23 October 2015

4 horses and 100,000 balloons in London!

You don't expect to 4 horses to appear in the river Thames nor to find 100,000 balloons in Covent Garden but then London is always coming up with the unexpected to keep us guessing.  

Public art is one of London's great strengths and my only complaint is that sometimes it is too short lived, it's gone before we realise we need to rush to see it and I'm going to show you two perfect examples of this in today's blog post. 

The Totally Thames Festival lasted all of September and saw a range of events and exhibitions of all things Thames related. You could enjoy all manner of river races, Tall Ships, concerts inside the Tower of London and a night of poetry readings celebrating wild swimming!  It was the horses that really caught my attention. I read about 4 life sized horse statues that had appeared on the foreshore at Vauxhall, a piece entitled The Rising Tide,  so I set off, at low tide, to find them and learn more.  

Skirting round the outside of MI6, much loved of the Bond franchise and not at all secret, I took the slipway normally used by the Duck tours boats, down to the river. My timing was spot on as the Thames was at low tide so there was no danger of falling in and drowning - I'm not being dramatic, I just can't swim! However, despite a helpful warning from the man guarding the slipway, I managed to step on the softer area of the foreshore and spent the rest of the day walking nonchalantly around London with one foot covered in grey mud!

One very muddy foot

Turning my attention back to the horses I was amazed how powerful they were. The Rising Tide is a piece by Jason deCaires Taylor, an underwater sculptor.  The artist is known for his focus on conservation and climate change and these themes are clearly explored.

Each horse is a life size shire horse with their wonderful large hooves and powerful bodies There are 4, a number that may be a nod to the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. Placing them within sight of Parliament seems to ask questions of lawmakers, questions which the sculptor feels they are ignoring, choosing instead to make damaging deals and compromising policies. 

It was a delight to be able to wander around the horses and see them from all angles, to get so close you could touch them without guards telling you to keep away. Photographers, both the iphone folk and those with tripods, were there in big numbers, taking away their own digital memories. A passing beach comber was rather non-plussed by horses and crowds appearing on his regular patch but showed us a few pieces of metal he had found, including a very worn coin and a belt buckle which he dated as Victorian.

The head of the horses has been replaced by the head of an oil well pump giving them an eerie futuristic look.  Two of the horses have male figures, looking like business men or politician whereas the other two carry children giving us the contrast of those with responsibility for what is happening now and the hope for the future. 

Horse with an oil well pump in place of a head

As the tide comes in the figures are submerged until the heads alone are above the waves and I would have loved to have seen this dramatic sight but after a month, the horses and their riders moved on and we are left with the fleeting memory of this wonderful work.

The thousands of shoppers who crowd into Covent Garden were treated to another short lived art installation when balloons outnumbered people for just one month. 

100,000 white balloons, each one of a different size, floated delicately under the Victorian roof of the South Hall. French artist Charles Petillon created a work called Heartbeat to delight and intrigue visitors. Pulses of light run through the balloons making the experience of viewing them rather hypnotic and symbolising the beating heart of the market, now and stretching back into its past. 

I loved the fragility of the balloons that become almost solid in such numbers and how the light changed so much even in the hour that I was there. Each time I looked back at the roof I saw a different colour, a new shape, almost like watching clouds change and reform. 

For those who like to know the behind the scenes info, the balloons were blown up by people, 25 of them who spent 5 nights and a lot of puff to make sure there were 100,000 perfectly filled balloon to form this work.  

Now, both art installations have gone and we look forward to whatever comes next. London is full of surprises but sometimes you have to be quick or you miss them, passing moments in a city of such enduring history. 

Bye for now,

12 October 2015

Take a peek into the Museum of Crime for some grisly, fascinating history

I'd never heard of the Museum of Crime so was curious when I saw the Museum of London was launching a new exhibition of items from this mysterious museum.  How had we not heard about this museum and why was it only just being opened up to the public?  The chance to see never before seen objects from the famous crimes of history was not to be missed. 

As we entered this scene met us - a classic crime scene!

The Curator, Jackie Keily, explained the history and took us through some of the key exhibits in this  fascinating new show at the Museum of London, one of my favourite London museums.   The Crime Museum, also known as the Black Museum, dates back to 1875, set up by collector Inspector Neame before the Metropolitan Police took it on and until now has only been open to Police Officers and their guests.  Opening up this sensitive material to the public did give the Museum of London staff cause for concern and this sign on the wall as you enter sums up their dilemmas:

The Museum of London focus on social history so wanted to bring out the human stories behind this remarkable and important collection.  They worked closely with the Met Police ethics Panel to help make the right choices to avoid sensationalism but keep the powerfulness of the items to tell the story of crime solving.  The Museum is used for Police training to show new detectives the history and lineage of their work and to examine how crimes have been solved.

