A couple of weeks ago I visited the ‘Drawing on Childhood’ exhibition at the Foundling Museum. Originally built as a hospital for orphans and unwanted children in 1741 by Thomas Coran, the museum hosts a permanent exhibition on the history of the hospital as well as visiting exhibitions such as this one which looks at illustrations of foundlings in literature. From Oliver and Peter Pan, to Harry Potter and James and the Giant Peach, the exhibition displays a range of interpretations form the original first editions, to modern depictions of these much loved characters.
It was lovely to see how different illustrators had brought these children to life in such different styles. Below is Mabel Lucie Atwell’s work for a 1921 copy of Peter Pan alongside Steven White’s recent graphic novel of the tale. His drawings were slightly darker, with a nod to anime style, and I definitely want to get my hands on a copy.
As well as spotting some of my favourite titles, I was also awakened to some children’s classics that I have not yet had the pleasure of discovering, and have also added to my wishlist.
The following week, I found my self Easter-holidaying in Lyme Regis where I visited one of my favourite little finds – The Sanctuary Bookshop.
This is an Aladdin’s cave of bookshop with room after room of floor to ceiling bookshelves, stacks of antiques, memorabilia and framed cartoons – it even overflows to the basement! What I like most is the way the shelves are categorised. With entire sections dedicated to particular authors, or even to certain publishers and imprints, such as the old Penguin Classics, the layout encourages rummaging and discovery. There are also a mix of original treasures alongside more recent works, and obscure titles you may never have heard of.
Amongst the children’s classics, I spotted a beautiful, slightly love-worn 1921 edition of The Water Babies, filled with both line illustrations and colours works by George Soper. This was one of the titles from the exhibition that I have not yet read so I was delighted to add this stunning copy to my collection.
My heels skipped in anticipation across the tiled bouquet of the sweeping entrance. From the black and white blooms beneath my feet to the intricate frosted glass, the façade sang out the old cinema’s name: The Daffodil.
The Daffodil picture palace first opened its doors on the 5th October 1922 showcasing silent Hollywood movies before flowing into the world of the ‘talkies’ in 1930, replacing the orchestra with a state of the art sound-system. The 750 seats included the country’s first ‘kissing seats’: designed for courting couples, these double seats were placed at the ends of rows and could be reserved for those special, intimate evenings.
We were welcomed at the front desk with a smile and ushered through the chrysalis of the Stalls, breaking into a magnificent dining room. Flanked on either side by gleaming bars, the room blossoms out in a symmetrical table plan that pays respect to its Art Deco roots and worships the open kitchen that flares on stage. Of an evening, the space echoes with live jazz but this afternoon the high ceilings resonate with excited chatter of 1920s High Tea.
We are seated on scattered tables, each immaculately laid, and are offered a choice of enticing teas including Darjeeling Second Flush and Chamomile Flowers. We are then brought towers of delicacies from macarons to cinnamon biscuits to the most exquisite brownies that will ever melt at your lips.The original spotlights peak down at us from the balcony, bouncing off the daffodil frieze and the chandelier lighting as we are swept up in the magic of this time travelling gem.
When we can not manage a single more sandwich or scone, we float up the twin sweeping staircases to the specialist champagne and cocktail bar that has made its home in the vacated Circle. Enjoying the glitz of the interior, the sparkle of the glasses and the dazzle of conversation between old friends, we laughed into the evening from the heart of The Daffodil.
The trees held hands overhead as we wound our way out of Oxford to the warm glow of the Cotswold farmhouse. Every Friday and Saturday night, The Secret Supper Society open their country home to a small selection of guests and treat them to a fabulous dining experience in their own cosy, softly-lit dining room. Cook Jules Thomas, assisted by her husband and daughter serving team, delivers a taste sensation in a carefully crafted five course set menu. She is attentive to special dietary requirements, and even promises to not serve you the same dish twice. The evening is all about the food, which looks as though it has been lured from the glossy pages of a high-end cook book. The captivating smell introduces each approaching course and silence falls in the intimate dining space as each guest becomes mesmerised by the beautiful plate that is presented to them. And the flavours do not disappoint. Using ingredients and methods that you would not often encounter, the Secret Supper Society perfectly balance a friendly home atmosphere with a unique tasting experience. From lobster bisque, to whipped Brie, to fairy floss, the pop up restaurant offer an unforgettable experience.
You are welcome to bring your own drinks, which will be chilled as necessary and brought to you at the touch of a bell. You are also invited into the kitchen, should you wish to watch the menu come to life.
The restaurant is open Friday evenings for several smaller tables, and Saturdays are dedicated to pre-booked private parties.
What has a neck but no head?
In a darkened street off the Iffley Road, we moved towards the flickering lanterns that guard the small door of The Mad Hatter. Upon our answer to the riddle, the inner door swings open and welcomes us into the red glow and mirrors of wonderland. Old fashioned telephones, retro upholstery, intimate tables and walls adorned with a flock of instruments complete the look as we take our seats in the corner. Swing music thrums through my skin as I pick up one of the ladybird books of Alice in Wonderland that looks at me charmingly from the table. This is the artful menu – another world created of fanciful cocktails that marry the best spirits with enticing flavours such as fig and elderflower. You can select a teapot cocktail to share or cradle one of the various shapely vessels which include conical glasses, pewter tankards and champagne saucers. The staff are smiley, eccentric and attentive and as the drinks flow and the music gets louder you become fully absorbed in this little Oxford gem. And now that I know about happy hour, this is a little fantasy I will be keen to revisit.
Yesterday I went out to a fabulous lunch at The Feathers hotel in Woodstock. And fabulous is the word. Swept in along a vibrant, feather-patterned carpet into an elegant yet empty room, we were treated to a real dining experience. The service was timed perfectly so as to give you time to enjoy each course and the conversation in between, whilst also being highly attentive, checking we were happy with drinks and refilling our water glasses. The food was equally jaw dropping – elegant and delicious, dainty yet satisfying. The wonderland atmosphere was a real treat and a special experience.
Jaffe & Neale cafe bookshop, nestled in the heart of Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds, embodies everything that needs to be preserved in independent bookshops. The small little building invites you in with vibrant window displays and bunting and keeps you there with mountains of signed copies, recommendations and special displays – not to mention the great coffee and cake on offer. With a regular book group and frequent author events housed within the bay windows and comforting old beams, this is certainly going to become a favourite haunt.