Skip to content

Soaring Over Salisbury: Arts Festival Aerialists

May 23, 2011

Mary Poppins, you’ve got company: These Salisbury International Arts Fest performers suggest a new way to see southern  England. Formerly Sarum, Salisbury is home to the famous 13th-century Gothic cathedral of the name. A nearby grassy knoll (no relation to JFK) marks the site of its Norman predecessor, built 200 years earlier and abandoned for geographic reasons, like bad weather and a lack of nearby water sources:

Cathedral ruins at "Old Sarum," Salisbury's Norman predecessor.

Salisbury’s charming town center still boasts streets named for medieval uses, like Butcher Row and Fisherton and Penny-Farthing Streets. (Not sure what was located on Blue Boar Row…)

Old Salisbury Center

Front-row seats, riverside.

It was from a riverside inn in Salisbury that my family munched on jam-slathered breakfast toast—served in a proper rack, of course—as we watched the hotel’s straightbacked septuagenarian waiter scatter leftover crusts for the resident swans, a mother and her adolescent cygnets.

Elegant they may be, but these birds were no patsies, he solemnly informed us. Shortly after they hatched, a fox had begun menacing the nest, eating a baby or two. Then, a week before our visit, he had watched as the mother swan grabbed and drowned the fox!

Note to fox: "Cave Swanem"


Bad Wedding Hat Can Finally Do Some Good

May 11, 2011
credit: Mark Cuthbert/Abaca
Beatrice: Improper topper?

Surely, this is the haberdasher’s equivalent of “making a silk purse from a sow’s ear:” Royal granddaughter Beatrice of York is also making lemons from lemonade by auctioning for charity her much mocked “fascinator” from the Wills-and-Kate nuptials. Apparently, it was that or lend it as a life raft for Somali pirates.

Mayan à la mode?

Her unfortunate headwear “instantly became the focus of several Facebook fan pages” on the wedding day, reported People, alluding demurely to thousands of comments that (reported more frankly elsewhere) compared it to antlers, broadcast antennae and “a uterus and fallopian tubes.”  The hat’s designer calls it “21st-century,” but I detect rather a Mayan influence.

Let’s open the bidding at a thousand. Do I hear one thousand pounds?

Beatrice and her sister, Eugenie, also sporting a zoo of a hat, were escorted to the wedding by d0ting father Prince Andrew, the queen’s son and uncle to the groom. Their scandal-plagued mother, Sarah Ferguson, Andrew’s ex-wife, was not invited.

Fergie—known less for a grasp of royal protocol than for dieting, tacky affairs, financial missteps and flogging her royal connections like a carpet dealer in a bazaar—was the one who, in a rare moment of media savvy, reportedly suggested selling the hat to benefit UNICEF. In publicity terms, that surely is making a silk purse from a sow’s ear!

Beatrice photo credit: Mark Cuthbert/Abaca

Royal Kiss, Bin Laden Dead: Best Front Page Ever?

May 10, 2011

Smarty-pants that I am, I was sure when I saw this that it was Photoshopped — the events happened, after all, about 60 hours apart. Then I realized this is a weekly edition.

So, best ever? The Atlantic‘s James Fallows so dubs it. And those old-school masters of reticence over at HuffPo are running a poll on it. (Slogan: “Others report. Huffington posts. You decide.”)

True-Life Confession: Sleeping Through the #! Royal! Wedding!

April 26, 2011

This is hard for an AngloFile to admit, but swag notwithstanding, I cannot seem to get all goo-goo-eyed about Kate & Wills, Wills & Kate, hashtag-Royal-Wedding. Only a fool of a blogger would allow this entire month of pre-nuptial hoopla to pass without jumping on the meme, snagging a radio appearance or two, grandstanding online with intimate “knowledge” about the charming couple, or at a minimum (given what an egghead I can be), offering a historical retrospective on British royal knot-tying.

Hitched: George V and Mary.

Well, color me F.O.O.L.

Now, I’m not completely alone in “dreading the wedding.” But I’ll wager I have more company among jaded Brits than starry-eyed Yankees, like the abject American participants in this snarky BBC America reality series:

Royally Mad, BBC America

Royally Mad: Enough to drive you ... barmy?

Maybe I’m still irradiated by the Fukushima-like fallout of my own generation’s “fairy tale” couple, whose wedding-day photos just make me feel … sad.

I am actually far more optimistic for the union of their son and Ms. Middleton (“Waitie Katie,” a.k.a., Cat the Commoner). The couple are older, for one thing—well, she is—and better acquainted, after years of friendship. Also, both have college degrees, which statistically bodes better for their marriage. And the queen and her retinue, sensitized by years of social disaster, seem to be welcoming the new in-law into the fold, or as some would have it, The Firm.

Still, I just can’t buy into it, “buy” being an all too operative word here. (NBC is selling a royal monogram logo on, Lord help us, a 44-cent United States postage stamp!) While the couple’s affection may be real enough, the whole affair has been utterly staged, stylized and slickly packaged for international consumption. One socialite’s dig on smiley, cosmeticked, orthodontic Kate: She seems excessively “American.”