One of the earliest sights to greet the visitor is this line of nooses took me aback but learned that each noose had a name and a personal story associated with it. We reminded that hanging was the standard punishment for murder in the UK.   One strange fact here is that nooses were often used more than once - to save on rope perhaps.

Execution boxes contained everything needed  for an execution:  nooses (always packing a spare), a hood, straps and buckles to restrain the prisoner and chalk used to mark the spot where they should stand. Several were kept at Wandsworth Prison and sent out around the country when needed. 

 One of the older items is this gun, used in an attempt on Queen Victoria's life in 1840, which I had not heard about but luckily Edward Oxford missed. He was subsequently found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to Broadmoor. 

We then move onto the main room where an impressive set of 24 panels illustrating individual cases between 1905 and 1975, ending at this date so as to not get too close to those who knew the victims. It also marks 100 years since the Crime Museum was founded.  Each panel tells us about the crime, the victims and how it was solved, we learn about the human impact and the people involved, including the Police who solved the crime.  Although many but not all victims are women, there is only one solo woman criminal here, Ruth Ellis who was hung in 1955 for shooting her violent lover dead in a premeditated crime. Edith Thompson was also hung for murder back in 1923 although her accomplice always claimed she was innocent.

Other famous cases you can learn more about include the Krays, Christie and Crippen, all infamous in the criminal history of the 20th century.  The information panel also show us how developments in police investigation techniques have helped bring criminals to justice and I was surprised to discover that fingerprinting was first used to secure a conviction in 1905 when Alfred Stratton's thumbprint was found on an empty cash box. 

Footprints can also help Police to find a criminal and of course criminals have been trying to evade capture in whatever way they can. One case showed us how one burglar made false feet (in the photo below) to put the Police off his trail, however he was not smart enough to wipe out his own foot prints next to the false ones and was caught!

There are fascinating sections on Weapons, Police Procedures, Terrorism, Abortion - a crime for so many years - Disguised Weapons, Forgery and Espionage.  

The Terrorism section brought the exhibition closer to my life  in 2001 with a replica of the bomb that was detonated outside Television Centre where I was working and was similar to the one which blew up part of Ealing, where I lived at the time.  A chilling moment as was the section on the July 2005 London bombings.  

All the objects and stories have a powerful message and connect us with events, near and back hundreds of years.  The exhibition ends with a Reflection Room, a chance to pause and think through what you've seen and how victims and their families suffer. 

To find out more and book tickets click here.  Please note this exhibition is not advised for under 16 year olds due to the disturbing nature of the some of the exhibits. 

Disclaimer: as is customary for a preview, I was invited by the museum and did not pay for my ticket. 

Bye for now

7 October 2015

Top events in London for the next 3 months

It's Your London sends out a seasonal newsletter to our Friends who subscribe and I wanted to share all this good info with my blog readers too. 


Here’s your autumn to winter 2015 newsletter giving you a taster of the exciting events coming up in the next 3 months in our capital. If you want to hear more about anything listed, or any other things you may have heard about, do send me an email (sue@itsyourlondon.co.uk) and I’ll get right back to you.

A warm welcome to new subscribers!

Have a look a Sue’s blog on the website (www.itsyourlondon.co.uk) to read about what I’ve been up to lately – a peek into life in London. I’m also on Twitter at @itsyourlondon so do join my 3750 followers for all the latest news!

Hope you enjoy your newsletter, let me know what you think.
Best wishes,
Sue Hillman


OCTOBER  This is a big month for film and art with major evens for both creative industries. The 59th London Film Festival is a showcase for Hollywood stars and block buster films and yet still finds space for first time directors and documentaries.  Frieze Art Fair brings the art world to London and takes up residence in Regents Park and there is a whole range of other shows offering some pieces at more affordable prices.
NOVEMBER The week of the 5th sees firework displays all over town as we mark Guy Fawkes Night when a group tried, but failed luckily, to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.  It’s a great month for jazz fans when the London Jazz Festival brings top names to London’s famous night spots like Ronnie Scott. As winter is chilling the temperatures, you’ll see ice rinks opening all over town at great venues such as the Tower of London and the Natural History Museum.
DECEMBER The build up to Christmas is in full flow with all the famous lights decorating the streets of London with their best festive look. Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park offers a fun fair and Christmas market offering something for all the family. Look out for the famous, tall Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, an annual present from the people of Norway in memory of Britain’s help during the 2nd World War where carols are sung each evening – a magical sound to put you in a festive mood.

