Britain: “I voted without delight, and was able without tension. My neighbours were fond of me. This was England…” When Libby Purves, the host,  suggested this relaxed attitude was no longer true, he chuckled that we still had a way to go to match the election violence to be found in Africa or Latin America. The right to protest without fear, something to be grateful for, certainly. But it was his next poem that really got me thinking about the night. A Love Supreme, named after jazz saxophonist John Coltrane’s great album of the same name.  The poem begins with the lines: “5 accents over dinner, flickered between candlelight and sipped light white wine, between the pauses of discourses.”

There were more than 5 accents in our little group alone, too many to count in the whole of Home House. Of the pictures our men took of us that night, I especially love the one on the couch. It wasn’t until I saw it in a larger format that I realized how tightly I am gripping the arm of Mobina, in an awful, stalky, obsessive sort of way. I had a good laugh at myself. And then re-worked it in my brain. I wasn’t being possessive so much as making a statement. THIS is my friend. I don’t care which passport she carries or the politics she subscribes to or the accent she speaks with. My friend. ALL of these are my friends. And I intend to continue to meet, engage with and befriend people from all over, regardless of country of origin.

More than 5 accents sipping white wine. How sweet it is.  This wonderful, multi-cultural city of London, where raising a glass of wine to such a toast is as easy as…well…..raising a glass of wine with friends. My own private protest. Take that Mr. Trump.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

On Escaping to Narnia….and Eating Beaver 77/100

dsc_0005_47-2dsc_0011_35The world is grim at the moment. Having vowed never to discuss politics, I feel I have done little but in the last many months. So it was with great relief that I found THE wardrobe , fur coats a plenty (fake ones, settle down), the one that is the passage to Narnia, last night. It is in Tottenham Hale, by the way, and my daughter Lizzie and I went for a visit. What a gorgeous, delicious night. Ushered through the wardrobe into a grove of snow covered trees and on into Mr. Tumnus’s house, for dinner.  And not a single person mentioned an action beginning with B or a person with the initial T for the entire night.  Why would they?  We were in Narnia. And the Winter Queen held sway. It was cold. Of course it was. But no matter, we had blankets and hot water bottles and chat and food and laughter.

dsc_0009_35-2The evening was the brainchild of The Literary Hour, a pop up supper club founded by housemates who decided to combine their love of books with their love of cooking. How clever. They originally hosted the dinners, inspired by a variety of authors including Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter, in their house. For Narnia they took it up another notch and held it at Styx, a mixed arts venue at the  northern end of the Victoria Line. Not a warm place, as it seemed to be open to the elements at every corner, but atmospheric and beautifully decorated with fir trees and fairy lights and a dry ice infused rock centerpiece. Our name places were held in pine cones. The first warming cocktail was served in a dainty tea cup. Initial awkwardness dsc_0015_29-2quickly gave in to curiousity: have you come to these before, how did you hear about this one, ooh what is in this…so good.

Then the first reading. From The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. The whole reason we were all there, after all. The attractive hostess read from a battered, paperback copy of the book. One that may have taken a dip or two into a bath through the years. A copy that was well loved, certainly. Such a well appreciated detail and it got everyone talking about when they had first discovered CS Lewis. Then the food was served. Each course was introduced with an appropriately inspired reading from the book. My interest in food is usually very low. I rarely go to restaurants, especially fancy ones, as I would much prefer to spend the money dsc_0006_42-2on theatre tickets. Lots of theatre tickets. But in Narnia I fell under a multi-course, foodie spell. It is a magical place, after all. Sardines on toast and goats cheese with honey was followed by celeriac soup and then…..beaver salami. “Yes, you will be eating beaver,” our hostess told us. A silence fell. And then a lot of giggling. Turns out, beaver salami is delicious. A little spicy but delicious. Though we couldn’t help but discuss that it was a rather harsh choice, given how the story goes. Poor lovely and loyal, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver.