So, sue me if I don’t feel a need to be boost The Firm’s Neilsens. I can’t see the point in losing sleep to listen to breathless hired TV commentators (“As long as you have an English accent, you’ll work,” one producer tells the New York Times.) Even Wills, himself, I can’t help but feel, is taking a hit for his family. Wouldn’t he probably rather marry in the chapel at St. Andrews college and head off in obscurity to a nice warm island?

But he, and we, know the importance of stagecraft for reviving the fortunes of his beleaguered family in a nosy, shabby republican age. So the couple press together their pancaked cheeks for the cameras and flash the giant bling. She’ll wear a tiara on the Special Day, for which even faux-populist P.M. Cameron will don tails. It may rain, but (hundreds of?) thousands will watch from the streets and pricey rented flats, while millions look on (beginning 4 a.m. in my time zone) from dens and bedrooms.

Me? I’ll sleep in and catch it in reruns.

My Own Piece of the Kate & Wills Wedding

April 18, 2011

Merchandise me! My friend, Melinda, of Plum Party, specializes in predicting party trends. And nothing’s more happening right now than crack-of-dawn shindigs to watch Kate and William tie the knot via telly.

Royal Wedding goods are flying out her virtual door. For instance, these tea bags are hot (pun intended).

I love the way the artist even captured that adorable receding hairline.

To dab at (stiff) upper lips during breakfast (which should be beans on toast, fried egg and tomato and kippers, if you want to do it right−save those scones for high tea), use these elegant paper napkins. They’re the ones the royal family will be using. (Kidding!)

But a true AngloFile like me needs something more permanent to mark such a special day. How better than with crockery? It was good enough to commemorate the (ill-fated) coronation of Edward VIII, as with this shaving mug I picked up a few years back at a consignment shop up the road.

Edward VIII Coronation Mug

See where my son broke the handle, by throwing something across the room? He was most contrite. (Again: Kidding, about the contrite part.)

Ceramic plates were also favorites for the (likewise ill-fated) wedding of this royal icon:

But hope springs eternal, and Krazy Glue fixes all. So, I placed my order with a traveling relative for a royal wedding plate, giving her carte blanche as to choice of design. Here is what she brought me from London.

I’ll be using it for scones, though, since I don’t really like kippers.

Dishy Di courtesy of Misocrazy via Flickr.

Tate Modern: Museum as Megaphone

April 9, 2011

Museums love talking

about “political statements.” They rarely make them, though−certainly not as overtly as the  Tate Modern, among others, did this week. Following the lead of New York’s Guggenheim Foundation, the Tate devoted prime roof-edge real estate to a banner on behalf of Ai WeiWei, whose ceramic Sunflower Seeds currently cover the floor of the museum’s Turbine Hall. The renowned “social sculptor,” also an outspoken critic of his government, was grabbed this week by Chinese authorities for vaguely enumerated “economic crimes.”

Release Ai WeiWei blared the sign dangling from the Tate roof, a former power plant — real estate more commonly reserved for names of currently running exhibits:









The Guggenheim expressed “disappointment in China’s reluctance to live up to its promise to nurture creativity and independent thought, the keys to ‘soft power’ and cultural influence.’’ The Tate set up a second field of “sunflower seeds” to call attention to political prisoners.

Koons "Bunny"

Ai made his name in the 1990s with iconoclastic gestures and works like painting Coca-Cola logos on ancient Chinese pots and flipping the bird in front of international icons like the White House, Eiffel Tower and Tiananmen Square, according to art critic Holland Cotter, before moving on to more significant works like “an outdoor structure from 1,001 doors salvaged from Ming and Qing houses that had been eliminated by rampant development in Chinese cities.”  Ai’s sometimes called “China’s Andy Warhol” for his pop sensibility, though Jeff Koons’s monumental kitsch also comes to mind.

As the Nobel Committee learned when it awarded Liu Xiaobo’s Peace Prize to an empty chair, even international adulation offers but slim cover for Chinese citizens who dare criticize their government. Still, it may be what small insulation there is in a judicial system ruled more by caprice than consistency.

Ai WeiWei in his Beijing studio.

Wickle-Hole + Kit’s Coty: Best UK Place Names

January 26, 2011

When master blogger Jonathan Thomas, my friend over at, makes this delightful “map” of UK place names available as a poster, I will frame and hang it:

by Jonathan Thomas,

Or should I just wrap it in brown paper and keep it from the kids? Some of these town names are positively R-rated!

Not all, though: I just love Ramsbottom and Knockerdown, and I see “Lane” receives its due, but where is “Mews”?

Another place-name that sticks with me is Kit’s Coty. Despite more than one extensive muddy search, my family has yet to find that elusive Kentish stone pile. We’ve pursued it through drives, parkland hikes, numerous (conflicting) sets of directions from locals, and hot slogging along scruffy asphalt roadbeds with cars whizzing past. My kids were usually in flip-flops and other inappropriate footwear, naturally. All to see a bunch of big rocks erected for unknown motives by hairy ancestors.

Need I add that this is my husband’s obsession, friends, not mine? Give me a collection of 19th-century landscapes and tea in the Orangery Cafe, any day.

See you at Upperthong!

%d bloggers like this: