So the violets are out - I don't know why they're considered to be shy, as the ones in London always seem bright and Suffragette-like. I love to see them.
I've had my head down trying to get all the Durrell material into shape, and still a few more interviews to go. I've run into a significant problem but I think I'm dealing with it, but at least it gives me something to think about rather than Brexit. (I'm trying not to comment too much on that, even though it's hard to ignore the whole pathetic mess.)
The pictures below show geological specimens belonging to the great Victorian artist John Ruskin. We went to an exhibition about him at Two Temple Place, (more about this interesting London house in a moment...) Ruskin had the most extraordinary upbringing. As the only child of elderly parents, he was not allowed to attend school or have playmates, and even toys were in very short supply. As I recall from reading his biography several years ago, he didn't mind too much, although his childhood sounded like a nightmare to me. But, sitting with his elderly parents with nothing to do, seemingly encouraged him to develop his observational skills. He found it so interesting and rewarding that he built his whole life around the visual arts.
I admire Ruskin for his passion and commitment to beauty, nature and art. He believed totally that these could benefit rich and poor alike, and worked tirelessly to spread this message as widely as he could. Looking around the exhibition I felt we could really do with another Ruskin these days to remind us to simply look at the inherent beauties to be found in nature.
My favourite of the specimens here has to be the glittering multi coloured opal, the bottom one of the three. I've always been told it's unlucky. Have you ever heard this? I hope it's not true.
Two Temple Place is a magnificent house near the Inns of Court in London, built for Mr. William Waldorf Astor. It's now owned by a foundation called the Bulldog Trust, which is devoted to promoting culture and philanthropy. I have never heard of the Bulldog Trust, and their website is very scrappy, but they do a fine job of keeping up the house and always put on the most gorgeous exhibitions during the winter, which is when the house is open to the public.
So this is what the house looks like from the outside. No garden, but note the golden weather vane. By Astor or Waldorf standards, I suppose it is just a cottage, but how magnificent it seems to me! I love the main staircase, with its leaded coloured glass ceiling...
...and the long gallery, with a huge stained glass window at either end. Rare woods are used all around the house in panelling, flooring and carving. Entering this room is like entering a stage set; my pictures can't quite convey the size and space and light.
You could spend half an hour looking at a single door. If you were Ruskin, you probably would. In fact, everything in the house repays close examination and was built (and later restored, after wartime bomb damage) with no expense spared. I should say you might not like the house if you are a minimalist at heart, but even so, you would probably appreciate it.
Yesterday, we met old friends in another interesting building: the Garden Museum, near the very ancient Lambeth Palace. The museum is shown below - it's in the deconsecrated church on the right. It is a nice spot, and the gardens outside are full of spring flowers, but yesterday was so dim and rainy that I didn't take many photos.
The palace and church stand on the banks of the River Thames right within sight of our shambolic Parliament. We and our good friends carefully avoided looking at it, or discussing what might be going on within.
Instead, we looked at all the terrific objects in the museum, which tells the story of English gardening. I was particularly taken with this huge three dimensional artwork created from mirrors and dried flowers. T. took the photo, and it gives a better idea of what it is like than anything I took.
If you look at the website you'll see that this museum runs some imaginative and interesting exhibitions. It's slightly off the beaten track, or always seems that way to me, but it really is worth a visit. In the old churchyard is the super but very odd tomb of the Tradescants, the famous plant collecting family who rose to fame in the 17th century. I have no idea why the tomb has a hydra on it, and nor, seemingly, has "Flickering Lamps" the blog I'm linking to above, which has a more detailed description of the tomb.
AND.... my Irish passport finally arrived! I'm delighted to have the Irish part of me acknowledged, and when I get a little bit clear, in May, I plan a "Becoming Irish" party.
My friend Marjorie, in Chicago, bought me some St. Patrick's Day merchandise and mailed it over. Chicago's proud of its Irish heritage and I'm delighted at this selection of stuff. So what to eat at this party? Irish family members suggest bacon, sausages and potatoes, and ye-e-e-es, I suppose so. Okay, Tayto potato crisps. Guinness. But I'm not crazy on those things myself, so could anyone reading this suggest any more unusual Irish recipes? We have had really terrific food in Belfast and West Cork not too long ago. I just can't remember what it was. ..
Talking of Tayto crisps, the twins' school friend was saying how her family was going off to Legoland. Cue for two envious twin faces. Girl twin said bravely, "Well, we're going to Potato Land!" Actually she meant Tayto Park, which their other grandparents have promised them at some stage. Apparently it has Ireland's only roller coaster, but that's just hearsay on my part, I wouldn't go on a roller coaster again after I wrenched my neck in Disney's Space Mountain. After the worst theme park experience of my life in Legoland Windsor (click the link) I would not be envious of anyone going there, either; but I like the cheerful and unassuming Mr. Tayto and I have a feeling I'd like Tayto Park if I ever go.
The magnolias are out and on a sunny afternoon they make a good show. This is one of the magnolias at Kenwood House, in the middle of Hampstead Heath. It is one of my favourite spots and it always has a wonderful display of blossom in Spring.
And what else? Well, we had the daughter of a Japanese friend to stay, and her high school friend - they had a spare day in London. They and their families gave us all kinds of cute gifts, of which the prettiest included these dinky little chocolates. The cherry blossom is of course just in season but apparently it's the symbol of that particular brand of chocolates too. Now, the chocolates are no more but I'll be keeping the box - Japanese packaging is always so beautiful.
The leaves haven't quite come out on the trees and we've had some good sunsets. I do like this time of year. The photo below reminds me of certain children's book illustrations of the 1920s. I can imagine E.H. Shepherd (illustrator of Pooh Bear) being a bit inspired by this scene, somehow, can't you?