The turkey ballotines had everyone waxing eloquent.  The Turkish Delight offered an interesting range of flavours.  We claimed we could eat and drink no more, but a shot of vodka marmalade in a tiny jam jar (so adorable) and a bread pudding made us liars. But as delicious as the food was, which it certainly was, it was only the vehicle, not the result of dsc_0016_29-2the evening. For that was the people we met on the night. Again, we are in tricky times. And our natural retreat is to hide behind a device and shun human contact. Or only speak to those who share our opinions 100%, preferably not face to face but through social media. But not tonight. NO ONE was on the phone, except to take few photos right at the beginning. Otherwise it was just chat, taste, admire, discuss, chat more, repeat. To my left were Charli and her sister Steph. Young, enthusiastic and funny.  On my right were Elizabeth and Ian. Utterly charming. 30 years after parting ways, 5 children, a death,  and a divorce later, they fell back in love. Newlyweds of 3 years. Never say never and all that.

dsc_0008_32-2And so the evening through the wardrobe, in the land that is always Winter but never Christmas, flowed beautifully. We could have lingered for hours, but alas, school and work and tube journeys called us away. But for those few hours, we enjoyed Narnia very much indeed. It got me thinking. Could it really be so simple?  Could we improve our lives and make the world a better place by just sitting down with strangers, without phones, and sharing a meal? Talking, laughing, being read to from a beloved, battered old favourite? No politics, no selfies, no point scoring, just stories. Lots and lots of stories. Certainly worth a try. Especially if beaver salami is on the menu!

On Murder, Marching, Masterpieces and …Hope 76/100

dsc_0001_54Saturday. It was rather full on. So much so that I am still fitting it all together in my mind. Because it must fit together. Too many connections for it not to. But where to start? I suppose at the beginning….which would be shortly after 3 am when we were woken to police lights and screaming, lots of screaming. From directly across the street. The road was absolutely filled with police cars and ambulance vehicles. A girl was on the pavement, hand wrapped in something bulky.  Officers and paramedics were everywhere. Rushing in and out of the house. Controlled chaos. Eventually the screaming stopped but the police stayed. By morning it was quiet, though officers and their cars were still everywhere. The whole area was cordoned off, including my car, which was now part of the crime scene. Details emerged. Two men in their 20s, both with stab wounds, one dead, the other arrested. And the girl, only 17 years old, with wounds to her hands. Why was she there? At 3 am? The whole thing is so so so sad. And unacceptable.

dsc_0002_48Later that morning, but still early, just as the police were finishing marking the area with their blue and white crime scene tape, Taylor, the gorgeous Australian girl who lived with us in 2011 on her gap year, strolled up the street, for a 24 hour visit on her way to other cities. What could I say but “welcome back to SW London.” We didn’t stay long in the neighbourhood however, as Taylor needed some art and it was the day of The March. National Gallery and Trafalgar Square. Off we went. Arriving in the square hours before the march even set off, we wandered through the very crowded halls of the National Gallery. Such beautiful old old things. dsc_0005_45dsc_0008_30My addiction to art is well known, but you may also be wondering why I didn’t actually join the march, just waited for it to arrive. And that is because I didn’t know, and still not sure I do, what everyone was marching for. And when the first marchers arrived, I was none the clearer.  Vegans, Communists, Socialists, anti-nuclear,  anti-Brexiteers, Environmentalists, and lots of women holding slapdash signs with crude slogans using the word “pussy.” Not funny slogans, just crude. And herein lies my problem. I have never, ever been convinced that the way to equality is through ladette behavior. Proving that I can be as rude and unpleasant as any man isn’t the feminism I have believed in passionately for decades, nor is it the one that I have shared with my girls. Worse still, a group of very little girls, under the age of 10, were holding pieces of paper on which “I am a Pussy,” was written. Presumably by their mothers. Really??? Really?? This kind of things upsets me greatly. The sexualiziation of children does nothing to promote equal rights. It is one of the many reasons I loathe Taylor Swift with her baby doll clothes and little girl persona. A paedophile’s dream. But I will save that particular rant for another day. With all these disparate causes, there was no sense of fun or excitement or indeed purpose. Just lots of milling about.  And eventually dsc_0013_28we wandered off, back into the gallery, where we were joined by many many others who had taken place in the march. A protest of it own, if we take Churchill’s words about the arts being something worth fighting for as truth.