October   DH Lawrence’s Husbands and Sons comes to the National starting Anne Marie Duff. The Young Vic bring us their take on ‘Measure for Measure’ starring Romola Garai and there’s more Shakespeare with a Comedy of Errors at the National. We have a show at the Lyric Theatre celebrating One Direction’s success with music from ‘all 4’ of their albums! More music but this time it’s Close to you: Bacharach Reimagined at the Criterion where his songs are brought to us in a blend of nostalgia and innovation.  Michael Flatley is back, as choreographer now, with those speedy Irish dance moves in Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games at the Playhouse.
November Dawn French’s 30 Million Minutes can be seen at the Vaudeville, which is the length of her life, so far. The Trafalgar Studios hosts Pinter’s The Homecoming with John Simm, Gary Kemp and Keith Allen.  The big show in town is the Kenneth Branagh season at the Garrick where we will be treated to the chance to see him starring with the wonderful Judi Dench in The Winter’s Tale.
December Tickets have been going quickly for A Christmas Carol at the Noel Coward theatre starring Jim Broadbent as Scrooge.  The Donmar Warehouse brings us Les Liaisons Dangereuses starring Dominic West so that’ll be worth a ticket! Goodnight Mister Tom is on at the Duke of York starring David Troughton . A musical based on Alice in Wonderland, called just Wonderland comes to us at the National from Damon Albarn so we know Christmas is coming but to slow that festive cheer down a play called Hangman transfers to the Wyndham about Britain’s last hangman when the death sentence is abolished, starring David Morrissey.  But standby - the pantomimes are coming soon!

October This is a busy month for art lovers with Frieze being the main show on in a number of huge tents in Regents Park alongside Frieze Masters for a more traditional approach.  Several other galleries join in and Berkeley Square hosts the Pavilion of Art and Design Fair in another large tent (or marquee I should say as it sounds posher!).The Other Art Fair at the Old Truman Brewery offers a more affordable level of work. Frank Auerbach has a show at the Tate Britain and Goya: The Portraits opens at the National Gallery.  The Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern unveils their new piece by Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas.
November The Queen’s Gallery has Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer and also John Rowlandson’s comic art entitled High Spirits. Alexander Calder’s Performing Sculpture opens at the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain brings us Artist and Empire looking at art associated with the British Empire from the 16th century onwards.
December Time to catch your breath and see some of the great shows continuing while the pace of openings slows down. Ai Wei Wei at the Royal Academy has been creating a lot of discussion, as has The World goes Pop at the Tate Modern.

October London Chocolate Week has events all over town from a chocoholic show at Olympia to themed cocktails at the best bars. Real Food Markets continue even tho the summer has gone, each weekend at the South Bank and the Slow food market at the Rosewood Hotel every Sunday. Don’t forget London’s regular markets: Portobello on Saturdays, Spitalfields biggest on Sundays and Camden all the time!
November Christmas markets are popping up all over town from the South Bank to Kew Gardens and the huge Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is full of chalet style stalls. The Spirit of Christmas Fair at Olympia is packed full of present ideas, and some for yourself of course! 
December The Christmas lights will all be on now and London’s shopping street look at their festive twinkly best. Don’t miss Regent Street, Oxford Street, South Molton Street, Covent Garden, Carnaby Street and the beautifully decorated shop windows including John Lewis, Liberty’s, Selfridges, Harrods and Bond Street’s top end shops.

October The Victoria and Albert Museum has the Fabric of India exhibition which will be a beautiful riot of colour with handmade fabrics dating from the 3rd century to the present day. The Museum of London looks at the grittier side of life with their Museum of Crime Uncovered a strange collection of criminal evidence and tales that dates back to 1875 but has not before been open to the public. Museums at Night is an annual treat which several London museums joining in with and throwing open their doors for after hours fun and games. Check out the Days of the Dead listed in November as they span these 2 months
November The British Museum is celebrating the Day of the Dead, a major event in Mexico when deceased relatives are remembered and honoured through festivities. Expect artworks and late evenings with music and food. The National Maritime Museum is marking Samuel Pepys with an exhibition looking at the period from 1649 to 1688, a period of momentous change in British history, so we can get to know the man, his interest and his gossiping! The show is called Plague, Fire and Revolution which gives you some idea of the topics explored.  The V&A opens Bejewelled Treasures, part of their India season.  The Geffryre Museum gets festive with 400 Years of Christmas Past.
December There are rarely any new openings in December as there is so much else to do so perhaps use the time to catch the great shows that are still on. Perhaps The Celts at the British Museum and the Geffrye’s seasonal special.   A candlelit lit evening tour of Sir John Soane’s museum is magical at this time of year and you can catch this on the first Tuesday of each month.

