Ylva111's Blog

Second visits make all the difference

June 15, 2017
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On my second visit to the new Design Museum in the former Commonwealth Institute I started to like it…..And perhaps when I re-visit the transformed Garden Museum at Lambeth the same will happen. Any visit to the Royal College of Surgeons’ museum at Lincoln’s Inn will have to wait a few years!

The Design Museum warmed up by Californian Dreams

On my first visit shortly after it opened, I found the new Design Museum cold and unfriendly and the permanent exhibition on the second floor crammed and uninspiring. Memories of the old Commonwealth Institute kept crowding in and I looked for some recognition of the battle that had gone on in the ‘90s to keep it going, something which I had played a small part in.

This time we visited the California: Designing Freedom exhibition, spaciously displayed in the ground floor temporary exhibition gallery.  This took us on a time trail from the ‘60s – the summer of love – to geeky blokes in garages launching the tech revolution.  Here was the design palette for the LA Olympics in 1984 with its colourful branding in contrast to the strict guidelines to laid down today by the Olympics Association. And we remembered some of those first cumbersome computers, mobile phones, printers and fax-machines, and compared them with today’s replacement.  It’s clear for all the efforts of Apple and others that they, too, will soon be museum objects.  The exhibition continues until October.

The café on the ground floor still needs some murals or posters, but has good coffee and a great selection of filled rolls and sandwiches. And friendly guides meet visitors as they arrive. The only thing missing is a bit of history!

https://designmuseum.org/

Mystery burials at the Garden Museum, Lambeth

The Garden Museum, newly reopened, in St Mary’s Church on the edge of the Lambeth bridge roundabout also evokes memories. In the ‘70s and ‘80s,  the intrepid Rosemary Nicholson made it her life work to save the church and the churchyard where the gardeners, father and son, Tradescant are buried.  At the London Tourist Board we did our bit by staging the annual London In Bloom Prizegiving in what was then a rather chilly church with one toilet and not much comfort.  Rosemary would be pleased to see what the dynamic director, Christopher Woodward, has achieved.  A hard-won extension at the back provides more space not just for the café but also for a learning centre. The exhibition galleries are linked by a new high level walkway and tell the story of gardening in short sharp bursts.

During the redevelopment work the builders lifted a few flagstones in the floor and revealed a secret burial chamber with up to 30 lead coffins.  Five of these were identified as those of Archbishops, former occupants of nearby Lambeth Palace. The crypt can now be glimpsed through a glass panel in the floor and perhaps more information on this discovery will follow.

We missed the opportunity to try the new café which was not quite ready, and will return. Hopefully the second visit will not just provide a good lunch but also a slightly more welcoming feeling in the church itself.  A few plants perhaps, not just in the beautiful churchyard garden but here as well? And a little bit more about the history of the church?

http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/

Royal College of Surgeons

If you were planning a revisit to the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, Lincoln’s Inn, you’ll have to wait. The building is now closed and all the museum objects are being packed up and will in due course (2020?) be displayed in a new museum, on the ground floor of the building.  Something to look forward to – in the meantime, why not take a trip to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow!

More from me at my website ylvafrench.co.uk


Discover Venice in London

May 25, 2017
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Can’t face the thought of the summer crowds in Venice? Why not head to the Queen’s Gallery in London where Canaletto and the Art of Venice has just opened?  Mind you, there may be a few obstacles as you make your way along Buckingham Palace Road with other tourists in search of the Palace.  Passing the porticoed entrance to the Queen’s Gallery, some are tempted inside to explore the shop; others join the queue for the Gallery, sometimes in the mistaken belief that they are entering the Palace itself.

All this, as well as the entrance charge, will be worth it, however, for all lovers of Venetian art. So take your time to explore this beautifully presented exhibition which includes not just the Queen’s works by Canaletto but many works of art by his contemporaries, such as Sebastiano and Marco Ricci, Rosalba Carriera, Zuccarelli and Battista.