Since Saturday afternoon, my Facebook feed has been filled with friends telling me that their experience was completely different and sharing loads of photos of witty, clever placards. I am very very glad to hear this. I must have just been at the wrong place at the wrong time, delighted to have so many disagree with me. But still…

And then came the furor over numbers. The numbers at the inauguaration, the numbers at the march, fake news, dsc_0014_30real news….and into this discussion my wonderful, wise,  former NYC roommate and reporter offered the fact (a controversial word these days) that with news organizations cutting the number of actual reporters on the ground and increasingly relying on talking heads in studios just reading out stuff other people have cobbled together, it should be no surprise that into this gap has come the scourge that is fake news. Or, as it is now being described, “alternative facts.” For shame.

Then Saturday night, the theatre. The Kite Runner. I am going to assume you have all read it, so you know what a powerful story it is. And an intense two hours plus of  theatre. A tale, about, among other  things, weakness. The weakness of one boy and the loyalty of another. And the terrible, terrible price of this imbalance.

What was I to make of it all? A full on London day, if ever there was. And Taylor too, a young woman who slotted seamlessly back into the family after so many years. Suddenly, slowly, slowly it was all coming together. And I realized what I had missed about the march. It wasn’t so much about this issue or that one, or no issue at all just a general sense of disquiet, unease and anger, but rather the gathering of people, lots and lots of people, on a beautiful London day to say not just I AM HERE, but WE ARE HERE. We. You and me and all of us. A collection. A community. A community with different agendas and viewpoints and goals, yes. But a community nonetheless. Not social media, not phones, not political organizations, but an actual community of real people, talking to each other. Laughing with each other. Walking with each other. Looking at great art with each other. Murder, that is about as far from good community you can get. A peaceful march, even with fluid purpose, is good community. Beautiful community.

dsc_0014_31-2These are unsettling times. It is easy to be weak and cynical and belligerent. And therein lies the challenge. To hold onto the good. The people we care about, even if we only see them occasionally. The art and culture that need, not just support with words but actual bodies in buildings, bottoms on seats. Kindness towards those who are struggling with all the many many ways the world can be cruel. Patience. Understanding. All the hard stuff. But if we do it together, maybe it will get easier. Maybe we will all feel a little less fearful. So grab a friend, or several, an old one, better yet a brand new one, and go look at some paintings, listen to music, stroll through a park in the winter sunshine, talk to strangers, read that book you keep meaning to get to, or read an old favourite to a child, anything that lifts, inspires, gives hope, if only for a moment in time. Because my friends, hope and beauty, in all its variety and variation, is how we are going to overcome.

On Inauguration Day, Francis Bacon, tea and talking…how life should be…75/100

dsc_0003_45-2Yes, I know what day it is today. And so I planned, well…something lovely. Civility, humour, tradition, class, art, intellectual chat, genuine laughter, those funny things I value. A gallery show of Francis Bacon and tea at Dandelyon on the SouthBank (Mondrian Sea Containers) and talk, talk, talk, talk, talk with Samuel, a man who loves and appreciates beauty. And Francis Bacon. A man of passion and style, if ever there was. Ok, Mr. Bacon didn’t join us. He died in 1992. And he was super famous and would have taken tea at Claridge’s.  Here are my two stories about Francis Bacon paintings.

dsc_0007_33-2The Hague 2001, overdue with my second child, Joseph, bored of waiting, I take myself off to the Gemeentemuseum for the Francis Bacon exhibition. Raw, violent, mesmerizing yes, but something felt off. People are staring. And then the guard approaches and says, “people feel uncomfortable that a woman so pregnant is looking at these pictures. Don’t you think it might upset the baby?” The Dutch are never shy about expressing their opinion on the behavior of others, but this seemed beyond the pale. Shocked, I state the obvious  “The baby….in the womb…he can’t see,” and then leave. For the record, Joseph doesn’t make his appearance for many more days, and remains, 16 years later, as unflappable as he was in utero.

