19 years since the death of Princess Diana

Image not mine

Today is the 19th anniversary of the death of the late Princess Diana, in Paris.
How time flies I remember where I was when I found out, it as a weekend morning, a Sunday I think and both my parents had been up late watching the news unfold, I was 15 and about to enter my last year of secondary school.
For my parents there where were you moment within their living history was when JFK was shot, for me the 2 events that will be emblazed in my mind will be when princess Diana died and 9/11.

I remember the aftermath it was one of the first times I had remembered news coverage changing the TV scheduling, 24hr news was still relatively new. I remember the out pouring of national grief, the flowers left in the royal parks, and Elton John’s candle in the wind rework.

In the run up to the funeral I remember that people queued patiently and respectfully to see her coffin lying in state in Westminster hall. I also remember watching the funeral televised on BBC1 (in fact I think it was on both BBC and ITV) I suppose the next time we will see a funeral like that is when the Queen or Prince Philip die.

This was a turbulent time for the Queen, she was in a new situation, her former daughter in law had died, she was no longer part of the fold, but she was the mother to the future heir to the throne, and the nation loved her for her charitable actions and her style. Eventually the Queen realised that she had to do more than care for her grieving grandsons she also had to show empathy for her grieving nation.

This was a unique time in royal and 20th century history.  


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My Nine Hour Jaunt to Gay Paris 

Apologies about my lack of posts. Life just got a bit real again, a few chapters closed, new beginnings have started, routines have changed. I drafted this on a crowded commuter train at 19:25 on Tuesday only to finish it on Wednesday’s on my journey home.

Last week I was on gardening leave, between ending one job and starting another. The first part of the week was devoted to Monmouth, but Wednesdsy I took a day trip to Paris. 
I travelled to Gard du Notd on the first train out of St Pancras. I was on one of the swish new trains. Seats were more than comfortable in Standard class with new on board Wifi that was a nice bonus. Apparently there is onboard entertain-ment however I did not access this – I prefer the time to be used reading writing or listening music, things that ordinarily I don’t get enough time to do. 
I would prefer if there were child free carriages badly behaved children at 7am is grating in a confined space. I was lucky to get a double to myself (actually on both legs) however I would have liked to be able to book solo seats as I have on previous trips.

Arriving on time at 10.15 by 10.20 I was on a metro heading west (I pre brought a day metro ticket at St. Pancras for £10. My destination was St Denis Basilica – the burial place of the French monarchy. 
The signage from the metro is not particularly clear for direction to the basilica – especially as the station is called St Denis basilica – but its less than 5 minutes. 

Picture by L Brennan

The first part of the cathedral that is clearly still used for services is free to the general public. After the horrific events in Normandy recently, bag search is carried out (as well as in big shops) something I have no issue with; it keeps me safe.
Even in August, late morning there wasn’t a huge number of people visiting the cathedral so it was a very pleasant experience. I would imaging that weekends may well be a lot busier. 
To visit the effigies of the French royals and the crypt you need to pay an entrance fee – options for Audio guides are available – I did rent one but actually didn’t think the signs for audio were very clear and the descriptions long winded. I abandoned it very quickly.

Death in style picture by L Brennan

The various effigies were grouped in to dynastic families from what I could gather. Some monarch were even given additional status with marble tents over their effigies some were additionally decorated with full size marble recreations of the gospel writers, saints and cherubs.  
The crypt was beneath the alter and offered a wide variety of different memorials to the former rulers of France. At the heart of the crypt there were black marble slabs one of which was to remember Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. 

There was also an old part of the crypt with rough stone escophicus what to my very limited knowledge, may have been very early christian in date and style – this section is sectioned off but can be seen relatively clearly 

Louis XVI & Marie Antoniette Picture by L Brennan

The primary reason why I ventured north of the city to visit this basillica was to see the effigies of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  The pair are just off in a small side chapel and depicted kneeling wearing regal and state attire. Its rather moving. They are also in very close proximity to the high alter of the cathedral.
Walking around looking at the memorials around the alter, the saddest ones for me were of royal children; their small depictions lying on the adult size stone plinths brings home that even privileged royalty were not immune to high infant morality through the ages. 

dragons at the Feet of Marie Du Brienne L Brennan

Picture by L Brennan

More dogs Picture by L Brennan

I found that I feel in love with the feet ends of the effigies, where under the feet of the monarch or member of the royal family there were carved dogs for loyalty or lions to signify their royal status. However amongst the effies, on the left hand side of the high alter, there was a curious black marble figure nestling amongest the white marble memorials of the rest of her family and at her feet were 2 small dragons. This arresting woman was Marie du Brienne, the dragons represent good over evil, after to played a role in defeating the Byzantines. She was for me very games of thrones. 

