Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chichester travelogue: Pallant House Gallery

Photo credit: Susie MacMurray from

I'd been looking forward to my visit to the prestigious Gulbenkian award-winning (2007) Pallant House, for a long while. Arriving at the elegant exterior, mid-way down a charming characterful street, I wasn't disappointed at my first view.

Armed with my floor plan, I went upstairs, starting in the historic collections. One of the most impressive sights, in the first room, was the gilded bronze bust of Charles I, created by Hubert le Sueur, in 1637. As I progressed through the rooms, I was intrigued to notice chic leather chairs with strategically placed pine cones (not for artistic reasons but to prevent the temptation for visitors to rest on them).

Moving out of the historic collections, I came upon the striking original (walnut?) staircase, contrastingly complemented by Nina Saunders amazing velvet fabric creations. I had to smile when I noticed her limited edition (of 50) velvet dustpan: Mr William Morris' Pan for the Application of Utilitarian Cleaning available to order, for the sum of £360. I also loved Susie MacMurray's highly inventive After 'Shell' with mussel shells and deep red velvet dramatically combining to form unusual but exquisite tulips.

Speaking with the empassioned guides, I learnt that much of the collection had been donated by Walter Hussey, former Dean of Chichester Cathedral, in 1981, on condition that it be made available for public view. Charles Kearley's remarkable bequest (1988) contributes the mainstay of prominent European masterpieces in the collection.

The highlights for me, were varied and many, including: Antony Gormley's simple elegant, stunning mild steel rod sculpture Trajectory Field III (2002, on loan); Richard Hamilton's Swingeing London (sic), a 1967 piece depicting the hand-cuffed Mick Jagger and Robert Fraser as they were driven away after a drugs raid; Eileen Agar's simply beautiful Italian Girl (1927); Julian Trevelyan's Absentee Pig (1943); George Bracque's stunning, vivid blue The Bird (1949); Salvador Dali's hot-hued Hawaii Suite II (1973).

I loved the temporary Lee Miller and Friends exhibit (runs until 29th March '09) packed with wonderfully evocative and iconic photography (taken mostly in the 1940s and '50s), including everyday moments shared with Pablo Picasso and his family and Jean Cocteau.

Chichester travelogue: Cloisters Restaurant (@ the Cathedral)

After a serene and inspirational visit to the wonderful Cathedral, on a drizzly weekday lunchtime, it was a welcome sight to find the recently restored Cloisters restaurant, adjacent to the Cathedral shop.

There was a great choice of hot dishes - including a good range of filled baked potatoes with salad, a traditional roast with all-the-works and pan-fried 'catch-of-the-day' Mediterranean style (mackerel again - must be very well-caught in the vicinity)... Also a decent serve-yourself salad bar, fresh home-made soup and a plethora of snacks (sweet and savoury). I opted for a colourful and well-cooked selection of roasted veg (might not sound exciting but they were delicious and perfectly hit the spot) at just £1.50, for a generous bowl.

The atmosphere is cosy and attractive with plenty of light pouring-in (even on a relatively dull day) and a very pleasant outlook on the gardens and ancient stone walls. Staff were friendly, helpful and efficient (tables were cleared rapidly for those who were waiting). There was a congenial buzz with contented visitors of all ages - from toddlers to senior citizens, students and ladies who lunch. Essentially self-service, although if your dish requires lengthier preparation (eg a toastie) you'll be given a numbered paddle and it will be delivered to your table when it's ready.

Recommended for price, quality, atmosphere, and taste...

Chichester travelogue: Chichester Cathedral

Oh, the wonders of Chichester Cathedral! It's extraordinary; since 1108, it has been a remarkable presence. As soon as I entered through the doors, warmly greeted by the two duty volunteers, I felt the serenity of the ancient site embrace me.

I discovered that there are over 500 volunteers - such is the affection that the Cathedral is held in, reflecting its unique status. Those I encountered were passionate about their role and contribution, and the privilege they felt to be able to work in such a splendid place.

My highlights - other than the overall experience - were the magnificent rich-hued (almost glowing) stained-glass window created by Marc Chagall (based on Psalm 150 and commissioned by Dean Walter Hussey in 1978), the beautiful fragment of 2nd century Roman Mosaic - now under glass - (re-discovered in 1966) and the exquisite Lady Chapel (in the process of restoration) with its impressive red-and-blue line detailing and sublime green-and-white ceiling. Also the richly vibrant Piper Tapestry (at the High Altar) which was woven in France (created in 1966) making a remarkably thought-provoking impact in its modernism - contrasting (positively) with its ancient setting.

As my visit was coming to a close I was surprised to notice, close to the exit, that composer (and former choirmaster at St Paul's School) Gustav Holst was buried there, in 1934. I was also charmed to read the collection of enthusiastic letters from young (primary school) visitors who treasured their special Cathedral experience.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Chichester travelogue: The Place Bar and Grill

There are several routes into the Bar and Restaurant; it has its own independent access to the side of North Street and two entrances within the Ship Hotel. Enter through the main hotel door and, to your left, you're greeted by the welcoming sight of a roaring log fire (in winter!) alongside inviting squashy sofas in modern neutral tones. Walk past, or through, the bar and you're in the spacious, airily stylish restaurant.