Who was Joseph Smith?

The common factor apart from Venice itself is Joseph Smith, who as British Consul in Venice, put together an extraordinary collection not just of paintings but also of books and prints, which was sold to King George III in 1765. As a result the Royal Collection has one of the world’s most outstanding works from this golden age of Venetian art.

The exhibition starts with two familiar views of the annual Regatta on the Grand Canal, and then explores Canalettos works from his early drawings. At the Queen’s Gallery, when it is not too busy, it’s possible to get a very close look at his skilful technique displayed from an early age.  It was this which attracted Joseph Smith to the young Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697 – 1768) later known as Canaletto.  Works by other Venetians follow – don’t miss Rosalba Carriera’s wonderful pastels of the four seasons. In the largest gallery, you can inspect the sequence of 12 paintings commissioned by Smith which takes you along the Grand Canal stage by stage.  And that’s not all, less well-known views of Roman ruins are also included in this comprehensive exhibition.

Canaletto became a favourite with the British on the Grand Tour and there are many works in collections around the country – many more than in Italy. Canaletto also spent ten years in England working for a variety of stately home owners.

The exhibition continues until November. More on http://www.royalcollection.org.uk

And more in my book….

The exhibition displays Canaletto’s work in the context of other artists in Venice at the time, many of whom were supported by Joseph Smith. In my book Finding Veronese – Memoir of a painting, I follow one of these works, a copy of a Veronese altarpiece probably by Sebastiano Ricci, and its journey across Europe from Venice to London, to Scotland and finally to Sweden.

Go to ylvafrench.co.uk to read more about Finding Veronese – Memoir of a painting, available as an E-book on Amazon.


Five in the running for the Art Fund Prize

May 1, 2017
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It was good news for the five finalists of this year’s Art Fund Museum of the Year Prize; they will all get £10,000 each. And of course one of them will get the full £100,000.  Which one you may ask yourself, looking down the list.  Here is your blogger’s summing up.  (The prize winner will be announced on 5 July.)

Chance for two smaller museums

There was complete silence when the first finalist was announced – the Lapworth Museum of Geology – noone in that audience except possibly the curator had heard of it. But now they will, after a £2.7m refit this treasure trove of gemstones and other minerals at Birmingham University will be in the national spotlight for the first time.

It was different for the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art at Newmarket – the audience at the British Museum certainly knew this one (whether for the right reasons is another matter). The museum re-opened last year with new galleries and a centre for retraining racehorses.

And then the big runners

The Sir John Soane Museum, now in two buildings in London’s Lincoln Fields, is loved by many.  It has extended its displays by recreating some of Soane’s original rooms as they were in 1837 when he died. The only problem here is that there is not a lot of space for increasing the visitor flow.

At the Hepworth in Wakefield which your blogger visited just a year and a half ago, it’s all go with their own new Sculpture prize and new exhibitions. It was on the Museum Prize Shortlist when it first opened in 2012, and was pipped to the post by the Royal Albert Museum in Exeter.  Will they be lucky this time and bag the big prize?

And then Tate Modern – it couldn’t very well be left out after the opening of the magnificent Switch House. It blends perfectly with the old power station and adds space for new works as well as for those previously in storage.

The debate on Front Row

The shortlist was announced at a special event (live on BBC’s Front Row) at the British Museum with Hartwig Fisher, Director of BM and also on the judging panel for the Prize, joined by Tristram Hunt, former MP and recently appointed Director of the V&A and Sarah Munro of the Baltic. Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund also got a few words in.  Some old chestnuts, such as the Elgin Marbles, free versus charging museums and more children in museums were quickly dispatched.  The focus was on the dramatic impact of local authority cuts on museums around the country.  The two national museums on the panel were doing their bit to ease the pain with a new V&A  scheme establishing design hubs around the UK and at the BM lending objects and touring exhibitions.

