Something from the weekend….a picture-worthy few days

I’m always snapping away on my phone, truth be told, but this weekend seemed to give me more in the way of picture opportunities than usual. It was indeed a lovely weekend, filled with fun but relaxation too. Anyway, I thought I’d share my instagram feed by way of summing it up…..

Friday night started the weekend with cocktails, as it always should…..

…..we played Guess Who…..

……and then Adam beat me at Triv!

Saturday began with a lovely long dog walk……

…..we headed to Barton Springs for a nice change…..

…..and the sun shone for us rather splendidly!

We found a darling little tea room and gallery for lunch…..

….where they serve an epic Hot Chocolate…..

….and yummy tea on quaint mis-matched china…..

…..as well as lush lunches like the stuffed mushroom on toast that I went for!

Once home we set about hanging our new treasure, the huge antique map of London that looks rather marvellous on our lounge wall…..

….and after that it was an afternoon of snoozing as it all got too much for my boys!

Another lovely walk on Sunday morning, this time at the stunning Chick Sands woods….

….I love all the little dens people have built there!

After a yummy breakfast of Staffordshire Oatcakes (the last left in the freezer after my Mum’s visit!) we pootled around the market and car boot sale, where I picked up some little treasures….

…..and where my favourite stallholder gave me this incredible menu from the 60’s!

We finally took the tour of the museum opposite where we live in the afternoon….

….and took part in a Victorian lesson where we had to practise reading parrot-fashion…..

…..did maths in old money on slate….

….and worked on our handwriting with a dip pen!

The rest of the day was more relaxing, eating and watching of Buffy. Bliss!

What did you get up to?

Ems x

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Wednesday Wants…. The Coast V&A Ballgowns Collection

When I heard a few weeks ago that Coast were teaming up with the V&A to create a capsule collection of evening dresses based on the museum’s recent exhibition, I was of course, pretty intrigued. Whilst I was really pleased that the high street stalwart would be the one to take on such a task, I couldn’t quite imagine how even they would be able to create anything to come even close to those stunning historical ballgowns, especially at a high street price. And whilst ‘classic meets contemporary style’ has seemingly been done to death (not to mention fashion collaborations….although I’ll personally never tire of them!) Coast has really pulled it out of the bag, with stunning silhouettes, luxurious fabrics and ‘a magical sense of celebration’.

The collection of six ‘objects of beauty’ are already receiving lots of attention, and given the funds, each one would quickly find its way into my wardrobe! Each piece draws on a classic and highly coveted look from the past, and celebrates the art of dressing to impress….

CECILY MAXICECILY MAXI

Cecily Maxi, £895.00 (currently out of stock)

This to me is the epitome of evening dress glamour. Incredibly elegant, with a fishtail skirt echoing the luxurious silhouette of the 1930s, the Cecily Maxi is expertly crafted in dreamy Duchess satin, with panels of silk Georgette. The hour-glass shape alone would be enough to make you feel like Greta Garbo, whilst the hand sewn crystal embellishments and train ramp up the drama as far as it can go. The cleverly detailed open back make this dress modern and sexy though too, and if I trusted myself not to over-eat and spoil the effect with a pot belly, this dress may well have been a potential wedding dress for me.

LOTTIE MAXI DRESSLOTTIE MAXI DRESS

Lottie Maxi Dress, £695.00 (sizes 6 to 16 currently available)

Decadent much?! Just imagine walking down a red carpet in this…easy isn’t it? Inspired by the architectural dress shapes of the 1950s couture houses (a style of which I’ve always been a devotee) this romantic number boasts a fully corseted bodice, and silk blend fabric. The hugely voluminous skirt draws the eye to an accentuated waistline, whilst the glimpse of leg is enough to make you feel like you’ve just stepped out onto the red carpet.

