By the end of July I am always so ready for the kids to break up from school. I love having a break from the 6am alarm and I love not having to wash and iron all their school uniform! I also just love slowing down a little and getting lots of time to just enjoy them. During term time it’s all about getting ready on time, homework and being really organised. In the holidays things are so much more fun.

Having said that, 6 weeks is a really long time. There’s still a lot of practical stuff I need to do like cooking, cleaning and laundry and of course I still have to work, although luckily I work from home. As the summer holidays is one of my favourite times of year and I think I’ve finally mastered how to make the most of it I thought I’d share some of the things I do to make the summer holidays as fun as possible for all of us.

Get some memberships and use them

I’m a huge fan of historic houses and gardens and absolutely love visiting them with the kids. It’s a great way to spend time together, get out of the house and make the most of all the gorgeous heritage Britain has to offer. I have family memberships for The National Trust, English Heritage and Historic Royal Palaces. I pay for these by direct debit across the year and try to use all three memberships a lot. My cost per visit ends up being extremely low and I always have somewhere to take the kids. When I’m on a tight budget I’ll always pack a picnic to take with us, so we don’t need to buy any food while we’re there.

Lila at Hampton Court, one of the amazing palaces included in our HRP membership.

I find that during the holidays almost all the places we visit have children’s activities and trails to keep them busy and engaged and many also have outdoor play areas to enjoy. Last summer I got so many different places ticked off my list and this year I want to visit even more.

My top tip when it comes to memberships is to look at your local area and which one covers the most places you can get to. It’s also worth looking into if you are planning a UK holiday as it doesn’t take many visits before the membership is paying for itself.


Free Museums

One of the best things about living in London, is all the brilliant free museums. There are great ones all over the country to discover as well. We’ve definitely made the most of the museums over the years. We love the big ones like The Science Museum, Natural History Museum and The V&A, but my favourite has always been The Museum of London. We also enjoy London’s wonderful art galleries such as The National Gallery and Tate Modern. I like to let the kids take the lead in museums and galleries and look at what they want for as long as they want, I can always go back on my own and look at the bits I want to see.

There are also hundreds of museums that charge a small entry fee, which absolutely deserve a visit. If you want to visit lots of places it might be worth getting a National Art Pass, which gives you discounted entry to thousands of places.

The Local Park

Another great free activity is just going to your local park. We are lucky to have lots of different parks near us. Some are great for playgrounds others for feeding the ducks or exploring. Grab a picnic and spend a whole afternoon passing the time and having fun.

If you go to feed the ducks don’t take bread, as its bad for them. We make out own feed for them using birdseed, frozen peas, sweetcorn and chopped ups grapes and lettuce.

Morning Cinema Tickets

One thing I do a lot in the summer holidays is watch the kids films at the cinema in the morning. You can usually get really cheap tickets to lots of great films and if you bring your own snacks it costs even less.

Make a Scrapbook

A few times we’ve made holiday scrapbooks where we’ve stuck in postcards and pictures of the places we’ve been, drawn pictures and recorded memories of what we’ve been doing. This is a really fun way for the kids to look back on what they’ve done. it’s also very good for feelings of gratitude.

Play in the Garden

If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, there are so many fun things you can do. I have a few books with outdoor play ideas. We do simple things like chasing bubbles and splashing in the paddling pool, crazy things like snail races and fun things like messy play and drawing in chalk on the floor.

We absolutely love den building, so when we cut one of our trees back we kept some of the smaller branches to do den building. We also once had a little family sports day without falling out or killing each other #winning.

Go to the Library

We go to the library a lot, we’re lucky that our local area has some good ones, which not only have lots of wonderful books, but cafes, activities and lovely spaces to spend a bit of time. Most libraries have reading schemes over the summer which Arte great fun and give the kids a bit of a challenge.

Stay in your PJs and Do Nothing

Of course there are those day when you just can’t arsed to do anything. This is when the TV, tablets, toys, colouring and anything else you can find to distract the kids comes in. Get them occupied, stick the kettle on and scroll through instagram for a while. It’s great to do lots of stuff with the kids, but don’t feel under pressure to be amazing every day for 6 weeks.

