Sunday, 27 November 2011

Oscar's Tomb (A Case of Misguided Conservation)

Oscar Wilde's tomb, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris (Image source: Wikipedia)

As an architectural historian, a Romantic, and a lover of Oscar Wilde, I'm not quite sure how to react to reading an article that reports that Oscar's tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery has been cleaned and restored, and is now going to be protected from devoted fans by a glass barrier.  I understand the desire to protect a memorial to a great writer (which also happens to be the work of a great sculptor, Jacob Epstein) but I am rather skeptical about the chosen approach.

The tomb is (or was, until the cleaning) famously covered in the lipstick of thousands of fans, who have been showing their devotion through kisses for years.  Although this is an absolutely fabulous tradition, it has apparently been causing damage to the stone, further exacerbated every time the stone is cleaned.  Now, any good conservation architect will tell you that, in many instances, dirt-ridden stones shouldn't be cleaned as the dirt may have formed a protective coat for the stone and exposing the surface again by cleaning will often make it more vulnerable to erosion.  Countless monuments and buildings have been irreversibly damaged due to this lack of understanding and the implementation of insensitive cleaning approaches.  Of course, the situation varies from stone to stone, and I can't say I know much about the effects of lipstick on whatever stone this tomb is made from.  Perhaps cleaning has been a strong necessity and was carefully and expertly carried out...  To me, however, it sounds as though they should never have attempted to clean off the kisses in the first place because that's where the problem really started.

The wonderful Oscar Wilde himself (Image source: Wikipedia)

I guess some may see the lipstick as being a vandalism of the work of Epstein, or a sign of disrespect to Oscar, as it has ultimately degraded his memorial.  But I have to disagree.  I'm a fan of Epstein's work generally, and therefore keen that any of his sculptures is treated appropriately and cared for.  But in this instance, in my view, the continued devotion of Oscar Wilde's fans more than 100 years after his death, represented by those lipstick marks, enhanced the impact of Epstein's bold, modern memorial, making it an even more fitting monument to a great decadent and aesthete.  Cleaning them off, and putting the tomb behind a barrier seems to be missing the point.

The visceral, impassioned, rebellious tradition created by Oscar's fans was beautiful and appropriate for the man.  My gut reaction is that an untouchable, pristine tomb which can be only politely viewed from behind a screen - I don't care how transparent or discreet it is - risks rendering the tomb clinical and cold.  

Saturday, 26 November 2011

So, It Begins

I've not posted in over a week!  I think this may officially be my longest absence since I started blogging.  It was a hectic week at work, including an overnight stay up in Birmingham.  Was pleasantly surprised by Birmingham, it must be said.  My only experience of the city to date was an hour's transit in the bus depot when I was about 19.  Not the best impression to have of a place but let's be honest, you don't hear the nicest things about Birmingham either.  However, I discovered that there are some lovely buildings and streets in the centre.  Perhaps more on that one day...

But for now, I'm just here for a quick post to break my blogging silence and to remind everyone that tomorrow is Advent Sunday - the first day of the season leading up to Christmas.

Christmas in the Peak District last year - Ilam Church under snow

My plans for the day: a wander around the National Gallery before the evening carol service at St Martin-in-the-Fields.  I'll also look in their shop to see if I can pick up an Advent Calendar there, or potentially an Advent Candle.  I always consider the candle option - where it's marked down the side and you burn it to get it down to the right line each day - but I just know I'd probably get distracted and wander off and come back to find it down to the 24th on the 3rd or something!  Calendars are a bit of an all-round safer option, really...

Friday, 18 November 2011

Shrimp and Kitty Love

Weekend!  And I particularly need it this week...  Been working especially hard...

As a special treat, here's an adorable picture of the gorgeous Jean Shrimpton which I stumbled across recently.  I didn't make note of where I found it, I'm afraid, so hopefully I don't enrage anyone by having stolen their picture.

Have a great weekend, lovely readers, be it a restful or a raging one! 

Monday, 14 November 2011

A Royally Botanically Autumnal Afternoon

I'm back from a weekend in Liverpool, but until I upload and sort my photos, I thought I'd share with you my adventures from the weekend before. I headed out west to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew for a relaxed Sunday afternoon, to enjoy perambulating amongst the colourful autumn leaves.

