Torre Abbey and the Opera…27.01.18


We had tickets for the live opera from the Met at Vue cinema Torbay, so we decided to pick up where we had left off on our last visit to Torre Abbey which is 10 minutes away from the cinema. After a cup of tea in the pleasant cafe on arrival we ventured in to look at the art (we had concentrated on the history of the house last time). We were told that we were past the last entry time of 4 ‘o’ clock (by a minute!!) and couldn’t go in. A bit of resistance on our part soon sorted that out, and our exploration began. We soon found that not only was there an incredible collection of paintings, but also great areas to sit as well…with books to read and art to look at…all that was missing was a fire.


In the first room was the extremely large and impressive painting ‘Gold of The Earth’ by Maud Hogarth Clay about whom I can find out nothing on-line. Having said that, the notes by the side of each painting were good and very informative.


There were also local paintings of Torbay and Dartmoor….this one notes that the castle on the hill was demolished in the 1960’s (no doubt to build a car park). The terraces are reminiscent of Bath in their elegance.


And here was Brixham harbour…which we could see across the bay….


What was really good about the displays was that they were backed up by background objects to do with the artists…here for instance some beautiful little notebooks showing preparation for some of the paintings, as well as letters etc…….



I liked very much this painting of three friends (sisters?) on horseback on Dartmoor…


and it was great to discover a special room given over to Burne-Jones, with studies for some of his amazing glasswork…


and a couple of fine windows…


We were also fascinated by some typical Victorian ‘moral’ paintings, having watched Jeremy Paxman discussing these on TV some days before…


and there were more ‘jolly’ displays……


But we only saw and inspected a fraction of what was available in a seemingly endless run of rooms. The only thing difficult to find was the toilets! We kept being waylaid as well by bits to do with the history of the house and family. Torre Abbey must really be one of the most interesting and underrated museums in the country. A great find.

Our main event was the Met’s production of  ‘Tosca’    The New York Times said….

The stakes could not have been higher. The chaos could not have been wilder. It’s fair to say that no production in the Metropolitan Opera’s history has been more vexed than the new staging of Puccini’s “Tosca” that opened on New Year’s Eve.

First, months ago, its star tenor pulled out. Then its star soprano. Then her husband, who was slated to conduct.

His replacement, James Levine, a fixture at the company for four decades, was suspended from the Met last month over accusations of sexual misconduct. And a few weeks ago, for good measure, the opera’s villain canceled too.

It speaks to the Met’s resourcefulness that it was able to field such an impressive premiere cast — the rising stars Sonya Yoncheva and Vittorio Grigolo and the stalwart Zeljko Lucic — on such relatively short notice.’

Of course we knew none of this and, as before, sat in genuine awe at the power of the performance. It was truly magnificent in every respect. The only jarring note was that after spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on the production, quite often the floor boards creaked and the performers could do nothing. How crass! Surely someone should have known about this (and done something about it!). I have written to the Met….let’s see if I get a reply……

By chance to St Ives…Tuesday 23rd January


We decided we needed to get out and about, encouraged by the Times weather forecast (which was totally wrong as usual). So we took the train to Penzance, the big one from London as opposed to the bone shaker, clean, quiet, very pleasant. We were intending to take the bus from there to Mousehole and then an exhibition at Penlee House Gallery. However, there would be half-an-hour wait and the bus to St Ives was about to depart so we jumped on that. It took a roundabout route and we got plenty of opportunity to see the landscape of Penwith…wild and rugged with some areas of small fields (supposed to be a sign of Iron Age settlement).

As is usual when we got to St Ives the weather changed for the better…in any case the light is so different, it really is, that it always seems pleasant. We decided to visit Tate St Ives to see whether it had improved from our point of view after the opening of the big new extension. With our National Art passes it cost £3 each so we weren’t going to lose a lot. First stop, top floor cafe and the views from there are lovely..20180123_130848.jpg


What struck you was that everywhere you went the building was almost as important as its contents….this is Room number 1and we soon found that the quality of the exhibits was matched by the informative descriptions as well as background letters, papers, books etc which added to the story of the growth of Modern Art in St Ives.




