With working days either side my two day whistle-stop trip to London seemed to be over in a flash this week, but it was so good to meet up with Helen Rappaport for her talk on Magnificent Obsession at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
The talk was predictably excellent so if you find yourself within travelling distance of one of Helen's events over the next few months don't miss it. The audience was spellbound not only by Helen's delivery (BBC are you listening...Fiona Bruce is not the only one who can do this sort of thing) but the brilliant content and a succession of fascinating and beautiful pictures to go with it. I think this is long-suffering daughter Alice who nursed Prince Albert, her father, through his final days and sadly died of diphtheria on the anniversary of his death all those years later.
Helen and I then spent the following day in London and I have to say it was a special and memorable moment to go into the National Portrait Gallery with her in order to pay homage to the painting of Mary Seacole. I snatched this shot for you all just before I was in trouble for taking pictures inside the gallery...
Suitably chastised we took ourselves off to a seat 'neath the gaze of a bank of portraits of Victorian luminaries, from William Morris and Lesley Stephen to John Stuart Mill, who I like to think would have applauded my rule-bending courage on your behalf. Helen then recounted the story of how she discovered this portrait in the possession of an art dealer, was convinced it was Mary Seacole, bought it and has since ensured that it remains in a national gallery for all to see rather than tucked away in a private collection.
We then couldn't do other than divert to the fabulous cafe in the National Gallery next door, where the temptation of the coffee and walnut cake was all too much to resist, before heading into the exhibition currently in progress back in the Portrait Gallery, The First Actresses, Nell Gwynn to Sarah Siddons. And how excited was I to see that the first portrait was of Hester Booth in her harlequin costume, a woman with very strong links to Port Eliot (Hester's daughter Harriot married into the family) who also have a very similar painting of her. The exhibition wasn't crowded either so a chance to get up close to the pictures and read all the details and talk our way around.
A stroll across London took us down to Hatchards in Piccadilly to witness 'the book' on the shelves, and I have to tell you that to get to this shelf we had to push Andrew Marr out of the way as he plodded through signing about a thousand copies of his latest book.
Anyway we got the picture we wanted.
A stroll up to Liberty's in Regent Street so that I could stroke the fabrics and drool over the Ianthe rug and earmark £4000 for one in the Book Room when we win the lottery...
and as we said our goodbyes later in the day and headed for respective trains, time for me to reflect on a really special trip and my thanks to Helen for her excellent company.