Tuesday, 31 July 2012

It's a hard knock life...

...when you're on holiday in the Cayman Islands! I am having an absolutely fabulous time here - early morning swims, playing with my super-amazing nephew, spending some time with my sister and brother-in-law... and of course getting to see some of the sights of Grand Cayman too.

My nephew is seriously impressive - he's 6 and a half months old and is not only crawling (which he's been doing for the past month and a half already) but is also climbing absolutely everything he can, which includes the stairs, trying to get on the sofas and chairs (which luckily are a bit high for him to actually get onto) and mostly climbing up people. He managed to climb up me onto the sofa yesterday which was quite impressive. He's also started hitting your hand if you ask him to 'Gimme 5' and has such a huge smile and happy character.  I'm in love!

So, what have I been up to that has put the arts and crafts on hold for two weeks? Well... to start with plenty of visits to the beach, including Seven Mile Beach (yes, it's a white sandy beach and it's seven miles of beauty!) cocktails by a turquoise blue sea, swimming at the pool attached to my sister's condo and hanging out with the iguanas (including blue iguanas which are native to the Caymans).

But the highlights have been:

  • Meeting my dad's cousin who has lived here for the past 30-odd years. She's an absoloute fount of knowledge and a wealth of facts about the history, flora and fauna of the islands. She took my sister and myself on a small trip to see some bits off the beaten track - we went looking for Lucas and Pygmy Blue butterflies and learnt about house-shaped graves which are a feature of some of the graves around the mid 1800s. They are found all over the island but there's some speculation as to why people started using them. Ann Stafford, who runs CaymANNature has done a fair amount of research into it and has some really interesting facts and finds. She's an expert on the flora and fauna of the island as well and showed us some unusual places, well off the beaten track, where we saw different kinds of herons, a nesting hawk and lots of different kinds of butterfly, and she told us all about endemic plants and those that were introduced and how some places are now threatened due to roads and man encroaching on habitats. You should definitely go and look at the website and feel free to go and like the facebook page too.
  • Sting Ray City. Possibly the best part of my trip to Grand Cayman so far. We went out on Captain Marlin's boat for a 3 hour trip which had 3 stops - one in sting ray city, one at the barrier reef and one in the coral gardens. In Sting Ray City, you get to walk around on a sand bank about half an hour away from the main island. All around, and on, the sand bank are sting rays who are super friendly and just come up to you, brush against you and swim past looking for food. We got to feed them some squid and have photos taken with them, which included having to kiss one of the sting rays! They were so amazing and I was a bit like an excited child wading around looking to make friends with them.  The reef was really pretty, although it was slightly tempered by the fact that my mask was leaking and I couldn't adjust it enough to stop water coming through. But the coral gardens were amazing! There were thousands of tropical fish that we were swimming with - from Sergeant Majors to Blue Tangs, Angel Fish to Needlefish there were all sorts. And again we were given food to give to them - hand-feeding wild fish in their natural habitat was a really amazing experience and I would love to do it again. I was totally in awe of what I was seeing and having the opportunity to experience.
  • Swimming with dolphins. YES! I went swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Cove. Admittedly these dolphins are not wild (actually one of them is, but the others were bred there) although there is actually an entrance where they can get in or out if they wanted to. But they are fed pretty well and well looked-after so they stay where they are. We did the 'Ultimate' dolphin experience which meant that not only did we get to swim with them, stroke them, kiss them and get kissed, but we also got to swim by holding on to the dorsel fin of a dolphin on each side and they pull you through the water and, even more amazing, the 'toe-push'. You lie on your tummy with your legs locked and your feet facing down. Two dolphins come up behind you and push your feet with their noses, literally pushing you out of the water so that you have your torso and upper leg above the water. I got to do it twice as the first time I did it, Sally (one of the dolphins) didn't quite manage to get her nose onto my foot and I wasn't raised up out of the water. The next time both Sally and Lucia performed brilliantly and I ended up pretty much walking on water! It was great fun and such an brilliant experience. What a fabulous day!
  • Turtles! We went down to the Turtle Farm where they breed green sea turtles. Sea Turtles have a real issue with breeding as a number of the babies never make it to the sea and their natural breeding grounds are being destroyed by humans. At the farm they breed turtles, many of whom are released into the wild. I hadn't realised quite how large they can get - they are huge! And we got to hold some of the baby ones which was fun too. As well as the turtles, there were also some nurse sharks, various fish and a crocodile. Another fantastic experience. And I've seen lots of Cayman wildlife now. Yay!