Another woman I went to visit was Queen Catherine de Medici, battleaxe, she wolf and mother in law from hell to Mary Queen of Scots. She may have been an Italians bankers daughter but she left her mark on history.
The gothic cathedral of St Denis (who is also the patron saint of Paris) had amazing stained glass that could rival both Notre Dame and Chapelle Royal, if not in quantity but certainly quality. 
There was a small very small gift shop with votive candles and postcards on sale but not on the scale of the above mentioned churches. 
After my cultured morning I headed to Opera and went to Sephora for make up supplies, C&A for basic clothes and enjoyed Salmon and mashed potatoe, perrier, Creme Brûlée and espresso in the brasserie in La gallerie La fayette before window shopping and a cocktail before returning to Gard du Nord. 

I never realised how big Gard du nord is and defy anyone who says its not as grand as St. Pancas, around by the other platforms there is a gallery of various shops to be explored. It might not be as new but there are shops to be found. 

All in all my jaunt to Paris was without question a lovely treat, it did feel strange not heading to Montparnasse and my usual haunts in the south. These areas are safe familiar and feel like home, however Paris is a big place and she deserves to be explored. 

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The Execution of James Scott Duke of Monmouth

Image not mine

On the 15th July 1685 a 36 year old man was lead to the scaffold on Tower Hill. He would lose his head that day by the hand of the incompetent and notorious executioner Jack Ketch; it took 9 strokes of the axe and a knife to remove his head and codemn his spirit to the heavens. That man was James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, the eldest illegitimate son of the late King, Charles II.
In the months since his father’s death, the Duke and a group of extremists plotted to over throw his Uncle the new catholic King James II from his exile in the Dutch Republic.
The 17th Century was a time when politics and religion intertwined and were a hang over from the English Reformation under Henry VIII. This was reinforced in more recent history and those fears were heightened by the Civil Wars that plagued Britain in the early part of the 17th Century under Monmouth’s grandfather Charles I and later under Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth republic.
Monmouth and his supporters were not the only people who feared life under the rule of Catholic James; in fact his reign lasted just under 4 years and he would ending his days in exile in France after the Glorious Revolution. This bloodless revolt when brought William of Orange to take the British throne with James own, daughter, Mary Stuart.

Monmouth- Image not mine

During the last years of Charles reign attempts had been made legally through parliament to avoid James (then the Duke of York) from inheriting the throne from his brother. However Charles quashed all legal attempts by dissolving Parliament for the last time in 1683.
Monmouth’s rebellion was a knee jerk reaction to his uncle taking the throne, it was not as well planned or funded as the main protagionist thought and relied on more support than they actually had in Britain. I feel had they waited and planned and funded the operation better they may have succeeded in removing James, however would Monmouth have become king? I am not so sure. Monmouth may have inherited his father’s Stuart looks, but he was still illegitimate, its my opinion that he may have still had to concede the throne to his protestant cousins William of Orange and princess Mary as they were legitamate.

Monmouth NPG – Image not mine

Monmouth was charming, spoilt, dashing, manipulated by others for their political gain, an able Military leader and hero, a lover, a bad husband, an absentee father and a complex and man who gambled and ultimately lost the biggest hand of fate he played and lost his life.
I am currently writing a biography on James Scott, Duke of Monmouth due to be published by Pen and Sword in Autumn 2017.

