Sunday 31 March 2013

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, dear readers!

It's Easter today, and the clocks have sprung forward too... And yet, sadly, it still doesn't feel quite like spring is here. I woke up to some glorious sun but unfortunately the clouds came in and covered him up. At least there hasn't been any random snowfalls, like there was yesterday! And The Cat and I did manage to hunt down a patch of daffodils and signs of life to serve as a backdrop to my Easter outfit post.

It's that cold here that at first I was hesitant to remove my coat...

But then I realised that, really, I had to take my coat off to show off my new Easter frock... As you may remember from my Easter post last year, I've been embracing the old tradition of having something new to wear for Easter Sunday for the past few years. As before, I've not bought any clothes in a while, so it was special to wear not only my new dress, but my new jacket too! The dress was from the old reliable Beyond Retro (the Cheshire Street branch on this occasion) while the jacket was purchased from Cow in Sheffield on my recent visit up there, where I had more luck than I did at the Nottingham branch back in summer 2011.

The shade of colours in the dress inspired me to partner them with this wonderful 1950s cocktail hat which I bought last year. I'd wanted a hat with a veil for a while and then a friend was DJ-ing at a night where hats were demanded, so I had the perfect reason to go out hunting for one. I struck gold at Cloud Cuckoo Land, a wee vintage shop just off Camden Passage, near Angel. It's a really wonderful shop, which I was pleased to discover. I told the lady this, to which she responded, 'Thank you - that's just what I needed to hear today'. It felt like a happy exchange to have brightened her day with a few nice words after she had brightened my day when I found the hat, after having almost given up after a long search through many shops. And it was nice to be able to wear it again today because, to be honest, it's not really an 'everyday wear' kind of item. Of course, I got some funny looks when I was out and about but they're like water off a duck's back. More important is the fact that I got some nice smiles as people admired my Easter bonnet. 

And I saw this little chap bouncing around the local park when we were taking outfit shots. I wonder if he's a friend of the guy I snapped last year at Easter?

Hope you've all had a beautiful and joyous Easter. Alleluia, Christ is risen! 

Sunday 24 March 2013

Don't Burn Our Fire Stations!

Recently, I popped into the wonderful Clerkenwell Tales, an independent bookshop on Exmouth Market, to buy a couple of birthday presents. Whilst in there, I noticed they had a petition on the counter to stop the closure of Clerkenwell Fire Station. I was shocked - I hadn't known it was under threat! - and didn't hesitate to sign.

I have rather an attachment to Clerkenwell Fire Station, located on the corner of Rosebery Avenue and Farringdon Road. I always feel pleased when I happen to see the firemen doing drills on the tower behind the station (it was because of seeing them engaged in such activity that I realised what the towers were for...) or when I see them heading out or coming back in their fire engine, having been out on a mission and hopefully having saved the day. There's such appeal to me in a building which has such a distinct and important function, still operating in the same capacity for which it was designed a century ago.

The 1950s/1960s drill tower alongside the Edwardian station

To think that it might be closed down is an awful prospect. Naturally, not just for the building but for the public good! It's not because the fire station is redundant or in excess of need, but rather due to a plan to cut the London Fire Brigade's funding by £45 million. To deal with this blow, it is proposed to close down 12 fire stations, including dear Clerkenwell... If I may, I'll tell you a little bit about this special building.

The current fire station was not the first erected on this site. Its predecessor was built in 1871-73, facing onto Farringdon Road. By 1890, this had became the superintendent's station for the central district which, according to the Survey of London, made it one of the most important stations operated by the London fire brigade.

The original fire station (Image source: Survey of London, British History Online)

However, the 1870s station didn't provide enough space for all the firemen as the complement grew and so some had to be accommodated in nearby housing. This wasn't an ideal situation so, in 1895-97, an extension was erected, facing onto Rosebery Avenue. In addition to more accommodation, this incorporated a new 'appliance room' (i.e. where the fire engines are housed). From the new appliance room, the fire engines could exit more safely onto the less busy Rosebery Avenue, rather than Farringdon Road.

The 1890s extension (Image source: Survey of London, British History Online)

However, even with the extension, it became apparent that an even larger fire station was necessary. Hence, between 1912 and 1917, in two phases, the fire station was extended again and the 1890s section rebuilt, with the old and new parts given a unified facade. The design for the 1912-17 works was by H. F. T Cooper, a young London County Council architect. The building is consistent with many early twentieth-century London fire stations in its loose Arts and Crafts style, particularly evident in the impressive gabled roof with its tall chimney stacks.

The building was listed Grade II in 1988. It is considered to be one of the best examples of an LCC fire station of the Edwardian period, a sort of golden era of civic architecture in London due to the general quality of design, workmanship and materials. The exterior survives virtually intact and is noted as being a well-designed response to the corner site. Sadly, the interiors have been much altered, although apparently the top floor has a communal washroom with obsolete washing and drying equipment. I'd like to see that! (Firemen of Clerkenwell Fire Station, if you are reading this and would be willing to show me around, please drop me an email!)

So, this corner site in Islington has a long history of accommodating an important London fire station and I personally don't want to see it turned into fancy flats or some such. It's for the firemen and it should stay that way! They've definitely earned their place in it, as far as I'm concerned.

If this post has made you fall in love with Clerkenwell Fire Station, even just a little bit, you can read more from the BBC here and here, and find out about the related public consultation here.

Sunday 17 March 2013

Bliss Valley Daze

A couple of weeks ago, I was up in Sheffield and visited their Millennium Gallery. The gallery is currently showing a landscape exhibition and one of the works on display which particularly captured my fancy was a continuous animation by Julian Opie. I thought I'd share it on my blog as those of us in the northern hemisphere begin to anticipate spring. 

You can indulge a little here, although it's only part of the full animation. Granted, nothing much more happens in the full version, but the plane does make it across the sky and another crosses in the opposite direction, making for an even more soothing and hypnotic experience...

It particularly spoke to me as it conjured up memories of one particularly idyllic mid-summer's day in 2009 when I took the picture below, as I lay in a meadow with my mum and The Cat, taking a wee break from a drive through Oxfordshire.

The reason we'd initially stopped was because I'd spotted this amazing building and wanted to see if we could get a proper look at it:

When I did my research upon getting home, I discovered it is called the Bliss Valley Tweed Mill... Perfect, no?

Here's to art, photographs and treasured memories that keep summertime bliss alive all year round.

Friday 15 March 2013


Some time ago I was doing some research about Holland Park. In the course of reading up on its history and development, I came across a series of Earls of the British peerage with possibly the most fabulous surname ever: Fox-Strangeways.

Okay, actually, technically, officially, it's Fox-Strangways but in my mind I inserted an "e" because... well... it just transforms it from being pretty awesome into entirely marvellous.

Here's one of them, Henry ol' chap, 5th Earl of Ilchester, as caricatured in Vanity Fair:

Henry Fox-Strangways in Vanity Fair, 1882 (Image source)

And where do you think these Fox-Strangways folk lived? Well, right here, of course:

Holland House in 1896 (Image source)

You can't make this stuff up.

I am now contemplating changing my surname to Fox-Strangeways. I wonder if there's a dashing Fox-Strangways bachelor still out there, carrying on the family name? If so, I could marry him and then "accidentally" slip in a convenient "e" when I fill out the official forms to change my name. Alternatively, I could just have my name changed by deed poll anyway, but that might seem a little bit... affected.

In the meantime, I've decided to set myself to drawing a character of my own creation called Lord Fox-Strangeways. I'm not sure if he's going to be human or vulpes yet... I might let you know how I get on, depending on how he turns out.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Anything Goes

Recently, I was offered tickets to see a production of the musical Anything Goes by the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. It's part of their spring season of performances and one of the final shows of their third year students.

The production poster had me tempted before I even
read the synopsis...

I didn't know anything about the play until I got the invite - I didn't even know the title song, which surprised a few people - but was immediately interested when I read the description. It's based on a story by P.G. Wodehouse - whom, as I discovered last year, I rather enjoy - and the music is by Cole Porter. So The Cat and I headed along to northeast London last Tuesday night for the performance.

And you know what? It was excellent! I figured that, given the students would have been training and learning the art of theatre performance for the last three years, and were set to soon be released into the big bad world of professional theatre, that it would be of at least decent quality. But both The Cat and I were super impressed. Those kids (I'm allowed to call them that, being not so far off 30...) had some great voices, amazing energy and fabulous dance moves. Sure, the sets weren't as sparkly and shiny as you might get on a West End production but does that really matter when the cast's performances are so stellar?

The cast of Anything Goes in action

So, we were chuckling away, tapping our feet all the way through, nudging each other when one of the characters started singing I Get a Kick Out of You (having one of those 'so that's where the song's from' revelation moments) and humming Anything Goes all the way home. I may not have known the song before but it's so instantly catchy and fun that it immediately lodged itself in my brain.

Mountview are also doing a production of Guys and Dolls over the next few weeks, and I'm almost tempted to head back out there for that... Either way, going to see their show certainly reminded me of one of the great alternatives to West End theatre. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on them for future productions and looking up other reputable theatre schools.

And, in the spirit of the glamorous cruise ship setting of the show, I will leave you with some wonderful pictures of real cruise ship passengers of old...

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