Category Archives: Culture

Tea Reads: A Visit From the Sea by Robert Louis Stevenson

Listen to the latest Tea & Reads here.

My Tea Read choice for this Friday is a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson called A Visit From the Sea. I’ve been inspired by my trip to Penzance (I’ll be travelling to Cornwall as this Tea Reads episode airs) to choose this poem, as there’s a fun connection between Robert Louis Stevenson and a Cornish pub in the area. Have a listen to the episode to find out more!

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

Tea & Tattle: Emma Block Discusses the Joy of Watercolour

Tea & Tattle: Emma Block Discusses the Joy of Watercolour

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

This Tuesday on Tea & Tattle Podcast, I’m joined by the author and illustrator Emma Block, to discuss Emma’s fantastic new book, The Joy of Watercolour. Emma started getting work as a freelance illustrator when she was only 17, and she’s gone on to develop a fantastic business and works full-time as a freelance illustrator in London.

Emma Block

Emma regularly teaches sold out water-colouring workshops in the city; I’ve been to a few of them and had such a fun time learning the basics of water-colouring and brush lettering.  Over the years, Emma has collaborated with many notable brands and fashion influencers, who love her highly recognisable, soft and feminine illustration style.

In August, Emma published her first book, The Joy of Watercolour, which shares tips and painting projects to help people get started with water-colouring, or to take their illustration practice to the next level. It’s a beautiful book, and I’ve been having a lot of fun working through Emma’s guides for beginners.

In today’s discussion, Emma tells me about the inspiration behind her book, what she’s learnt from teaching water-colouring classes to 100s of people, how to find your own unique illustration style, and how she’s developed different strands to her work as a freelance illustrator over time. This is a brilliant listen for anyone who loves water-colouring, or who are keen to give it a go for the first time and develop their own creativity.

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

London Culture | Pinter at the Pinter, The Lover and The Collection

London Culture | Pinter at the Pinter, The Lover and The Collection

Please note: I was given tickets to ‘Pinter Two: The Lover / The Collection’ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Pinter at the Pinter is an exciting season of Harold Pinter’s one-act plays, which are being performed in London at the Harold Pinter Theatre until February. The plays are being put on as a tribute to Harold Pinter,  one of the greatest British playwrights of the 20th Century, on the 10th year anniversary of his death.

Twenty of these short plays are being produced, and a spectacular lineup of actors are performing throughout the season, including David Suchet, Rupert Graves, Tamsin Grieg, Celia Imrie, Russell Tovey and many more. ‘Pinter One,’ comprising of four one-act plays, and ‘Pinter Two,’ which includes The Lover and The Collection, are currently showing at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 20th October.

I was thrilled to be given press tickets to Pinter Two, as I’m a huge fan of David Suchet, and I couldn’t wait to see him live in The Collection. He did not disappoint! Pinter Two showcases two of Pinter’s one-act plays that explore the themes of love, fidelity, truth and fantasy.

Hayley Squires and John MacMillan in ‘The Lover.’  Image source.

John MacMillan and Hayley Squires star in The Lover as a married couple, Richard and Sarah, who are apparently exceedingly open with each other about their respective lovers. The play was first performed in 1963, and it is a play of its time, although the issues of marital happiness, mutual trust and desire that it explores are still very relevant today.

The Lover opens with witty, breakfast table repartee that’s reminiscent of Oscar Wilde. Richard cheerfully asks Sarah whether her lover is coming today, and Sarah replies that he is. Richard asks what time, and says he’ll be back by 6, to allow his wife and her lover a full afternoon. The next day, Sarah questions Richard about his mistress. He denies all knowledge of a mistress, although says he’s very well acquainted with a whore.

As the play progresses, it becomes clear that Richard and Sarah enjoy a complicated game of role-play. They are each other’s lovers, willingly acting out the fantasies of their spouse. When Richard suddenly decides he is tired of playing a part, the lines between reality and fantasy start to blur, and only then does the couple’s real tenderness for each other become apparent.

David Suchet in ‘The Collection.’  Image source.

In The Collection, David Suchet and Russell Tovey join Hayley Squires and John MacMillan in a story that further explores desire, fantasy and truth. Harry (Suchet) and his partner Bill (Tovey) cross paths with another couple James (MacMillan) and Stella (Squires), when James accuses Bill of having slept with Stella at a hotel in Leeds whilst she was away on a work trip. Apparently, Stella has confessed all to James, although her story seems surprising given the nature of Harry and Bill’s relationship. David Suchet steals the show with a hilarious and incredibly camp performance as Harry, and Tovey also adds a great comic touch combined with virile sexuality.

I feel a modern interpretation of this play adds greater nuance to Pinter’s work, as the roles of sexuality and gender are further explored under Jamie Lloyd’s direction. Just as the line between reality and fantasy was blurred in The Lover, so too does sexual preference and attraction remain ambiguous in The Collection.

Russell Tovey in ‘The Collection.’  Image source.

James enters into flirtation with Bill even as he accuses him of being unfaithful with his wife, and Bill’s story of what happened constantly changes. At first he denies ever having met Stella, then he admits to having sex with her and finally he says the truth is that he and Stella only sat in the hotel bar and talked about what they might do together, should they ever go upstairs to bed…. Who is to be believed? And what counts as an act of infidelity? Stella knows the truth of that night, but on being asked what really happened, the play closes on her enigmatic smile, so the audience must draw their own conclusion.

Of the two plays, I enjoyed The Collection the most, mainly because David Suchet’s performance was so incredible. Both productions were excellent, though, and I was also impressed by the simple, striking staging, from the bright pink walls of The Lover, to the clever use of space to portray two couple’s lives in tandem in The Collection.

Pinter Two: The Lover / The Collection is on at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 20th October. Tickets may be purchased here

 

Tea Reads | Claxton by Mark Cocker

Tea Reads | Claxton by Mark Cocker

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

The Tea Read for this Friday is an extract from Mark Cocker’s nature journal, Claxton. In 2001, Mark Cocker moved to Claxton, a small village in Norfolk, and there he began journalling his observations of the plants and wild life surrounding his home. Mark Cocker writes about nature in astonishingly beautiful prose, and he has a wonderful knack for noticing those small wonders that make our everyday lives so precious.

For today’s episode, I’m discussing an extract from Cocker’s late September entires, which I think perfectly sums up this transitional month between summer and autumn.

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

Tea & Tattle | Lucy Heath of Capture by Lucy on Building a Creative Business

Tea & Tattle: Lucy Heath of Capture by Lucy on Building a Creative Business

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m joined by Lucy Heath, an award winning blogger, photographer and founder of the successful online business, Capture By Lucy. Lucy creates gorgeous vinyl backdrops that she sells through Capture by Lucy, and her backdrops are bought and used by amateur and professional photographers and stylists all over the world.

I absolutely adore Lucy’s backdrops – they’re the only type I use – and I use them in my photography all the time, especially for my @mirandasbookcase instagram account, for which I take a lot of flat lays.

In today’s discussion, Lucy tells me about how she’s carved out her own space in the market by sticking to a product that she feels passionately about and by marketing her own individual skills.  We also talk about why blogging is just as important as instagram, and Lucy shares tips on how to come up with your first product and how to start a creative business.

I loved hearing about Lucy’s journey going from blogging as a hobby to developing her career as a photographer and then building her own online business. Lucy is such a genuine person, and she shares some great advice on this podcast, so it’s definitely a must listen if you’re interested in building a portfolio career and developing your photography and blogging skills.

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

London Culture | Misty Theatre Review

London Culture | Misty Theatre Review

Please note: I was given tickets to ‘Misty’ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I had tickets to see Misty last Friday at Trafalgar Studios, so I invited a friend along to see it with me. I’d heard rave reviews about Misty, which has opened in the West End following its sell-out success at the Bush Theatre, so I was looking forward to the evening.

Shockingly, Misty is apparently only the second play written by a black playwright ever to have been produced in the West End. It’s essentially a one man show, written and performed by Arinzé Kene. What struck me most forcibly about Misty was the sheer power of Kene’s performance; he seems to give the show every part of his soul, as well as his considerable physical energy. I was awed by the sheer stamina of such a performance, which sees Kene singing, rapping, raging, crooning, wrestling with giant balloons, playing multiple characters and displaying a surprising knack for physical comedy. The play is a curious mix of gig-theatre and performance art, and it’s a credit to Kene’s talent that he manages to pull it off so convincingly.

London Culture | Misty Theatre ReviewArinzé Kene in Misty. Image © Helen Murray.

Misty is structured as a play within a play:  Kene is writing a play that exposes the social and racial prejudices that he witnesses in modern day London. But his rap about a confrontation gone wrong on a London bus is interrupted by some of his friends. They don’t like the play.  You’re selling out, they chastise him, creating content that feeds to the ‘angry black man’ stereotype that white people expect to see. His play is nothing but ‘a modern minstrel show,’ they cry in disappointment.  Kene argues that he has the right to tell whatever story he wants to tell; he speaks eloquently on the importance of being able to simply make art, to speak the truth as he sees it, as he’s experienced it. Why can’t his story just be a story? Why must it be labelled before the ink of creation is even dry?

If more plays were put on like the one he’s writing, Kene argues, then he’d go to the theatre more often. ‘Who gives a f*** about Shakespeare?’, he jeers, hammering home the point that much of what is shown in West End theatre falls short of representing  a wider audience. And yet, Kene also seems to play some homage to Shakespeare, with his use of the mise-en-abyme technique, that brings Hamlet  to mind. And just as Hamlet soliloquises on the deeper questions of life, so does Kene reflect on what it means to be an artist, specifically a black artist. It’s clear, too, that Kene shares with Shakespeare a love for word play. His lengthy monologues are superb, often nothing short of poetic, and they morph into song, into rap, into lyrical speech with expert ease. Kene’s aim may be to subvert and justly challenge the traditional theatre scene, but he shows how inspiration may be drawn from many sources, both traditional and non-traditional, to create drama that speaks of the moment.

London Culture | Misty Theatre ReviewArinzé Kene in Misty. Image © Helen Murray.

Along with the script, I was also impressed by the staging of Misty. For a minimal set, there was brilliant use of audio and video recordings and dramatic lighting to add interest and further dimension to Kene’s performance. Balloons are used as a powerful visual motif throughout the play: Kene blows up a balloon and then watches it deflate, like his ego, crumpling under criticism. At one point, he becomes trapped within a gigantic balloon, struggling to escape, just as he battles with the questions – what kind of play should he write? And how should it end?

Although, as I said, Misty is essentially a one man show, credit must go to Shiloh Coke and Adrian McLeod who play the drums and keys throughout the play, as well as taking to the stage for their parts as Kene’s friends. Coke and McLeod delivered their lines with a subtle humour that sparked a great deal of appreciation from the audience, and I thought Shiloh Coke’s performance was especially memorable.

Misty is an exciting, thought-provoking play that makes for a memorable night out. It’s showing until 20th October, and tickets may be purchased here.

St Jude’s ‘Nature Table’ Exhibition at the Town House in Spitalfields

St Judes 'Nature Table' Exhibition at the Town House in Spitalfields

I’m such a big fan of the artwork of both Emily Sutton and Angie Lewin, so I was very excited when I heard about the current exhibition of their work in collaboration with St Jude’s at the Town House in Spitalfields. The exhibition, ‘Nature Table,’ is on until 30th September, and I recommend seeing it as quickly as possible. Not only are the artworks spectacular to view in person, but the Town House in Spitalfields is a marvellous destination in itself.