October The group behind the Ivy bring us Sexy Fish in Berkeley Square with upmarket seafood although we are not yet sure what is ‘sexy’ about it.  Carrying on the theme of strange naming is Les Couilles du Chien (yes it is!) a new bar with food from the Arbutus gang so let’s hope it lives up to its name in the non literal sense….   More odd names with a new pan Asian bar and small plates called Beyond London yet it’s in Kensington. The opening I’m most excited about is Les 110 de Taillevent in Cavendish Square when its very famous Parisian parent opens this spin off.  Coming a close second is 45 Jermyn Street in Fortnum and Masons which aims to bring back glamour!  Last but by no means least in this bumper month is the Chocolate Show in the vast halls of Olympia.
November/December The Ivy continue their roll out of smaller venues with the Café Marylebone Lane. It’s been a long wait for the German Gymnasium in Kings Cross which is slated for late autumn so any time now…   M Restaurants will open in Victoria as the major renovations and upheaval there begin to settle down, they will be offering high end grills and raw dishes.  Corbin and King continue to grow, adding Bellanger in Islington to their group, with a neighbourhood feel and Alsace cooking.  If you need to escape from the eating fest that is the build up to Christmas, try Grain and Green in Fitzrovia offering healthy salads from the Detox Kitchen.

October The Royal Horticultural Society has a good looking event -  The Shades of Autumn Show giving inspirational planting ideas and advice on choosing autumn plants.  Regent’s Park host the enormous marquees of Frieze Art Fair and Frieze Masters so expect lots of very fashionable arty looking folk in the park. The Tower of London is marking the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt with a special exhibition in the White Tower where the Duke of Orleans was imprisoned after his capture in the battle.
November  A new event from the Royal Horticultural Society this month is The London Frost Fair looking at over winter planting and workshops, and of course as we are in the build up to Christmas there will be a reindeer family to enjoy.  Kew Gardens go big at Christmas with their Illuminations Trail, a one mile sparkling path around the gardens including dancing illuminated fountains.
December Hyde Park hosts the huge Winter Wonderland event which has stalls selling food and gifts, a seasonal fun fair and even its own ice rink and ferris wheel.  The ice rinks will be open at Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London.  The annual Peter Pan swimming will take place on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, an annual event for the very hardy since 1864! The Royal Palaces all have festive events and fairs and don’t miss the BBC Good Food Festival Christmas Fayre at Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace will be showing us how Queen Victoria celebrated Christmas.

October The Rugby World Cup games will be played across England and in Cardiff to battle for this honour, sadly without the hosts. The final will be on 31st October at Twickenham. Hopefully there will be more joy for England fans in the last of home qualifier for Euro 2016 against Estonia. Equally competitive are the International Ballroom Dancing Championships at the Royal Albert Hall. There will be 3 NFL games played at Wembley this year with associated fan zones in the centre of London.  
November The end of season ATP tennis tournament sees the top 8 players in the world fight for the top place to finish off their season so hopefully our Andy Murray will be starring at the 02 Arena. Rugby League has a big game at the Olympic Stadium where England take on New Zealand.
December The London International Horse Show makes its annual appearance at Olympia, in fact its 108th appearance! Big names in the show jumping world gather to compete alongside the Household Cavalry and the Shetland Pony Grand National.  Billed as the world’s greatest darts tournament, you can see the stars of the game at Alexandra Palace. Christmas Day sees the traditional early morning swimming race in the Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park, a race that has been getting people out of bed since 1864.

October Squeeze come to the 02 with Dr John Cooper Clarke, The Editors play at the Apollo Hammersmith and as does Gabriel Iglesias. Bob Dylan is playing his new album, and hopefully some old tracks too, for 5 nights at the Royal Albert Hall.  As part of the build up to the new Bond film’s release, Mica Paris is on at the Royal Festival Hall bringing us James Bond soundtracks. U2 roll into the 02 and Dappy from NDubz plays at the 02 Islington.  
November The London Jazz Festival sparkles across town taking on several of London’s top venues including of course Ronnie Scott’s. Don’t miss big names like Andy Sheppard, Courtney Pine, Jamie Cullum and Joshua Redman.  Suede take on the Roundhouse and New Order are at the 02 Brixton.  Disco classics from Chic ft Nile Rodgers are at the Olympic Park and Brandon Flowers at the 02 Shepherds Bush. Ya Lo Tengo play the 02 Shepherds Bush.
December The Prodigy take the Wembley Arena by storm while the Charlatans with Echo & the Bunnymen are at the 02 Brixton.  Lots of retro at this time of year so check out Kim Wilde at the 02 Shepherds Bush and Grandmaster Flash at the Brooklyn Bowl 02. Madonna hits the 02 as do Deep Purple. Dave Davies of the Kinks (the other brother!) plays at the Assembly Rooms Islington. The Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band is at the 02 in a smaller hall and Simply Red reform to play at the larger 02 hall. More contemporary, The Disclosure take on Alexandra Palace. The Kooks are at the Forum and Trevor Nelson’s Soul Nation is at the Jazz Café.

Enjoy London!