Friday, 31 October 2008

Coventry's Awe-Inspiring Cathedral

Part of the ruins of the old cathedral, the Sutherland tapestry over the altar and John Piper's Baptistry window, said to be 'probably the greatest piece of stained glass since the Reformation'. Click each for a larger view

Coventry Cathedral was burnt down in German air raids on the night of 14/15th November 1940 and a new cathedral reconstructed beside the shell in the 1950s. The Queen laid its foundation stone in 1956 and the new Cathedral was consecrated in 1962. Herry attended the service with his mother Annette and grandmother, Lady Herbert. Sir Alfred Herbert had made donations towards the reconstruction and the commissioning of the art works within it, as well as to his museum The Herbert nearby, but died in 1957.

The new cathedral was designed by Basil Spence. Graham Sutherland's tapestry of Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph dominates the East End, while John Hutton's screen of Saints and Angels allows the light from the fomer cathedral ruins into the Lady Chapel. John Piper's Baptistry window is said to be 'probably the greatest piece of stained glass since the Reformation'. Epstein's St Michael and the Devil guards the cathedral steps. Other contributors include Elizabeth Frink who fashioned the bronze eagle lectern given by Sir Alfred Herbert's children and grandchildren, and Ralph Beyer whose beautiful carved calligraphy adorns the walls. The whole is extraordinarily moving and beautiful.

Click the heading for more photos of the cathedral

The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry Reopening 2008

The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry was reopened following extensive reconstruction on 29th October 2008, as the city's main art gallery, museum, history and media centre. The museum was originally constructed from donations by Sir Alfred Herbert and was first opened in 1960 by my grandmother, Lady Nina Herbert. My brother Piers and I were invited to the reopening as descendants of the Herberts (details of which can be found in Herry's Archive).

There are now now eight permanent galleries for its own collections together with a new history centre, housing archives documenting the life of the city though almost 800 years of its existence. There are also five temporary exhibition spaces and another five visitor galleries in which they show work across the arts and from some of the great museums and galleries in the country. Gallery 1 currently has an exhibition of photographs from the V&A, the while Gallery 4 contains an exhibition of the unusual work of Ana-Maria Pacheco. Added to which, no less than three 'George Eliots’ circle the galleries declaiming lines from her writings and bringing a touch of amusing realism to everyday Coventry.

The Herbert must now be one of the finest city museums and art galleries in Britain - and the cafe is excellent too!

Click the heading for some photos of the Herbert

Monday, 27 October 2008

Dinner For One

Dinner for One - Freddie Frinton and May Warden

Strangely, this short film, recorded in 1963 for German Television, is hardly known in England. It is one of the funniest sketches ever filmed as well as being a wonderful reminder of the days of butlers and 'dressing for dinner'. It is still invariably shown at New Year on German and Scandinavian television where it is revered as a classic of 'British humor'.

Click the heading for the full story of the sketch (with thanks to our friends, the Wettons, for introducing us to it!)

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Most Amazing Toy in the World

When I first got an iPhone at the beginning of the year, I thought it revolutionary and wrote about it here. Since then, I have got the 3G version and loaded it up with apps from the Apps Store, most of which are free.

Today, it's an indispensable toy on which I can carry on the easiest of text conversations, check up on friends' doings on Facebook, post tweets (via Twitter), deal with my e-mail in darkest India, navigate my way to lunch (on Maps), record notes (on iDictaphone), find out what's nearby (on Vicinity), check on a tune (with Shazam - though sadly it's not much good on classical recordings), listen to radio (on WunderRadio), look at photos (on Mobile Fotos and Picasa), book a restaurant - by phone or on-line, read the paper (IHT or New York Times), buy stuff (on Amazon), move money around (using my bank's online site), and look for information (on iPedia). One can even find numbers by speaking at the phone (Say Who) or send an e-mail from the car using Dail2Do!.

Some of the best fun is amusing children by showing them Thomas the Tank Engine videos on YouTube while at lunch soemwhere or letting them play in the Koi Pond!

Recently, I have added the Cams Ahoy app, which emits buzzes and squeaks when you get within a pre-determined distance from a speed or red light camera - and even tells you what the current speed limit is. What is more, it emits a growl when you exceed the speed limit by 5mph - a true 'big brother' app!