Here, for instance a scribbled letter from Alfred Wallis, the Cornish fisherman who influenced some of the big names ( and there were plenty….Lanyon, Hepworth, Heron Nicholson and many more ) through his primitive approach…



And the exhibition flowed….after introducing some of the artists we then learned how they were influenced by the great movements on the continent, including Impressionism, and how they became involved in industrial subjects during the War.


As at the National Gallery I thought the snow scenes were pretty special..



and I much preferred the paintings which were not totally abstract…



mind you who would not like the Graham Sutherland….you can see how this links to his great tapestry at Coventry Cathedral which I have seen many times..


I mentioned the building itself but the outside vistas of St Ives are just as much of the show, so that everything is cleverly linked..






and this was interesting a view from a plane ( I think Peter Lanyon had the idea ) which is almost an abstract painting itself…



Just before exiting you are treated to a film of the almost white-out wasted landscape of Labrador to be a juxtaposition of a painting by Alfred Wallis supposedly of his trip there (there is no evidence he actually went!).




Even the staircase had some rather nice doodles…


and the foyer was very jolly…


Whatever the weather it’s always great in St Ives…




A Few Days in London…..11th to 16th January 2018



We stayed in Acton with our son David and his wife Jennifer in their renovated flat. Buses and Underground to…..everywhere. Weather not brilliant, but we were here to use our National Art passes to good effect. First stop was appropriately No. 1 London i.e. the Duke of Wellington‘s Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner.  I had long wanted to visit here. As a historian knowing quite a lot about the man and his history I wanted to see his home. Having conquered at Waterloo, the nation gave him money to build a palace (rather like the the gift of Blenheim to Marlborough). However the Duke decided his modest country place at Stratfield Saye and modifications to Apsley House (which he bought from his brother) would be quite good enough thank you. Apsley House is quite average in size and has no gardens to speak of, but the remodelling and extending was done to such effect that the interior is quite magnificent. And that is what the Duke intended. It had to be a palatial interior to be a suitable place for him to receive the Great and the Good from all over Europe….and to be an apt repository for the absolutely magnificent gifts with which he was showered from every corner. To go round the house we had an audio guide and this was excellent (I don’t often use them). The pics just give a small idea of the style of the house including a thirty foot long dessert display. But one of the stars of the show was the Waterloo shield in its custom-made case which is displayed on a side table every year at the Waterloo Banquet. And this banquet takes place in perhaps the most astonishing room in the house – the Waterloo Gallery ‘one of the great palatial interiors of Britain’, a double cube ninety feet long and whose walls are filled with most of the Spanish royal collection of paintings…..gifted to the Duke by the King of spain after Wellington rescued them from the baggage train of the defeated Louis Napoleon. Here is the shield with Wellington at centre (and his major battles around the outside)……


and part of the room itself….





As with all great men lots of stories attach to the persona. I was reading one in the Times today…apparently when at a Reception in Austria some French soldiers turned their backs when he entered the room, the hostess apologised, but the Duke merely said ‘Ma’am, I have seen their backs before’. I also like his comments after his first Cabinet meeting as PM: “An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.” Extraordinary is the word. We would love to return to Apsley House.

Another great trip was to Ham House on the Thames near Richmond. Taking the buses as we usually do meant quite a long walk but it was interesting to see the various impressive houses in the surrounds to Ham……



and the first view of the house itself was spectacular enough…..a rare survival of a Stuart house and


the creation of the tenacious Duchess of Lauderdale and her husband, the Duke, who together transformed Ham into one of the grandest Stuart houses in England. (The Duke is the ‘L’ in the famous Cabal.) Before even entering we had a half-hour tour with an architect around the outside of the house )something more sites should do surely), and this was as informative of the history of the house and its gardens as well as its architecture. One really interesting feature is the busts of famous men set into roundels on the house itself and into the semicircular flanking walls.




