Wednesday, 28 August 2013


Martin Luther King

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

~ Bob Dylan

I remember the long hot summers of my childhood spent in Northern California. Though memories dim as we grow older some sights, sounds and scents remain hauntingly fresh. Moments which changed not only your life, but the world. Few would disagree that 1963 was one of those years.

My family moved a lot but stayed in the same town. It was so hot the tarmac would melt and stick to your bare feet. Cars had no air conditioning and the seats burnt your legs if you were wearing shorts. I had a beach towel I would sit on. The outside world had not yet touched me. I was fascinated by the dark purplish red grapes on the vine at my Grandmother’s house, covered in wasps so dazzlingly bright they looked like moving jewels of black onyx and fiery amber. I was beginning to understand that our family were poor and that this limited my opportunities. My Mother made my clothes, they looked old fashioned and second hand. I dressed like a little girl and stood out against the worldly wise more mature girls and boys at the mixed sex predominantly black school. I was not alone in being poor, but I was rare on two counts, I was a white girl and my parents had married and were still married. Family life was fractured or non existent in our neighbourhood where we rented a small home.  By 1963 music had already begun to weave a soundtrack to my life but it was all home grown, The Beatles and the British Invasion was not to happen until 1964.  Cultures mixed, daring black boys taught white girls to dance, and Mexican and Puerto Rican girls taught us to speak Spanish and put on makeup. Their brothers took us for rides in their fantastic 1950s cars which had cost them a lot of labour and few months wages.

The Supremes circa 1963
We all tried to imitate our big sisters who wore tight shift dresses, stiletto heels and beehive hairdos. We coveted our older siblings clothes and record collections. My little mind struggled to keep up with history as it was being made. The tension in the air was constant, everything was changing. We were full of promise and Hope. We could dance to our emotions, but we did not know how to put it into words.

Bob Dylan and  Joan Baez
during the  'March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom' August 28, 1963

But some people did. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

From ‘This Is the Day: The March on Washington’ by Photographer Leonard Freed

Today is the 50th anniversary of  Aug. 28, 1963, when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Jobs and Freedom March on Washington, at which he delivered his “I Have a Dream” civil rights speech at the base of the Lincoln Memorial.
Real signs of the 60s

I am certain that those who did not live in those times can never really understand what segregation was like and how just being seen with a black friend caused you to be an outcast from both black and white people. Even if you were a child. My best friend Cynthia was half black, her Mother a single white woman, her Father a black jazz musician. They had trouble finding a house to rent, landlords showed their disapproval by refusing to let to them. Cynthia and I had a lot of interests in common. I never fitted in either and always felt as if I were just passing through. I knew I was going somewhere but had no idea where, or when.
Her Mother encouraged us to read, learn about politics, attend concerts and poetry readings. She was exotic, she had long blonde flowing hair, wore lots of jewellery and African printed kaftans and sandals. Their life was very different to mine and I felt I belonged with them, that they were free of all the expectations and shackles most people faced. She was the one who first read Jack Kerouac to me, played Dylan, (and Woody Guthrie) and took us to folk festivals in that long hot summer.

She marched in protest marches and attended political rallies. We held hands and wept when we listened to Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. None of us could know what the future held or how prophetic his words were, and yet we knew that we were watching history unfold which would shape the world for decades to come. It was exciting and a little scary.
photo by Brant Ward 'Summer of Love'

We had a few summers together. Although the death of JFK was shocking it also spurred us on. We were interested in politics and we vowed to study law. We believed that we could make a difference - that our generation would change the world. Her Mother drove us to the airport to meet Jim Morrison when the Doors came to town. We were barely in our teens and yet felt terribly grown up wearing our Nehru collared pantsuits with Indian braid on them. The summer of 1967 is forever remembered as The Summer of Love but this was a day, a week, an idea. It was a swansong, riots had erupted as early as 65 and unrest continued.
In April 1968 we lost Martin and by June Bobby Kennedy was gone too. I think my family moved again late that June. My last memory of Cynthia is the day news broke about Bobby Kennedy.  We sat huddled together half the night with the lights off and a hundred candles burning while we played Dylan. They were wrapped in grief, but I was already looking for leaving.

