Sunday, 29 March 2015

March 2015: This month I have mostly been...

Feeling: Overwhelmed

I've had one of those months when I've spent a lot of time wanting to be and do everything all at the same time and getting a bit stressed and overwhelmed out about how much there is for me to do and learn and be. I blame it on a lack of time off. Work has been pretty busy since about October last year and although I was off over Christmas, with revision and other stuff, I feel like it wasn't too much of a break. I'm hoping to plan a bit better and to not shut down a bit because I'm busy. Time to get efficient and start being a better and less rubbish.

Reading: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I'd been waiting ages for this to come out in paperback (I am not a big fan of hardbacks unless absolutely necessary) and it finally did at the start of the year. Unfortunately I've been busy since the start of the year and so it's taken me until March to pick this up. I'm glad I did as it's one of those books which I struggled to put down (even in a tent). I also learnt a thing or two, mostly about sugar loaves. If you get a chance to read it, then do.

Watching: Game of Thrones - Season 4

We don't have Sky and so we missed out on watching Season 4 when it aired last year. Unfortunately there was one or two spoilers that I didn't miss out on. The DVD was released in February and so we've been rationing ourselves with episodes until Season 5 airs in April (we have NowTV now and so will be able to watch it as it goes out this year, no spoilers for us). I walked home the other week and past the Tower of London, where the world premiere was being held and fire-breathing dragons were being projected onto the walls. It got me very excited about the new season.

A photo posted by Lisa (@notquiteenough) on

Coveting: Pretty tableware

After two years of using the same plain white basic chunky crockery from Sainsburys that we bought when we first moved into the flat, I have finally upgraded our crockery to something nicer and a bit more me. When I went home the other week I went to have a browse in Dunelm Mill with my mum and came across some Royal Doulton plates which I liked and which apparently come from the 1815 range which celebrates the 200th anniversary of the founding of Royal Doulton. The shapes of the pieces are inspired by original pieces and the 'dipped' pattern is a reference to original pieces which featured the same pattern.

As it's my birthday coming up at the end of April, I decided to upgrade our crockery and with birthday money from my family, bought a serving bowl and eight dinner plates, side plates, bowls and pasta bowls. They all got delivered to work the other week and I've been gradually taking them home with me. Every time I plate something up I get so excited about how much better they look than my old white plates.

Inspired by my new plates I have also ordered some fabric so that I can make a set of napkins for when we have guests. Now I just need it to arrive and then to have some time to actually sew it up into napkins, mitred corners and everything (that's the plan anyway).

Planning: Lots of revision

It's coming to crunch time with my Postgraduate Diploma as my exam is in mid-May and so is now scarily close. I also have to write three essays before the end of April. Two are about two-thirds done but need finishing and proper references adding, the other hasn't even been started yet. Lots of terrifying work to do to be ready. I can only hope that work is nice and calm and steady for the next two months.

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Thursday, 26 March 2015

Fondation Louis Vuitton

A while ago I stumbled across (isn't the internet fabulous for that?) the fact that there was to be an exhibition in Paris of Studio Ghibli layout designs, which was to run from October 2014 to March 2015. It had already been shown in Hong Kong and South Korea but as much as I googled, I couldn't find any information about whether it would be coming to London. So, there was nothing for it, I would have to book a weekend in Paris in order to visit the exhibition, such a terrible problem to have… 

With Eurostar loyalty points from my recent work trips burning a hole in my pocket, we booked for a long weekend in Paris at the very end of February and kept our fingers crossed for decent weather (our last trip to Paris in 2010 had been snowy and freezing cold). Astonishingly, it was beautiful all weekend, really mild with gorgeous blue skies – perfect! 

