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MY FAVOURITE PLACES: Rachel Bavidge, actress

11 Oct

Rachel Bavidge’s acting career began at Oxford’s Pegasus Theatre when she joined Oxford Youth Theatre in the Nineties. Now a successful actress, she has most recently appeared in ‘Eastenders’, ‘The Shadow Line’ and ‘Law & Order’.  This Saturday evening (13 Oct 2012) Rachel will be joining Radiohead’s Philip Selway and Eastenders director Steve Finn for a reading of Noel Coward’s ‘Private Lives’ at Pegasus.

The Ashmolean Museum

The Alfred jewel

I’ve always loved this place and got my first real job after college working here in the coin department.  My favourite object is ‘The Alfred Jewel’ which is a beautiful piece of Anglo-Saxon art.  No-one is certain what it’s for, but it’s inscribed with ‘Alfred ordered me to be made’ and was probably made on the orders of King Alfred the Great.
The Jericho Tavern, Jericho, central Oxford

I spent most of the Nineties hanging round here watching bands play, including my then boyfriend, a bass player in ‘The Bigger The God’ who played lots of gigs round Oxford. The bands around were ones like Ride, Supergrass, The Candyskins and Radiohead (On a Friday) and it was an amazing time for live music.
Oxford Playhouse , Beaumont St, central Oxford

I was a member of the Youth Theatre here and defected from the Ashmolean across the road to get a job as the Community Education worker.  It was always insanely busy but I loved going out and meeting new people and giving those who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre a taste of it.

Cowley Road
, Oxford

I spent many happy hours getting drunk in pubs along this road and having late night takeaways after dancing at the Zodiac, which is now The O2. The area has changed over the years but not too much, and it’s still a great place to hangout. Aziz Restaurant was a favourite and I think I was one of the few people to eat one of their meals on stage at Pegasus.  In the play I was in, called Steaming, the characters eat a hot curry, and the restaurant delivered this to us every night!  Cafe Coco and Uhuru Whole Foods were also big favourites.

Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry

I used to live around the corner from this church where CS Lewis is buried, and when I was having a bad time with life (as all teenagers do) I used to come and sit by his grave for some time out.  I used to love the Narnia books as a child, but also I was brought up in a big catholic family where faith and the struggle with it, was central to our home life. CS Lewis’s own story had certain resonances that made me feel a connection.


REVIEW: Edward Lear exhibition at The Ashmolean, Oxford

22 Sep

I don’t know about you, but I love going to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It’s really calming, beautifully set out and, apart from some not-so-great expereriences in the cafe which is a bit too school canteen for my liking it’s a winner every time.

‘Jerusalem’ in oil, by Edward Lear


I saw this at the press preview a few days back so sorry it’s taken so long to review it for you – there was a small matter of men in togas on Wednesday night, then the Muddy Guide, then… well you know how it is.

I had great hopes for the Happy Birthday Edward Lear exhibition, and they’ve been largely fulfilled from an adult perspective. Having known so little of his work, the breadth of his art is impressive. His oil paintings are spectacular (see Jerusalem in particular) and his nonsense poetry and illustrations pre-date Lewis Carroll’s bonkers brilliance by some distance.

The exhibition is comprehensive, but won’t take more than an hour of your day so it’s perfect for dipping into during lunch break, or popping up to see it during a morning at the Ashmolean.

Lear’s early expertise as an ornithological artist

My presumption was that it would be great for little kids too – all those pictures of birds and self-portrait cartoons with silly beards – but with much of the exhibition given over to his landscape art, I probably wouldn’t make the pilgrimage on my 3 and 5 year old’s behalf. Older kids with a talent or real interest in art or birds will gain a lot more from it.

Also worth noting there’s a fab little exhibition shop as you leave Happy Birthday Edward Lear – right opposite in fact – where you can buy all sorts of loosely related gifts. The books are the best value – £10 for his Nonsense poetry and ABC illustrations of strange animals for children. Really good stocking fillers for (OMG, I can’t believe I’m saying this) CHRISTMAS!

Happy Birthday Edward Lear: 200 Years of Nature and Nonsense, until 6 January 2013. £4/£3 concessions.

WHAT’S ON: The Muddy Guide 21-27 September

21 Sep

The very best bits of Bucks/Oxfordshire for the next week, curated by Muddy Stilettos. Have fun peeps!

The Kop Hill Climb 2012, Sat 22-Sun 23 September

Strange the things that amuse us. 12,000 people lined Kop Hill outside Princes Risborough last year to watch 400 vintage car race (or pootle) up the Kop Hill Climb.

This is the fourth commemorative year of the original races of 1910-1925 and it’s getting more extravagant each time. I think I’m understanding this correctly when I say that a Spitfire plane powered by a 27 litre V12 Merlin engine will motor up the hill on Saturday! I think that’s worth the entrance fee on its own.

Classic cars like the McLaren MP4-12C Spider (sorry ladies, am I keeping you awake?) will be all red and shiny and flexing their metal muscles for your delectation, and if you really want to get into the spirit, organisers are also putting on vintage bus and steam train trips.

£10 for the first ticket, then £5 per adult. Under 12s free, and parking free. Kop Hill Road, Princes Risborough, HP27 0LB.

Blue/Orange, Aylesbury Waterside, 25-29 September

Luddite that I am, I’d never heard of the play Blue/Orange before now – well, have you?!! – but this psychological thriller has apparently it’s won every major award going. Oops. This new production, directed by Christopher Luscombe (The Madness of George III, Dandy Dick and Spamalot in the West End) stars the fabulous Robert Bathurst, my favourite character from Cold Feet and most recently Downton Abbey (go on, snog Edith!). The national press have given it rave reviews, with the Telegraph describing its ‘uncommon mixture of sensitivity, wit and daring’. Go and see for yourself and be a Muddy Stilettos critic in the comment box below.

Tickets £10-32.

Nonsense!, The Story Museum, Oxford, 21 September

This event is tonight (Friday)  so there’s not much time to rally the troops, but if you have the energy and your kids aren’t comotose in front of the telly, Nonsense! will be amazing. Michael Rosen, the former Children’s Laureate, hosts an evening of nonsense and jazz with the award-winning Homemade Orchestra at the much-admired Story Museum in central Oxford. It’s described as an ‘off the wall romp through an ever changing musical landscape, igniting the surreal, the playful and the unexpected’. Christ, ditch the kids and just go yourself! Suitable for all ages, 6pm-7.30pm, £10/£8 concessions.

The Story Museum, Rochester House, 42 Pembroke St, Oxford, OX1 1BP. Tel: 01865 790050.

Hysteria, general release from Friday 21 September

The Victorian version of the rampant rabbit. Fluffy!

I’ll be frank. This film hasn’t had the greatest reviews. But the idea of bringing out a movie about the invention of the vibrator is just so hilarious I can’t allow the opportunity pass by without telling you about it. Basically it’s a British period comedy-drama about a plucky London doctor who joins the staff of an affluent West End clinic specialising in “female hysteria”. He ends up, shall we say, releasing the tension amongst so many housewives that he gets the Victoria version of RSI and invents the vibrator to give his poor hands a rest. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ashley Jensen, Felicity Jones and Sheridan Smith are amongst the lucky ladies treated by the dexterous Hugh Dancy.

Henley Literary Festival, Mon 24 – Sun 30 September
We seem to do literary festivals very well in our neck of the woods. Hot on the heels of Woodstock’s success, it’s Henley’s turn to bathe in the literary sunlight. Writers like Jo Jo Moyes, Michael Palin and David Lodge join David Baddiel, Prue Leith, John Major and Rupert Everett to take part in more than 90 events around this gorgeous Thame-side setting. Book tickets to see your favourite authors, or just soak in the atmosphere for the day.
Garsington Manor, open gardens for NGS, on Sunday 23 Sepember
Parents coming down for the weekend? Kids need exercising like dogs? I have just the thing. Garsington Manor gardens (note: not the house itself) is open to prols like you and I on Sunday, as part of the National Gardens Scheme. Enjoy the early monastic fish ponds (not sure what these are – chanting koi karp?), water garden, dovecote from c1700, lake, flower parterre, Italianate terrace and loggie and statues. Gorgeous stuff.

Open between 2-5pm, Admission £5, Children free.

Your social life sorted: The Muddy Guide 15 – 21 September

15 Sep

Sorrryyyyyy this is late. Having a crazy old time of things, what with the new Muddy Stilettos blogazine launching in two weeks (*squeak!*), trying to find time to talk to advertisers, chucking three kids in and out of school and trying to keep my alcohol consumption within moral limits.

Anyhow, here it is, in all its glory. Your social life sorted for the week. Have fun and please, if you do any of the things on this list, write and tell us about them in the box below this post. Mi comment boxa e su comment boxa and all that.

Edward Lear exhibition, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 2o Sept 2012 – 6 Jan 2013

I confess that I didn’t know much about Edward Lear until a press release to this exhibition plopped into my in-box, but the Ashmolean’s brand new Exhibition Happy Birthday Edward Lear: 200 Years of Nature and Nonsense sounds captivating.

Lear is one of the most notable artists and popular writers of the Victorian period (I know, who knew?!), best known for his literary nonsense in poetry and prose, though he saw himself primarily as an artist.  I’ll be taking a sneaky pre-peek on the 19th so I’ll report back then but I’ve never had a less than interesting experience in the Ashmolean so I’m expecting great things. Frankly for £4 (and free for kids) you can afford to take a punt on it.

£4/£3 concessions | Free to under-18s/

Julius Caesar, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, 19-22 September

The RSC’s acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar comes to Aylesbury straight from the West End, starring a whole load of buff men wearing not very much. See you in the stalls! Tickets £10-30

London Design Festival, until 23 September

Milk Concept Boutique’s exhibition Be Seated

Are you a doer-upper, Grand Designs voyeur or hardened interiors pro? There’s something for everyone at the London Design Festival, now in its tenth year. Furniture, lighting, ceramics, architecture, fashion, interiors, graphic design and crafts are all lovingly covered in over 300 events.  The organisers recommend planning your visit carefully before you go – great advice because the range of this festival is truly gobsmacking. It’s not easy though. I’ve just spent half an hour trying to choose one brilliant event over another and have basically decided to sleep in the Truman Brewery for the next week.

Keeping it Local, Oxford’s Castle Quarter, 15-16 September

Muddy Stilettos gets all warm and toasty about community spirit, and Keeping It Local has it in spades. Over 100 exhibitors, from makers and bakers, gardeners to performers, will come together in Oxford’s Castle Quarter to showcase the best Oxfordshire and adjoining counties haveo offer. As you’d expect, there’s plenty for kids to do from pony rides, story telling, animal petting and face-painting while you concentrate on the important stuff like heckling the Morris Dancers.

10am-5pm both days. 1p entrance fee per person.

Jazz at St Giles,  St Giles Church, fortnightly from Saturday 22 September

I’m loving the idea of these new fortnightly Autumnal jazz concerts held at the 12th century St Giles church in central Oxford on Saturday nights. Featuring top class jazz musicians performing two sets with a 20 minute interval (yes, refreshments are available, you old lushes) the concerts will raise funds for the church, proving the famous adage that ‘jazzliness is next to Godliness’.

Tickets are available on the door, or book online at .  Tickets £10/concessions £8. Doors open: 7.00pm
Performance: 7.30pm

Luminaries at LASSCO, Milton Common, Thursday 20 September

I love LASSCO Three Pigeons, the architectural salvage experts nestled on the edge of Milton Common, with their quirky treasure trove of Grecian pillars, stuffed animals, Victorian door knobs and glorious chandeliers.

In line with its classy but slightly out-there aesthetic, the company has introduced a’Luminaries’ series of evening talks, the first of which was about the Antarctic explorer Frank Wild (!), but the second of which, container gardening, has infinitely broader in its appeal. Paul Williams, former Head Gardener at Bourton House and now consultant, broadcaster and author, is dropping by on 20 September to spill his trade secrets. Apparently there’ll be practical demos with pots, plants, compost and ‘quite a bit of mess’ according to LASSCO’s gleeful owner Anthony. Bring your own trowel for acccurate mud-flicking.

£10, including a glass of wine. 6.30pm for a 7pm start. LASSCO Three Pigeons, London Road, Milton Common, Oxfordshire OX9 2JN United Kingdom Tel: 01844 277188.

Chilterns Countryside and Food Festival, Ashridge Estate, Berkhamsted, Sunday 16 September

Can you stomach another festival? This one has all the usual attributes of kids crafts, ferret racing and local produce stalls, but plays its trump card in its location – the Ashridge Estate, which is stunning even by Chilterns standards. When all the bushcraft, sheep shearing and traditional beardy weardy woodcarving gets too much for you, take a deep breath, step into 6 miles of glorious forest and remember what you’re really celebrating.

10-4pm, £3 adults, children free. Ashridge Visitor Centre, tel: 01442 851 227

The Muddy Guide to Going Out: 12-19 July

12 Jul

Art in Action, Waterperry Gardens, 19-22 July

I think this art fest is going to be brilliant.  Around 400 artists, teachers, musicians and performers are descending upon the gorgeous Waterperry Gardens to demonstrate (and in some cases sell) their art. A good place to start is the Best of the Best exhibition which offers a cross-section of the entire show with more than 150 artists and 44 tents showing the single piece of work they consider their best. Click here for the latest list of what’s on.
Family ticket £30 (2 adults, 2 children 9-17). Adults £15, Child (9-17) £5. Under 9s free.

Vale Harvest, XT Brewery, Long Crendon, 14 July

A quick nudge to remind any foodies to head along to the official launch of the wonderful Vale Harvest, a new collective in Ayesbury Vale whose aim is to help consumers connect with local producers, whether buying direct from a supplier or from a local retailer. Expect tastings, talks and demonstrations and, of course, lashings of local beer.
Click  here for the latest info.
10am-3pm, XT Brewery, Notley Farm, Long Crendon HP18 9ER. Tel: 01844 208 310.

Hamlet, Globe Theatre on Tour, Bodleian Library, Oxford, until 26 July

The Old Schools Quad at the Bodleian is the stunning setting for Shakespeare’s tragedy, with the stage designed in Elizabethan style (ie like a garden picnic – a couple of tarpaulins and some sticks!). Apparently the Globe Theatre know a thing or two about the bard and The Independent has described its performance as, ‘a wonderfully engrossing touring production’. So whether your a theatre afficionado, or would just like to inflict some intellectual suffering on your children in the name of GCSEs, here’s your chance.
In conjunction with the Oxford Playhouse. Tickets £18. There are matinee as well as evening performances. For a full list, click here.

Ice Age 4: Continental Drift, on general release from 13 July (2D or 3D)

The plot, you say? Who cares? All you need to know is that you can sit in semi-consciousness in the dark, with a tub of popcorn and an enormous vat of coke nestled in your lap, while your children stay in their seats for 2 hours without so much as a squeak in your direction. Worth every penny.

Antiques Roadshow, Stowe Landscape Gardens, 19 July

Dust off your family heirlooms, retrieve your old stamp collection, rummage in your great-aunty’s drawers while she’s making you a cup of tea. Yes indeedy, the Antiques Roadshow is pulling up at the jaw-droppingly lovely Stowe Landscape Gardens, hosted by Fiona Bruce. Entry is free, but in case you don’t feel like making the pilgrimage to Stowe with a whopping great sofa or painting, you can email pics across to If the experts like the look of the item, they may look in advance and organise its transportation to the venue.
9.30am – 4.30pm. Stowe, Buckingham, Bucks MK18 5EH

Britain Creates 2012: Fashion + Art Collusion, V&A Museum, London. Until 29 July

Paul Smith, Matthew Williamson, Gavin Turk, Nicholas Kirkwood, Jess Flood-Paddock, Matt Collishaw and other huge names in fashion and the art world combine their talents in this multi-media mash up, as part of the Olympic year cultural celebrations. Paul Smith and Charming Baker’s collaboration is suitably irreverent, Matthew Williamson and Matt Collishaw create something beautiful, and Hussein Chalayan and Gavin Turk make, um, an audio track. A damned good one though, I’m sure.
V&A, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL.

8 unmissable events in Bucks/Oxon this week

4 Jul

I get around a lot this days (in the nicest sense of the phrase, if you don’t mind) but I’m really impresed with the amount of cool stuff going on in Bucks & Oxon at the mo. Grab your diaries and book this week of wonderment.

Roald Dahl Festival (Aylesbury) v Alice’s Day (Oxford) Sat 7 – Sun 8 July

It’s literary fisticuffs this weekend as Buckinghamshire’s Roald Dahl takes on Oxfordshire’s Alice in Wonderland. On Saturday 7 July, the 10th Roald Dahl Festival takes place in Aylesbury town centre, with a parade of giant puppet characters and themes from Dahl’s stories at 11am, plus street theatre and samba. After the parade, head to Vale Park for the Roald Dahl Games and watch your little maggots tossing snozzcumbers and other linguistic oddities.

Alternatively, go all surrealist and head to Oxford, where an impressive weekend of activities has been put together to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first telling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice’s Day (now in its fifth year, mostly on Saturday but going into Sunday) includes an exhibition of Salvador Dali’s illustrations for the book at Christ Church Picture Gallery (until 22nd November), an Alice flotilla down the Thames, activities at the Ashmolean, plus promenade theatre, walks and talks.

Best fun of all is The Caucus Race which takes place in Christ Church’s Merton Field (2-5pm) on Sunday 8 July with its stunning backdrop of Oxford colleges and the River Isis and will involve dance, street theatre, and Wonderland games for all ages. The ‘Race’ is produced by Cirque Bijou, who are also delivering the Battle for the Wind, one of the highlights of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, so it should be quite a spectacle. For a full programme, click here.

 Haddenham Summer Beerfest, Sat 7 July, 11am-9pm

This is among the biggest beer festivals in the country and is always expertly organised. Great for families because kids can run amok safely in the school grounds, or for beer connoisseurs who want to compare/contrast/flake out under a tree, this year promises two bars (one covering local breweries, and one with beers around the country), plus a world beer tent, Pimms & wine bar, live jazz, four rock and pop bands, deli food, pig roast, BBQ, paella, Morris Men and Hoofers and a bouncy castle for the kids. Where’s the Nurofen concession though?
Haddenham Beer Fest, Haddenham Junior School, Woodways, Haddenham, HP17 8DS. Last entry 6pm.

Designer Sales UK Sample Sale, Fri 6 – Sun 8 July, Chelsea Old Town Hall

The high street sales not cutting it for you? Pah, forget about them! Head down to the King’s Road instead for the chance to buy pieces from Vivienne Westwood and Jimmy Choo at up to 90 per cent off the original retail price. Womenswear, menswear and accessories are on sale over the three days, and there’s a vintage boutique, personal stylists on hand and collections by young fashion graduates to get you in the mood. Noon-8pm Fri 6 July; 11am-7pm Sat 7 July; 11am-4pm Sun 8 July. £2 entry.
Chelsea Old Town Hall, King’s Rd, London, SW3 5EE

Festival Fever continues, Sat 7 – Sun 8 July

Who knew that Snap! still had such a fervent fan base?

Two lovely local festivals on this weekend worth your perusal. Marlow holds its very first Live at Riley Festival on 8 July, with local bands, a bar bus, zorbing, dancing workshops, a handmade market and lots more. It’s very civilised too – starts at 12pm and finishes at 8pm. Otherwise, Penn Festival (7-8 July) now a relative veteran in its second year, is calling in the Eighties big guns with Soul II Soul, Altered Images, The Beat and Snap!, plus a huge array of kid-friendly circusy stuff. My bet is you’ll have a fun time at either – or both if you have the stamina!

Abingdon Town Hall, reopens 12pm, Sat 7 July

This beautiful 17th century hall, closed for two years whilst £3m of renovations took place, is reopening on Saturday. Get there at 12pm and you’ll see one of the Horrible Histories actresses dressed at Elizabeth I doing the grand ribbon cutting (sorry, I can’t be more specific than that because the woman at the Town Hall didn’t know herself). If the weather holds, all four floors will be open. Exhibitions include the Fifty Years of MG complete with the last MG ever made in Abingdon, plus the history of bun-throwing – a local tradition doncha know, and now the inspiration for the ‘Buns in the Basement’ cafe.

Jenny Saville exhibition, Modern Art Oxford, until 16 September

Jenny Saville is one of those artists whose work repels and fascinates in equal measure. I find her work disturbing in the same way I struggle with Lucien Freud’s depictions of female nudity but I still feel compelled to see her work. Modern Art Oxford has the honour of presenting the first solo show of the artist in a UK public gallery including her latest work.

Tried & Tested: a great little museum in Henley

8 Jun

This weather is driving me nutty. It’s just so hard to think up interesting things to do with the kids day after day when it’s pidoodling down with rain. But I have a new trick up my sleeve now – The River & Rowing Museum in Henley.

Admittedly the name sounds a bit dull, as if you’re going to see a few stuffed mallards and fish (well, there were a few of those!), but it’s actually an attractive, light, modern space, built in 1998 right on the river and just a five minute walk from the town.

I should caveat this post by saying that I didn’t see the museum at its most typical yesterday as I stumbled in on a Prince & Princess day (Cassius won the dressing up competition and taunted his sister for the next four hours with ‘I’m the winner, I’m the winner!) but even without full size Toad of Toad Halls roaming about and singalong performances, there’s plenty for everyone here, not least because there are five temporary exhibition spaces that change regularly.

For small kids, the current Wind In The Willows exhibition is totally charming – we went around it twice – with cleverly presented  3D models, theatrical lighting and music and an audio guide bringing the story to life. There were several well-equipped drawing and sticking stations too, with helpful staff showing idiots like me how to help my kids make butterfly puppets (well, come on, do you know?!).

For older kids and adults, there’s loads of interesting stuff, including an early Thames boat from around 540AD , Olympic gold medals and other paraphenalia on display, the history of rowing in the UK (including womens rowing), early rowing machines, and a small but perfectly-formed exhibition of John Piper (1903 – 1992) displayed for the first time in the UK. It’s quite an eclectic mix, but it really works because of it. It’s great to have art nestled next to drawing stations, and interractive oar-pull measurers next to historical artefacts.

The cafe downstairs is decent, with paninis and soups, kids lunch boxes and indecent-looking cakes, but if you get to the museum early enough and it stops tanking down with rain for 5 minutes I’d suggest a stroll into the town centre for something to eat, down past the river, the rows of weeping willows, and Toad, Rat and Mole.

Adults £8, Children 4-16 £8, under 4s free. Family ticket concessions.  The price of entry gives you free admission for the whole year.

River & Rowing Museum, Mill Meadows, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire, RG9 1BF. Tel: 01491 415600.

You might also like: Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford – see my past post via the ‘Museum’ Category tab

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