This is what I wore...

Layers!  Gray singlet: Bennetton; Blue shirt: hand-me-down from years ago;
Waist coat: charity shop; Shorts: Beyond Retro; Necklace: gift from my sister

Hat: Fabhatrix, Edinburgh; Jacket: Rokit; Shawl: somewhere on Chalk Farm Road;
Boots: Jones Bootmaker

Here are some of the buildings I saw...

The Temperate House - or part of it - as viewed from the treetop walk.  Largest surviving Victorian glasshouse
in the world, apparently, and Grade I listed.

Detail of the Temperate House, opened officially in 1863 but not completed for another
four decades due to funds running out!

Inside the Temperate House - spiral stairs and climbing plants.

The Temperate House - some of the ironwork designed by ironfounder, Richard Turner.

Detail of the Palm House - also Grade I listed, constructed 1844-1848

More of the Palm House - the design was ground-breaking in terms of engineering,
and borrowed a couple of tips from ship-building.

Museum of Botany, opened to the public in 1848.

And here are some plants and wildlife, featuring autumn colours and funny purple berries...

This was my first ever trip to Kew Gardens and I really need to go back!  There's so much there and I hardly got to see any of it, really.  Perhaps I'll go back once a season for the next year, so I can see it in all its colours and lights whilst exploring the rest of the buildings and landscaping and gardens?  And perhaps I'll wear furs in winter, florals in spring and floaty white in summer?

Friday, 11 November 2011


I'm heading to Liverpool this weekend for a girly "City break" with friends.

Diagram of Mersey Tunnel - looks to be contemporary with its 1920s-30s construction! (Image source)

We're staying in a hotel which was described in a review as "Isambard Kingdom Brunel meets Carrie Bradshaw".  As one of us is a structural engineer, one of us is a surveyor and one of us is an architectural historian, and as we're fully intending to be drinking cocktails and being stylish as always, we decided that it was the perfect place for us!

But before then, and in honour of Remembrance Day, I thought I would share some details from the Cenotaph in Liverpool. (Image source can be found here)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Sewing Silhouette

Kathy over at Behind the Curtain recently posted a selection of pretty pictures of girls sewing.  Okay, I see now that it was actually three good weeks ago.  Damn, time flies.  Her post reminded me of my mum's sewing room in my parents' house, in which she has a number of framed pictures of the same subject.  When I was there some time ago, she snapped a picture of me on her film SLR as I sat by the window, stitching some repairs.  I think it's rather a pretty picture so thought I'd share it with my lovely readers.

And no, I don't have a pierced lip, I'm just holding a safety pin in my mouth.

The reason it took me so long to post this is that I had to try to remember to take the print in to work to scan it in.  Once I'd done that this evening, I played around a bit to see if I could lighten it because I know how pictures can end up looking much darker on some screens and it's already quite a shadowy one.  I ended up having some fun experimenting!  Because the scanner was a bit scratched, the image ended up looking wonderfully weathered as I fiddled with light and exposure and hues on Photoshop.  I couldn't pick which my favourite was so here's a little montage...  It doesn't seem so vain when I'm just in silhouette!

I still think the original is my favourite though.  I love that it's so dark with my silhouette against the light window, and the details such as my shoes are barely discernable.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Unexpected gems

I snapped this delightful building whilst out on Stoke Newington Church Street on Saturday night.  The Cat and I had stopped to admire the fireworks bursting all around us when I spotted this lovely Georgian building with its old painted signs.  There's just something wonderfully quirky about the fact that they've shortened it to "fount" pens - I wonder if that was a common way of referring to fountain pens back whenever Walker Bros. were active.

Sadly, I didn't capture any fireworks on camera as we were too busy enjoying them.  We had no idea where they were being set off from but they seemed to be coming from all angles and at all distances - in front of us, behind us, way down at the end of the street - filling the air with smoke, colours and excitement.

I much rather that local, spontaneous experience of fireworks over going to scheduled fireworks displays.  Seeing them at a set time for a set period takes away some of the thrill of it.  I love the element of surprise in random firework displays, and the fact that you keep hearing them go off, near and far, all night long.  I used to think I'd gone off fireworks but I realise it's just the jostling crowds and "organised fun" element of them that I don't like.  Rugged up on an autumn evening, on the way to the pub to meet friends, with a loved one beside you and the air full of whizzing and popping and sparkling rain - that's special!