After an early Eurostar on the Friday morning we checked into our hotel, the Hotel Relais Bosquet and headed out onto the streets. Our tickets for the Ghibli exhibition were booked for first thing Sunday morning and so I was keen to take advantage of the Friday to go somewhere I knew would be even busier at the weekend – Fondation Louis Vuitton

Opened in October 2014, the Fondation Louis Vuitton is an art museum and cultural centre which has been funded by the LVMH group (Louis Vuitton is one of the group's companies and the Fondation bears its name). Currently privately owned, the building will eventually fall into the control of the Paris government. Frank Gehry (architect of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao) was commissioned to design the building and in 2006, construction began. 

Nestled in its own dug out basin, twelve glass 'sails' curve around the structure, giving it not so much the impression of a cloud hanging over the treeline but more the appearance of a riled Sandslash, to use a Pokemon reference. I'm not sure when it becomes inappropriate to equate massive architectural projects taking years of time and millions of euros to build with a Pokemon, but nothing in the natural world is as close in comparison and every now and again I like to give a little nod to the hours I spent trying to complete my Pokedex on the original Pokemon Blue on the Game Boy.

The Fondation Louis Vuitton is easily accessible by Metro (the nearest stop is Les Sablons but there are a few which are relatively close) followed by a very well signposted short stroll and we were soon joining the queue which although not super short, was at least moving quite quickly and the wait was pleasant in the full glare of the afternoon sun.

Strangely, for a building covered in panels of glass, the inside of the building feels oddly dark and although throughout the building there are windows which allow both glimpses at the structure and some natural light, the building suffers from a lack of openness inside. Rather than the style of gallery/museum I'm used to that allow visitors to flow through the building, the interior is confused and leads to dark dead-end pockets of gallery space with too many people either trying to get in or out. I can't say that I was particularly enamoured with the collection on display there when we went and generally felt that it lacked cohesion and a big draw. I don't profess to be an art expert (I'm definitely not), but there was no piece that I felt I could connect to or even particularly admire. I was more enthusiastic about the water flowing down and across the steps outside in an asymmetric manner than I was by anything created and housed in the Fondation.

Having said that though, where the building really shines is its roof terrace. 

Sheltered from the wind by the sails and yet open to the sky, the multi-levelled terrace offers glimpses at both the old buildings of the city, together with a fantastic view of La Defense, framed by the arcs and lines of the Fondation.

You can even get a glimpse at the Eiffel Tower in the distance through the glass sails.

Downstairs in the bottom of the basin that the building sits in, water pooled and reflected Olafur Eliason's work Inside the Horizon.

Overall, a much more interesting building than art collection in my view, but quite a nice way to while away the afternoon. We exited via the Jardin d'Acclimatation, passing lacy white peacocks as we went and made our way back into the city as the sun dipped low in the sky.

If you've visited the Fondation Louis Vuitton I'd love to know what you thought.

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Saturday, 21 March 2015

RCA Secret sale 2015 - a photo diary

I've written a number of posts before about RCA Secret, what it's all about and past years, my hints and tips for attending and my cards from last year. It's that time of year again and last night I spent the night camping out on the streets of Battersea in order to try and get my hands on some original postcard sized artwork.

Rather than a long narrative, this year I thought I'd take you through the RCA Secret experience with me in the form of a bit of a photo diary.

Day 1

10:30 - Underwhelmed by the eclipse that basically resulted in a slightly darker grey sky, I set off for Battersea, hauling a huge suitcase across the city by tube and bus.

11:30 - I arrive at the RCA Dyson building. I knew from Twitter photos that had been posted that the queue was round the back of the building where the courtyard had been before it was built on. My first thought was 'oh this isn't too long', then I discover the queue jumps across a road and round the corner. Oh....

11:33 - I find my space at the back of the queue (only metres from where I was last year, although the queue is going in a different direction this year) and singlehandedly pitch my tent. At a rough guess I estimate I'm probably about 50th in the queue.

12:00 - Tent pitched and stuff stowed in it and I head inside and have a look at the cards in real life. Normally for RCA Secret I get the chance to see the exhibition at least a few days before sale day and so I use the sale as a chance to look at cards for the first time and then create a list which is refined from there. However, with last weekend being Mother's Day, I was at home for the weekend and then had a client dinner on Thursday which was the only day they did late night opening. So my strategy had to change this year. I went through the cards online and added anything I thought might be ok and that I wanted to have a look at in real life, I could then cross off anything I didn't like when I saw the cards in the exhibition.