So there you go - some of the highlights of my trip so far. I am having a fabulous time. Sorry for the lack of craft posts but...well you have to make the most of the time you have! I'll be back next week so don't worry, there'll be crafts and reviews aplenty very soon. 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

That Friday Feeling...Olympics

Wow, who else watched the Opening Ceremony on Friday? Wasn't it fantastic? From all the pre-opening cafuffles I was convinced it would be a total flop but I actually think that London has done us proud and that was a fantastic start to what will be some very exciting games. I've just watched Lizzie Armistead win silver for Team GB in the Women's Road Race and that last sprint down the mall had me at the edge of my seat nearly shouting at the TV! I'm in the Cayman Islands at the moment so wasn't there for the live event but I'm actually looking forward to going back and seeing what is happening.
Anyway, here's this week's finds from Etsy - there are some fabulous things and as always I really recommend you go over and do your own searching.

Feel patriotic with this lovely tote bag by CraftStall

I have one of GreenGrass2's change pouches and love it. How about this Summer Olympic print one?
Have an Olympic themed picnic and don't forget the cupcake toppers by papergravystore

Today's random facts for you...

  • The Olympic rings represent the 5 major areas of the world (Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania) and the colours represent every flag in the world - all flags have at least one of the 5 Olympic colours in their flags.
  • Gold medals haven't been made of pure gold for nearly 100 years - they are actually silver with gold plating.
  • Mahatma Gandhi covered the Olympics as a news reporter at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.
  • At the first Modern Olympics, silver medals were the top prize and winners were also presented with an Olive branch. There were bronze medals for second place but nothing for third.
  • In the 1900 Paris Olympics, winners were presented with paintings instead of medals! - To be fair they were probably more valuable.
  • The first drug suspension at the Olympics was in 1968 when a Swedish pentathlete tested positive for a banned substance: alcohol. He drank several beers before participating. The idea of doing a pentathlon drunk is pretty daunting to start with!
  • The 1908 London Olympics lasted 187 days - they started in April and didn't end till October.
  • An American gymnast, George Eyser won 6 medals in the 1904 Olympics (3 gold, 2 silver and a bronze). Pretty impressive, but even more so because he had a wooden leg!
  • The Olympics have never been held in Africa, South America or Antarctica. The US has hosted the games 8 times (including summer and winter games) and London is hosting the games for the third time. 
So there you are - I am sure there are plenty of other random facts but those were the ones I found most interesting. Oh and there are a number of sports that haven't managed to survive - my favourite being pistol duelling.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Reading A Little More...July 2012

I think I may have been doing the Reading Recommendation posts for nearly a year now, although I have to admit that I have been incredibly slack with them this year. That is because I haven't really had the chance to read much recently - I've been going to lots of exhibitions, have been getting ready for various craft fairs, been making all sorts of things and generally trying to be more active. Anyway, this month I have been a little more prolific in my reading and am doing a second recommendation post this month. Have you read either of these? And what did you think? 