BLANCHE DRESSBLANCHE DRESS

Blanche Party Dress, £550.00 (currently available in sizes 6 to 14)

I love this fresh and fun party dress, inspired by the full skirted ball gowns of the 1950s. Featuring luxurious layers of scalloped tulle and organza with a sprinkling of beads and sequins, this special number would see you through from formal reception to late night dancing, and allows you to show off a pretty pair of shoes to boot.

PATIENCE MAXIPATIENCE MAXI

Patience Maxi Dress, £895.00 (currently available in sizes 6 to 14)

I remember learning about the bias-cut as a teenager, and thinking that this surely must be the most luxurious way to cut a dress. And this floor-sweeper typifies that gentle elegance of the 1930s, with its luxuriously fluid silk satin and low back. The geometric patterns of hand sewn crystals make this dress Gatsby-party-worthy and I can clearly imagine being spun around a mirrored ballroom in it.

DAPHNE DRESSDAPHNE DRESS

DAPHNE DRESS

Daphne Dress, £550.00 (currently available in 8, 10 and 14)

I’m still crazy about anything yellow, and this pretty primrose colour is just so deliciously perfect for Spring. Echoing again the romantic silhouettes of the 1950s, this playfully girly dress would be my most wearable piece from the collection. Crafted from delicately soft tulle, with a bodice embellished with hand sewn crystals and cording, this full skirted frock is lined with a tulle petticoat. I think I’d wear it every day. Yes, even with wellies when walking the hound.

PHOEBE MAXIPHOEBE MAXI

Phoebe Maxi Dress, £695.00 (currently available in sizes 6 to 14)

This one is the real showstopper though, in my opinion at least. This is a ‘true ballgown’, inspired by the debutante balls of the 1950s, and ridiculously glamourous. Crafted from layers of softly structured organza to create its dramatic volume, the internal construction of the bodice holds in the figure, whilst the soft layers of tulle add movement and accentuate the waist. For me, the frothiness and sculpting of this dress make it a perfect occasion piece, and utterly timeless with it.

Whilst the price labels prohibit snatching all of these up, I think they represent incredible value, considering the luxurious fabrics and expert pattern making involved. Should someone decide to whisk me off to a ball in Vienna, or invite me to a black tie wedding, I’d be snapping one of these up in a minute….and even if I’m not, they’re posing quite the temptation nonetheless!

Which dress is your favourite? And when or where would you wear it?

Ems x

Something from the weekend….and a catch up of the last few weeks!

Hello! Did you miss me?! I’ve certainly missed blogging these last few weeks!

As you may know, a few weeks ago I moved out of London and up to Hitchin in Hertfordshire. It’s been a real adventure, and dead busy…..moving your home and two small businesses is no mean feat I have found, and with a stall to prepare for and some freelance work, it’s been pretty chaotic! Add all the issues we had with the new house, and really I’ve had no time to sit down at my computer!

But I’m aching to get back to it, and have lots of posts lined up to share with you. In the mean time though, I thought I’d catch you up (as requested!) with what’s been going on since I left The Big Smoke…..

On Monday 17th September, I finished packing up our things and hopped in a moving van to leave London. I’d lived there for 12 years, and other than my home town of Stoke on Trent, it was the only place I’ve ever lived. I had the most amazing time there, but the countryside was calling, and so here I now am in Hitchin, which is in fact the boyf’s home town.

The move went pretty well actually, despite the huge amount of ‘stuff’ I own. We had two fabulous moving men, who made easy work of carrying all of our stuff into our new house, and even smiled whilst they did it. I’d been fairly organised, and so most of the boxes ended up in the right rooms, but we opted to spend the first couple of nights at Adam’s parents’ house around the corner, mainly because of the yummy hot meals on offer and because Adam would need to work from there for a few days and starts pretty early!

I spent most of the first week at the house cleaning and organising….unfortunately it was nowhere near ‘liveable’ as it had been empty for a little while and the previous tenants were clearly not so house proud! But with the help of plenty of Flash, Cif, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda, I got the place pretty clean ready for us to move in properly, and so by the third evening we were excited to spend our first night at the house!