My family moved far away to a more affluent neighbourhood so that I could attend a better school and we lost touch. No mobiles, emails or facebook in those days. No internet. A decade later when I left San Francisco for Europe and had to sort my belongings I found the Dylan album they had given me all those years ago. By then my life had for sometime been more influenced by European events than local and my soundtrack was British bands, The Animals, Yardbirds, Who, Stones, Led Zeppelin, moving on to the so called 'new wave' including The Clash and The Jam. I knew I was leaving never to return and I had one last romance with California in the summer that The Eagles brought out Hotel California which seemed for me to capture that indescribable loss of innocence that occurs as if summer has forever ended.

I was no longer the innocent wide eyed child who looked and listened in wonder. I knew that Summer had gone.

And yet a fire had been lit that will burn forever.


Thank you to the Rev Martin Luther King and to Cynthia and her Mother, wherever they are today. I hope their lives were filled with Joy and Freedom.


Friday, 16 August 2013

ARABIAN NIGHTS - in Holland Park

Dalziels Illustrated Arabian Nights Entertainments
London: Ward, Lock, and Co. 1870.

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight `twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honeydew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A visit to London is a rare treat. I always enjoy the hustle bustle of the streets, people watching, window shopping and looking at the architectural delights which reveal themselves unexpectedly. 

Kensington and Holland Park are two of my favourite places because of close proximity to museums, architectural gems and parks. One day is not really long enough to see it all. As the afternoon came to a close I felt a bit like Cinderella as I rushed to take a few last photographs before running for the train back to the countryside. I think I will have many posts to share about this day.

Like most little girls I was fascinated by Tales from the Arabian Nights and I had a modern copy. These dark Princes and exotic settings entranced me. In one very dusty library in a seaside town I once lived in I found a Victorian copy of the tales. I kept it checked out as long as I could and then reluctantly took it back. I have never forgotten it or the way it transported me to far away magical places.

Leighton House Museum

Our main destination lay in an unbelievably quiet little road, just off Kensington High Street. When Frederic Lord Leighton the painter, sculptor and illustrator decided to build himself a home in which to rest his treasures he collected from around the world he chose well. Everything close at hand should one need it and yet very private and peaceful. From the outside you would never suspect what lay inside as the front of the house is unassuming. The back however reveals the wonderful gardens and the building is so much larger and prettier than expected.

Designed by the architect George Aitchison, Leighton House Museum remains the only purpose-built studio-house open to the public in the United Kingdom,  and it is in a neighbourhood rich with artistic names including G.F. Watts, William Burges and Millais. It was created to his precise requirements and extended and embellished over the 30 years in which he lived there. He had a vision of a ‘private palace of art’ which would feature a wondrous Arab Hall with a  golden dome, intricate mosaics and walls lined with beautiful Islamic tiles.

He must have been a very interesting man. And, from the paintings of him, a handsome one too.

Lord Leighton self portrait

Like many Victorians Lord Leighton was clearly enamoured of Gods and Goddesses and climes distant from his England, although he chose to give himself and all of many treasures a home in London. From the moment you enter you notice that the woodwork is painted black and the door frames are carved with the symbol of Turkey, the Tulip. These and other details are picked out in gold.

Black gilded woodwork
Photo by Colour Living
You also cannot help but notice the magical turquoise tiles on the walls, or the stuffed Peacock who sets them off perfectly.

Photo by Tina Bernstein
from Colour Living

The floor in one room is painted a bright rich blue, and another red. Ceilings are gilded. The interior is dark, yet so carefully planned that what light there is serves to embellish and make the interiors even more exquisite.  The carpets are a delight to see and to walk upon. In one room hangs an astounding Murano glass chandelier from Venice, a spun confection of clear, raspberry and turquoise glass.  Fireplace mantles and pieces of inlaid furniture are enlivened by Dragons.