The Prince of Mist - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Wow. I loved this. I've read Shadows of the Wind and really enjoyed that so I opened this thinking there was a good chance of liking it. It is incredibly different though. This is a gripping story that had me reading well into the small hours, unable to put it down. It is written with very childlike language as it is from the perspective of Max, the main protagonist, who is just 13. His family move to a cottage by the sea because of the war and, from the moment that they get there, things are not quite right. The clocks move in a funny way, there is a mystery surrounding the cottage that they have moved to, a recurring symbol is found in various places and then strange events start occurring. It is down to Max and his sister Alicia to find out what is really happening, and whether they can prevent events from taking a horrific turn. The novel rapidly turns from a safe, beautifully written tale into a horror story. The simplicity of the language serves to make it even more scary - it seems to emphasise just how awful the events are and make it even worse. As the reader you find yourself dragged into the story, predicting what may happen next and hoping against hope that it won't. An incredibly powerful story that I would really recommend. Oh and it's fairly short so won't take you forever.

The Secret Life of Bees - Susan Monk Kidd

Lily shot her mother when she was four years old in a freak accident. And she's still learning to live with that. In the summer of 1964, Lily suddenly has to reassess her life as she knows it when Rosaleen, the black kitchen help who has been doing the cooking and cleaning since her mother died, is arrested and beaten up. Lily takes action and the two find themselves hiding out at a bee-keeping farm. There Lily begins to start questioning her beliefs and what she has always assumed to be true, and learns a lot about herself in the process. This started quite slowly and it took a while before I got into it properly; I initially thought it was a bit of a 'oh woe is me, I know, I'll get some self-help' type of book, which isn't generally my cup of tea. But actually it wasn't. What it did was give you a warm fuzzy feeling towards the characters, who are all flawed in their own way, and one of the central events had me suddenly really wanting everything to be okay and turn out with a happily ever after ending. It's well-written and the pace does change and get faster as the book progresses. It has happiness, peace, sadness and tragedy - a little bit of everything all put together into a lovely combination which mixes a range of characters with a coming of age story. As I said, it took a while to get into it, but I enjoyed it in the end. 

Friday, 20 July 2012

That Friday Feeling...Turtles

Woohooo! It's Friday 20th July and today is not only the last day of school, it's my last day at work! Tomorrow morning I will be jumping on a plane and heading out to the Cayman Islands to go and spend 2 weeks with my sister, brother-in-law and my gorgeous little nephew. I know it's only tomorrow but seriously... I CAN'T WAIT!!! One of the things that the Cayman Islands are famous for is Green Sea Turtle Farm - which breeds green sea turtles and releases them into the wild every year. At any one time there may be approximately 16,000 turtles at the farm so today's post is dedicated to turtles. Yay. I still have plans to make a turtle mosaic at some point, but I haven't yet managed to get around to it... one day! Anyway, on to some things that I have found on Etsy this week...

Cute turtle necklace by JewelleryByZM
Fun turtle themed cushion by LuniqueUK

Love this cute little amigurimi crochet turtle by LuvlyGurimi

What little snippets can I find for you today? 

  • Most turtles cannot retract their head into their carapace (shell)
  • Green sea turtles are named that after the colour of their skin, not their shells.
  • Green sea turtles can stay underwater for up to 5 hours. However if they are kept underwater for too long, they will drown. Awww, poor turtles. 
  • Turtles can become obese - if food is around they will just keep eating whether or not they are hungry. This results either in them vomiting into the water or putting on loads of fat. Who knew?
  • The first known turtles existed about 200 million years ago. Nowadays there are about 300 species of turtle. They exist in all continents bar Antarctica but tend to prefer warmer water.
  • Turtles can store sperm, which means that they can produce fertilised eggs up to 4 years after mating. 
  • The smallest turtle is the Speckled Padloper at 4 inches while the largest is the Leatherback Sea Turtle which can reach 10 foot.
  • Aquatic turtles must be in water to be able to eat.
  • Sea turtles can swim up to 35mph and some land turtles can outrun an average human.
  • This week's YouTube had to come from Finding Nemo... 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Some talented kids

It isn't just me who's leaving my school at the end of this week; our head teacher is retiring as well. So all the children across the school have been making presents for her. My year group decided to make a mosaic... which meant that over the past few weeks, 60 children have all had to don goggles and arm themselves with glass cutters to cut and fix the pieces. They designed the mosaic themselves, chose the colours (our head's favourite colour is green) and made it all. The only thing that I have done on this was instructing them how to do it and grouting it.