Despite annoyances with the 'favourites' system on the RCA Secret website (in that sense, the old website was much better with the cards saved in numerical order and being easily printable), I spend a good amount of time crossing cards off my list or pushing them higher or lower once I saw them up close and in 3D.

13:45 - Lunch is a sandwich from nearby Fresco Deli before I retreat to my tent to start putting my postcard wishlist in order and to spend a bit of time doing some reading for my postgraduate course.

16:00 - Although it was a really mild day, there's only so long that you can sit still, in a tent in the shade, before it gets cold. So I unzip my brand new sleeping bag and snuggle in. For the past three RCA Secret sales I have made do with what I have at home - so a light sleeping bag on the ground and a double duvet to sleep under. This year I finally invested in proper sleeping bags and camping mats and they were worth their weight in gold. I was warm and cosy inside and took full advantage of the soft-box effect of the tent to take selfies in my new sleeping bag.

17:20 - I drag myself from the warmth of my sleeping bag to head inside for one last look at the cards before the exhibition closed, where I get to meet Perry who writes the RCA Secret Blog, an unofficial fan blog and a regular read for me each year around RCA Secret time. I also manage to catch the sun setting over the river, which was a lovely end to the evening, although I did wonder where the sun had been that morning when everyone had been waiting to see the eclipse!

18:00 - I get kicked out of the exhibition and turn my phone on loud in the hope that I might be one of the lucky 50 raffle winners who would win one of the first 50 places in the queue.

18:26 - The phone's ringing...!

18:27 - ....and it's my boyfriend wondering which bus to get from Victoria. I tell him and when he tries to engage me in discussion about it, I probably quite tersely tell him to Google it and hang up before proceeding to stare at my phone again.

19:00 - The phone's ringing again...and once again it's my boyfriend trying to locate the tent. Pleased as I am to see him, it's not really the call I was waiting for.

19:20 - I abandon all hope that I might be getting that all-important raffle winner call and so we head across the road to Pizza Express as I was starting to shiver and needed to sit inside and be warm for a while. Plus, it keeps us occupied for a while before retiring to the tent for the night.

21:10 - We finish our dinner and head back to the tent to get settled into our sleeping bags. 

22:58 - My boyfriend decides to turn in and as I'm not quite ready to sleep, I stay up to read by torchlight for a while. I used to read under the covers by penlight as a child when I should have been sleeping so there's something that always feels quite illicit about reading in the dark.

23:25 - I turn in and try and get as comfy as it's possible to be in a tent on a pavement when there's all sorts of noise going on around the tent, mostly from people who are curious about what we are all doing there.

Day 2

05:36 - After a fitful night of sleep and dreams which involved being mauled by tigers and being in a plane that rolled off the runway and into power lines, I awake early. I can hear people around our tent stirring as I lie in my sleeping bag wondering whether my contact lenses have actually suctioned themselves to my eyeballs and wishing I could stay in the warm.

05:50 - Unable to stay in my sleeping bag much longer, I brave the Portaloo and pull on another jumper before leaving my boyfriend in the tent and joining the rest of the queue. I use the queuing time to keep sorting out the lower regions of my wishlist and end up with around 60 on my shortlist. This year I add descriptions to my list of numbers so I know which ones I will be asking about - much better!

07:16 - It's really quite cold by this point and still the raffle winners aren't in the building.

07:30 - The raffle winners are let in.

07:45 - I lose all sensation in my little toe on my right foot, stamping is no longer helping. My fingers are pretty numb too.

08:00 - It's time that the doors should be opening, but they aren't opening. Why aren't they opening? It's so cold!

08:11 - We're going in!!

08:12 - Ok, some people are going in, I am about five people away from the door when they shut it on the rest of us. Hope has quickly turned to despair.

