The grand reveal:

This is a short post following on from my last one where I left you on tenterhooks just waiting to know if you can spot an expensive piece of art work, so without further ado, here are the details.

Colony – January in acrylic and mixed media is byimage Royal Academician Barbara Rae and for sale at a mere £57,000.





The Old House Dreams it is Still There imagein egg tempura is by Peter Messer and is priced at £4,850.






Mississippi River Blues image

is a carborundum relief in titanium white ink on paper painted with a mars black wash created by Royal Academician Richard Long. As one of an edition of two, it will set you back £80,000. (I’ve suddenly gone off this one although I think it looks very striking against the pink wall).



Flower Window,image an oil, is a tiny painting in a modest wooden frame by David Barrow and very affordable at £200.






Afternoon Skaters is an oil painting by Bill Jacklin,

imageanother Royal Academician. This one retails at £40,000.






Stolen Thunder III by Cornelia Parkerimage is a digital print which will cost you £850.






So, what price art? What would you buy and why. Enjoyment or investment? Who decides on the value of modern art? I’ll leave that open to discussion. It’s far too big a subject for me to pontificate alone.

There are some things in this country that are quintessentially British and come around on the annual calendar with seemingly ever increasing speed – The Royal Garden Parties, for instance, Wimbledon lawn tennis and the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.

The latter opened for this summer season last week, so on Sunday we toddled off to London to take a look. Arriving at Burlington House in Piccadilly, flags heralded the celebrated event. The first exhibit can be seen through the open gates to the courtyard. A massive steel structure consisting of different sized tetrahedrons welded together, this sculpture by Conrad Shawcross is entitled “The Dappled Light of the Sun,” which is all very well but as we wandered underneath this colossal skeleton on an overcast morning, the artist’s intention I feel was all but lost.


Burlington House, Piccadilly

The Summer Exhibition is the largest open submission exhibition in the world and has been staged by the Royal Academy every year since 1769 without interruption. It provides an unrivalled platform for established and emerging artists to display and sell their work. The Academy takes a commission from every work sold and this, together with ticket sales for the event, go towards funding post-graduates at the RA Schools.

The RA Schools was founded in 1769, and remains independent. This enables the Schools to offer the only three-year postgraduate programme in Europe. The pluralisation comes about because when it was first founded, students were required to master a number of different artistic elements in a particular order. Each element was known as a separate ‘School’. Today The RA is more flexible in its expectation but the original name has stuck.

There are around one thousand pieces on display, each having been through an arduous selection procedure, the first of which is done digitally on-line. If the artist is fortunate enough to go through to the next round, their artwork is put before a selection panel consisting of Royal Academicians.

Art work is priced from £100 to nearly £100,000 – and many of the exhibits were already sporting a red dot, signifying its ‘sold’ status. I loved this tongue-in-cheek work by Cornelia Parker – and the fact that it had got through the selection process. Just shows that artists have a sense of humour. I wonder who bought it though.


Stolen Thunder III

Upon entry you get given a little ‘List of Works’ handbook containing the artists’ names, titles and prices of their work. I thought it would be entertaining to waft around, pick out the pieces I liked and check the provenance afterwards. Interestingly, most of the paintings I picked were by known contemporary artists which probably says more about me than the state of British modern art but there you go.

So here are a few of my chosen miscellany, sporting titles only. See if you can pick out the most and least expensive of my selection.


Colony – January


The old house dreams it is still there


Mississippi River Blues


Flower Window


Afternoon Skaters

The show this year was curated by Michael Craig-Martin, a Royal Academician. His vision to paint the walls of one of the largest rooms a bright pink may shock some but I think it brought the hung paintings alive and complemented the gilding on the ceiling, showing off the classical architecture of this building in an innovative way. The Central Hall was also painted in a vivid peacock turquoise which looked opulent and fantastic.


Wonderful pink walls. Those neon bubbles are by Michael Landy and are one of the few items not for sale.

In previous years the exhibits have been crowded together, almost jostling for position creating a chaotic, busy sensation. This year the whole effect is of calm but stylish order and while ideally I’d like the gallery to myself, by going early we avoided the crowds.