We had a bit of an issue when the first mirror didn't have the right adhesive. I was in the middle of polishing it up post-grouting when... SMASH! It fell out. I was in the classroom with my class at the time, who all sharply drew in their breath and went 'uhh!' Knowing how much work the children have put in to the project, it took a lot of self-control not to scream and burst into tears on their behalf, but luckily I managed to keep it together, calmly clear up all the pieces and then rang around to see if someone could cover my class while I ran to a hardware store to replace it. Anyway, the second mirror has been fitted properly and we gave it to her on Monday. What do you think of their work? I am seriously impressed with how good this looks - they even chose the order of the colours, got all the pieces the right size and helped sealing it properly. We have some fabulous kids in year 6! 

Friday, 13 July 2012

That Friday Feeling...Summer

One more week before I go off on my summer holiday... Wimbledon is over, the Olympics are nearly upon us and it's about time I stopped avoiding the whole season theme and embraced the fact that we may not actually get a proper summer. So in order to encourage the weather to be a little nicer, this week's theme is dedicated to summer. Obviously I am going for the sunny side of summer, not the more temperamental side which we see all to often in this country. Come on sunshine - you can do it! Maybe if we all just concentrate on long summer days the weather will improve? Here are some bright summery things I found on Etsy this week.

Smell fresh and lovely with this summer sun soap by Scentcosmetics

Cute and summery magnet pegs by jellybeanstudio

Definitely thinking of summer with this print by TonyMax

Today's random 'facts' (as always, take them with a slight pinch of salt... I'm not really an expert!)

  • The first swimsuits were designed by the Ancient Greeks in 350BC. The first ladies' bathing suits were introduced in the early 1800s - they were dresses with woollen bloomers underneath to weight them down. At the time women didn't do more swimming than the occasional paddle or jump of a wave and it would have been inexcusable to have a sun tan.
  • The hottest British summer on record was in 1976 when the average temperature was 17.8 celsius, the coldest was in 1725 when the average was 13.1 degrees.
  • The Eiffel Tower grows in the summer! On hot days the iron expands so much that the whole tower can grow up to 17cm taller. 
  • In 1816 North Eastern US and Canada did not have any summer at all - in fact they had snow and icy winds for an entire year. It was most likely due to a volcano eruption in what is now Indonesia, disrupting weather patterns. 
  • The Chinese invented and wore the first pairs of sunglasses more than 2000 years ago.
  • According to scientific experiments, an average single scoop of ice cream in a cone takes 50 licks to consume. I need to test this one myself...

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Edvard Munch at the Tate Modern

On Monday I mentioned that I had been to see Edvard Munch at the Tate Modern the day after it opened. And so I did. As that was already two weeks ago, it's about time I shared my thoughts, right? 

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye

What I liked most about this exhibition was... there were no references to The Scream. We all know Munch primarily because of that one painting and there is so much more to him than that. I really loved this exhibition, although I knew I would as I am a fan of his generally. But, as with all exhibitions at the Tate, I found myself learning more about Munch as an artist and discovering aspects of his work that I hadn't known about before. In this instance, it's Munch's photography and videography work. He was really interested in the ideas of something beyond the tangible world and his photos really capture this; they play with exposures, focus and light creating a sense of 'other worldliness' that was quite magical. In some of his photos, you get the impression that there really is something else there, and, while you know that it's because he has double-exposed it, you still wonder what that blur in the background really is. 