08:25 - We're going in and I'm struggling to walk properly on little ice blocks that used to be my feet. I feel for those still outside as we head into the building.

08:40 - I can see a screen and there are lots of lovely cards still left, I feel hopeful that I might get something I want. I try and see if I can work out what's gone but it's far too fast for me and I'm hindered by the non-numerical nature of my list of cards.

08:48 - I'm at a till and reeling off my postcard numbers. All of the Anita Kleins have gone (as expected as I am probably about 100th in the queue) but one of my top seven cards is there! Utter joy - I never expected it would be still there. I get a bit further down my list and manage to get four cards, all from my top 20.

08:52 - Clutching my invoice, I pay for my four postcards (£220) and head downstairs to collect them. This is when the panic sets in - have I given the numbers correctly? Did I write them down right? What if I haven't got the cards I thought I had?

09.10 - My cards are collected from the walls by one of the RCA Secret staff and delicately wrapped in tissue paper before being placed in four envelopes. I'm reassured to see the four cards I had chosen and leave, clutching them tightly, terrified I'll drop them or bend them now that they're in my clumsy hands.

09:41 - After packing up the tent, I am finally on a bus home and feel myself beginning to thaw out a bit.

10:55 - I am warm and showered and in my pyjamas. I sit myself down on the sofa with a cup of tea to reflect about the events and generally just revel in not being sat on a cold pavement.

So, what did I end up getting?

(Photos below from RCA Secret.)

I've had my eye on a Candra Cassini postcard for a few years now but never managed to get my hands on one. This was my year with this yeoman warder.

This card by Joy Fleischmann reminds me a little facially of the Beryl Cook women but I love that she's so unselfconscious in her own nudity.

Every year I try and get a mixture of media and so my non-painting/drawing choice from this year was this image from Gili Lavy which appears to come from a film that Gili was involved in (as director?).

This piece by Michael R. Stokes is perfectly titled 'Priorities'. I can't find much out about the artist, so if anyone can enlighten me, I'd love to know more.

Overall I felt that this year's event was much better run than last year. It did of course help that I was better equipped, but the whole process seemed smoother and the chaos that took place with the raffle last year didn't occur again. However, there's always room for improvement and so, my suggestions (on the off-chance that the RCA events team read this post):
  • Although I found that the scans/photos of the cards were much better this year on the redesigned website, I found the 'favourites' system frustrating - there was no easy way to print it off and the cards weren't added to it in numerical order which made it difficult to systematically view the cards in person.
  • So many cards suffered from bent corners, I suspect as a result of the fact that the envelopes provided for their return are only regular paper envelopes. I'd love to see the RCA send out proper cardboard envelopes for their return or at least very strongly suggest that the artists send their cards back in one. It seems a shame that some beautiful cards, which have clearly been laboured over, are damaged.
  • More screens through the queuing area. When the sale was held in Kensington, there was the opportunity to start crossing off sold cards are you waited in the queue. Now there seems to be only two screens, one right at the till point and so essentially useless and another only metres before the till point.
  • More than one late night opening?
Other than that, I thought it was another good year. I heard some people say that they thought it was one of the weaker years but I found a lot to love. I'll be back next year to put myself through it all again!

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Saturday, 14 March 2015

Exploring the disused Aldwych tube station

If you've ever walked along the Strand near Somerset House and King's College London or up towards the Strand from Temple tube stop, you might have noticed boarded up entrances to what appears to be a tube station. If you haven't noticed these, then have a look when you're next in that area because this post is all about going past those boarded up entrances and getting a look at what lies behind and beneath them.

I'll start by saying that I am fascinated by abandoned places and things and if it weren't for the fact that I'm far too much of a goodie goodie (and that my job may be endangered by any allegations of criminal behaviour), I would definitely be up for a bit of secret urban exploration. So I have to content myself with the exploits of others posted online (if you have time, this blog post about the urban exploration of the Mail Rail is well worth a read). However, every now and again, the London Transport Museum opens up the now disused Aldwych Tube Station for visitors and so exploring it was definitely high on my London 'to do' list. In fact I bought tickets for a tour the other year and then it got cancelled and for one reason or another I never rebooked. On Valentine's Day this year, I had my chance to go inside (because who doesn't want to spend a romantic Valentine's Day deep underground in a disused tube station?). Without wanting to spoil anything in case you decide to visit, I thought I'd share some photos and information.