Leighton House Arab Hall.
This view shows the staircase to the upstairs rooms,
the wonderful turquoise tiles and the detailed mosaic floors.
As with most historic homes and museums no photographs were allowed so we cannot share with you through our own eyes what delights thrilled us - but there are some images available which have been taken for official use, and we can share those. We have also shared a few images from the Colour Living blog, who visited the house in January of this year and were allowed to photograph it. The link is at the bottom of this post.

In his travels Lord Leighton had collected over a thousand Islamic tiles and wanted to build a room to display them. In 1864 the Arab Hall, a two story domed courtyard style room which is adorned by a central fountain was designed in the centre of Leighton House.

Photo by Tina Bernstein, Colour Living

You feel as if you are intruding upon some very private scene in The Arab Hall. It reminds me of the Waterhouse painting, a favourite of mine entitled 'dolce far niente'.

John William Waterhouse, dolce far niente
translation literally 'sweet doing nothing'.

There are many influences here, Lord Leighton obviously wanted to evoke a Roman villa, a Turkish palace and some European palatial mansion which he may have come across on a grand tour. 

The decoration is jewel like in all of it's textures, colours and display. The floor in the entry hall is composed of tiny fragments of white and black mosaic and mythical animals and plants swirl their way across it towards the lavish oriental carpets. The walls are covered in turquoise wall tiles, both bright and dark at once, and detailed Turkish tiles depicting art nouveau style flowers. One of the first sights you see as you enter is a stuffed Peacock whose feathers match the colours of the hall. It is hard to take it all in and to appreciate it you need to visit on a quiet day and give each view time.

The Arab Hall showing the seating and the pool.
Photographer: Will Pryce
The domed ceiling in The Arab Hall

Casbah seating at the sides of the pool.
Photo by Tina Bernstein from Colour Living.

The serene pool of water is flanked on two sides by deep Casbah style couches which you want to sink into. The window above is shuttered with intricate lattice blinds just allowing enough light to filter through to cast a dreamy aura over the room. If you look up above the entrance to the room there is a carved balcony, again shuttered and only allowing those ensconced upstairs a glimpse of what is downstairs.

The balcony overlooking the Arab Hall is only revealed once you go upstairs,

It is easy to image incense wafting up and music playing softly.  This is a room which needs to be graced by an Emperor, a rock star, a pre-Raphaelite muse and of course, Lord Leighton himself.

The Arab Hall and fountain fascinated visitors since
Victorian times

The Arab Hall is indeed the biggest jewel in the crown of the house, but the other rooms are full of surprises and delight as well.

The green silk room hung with paintings and lit from the skylight above.
Photographer: Will Pryce

The Dining Room with Pugin like red flocked wallpaper
and a collection of Iznik pottery

One end of the studio
with the fantastically painted bright blue wall.
You can just make out the print of Flaming June

Lord Leighton's studio
For me, although the Arab Hall was opium like in the intensity of it's beauty and yet I found that the room I most wished to linger was his studio. This is where he worked, showed his paintings and held music and art evenings for his friends and fans which included royalty and the art world.

I loved the way that he collected bits and pieces of ancient artefacts and they are displayed casually here. A citrine coloured scrap of fraying velvet fabric accents the ivory plaster of a relic. Letters to and from friends are left half read, a ladies silk shawl is draped over the back of a delicate looking chair as if a Goddess has just departed. Not everything here is valuable, you can tell that he did not chose what he collected because of what it would fetch at market but because he loved them. They were probably all priceless to him but upon one wall hangs a real treasure, an ancient carved piece of the Parthenon.

Following the death of Lord Leighton most of his belongings were removed from his home and the curators of this museum have done a remarkable job is getting so many of them returned to their rightful place, and recreating the look the house would have had when he owned it.