The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy runs until the 16 August and is open every day from 10am till 6pm.

When I started my first school, at the age of five, Dad seemed very excited to hear that I had been placed in “Churchill” – one of  four houses our tiny school was divided into for Sport’s Day events or collecting merit points. The houses were each designated a colour and I was to wear blue webbing bands which, because blue was – and still is – my favourite colour,  pleased me more than its name which at that time held little significance.

The houses were named after famous local residents – and Winston Churchill had his country retreat less than five miles away. As children we drove past the place often; were taken there for outings; were told stories of a great man who had lived there.

During the war Dad was a despatch rider for the Royal Signals. He would regularly make trips to Chartwell to deliver documents or papers and of course always held Winston in very high esteem. He got to know that part of the countryside pretty well and it is probably part of the reason  he decided to buy the virtually derelict house he did in the 1950’s which was to become our family home for over thirty years.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. Time, then, to revisit.

Chartwell sits behind a high stone wall down a narrow winding lane with far reaching views across the Kentish Weald. Winston bought the place in 1922 and it provided a sanctuary for him, his wife Clementine and their children away from London and matters of state.

When World War Two ended in 1945 the Churchills were not confident they could afford to keep the place going but a consortium of friends got together and shored things up for them with the proviso that the property  be bequeathed to the National Trust on the deaths of Winston and Clementine. The Trust is now custodian of this quirky yet highly personal house and its magnificently sweeping gardens and I’m pleased to say that I was able to gain free entry for two using my marvellous National Art Pass.


Our walk started with a gentle stroll down towards the lake where black swans can be spotted if you’re lucky. Following a rough path around the water’s edge brings you to a small clearing where a sculpture of Winston and Clementine Churchill is situated showing them sitting together looking towards their beloved house. The art work is by sculptor Oscar Nemon and was unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1990.


Carry on past the sculpture and you reach wild woodland to the south-east edge of the estate. The path here winds uphill through beech and bluebell woods to where a unit of Royal Canadian Engineers camped out during World War Two. These troops set about camouflaging Chartwell, hiding the swimming pool, draining the reservoir and disguising the lakes with brushwood, keeping the place safe from possible aerial attack. Apparently Winston was mightily relieved that his precious goldfish were not in immediate danger.

image Returning downhill from the site of the Canadian camp, the house comes into view across the fields and sloping lawns.


Inside, the house is a delight – the rooms have been maintained almost as they would have been when the Churchills were in residence: some personal things remain – Winston’s slippers, for instance. Sadly, photography is not allowed, but you can click here to view interiors from the National Trust’s website.


According to the National Trust’s blurb the house is ‘of little architectural merit’ having been added to and changed over the years by various occupants – Churchill included. When he bought Chartwell he opened up some of the darker rooms by installing large casement windows, making the most of its position overlooking some of Britain’s finest green and pleasant land. It was this view that enticed him to Chartwell in the first place and one of which he never tired.

“A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted.” (Winston Churchill)


This view point overlooks the miles of  rolling countryside stretching towards the English Channel that fired Churchill’s fierce resolve to keep Britain safe from  invasion. In the centre of the photograph is the wall around the kitchen garden which he helped to build – at a reported two hundred bricks a day.


Through the arched gateway  is Winston’s art studio, left as if he has just popped out for an amble around his garden.


He spent hours here painting, finding the relaxation it derived a perfect antidote for the famous depression he suffered and  which he referred to as his ‘ black dog.’ One of his paintings, of his goldfish pond, sold at Sotheby’s for £1.8m last December. Now, having seen his collection of paintings in the studio  (sadly, no photos allowed here either), while they are the dedicated work of a very enthusiastic and prolific amateur, I’m not sure the price the painting fetched at auction is justified, other than the fact it is by Churchill. Here’s a photographic representation of his painting, as near as I could get …


So much has been written about Churchill: his policies, political leanings, the crossing twice of the House of Commons from Conservative to Liberal and back again, his failures and his triumphs, his family, his speeches and most of all his determination to never surrender to a Nazi invasion. Without his dogged and ruthless determination to plan and implement the Battle for Normandy, which the French will be commemorating this weekend, the course of the war would no doubt have been different. And while we cannot forget the tremendous sacrifice made by  Allied troops on D-Day – 6th June 1944-  and in the days following – perhaps a silent salute to Winston wouldn’t go amiss.