Get the Toys Out and Make a Mess!

I have to fight very hard with my inner neat freak when it comes to letting the kids make a mess, but the summer holidays are the prefect time to get all their favourite toys out and have lots of fun. My favourite thing to do is build giant train tracks that take up a whole room and make the designs as crazy and complicated as possible. I pick up more track every time I see it at car boot sales and charity shops.

Holiday Clubs

If you have to work for some of the holidays and need to use childcare, there are some really cool holiday schemes. I’ve had to do this a few times in the past. Jessica really enjoyed a week long drama club that she did a couple of years ago and lots of schools and leisure centres run holiday camps for kids.

You can do so Much in Six Weeks

There are so many more fun ideas, that I could go on forever. I’ll definitely write some more specific posts with ideas. I’d like to do a summer holiday bucket list, some craft ideas and a post all about things you can do outdoors. Any other requests? I’d love to hear some of the things you do in the holidays too.


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Earlier this week I visited The National Gallery in London to attend the press view of their new landmark exhibition Monet and Architecture. This incredible exhibition, brings together an amazing selection of works by one of the worlds most iconic artists and I felt hugely lucky to be one of the first people to see it. The Monet and Architecture exhibition takes us on a journey through Claude Monet’s career and shows how his style developed as he grew older, reaching a final crescendo with his beautiful paintings of Venice. All the paintings feature buildings and many differ considerably to the garden scenes that are so familiar to us.

Claude Monet, The Doge’s Palace (Le Palais ducal), 1908, © Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York


Of course I brought along Matthew my resident art historian (and brother) to help me write about the exhibition. I asked Matthew to write a review of the exhibition and this is what he thought:

For an art historian, Monet is one of those artists that you think you know, and then he always surprises you. His name and his art are world famous. Most people will know he painted beautiful landscapes, that he helped create the Impressionist style – and that he loved water lilies! This exhibition aims to give a new perspective on his art and show that painting buildings, from cottages to cathedrals, was an important part of his work. More than that, it reminded me that Monet truly deserves his great reputation, as I lost myself in the beautiful paintings on display.

Claude Monet, The Quai du Louvre (Le Quai du Louvre), 1867, © Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

This exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to see paintings you’d normally collect a lot of air miles jetting around the world to see. The paintings have come from everywhere from Los Angeles to Moscow. In fact, more than a quarter of the paintings come from private collections, so unless you know some very rich people, this could be your only chance to ever see them.

Claude Monet,  The Beach at Trouville (La Plage à Trouville), 1870, © Allen Phillips\Wadsworth Atheneum

As the curators have decided to hang the paintings chronologically, visitors follow Monet through his career, starting in the 1860s when the he was an ambitious artist in his 20s, experimenting with a radical new painting style. Based on working outside, and quickly capturing the scene in front of you with bold brushstrokes, Impressionism was a bold and innovative protest against conventional 19th Century art. Walking through the exhibition you can see Monet learn and develop as an artist: his colours become bolder, his brushstrokes more exciting. Look closely at the paintings and you can see his creativity at work as he conjures scenes from thousands of lively strokes of colour. Then stand back, and you realise he has perfectly captured the atmosphere of a scene of a beach, or a busy Parisian street, or a house perched on a cliff-top.

Claude Monet, The Saint-Lazare Railway Station (La Gare Saint-Lazare), 1877 © The National Gallery, London

Monet lived at a time of huge change. Great cities like London and Paris grew into vast industrial metropolises, and Monet captures this. His scene of The Gare St-Lazare in the National Gallery’s own collection, shows Monet engaging with the steel, glass and steam of a great railway station. The railways allowed people to travel further and faster than ever before, and the range of locations of paintings in the exhibition shows this. As a Londoner I love seeing Monet’s views of my home city. He lived there from 1870-71 escaping the Franco-Prussian war in France. He returned to London again several times between 1899 and 1904. By this second visit he was a rich and famous artist, and painted the Thames from his balcony at the Savoy Hotel. Monet was fascinated by the effect of the sunlight through the smoggy air of the city, and captured the bold reds of sunrises and sunsets through the fog.