The exhibition covers 12 rooms and each room shows a different aspect of his work. I hadn't realised how often Munch had revisited the same paintings, sometimes changing the background, sometimes the expression on the faces, sometimes the clarity with which the painting was focused. It was fascinating seeing how Munch's work changed over the decades but came back to similar themes. In the room 'Optical Space' I was struck with how the figures in his paintings seem to be attempting to escape, how they come out towards you and how the perspectives are changed to create movement within the piece. I absolutely loved his wood carvings - especially the self-portrait one at the start of the exhibition. 

Munch is well-known for his images of alienation, but this exhibition showed a more personal side to the artist; we saw the difficulty of trying to cope with his anxieties, the recurring theme of the fight he had with a young artist who accused him of a lack of patriotism, his attempt to reconcile himself with his sister's death and the emotional turmoil he clearly went through. I was really impressed with how Munch had kept up with the latest scientific discoveries and how he had depicted them in his own work (often through photographs), how well he knew himself (as seen in the copious self-portraits) and how he used his choice of medium to show his emotional state. I really enjoyed this and came out wondering why people tend to think of Munch only for 'The Scream'  - I really like Vampire, Starry Night, his self-portraits and love his woodcarvings. Another brilliant exhibition that is definitely worth a visit. 

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye

Tate Modern, London
28th June - 14th October
Tickets: £14 (free for members)

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern

Last week I shared some of my thoughts on the Picasso exhibition that is currently still running at the Tate Britain. As I have fairly recently become a (long overdue) member of the Tate, I have been taking advantage of the fact that members don't need to pay to get into the exhibitions. In just over a week I had made my membership pay for itself and now I have a year to look forward to free exhibitions, discounts and lots of fabulous art! Yay! 

Anyway, back to the actual subject... 

The week before last (on the 29th June to be precise) we went for a late evening at the Tate Modern. It's open until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays so we decided to go and see Damien Hirst. Once we had been round his exhibition, we decided to have some dinner and go on to see Edvard Munch which had only just opened the day before. As I have a fair amount to say about both exhibitions, I've broken it down... today you get my thoughts about Damien Hirst.

Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern

I've always been a bit dubious about Damien Hirst... I think it probably started when I first heard about his work. I must have been about 15 and it was around the time when he won the Turner Prize and all the controversy that came with it. The idea of animals being preserved in formaldehyde and being presented as 'art' has always been a little bit of a stickler for me as it just isn't my cup of tea really. So, while I did really want to see the Damien Hirst exhibition because I felt there was probably more to his work than what I had presumed, I also went with a slight sense of trepidation as to whether I would actually like what I saw. I have to say, there is a lot more to his art than just pickling a few dead animals. In fact that would be reducing his work to something inane and worthless. Whereas now, having seen his work, what I actually interpret from those particular pieces is the attempt to bridge the gap between art and science, showing that one can be both at the same time. I would not have come to that thought if it hadn't been for seeing some of his other works. I think Hirst is someone who you need to see as a 'whole' as opposed to selected pieces. Seeing his room of pharmaceuticals juxtaposed with pots of honey made me consider the merging between man-made, synthetic cures with those provided by nature. The vitrines (glass fronted display cases - I learnt a new word) full of tablets and pills set at regular intervals along mirrored shelves with a mirrored backdrop were so precise and amazingly well put together that I stood transfixed, searching for a pattern that I couldn't find but mesmerised with the details and how they worked as a whole. 