London 2008, my friend Carol’s 12 year old daughter has recently been diagnosed with cancer. It is a terrible time. Clare and I take Carol out one day, away from the hospital. The Francis Bacon exhibition at the Tate Modern. “Oh no,” says Clare, just before we go in, “I don’t think we should do this. I think we should go see some Monet gardens…” but it is too late. We are there. Before Bacon’s enormous canvases of grotesque and rage and grief and love. Carol stands and looks. For a long long time. “I completely get these. I understand how he feels,” she says. Chilling and heartbreaking. Such is the power of art. Stephanie, by the way, just celebrated her 21st birthday at Disney World. The power of medicine.

dsc_0008_29-2And this is the power of Francis Bacon. THE superstar of the 1980s. A man once described as raising the temperature of a room by walking into it.   He was charming, could speak at length on any subject, a consummate host and seemed to always pick up the tab. He also had a very dark side. An angry alcoholic who liked men who “thrashed him within an inch of his life” men with demons like his own. Men who took their own lives, by hand or by bottle. Men who would give a punch before a kiss and keep punching. And it was this dark side, these demons, that he painted. Screaming popes in electric chairs, writhing figures in a pleasure/pain twist, his lover George Dyer in the throes of suicide. These are not images that are easy on the eye. Or the mind. Or the heart. But they move you. They haunt you. They make you feel and think. And they stay with you.

But, what, I hear you asking, does this have to do with Inauguration Day? Because it is a 16174657_10158181389245397_5824098782617097319_ntime to hold fast to what we love, what we value. And good art is something I value. So is humour. So I started the day by going to gym in the tackiest t-shirt I could find (thank you Miami Beach). Because we all need a laugh. Got a lot of laughs. Then on to Mayfair, Marlborough Gallery, and a series of Bacon lithographs. Wow. We couldn’t decide which one we wanted most. If only….

dsc_0010_33Next stop, tea. A cocktail tea. On the Southbank. In the beautiful Dandelyon in the Mondrian, Sea Containers.  And we talked about art and religion. A lot about religion. Because it is a subject that, more than most, requires passion. And we have plenty. The afternoon slipped by. We talked and laughed and laughed and talked. And talked and talked. It is something we all need to do more of. Phones down, eyes up, hearts open. Love. Because, like Bacon’s paintings, these connections stay. On the mind. On the soul. Hold on to them. Tightly. Forever.



On beauty for the sake of beauty….Leighton House with Samuel 74/100

dsc_0014_28-2I said I was going to start 2017 as I mean to go on, and so on  2 January, Bank Holiday Monday, I braved the very crowded public transport and went to a place I have been trying to get to for years. The Leighton House. I was joined by my friend Samuel, who I knew, perhaps more than anyone, would appreciate its beauty. Its beauty for the sake of beauty alone. Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine said of the house, in 1893, “For it does one good, in this age of utility, whose motto is “The Money Value”, to enter rooms where beauty takes precedence of utility, and artistic excellence is more highly esteemed than commercial value.” What was true in 1893 is even more true more than 100 years later. Samuel, of Oscar Wilde fame (see post 6, Passion for All), is a man who shares my ability to be passionate, truly passionate, about life. He has also spent the last 9 months travelling in Asia, and like so many before him, feels transformed by the experience. If ever there was a soul open to aesthetic, it is Samuel. And it was wonderful to see him, looking extremely well and wearing a dashing shawl from Nepal. I felt terribly underdressed. But is hard not to in the Leighton House. “I want to live here,” we kept saying to each other. Or if not live, stage some Oscar Wilde there….oh, a plan for 2017, perhaps. But I digress. Lord Leighton and his magnificent house.