Claude Monet Houses of Parliament, Sunset (Le Parlement, coucher de soleil), 1900-1 © Kunsthaus Zürich.

The exhibition feels like going on holiday with Monet, and seeing the landmarks of the destinations through his eyes. The final room takes us to Venice, where Monet stayed in 1908. Here he presents his unique view of a city famous for its architecture, its light and its reflections. In his paintings of the Grand Canal, he shows the great domed church of The Salute. However, he changes the architecture, ignoring parts of the building to the dome more simple, as it dissolves into the brilliant shimmering light. By now in his late 60s, he was a complete master of his art, and the paintings capture his personal vision of a city already famous as a tourist destination.

Claude Monet, The Grand Canal (Le Grand Canal), 1908, Nahmad Collection, Monaco © Photo courtesy of the owner

When Monet’s Venice paintings were displayed together in 1912 at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, visitors were reminded that no one would ever have a chance to see them assembled together again before they were sold to collectors. Monet painted the same scene over and over, changing his canvases to capture the changes in the light as the time and weather changed. The National Gallery’s curators have got as close as they can to reuniting several of his series of paintings, so that we can see the views changing just as Monet did.

Claude Monet, San Giorgio Maggiore (Saint-Georges Majeur), 1908, © Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

The curators show that considering Monet’s painting of architecture will change the way art historians see his career. However, it is his own constant inventiveness, skill, and the pure pleasure you feel looking at his paintings, that show that just when you think you’ve worked Monet out, he can delight you in ways you never expected.

This exhibition should be very popular, so make sure you book your ticket soon.


In homage to the beautiful art, I wore my Lindy bop Venice Skirt. I might start making a habit of dressing on theme when I go to exhibitions!

I am not an art expert, but I am an art enthusiast so from my point of view I absolutely loved the selection of paintings. I really felt like I learnt a lot from the works themselves as well as the interpretation. We were lucky enough to be shown around by the curators, but there is also an audio guide available, which I would definitely recommend to make the most out of the experience.

Monet is an artist we are all familiar with, but the exhibition made me see his work in a new light and I  thoroughly  appreciated it. It just felt like such a treat to be able to see more than 75 paintings. The cost of a ticket for Monet and Architecture is around £20, which feels like a lot. But having spent a good few hours immersing myself in the beautiful art, I feel this is worth it.

The Monet and Architecture exhibition runs from 9th April until 28th July 2018

You can buy tickets for the Monet and Architecture exhibition on the National Gallery website

Thank you to Matthew Storey for contributing to this post. Matthew is a curator and art historian with a specialism in historic art and decorative art. 


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I recently watched the fabulous series A Stitch in Time on BB4. This wonderful show, is presented by fashion historian Amber Butchart. Over the course of 6 episodes, costumes from a number of paintings are carefully reconstructed by a small team lead by historical costumier Ninya Mikhaila. The series is a lovely look at fashion history which combines art history and social history. In each of the half hour episodes Amber chooses one painting and talks about its background. We then look at the materials and methods that were used to create each garment, at the end the final reconstruction is revealed and worn by Amber. I really enjoyed learning about the social context of each outfit as well as the methods used to create them.

Having really enjoyed the series I was delighted to hear that all the costumes would be going on display at one of my favourite places – Ham House. So this week I popped along for a visit with my mum and its was amazing seeing the clothes close up and really taking in all the details.

Both my mum and I really enjoyed the episode in which they recreated the dress from the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck, which you can actually see in my previous blog post! The dress is absolutely fascinating and has such interesting construction. I love that it is lined with fur and has so much fabric. I learnt so much from this episode of the series too.

I love that the mannequin is posed in the same position as the bride in the original painting. Her pose holding up the front of her dress is so iconic. You really get a sense of what an expensive garment this would have been and how much fabric and work went into making it.