The front door itself is very inviting…


and once inside we were able to visit the ground-floor rooms that are open in winter and get a real flavour of the people who lived here and their tastes. Unusually the house was administered by the V & A before the National Trust and that is very apparent in the wealth of paintings and artefacts which they have brought back to the house. I was glad to read today that the NT also bought 4 paintings at sale which used to hang at Ham and have replaced them. Surely there are so many paintings in store throughout the country that should be brought out and placed where they belong?


The Duchess’s private bathing room in the servants part of the house (to make hot water refills easier) is a very rare survivor indeed


as is the still room at the back of the house where the Duchess liked to distil some of the many herbs from her kitchen garden..


but the most striking thing about the house itself was the friendliness and knowledge of the NT guides (this isn’t always the case!)….they were superb. A lovely house I would love to revisit. And to cap it all we found a terrific city centre pub in Kingston with two real fires blazing away for a nice pint or two….


Yet another interesting visit was to Kensington Palace. Getting there, or anywhere in London, is always an adventure as there is so much to see whether buildings…



or statues….


or iconic monuments…


Strolling through Kensington Park on our way to the Palace was very pleasant, and made interesting in that we passed the whole of the Everton football team (including Roonie) out for a stroll before their heavy defeat a bit later!


The outside looked very promising…..



and, once inside, we made straight for the cafe which was good as they go. We then went round the King’s Apartments and the Queens Apartments (this being William and Mary) and, whilst imposing in some respects, the whole interior seemed gloomy and lacking any atmosphere…




It was interesting to see some of the court costumes…



but as I am getting cynical in my old age it all reeked of flummery. However going into the Princess Diana exhibition one could say that her costumes carried on in the same vein……..except that, on her, they were spectacular of course…the design prints were super too……





What a gorgeous princess, and how tragic her death per se and for the monarchy I feel.

Interesting too was the exhibition on Victoria who lived here as a young girl and was informed she was Queen here and held her first Council here…


On the Sunday we had a train trip with David and Jennifer to Hampstead Heath. I must say it was nice, and the view of London was pretty spectacular, but I wouldn’t make the effort to go there again…I was disappointed, and it was so, so busy with people. It makes us realise how lucky we are to live in the country.




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and some nice expensive houses….often called (ironically?) cottages……


Of all the things we did in London the best by far was to spend a day at the National Gallery. Having never been there before I didn’t know what to expect. I have to conclude it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Seemingly all the famous pictures you know, there in your face, and almost touchable (we didn’t!). It was incredible. One picture that immediately appealed was the Holbein of Erasmus….you really feel you can get into the man, and what he represented…


as for The Ambassadors well its size was overwhelming…who could not be impressed?


Whilst wandering around it was great to see activity….


and to look through the windows now and again…


What impressed me most was the huge collection of Impressionists…I just loved looking at them all and seeing before my eyes how the style developed and how the painters interlinked….









the snow scenes were particularly magnificent…


but, having looked at what seemed like hundreds of paintings, being gluttons for punishment, we were then taken on an hour’s tour by one of the Gallery’s own experts one Lydia (Greek I think?). It goes without saying that her knowledge was vast, but it was the economical and enjoyable way in which she communicated it that was so good. What great learning experience…..we learned for instance that it was in the great sea-faring Empire of Venice that canvases first came into use when they cut down the old sails from their ships…logical when you think about it, but I never had.


Also it was Venetian artists like Titian who had access to their trading networks who came to use Ultramarine Blue….so rare and valuable that it was worth more than gold. What a show-off the patron who commissioned  this picture was!


Before leaving we had a quick glance at the Canalettos (I was hoping to see one of his scenes of Warwick, but they were all of boring old Venice!), another cup of tea, and then the bus home….can’t wait to go again.


Our last trip was to the Design Museum which had relocated to the Commonwealth Institute building…the building itself was quite as impressive as its amazing contents…we approached it via the wonderful setting of Holland Park


and past a Paolozzi (with whom we are very familiar from the Museum of Modern Art in Edinburgh where there is a terrific recreation of his studio)…..