Friday, 4 November 2011

"Now it is the Fifth of November"

Down in the park
In the last of the light
Among the stray dogs and families
I smell the bonfires and 
Watch the bombs
Fireworks burst above the trees
Into pillows of white cloud
And another year has gone
Now it is the fifth of November

The Bluebell - Patrick Wolf

Bluebells - Patrick Wolf
from the album, The Magic Position (2007)

Hurrah!  Guy Fawkes Night tomorrow!  Hope everyone has a cracker of a weekend!  (Excuse the pun...)

And, actually, let's have a little more Patrick Wolf while I'm here:

The Libertine - Patrick Wolf
from the album, Wind in the Wire (2005)

I love androgynous, violin-playing, modern-Victorian-street-urchin Patrick Wolf, with his songs based in ancient mythology, the Cornish wilds and the literature of Virginia Woolf.  So beautiful, so unique, so exhilarating.  And perfect for this season - as the nights grow longer and the frosts set in, his first four albums go onto heavy rotation, particularly Wind in the Wires and Lycanthropy.  But it continues to deeply upset me that his most recent album is complete and utter pants.  I'll just have to go back to pretending that it never happened and that we're back in 2003:

To The Lighthouse - Patrick Wolf
from the album Lycanthropy (2003)

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Becoming Tippi Hedren

Well, you met Vladimir the other day, I've seen lots of fellow bloggers in their fabulous and creative Halloween costumes, and now I think it's time for you to see Vlad in his starring role in my own costume...

The Birds costume completed, with a glimpse of my friend's Psycho costume to the right

My friend insisted on taking a photo of me with a beer can in hand.  All class, me.
I had been drinking wine from a glass at a previous point, I swear!

Yes, indeed, bin bags and wire coat hangers came into play to create Tippi Hedren, aka Melanie Daniels from The Birds.  Vladimir got pride of place on my head, with his beak artfully aimed at my eye.  The remainder of the flock were constructed from bin bags cut into bird outlines, lined with thin wire to keep them in shape, glued together and erected on wire coat hangers.  There were a few trial runs and prototypes before we got this working properly, particularly as the "invisible green" wire we'd bought was too flopsy to support the birds.  But we soldiered on, improvising with re-worked coat hangers.

The birds were then strapped to my back and my dress slipped on over the top so that they emerged from the neck.  My suit wasn't quite the right colour as it should have been a paler green but it's pretty perfect otherwise, don't you think?  I'd lightly tacked some feathers onto the dress before this but I wasn't going to rip any holes or throw any blood on it - not the fabulous 1960s tweed dress suit!

Anyway, putting the dress over the birds gave them a bit more support and discouraged the possibility of them flying too far away from me and into random passers-by...  One was left aside and became a sort of wrist band/bracelet.

Then came the blonde wig.  Surprisingly, this was the bit about my outfit that made me feel the most ridiculous, not the flock of bin bag birds.  But it was a must, considering Hitchcock's "thing" for blondes.  Thankfully, it looked much less absurd when pinned up into a dishevelled French roll than when it was hanging loose.  Vladimir was sewn onto a pale yellow headband and popped onto my head.

Pastel pink lips to match my pastel pink nails, a spot of fake blood on my face and the look was complete.

My partner in costuming crime became a fellow Hitchcock lady, Janet Leigh, aka Marion Crane from Psycho.  Her costume was fabulous but I am sparing her the indignity of having her face splashed all over my blog.  You can see part of her costume though...

Once the paint/blood was dry, we wrapped her in the shower curtain like it was a sleeveless evening dress, with the hooks running down the front like some pretty, arty detailing on a couture frock...  She had a short, sleeveless, beige dress on underneath just to ensure her modesty was preserved.  We then gave her a bit more blood smudged down her arms and a short blonde wig to top off the look.  Genius, even if I do say so myself.

The only problem we encountered with the costumes was that I ended up having to take the birds off my back later on in the evening as it was getting rather crowded indoors and I didn't actually want to take someone's eye out...

Down come the birds...

Vladimir stayed on though, naturally.

Vlad and I party on