The next piece we saw, was one that absolutely amazed me when I watched the episode on TV. In this episode they reconstructed a Jupon, which had been worn by the Black Prince and is seen on his effigy at Canterbury Cathederal. Amazingly a jupon from that time survives and it was wonderful seeing such an old garment on the television.

A jupon is a padded garment worn over armour. This one is covered in the most exquisite hand embroidery and must have cost an absolute fortune to make. The garment is both opulent and practical, it was really fascinating to learn more about something I had no previous knowledge of.

Seeing the beautiful stitching close up, gave a whole new perspective to seeing it on the TV, it is so fine and delicately made.

My least favourite costume from the series was Dido Belle. I loved the episode, but the final garment left me a little underwhelmed. This one was particularly hard for the team to recreate as so little of the dress can be seen in the picture. I did however think it was important to discuss the life of Dido Belle and to have a black portrait subject as part of the series.

Although I wasn’t entirely sure on the accuracy of the garment, it was very beautiful to see. I loved the gorgeous fabric and the sash and shawl were lovely. I’d also love to read a lot more about Dido Belle and her story, so the series definitely opened up a line of interest for me.

I really enjoyed the episode about the hedge cutter. It was interesting to see a portrait of an ordinary working person and this made the garment all the more interesting. In the painting the jacket has extensive damage and patching. In the episode they created the outfit as it would have been new. I really liked this approach as it showed us the evolution of the garment.

I enjoyed seeing how they worked with leather and the different methods and techniques they used. The finished piece was just so beautiful and the details are amazing. As someone who loves vintage clothes, I can appreciate the passing down of garments and the extension of their lives beyond the first owner.


The outfit in the first episode of a Stitch in Time was a suit worn by Charles II. the original painting hangs at Ham House and it’s one I’ve looked at many many times. Despite this I don’t think I’d ever fully appreciated Charles’ outfit, so this episode gave me a whole new perspective on the painting.

In the episode they talked about the materials used and the time, effort and expense that went into creating a reasonably simple looking garment. I was most interested in the social importance and the message that Charles was conveying through dress.

At the end of the episode I thought Amber looked absolutely brilliant trying this on. I’m a little but jealous of her job to be honest!

The last outfit is one of the most beautiful despite it’s simplicity. It is based on a controversial painting of Marie Antoinette. In the painting she is seen wearing a simple muslin dress, this caused scandal at the time and was considered far to intimate for a queen. the painting was quickly replaced with a more traditional one, but it was the beginning of the downfall of her reputation.

This is an era I absolutely love, especially when it comes to fashion and royal history. Again this episode really looked at the social connotations of dress and it was so interesting.

On the programme they made a set of stays to wear under the dress, compared to relative simplicity or the dress the stays were far more complicated. As the episodes are only 30 minutes long there wasn’t that much time to look at the fin shed stays in much detail, so I was delighted to see these on display alongside the dress.

A Stitch in Time has inspired me to look a little closer at art, to consider the outfits and the reasons for the clothes that people wear. I’d highly recommend both watching the series and taking a look at the exhibition. Ham House itself is incredible and being able to see the clothes just adds to what an interesting location it is to visit. the series isn’t currently available on iPlayer, but may repeated on BB4 at some point. I did manage to find all the episodes on Youtube, so it might be worth looking there if you want to watch it.

Find out more about the exhibition on the National Trust website

Find out more about A Stitch in Time  and view more clips on the BBC website.


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Last week on a snowy day in London, I headed to London hairdresser Blue Tit salon in Dalston to have my hair styled. Unlike my usual vintage curls or messy mum hair we were going for something a little different. Inspired by the Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at The National Gallery, we were creating a Pre-Raphaelite inspired look.

William Holman Hunt, Il Dolce Far Niente, 1866, Oil on canvas, Private collection © Photo courtesy of the owner

William Holman Hunt, Il Dolce Far Niente, 1866, Oil on canvas, Private collection © Photo courtesy of the owner

The exhibition itself is incredible and of course one of the things that really stands out in Pre-Raphaelite art is the beautiful romantic hair. Blue Tit London recently collaborated with the gallery to create a photo shoot which pays homage to the beautiful paintings on display within the exhibition.