Your blogger had a quick chat with another Scandinavian afterwards – former Museum Prize judge and Antiques Roadshow expert, Lars Tharp – who revealed that he descended from King Christian IV of Denmark. “But so does half of Denmark”, he added.  (According to Wikipedia Christian IV had a total of 24 known children with his two wives and several mistresses.)

Read more about my Swedish family history (no royal links I am afraid) and my other books including Finding Veronese and the newly launched The Go Around both available as E-books on Amazon at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk

 


Fit for a king….in Leicester

April 26, 2017
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Hotfoot from Chelsea and the National Army Museum, your blogger headed straight for the battle of Bosworth. Or more correctly, for what was left of King Richard III after the bloody fight near Leicester which killed hundreds of soldiers.

Most of you will know the exciting story – not of the battle but of the search for Richard’s remains and the amazing discovery in 2014 in a small car park close to Leicester Cathedral. How did they know it was him?  That’s the obvious question, after all there were many bodies buried higgledy-piggledy after the battle.  This is where the Visitor Centre comes in.

The Queen visits the Cathedral

We explored the Cathedral first and by the entrance there was an exhibition of photographs of the recent visit by Queen Elizabeth II to present the Maundy money to local people. Did she take a look at the impressive tomb – a fossil stone sarcophagus on a dark marble plinth in the nearby Ambulatory?  Apparently, as Richard III is considered a usurper, the Queen could not attend his internment in 2015 herself, but sent the Duchess of Wessex.  But it would be hard for the Queen not have seen Richard’s resting place on her visit – this is not a large Cathedral – and surely she was shown the recently installed, wonderfully luminous stained glass windows by Thomas Denny, inspired by the story of Richard III and the battle.

Developing the £4m exhibition

The Visitor Centre stands nearby on the site of the original Greyfriars Priory where Richard was hastily buried after the battle in 1485. It’s been converted from its previous use by Leicester’s Grammar School.  The ground floor is about Richard’s rise to power and the battle, and recreates the kind of castle that Richard may have inhabited as well as the battlefield of Bosworth through new technology.  Upstairs the tone changes, becomes more scientific with great graphs, many interactives as well as a few objects.  This is about the discovery of Richard’s remains by Philippa Langley and her supporters, and the work done by the University of Leicester to establish that these remains were indeed those of the king’s.  Finally, back downstairs, Richard’s skeleton with its rounded spine hover as a hologram in a roughly dug elongated hole in the ground – quite moving.  That is where he was found – minus feet but that’s another story.

The odds on success in finding the remains in the first place and establishing their authenticity (through the DNA of a direct descendant of the king’s sister) can’t have been high.  So this is a great story well told through the dignity of the cathedral tomb and the recreation of  the bloody history of the time and the thrilling search and discovery in the Visitor Centre.  And surely Leicester is the right place for this memorial.

There are two cafes on the site worth visiting, and gift shops, of course.  http://www.kriii.com  http://www.visitleicester.info  http://www.le.ac.uk/richardiii/

Read more about my Swedish family history (no royal links I am afraid) and my other books including Finding Veronese and the newly launched The Go Around both available as E-books on Amazon at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk

 


War and peace at the National Army Museum

April 13, 2017
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Tucked away in Chelsea just beyond the Royal Hospital (where they hold the Chelsea Flower Show each May) lies London’s latest revamped museum, the National Army Museum.  It’s been three years in the re-make at a cost of some £24 million and no doubt time was spent considering the branding.  Could there be a more “catchy” name, after all other military museums have tried to raise their profile with some smart new brand? Fortunately this is not the case here.  It is still a national museum about the British army through war and peace, light and dark, and it is very good.

I can’t promise that everyone will enjoy themselves among the guns and the tanks but in fact there is not a lot of hardware on view.  This is more about the soldiers.  I remember the old museum but this time I looked with fresh eyes having recently found out that I come from several generations of soldiers going back to the 17th century and the Swedish King Karl XII, who fought bitter wars across northern Europe.  Many of the visitors to this museum will be former and current soldiers bringing friends and families.  And they will not be disappointed.

From the vast lobby

As you enter the new, vast lobby, your bags will be searched – a reminder of the uncertain times we live in.  To the right up a few steps is a large and welcoming café with ample room for children as well as adults.  And, of course, there is a shop with a range of specially commissioned souvenirs all themed to the museum and its content – look out for the gin and tonic kits!

From the lobby you get a good view of what else is on offer – four permanent galleries featuring “Battle”, “Army”, “Soldier” and “Society”, as well as a temporary exhibition space – at the moment housing “War Paint” – pictures by amateur and professional artist reflecting battles and conflicts. The displays are well thought-out, dense and multi-layered with objects, facts and figures as well as questions. Most of us will respond to something here and try out some of the excellent interactives. And there are some iconic exhibits including Lawrence of Arabia’s desert robes, the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse and a 1918 original trench coat – a Burberry – designed for officers only.  The Museum now has an accessible resource centre and a lecture theatre, as well as a full complement of lifts and lavatories.

www.nam.ac.uk

Don’t miss these treats

There is so much more to enjoy this spring in London. Until 14 May you can find out more about the multi-talented Eduardo Paolozzi at the Whitechapel Gallery, David Hockney of course at Tate Britain – until 29 May, while Michelangelo and Sebastiano continues at the National Gallery and nearby at the National Portrait Gallery don’t miss the stunning portraits by Howard Hodgkin, until 18 June.

www.npg.org.uk  www.whitechapelgallery.org  www.tate.org.uk http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

Read more about my Swedish family history and my other books including Finding Veronese and the newly launched The Go Around both available as E-books on Amazon at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk


Great art at National Gallery and hidden gems at Longford Castle

March 24, 2017
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Great art at the National Gallery

Michelangelo and Sebastiano, the new exhibition at the National Gallery, can be enjoyed on several levels. The art historian will relish the opportunity to discover the way the two artists worked together and the influence of Michelangelo on the Venetian artist Sebastiano de Pombo.  He had arrived in Rome as Michelangelo was busy on the Sistine Chapel in 1511.  Soon they became friends and there are letters between the two of them translated into English for visitors to study.  Michelangelo provided the younger Sebastiano with drawings and on display are some of their collaborative works.

Those who just come to see some stunning artworks will not be disappointed either, although many are familiar from the National Gallery collection. The Royal Academy’s Taddei Tondo had moved here for the exhibition which continues until 25 June.  Using the Gallery’s North galleries rather than the exhibition space in the Sainsbury Wing, provides headroom for the larger than life-size marble statue of the Risen Christ by Michelangelo and the three dimensional recreation of the Borgherini Chapel from S Pietro in Montorio, Rome.

This is mostly religious art, with the occasional portrait, created for worship and as tribute to the Creator to be displayed in chapels and churches. Every effort has been made here to give the artworks space, effective lighting and useful information, and to create in these galleries some of the atmosphere in which they were originally shown.

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/

Longford Castle – a hidden gem

Most people have never heard of Longford Castle but there it is hidden away just a few miles outside Salisbury. It started life as an Elizabethan Manor house on the river Avon but thanks to the treasures in a Spanish galleon wrecked in 1588 and a beautiful and enterprising Swedish noblewoman, Helena Snakenborg it became much more.  The new home she planned with her second husband Thomas Gorges, took on the appearance of a moated, almost romantic Swedish castle with three substantial towers at each of the three corners.  The triangular courtyard was later glazed over by one of the successive owners – since 1717 the Bouveries, a wealthy Huguenot family, ennobled as the Earls of Radnor.

Your blogger arrived on a tour of the castle organised by the National Gallery which has a close connection with the family. The famous painting The Ambassadors by Holbein is just one of works now at the National Gallery which was once owned by the family.  But there is plenty left to see in this beautifully furnished and lived-in castle with a view of the garden and grounds from every window.

Our excellent guides led us on a tour not just to see the Gainsboroughs – one in every room – but many portraits by Reynolds and Van Dyck.  Among the more unexpected works, I spotted a portrait by Elisabeth Louise Vigee-Lebrun of the third Earl as a young man, another portrait by Angelica Kauffman, a skating scene by Hendrick Avercamp, another full length portrait by Rubens, and one by Geerharts of Queen Elizabeth. The Picture Gallery on the first floor has a Claude Lorrain landscape at either end and is filled with treasures.  These include a work partly by Rubens of the Monastery of the Escorial which had belonged to Charles I, and a stunning Correggio (now reattributed to Cambiaso) of Venus and Cupid.  And there is more….I haven’t even mentioned the furniture or the porcelain.

To visit Longford Castle, go to the National Gallery website, although many of the limited tour dates are now fully booked.

Read more about Helena Snakenborg and her arrival in England on my website and find out more about my books including Finding Veronese and the newly launched The Go Around both available as E-books on Amazon and the Family Gronstedt’s history in Swedish at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk

 


Goat with a tyre and other London treats

March 6, 2017
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Spring is definitely in the air with daffodils in full bloom in London’s parks, and also at the rather grey and stony Paternoster Square in the City, as I discovered on a wander. In fact it was a promotion for Marie Curie – a most worthy cause – but they weren’t all real!

At Tate Modern the Rauschenberg exhibition is still attracting visitors as it draws to a close in early April. This is a mega selection from his long career and includes many of his well-known works such as the Goat with a tyre which has been lent by the Moderna Museeet in Stockholm.  It was developed in the 1950s from a stuffed goat the artist found in a second-hand shop in New York.

Tate Britain, as predicted, is bursting at the seams with Hockney fans – well worth the effort to get a ticket.  Some people love the portraits, others prefer the Yorkshire landscapes.  So there will be something there for everyone.

Looking back to the 1930s

More challenging are the two exhibitions at the Royal Academy and they make a good match – maybe not on the same day. There is a lot to digest, particularly in the Russian exhibition in the main galleries. In the Sackler Wing the small but exquisite exhibition covers the impact of the depression on American art in the inter-war years.

Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 took me back to my visit to St Petersburg in September last year when with our Russian Martin Randall guide we spent several hours at the Russian Art Museum.  The RA has brought together iconic artworks from there and also from private collectors to illustrate the post-revolutionary period by Chagall, Kandinsky and Malevich including posters, porcelain and photographs.  Short film snippets show life in collective housing and on the land.  There’s even a mock-up of what a small flat might have looked like.  In a country where many still could not read, the propaganda value of revolutionary art was soon realised and used on the sides of trains travelling through the vast countryside.

America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s while much smaller also pulls a punch with its evocative paintings of despair as Western economies plunged into depression after the Wall Street crash in 1929. Grant Wood’s picture of the cheerless American couple in “American Gothic” is the highlight of the exhibition. But every painting in this show really does tell a story….so linger and explore.  You may even spot Lenin’s face in one of the paintings.

Family memories of the depression

In my Swedish book about Family Gronstedt, the depression played its part. My maternal grand-father was not just a doctor but also an investor in property and shares. A few years after the Wall Street crash which reverberated round European capitals, the Swedish “match king”, Ivar Kreuger, took his own life in Paris causing further havoc.  He had created his financial empire not just from matches but also from financial loan instruments to countries around the world – something of a Ponzi scheme – which collapsed with him taking down banks, and large and small investors.  My grand-father’s finances survived the blast through Sweden’s economy but he died in 1937 with his resources severely depleted.  It was a tough time for many families as the RA exhibitions show.

Find out more about my books including – newly launched The Go Around and the Family Gronstedt’s history – at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk


All change please

January 23, 2017
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Welcome to my blog for 2017. The focus will as before be on culture and other leisure pursuits with a tourism twist.  I’ll start with a late January round up.