The Town House is located on Fournier Street, a particularly beautiful and historic street in East London, featuring many original Huguenot houses dating from the early 1700s. The streets surrounding it, especially Wilkes Street and Princelet Street, are also well worth a stroll.  Be sure to bring your camera, as the area is instagram gold!

This was my first visit to Town House in Spitalfields, and I was amazed by how lovely it is. The shop is a treasure trove of carefully curated books, ceramics and other collectables. I loved the bookshelf stuffed with Persephone Books and all the beautiful autumnal displays in the shop.

Mum and I made our way through to the exhibition space at the back, and there were lucky enough to meet Angie Lewin in person. She was so lovely and friendly, and it was wonderful to be shown the artwork by one of the artists herself! There were so many gorgeous prints and originals, as well as new fabrics, on display by Angie and Emily. The exhibition is definitely a feast for the eyes, and I was especially taken with Emily Sutton’s new ‘Q is for Quince‘ print and Angie Lewin’s ‘The Gardener’s Arms‘ linocut. I wish I could have taken them home with me!

St Judes 'Nature Table' Exhibition at the Town House in Spitalfields St Judes 'Nature Table' Exhibition at the Town House in Spitalfields St Judes 'Nature Table' Exhibition at the Town House in Spitalfields St Judes 'Nature Table' Exhibition at the Town House in Spitalfields

After enjoying looking at all the artworks, we decided it was time for a cup of tea and slice of cake. The Town House has a small kitchen downstairs and a seating area in their tiny garden:

The garden was rather damp after a recent downpour, so we decided to head down to the kitchen, which has a long wooden communal table that we were lucky enough to have to ourselves.

I don’t think I’ve ever sat in such a charming kitchen before! Vintage copper moulds hung around the oven and a large table in the middle of the room was crowded with a range of cakes and biscuits to tempt customers.  A cherry bakewell tart, fresh from the oven, was placed at the other end of our table to cool, its delicious aroma blending with the other baked goods in a way that made our mouths water.

St Judes 'Nature Table' Exhibition at the Town House in Spitalfields

I went for a pear and almond cake, which was moist and utterly delicious, along with a pot of tea, and my Mum chose a rose and cardamon cake that was also exceedingly tasty. We could have quite happily stayed in that snug place all afternoon, and now I’ve discovered such a charming spot, I’ll definitely be returning very soon!

Read more details of the ‘Nature Table’ exhibition here.

 

Tea Reads | On Rapture by Nora Ephron

Tea Reads | On Rapture by Nora Ephron

Listen to the latest Tea Reads here.

Today’s Tea Reads is a fantastic essay by Nora Ephron on the pleasure of getting truly immersed in a book. Entitled ‘On Rapture,’ this essay appears in the compilation of Ephron’s work, The Most of Nora Ephron.

I always think of Nora Ephron in the autumn, as one of my early fall rituals is to rewatch two of her classic films: When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail. I thought, then, that it would be appropriate to choose an example of her intelligent, witty writing for this week’s Tea Reads. ‘On Rapture’ is sure to spark appreciative recognition in every bookish soul!

You can also listen to this episode on iTunes and Stitcher

On My Bookshelf | Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

On My Bookshelf | Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

I’d heard good things about Margery Sharp’s books for years, so I was thrilled when my Dad treated me to four of her recently republished titles. It was hard to pick one to read first, but I settled for Cluny Brown, not least because I thought ‘Cluny’ a rather marvellous name for a heroine. And a delightful heroine Cluny proves to be….

Originally published in 1944, Cluny Brown is set in the inter war years and follows the humorous exploits of the eponymous Cluny. The trouble with Cluny, the heroine’s long-suffering Uncle Arn decides, is that she doesn’t know her place. Content with his life as a plumber with a steady business, Uncle Arn  is shocked by his niece’s extravagant behaviour. Cluny saves up to take herself to tea at the Ritz,  accepts invitations to cocktail parties, spends all day in bed eating nothing but oranges, and is admired by an array of men, despite being (in Uncle Arn’s bewildered opinion) ‘nothing to look at.’