Enjoying your freedom? Thank a veteran.

It has been noted in some quarters that my blog posts have been rather erratic of late. There’s a reason of course. Of course there is. I’ve been distracted. I’ve finally fallen into the abyss and fully discovered the varying possibilities of our digital age: I have been on-line gaming.

No, no – not that sort of online gaming – I’m not gambling or even paying for anything although I have for some time played a form of Scrabble over the airwaves with various family members which, there is no doubt, is addictive. Occasionally, whilst cogitating over the best word to play to maximise my score, an advert will pop up suggesting other games I might enjoy. Until recently I have studiously ignored these. However, in an unguarded moment I found myself clicking through to something called ‘Candy Crush.’ What an inane yet thoroughly absorbing waste of time that is. I spent the best part of a weekend trying to pop some imaginary plastic bottles, convincing myself that the time invested was improving my hand-eye coordination.

When I realised the full horror and implication of what I was doing, I deleted all the data from my machine and am forcing myself not to be enticed to click on anything that may unwittingly bring the wretched thing back. It’s like giving up chocolate for Lent. It makes me wonder how many man hours are squandered in a computer-based workplace as bored employees covertly click through to complete the next level of whatever game they are hooked on. Thank goodness I’ve been in a classroom over the last couple of weeks otherwise I too may have been tempted.

Subsequently, to alleviate the grieving process having parted company so brutally with the luridly coloured ‘Candy Crush,’ I’ve been in search of other more worthwhile pursuits. This was also a sub-conscious diversionary tactic as I should be getting down to some creative writing, re-writing and editing of short stories as I’m meeting up with writing friends shortly to share progress. (Ladies: you’ll be disappointed).

Anyway, I’ve found something new to me that is likely to occupy me to the point of obsession: Flipboard. I’ve been aware of this online magazine collection for a while as I’ve clicked on blog links I’ve been reading but I’ve never really explored its potential till now. There are topic categories to cover all interests, drawn from various media and you have the choice to create your own ‘magazine.’ It’s like having a scrapbook where you can squirrel away lots of fascinating articles and read them at your leisure. What’s more, you can share your created magazine with friends.

In a fit of inspirational non-imagination, I have created a magazine with the same title as this blog. (Well, there’s nothing like streamlining, is there?). I’ve started to fill it with articles that interest me and which, I hope, may interest you. So if you can’t find me blogging as regularly, then you might like to drop in on my Flipboard magazine – click here: CHARACTERSFROMTHEKITCHEN – and see what I’ve been reading. I always wanted to edit a magazine…On the other hand, the articles I find might provide me with some sorely needed inspiration.

Happy reading folks!

Technical note: Flipboard seems to display best as a magazine on Ipad but loads perfectly well on a Windows laptop in scroll format.



There’s not much I can add to what has already been documented and enthused over about the place we visited last weekend on a celebratory city break. And anyway, as I’m feeling inordinately lazy and undisciplined at the moment, I thought a few snaps might suffice.

Well, snaps and  some quotations I’ve come across from various people that I reckon sum it up pretty well.

It’s definitely somewhere to visit at least once in a lifetime: it’s magical, surprising, expensive and indulgent. If you go, enjoy to the full.

Fino ad allora…


“In the winter, imageVenice is like an abandoned theatre. The play is finished, but the echoes remain.”

(Arbit Blatas, sculptor and painter) 




“If you read a lot, nothing is as great as you’ve imagined. Venice is — Venice is better.”

(Fran Lebowitz, author)






 “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.”

(Truman Capote, author)


(…or even this wonderful asparagus, seen at the Rialto market).