We soon found out that we were to share the place with a few house mates…..whilst reading in bed on the first night, something caught the corner of my eye, and in fact I thought it was a mouse! It was actually this rather large spider, whom Adam promptly caught under a glass and deposited outside! We’ve found a few others since (all massive), and the garden is full of the stunning stripey spiders who weave incredible webs over everything.

Needing to get a break from the house sorting, and work in Adam’s case, we’ve taken lots of lovely walks through the town and in the nearby countryside. Just a few minutes walk away are the amazing Priory grounds, where you find a photo opportunity every other step. I’m loving the exercise and fresh air, as well as meeting dog walkers and such (I am getting even more desperate to get one or two of our own as a result!).

By the second week, it was time to start getting back to some work for me, and I cleared just enough space within the boxes in my new studio to get some things done. I’d been commissioned to work on a fashion installation with the UKFT just before leaving London, and so in the run up to the set up last Friday I spent hours at my sewing machine making props and readying my styling kit. On the Thursday evening I thought I’d better give my finger nails some TLC after all the cleaning and working, so they got a nice coat of polish ready for my trip into London the next day.

The installation is at the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation in Westminster, but I took the train to Kings Cross (only half an hour!) and walked the short way to Bloomsbury to the UKFT offices. There, we loaded the van with all the contributions from their members (with me peeking in each box in excitement to see all the treasure!), and then headed to Westminster to set everything up. I had a grand day putting it all together (and will post a bit more about it all soon, but in the mean time there are some sneak peek photos below!), and by 5pm I was back on my way home, and caught the fast train to make it in record time!

The following day we were up bright and early to scoot round the corner to the Riverside Craft and Farmers Market. I’d booked my first ever non-London stall there, and was super excited (and a little nervous) to see how my stuff would be received by the locals! It was also my first outdoor stall, although I was provided with a nice gazebo which gave me stacks of space and allowed me to put all my stock out for the first time. I’d been busily making some new brooches and pendants with a local theme, as so many of my things have a London vibe and I wanted to fit in right away!

It was a grand day of selling, chatting, networking and drinking lots of tea from a flask. The stall is only a few minutes from home, which meant Adam could nip back to bring me blankets and hot water bottles! We had lots of visits too, from friends and friends of friends, and we were all packed up and home by half four too!

I’ve booked onto the next few markets, which are in Hitchin on the last Saturday of the month…..I’ll also be at the Hertford Corn Exchange on the 20th October, and in the market square in Hitchin on the 9th December for the Christmas Gala!

On the Sunday, we were lucky enough to be able to get onto one of the occasional local history walks. Hitchin’s history dates back to the 7th Century, and the town is full of remarkable stories and evidence of its past. The house we moved into is Victorian, and still has its servants bell pulls and cold room, but it is actually relatively young for Hitchin, as there are Georgian and even Elizabethan properties still standing here. The walk showed us some of the highlights, and opened our eyes to some of the treasures in Hitchin’s architecture. I can’t wait to learn more….and to go on the local bat and ghost walks soon!

Hitchin also boasts some very old independent businesses, so I have been discovering places like the wonderful Brookers (a proper old fashioned hardware shop), and Hawkins (a department store who actually employ a proper town crier!) as well as buying up lots from the flea markets, car boot sales, antiques market and charity shops. Whilst I’d love to keep all my treasures, lots of them will actually be polished up and listed on my Etsy shop, so look out for an update on that!

As part of our historical eduction, we’ve been exploring some of our local pubs, purely for research you understand. The Coopers Arms is notable for its incredible Tudor fireplace, as well as a room upstairs recently uncovered by the landlord, which had been hidden by a wardrobe for over 100 years! Our favourite so far though, also happens to be our nearest….. The Half Moon has won awards from CAMRA and serves amazing guest ales, local ciders and yummy food. They also have a pub dog, and lots of countryside walkers like to pop in, with lots of them bringing their dogs!