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Sicily in Bloomsbury

In the Court at Britsh Museum

One of the current exhibitions on at the British museum at the moment is “Sicily Culture and Conquest”. 
The southern Italian island has been on my must visit list for a while, especially as my interest has been heightened by Georgio Loccatelli and Andrew Graham Dixon’s food and art odessy and via Montalbano novels and series. 
What most people think of when you mention this small island is the gangster culture of Mafia (sadly still active today). But due to her location in the Med she was highly sort by the various empires of the past including Romans (whos legacy is stunning) arabs who left their mark on the food of the island, and the Normans. 

Roman battering ram from a ship – Image not mine

It is these visitors and how they have left their mark on Sicily that this exhibition focuses on. 
The exhibition is well laid out in space above what was the old reading room. It offers detailed information and is well labeled. 
This is not how ever a large exhibition. I was lucky to see this show as the guest of a member – as an art fund member I would have got in half price. I am not sure I would have been happy if I had paid full price. 

my favourite exhibit Image not mine

There are some beautiful pieces in the exhibition the ceiling near the end of the exhibition that recreated the basilicas ceiling was fabulous, as was the small temple that was a grave marker, the jewerelly was stunning and it fascinates me how earlier civilisations managed to produce such items with very primitive tools. My favourite exhibit was a red and gold ceremonial cape it was arresting and beautiful. 
The exit gift shop was well stocked and if I hadn’t banned myself from buying more cloth bags I probably would have owned another. 
All in all the exhibition is small but what is on show is well curated and exhibited, I maybe just spoilt as we have access to so much in London gratis so when we do need to pay I expect ore bang for my buck. 
The exhibition is on until 16th August 2016 – tickets available to book online and at box office.

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Me and Europe; My Thoughts and Reflections

When you look at the history of Britain pretty quickly you realise that Britain is one of the most European countries with in the European continent. Let me explain:

A long time ago before there was England there were only tribes gradually over time these tribes formed alliances and lands by agreement and mini wars. Eventually these tribes formed kingdoms England, Wales and Scotland.

Before that was successful, we were invaded by Italians in the form of Romans, many of whom were not in fact Italian but French (Gauls) Spanish, North African etc.

We have also been invaded by Scandinavians in the form of Vikings. Who left their mark in our gene pool and within celtic art and culture.

Also we have been visited by Germans in the form of Angles and Saxons. To be called Anglo Saxon is to be thought very English.

In 1066 were were invaded again by the French in the form of Normans who would rule us and their language was incorporated into our court and law documents of the time.

Our Royal family has been Viking, Norman, Welsh, (yes welsh that most English of royal Dynasties The Tudors – Welsh) Scottish, Dutch, German and married Spanish Portuguese, French and German and Greek spouses. (Yes the Duke of Edinburgh – Greek) There have been Royal cousins in Tsar Russia, Kaiser Germany, and the Doomed French Royal families through marriage.

British DNA is a Mongrel mix made up of a variety of different nations. This mix of DNA would later be enriched through the British Empire with Asian, African, Caribbean and Irish territories under the the pink on the map.

Our Language is made up of words left by many of these visitors, from place names, surnames to very day words, from animals to colours and everything in between.

I myself come from migrant Irish mother and a first generation Anglo Irish father. I had a Spanish step Grandmother on my fathers side.

But one of the most alarming things to come from the last few days is that people were not even aware why they were voting – this was not a vote to stop European migration, this was not a vote about bendy bananas (which by the way was actually abolished you can have bendy Bananas and cumbers now) this was about Brussels lead policy.

The media coverage was sensational, polarised and leading headlines with popular personalities both political or non, trading dirty by manipulating on peoples fears. Neither side had viable arguments of plans set out for post referendum regardless of the outcome. I wonder how many people were struggling for a decision moments before they marked X on the ballot paper? I say this because I hope that the country I live has not got a population closet racists or xenophobic minded people, sure they existed within the voting electrate the UKIP and BNP followers and they are sadly growing but I hope this is not the case.

Should this surprise me Yes does it surprise me sadly No. We live in a nation that more people vote for TV shows than local and general elections. We have political parties that have become more harmonised in similar politics that it is hard to tell a liberal Labour MP from a liberal Tory MP. We have had weak and poor leadership from both sides and a good reflection of how politics has gone down hill can be seen during PMQ on Wednesdays when ministers and MPs get personal and snide rather than talk politics and issues.