So who is this guy? Frederic Leighton was a Victorian artist who rocketed to fame when Queen Victoria herself bought one of his paintings. He became President of the Royal Academy, in 1878, a position he took extremely seriously and remains the only artist to be elevated to the nobility,  although he died very soon after receiving the title (and is buried at St Paul’s). Nevertheless, he is almost always referred to as Lord Leighton today, if never dsc_0015_26in his own lifetime. In 1866, he built a studio/home in Holland Park, a rather plain red brick house from the outside with a series of gorgeous, gloriously decorated rooms on the inside. Filled with treasures he, and later his well appointed friends, collected in travels throughout the world. In particular, tiles from Damascus rescued from old buildings that were being razed to make way for the new city. A mashrabiya from Cairo, middle eastern ceramics, fine furniture and art, of course art. His own art and that of his contemporaries, including the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, those bad boys of the Victorian art scene who lived fast and hard. The house was damaged in WWII and then restored in an appalling  manner (strip lighting! laminate floors!) Fortunately, some intelligent citizens took it upon themselves to restore the house to as close to its former glory as possible, including the purchase of original and the commissioning of replica furniture and artworks that were or could have been in the house during Leighton’s time. Leighton was a fantastic party-giver. But the house has only one bedroom. His own. A small, almost monastic room. Come to my fabulous parties, but you cannot stay! Oh how I admire that!

dsc_6243-2There has been much speculation about Leighton’s personal life. Professionally as both artist and administrator, much is known, and he frequently entertained, including Queen Victoria herself. But he was a private man. Never married. And his narrow single bed does not suggest a secret passion, at least in the form of another human being. But passionate he certainly was. And his passion, as so often happens, has only inspired more passion. One of the reasons I wanted to visit is that on display now is what might be Leighton’s most famous painting, Flaming June. A stunning redhead in a gauzy, flowing orange dress, curled up asleep on a chaise in the med sunshine, a sparkling sea behind, her distinctly female form very much in evidence. Thought very sexy and provocative in its day, in 1963 it caught the attention and heart of a Puerto Rican industrialist, Luis Ferre. He bought it. Such is my love of romance, I wanted to hear that Ferre kept June under lock and key, spending private hours gazing and sighing, letting no one else near it. But in fact, he hung it to the Museo de Arte de Ponce, in Puerto Rico, where it was given pride of place . The painting has since travelled around the world and is here, on loan until April 2017,  in the very house in which it was painted. A happy homecoming indeed.

And what of this house? My goodness it is incredible. Photography is not allowed inside, so I can’t wow you with pictures. However, even the professional, catalogue photos don’t really do it justice. The Arab Hall is something that needs to be experienced, something you feel as much as you see. The blue tiles, the mosaics, the wooden lattice work, the chandelier, the fountain. What a thing it would be to curl up on the cushions and read. Or just day dream. The red walled Dining Room oozes convivial evenings, the Silk Room upstairs is subdued glamour and the Studio, with its view over the garden, is a space one could linger in. For ages.  And so we did, Samuel and I. Admiring, chatting, vowing great plans for 2017. Because it is a house for the passionate and the ambitious and the fabulous….start  as I mean to go on. Beautiful.