In the dome of the Arab Hall and in his studio are little bejewelled windows which are heartbreakingly exquisite. Although they evoke Arabian Nights they are also Elizabethan in their intensity.


Of all the items which we saw I most wanted to take a picture of them even though I knew no photograph would be able to really capture the quality of light through this glass. But I am grateful to have found these two.
One of the stained glass windows
Photo by Tina Bernstein of Colour Living

There were not as many works of art displayed as I expected but those that were did not disappoint.  Some by Lord Leighton, others by his peers. Though he lived in their time Lord Leighton, like Alma Tadema, was not a pre-Raphaelite and he preferred Gods and Goddesses with a more Heavenly aspect and less sultriness than those immortalised by the pre-Raphaelites.

Clytie, by Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896)

Lord Leighton by G.F. Watts
His studies for some of his masterpieces show how adept he was at capturing the folds and the sheer quality of the dresses his Goddess like women wore in his paintings. His use of colour is remarkable as is the way that he could paint light into the sky or his subject's hair and clothes.

We did miss his best known painting, Flaming June, and we were cruelly reminded of our loss when we came upon a print of it in his studio. What a triumph she was and it is a shame that she is not here in his house. But works of art of this calibre, whether they be the Parthenon, or a Goddess captured on a canvas are always in demand by all who appreciate beauty and it will remain impossible to keep them all where they belong.

Flaming June herself
I have posted about her previously

Lord Leighton's small, austere bedroom
Although it is impossible to imagine a more splendid interior there was a sad note. His home has just the one small and austere bedroom. Beautiful wallpaper and prints cannot disguise the fact that this is a bedroom for one. He expected no guests to come to stay and Lord Leighton never married. No dalliances are known. It appears that this romantic man who built a pleasure palace and painted Goddesses lived his whole life bereft of love. He never found his own Venus. 

Perhaps like us he had given his heart to Flaming June. 

Queen Victoria raised him to the peerage just three weeks before his death and it was only issued the day before he died. I really hope that he was well enough to know he had finally received the honour so richly deserved. Lord Leighton died on January 25 1896 and he left his home and all the contents to his two sisters. They cared not and sold everything, even the furniture that had been made for the house at a Christie’s sale which lasted for eight days. By the 1920s, ownership of the house had passed to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who opened it as a museum.

If you have the chance visit Leighton House. It seems to me that those who have been entrusted with it's care not only wish to preserve the house for future art lovers but also the memory of a remarkable man. It is so very sad that his own family did not.


Leighton House Museum is HERE:

Colour Living, the blog of house hunter, designer and writer Tina Bernstein is  HERE:

Lord Leighton Wiki page is HERE:

Tuesday, 13 August 2013


This book proved impossible to resist.

We had a third floor in our old cottage in Devon which was comprised of a large 3 roomed attic in the eaves. The smallest room became our study, the cats lounged on the mezzanine central room overlooking the stair rails and the largest room accidently became a library.

 It was bliss, which alas, we had to give up due to the rather crippling mortgage. For 5 years we had collected books which lined all the walls, and more than half of them had to go when we downsized. We still have far too many books, and yet .... every now and then I must buy just one more.

I really need to live here, at Hereford Castle which has this magnificent Library. Even then I am certain that I could fill it in no time at all.

My kind of room - Hereford Castle Library From Here:

This latest acquisition is a rare edition of 'Nursery Tales, Told to the Children' by Amy Steadman with illustrations by Paul Woodroffe. Published by T.C. & E.C. Jack, London/E.P. Dutton & Co., New York circa 1910. 

 This is Number 24 in the ‘Told to the Children’ series edited by Louey Chisholm.This uncommon edition of fairy tales, includes eight lovely colour plates by the British illustrator and stained-glass artist Paul Woodroffe (1875-1954).