Hair styled by Blue Tit Salon at the National Gallery on the occasion of ‘Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites’. Photograph: Sandra Vijandi.

Hair styled by Blue Tit Salon at the National Gallery on the occasion of ‘Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites’. Photograph: Sandra Vijandi.

Hair styled by Blue Tit Salon at the National Gallery on the occasion of ‘Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites’. Photograph: Sandra Vijandi.

Hair styled by Blue Tit Salon at the National Gallery on the occasion of ‘Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites’. Photograph: Sandra Vijandi.

The one advantage to how long and thick my hair is at the moment, is that it was perfect for creating this kind of look. When I arrived at the gorgeous salon, I was greeted by Declan who would be styling my hair. We discussed some ideas and decided to go for some big curls. He wanted to create something that was wearable with some Pre-Raphaelite inspiration.

It took a couple of hours to curl all my hair – there really is a lot of it! The end result was amazing.

Here we fluffed the hair up a bit more for a slightly more Pre-Raphaelite take on the look. It was such a fun way to spend the afternoon and I absolutely loved the salon. Declan was amazing and really took his time to create a look that we both loved. It’s definitely made me want to go back and get a cut and colour done very soon!

William Holman HuntThe Lady of Shalott, about 1886-1905© Manchester City Galleries/Bridgeman ImagesThe salon is absolutely gorgeous and every time I’ve walked past it, I’ve admired the decor. As well as the Dalston branch they have salons in quite a few locations across London. I really enjoyed looking at all the pictures on the wall. It was such a nice environment to sit for a couple of hours and relax, while Declan worked on my hair.

Here’s my resident art historian Matthew, with a little bit more information about the exhibition – The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood formed in 1848 when a group of young artists, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt, were looking for a new and fresh inspiration for their art. Instead of looking to the 16th-century Renaissance artist Raphael, who was held up as the ideal model for artists to follow, they were inspired by older medieval and early Renaissance art. This exhibition puts one of their favourite old paintings, Jan van Eyck’s 1434 ‘Arnolfini Portrait’ in the centre, and shows how it influenced the ambitious young Pre-Raphaelite artists.

Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Giovanni (?) Arnolfini and his Wife and ‘The Arnolfini Portrait’ , 1434, National Gallery, London © The National Gallery, London

Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Giovanni (?) Arnolfini and his Wife and ‘The Arnolfini Portrait’ , 1434, National Gallery, London © The National Gallery, London

It’s brilliant to see one of the National Gallery’s most famous paintings surrounded by the Pre-Raphaelite’s works. You can see how they loved the Arnolfini Portrait’s beautiful colours and perfect attention to detail. A painting that was hundreds of years old inspired these Victorian artists to create art that was bold and revolutionary. They loved features like its mysterious round mirror and even had replicas of it in their homes. Van Eyck’s serious portrait was the inspiration for the Pre-Raphaelite’s beautiful women from medieval legend.

Today, the Pre-Raphaelite paintings themselves are now all more than a century old, but they are still beautiful, vivid and fascinating. Just as the Pre-Raphaelites were inspired by Van Eyck, we can be inspired by them for our art, our homes and our style.

Hurry along to catch this exhibition before it closes on 2nd April, and see what inspiration you can find.

Find out more about the exhibition on the National Gallery website

Find out more about Blue Tit London on their website

Thank you to Matthew Storey for contributing to this post. Matthew is a curator and art historian with a specialism in historic art and decorative art. You can read a couple of other posts by him here and here


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This week I was invited by the V&A to preview their fabulous new exhibition. Unfortunately I was unable to attend due to a hospital appointment, so my lovely brother Matthew went in my place. Luckily he’s an Opera enthusiast and as a curator, he knows a thing or two about what makes a good exhibition. Today on the blog, he shares his impressions of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics.

