I wonder if developing that soy allergy in Japan weakened my immune system. After getting flu after Christmas, I went down with norovirus at the end of January, which makes you feel fit for nothing but lying around. So I lay about re-reading some favourite books and put together photos for another post about Akita, Japan.
But I felt much better on Saturday, and by yesterday, Sunday, I was fine, so I decided to go and see one of London's hidden interiors which I'd learned would be open to the public for the first time in years, or possibly even ever. It's a large 18th century house in Fitzroy Square, London, that is home to The Georgian Group.
So I'll still post about Japan, but first let me tell you about visiting Fitzroy Square and the Georgian Group....
The Georgian Group is a fount of knowledge about life, times, arts and architecture of the 18th century and if you click here you can read a bit about its work in protecting the 18th century heritage of England and Wales. Part of that work is to help keep neo-classical skills alive - plasterwork, leadwork, wood carving like this delicately carved little swag, for instance, made out of lime wood.
Now the GG has just had its 80th birthday, and has decided to reach out to the wider world and get more people involved in its work. There certainly seemed to be a lot of people thronging in to see the place. The visitor's entrance to the house is via the big echoing stone flagged basement, once the kitchen and servants' quarters, and when I wandered in, one of the first things I encountered was a room full of people hard at work making 18th century style crafts with shells, plaster-of-paris and mirrors, and trying their hand at printing wallpaper.
It looked like fun. So I accepted one of the thin polystyrene tiles they offered me, and drew a vaguely old-world design onto the tile with a pencil, making the lines as deep as I could. Then, I inked the tile with gold lino paint and printed it several times.... and wow, suddenly I had some decorative paper myself!
Not sure how authentic the design was, but I loved the smudgy look of the printing (which is just as well). Even if I don't manage to create wallpaper, I can see all kinds of possibilities for creating my own gift wrap, at least.
As my paper dried, I climbed up from the basement to explore the main house. This contained many unusual and fascinating objects, old and new. The front hall is full of statuary and plasterwork. Here's the view looking to the front door with its well proportioned fanlight.
The exact proportions of architecture were very important in Georgian times, so the size and shape of the rooms are always very harmonious and comfortable. The main office, with deep red walls and a huge bookcase down one wall, would have been a wonderful place to work. It sports a signed photo of Prince Charles, the Group's patron, on the wall.
Charles has worked very hard in conserving the country's traditional visual and natural heritage. It's fair to say that not everyone always agrees with everything he does, but over decades he has done so very many good and lasting things for the country and its people. So I nodded approvingly at his photo and gave him a thumbs up as I passed.
My favourite room in the house was the main salon, a double interconnecting room which when the house was new, would have been opened up for balls and parties. In this shot most of what you see is actually a reflection in a pier-mirror, a tall mirror which occupies the space between two windows and makes the space seem larger. Placed before the mirror is a decorative shellwork obelisk, which also reflects itself back.
And there was more shell work in the next room - this is a startling and unusual modern chandelier.
And, how about this, in the glass topped cabinet below? This grotesque face is reminiscent of figures featuring in shell grottoes, a type of folly which was popular two hundred years ago. Like the chandelier, it is modern, but once again, it seems very eighteenth century somehow - a mixture of brash, elegant, refined and outrageous.
Beckford was astoundingly rich and decided he wanted to live in a Gothic cathedral so he got one built as quickly as possible, without bothering about whether it would stay up. And basically, it didn't. Fonthill Abbey's soaring tower, 90 metre high (300 feet), collapsed three times, and the rest of the house wasn't much better built. Beckford for instance, wanted Christmas dinner cooked in the kitchens even though they were not ready. So the kitchens were flung together just enough to enable the staff to cook the meal, and then they, too, collapsed. Mad though this sounds, there was, in fact, a bit of a tendency in the eighteenth century to build beautiful houses almost as if they were stage sets, not really intended for living at all.
Anyway, all kinds of strange stories circulated about Beckford, and Fonthill of course was famous for its extravagant interiors, in gold, silver, crimson and blue. (Talking of which, someone had created some wallpaper with the lino paints downstairs which might almost have been made for somewhere like Fonthill Abbey, don't you think?)
Gradually most of the Abbey either fell down or was demolished, although a tiny fragment of the building still remains, and it does make you wonder what the rest must have been like. This website by Ric Norton gives some idea.....
Having fallen in love with No. 6, I suddenly began to see Fitzroy Square in a different light from how I had always seen it. To be honest, this corner of London had always seemed somewhat dull to me, but, viewed out of the long windows of No 6's salon I suddenly perceived it as it was meant to be: elegant, well proportioned and restrained, a place to spend the gloomy London winters. Imagine going to balls in those long-windowed rooms, glittering with the lights of thousands of candles. Really all the scene needs is a phaeton or two bowling past.
And so that was my Sunday. But, since I have got the dahlia photos sorted out, I'd really love to zip across to the other side of the world and mention the wonderful dahlia garden in Akita, Japan, which I was lucky enough to catch in full bloom last October.
This garden, set in a sweeping valley, stretches almost as far as you can see to wooded hillsides, and the dahlias come in such a variety of colours, sizes and shapes, as you can see below.
The variety below had a twisty, ornate quality, and if I plant any dahlias this year, I'm going to plant some of these.
The yellow ones at the bottom hardly seemed like dahlias at all but make a striking display in a border.
This to me seemed to have a perfect colour and shape
And the centre of this deep red dahlia glowed brightly, like enamelled gold.
However, my eye was also caught by this stall which an elderly man had pitched just outside the dahlia garden entrance.
He was selling fungi that he had collected himself from the mountains. Most of the fungi were very large, and looked almost as if someone had made them out of finely textured and dyed leather.
I had seen small "maitake" mushrooms like this before - in fact, I think they grow wild in England - but these were in a different class - they were bigger than cauliflowers. My Japanese friend told me they are called "dancing mushrooms," - 舞茸 in Japanese - because they look like dancers in flowing robes. And as you can see there were other types of fungi and fungi products on the stall.
The old man had obviously spent hours preparing them for sale, and as far as I could tell, they seemed to have health benefits, including boosting your immune system...... hmmm, if only I had known that, I'd have bought some of the extract. Then, I'd probably have been the picture of health all winter. And I would probably have got many more posts written by now!