Ceri was already in London when Anna and I arrived, having seen Girls Aloud at the O2 the previous night (apologies for revealing your sordid secret, Ceri!), so we all met at the Victoria & Albert Museum, having trudged through the rain and braved the hideously overcrowded underground system (FA Cup Final Day) from different directions.
First things first: lunch! Which we ate in the Morris room. Very civilised; beautiful surroundings, accompanied by the sound of a piano...and a considerable amount of grumbling (from us) on the topics of rain, unreliable people, the medical profession - and specifically the medicalisation of women's bodies (yes, we can get quite profoundly philosophical at times!), being overcharged in the V&A caff, and the catering staff's complete lack of knowledge with regards to their own menu, i.e. was the enigmatic filo parcel vegetarian or not. Perhaps this wasn't the best start to a day's museum crawling. On reflection, we were not in the most zen-like state when we approached the exhibition China Design Now, which possibly impacted on our reception of it. Nevertheless, the complimentary tickets Anna had managed to procure helped to raise our spirits somewhat (it pays to know people on the inside!).
Ceri ponders the mystery filo parcel
So, what can I say about the exhibition? Ultimately it was an empty experience; we all felt that the final section, 'Beijing', operated a bit like an add-on to the rest of the exhibition: a not very well thought through, propaganda exercise, if I'm going to be honest (i.e. China is concerned about the environment too, and they do great stuff in Tibet and the Olympics is going to be absolutely fabulous!). I don't want to slip into political diatribe, but the overall interpretive approach employed by the curators wasn't very challenging to the official narrative of China's emergence onto the world stage. That's fine, of course, providing that museums are upfront about sponsors, exhibition partners, etc, and stop this pretence of objective neutrality. Okay, rant over...though Ceri and Anna might like to add something!
We approached the exhibition shop altogether more happily. I was particularly taken with the items produced by Madame Mao's Dowry; a Shanghai-based shop which specialises in revolutionary kitsch. All three of us bought their commemorative Olympic tin mugs.
Next on the schedule was the new Oxfam Boutique in Westbourne Grove, but we were running late and scrapped that idea (although we did manage, en route, to pop in to a couple of shops on Kensington High Street!) and headed straight to Leighton House Museum, to meet Alan who had kindly agreed to give us a guided tour of his architectural 'charges'.
Well, what can I say about Leighton House? The unprepossessing facade doesn't promise much, but let me assure you, the house is absolutely fabulous. The home of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Frederic, Lord Leighton, the house is a confection of orientalisme and late Victorian exuberant decadence. The William de Morgan peacock blue tiles are worth a visit in themselves, suffusing the stairwell they adorn in the most incredible luminous light.
Equally exciting is Linley Sambourne house, not least because Alan let us 'behind the velvet rope'! The phrase 'stepping back in time' is overused, but entirely appropriate in this case. It feels as if the Sambournes have just stepped out, leaving behind all the clutter and atmosphere of domestic family life. Linley Sambourne was a photographer and illustrator for Punch - and an enthusiastic producer of Victorian porn, it seems. His studio still smells of ink and paper: very evocative.
Linley Sambourne House
All museum-crawled out we retired to a local pub to drink, eat and have a good old gossip to the dying minutes of the Cup Final.
Photos by Ceri and Amy. :)