This last few weeks have also broken our domestic politics with rifts within political parties (in other jobs this would be seen as highly unprofessional) we have seen the murder of an MP who was doing her job and was a daughter sister wife and mother as well as an MP trying to help the people within her constituency.

Issues effecting the working people of Britain and the less fortunate people in society have been marginalised disregarded as laziness and scroungers and punished rather than helped over the last 2 parliaments.

Trust me as some who has had to use the system the job centre and staff they hold no prisoners. Regulations on what you can and can not have access too are tested and then you are interviewed again to check that you were not lying; scrounging is not an option if that is what you wanted to do. Not to mention £70 odd per week when you have food and bills is not enough.

Treating down trodden people like that means they feel angry and look for blame and its easy to blame others who a different for their situations. Over the last decade people wanting a political voice from these margins have formed their own angry voices and wrongly blamed the Other be it Migrants or Brussels, because wealthy white men (mostly but not exclusively) who don’t know how much basics to keep a family cost are in power and making decisions that make the poor poorer and the rich richer.

Now I am not saying Europe and Brussels is perfect. But this is the thing, Democracy in nature means that you can negotiate, compromise and find agreement. By leaving the table before negotiations start was a wrong decision and in my humble opinion should not have been put to the vote like a talent act on ITV. In a world full of terror and surely we should be looking after each especially after Paris and Brussels.

Democracy is also about having freedom of speech and an opinion. I am not saying this should stop far from it but MPs and the media have a responsibility to deliver the facts on issues like this rather than manipulate fears. Opinions on Brexit as a policy and if it is right or wrong for the UK and what the consequences of things would be for people lives, jobs would have been better so that they could make an informed decision rather than a simple in Europe or out of Europe.

This reflection of Nationalistic politics that we have seen here this week is sadly is not exclusive to Britain, look to France and Germany they too have similar issues as well as parts of Baltic European nations. It feels like we are on the cusp of something everyone suspicious of each other tarring all groups or stereotypes with the same suspicion rather than establish that extremist minorities of political groups or “faiths” are the problem. We are in fact playing straight into their hands dividing ourselves and breaking all thats good within western culture and life.

So for me who has for years said time and time again I do not feel English or British but European, yesterday was a sad day, personally, politically and nationally. The next few days, weeks and months will be be scary. Personally, I am coming to an end of an employment contract and need my next work role, I am reliant on the NHS for treatment for a chronic illness, I am a frequent traveller, A single woman, all these parts of my life have been threaten due to this referendum outcome. But regardless of what anyone thinks I am European first and always will be.

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Underneath the Undressed Exhibition at the V&A

Advertising for the exhibit

Okay so for the last 6 months I have been a bit busy and heading to exhibitions have really not been a priority in my life, however I now find myself in a position where I am attempting to get back in to the habit. (I am gutted to have missed the Celts at the BM though)

One of the exhibitions that has been hot on my list to see is Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear. One presumes that the pun was actually intended by the curators of the exhibition. The space for the exhibit is the same area as the exhibitions of wedding dresses and shoes and it is a space that works well works well. I like the flow of the exhibit space especially on the ground floor.

Amongst the exhibits were early examples of stocking for men. The different styles and changes to stays, corsets and girdles to accommodate materials available and fashions were fascinating. The fact women didn’t regularly wear knickers until the Victorian age – makes the mind boggle at how women dealt with menstruation with no knickers.

I went mid afternoon on a Friday, this seems to be a good time as the space is small and I did not have to fight for a space at the exhibition cases,  when looking and reading the exhibit information I did not feel pressured to move on before I was ready, unlike when it’s busy during school holidays and weekends.

The exhibition did not have an audio guide but it was well labels with clear information.

The ground floor part was very much underwear the upstairs part for me was less underwear and more risqué clothes or slobbing clothes I wont lie I didn’t feel that Juice Couture tracksuit was “underwear” but could see what was implied by some of the posh frocks that were inspired by underwear, in fact I was surprised that there wasn’t more Jean Paul Goutier on show.

