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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A few weeks ago I went on a spontaneous trip to Margate with a couple of friends. It was a lovely little getaway and although we only stayed for 2 days, we certainly made the most of our time there. Margate has so much culture to explore and its also the perfect place for foodies to indulge in some delicious treats. I couldn’t decide whether to do a summary post of all the things we did or to break it down. In the end I decided that there was so much to say that I would give each place it’s own post.

Bus Cafe, MargateThe Bus Cafe: 

First up – the fun and fabulous Bus Cafe in Margate is a little bit special. Not only is the old double decker a fun and quirky venue, the food is also beautiful, fresh and locally sourced. On a sunny day it makes the perfect spot for a spot of lunch by the sea.

Cafe Margate BeachFood with a Conscience: 

If you care about the environment and only like to leave a positive footprint behind you, then The Bus Cafe is a pretty guilt free indulgence. They support local charities and all the packaging is biodegradable or recyclable. The business aims to create as little waste as possible and have a strong ethos of reusing and up-cycling.

Food and Drink in MargateFood and Drink:

Now onto the most important part- the food. The menu is street food inspired and has great options for both veggies and carnivores, vegan and gluten and dairy free customers are also well catered for.  Everything is freshly prepared and the ingredients are beautiful. This is good, honest colourful food, healthy and good for the soul.

Fentimans Mandarin and Seville Orange JiggerI started off with a bottle of Fentimans Mandarin and Seville Orange Jigger, the perfect antidote to a very hot and sunny walk. The cafe have lots of Fentimans flavours, but sadly didn’t have any ice.

Halloumi Salad WrapI had a delicious vegetarian salad wrap. This had nice chunky lumps of halloumi, with seasonal vegetables and seeds for that extra bit of crunch. On the side I had falafel balls. It was all absolutely delicious, with lots of flavour and a perfect balance of ingredients. For such a healthy meal it felt very indulgent and by the time I’d finished I felt full and satisfied. Since we had lots of walking and exploring to do, this was a great meal for an energy boost.

The Bus Cafe Margate ReviewThe staff were absolutely lovely and very enthusiastic about the food. We asked lots of questions and got helpful answers and recommendations. The service was really friendly and it really added to an already great experience. So if you’re visiting Margate be sure to check out with lovely business.

Find out more on The Bus Cafe website.

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Green is my absolute favourite colour, I love trees and freshly cut grass and being in the countryside with nothing but green landscape for miles. My bedroom is painted green and my favourite pen writes with green ink. Unfortunately there is not nearly enough green in my wardrobe and thats where todays dress comes in. When I saw the latest collection from Voodoo Vixen, the Delilah dress was one of the things that really stood out to me. So when I got the chance to review another dress for them, this is the one I chose.

The dress is trimmed with an adorable daisy trim, which is just perfect for an English summer. It has delicate spaghetti straps and two little patch pockets at the front. It fastens with a concealed zip at the back and had an elasticated smocked section at the back, making it quite flexible for size. The dress is made from a polyester and rayon blend, which has the feel of a stretch cotton blend and has a really nice weight to it.

I went for a size Large in this one, I’m usually a UK size 14 and the fit of this was great. I can be a bit between sizes in Voodoo Vixen, but I’d say this one is pretty true to size. The smocking at the back gives the dress lots of bust room, the adjustable straps also make this one quite flexible for bigger boobs.

The overall quality of the dress is lovely and the fabric is really nice, the construction is really good and the trim is beautiful. My only qualm is the way the smocking sits at the sides. I found adding a belt to the dress sorted this out and so this wasn’t a big problem for me. I wore mine with a daisy hair garland, Miss L Fire shoes, a vintage 197os belt and a vintage celluloid bangle. The dress is really easy to accessorise as it features yellow and white details. It’s nice to add some brighter shoes for that extra pop of colour. I couldn’t resist wearing this lovely dress for a walk around the lavender fields, I’m so glad they’re in bloom as its really is the perfect location for taking outfit pics. I look a bit tired as I’m not very well and this was the day before I ended up at the hospital, so despite the beautiful dress I’m not looking my best!

You can find this and lots of other gorgeous things over on the Voodoo Vixen website.

*Thank you to Voodoo Vixen for sending me this dress for the purposes of review. All opinions as always are my own. 

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A few weeks ago I reviewed the lovely striped shirt dress from Joanie Clothing. Today I have another lovely outfit from them. I’ve really got a thing for orange at the moment, so I chose this fun sweater with a pretty polka dot skirt.

The Quinn polka dot skirt is a really above the knee skirt in 97% cotton 3% elastane, given the heaviness of cotton with a little stretch. It comes with a lovely plaited belt. I went for my usual size 14 in this and it fits really comfortably and is pretty true to size. The quality of the fabric is lovely and having washed it a few times now, its hasn’t faded or shrunk at all.

The Maddie Bonjour jumper, is a super soft and light and perfect for dressing up with skirts or for a casual look with jeans. I think this would work really well year round for summer evenings or autumn days with a blouse underneath. The print is made from braid rather than being printed on, these little details always make all the difference.

As I usually only wear dresses, so it’s really nice to go for something a bit different and this outfit is such a fun comfortable combination. I also love how versatile and mix and match both pieces are. I’m looking forward to trying them on with lots of my other clothes.

I’ve worn the outfit here with a floral hair band and a pair of simple brogues from Hotter.

Here are a few of my other favourites from the Joanie site, that go with the orange and blue theme.

Nautical TeeStripe Skirt – Sun HatCrab BagBardot Dress

Find the full range on the Joanie Clothing website.

*Thank you to Joanie Clothing for sending me this outfit for the purposes of review. All opinions as always are my own. 

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At the moment I’m feeling a bit fed up of London. Its been a hard few weeks for the city I grew up in and I spend a lot of time thinking about our future here. But then I remember all the things I love about living here. The diversity, the museums, the heritage and culture and of course the food. Trying new places to eat and exploring the city through food, will never be something I get bored of. I absolutely love finding new places to enjoy a meal with a friend, there really is nothing better for the soul than good food and good conversation.

I have digressed a little from the point of this post! I recently visited the fabulous Wild Food Cafe, I loved this place so much I just had to write a little review and talk about what I thought.This wonderful little spot,  is tucked away in the vibrant Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden.  This wonderful little spot is an oasis in the busy city, a lovely little retreat from a busy day. If you need a little colour in your life head to Neal’s Yard.

I absolutely love healthy food, I’ve always loved my fruit and veg and fresh beautifully cooked meals. I also love my treats, and I do like to indulge in delicious things. The cafe has a fab menu of plant based foods, as you’ve never seen them before. Healthy, colourful, vibrant food at it’s best. I visited the cafe a few weeks ago with Fay.

As soon as we arrived, we were seated on  a long table, by a window looking out on Neal’s Yard. We had loads of questions about the food and the waitress was absolutely fantastic, she talked us through the menu, made recommendations and explained ingredients to us. By the time we ordered we were really happy with our choices and it was just really nice having a chat with someone who was passionate about the food.

The menu has loads of great choices and almost all the ingredients are things I really enjoy. The menus are seasonal and we chose from the Spring menu. They’ve now moved on to an exciting new summer menu and I’d love to go back every season and see whats new.

For my main I opted for the Quan Yin Bowl, a beautifully presented combination of wild and black rice, asparagus, sweet potato, avocado, sprouting broccoli and pili nuts, served with kohlrabi slaw and grain mustard. All good stuff! The presentation was stunning and this tasted every bit as beautiful as it looked. It was very filling and utterly delicious.

The dessert was every bit as lovely as the main. I opted for the White Chocolate and Goji Berry Tart and Fay chose the Matcha Cheesecake. Both desserts were beautiful and considering all the lovely healthy ingredients they tasted every bit as lovely as their more surgery counterparts elsewhere.

I was impressed with everything about the Wild Food Cafe. The location is lovely and the perfect fit for relaxed atmosphere. The food is beautiful and the staff are lovely. If you find yourself in the area looking fro a good meal, then I couldn’t recommend it enough. The meal along with a freshly made juice cost just over £20, which was very reasonable for the quality of the food.

Find the cafe at – 1st Floor, 14 Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden WC2H 9DP

Find out more on The Wild Food Cafe website.