John Russell Taylor writes of Woodroffe (in The Art Nouveau Book in Britain, 1966): “His first illustrations, closely imitative of Walter Crane, were for Ye Booke of Nursery Rhymes (1895) … with music by Joseph Moorat, a friend of [Laurence] Housman’s. He would seem to have been adopted early by the Housmans, Clemence engraving his illustrations to The Confessions of St Augustine (1900), which Laurence supplied with a title-page, and his illustrations to Laurence’s translation of Aucassin and Nicolette (1902) … Once removed from the direct Housman influence he drifted into other artistic activities …”

Nursery Tales dates from Woodroffe’s post-Housman period, the illustrations similar in style to those in his lavish colour-plate edition of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, published in 1908.

I have only once seen this edition and that was many many years ago.  Despite having no space on any of our shelves I had to buy it!

As you can see this is the tale of Goldilocks and The Three Bears.

We have had the best few weeks of summer. Long languid days and nights, humid rain showers, wild flowers, Bees, Butterflies, Dragonflies and Birds -  and now the garden is full of change. It seems only yesterday the lush blooms of Peony, Damask Rose, Clematis and Honeysuckle were scenting the air and filling as far as the eye could see with colour. Now the seed heads of Lavender and Poppy have appeared and the upright stems have lain down. The Tree Bumblebees have flown their nest and only a few sleepy Wasps and gentle stripey Hoverflies remain. With Autumn on the way my thoughts always turn to the woods, and the fairy tales that tell of them.

Red Riding Hood and The Wolf

Cinderella, her black cat and her Fairy Godmother
in a red cape!
I like nothing better in Autumn and Winter than curling up with the cats and a book by the fire. I have discovered that many of my most treasured stories involve the colour Red. I have always loved Little Red Riding Hood, and was thrilled and delighted when Chocolat was published and later filmed that Joanne Harris used red in her stories and it was her favourite colour. I always feel empowered with cherry red nails and lipstick. Of course there are those Ruby Slippers too! And here, how fascinating that the Fairy Godmother of Cinderella has been illustrated with a red cape.

Brunhild by George Frederic Watts
oil 1880
I'm off to London tomorrow for a wander in Kensington and a pre-Raphaelite adventure with a German friend who is visiting London. Hopefully we will see some paintings by Watts which I have not seen before. But my thoughts will be straying home as I have two cats who are each a bit below the weather. Mrs Black recently had a funny turn. She is an ex feral and a mature lady of a certain age now so each illness has to be taken seriously. She was a bit off colour (but still black!) for a few days and after a visit to the local vet hospital she seems to be improving. We think perhaps she was over ambitious in her control of the moth population. Now that she no longer needs to watch her weight as a little plumpness is nice in older cats she cannot resist a mothy tidbit. She has rallied and is now busying herself in nursing her Naughty Kitten who is very poorly indeed. She has a high temperature and is under the care of our vet who has taken blood samples and given medication. She was allowed home because she frets so if not with Mrs Black and us. But she may have to be admitted to hospital if that temperature does not go down. She is curled up in a basket by the fire now. Please keep her in your thoughts.


Joanne Harris is one of my very favourite authors, I feel a part of her stories of Vianne Rocher and her daughters . If you have not done so read her books and see Chocolat. Her own website is here:
And she post witty and informative things on Tumblr, HERE:

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

STORYTELLER - Daisy's Diamonds

Carey Mulligan plays Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby
Diamonds by Tiffany & Co

There is something really retro about summer that makes us all dreamy and sleepy. Thinking back to past times, the 1960s flower children and the Summer of Love, and back further to that carefree era between the wars. Especially if you are old enough that when you were little elderly relatives told stories of that time, showed black and white photos and allowed you to play with broken diamanté and faux opal necklaces. Tea dances, beaded dresses, dancing on tables and in fountains. Real fur coats and feather boas. Aunties who made Prohibition Gin in the bathtub. Cars that were designed purely for looks rather than ergonomically.  Diamonds, emeralds and pearls for the well off.
Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson
 You can imagine that Daisy Buchanan became the Grandmother of some 60's Flower Child who  ran away to Laurel Canyon to live with a musician taking some of Daisy's jewels with her.
The San Francisco Cliff House
My Grandfather could do The Charleston, not just adequately, but very well. He and my Grandmother met at The Cliff House in San Francisco, at a tea dance, before the beautiful Victorian building burnt down.  When I was little this used to fascinate me and I remember that Grandma had a real fur coat even tough I never saw her dress up. I always wondered what they had looked like in those days of beaded chemise flapper dresses, sequins and long ropes of pearls and tiaras.