Cluny is the classic jolie laide – her unconventional looks and happy-go-lucky nature make sure she’s noticed wherever she goes, and she sparks  interest both upstairs and downstairs at Friars Carmel, the grand house in Devonshire where her Uncle insists she takes a job as a parlour maid. It’s not only her striking physical appearance that sets Cluny apart, however, but also her endearing personality. Cluny has an active, enquiring mind and an independent spirit that isn’t easily cowed. At a time when social classes were rigidly distinct, even Cluny’s employers can’t help but treat her as an equal. Cluny’s search for where she truly belongs ultimately leads her to take a leap of faith and leave her homeland behind, as she becomes the woman she was destined to be.

Margery Sharp’s gently ironic humour and understanding of human foibles add depth to her writing and make for memorable characters. Indeed, there are many besides Cluny who are loveable in this book. I have a particular soft spot for Sir Henry Carmel, the quintessential English country squire, whose penchant for writing extremely dull letters to far-flung acquaintances across the globe had me chuckling:

As his physical powers declined, making hunting impossible, Sir Henry had taken to the pen; all over the world the friends of his youth began to receive very long, very dull letters from him. To Rhodesia, Tanganyika, Singapore, Australia, India, New Zealand and the Bermudas – Sir Henry’s epistles went forth ; for he never considered it worth while to write to any one nearer at hand. So the letters took a long time to get there, and the replies even longer to get back, and all the news was out of date; and this gave his correspondence a peculiar timeless quality which was very soothing.

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Cluny Brown is a light-hearted, quick read that is perfect for those who love P.G. Wodehouse and Nancy Mitford. Now, to decide which Sharp I should read next….

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds

“Yes, friend, this is what I came out for to see; this many-gabled old house built by the simple country-folk of the long-past times, regardless of all the turmoil that was going on in cities and courts, is lovely still amidst all the beauty which these latter days have created; and I do not wonder at our friends tending it carefully and making much of it.” –  William Morris describing Kelmscott Manor

The highlight of my recent trip to Oxford was undoubtedly our visit to Kelmscott Manor, William Morris’s former summer house. Kelmscott Manor is situated just on the border of the Cotswolds, on the banks of a quiet stretch of the River Thames. I’d been dying to visit the house, not only because I’m a huge William Morris fan, but also because I’d read that it partly inspired Kate Morton’s fictional house, Birchwood Manor, in her latest book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter. If you’re interested in learning more about how Kelmscott inspired Kate, then do listen to my interview with her on Tea & Tattle Podcast.

Originally, Kelmscott Manor was built for a farming family, and it was kept in the same family for 300 years before Morris took a lease on the house in 1871. It was his dream home, and it is still a wonderfully atmospheric place to visit. Stepping through the front door is like finding a portal to the past, and although not as grand as many houses people pay to see nowadays, Kelmscott Manor has a charm all its own that makes it one of the most memorable places I have visited.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsView of Kelmscott Manor from its small orchard

Kelmscott Manor was used as a summer home by Morris for himself and his family: his wife, Jane Morris, and their children, Jenny and May. The house and the surrounding countryside offered constant inspiration for William Morris and heavily influenced his work. It’s suggested that one of his most famous designs, ‘Strawberry Thief,’ was inspired by the sight of birds stealing the wild strawberries that grew in profusion in the Manor garden. As such, Kelmscott Manor is a must visit for any lover of Morris’s work and the wider Arts and Crafts movement, especially as the house still contains many of the Morris family’s furnishings, paintings, fabrics and photographs.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsThe Panelled (White) Room, Kelmscott Manor

One of my favourite rooms in the house is the Panelled Room, which is fresh, light and airy and offers the perfect backdrop to many beautiful portraits of the Morris family hung on the walls. The most remarkable of these paintings is a large portrait of Jane Morris by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds‘The Blue Silk Dress’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, featuring Jane Morris.

