Super, Pretty, Funny no 36

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24.4.14

Let’s be honest. There was a four day weekend (which already seems so far away…) and during the rainy bits, many of us spent a good chunk of that time on the internet. Here are some of my favorite finds to to get you through the rest of the week.

Super

Sheryl Sandberg speaking at The Guardian last week. Equally, The Confidence Gap – and similar movements that try to close it

This book is going on my reading list. (After I finally finish Wolf Hall, “the book that lasts forever…”)

The rituals of NYTimes writers in Europe

Emma’s post on our outing to Hampstead Heath on Saturday. “Zone 2, represent.”

This place.

Pretty

All of Jay’s pictures from Italy this past week

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Selby’s latest book on fashion

Funny

I know this is old, but some of us are lobbying for Jimmy Fallon to be shown nightly on TV in the UK (ahem, join me in my crusade). His Game of Thrones parody earlier this year was hilarious.

Why there aren’t more scientific studies on cats

Irresponsible tourist: London’s Osterley Park

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21.4.14

I’m a firm believer that blogging has generally made me more curious, keen to “get out there”, to learn about what I’m visiting and the history behind where I go.

Except – in my case a few weeks ago – when I was so blown away by the beauty of Osterley Park that I honestly forgot to learn anything about it. It was borderline irresponsible tourism.

Horace Walpole, of Strawberry Hill House fame, once described Osterley as a “palace of palaces”. The State Rooms on the upper two stories are beautiful and colorful, left almost exactly as they would have been found in 1780. But it was the little details that got me walking around the house. Lamps and Chinese artifacts. Etruscan ceiling carvings and ornate staircases.

If the upstairs was enough to capture the imagination, the downstairs was worthy of any Downton Abbey/Upstairs Downstairs fan’s attention. The lower floors are a maze of large rooms, tunnels and old walls dating back to the Tudor-era. The kitchen alone consisted of some 5 rooms put together and the rooms of more senior staff were grand enough to be envied.

The truth is irresponsible tourism can be plain, old fun. And as fun as irresponsible tourism may be, it also gives you an excuse to go back and actually learn more about what you gaped at the trip before… Osterley was simply gorgeous – as were the grounds surrounding it. I’ll be going back before the end of the summer.

Osterley Park is part of the National Trust Collection and can be easily reached on the Piccadilly line. The house is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays but open from April to October the rest of the week from 11-17:00. More information here.

There is no ham at Ham House

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13.4.14

The number of people who asked me if there was “ham” at Ham House was borderline shocking. I’ve discovered the true depth of love my friends have for bacon.

During my visit to Strawberry Hill House, one of the guides recommended I venture down the river to Richmond. From there, it is a lovely walk down the Thames Path to Ham House, a remarkable survivor built in 1610. The house was destined for William Murray, the 1st Earl of Dysart and a whipping boy for Charles I. Being a whipping boy was, in my book, the equivalent to drawing the short stick in life… kings could not be physically punished so if the king misbehaved, the “whipping boy” was whipped in his place. Despite all that, the two boys grew up to be friends and Charles gave Ham House to William as a present in 1626.

William was not to live there long however as Civil War broke out in 1642 and he was called away to rally for the Royalists. He transferred ownership of the house over to his wife and four daughters. The house was sequestered during the war, but Catherine managed to hold onto it by paying a fine of £500. She also shrewdly navigated Cromwell’s Commonwealth, despite having the lands officially sold off by Parliament, and the family was allowed to stay in the house.  Upon her death shortly after the execution of Charles I, her daughter Elizabeth and her husband Lionel took ownership of the house. Elizabeth had 11 children – but only 5 lived to adulthood. During Elizabeth’s second marriage to powerful Duke of Lauderdale, they extensively refurbished the house, collecting items from all over the world. Unlike many historic houses, Ham House is still filled with furnishings either of the day, or those that reflect the style of the times. She built one of the first proper bathrooms in England – at time when regular bathing was only just becoming advised…

Her daughter, also named Elizabeth, eventually took over the house but her husband’s debts would diminish both her and future generations’ ability to expand and care for the house. It stayed in the family for nearly 300 years, but was rarely a principle residence for them, before being passed onto the National Trust in the 1940s.

It has since served as the set for quite a few movies (including The Young Victoria and Anna Karinina) and there is an interesting room at the end of the tour which explains how important the film industry is for such houses. The fees the film companies pay to use the houses are often indispensable for their care and upkeep. (Just ask the owners of Highclere Castle & the Downton Abbey crew…)

I personally came out of my visit to Ham House very grateful that I wasn’t around in the 1700s. The house was an interesting mix of quite dark and very overdecorated. But that also made it fascinating – a step back into the past.

Things to watch out for when you visit: the Green Room filled with miniatures (ask the guardian for the stories behind some of them), the library (not the original collection, but an amazing one none-the-less) an early English bathroom, the tiny rooms where the Duchess spent most of her time and the wood-paneled room where food was assembled once it was brought up from the kitchens.

The house is only open from 12-16:00 but spend the rest of the time wandering around the lovely Richmond area. More details here.

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