I was rather pleased that our arrival coincided with sloe picking time. We went out last week to find some locally and came back with almost two kilos, which are now in the freezer waiting to go into gin! I also want to go and harvest the last few brambles, elder berries and rosehips to make jams, wines and schnapps with!

Part of the joy of moving to Adam’s home town, is that we are so close to his parents’ dogs. Piper and Newton soon learned the way to our new house, and understood that we were going to see them more often…..and of course where the biscuit tin we got for them is kept! Newton has been loving playing in our garden with various tennis balls, footballs and shuttlecocks that have ended up there (as well as exploring the wilder parts!)….whilst Piper has been my little un-packing helper, getting excited with each box opened and every treasure unwrapped!

In fact, they seem quite at home here now on their visits, and we’ve had to keep an eye on Piper who wants so very much to spend all day on our lovely new sofas! We’ve had to barricade the living room door when she’s been here, although that didn’t stop her from finding the only made up bed to lie on last week! Having been missing for a few minutes, I searched the house for her, only to find she’d made her way to our bedroom (there are four, so I’m not sure if she inspected them all for a suitable bed!) and was snuggled up on my best sheets. You’ve got to admire her intelligence and determination though.

One thing I have managed to make time for is lots of cooking and baking. We’ve had some really yummy meals over the last few weeks, and had Adam’s parents over as our first guests to yum up a cottage pie, as well as Hannah over for a late lunch of goats cheese and red onion tarts. I’ve been going to the market for lovely fresh fruit and veg, and making up some delicious soups for hearty warm lunches. Adam had been fancying a kedgeree since I had one at the Wolsey for my birthday breakfast, so I made one for him last week with great success….I’ll share the recipe soon hopefully.

To add to the cooking excitement, I’ve been able to forage a few things from our garden as well as the sloes from a nearby obliging field. We have a wonderful and huge bay tree in the garden, which has provided us with fresh leaves for pie, soups, the kedgeree and my Christmas mince meat. We also have elder berries out there (can’t wait til next year for the flowers so we can make Champagne!), as well as brambles and medlars which I will make into jam.

In fact, we have enough room too that I can start growing some of our own veg soon, and Adam’s mum has been busy working the garden to smarten and pretty it up. I’ve spent a little while out there too, mainly digging up some of the wild cyclamen from around the trees to save it from ivy. I love their pretty little pink blades of petals, and was overjoyed to find so many growing right down our wooded garden….. I’ve replanted some in the flower beds (as well as lots of bulbs for spring), some in pots and some around the other trees.

This Friday was a frenzy of baking and readying for Christmas, as I made three Christmas Cakes, the Christmas Mince Meat and for the first time, a Christmas Pudding! The house still smells all Christmassy now, and so I’m very much in the mood already! I’m most excited that we now have space for a proper sized Christmas tree again and can’t wait to go to the market to pick one!

Despite being so excited to be in our new home out of London, we’ve been delighted to find how quick and easy it is to pop into London. The trains take as little as 20 minutes from Kings Cross, and we made it to a recent wedding in Richmond in less time than some people who live in London!

We were most impressed with our journey to the Union Chapel in Islington last night though, which took us under an hour from door to door. We’ve been there a couple of times before, last Christmas to see the Puppini Sisters with friends Claire and Matthew, and first to see Andy McKee with friends Matthew and Siobhan. We enjoyed the latter so much that we bought tickets to see the talented Mr McKee again last night, and had a most amazing time seeing him, the legendary Preston Reed and the phenomenal Jon Gomm.

As we start to get the place more tidy and presentable, I’m getting excited to welcome our friends here. We’ve set a date for our house warming party, which will also be a bit of a festive celebration. I’ve not been able to host my traditional Christmas party for a couple of years, because I’ve been so busy with December parties at work. So I am incredibly keen to get planning for Christmas and visits and just enjoying a gorgeous new home!