Flappers Dancing the Charleston atop the Sherman Hotel
Chicago, December 11, 1926

 It is hard to think of a more romantic story than The Great Gatsby. Only a few equals come to mind, Breakfast At Tiffany's, Gone With The Wind, Wuthering Heights.

I have always been torn between F. Scott Fitzgerald's tragic hero whose dreams of eternal love are let down by squalid reality, and Hemingway's Earthy scars and all portrayal of life. I cannot shake from my mind the oft quoted literal exchange between the two of them via their books.

Fitzgerald is quoted as saying: “The rich are different from you and me.” And, Hemingway is quoted as responding: “Yes, they have more money."

Both of them were to suffer magnificent obsessions -  Scott Fitzgerald because of his own fragility and the beautiful irresistible wife Zelda. So wicked, so spoiled, talented and unrelenting and more than ever so slightly mad. Sadly she was to die in a fire in an insane alyssum.

While Hemingway had his inner demons. His incessant need to kill wild things and the loss of his wife in a car crash in Africa.  At least he had his 6 toed cats, whose progeny still hold court for the tourists at his residence in Key West. Like Fitzgerald he became one of his own characters when he chose to take his boat out and shoot himself at sea. 

Hemingway and one of his cats

Like his books, the cats live on

No summer ever goes by that I do not think of them both. And Zelda, or Daisy,  come to think of it.

The ability of a storyteller to bring life to their creations which live on to enthral future generations long after their own demise is nothing short of magic. And it is rare.

Zelda Fitzgerald
Daisy Buchanan played by Carey Mulligan

Daisy Buchanan is one such character and one cannot help but know there is a lot of his wife Zelda in Daisy and a lot of himself in Gatsby.

From tumblr

To those who do not understand Gatsby must seem a loser. He fails in his dream and he loses the one thing he cared about, Daisy, who he did it all to obtain. The green light at the end of Daisy's dock which Gatsby is always reaching for symbolises the American Dream that money can bring you happiness and you will get your Daisy. He is not a loser, he stayed true to his dream and it is instead Daisy who lets the hero down. She choses money instead of love and she is happy with that. Is he a fool? Hemingway probably thought so and yet envied him.

Like Zelda Daisy is captivating and you cannot help but fall for her. Yet she is ultimately disappointing. But it was her ability to shine which attracted us. And of course she had great diamonds.

She would have loved this collection.

Tiffany designers crafted a magnificent headpiece in platinum for The Great Gatsby,
named The Savoy Head Piece, bringing Daisy Buchanan to life.
Features a detachable brooch. Inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s film in collaboration with Catherine Martin.
Freshwater cultured pearls, 3.6-6.9 mm. Round brilliant diamonds, carat total weight 25.04.

The Tiffany Daisy ring for The Great Gatsby

An archival daisy motif of diamonds in platinum accented with pearls
beautifully reimagines Jazz Age fashion.
Inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s film in collaboration with Catherine Martin.
Freshwater cultured pearls, 2-7 mm. Round brilliant diamonds,
carat total weight 8.98.


F. Scott-Fitzgerald was a customer of Tiffany's and Zelda and he both wore their jewels. For the film Tiffany gave archive access to the directors and created a collection which Zelda would have approved of.

You can watch a short video on youtube about how the collaboration was born and worked for the film.

Tiffany and The Great Gatsby

I'm pleased that the film has been remade to bring the story of Gatsby and Daisy, and F Scott-Fitzgerald and Zelda to a new generation, but it does not and cannot reach the intensity of the book. I don't think anyone ever will.

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