Aldwych tube station started life in 1907 as Strand tube station but was renamed Aldwych in 1915 when the now Charing Cross station was renamed as Strand (its name changed to Charing Cross in 1979). It closed in 1994 when it was decided that the costs involved in repairing the original lifts would not be justified as only a few hundred people were using it each day prior to its closure.

Although I'm fairly used to the various styles and designs of tube stations throughout central London, stepping inside and walking past a bank of cubby holes which had originally held telephones was definitely a new one for me!

There was also a map taped up which showed the little tube offshoot which went to Aldwych. It's not too difficult to see why it had very few customers and even as far back as 1917 had never operated full-time, being first closed on Sundays and later during off-peak times too.

Over the years, Alwych tube station took on many roles, other than its passenger carrying duties. In World War II it became host to Londoners seeking a public bomb shelter and it quickly adapted to provide not only somewhere for 1500 people to shelter but also a canteen and even library service. However, people weren't the only thing it sheltered. The V&A and British Museum used Aldwych tube station as somewhere to store their valuable artifacts, including the Elgin Marbles! These were only gradually moved out of the station and many stayed there for many years after the war ended.

After wending our way down hundreds of steps (all so much fun on the way down, much less fun on the way up) we were almost down at platform level and our excellent tour guide paused us at various points to go through the station's history with us. He also led us into the below tunnel and, after checking we were all fine with it, turned out all of the lights. As he did so, a luminous green paint, invisible in the light, lit up the lower tiles. This had apparently once been mooted as a possible way to help people in the event of an emergency but given its radioactivity (!), it was never rolled out.

At various places in the station you can see odd patches of tiling (see below on the left hand side) where new patterns and station designs have been tested before being implemented.

Oh and if I look utterly knackered, it's because I was. Our new next door neighbours had decided to have a party the night before and I think their kitchen must adjoin our bedroom as it was unbelievably loud so in the absence of earplugs I decamped to sleep on one of our sofas which is never the best place to sleep as it's not really long enough to stretch out and isn't super comfy. Well that was all going well until I got woken again at 3am by the sound of my boyfriend loudly vomiting in the bathroom as a result of what he claimed was food poisoning from dodgy mushrooms that he put on his pizza regardless of their questionable state. I suppose it's probably a good thing I am quite anti-mushroom generally, otherwise we'd have been fighting for the toilet bowl. It did mean that my Valentine's Day plans had to be cancelled though - Dishoom for lunch and a trip to Street Feast at dinner. Another time...

Remember I said that the station was originally called Strand? Well, you can still see part of the original name in the tiling on the wall of the platform in the below shot.

In addition to being used by the police for practicing responding with incidents, Aldwych has been used for the filming of both scenes in films and music videos and so although at first glance the walls of the platform seem to be amazingly preserved glimpses into the past, the posters are actually only film props.

We stood in one of the connecting tunnels and were told stories of a ghost from the Royal Strand Theatre (which had occupied the site previously) and about how during the pre-Olympic terrorism run-throughs, the sniffer dogs would not go in certain areas. Insert your own spooky ghost noise here!

Once back up the stairs and completely puffed out, we were shown the lifts and were able to step through from one lift to another, which sounds way more scary than it was as both are now supported and kept in place by a steel girder and there's no gap to mind.

Our guide told us that there's the possibility that in the next year three more disused transport related places might be opened up for tours and to make sure that we were signed up with the London Transport Museum to be the first to hear about them. At one point I remember reading that they were considering doing some sort of tourist thing with the Mail Rail and I definitely hope it's that! I'll definitely be keeping an eye on my emails.

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