And that’s the scoop! As I mentioned, I’ve got lots of posts lined up to tell you more about our new home, and what is in fact a very new lifestyle for me! Do keep me up to date with the London goings on though….I do miss it still!

Ems xxx

Something from the weekend……. a night market, a wedding, and London’s oldest Music Hall

Another amazing few days this weekend! We didn’t ram as much in as we sometimes do, but it was certainly fun filled!……

On Friday after work, Adam and I met up with our good friends Kate and Jason at the Bermondsey Square Night Market, “The StockMKT.” It’s silly that I’ve not made it to one of the markets there before as it’s so close, and we enjoyed a lovely walk over to the other side of the river from home. The whole square was filled with food stalls, bars, crafty things and vintage treasures, as well as a band tent. The latter was hosted for the evening by the fabulous Albert Ball’s Flying Aces, whose wonderfully retro sounds had us all toe tapping.

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First off though it was a visit to the first bar we spotted….. and luckily it was a bar hosted by the very wonderful Sparrow Gin from Peckham! Serving a small but perfect list of cocktails, as well as good old fashioned G&Ts, the stall was super cool with jam jars, striped straws and vintage glasses and serving things. We got chatting to the lovely Pru who told us proudly about the gin’s super grapefruityness (although rather more eloquently than me) and gave us a taster of the tipple straight up. It is a beautifully fresh and citrusy gin, and almost a little herbal with the generous number of botanicals used in its production. It’s currently on very limited availability, so we did our best to drink up the current batch and encourage the guys to brew up some more….. the Negroni and the Martini were especially good (we tried the whole list), but I think, like Pru, I would prefer to drink it straight up, nice and cold.

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With drinks in hand, we took a wander about the stalls of pretties and treasures, finding the super Ink Heart Kicks which I’ve been oggling on Etsy, BG Design from where we bought some gorgeous cards, and Kamm and Sons  from whom we bought a bottle of delicious Ginseng spirit. I also picked up some great vintage post cards from a stall of vintage treasures, and we yummed up a very large slice of Yummy Boutique’s super delicious Red Velvet Cheesecake.

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Afterwards we made our way homeward, stopping off for a curry in the award winning Empress Curry House for supper. Although I’d not had a proper meal, I was really too stuffed with gins and cheesecake to need the several dishes I yummed up, so I did rather roll home.

Saturday saw the FINAL arrival of our friends, Matthew and Siobhan’s, wedding. I’d been excited about it for aaaages, but for the last week ridiculously so! After spending the entire morning primping and packing the various bags I ended up taking (shoes, hat, cameras, confetti……) we jumped on the tube to make our way to Putney. The venue for the whole day was the beautiful Star and Garter which is right on the river. The Ballroom has a gloriously high ceiling, chandeliers and stacks of natural light.

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Matthew was looking super hot in a beautiful kilt and tweed jacket, and seemed pretty cool as we chatted before the ceremony. I’d been lucky enough to see Siobhan’s dress at her fitting at Liberty, but I still felt my jaw drop as she walked into the room looking so incredibly stunning. Both of them were glowing throughout the ceremony, and I honestly can’t think I’ve ever seen two people look more happy. It was so touching to hear them exchange their vows, as well as bridesmaid Jo’s lovely reading….. I shed plenty of tears of joy too!

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After the ceremony we drank saucers of Cham in the bar downstairs whilst the happy couple had photos taken out by the river and the Ballroom was turned around ready for the reception. It was brilliant to have time to catch up with people and have some good chat time….. as well as a chance to sample some of the bar’s wonderful cocktails!