Similarly I loved his 'Spot Paintings' which use colour and form in such a bright, but yet controlled manner. And then there are the butterflies... I loved the exhibition 'In and Out of Love' - two rooms, one with huge canvases painted in a single colour with dead butterflies stuck onto the surface (I loved the canvases and the colours, not the dead butterflies), the second a humid atmosphere with live butterflies flying around the room. They were amazing! The idea behind them show Damien Hirst's continual revisiting to the themes of life and death and, while I'm not sure that a room of live butterflies is really art, I was held for quite a while and did spend a lot of time going 'oooh, look at that one!' Towards the end of the exhibition, the butterflies reappear - this time arranged into patterns that are again precise and complex. Butterfly wings are arranged in different patterns on a huge scale. Some remind the viewer of buddhist mandalas while on the opposite wall there is a triptych reminding us of traditional church stained glass windows. Again, Hirst has returned to the themes of life and death in such an innovative and unusual manner that you can't help but look and look. I have to say, I have totally changed my mind about Damien Hirst. I dislike the vitrines of animals, but there is so much more to his work than that which hits the papers. I am seriously impressed with his dedication to detail, structure and form (not to mention the number of cigarette butts he has collected over the years) and will be looking out for his work in the future. I can't say I 'enjoyed' the exhibition - there were a lot of parts that I actively disliked, but I have a new-found respect for Hirst and I loved other parts of the exhibition. Again, totally worth a visit and I'm very glad that I finally did go and learn more about him. 

Damien Hirst
Tate Modern
4th April - 9th September 2012
Tickets: £14 (free for members) 

Monday, 9 July 2012

Reading A Little...July 2012

I live in a flat that is piled high with books and the only question I ever have is: which book shall I read next? I'm lucky enough to live with a literary agent who shares similar reading interests to myself, which means that I always have book recommendations and there are plenty of books around for me to choose. And recently I had a great recommendation: Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson. I read it before it had been officially released, and what's more, last week I got to go to the book launch as well. It was up in Stoke Newington and over the course of the day, the entire novel was read by a mixture of actors, volunteers, Kerry herself and... well my flatmate and me. We weren't able to go till after work so I only caught the last few chapters, but luckily I'd already read it so knew what had passed and what was to come. Didn't mean I was any better at reading aloud in front of lots of people - I stammered and fell all over the place. But it was a great afternoon/evening, I got to meet the author and I really enjoyed the experience. 

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma - Kerry Hudson

This novel is set around the Ryan family: Iris (Ma), Janie and Tiny (Tiffany), and winds its way from Aberdeen to Great Yarmouth, via plenty of council estates and dodgy B&Bs. The main protagonist is Janie; the novel starts with her birth and being surrounded by her relatives, whose breakfast you can smell on their breaths, and it's mostly of the alcohol variety. I can't exactly say this is a heart-warming story as it's based on what life is like at the bottom of the pile for those trying to scrape by on benefits, loans and what can be scavenged before managing to get away as the rent collector starts knocking at the door. It shows the gritty, seedy side of life where dreams are things that people who are better off can have - there isn't room for them if you are a Ryan woman. It's a hard life for Janie; while Uncle Frankie helps out when he can, Janie grows up knowing that food is in short supply, you take what you can and it's often better not to ask too many questions. 

The novel is hard-hitting but in such a manner as to defy pity: Janie has a potty-mouth if ever there was one, she's a tough little cookie who you know can look after herself. You find yourself rooting for Janie, and praying that she'll manage to escape the all-too-apparent cycle that you can see her falling into before she's even got to school. And of course school doesn't make it any easier - she is told not to bother aspiring to anything because no one from her background has ever managed to get out of the cycle and she won't either. In the later chapters of the book you become more and more uneasy as you sense the inevitable hurtling towards her, hoping that she'll break away. At the same time, as a reader you are touched by the fleeting glimpses of emotion that you are privy to; the Ryan women may make out that they are hard as nails, but the scenes of them curled up together for warmth or to protect each other are, at times, heart-breaking. They are what make the story so touching, and what make you hope that somehow there will be a happy ending after all. 

It's a gripping story of what life really is like for some people, and it's not entirely fictional either. Kerry Hudson, like Janie, was born in Aberdeen and spent the early years of her life moving between estates, B&Bs and caravan parks so a lot of the material for this novel has come from first hand experience. It's a story that leaves you wanting to know more; it's written in such an engaging, matter-of-fact tone that you find yourself enjoying it, despite the fairly dark content. I for one want to know what happens to Janie after the story has ended and will definitely be looking out for more work by Kerry Hudson. A really good read that I really enjoyed and would recommend.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

That Friday Feeling...Wimbledon

Andy Murray has made it to the finals!!! And tomorrow I shall be glued to the TV rooting for him to be the first British man to win the Gentlemen's Final since 1936 (or was it 1937?) Anyway, a Brit (or Scot) hasn't won Wimbledon for a LOOOOOONG time so I am crossing my fingers that Murray has a day like the last few matches where he suddenly makes a great comeback and provides an incredible game. Whether he or Federer win, what I'm fairly sure is that tomorrow's game will be pretty exciting. There could be no other theme for today - there was never a question about it. Today's post is dedicated to Wimbledon - tennis is pretty much the only sport I actually enjoy watching enough to get excited about so I thought I'd find some cute things on Etsy for you related to the sport. Here's this week's finds:

Cute card by YourMumRang

Who cares about Caesar when there's tennis? Keychain by riskybeads

Love this rubber stamp set by brownpigeon

As always, a few random little facts for you...

  • The first Wimbledon championship was in 1877, it consisted of solely Gentlemen's Singles and was won by Spencer Gore.
  • The first non-European winner of Wimbledon was May Sutton from the US who won the Ladies Singles in 1905.
  • The first non-British man to win at Wimbledon was Australian Norman Brookes in 1907.
  • 1200 seats were lost in Centre Court during WWII after it was hit by not one, but 5 500lb bombs. Luckily play was suspended between 1940-1945 so no one was actually there. Play started again in 1946 but the courts weren't fully restored until 1949.
  • The last time someone used a wooden tennis racket at Wimbledon was in 1987. 
  • The fastest serves on record were from Taylor Dent (149mph) and Venus Williams (129mph)
  • About 250 ball boys and ball girls work during the tournament and have to go through all sorts of tests to be deemed suitable. The average age of a ball boy or girl is 15
  • In 1985 Boris Becker made history by a) being the youngest male player to win Wimbledon (he was 17), b) being the first German winner and c) being the first unseeded player to win.
  • Players MUST wear white to play - Anna Kournikova was ordered to change in 2002 when she was seen practising in black shorts, and Andre Agassi refused to play the tournament between 1988 - 1990 because of the dress code.
  • The longest game played at Wimbledon was between Mahut and Isner in 2010. It lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes and was played over 3 days. Isner eventually won but was promptly knocked out in the next round. The score was: 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70 - 68
  • The last British male winner was Fred Perry in 1936 and the last British ladies winner was Virginia Wade in 1977.
  • Strawberries and cream are as much a part of the Wimbledon tradition as watching the sport itself. On average 28,000 kilos of strawberries and 7,000 litres of cream are consumed during the tournament.
  • Just outside the courts there is a mound with a huge TV screen used by potential spectators. It's been known as Henman Hill for years after Tim Henman, but since he retired it's been renamed Murray's Mound after Andy Murray. (Go Murray!)
  • The first official colour TV broadcast in the United Kingdom was Wimbledon in 1967 by the BBC (who have always had the TV rights to live footage and do until 2014)
  • Wimbledon is the only grand slam played on grass. 
  • My computer isn't working very well with videos at the moment so I'm hoping that today's youtube clip will actually work... 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Picasso at the Tate Britain

What I love about living in London is the galleries and museums. There are so many different places of interest to visit that we are literally spoiled for choice. Less than 5 minutes walk from my flat is the V&A Museum of Childhood, while just up the road there is the Geffrye Museum. Brick Lane always has some artsy exhibitions going on and the Whitechapel Gallery is one of my favourite spaces (although I do get lost EVERY time I go in there!!) Over the past few months I seem to have been going to a lot of exhibitions at art galleries and museums. Some of them have been with work (Natural History Museum, Portrait Gallery) but more of them have been because I'm actually doing something with myself at the weekends as opposed to just sitting around doing not very much. 

It's probably about time I started sharing some of my thoughts and ideas about some of the exhibitions I've been to with you... So over the next few weeks, I think there'll be some posts about exhibitions that I've visited and what I've thought of them. I should warn you: I've recently joined the Tate - very overdue as it's always my first choice of gallery to show visitors, and in the past week I've seen three of their major exhibitions, so the first few posts will invariably be centred around the Tate Galleries...

Picasso and Modern British Art at the Tate Britain

The largest of the three exhibitions I have been to recently (we must have spent at least an hour and a half going around it before even thinking about the rest of the Tate), was the Picasso and Modern British Art exhibition at the Tate Britain. Spread over 12 large rooms this exhibition documents not only Picasso's work, showing how he was influenced by the world around him, how his work matured, changed, returned to the same themes... but also included rooms with artists influenced by Picasso. There was a room with paintings by Picasso alongside sculptures by Henry Moore, whose work has such a sensual and smooth finish, I would never have considered a connection. I was seriously amazed to see quite how clearly Moore was influenced by Picasso's work - some of his sculptures have almost identical lines to Picasso's 2D interpretations of his subjects. It was absolutely fascinating. I would never have realised Francis Bacon was so influenced by Picasso, but again, seeing them together it suddenly becomes so apparent, as well as works by David Hockney, Wyndham Lewis and Ben Nicholson. Actually Ben Nicholson came as no surprise; he's an artist who seems to have jumped on every art-movement bandwagon there was and, having seen the Mondrian-Nicholson exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery a few weeks ago, I'm beginning to wonder if he actually had his own personal style. I really loved seeing how Picasso's work changed over the decades, how he matured, changed and carved his own niche in art. I also learnt about a whole side of Picasso's art that I simply had never heard of before visiting the exhibition: in the early 20th Century (around 1917), he became very much involved with the Ballet Russes and Diaghilev (which I knew), and designed not just the scenery backdrops for the stage but also the costumes as well for some of the productions. There were some reproductions of the costumes on display (dating from the 1940s as the originals have been lost/destroyed) and sketches of the characters' costumes. I think that may have been the point where my estimation of Picasso just went through the roof - I've always loved all the cubism works and the portraits with the double profiles are so clever and interesting, but that he was so diverse in his work was something I hadn't really considered before. There were even some of his sculptures on display which you very rarely get a chance to see. I know everyone raves about Picasso (well, apart from the people who hate his work) but they really are worth listening to. This exhibition has definitely made me realise just how much he has influenced British Art over the past century and how he is continuing to do so. I thought it was fantastic, well put together and really really interesting. I love Picasso's style (especially the cubism work from the 1910s and 1920s) and have become far more aware of how important he has been for modern art. The exhibition is in it's final weeks so if you haven't seen it yet (and are in/around London) you really should go - it's definitely worth the entrance fee. 

Picasso and Modern British Art
Tate Modern
15th February - 15th July 2012
Tickets: £14 (or free if you are a member)

Monday, 2 July 2012

A week away with the kids

Ha ha - that sounds like I have my own kids... But I am a class teacher and 2 weeks ago I went with 3 other teachers and 41 children for a week's residential trip out in the countryside of Essex. I work in an inner city school, with children who have very few opportunities and have certainly not been out into the countryside for any extended time. It was such an amazing experience for them and, while I was dreading it before going, we had a fantastic time. We stayed in a big country house, we did activities such as archery, bike riding, campfire cooking, scavenger hunts and we went on some great long walks, took the children to a visit to Stansted Mountfitchett Castle (It's a motte-and-bailey reproduction) and had them feeding animals from their hands. It was a fantastic week, and bar the sleepless nights, we had a great time. Thought I'd share a few photos with you.


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