On New Year’s Eve and Happy 2017…73/100

dsc_6213-2As I walked to the gym, this morning, New Year’s Eve Day (yes, self-righteous, smug) an elderly man was weaving down Balham High Road in the opposite direction “IS are going to get us tonight,” he was shouting over and over. It being SW London, no one gave him a second glance. But I thought “Oh, I hope not, I want see what 2017 has on offer…” We don’t, as a family, have many holiday traditions. But a fancy lunch at SushiSamba, on New Year’s Eve Day, is one. Last dsc_6219year, due to the sheer size of our party (relatives) we had to move to the Oblix in the Shard, which was lovely. But the kids couldn’t wait to get back to Heron Tower, again, this year. And so we spent this afternoon. On the 38th floor in the NE quadrant of the City. Buildings are allowed to be so tall here because they don’t interfere with the site line of St Paul’s. So the view….except when it is all misty. Like today. And I tried, several times, to take a “family picture.” Ha ha. That old truth…the more one grabs at something, the more it eludes. Children. Strangers.  Plus, the cloud. Never mind, dsc_6227we had a divine meal. Just the trip up in the elevator is gorgeous. Food is incredible, wait staff attentive but unfussy, and the entire atmosphere one of exclusive fun. My favourite holiday tradition.

But this is London. So when we left the building, sans family photo, I remembered, just across Heron Tower is St. Botolph  without Bishopsgate. With the marvelous Gavin Turk, Ajar, in its churchyard.  If I can’t take a proper photo there then….well I did. Dignity and personalities intact. And this is exactly dsc_6239-2why I am so passionate about London. There is always something exciting, wonderful, interesting, fabulous, child-photo perfect around the corner. Just look.

2017, I wish safety for London and for all those who love her. Happy New Year. xxxx


On 2016 and Sculpture….and roll on 2017 72/100


I greeted my lovely neighbour at the door this morning with the words, “who has died now?” She responded, “would you like to come for drinks tonight?” But it does rather feel that way, doesn’t it? Here we are, almost at the end of the this mind boggling year that has been 2016 and yet it hasn’t stopped. Three adored celebrities in the last 3 days alone, two well before their time. George Michael (53!) Carrie Fisher (60!) and her heart-broken mother, Debbie Reynolds. Obviously, 2016 intends to shock until the end. But then, she did start as she meant to go on, taking David Bowie on 10 January and then….well, go on she certainly did! Alan Rickman, Prince, Muhammed Ali, oh, I don’t need to do “the list” for you. That is what the internet/social media is for.

But slamming the door on 2016 and shouting “Good Riddance” doesn’t really end anything. In fact, so so many of the troubling things 2016 brought us are going to have to dsc_6161be actually dealt with in 2017, Article 50 and the Trump presidency to name but two. And to get through these and all the rest, we may need to take the (hard) lesson 2016 gave us and start out the way we mean to continue…and go on. Follow it through. Whatever that is. “Start as you mean to go on,” one of those really annoying pieces of advice that parents and teachers like to give students at the beginning of an school year, and irritating friends work into a clichéd wedding speech. And yet…..how often do we carry through our intentions? Probably not nearly often enough. But living sometimes gets in the way of life’s plans and we have to let things go. But maybe, just maybe, 2016 has used shocking tactics to tell us all to give it a go. Stick to it. Even if it is something small. Something we can hold on to when 2017 takes a dark turn.

dsc_6179I told you last year that I am not one for New Year’s Resolutions. And I am not advocating that, we can only do what we can do, afterall. But maybe we can all resolve to find a little corner of happiness and cling on to it, to take the example of 2016 and turn it on its head. Start with something twinkly and keep on keeping on. So what will mine be? London of course. London, London and more London. What is there left to do???? Loads and loads. My children gave me a beautiful big book called London Uncovered: 60 Unusual Places to Explore,  by Mark Daly and Peter Dazeley, for Christmas. Filled with gorgeous photos of places I have been but not yet written about, places I keep meaning to visit, and (oh the excitement) places I haven’t heard of. Shall I dip in here and there? Or make my way methodically entry after entry in order. Or maybe…yes, a bit of catch up.  Regent’s Park! The Frieze Sculpture Park in Regent’s Park. I have been trying to get to this since early October!!! I love sculpture. In parks. In London. At the almost end of the year. Work by Lynn Chadwick, Barry Flanagan, Jean Dubuffet, Zeng Fanzhi, Conrad Shawcross and more…wow.