Our starting point, as often, was the cafe which F. and I both thought was quite exceptional…would that every cafe had such marvellous food. I couldn’t help but take pictures of the building….




but we spent a long time looking at the displays which were enormously interesting and very informative… for instance are Jon Snow’s ties, and with them went a lovely film showing exactly how they are designed and sourced and made…


but wherever you turned there was something to grab your interest…





What a lucky pick it had been to make this our last trip…..all in all hugely enjoyable. What a place London is, what treasures it contains, how much I despise its Metropolitan elite and all it stands for!! How relieved to get back to the peace and quiet and clean air of St Keyne.




Enjoying Cornwall….in 2018


Well, having weighed up our time so far, we have managed to do an enormous amount of walking, visiting houses and gardens, visiting favourite locations, finding lots of beaches, and lots of reading too. So that’s the formula we want to continue….there is so much to do, so many places we haven’t been yet. At the start of the year it has been quite wet but there are always opportunities to get out… 10 minutes (or half an hour on the bus) we can be at Hannafore and do our regular walk above…..even when there is a high tide and it is raining it is still something we like to do. Today 9th January it was the highest tide we have seen so far…rough seas and the water creeping high up onto Looe bridge….




Over the weekend we  decided to look into the Morval Estate which is in between us and Looe……a negative notice at the start, but it is a private estate after all!


We were hoping to do a round walk via St Martin’s church (which is Looe’s church but high on the hill out of Looe). However, the terrain which is laid out for pheasant shooting purposes, defeated us unless we wanted to take pot luck on various tracks (which owing to the mud we didn’t!). We must approach the estate another time and visit the old fifteenth century church attached to the manor – St Wenna’s  and have a look at least at the outside of the house itself.

Our local walks around ‘our’ lanes have continued…..the hotel at the bottom of the hill is still not open despite looking to have undergone a superb restoration. And we are starting to see signs of growth….snowdrops peeping up near St Keyne’s Well and we did see the very first primrose in the hedgerows in the first week of January…which isn’t bad going. Fine growth in our own garden with daffodils and other bulbs making themselves visible – much to look forward to (as long as we keep on top of the bamboo!).

Christmas 2017 No. 1….in Edinburgh


Two Christmases for the price of one for us this year…first to our daughter’s in Edinburgh. Lovely flight up this time with clear views, spectacular over the city itself. When in Edinburgh we are never short of things to do with our granddaughter…the nearby children’ playpark on the Meadows is always a good start….



and another thing Edinburgh is not short of is good coffee shops. Here we warmed up after our playpark adventures, and met Mum and Dad…


We were treated to 3 evenings out to view Christmas lights in incredibly different guises….here is a little princess at the start of our first evening which was a bus-ride out of Edinburgh…….. Archerfield Walled Garden lays out a fantasy fairy trail at Christmas….


and we wound our (cold) way through the woods stopping to examine lots of little fairy houses in the trees




and to watch a magical meeting between our princess and a real-live fairy (we think!).



It was all very well done and we enjoyed ourselves very much. Christmas treats went on and on as next day we were treated to a Christmas performance by our granddaughter and friends…


I really really liked the snow machine (and so did the children!)……



On this particular evening we went to a quite stupendous light display at Edinburgh Zoo. Chinese lanterns made with thousands of yards of silk, and fashioned by Chinese artisans into the most wonderful images…










The detail was amazing. We were also treated to a staged show of Chinese jugglers and acrobats who in themselves were very skilled indeed. A terrific evening.

Next day was Panto (Little Red Riding Hood, Scottish-style) and ‘Christmas’ lunch (the date of 17th December didn’t stop us in any way)….. and opening of presents. The cheapest (vile pink unicorn slippers from Lidl) went down well – as expected!

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On our last evening we took Aiisha to the Fair in Princess Gardens which has a lovely atmosphere and gets better each year


Luckily we had a responsible adult with us….



and if all else fails it’s good to settle down to a quiet read of the newspaper!


A lovely early Christmas then in a lovely city with our lovely family…