Small but perfectly formed complete with fascinating film on people who design underwear for the big players such as Argent Provocateur and La Perla but I am not sure it was worth a full £12. I paid an ArtFund discount of £6 and for that price I felt I had enough to look at and occupy me for 45 minutes. I have said this before, but the V&A are experts in fashion and textiles so it stings a little less as it was a well put together show.

My favourite exhibit navy silk French Knickers Image not Mine from the Web

Detail of my favourite exhibit Image from the Web and not mine

My favourite pieces in the exhibition were the French silk knickers embroidered for wedding night underwear, I would happily wear them today and the workmanship and fine detail was gorgeous and the silk oozes luxury. I also loved the corsets and from the earliest periods on show, I find the fact that they would have been handmade with expensive and fabrics during those early time periods fascinating. The costs of the items to wear under your clothes was staggering when you think about the monetary worth today.

Another part of the exhibition that I found fascinating was the case housing the Maternity corsets and underwear. That is of course something I had never really thought about having no children of my own. I knew corsetry and stays were loosened as the pregnancies progressed but never thought about various nursing garments. as well as being practical in several examples on show were very beautiful as well functional.

The lack of male underwear  would be due to the fact that unlike womens garments men have seen less change and also wear less underwear than women; that is even true today, so there would naturally be less to show which is a shame to a degree as we all like a chap in pants😉

Exhibition Catalogue

The shop is well stocked but with not much underwear based products, the catalogue was a reasonable £10 and I brought because it wasn’t the usual arm and leg. I am also pleased to say that there were postcards sold individually as well!

All in all I would recommend this exhibition to those with a fascination in period clothes and underwear or even if you don’t. The pieces are stunning on the whole and it reveals what our ancestors did not reveal and kept secret.

The exhibition runs at the V&A until the 12th March 2017 and tickets can be brought online or at the box office in the museum entrance. Booking in advance is recommended for busy periods such as during school holidays and weekends.


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From Triumph To Disaster My Second Trip To The Globe

Image from Globe and not my own

From one amazing experience last week, this weeks offering at the Globe and sadly The Taming o the Shrew did not even match the experience of last week. This modern take on Shrew although still set in Italy has the actors and costume of early 20th century Ireland complete with Cliches and stereotypes of the negative type; cringy to those of us from Irish backgrounds (my parentals were of Irish extract) more Angela’s ashes meets Shameless does Shakespeare than clever remake. For me personally it just did not work.

This then made me think how did Indian audiences feel like this about Midsummers Dream, were they uncomfortable, do they cringe at stereotypes the way I did at Shrew? Don’t get me wrong I can laugh at my background, Fr Ted and Mrs Browns boys are hilarious however maybe it was the setting or maybe it was a bit too close to the bone but for me the fine line between laughing at yourself and being mocked was over stepped.

For me Shrew has a fabulous and witty script, the bawdy and smutty undertones are fabulous but were all lost in trying to get my head around this concept in this unfortunate production

There were glimmers of glitter in the dreary black grey setting- literally the back drop was ash grey.

Kathy Rose O’Brien the Shrew Catherine – one to watch. Image not mine

First was the actress who played the Shrew, Catherine, Kathy Rose O’Brien. Her performance was strong, consistent and believable. A star in all sense of the word. I hope she comes back for more at the Globe.

The second glitter of the performance was the music. Just like films, music to Globe productions is vital; primarily as there are often very few props to help tell the story. The Irish music was well played – if you closed your eyes you could be transported to any pub within Temple Bar Dublin.

Also as I said in last weeks review a shake up of plays are healthy but if your going to shake up all of them in one season with no traditional style play or production this in my view goes against the ethos and purpose of the Globe theatre. one of these wacky concepts per season is beyond fine but many want to see Shakespeare in a more traditional adaptation and I know I am not alone in this thinking. All the plays this season I have seen before but if this had been my first experience of Shrew live I would have been very disappointed.

My view frm my seat Image by L Brennan

Part of me is curious to see whats has been done to Macbeth another of the seasons productions however I am not sure I am brave enough to test it.

Of the two I have seen I highly recommend Midsummers nights dream but sadly I don’t feel happy about doing so for Shrew.

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