As I was strolling through Regent’s Park, today, 29 December, 2016, with my culture-mad, youngest child, gazing at art in the dsc_6175winter sunshine, I remembered something else that 2016 taught us. That life is short and sometimes death comes much much too soon. We shouldn’t wait to tell people how much we love them. So I am adding love, more and more and more love to 2017. London and love. And poetry. I am really going to give it a try (I have been promising this for years.)  I found a website of famous poems read by famous people. I have been listening to one a day. And today I got this one. By William Butler Yeats. A Drinking Song.

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

Given how the day (year) has been and the musings of my mind, it is perfect. London, love, poetry and wine. Come on 2017, give me what you’ve got. Happy New Year. xxxx

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

On skating in the magic of London….71/100


dsc_6118-2I have always loved ice-skating. I am not particularly good at it, but I have always loved it. Not the twirly, fussy stuff of Olympic awe, but the fast, playful, adventurous stuff of storytelling. My mother read me Mary Mapes Dodge’s Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates when I was little. Oh how I loved that story. That was the kind of skating I wanted to do. Action packed. One of the very few regrets I have of my 5 years in Holland was that I didn’t learn to speed skate. The Dutch excel at this sport, and I should have taken it up. But instead I had a couple of babies, neither of whom I would trade for all the ability on ice a person could have. Yet the dream is still there. And my beloved London makes sure I get a little taste each winter-time. London has a surprising number of permanent, indoor, ice rinks. A hold over from the GIs. There dsc_6111-2are even plenty of local hockey teams, most named for American Football teams, for the same reason. And while I have spent many a birthday party grabbing small, wet children out of the way of older, aggressive packs of teens, it isn’t quite that same flying along canals experience I had dreamed about. For that I must wait til Christmas time. When London landmarks flood and freeze themselves and offer glorious, beautiful, magical moments on ice. We have gone every year, to many locations including Marble Arch and the Tower of London. But the two best, year in year out, remain the Natural History Museum and Somerset House.

dsc_0068_6Somerset House skating used to be sponsored by Tiffany & Co., and a great tree stood in the courtyard festooned with ribbons of the trademark light blue. A luxurious tent alongside offered appropriately elegant coffees and cakes and a perfect view of the skating excitement. More recently Fortnum & Mason has taken over the sponsorship and has continued the glamour. In the evenings the tent turns into a bit of a warm disco, mimicking the on-ice action. A friend and I wandered in one night after a gallery party. We were much too old for the “scene,” unfortunately and didn’t stay long. Years ago, still in the Tiffany years, I took a group of young girls to skate in the afternoon at Somerset House and continued on into the Courtald Gallery afterwards. We ignored the priceless Impressionist paintings to gaze out at the skaters below in the now-enveloping dusk. They all seemed to be couples. Young, very much in love couples. “It is the romance hour,” one of the girls said with a sigh. She was right.

dsc_0001_50We once witnessed a proposal of marriage on the ice at the Natural History Museum. At sunset. In front of the tree. She said yes. We on-lookers went crazy. So romantic. Of course, most of the skates aren’t romantic so much as stoic. Whizzing round and  round surrounded by the inexperienced and the seriously wobbly. Dodging crashes and whining girlfriends and frustrated children and the idiotic selfie addicts. It is a popular last-day-of-term treat and I took my youngest and her friends to the NHM last week. It was pre-teen on ice heaven, complete with photo booth. But the landmarks. Oh the landmarks.dsc_0004_41 Skating under the skyline of London, well, what can I say. It is more beautiful than I can properly express.  London never looks more regal than from the vantage point of a skating boots.

So this is how I have come to be spending very early Christmas Eve morning skating. At Somerset House. It is still early enough for frosty mist. Romantic and magical. 2016 has been a grim year. No one seems to be sorry it is almost over. The world seems to be rushing ever faster into madness. We need to grab happiness where we can. And here I am, flying through the London landscape, like Hans Brinker in pursuit of the life-changing skates….and just for a few moments, the world is perfect.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion