Brit Wit

DINE and Destinations - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Vi­vian Vas­sos

Ec­cen­tric Eng­land

“Ec­cen­tric­ity ex­ists par­tic­u­larly in the English be­cause of that pe­cu­liar and sat­is­fac­tory knowl­edge of in­fal­li­bil­ity that is the hall­mark and the birthright of the Bri­tish na­tion” —DAME EDITH SITWELL, THE ENGLISH ECCENTRICS

Bub­bles and squeak. Spot­ted dick. Vic­to­ria and Al­bert. Okay, per­haps that last one might not sound as odd as the first two, but they are all in­dica­tive of our quirky English cousins. The ec­cen­tric­i­ties of a peo­ple that held sway over an em­pire around the globe and yet, with all that world­li­ness, they wrap fish and chips (that’s French fries, to you and me) in news­pa­per. Oh, and the po­tato chips that we know and love? In Eng­land, they call them crisps. Told you they’re ec­cen­tric.

Vic­to­ria and Al­bert may have been reign­ing mon­archs more than 100 years ago, but the royal cou­ple’s—and par­tic­u­larly Al­bert’s—pen­chant for ed­u­ca­tion, weird science and vis­ual art and de­sign fu­sion still sets the bar. Lon­don’s Vic­to­ria & Al­bert mu­seum, with its more than 2 mil­lion ob­jects, might just be the cra­zi­est cu­rio closet in the world. A cast of the fig leaf made for the mod­esty of the David, any­one?

En route to the Han­del & Hen­drix in Lon­don Mu­seum, note the his­toric May­fair neigh­bour­hood of tiny al­leys and turn-of-the-many-past­cen­turies mews near Hanover Square—it’s an ar­chi­tec­ture buff’s ad­ven­ture. You’ve ar­rived once you cross through a pe­tite court­yard—and if you’re savvy enough to spy the blue plaques on the mu­seum’s ex­te­rior (I, my­self, took a few wrong turns be­fore find­ing it, but who cares? This is Lon­don!). It’s ac­tu­ally two build­ings that share a wall, where both mu­si­cians lived; Ge­orge Frid­eric Han­del’s house at 25 Brook Street and Jimi Hen­drix’s flat at the top of 23. Han­del is best known for his Mes­siah, while Hen­drix is still lauded as a gui­tar mes­siah. Han­del so loved Bri­tain, he be­came a cit­i­zen and spent the rest of his life at 25 Brook. His home has been main­tained to re­flect how he lived and worked, in­clud­ing at the Royal Academy, in the 1700s. By con­trast, Hen­drix lived here for less than a year dur­ing 1968/69; the mu­si­cian dec­o­rated the flat him­self, ap­peared on the Hap­pen­ing for Lulu TV show (yes, To Sir with Love’s Lulu) and was sub­se­quently banned from ap­pear­ing on the Bbc—and per­formed back to back con­certs at The Royal Al­bert Hall. His bed­room has been re­stored with vin­tage finds, in­clud­ing from his favourite Por­to­bello Road flea mar­ket stalls, and his vast col­lec­tion of vinyl is also cat­a­logued.

And, speak­ing of cu­rio clos­ets, if you’ve ever watched an episode of Hoard­ers, you haven’t seen any­thing yet. The home/mu­seum of the ar­chi­tect Sir John Soanes has re­mained mostly un­touched—at his re­quest—since his death more than 180 years ago. He de­signed the Bank of Eng­land build­ing but it is his home/of­fice/ school for his stu­dents at num­bers 12, 13 and 14 Lin­coln’s Inn Field that has given him im­mor­tal­ity. Not far from Hol­born tube sta­tion, the row of homes is chock-a-block with ar­chi­tec­tural mod­els, casts and draw­ings, on the walls, floors, ceil­ings—there’s even the sar­coph­a­gus of Egypt’s Seti I. Ev­ery inch is uti­lized. You could spend hours feast­ing your eyes in th­ese nar­row rooms, es­pe­cially on Hog­a­rth’s A Rake’s

Progress, the story of the fic­tional Tom Rakewell that comes to life in eight paint­ings. www.vam.ac.uk; www.han­del­hen­drix.org; www.soane.org

Sir John Soanes' Home/mu­seum

Hen­drix's bed­room in Han­del & Hen­drix Mu­seum

Am­per­sand Ho­tel, Science Tea

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