William Morris was involved in the Pre-Raphaelite movement and was friends with Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Jane Morris was a significant model for Rossetti, who painted her many times, and with whom she had an affair. Their lives became intricately linked when Rossetti jointly shared the lease on Kelmscott Manor with Morris from 1871-74.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsThe Tapestry Room, Kelmscott Manor

Whilst living at the Manor, Rossetti took over the Tapestry Room as his studio. To start with, Rossetti was just as enamoured with Kelmscott Manor as Morris, and initially he spent much more time at the house than Morris did. Apparently, Morris deliberately kept away in order to allow the affair between Jane and Rossetti to play its course. During this time, Rossetti painted another portrait of Jane, Water Willow, which now hangs in Jane Morris’s bedroom.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds‘Water Willow’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This portrait of Jane Morris shows Kelmscott Manor in the background.

As the years passed, however, Rossetti began to complain of the flat, dull nature of the surrounding countryside, and in the end he moved out of the manor, although he did leave some of his belongings behind, including an impressive carved wooden clock hung above the staircase.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsMain staircase at Kelmscott Manor

The other rooms I found particularly interesting were the bedrooms of Jane and William Morris. I thought Jane’s bedroom especially lovely, with its soft green shades and beautiful four poster bed, which was the bed in which William Morris was born at Elm House, Walthamstow on 24 March 1834. The room is decorated with a modern reproduction of ‘Willow Boughs,’ one of Morris’s most popular wallpaper designs.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsJane Morris’s Bedroom, Kelmscott Manor

My eyes were instantly drawn to the quilt on the bed, which was designed by May Morris and embroidered in silks by Jane. It’s a stunning example of intricate needlework, and it was wonderful to be able to get close enough to observe the fine details.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds‘The Homestead and the Forest’ Cot Quilt, designed by May Morris

A special feature of Kelmscott Manor is that the house was in many ways as much the home of May Morris as it was her father’s, for she moved back to the house later in her life, after her father’s death, and lived there again from 1923-38. Many examples of her work are scattered throughout the house.

May was an extremely talented designer in her own right, but her work has been very much overshadowed by her father’s greater fame. In recent years, however, there has been an increasing interest in her incredible life and talent, and I highly recommend the book, May Morris: Arts and Crafts Designer, should you wish to read more.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds

William Morris’s bedroom is unusual, in that it opens up immediately to two adjoining rooms – one of which is the Tapestry Room – so the bedroom must not have offered much privacy! Morris’s imposing bed dominates the room, and he was apparently so fond of this bed, that he wrote a poem dedicated to it. The poem is worked into the pelmet that runs along the top of the bed, which May Morris made for her father.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsThe Green Room, Kelmscott Manor

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsThe North Hall, Kelmscott Manor

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds‘Millefleurs’ fabric

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, CotswoldsThe Attics, Kelmscott Manor

After a thorough tour of the rest of the house, we wandered into the garden and then found a path which led to the river at the back of the house. It was the perfect morning for a stroll, and I enjoyed admiring brightly coloured canal boats as we walked along.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds

Rounding a curve in the river, I came across a lovely view of the back of the house, where you could just see its gabled windows and chimney tops jutting out above the trees.

UK Travel | Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds

I can’t recommend a visit to Kelmscott Manor enough. We had a marvellous time exploring the house and the village, as well as seeing the village church, where Jane and William Morris are buried. It made a fabulous day out, and I also suggest stopping by The Plough Inn, just a few minutes walk from the house, where you can get an excellent lunch or supper (and even book a room, should you wish to stay longer in the area).

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Feeling inspired? Here are some other William Morris houses to visit: Red House, Bexleyheath; William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow and Kelmscott House, Hammersmith.

Wightwick Manor and Standen are two other beautiful Arts and Crafts homes that are on my list to see.