“Though there are some disagreeable things in Venice there is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors.”  (Henry James, author)


“Streets flooded. Please advise.”
(Robert Benchley,
 journalist and humourist)





The Grand Canal


And of course, a selection of Venetian glass beads

So when will you be booking your tickets?

We had reason to visit Horsham in West Sussex this weekend, a not too distant town, on a drop off mission and en route to somewhere else. Imagine how interested I was then that, quite by coincidence, I happened to read in the Times last Friday that Horsham is one of the happiest places to live in Britain. According to property experts. Well, what do they know?

Driving round the ring road nose to tail certainly doesn’t provide one with an immediate impression of happiness. Soulless buildings, a multitude of insurance head-offices with minimal corporate planting of unsuitable tropical greenery in dreary brick-built window boxes only serve to highlight how out of place such architecture is in a West Sussex market town. At least, that’s how the property experts market it: a Market Town. I wonder what constitutes a market town these days – a yokel in a white smock shepherding a herd of swine across a local stream with waddling geese in their wake, a loaded hay-wain in the background?  (I didn’t see any of those). Or a few barrels of cider and a cheese stall, displayed on straw to make it look rustically authentic?  Horsham would appear to favour the latter. (The fruit and veg stall we swiftly passed was selling Spanish strawberries and asparagus from Peru. But I’m getting ahead of myself here).

Eventually we arrived at a multi-story car park. Which was sporting a new ticketless parking system called Smart Park.

Oh, Horsham is nothing if not cutting edge. The technological advances pounced on by the local district council here knows no bounds.


apologies for the poor quality – snapped quickly on my phone…


A camera photographs your number plate on entry and then all you have to do after a successful (or not) morning’s shopping, on your return to the car park, is remember your registration number. Because to release your car from this concrete hell hole you must tap your number into a machine, pay your dues and then, when you get to the exit barrier in your vehicle, your car will be automatically recognised and you’ll be let through. Allegedly.


In practise, it was utter chaos. In front of the only two machines were two snaking queues of glazed-eyed shoppers wearily waiting to key in their numbers behind other shoppers who had clearly forgotten theirs. They appeared as discombobulated as would-be apocalypse survivors, nervously jingling their change while mouthing a series of numbers and letters as if their lives depended on it.

When we eventually got back to our car we then had to wait in a jolting line of other vehicles attempting to make it through the barrier. One driver several cars ahead of us left his vehicle and remonstrated loudly with a young chap wearing a ‘happy to help’ high-viz jacket. Well, at least he was trying to promote happiness. I can’t imagine his feeling of well being will last long though, with constant verbal abuse from frustrated car drivers.

I counted four of these high-viz-happy-to-help attendants. How can that be cost effective? Surely one person, employed to replace a ticket roll and empty the machine, is a cheaper option than four people required to placate angry shoppers. Not to mention the cameras at bumper level that have been installed and connected to the state of the art machines that are causing all the angst amongst Horsham’s happy crowd.

Now, before any Horshamites take umbrage I’d like to make it clear that I have nothing against Horsham. I’m not criticising the place: it’s a perfectly nice town. It has all the shops you’d expect plus plenty of cafes and eateries. There is a bandstand around which several market stalls sell a range of produce. The buildings are a mix of old, not so old and new. I just don’t like their parking system. (Or the ring road but then to be fair, most places have one of those).  I’d still like to know what makes it a happier place to live than say, Guildford, which seems to me to be a reasonably happy place to be. Let’s just hope our Borough Council doesn’t adopt this Smart Park idea. Happiness could plummet over night.




The Easter break has arrived, the work-related course is finished, my completed portfolio with every T crossed and every I dotted is winging its way to be moderated.  The pressure of homework has lifted and I’m feeling a little sense of freedom, unlike my students who should be furiously revising for their forthcoming exams. Time to roam with camera in hand and appreciate some local sites while the sun’s out and the wind is blowing.

Rather than use the busy A3 road when I drive to Guildford, I take a shorter, more rural route which was probably the old original way, weaving as it does from the village of Compton up to the Hogs Back. It’s called Down Lane but as I’m approaching it from the bottom end, so to speak, I always go up Down Lane which never fails to amuse me. I’m easily pleased.