I chose to sit in the strikingly attractive, subtly-lit conservatory, looking onto the quiet side street. The Lloyd Loom (style) seating was both chic and comfortable.

I opted for the evening two-course table d'hote menu, at £10. My starter of fresh grilled sardine was inventively filled with ricotta and accompanied by green salad; it was light, tasty and the perfect size for an appetiser. I wasn't sure about my main of pan-fried mackerel when I ordered it but it proved to be deeply-delicious, packed with flavour, as fresh as could be, complemented by crushed new potatoes, black olive, fresh tomato concassé and salad leaves. (Note to self: "must try to recreate at home"...) The busy staff provided excellent, efficient service and remained smiling and attentive throughout.

Chichester travelogue: The Ship Hotel

In spite of extensive recent interior refurbishments, this attractive Grade II Georgian listed building is in keeping with its surroundings and retains a smart presence. With rooms on three floors, take the stairs and you'll be pleasantly surprised by the elegant sweeping 18th century Adam staircase; on the walls - of the first floor - you'll discover memorabilia dating back to the time of the original owner, Admiral George Murray, who served with Nelson.

Bedrooms are sympathetically restored, with an unobtrusive modern touch, in warm neutral tones. There's a flat-screen TV on the wall, comfy chairs to relax in, a good supply of quality wooden hangers (although only wall hooks, rather than a closed wardrobe) to hang your clothes on and a sleek, efficient kettle together with tea and coffee supplies to prepare hot drinks with.

The bathroom is simple and white, comfortable enough (and very clean) with courtesy (ginseng-enriched) products. Rooms still use a traditional key system and have a name as well as a number. I was concerned that sounds from the (quite noisy) old-fashioned, gate-style, lift might be intrusive but happily that wasn't the case. Views from my window (at the back of the hotel) were of buildings and the car park with verdant hills in the distance.

Reception staff were efficient, smiling, helpful, welcoming and obliging. Well-deserved of its three star rating; decent value (even better if you get a special offer deal) and a very pleasant, convenient place to stay in the centre of Chichester and for access to other parts of West Sussex.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A change is as good as a rest...

It's been quite a while since I had a break, so I decided it was time for a short trip. I found a brilliant offer at the 3 star, Grade II-listed Ship Hotel in Chichester, so my destination was decided. At just a short train journey out (from the edge) of London, it was practical enough to do in a day-and-a-half. I packed a lot in... and returned refreshed and de-stressed.

If you're tempted to visit the old walled West Sussex city, I especially recommend Chichester Cathedral, the award-winning Pallant House Gallery and the independent shops in and around North and South streets.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Greatness is never a given"...

Is there a good person who can fail to have been moved, impressed to the core and deeply inspired by today's momentous events? Phew! Obama may have inherited the most hellish of in-trays but his stunningly inspirational and captivating Inaugural Speech was delivered so fluently and lyrically (what greater contrast with his predecessor) that only the hard-hearted won't have been touched by it. I confess that I sat riveted with tears (of happiness tinged with poignancy) trailing down my cheeks...

From the moment the new President started speaking - along with the record-breaking masses standing in the Mall - I was transfixed and captivated. He spoke not only to Americans but to all citizens of the world.

From "our patchwork heritage is our strength, not a weakness" to "common humanity shall reveal itself" to the emphasis on "what you can build not what you can destroy" and "...also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate" by way of the "errors of greed and irresponsibility", he truly is a man after my own heart.

"Mutual respect" should be bywords for all decent individuals. I hope that his intention to "extend a hand if you are willing to unclench the fist" will not fall on closed ears where much of its intended audience is concerned.

Extraordinary, as he stated, that "a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath". I hope that his mother, along with the admirable and unforgettable Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, were smiling down on him and that he will succeed in fulfilling his good intentions...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Out with the old - in with the new....

The aforementioned 57-year-old youngster, behind the blue plaque, on the Thames towpath...

The Half Mile Tree

Another riverside wander and a new discovery... I was intrigued, while walking along the towpath, recently. Heading towards Teddington from Kingston, approximately mid-way between the two, I noticed a blue sign and a fenced-off tree.

Not the most beautiful tree in the world, perhaps, but thought-provoking to read the history behind it. As the plaque states, it was the site of an ancient elm (500 years old) that sadly had to be removed in 1951. The following year it was replaced by another (today, a mere youngster - in relative terms - at just 57 years old). An interesting landmark, worth looking-out for, en route to Teddington Weir...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Surbiton Sunset

Even in the most banal of (suburban) settings, it's possible to encounter a beautiful surprise. So it was recently - one of the advantages of the clear frozen weather - that I experienced this gloriously pink-tinged sunset. Taken on my (old-ish) mobile phone, it's still a satisfying photo (unlike some of my other blurry blog-featured examples!).