In the evening, one can sit on the sofa and read a book on the very legible screen courtesy of eReader, or with the the phone on wi-fi look for a recording that one likes YouTube or iTunes, downloading it straight to the iPhone. It's the most complete and useful toy in existence.

Shopping Habits

More time to spend with friends in places like this

I have just realised that in the last year or so our shopping habits have changed so radically that we now buy more stuff online than in shops (with the exception of food - but we even order some of that online these days). The principal sources are eBay and Amazon, and eBay in particular is now the first place we look when we decide we need something (or even when we don't). eBay's prices are the perfect antidote to the financial crisis as not only are more people selling more stuff online, but prices seem to be falling as well. Recent purchases like Ferragamo shoes, Ralph Lauren sweaters, cosmetics and the like can be had for about a fifth of the shop price or less and are perfect. One very rarely spends more than £50 on anything - and it's usually under £10. What's more, the purchases usually arrive by post or courier in only a day or two. Similarly Amazon (who's free delivery is a great bonus) now supply most of the things a household needs as well as the usual DVDs and books. And of course ordering on line from The Wine Society is sinfully easy!

Most food shopping still needs the personal touch though, and a good market (like the Duke of York's and Pimlico) are simply fun to visit and meet friends. But the reduction in wear and tear in getting to the shops as well as the avoiding of parking and congestion charges is a joy. Thank you internet!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

St Martin in the Fields

This beautiful church on the edge of Trafalgar Square is justly famous for its lunchtime (free) and evening concerts and for the excellent food served in the crypt. But having been renovated over the past three years and a special lift entrance to the crypt installed beside the church, it's even more lovely. Click the heading to hear a rehearsal for an evening concert recorded on my last visit.

Friday, 24 October 2008

The National Portrait Gallery

Click the heading for more photos of paintings in the gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is often overlooked, but it shouldn't be. It's amazing for its enormous number of portraits of famous Englishmen and women. History (from the Tudors onwards) comes to life here and the illustrious families who were the backbone of the country for centuries - the Sidneys, the Howards, the Cecils and the like, are magnificently portrayed. Only about one-eigth of the portraits owned by the gallery are on show at any one time, but it is kept up to date with the recently famous (there's a Diana section as well as paintings of people like Ian Botham). The permanent exhibition is free of course and there's a good tea room on the top floor where one can have an unusual view over the roof of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The Charles Saatchi Gallery - New Art from China

Click the heading for some photos of the exhibition and the gallery.

I was delighted to see that Charles Saatchi was turning the old Duke of York's barracks into an art gallery, having fond memories of the place from my youth when it was the HQ of my TA regiment. We used to train by running round the parade ground - now a sports ground - every Tuesday evening.

The new gallery is marvellous. Huge, bright spaces on three floors allow the exhibits to be shown to perfection. I was lucky enough to go on the first day of opening to the exhibition of Chinese art - New Art From China. The gallery is linked to the Duke of York's plaza, the buzzing shopping and food market, and on a sunny day there are few better places to visit in London.

Monday, 6 October 2008

The Part Played by Insurance in the Financial Crisis

Like everyone else, I have been following the financial crisis with morbid fascination, but was surprised when AIG got into difficulties and had to be bailed out by the US Treasury with a loan of $85bn. It was initially difficult to understand how such a huge hole could have opened up on their balance sheet.

This article in the IHT explains it - they were providing a sophisticated form of credit insurance through a financial products unit in London run by a chap called Joseph Cassano. Lloyd's used to have a ban on this type of insurance (though mortagee interest insurance has been commonly used in shipping for many years) as it's so risky - and because it usually involves selection against underwriters as well as accentuating moral hazard.

What worries me now is that no insurer hangs onto to 100% of a risk - they always pass a - usually large - proportion to their reinsurers. This risk may well now be hiding in some innocent-looking treaties waiting to blow up....

Stop Press: But they apparently didn't reinsure the risk - at least from 2005 onwards!

Stop Press: 28th Feb 2009 - the story is clearer now, but no less heinous. See the IHT

Stop Press: 25th March 2009 - More comment on Joseph Cassano from Ariana Huffington here

And further article, which looks rather more darkly at AIG istelf, is here

Sto Press: June 2009- Michael Lewis on Joseph Cassano in Vanity Fair 'The Man Who Crashed the World'