Back upstairs, we readied ourselves for the couple’s first announcement into the room…. I had made confetti in little vintage sheet music cones, which several of us sprinkled on them from our balcony seats as they walked in. Then it was a yummy buffet dinner at large round tables dressed with gerbera in vintage IRN BRU bottles, and hand made paper stars (good work Justine!). There were lots of personal touches that reminded us of Matthew and Siobhan too…. the tables were names after Radiohead albums, and they had prepared special CDs as favours, stamped with a cut-out style image of the two of them.

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We had so much fun, chatting and throwing balloons around and dancing the night away….. Matthew and Siobhan had created their own playlist for the night packed with floor fillers, and even Adam got up to dance (first time ever!). There was cheese, fruit cake and bacon rolls as a wonderful late night snack which kept us going, and I danced my last song, rather aptly to Tiffany, I think We’re Alone Now. It was such a joy to be part of their special day, and to see them enjoy it so much. Love you guys!

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It was a traditional lie in on Sunday, as we were feeling rather worn out. So we decided to keep it local and just popped over the road to Wilton’s Music Hall for a few hours in the afternoon. It was the last day the historical venue was open, before the refurbishment of the auditorium takes place. After we’d had a wander about and taken a few snaps, Artistic Director Frances Mayhew took to the stage alongside Capital Project Patron David Suchet who talked of the importance of the refurbishment and the continued fundraising necessary to protect the music hall.

We were lucky enough to get tickets for the final tour, and so ‘Deputy Tour Guide Chris’ gave us the lowdown on the history of the local area and the beginnings of Wilton’s, before Carole told us all about the history of the building itself and some of the most notable events in its history. It was wonderful to hear some of the stories about the place and I would highly recommend taking the tour there…… the auditorium is due to open in 2013 but until then the beautiful Mahogany Bar is still open for drinks, as will be the new cocktail bar which will open soon, and even some performances taking place in the smaller rooms (I very much want to go to the Horror! Horror! Halloween show!). I’m really looking forward to seeing the auditorium again once it’s finished, although we were promised that the appearance won’t change.

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After that it was home for a pot of tea, and to finish up a pot of clotted cream we had left over from my birthday…… I made up a large helping of what I’ve named ‘French Tea’ (strawberries, clotted cream and jam on thick slices of brioche in lieu of any scones!). And after that we were only fit to slob about and watch Planet Terror….. a nicely quiet end to a super weekend!

Hope you enjoyed yours….do share!

Ems x

Miracles and Charms at The Wellcome Collection

The Wellcome Trust describes itself as “the free destination for the incurably curious” and so it’s no wonder I loved my first visit last weekend. I only wonder why I’ve never made it there before, but then I do take comfort that there are still plenty of treasures in London as yet undiscovered by me.

We walk past the imposing building on Euston Road often, on our way to and from Euston station from the tube. But it was the posters on the underground that really got me there, advertising an exhibition of Miracles and Charms… What could be more intriguing than that and their invitation to ‘explore faith, hope and chance’?

It’s free to get in to what are actually two exhibitions in their own right: ‘Infinitas Gracias: Mexican Miracle Paintings’ and ‘Felicity Powell: A Charmed Life’. Not an instantly obvious pairing, but joined under the umbrella of the Wellcome Trust they actually work together beautifully. Long enough to get me happily engrossed, but not so long as to take up our entire Sunday, these thoughtful and beautifully curated exhibitions are certainly a must for us curious types.

First, we stepped through the exhibitions’ glass double doors to find a white washed room in which two walls had been completely covered in small panels of vivid artwork, rather like individually decorated tiles. A panel on the wall told us (as did the free, and highly informative guide leaflet) that the pictures were actually copies of hundreds of ‘ex-voto’ offerings, ranging from the 16th century to the present day. The story telling pictures depict scenes of families, couples, parents etc. asking their Saint for help in a time of crisis. A tribute to the divinity who had granted their requested ‘miracle’, the offerings are signs of gratitude commissioned by all manner of people.