Any recommendations for a good affordable camera? Where's your favourite (or most surprising) sunset?

Stuart Heydinger - a Moving Inspiration

You know how it is, there's an exhibition that you find out is opening and you earmark to view. Then, you suddenly realise it's about to end! So it was for me with these photographs.

Happily, I realised before it was too late, that I had a couple of days left to get in and view the works. I'm so thrilled that I did. It was quiet when my friend and I met here (with just one other person present in the gallery) so we were able to view the images closely and to our hearts content. The collection ranged in date from the late 1950s to the 1980s - all black-and-white - for me, they conveyed more than a thousand words often could.

They range from the iconic (well-known portraits of John F Kennedy and Winston Churchill) to tear-jerkingly historic moments in time (child victims of starvation in Biafra - 1968) and devastated locals affected by the earthquake in Skopje (1963). Studies of residents participating in everyday market life in South Western France also made insightful viewing.

We learnt that the collection has been gifted to the Museum; although they won't remain on permanent show, the photographs will be available to view, on request. If you get the chance to see or discover Heydinger's work - don't hesitate!

Sign of the times...

Even as an optimist, it's not always easy to remain smiling in the current climate (and I'm not just referring to the freeezing weather). I know I mentioned the departure of Woolworths, a little while back, but it hit me again how sadly strange it felt to walk past their large and now non-trading store, in the midst of Kingston's attractive market square.

Then, wandering a little further along the town into Thames Street, I had a shock... the windows of my favourite tea and coffee emporium were emblazoned with closing-down signs. I went-in, to find out more, and discovered their wonderful manager, as delightful as ever, but in a downbeat mood as she had only heard the news that morning. Ringtons has been a quality, specialist family-run business for over a century; now, sadly, they have decided the time has come for them to shut-down their stores. Happily though, they will still be trading via their website.

For the twenty minutes or so I spent in the shop browsing, shopping and chatting to their lovely (super-efficient and totally charming) manager, the shop was packed-out with curious, enthusiastic and keen shoppers.

The same day, I also learnt that I have lost all my regular sources of freelance work, too... I hope your year has started in a more positive way!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Almost a repeat...

Like many of us, when I find something pleasurable, I just have to go back and do it again - quickly... So, I returned to Richmond on Saturday; a different route this time with another friend and her dog, through the wild beauty of Richmond Park - once more. We ended-up at the Hollyhock Café for a warming cuppa and to take-in the fab views - enhanced by the winter sunshine and capped-off by the gorgeous sunset.

It was cooold though but thankfully minus the NE wind... Little Joe (the cocker spaniel) enjoyed it, too (relatively patiently) and was happy to lap-up the bowl of water placed outside, especially for him and his four-legged friends. I relished my big mug of warming cappuccino with soya milk.

After I left my friend (and Joe), I went to visit another friend, not far away, then I treated myself to a take-out sushi roll, at Atari-Ya, (recommended for quality, taste, value and friendliness!). It was only when I got home and saw my reflection, that I took-in the full horror of the cappuccino 'mono-brow' that had impressed itself above my nose (courtesy of the large coffee mug's generous brim) - aaargh! How embarrassing - why didn't anyone tell me!?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hello to 2009!

Hello lovely people, how has your year started? Well, I hope... Mine started relatively gently with a coooold (and calm) day catching-up close-to-home. You know how it is, there were those household things that just had to be sorted, and well... it seemed like a good idea to start the year in an orderly way - no procrastinating! So, there was my exciting first day of the New Year - the walk and visit I had planned (potentially) to Kew Gardens (offering free entry, for the day, in celebration of their 250th anniversary) were abandoned as the friend I was planning to meet (and I) both felt a touch weary and the sky was unalluringly grey. So... tidying and sorting took precedence and Happy New Year messages were sent by email, text and through chatting on the 'phone.

Friday started in brighter mode, so late morning I set-off for a brisk(-ish) six mile walk through Richmond Park, well wrapped-up in my good-old quilted black Ghost coat and MBTs, to fight-off the chill north-easterly wind. Although the bright skies didn't remain for long, it was still a lovely (if bracing) walk, on the wild(-ish) side.

In Richmond, I met with my friend (postponed from Thursday) and we had a good, happy wander through the scenic streets (rather distracted by all the shops). I was relatively restrained (although I confess to succumbing to a few little temptations at Neal's Yard Remedies and Maison - in spite of my strictly virtuous intentions). Neal's Yard's half-price Neroli gift set and Rose & Pomegranate Foaming Bath were too good to resist...

Still, I left most of the extravagance to my friend and enjoyed watching (and helping) her shop... We took a break on wonderful Richmond Green and enjoyed a warming coffee (for me) and hot chocolate (for my friend). I won't go into the amusing story of how we hunted, for half-an-hour, for one cashmere, fingerless glove that she thought she had lost... only to find - after we had retraced our steps (twice) - was neatly rolled-back on her wrist...

Happy 2009 - whatever adventures you have in store...