However, there is something rather special about Down Lane. A local treasure nestles here amongst the Surrey Hills, surrounded by fields and partially hidden by high hedges. I drive by frequently, have visited several times and marvelled but I’ve never taken pictures until now. This place should be shared, after all.


Built from local red brick and completed in 1904, The Watts Chapel is approached from a lych gate along a twisty, uphill cobblestone path sheltered by giant yew trees. It’s an unusual, almost incongruous building, in a village where so many of the houses date back some five hundred years. Drawing nearer it is apparent that this little chapel is a testament to Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts Movement.


It was the brainchild of Mary Seton Watts, wife of the Victorian painter George Frederic Watts (more about him later) who designed and decorated the chapel with the help of around seventy eager Compton villagers: a true and very early community art project.



Detail of brick work on the arch above the oak door

The outside is adorned with intricate stylised brick work, each finished by a local hand, probably an attendee at one of Mary’s Thursday evening pottery classes. The faces on the stone work are all different; the feeling that this was a collaborative effort is reinforced. Either side of the main entrance are two curved stone benches in Art Nouveau style, the mossy patina only enhancing their design.


But it is inside the small circular chapel where the extent of Mary’s mission can be fully appreciated. I’d defy anyone not to gasp as the full impact of her vision comes into view as light floods in through the tall narrow windows throwing rainbow beams across the heavily decorated walls.


It is here that Mary has brought together angels of darkness and light, heaven and earth intertwined by the tree of life with its roots at the bottom and the branches curling ever skyward to embrace the angels nearest to heaven.



The centre of the ceiling with four angels pointing heavenwards

Many of the floral decorations around the mid rail were created by children under Mary’s guidance; her tree was fashioned from chicken wire and covered in plaster then painted in the same vibrant jewel colours that we can see today.


The altar carries an inscription and dedication from Mary to the people of Compton. Today the chapel is used for funerals – there is a lone bell reserved for such an occasion. The tolling of the iron bell…


Outside in the cemetery, the chapel is surrounded by gravestones old and new, some of which follow the Arts and Crafts design. George and Mary Watts are buried here, in front of the magnificent Cloisters. A simple gravestone marks the place.


The Cloisters


The gravestone of George and Mary Watts. He died in 1904 just as the chapel was completed; Mary died in 1938.



Detail of iron gateway to the Cloisters


Headstone in typical Art Nouveau style


Arts and Crafts headstone among spring flowers


Mary and George Watts had settled in a house, Limnerslease, just across the hill from the chapel in the early 1880’s. George Watts was already an established Victorian painter so he was able to fund the building of the chapel for the village of Compton by selling commissioned portraits.  He opened his own gallery – The Watts Gallery (as it is known today) – in Down Lane to display his paintings. Mary concentrated on her pottery – she had been a student at the Slade school of Art and was already forging her own style before she met George.

The gallery, which was recently the subject of complete restoration thanks to some lottery funding, is a testament to George’s prolific output as a painter. He was heralded in his lifetime but was never part of any one particular group or movement. His paintings are typical of the period – stern looking portraits, Italianate landscapes and dead animals. Not my particular cup of tea but definitely worth a look.

So, Down Lane is more than just my shortcut into town – it conceals this beautiful legacy to the Arts and Crafts Movement as well as a gallery full of noted Victorian paintings.  Imagine my horror then, the last time I took this route, when confronted with these hideous carvings.


The residents of Down Lane have clearly let their association with the Watts’ go to their head. These hastily fashioned paintbrushes are, I presume, a nod to George. To me they look more like a left-over from one of those chainsaw competitions where tartan-shirted lumberjacks have to carve something recognisable within thirty seconds. And two more things about this irks me: part of an old hedge has had to be removed to make way for these monstrosities and the ghastly over-sized metal green sign is depicting Down Lane as anything BUT quiet. It looks monumentally busy, with children aimlessly wandering or cycling the middle of the road.


I‘m just off to make as much noise as possible and drive as recklessly as I can in the designated restriction free zone.

Happy Easter All!


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