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At the foot of each are written the details of the dedication, but as they’re all in Spanish, and there were too many in that first room to have the translations next to each, it was up to us to guess the stories…. Some seemed relatively simple with parents praying next to their child’s sick bed, and various images of surgeons operating on people etc. Some of them though were a little harder to decipher, and were rather inappropriately amusing to us…..a man who had fallen out of a tree…..a car in the middle of a river…..we began to wonder if these Saints were being honoured for some rather every-day, mundane things, as well as the more ‘miraculous’.

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In the next room, the walls were rather less crowded, with original ‘Votives’ from the 1800’s painted onto canvas, hung on the walls and protected in glass cabinets. These paintings represent the more elaborate, professionally painted ex-votos commissioned by the wealthy (later, those who couldn’t afford canvas would have them painted onto tin roof tiles which gave a beautifully lustrous sheen). Again, we saw a mixture of thank you’s for very dramatic events, as well as the every-day. The inscriptions below each often detailed how the commissioner ‘invoked the miraculous saint’ or ‘invoked with intimate truth at the core of my heart,’ whilst above this the pictures sometimes appeared in layers or strips to portray the passing of time, or two scenes in one painting. The rather naive images and the odd scale seemed to make light of disasters, whilst sometimes having the effect of dramatising the far less serious (‘freed from catastrophe’ might just mean someone survived a nosebleed!). In some ways, I began to think that these may well be excuses to celebrate the power of these Saints (‘for this was an evident miracle’), although a big part of me thought how wonderful it is to be so grateful just to live each day, and with ‘humble proof of recognition’.

The next room opened with its first long wall collaged with modern documents and artefacts, lent by the people of Mineral de Cata. Here, near to the entrance of one of Mexico’s earliest silver mines, is the church dedicated to Senor de Villaseca who is attributed with miraculous powers. Once the practice of dedicating ex-votos to such divinities diminished in the 20th Century, people instead began to offer other thank you’s to show their gratitude for answered prayers. The wall contains a bizarre assortment of tributes, such as a polystyrene food tray on which a biro-inked drawing thanks a Saint…. several wedding dresses, bouquets and veils express thanks for women who have found love…. and baby clothes thank the Saint for delivering a healthy child to the parents and ask that he or she grows strong and lives well. Again, I was rather bemused by this need to thank someone, or something, for what would largely in our culture pass as every day things, or at least simply the achievement of one’s own hard work.

One inscription that caught my eye, underneath a detailed architectural diagram, thanked a Saint for something surely attributable to the person himself rather than any other power: ‘I thank you with all my heart for this accomplishment: a warehouse with multiple uses.’ I found myself feeling rather sorry for the skilled surgeons and doctors in some of the paintings, who themselves were not attributed with saving lives, but instead the gratitude went to the associated Saint for granting a miracle. I wondered how one could feel satisfied in one’s own work and others’ skills when their successes were credited to some divinity instead.

The exhibition began to move away from these very visual appreciations though, as it presented details of a remote place called Real de Catorce, also in Mexico. Accessible only by a narrow tunnel of 3km, the site was a major source of Mexico’s mineral wealth in the 18th Century, and inhabited thousands of foreign investors, until 1910 when the mine owners fled in the Revolution. A curious sounding place, I soon became interested in this sort of lost city, especially as I learned that right to this day over 40,000 faithfuls gather there every October for the fiesta of St Francis of Assisi. Bright images in photos and video of the procession of the fiesta caught my attention, with crowds swelling through the streets and carrying a just over life size likeness of St Francis, high above their heads. It is the practice there for the faithful to leave small amulets in honour of this Saint, and these were shown sewn onto a robe as tiny metal eyes, ears, houses, hearts, animals, coins and limbs….each asking a particular prayer for health or prosperity. I loved these charms, especially in their clever arrangement on this robe and two walls hangings, and they provided a wonderful link to the next exhibition…….