Before I start, I better be honest: I love opera. Not just a little bit – I’m a complete fan, and go whenever I can. I’m going to 23 operas this year, and that’s a quiet year for me! So I was so excited when Catherine asked if I could go and review the latest exhibition at London’s V&A Museum, Opera: Passion, Power and Politics. Could the exhibition teach something new to a super fan like me, and more importantly, would it be a good introduction to somebody who’s never seen an opera? I’d say the answers are yes, and yes.

If you’re interested in history, then this would be a great exhibition for you. It takes seven opera premiers in seven cities to show how opera is a vital part of the story of European politics and culture. It starts in Venice in 1642 with beautiful objects showing the luxury of the most sophisticated city in Europe and the site of the premier of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea), an opera about desire, intrigue and political scheming. We then go on a tour across history in London, Vienna, Milan, Paris and Dresden all the way to St. Petersburg in 1934 where Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was so controversial it was banned just two years later. The exhibition really shows that opera isn’t safe or cosy, but is full of politics and history that are just as exciting today as when they were written.

However, I’ll confess, I was mainly swept away by the immersive experience the V&A has created in the exhibition. When you go in you’re given a pair of headphones which use near-field technology to play the right music wherever you are in the exhibition. So when you’re standing next to the piano Mozart played and looking at his handwritten score for a piece of music from Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) you hear the music itself being played. For an opera fan like me, this was really exciting, and it’s easy to just get lost in the beautiful music and forget you’re meant to be learning about history!

The piano played by Mozart. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

For all the fashion fans, they have some beautiful historic clothes, as well as stunning costumes from modern performances of the operas. The very rare 18th century opera costumes are covered in sparkling silver embroidery that must have looked incredible in a candle lit theatre.

18th Century opera costume from the V&A’s collection.

A tiny bodice worn by the Empress Eugénie of France shows the fashions of Paris in 1861 when Wagner’s Tannhäuser played in the home of 19th century grand opera.

Empress Eugénie’s bodice from the Bowes Museum. 

My favourite part was the reconstruction of the 18th century stage of Handel’s Rinaldo. The ropes and pulleys created the special effects of their day, with descending clouds, rolling waves, a ship and a mermaid! Watching it work is like going back in time.

The reconstruction of the 18th century theatre. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As an opera fan there were certainly lots of exhibits and ideas I thought were new and exciting. However, what if you’ve never seen an opera and are going to this exhibition to learn? Well, certainly you’ll realise that opera has the power to move and even shock you – the excerpt of Strauss’s Salome on show proves that opera certainly isn’t always beautiful and romantic. This exhibition isn’t a history of opera, and because of its approach to show seven premiers that happened at important moments in European history, many famous operas are not included. Verdi’s La Traviata is represented only by one costume, and you won’t see any of Puccini’s greatest and most popular operas, like La bohème, Madama Butterfly or my favourite, Tosca. These works define the passion and romance of opera for many people, so if this exhibition leaves you wanting to see more opera then go and check those out.

Violetta’s ballgown from the Royal Opera House’s production of La Traviata. (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The exhibition ends with an installation showing that opera has now spread out of Europe to cover the whole world. More opera is performed now then ever before, and composers continue to write new and extraordinary pieces. So if you’ve never seen an opera then you’re living at the perfect time to give it a go!

The Royal Opera House in London is showing two of the operas featured in the next few months, Salome and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. If you live in Britain then check out some of the great companies across the country, from Opera North to Welsh National Opera. English Touring Opera and the Glyndebourne tour both take amazing opera all over the country. My advice is to get online as soon as ticket booking opens to get the best value tickets, it’s the only way I can afford to see 23 operas in a year! If you can’t make it to a live show then check out screenings in your local cinema.

The reason I’m such a fan is because nothing else gives me a thrill like hearing the music and the voices of the singers, and the V&A’s show succeeds in showing the real passion of opera.

Thanks so much Matthew, for stepping in and writing such a lovely piece. I’ll be checking out the exhibition myself as soon as I can.

Matthew Storey is a curator and art historian with a specialism in historic art and decorative art. 

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics runs from now until 25th February 2018. You can find out more about the exhibition on the V&A website

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