Category Archives: Culture

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.

Tea & Tattle | A Chat With Kate Morton

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here.

Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m so delighted to be joined by one of my favourite authors, Kate Morton, to discuss Kate’s new book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter.

Originally from Australia, Kate now lives in London with her family, and her books have been number one bestsellers all over the world. The Clockmaker’s Daughter is due out in the UK on the 20th of September, but I read an advance copy of it a few months ago, and it was definitely the highlight of my summer reads. I know Tea & Tattle listeners will love it too!

Kate Morton, photographed by Davin Patterson.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is an incredible story that spans the Victorian era to the present day. A mystery lies at the heart of the tale: one summer in 1862, a young woman called Birdie Bell is invited to a gathering of artists at Birchwood Manor, a beautiful house in the English countryside. Everything seems idyllic, until one terrible day changes Birdie’s life forever. What are the true events of what happened that summer? The Clockmaker’s Daughter weaves several narratives and time periods together to uncover the secret hidden at Birchwood Manor for so many years.

In today’s discussion, Kate tells me about some of the inspiration behind her book, why, as a writer, she’s so fascinated by time, details about her writing process and so much more.

You can also listen to the podcast on iTunes (iphone users) or stitcher (android users).

Tea Reads | The Four Suspects by Agatha Christie

Listen to the latest Tea Reads here.

For the first Tea Reads of the Autumn Season, I’ve chosen a perfect cosy mystery. The Four Suspects by Agatha Christie is one of my favourite Miss Marple short stories. I always think of it this time of year when dahlias are in bloom all over the UK, because Miss Marple solves the mystery partly because of her knowledge of the different varieties of dahlias.

The Four Suspects shows Christie at her very best, with all her classic hallmarks:
a seemingly impossible conundrum, baffled professionals and a quietly confident amateur sleuth, complete with her knitting needles.

Happy Listening!

Seasonal Notes | Dahlias

For me, a highlight of early autumn is the appearance of dahlias, which come into their own in September and bloom spectacularly until the first frosts of October.

The flower shop next to my local tube station is currently overflowing with them, and it’s a weekly delight of mine to select a bunch. I ponder over type (spiky petals or honeycomb-like pompons?) and colour (soft lilac or tangerine orange?), delighting in the incredible variety.

Although dahlias fell out of favour for many years after reaching their pinnacle of fame in the Victorian era, over the past two decades these fascinating flowers have made their way back into the limelight.

It’s not a surprise that dahlias are used in photography styling with increasing frequency on instagram, where they’ve joined the elite rank of popularity previously dominated by peonies and ranunculus. The diversity in colour and shape make dahlias a versatile choice for florists and stylists; I love the creamy, blousy beauty of Café au Lait dahlias, just as much as I admire the dramatic Black Narcissus variety, with their pointed, blood-red petals.

History of Dahlias

Dahlias are indigenous to Mexico and are the country’s national flower. They were first brought to Europe by Spanish explorers in the early 1800s. After over 200 years of selected breeding, hybridising and culture, dahlias are now one of the flowers with the largest variety of form, colour and size and are grown and appreciated all over the world. Apparently, hybridisers today are seeking dahlias with scent, ones that are frost-hardy, and a true blue dahlia.

The Mexican heritage of these flowers has been increasingly celebrated in recent years, as homage is paid by the Art and Fashion worlds to the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, whose work has been showcased in several major exhibitions around the world (including this one currently exhibiting at the V&A). Kahlo loved flowers and bright colours, and she would regularly gather bouquets of dahlias, marigolds, lilies, violets and irises from her garden, sometimes including dahlias in her paintings as well. I love this photograph of Kahlo with dahlias in her hair.

Where to See Dahlias in the UK

Although I am not in the least green fingered, I do love visiting spectacular gardens, and I have started putting together a list of some of the best gardens in the UK to see dahlias:

The National Dahlia Collection, Cornwall. I visited this dahlia farm last autumn, and it was so special to spend an hour or so strolling amongst the rows of all different types of dahlias, admiring St Michael’s Mount in the horizon.

Great Dixter, East Sussex. This famous garden has been on my list to visit for ages. I’m determined to get here one day!

Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden, East Sussex. I’ve heard many wonderful things about this garden, which isn’t generally open to the public, but I hope to take advantage of the September Open Days one year.

Rousham Gardens, Oxfordshire. The dahlia borders at this unspoilt garden are meant to be stunning.

Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge. The Dahlia Garden contains over 70 different varieties of the flower.

Kelmarsh Hall & Gardens, Northampton. You can visit the Dahlia Festival on 16th September.

Hever Castle, Kent. A visit early September is the perfect time to admire the gorgeous dahlia border, as well as late-blooming roses.

So far, I’ve only managed to get to the National Dahlia Collection in Cornwall, but I’m looking forward to exploring more as I work my way through this list.

Further Reading

If you fancy reading more about dahlias, or simply gazing at beautiful photos of many different varieties, then I recommend Naomi Slade’s book Dahlias: Beautiful Varieties for Home and Garden.

Georgianna Lane (whom I interviewed on the blog in this post) has taken many exquisite photographs to illustrate the book, and it’s a lovely read for any flower-lover, as well as giving helpful advice for growing and caring for dahlias.

I’m going to be back to the Penzance area again in early October, and I would love to make it back to the National Dahlia Collection if possible. Until then, I’ll keep enjoying picking up bunches from my local flower shop!

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Don’t forget to check out my latest Tea & Tattle Podcast episode here.

Tea & Tattle Podcast: Introduction to Autumn Season

Listen to the latest Tea and Tattle here or on iTunes.

Hello and happy Tuesday! I’m delighted to be back with Tea & Tattle Podcast, which has had a little refresh with a new theme tune, and of course the new format. I’m very much looking forward to the autumn season of the podcast, which will run from now to mid December. Today’s episode is shorter than usual, as I’m getting back into the swing of things by introducing the new season and sharing some Jump for Joys and Culture Corner recommendations from the summer. I’m also making a few announcements:

++ The Tea & Tattle Book Club Choice for Autumn.

++ How to get a handwritten card from me.

++ My 1-2-1 Mentoring.

Listen to the latest episode to find out more!