Felicity Powell’s ‘Charmed Life’ is an exhibition made up of both her own work and some of the 1400 amulets collected by the Edwardian collector Edward Lovett. These charms, once owned by Londoners who believed they would ward off ill-health and bad luck, intrigued Powell who was ‘intrigued by the silent witness they bore to countless personal narratives’. Similarly enchanted by such treasures and the ‘comfort of things’, I delighted in viewing the tiny and beautifully detailed talismans and became engrossed in their possible meanings and their histories. A large horse-shoe shaped glass cabinet encased hundreds of keys, shells, glass shoes, tiny dice, dominoes and plenty of unrecognisable artefacts….all carefully arranged into meaningful groups.

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Powell’s own work plays with scale and detail just like these objects, and one could certainly imagine using one of her beautifully intricate works as a charm of some sort. A video showed us, in reverse, the incredible process of how Powell makes her wax pictures on the back of mirrors. The effect of the video was almost magical and by the time we came to see the pieces themselves I adored their charm and complexity. Born seemingly of pure imagination, hands spawn coral and a head turns into a tree as roots sprout out from its neck. The vivid white and red on black (I’ve always loved this colour combination) serves to burst forth the subject from its backdrop, whilst it still seems as one inside its circular setting.

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Her works were a perfect end to the two thought-provoking exhibitions, from which I gained some wonderful inspiration. In fact, I can’t wait to play with such scale and detail in some crafty arty projects I have got lined up….. so watch this space.

Cameras are not permitted in the exhibition, so I’ve taken these snaps from the little guide leaflet I took home, to at least give you an idea….. really though, I’d very much recommend a visit to anyone ‘Incurably Curious.’ Both exhibitions run until 26th February.

Tosca at the ENO

I’m sitting under the vastly impressive dome of the London Coliseum, and thinking how well the Italian Renaissance architecture echoes the very Roman setting of Tosca. My favourite opera is back at the ENO and I couldn’t resist seeing this wonderful production again.

From the first dramatic blast of the orchestra, I lean forward in my seat and the goose pimples form all over my arms. Perhaps it’s that music, combined with the historical setting which makes me want to see this performed again and again, and why I can listen to it so many times and never tire of it.

There has been chatter for as long as I can remember about Opera having had its day…that it’s elitist and exclusive, and suffers as an art form for it. And despite attempts to win over more vast audiences with bargain tickets and film directors taking on rather forgotten productions, I think it will be productions such as this one that will do best in keeping opera alive.

Acclaimed soprano Catherine Malfitano has staged an utterly thrilling and awe inspiring Tosca, with no theatrical tricks and no gimmicks, and she has done so to perfection. This production is all about Tosca….the stirring music, the intense story, and one of the greatest female characters of all time. Claire Rutter fills this part effortlessly and to hear her is divine.

Anthony Michaels-Moore provides a chilling Scarpia and as his voice meets those of the choir in the Te Deum at the end of the first act, I’m reminded of why I come to the opera and always will. Amongst the set of fragmented, layered, ever decreasing circles, simple chiaroscuro in the lighting design echoes and heightens the drama. Shadows are projected upwards and away across the stage, framing the diva and surrounding her with conspiracy and foul play…..in a pool of blue she sings of her piety and begs…..and as she opens the door to her lover’s torture, the burning light from beyond would have us believe she has opened the gate to some hell.

Like a season of 24, the action is played out for us minute for minute, and this I think is why it engages us so emotionally and thrillingly. How could anything be more dramatic than taking us on a journey with such a story, having us witness each string-quivering moment of contemplation, consideration, anger, spite, love, tragedy?

This opera sings to me more than any other, and if it’s not just because of  Puccini’s incredible score, it is perhaps because it offers me so many of the things I yearn for in art and theatre….Lust, betrayal, history, politics, religion, fate and love are all at work here. And what could make a more powerful recipe than that?

Tosca runs at the ENO until the end of the month.