The top seats of culture have been up for grabs and the outcomes are more than interesting. As Sir Nicholas Serota left the top job at the Tate for chairmanship of the Arts Council, numerous contenders threw their hats in the ring for his former post.  We now know that Maria Balshaw will take up the appointment in June, leaving an interesting vacancy at the superb Whitworth Gallery.  I wrote about it just 18 months ago when it won the Art Fund Museum Prize.   Will she become a regular commuter or a permanent Londoner?  Her husband, Nick Merriman in charge of the University Museum in Manchester may not be so keen to move.

And then politician turned museum director

A big surprise at the V&A where outsider Tristram Hunt MP won the Director prize – something of a change for this academic politician as he takes on approximately 800 staff, 2.3million objects, 4 million annual visitors, and a grant in aid of £37m, which now represents less than half of the total annual budget. Well, he’ll have a lot of help……. http://www.vam.ac.uk

Look out for the Hockney effect

Tate Britain is my local museum just 15 minutes’ walk from home. (Yes, I know how lucky I am.)  There was a time when on a Sunday morning a stream of people would head for the Tate from Pimlico tube station.  Then it went rather quiet.  Alex Farquharson from Nottingham Contemporary took over as director in 2015 but it must be like turning round an oil-tanker in mid-Atlantic, considering the timescale for implementing exhibitions. And it is only now that good times are back with a David Hockney celebratory exhibition starting on 9 February.  I shall be joining the returning throngs……. http://www.tate.org.uk

Heath Robinson in Pinner

At the other end of the scale and of London, a new museum opened last autumn, celebrating the work of William Heath Robinson. This was something of a dream come true for the Trust which was first established in 1992.  It’s not hard to find it from Pinner station; it’s just a short walk through a small park to the spanking new museum building.  On show are some of the famous Heath Robinson models but mainly drawings and cartoons from the collection which represents over 40 years of his work as a cartoonist and illustrator.  Well worth a visit – good shop and a café nearby. Check opening hours at www.heathrobinson.org

Catch Emma while you can

There’s still time to see the Emma Hamilton exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich which closes on 17 April. The subtitle is “seduction and celebrity” and this imaginative exhibition includes numerous portraits of her by George Romney and others which charmed the cognoscenti of London in 1780s and 90s.  And she became well-known as a pretty face to a much larger audience through the prints which were widely available.

Her story is well-known to me as I researched it in detail while writing the book “Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting”. The enthralling “Three Graces” portrait of Emma which I saw at the Duke of Hamilton’s home at Lennoxlove in Scotland has also been lent to the exhibition.  She was married to Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador in Naples and a cousin to the Dukes of Hamilton. You cannot help but wonder what would have happened if Nelson had lived for just another ten years.  Their unusual liaison seems to have been accepted by society during the short time they lived together at Merton Hall, thanks to Nelson’s heroic status.  But that was not enough when he died in 1805.  She was excluded from the funeral and future income.  As a result she fell into debt (and drinking) and died in poverty in Calais, with their daughter Horatia at her side.  A sad story told in an excellent exhibition.  www.rmc.co.uk

And then my new book……My new book, “The Go Around”, is now on Amazon as an E-book.  Set in London it’s a fictional account of what could happen one day when the elaborate systems we create to avoid air accidents break down. This is a tragic drama of course but the focus is on those on the ground – how do Londoners cope as parts of the suburbs are engulfed by the catastrophe. Go to www.amazon.co.uk to download, or discover more on  www.ylvafrench.co.uk


Now for something completely different….The Go Around

December 29, 2016
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This is a story for the 21st century where millions of people enjoy the ease and pleasure of air travel but also live in cities and towns below busy flight paths. 

Every day some 1,300 aircraft land and take off from Heathrow Airport – one of the busiest airports in the world. And some of those aircraft I can see from my balcony as they descend on the flightpath over central London, heading west.  It is a miracle that it hardly ever goes wrong.

Several years ago I had the idea to write a fictional story about an accident on the flightpath and what it would mean in the air and on the ground. I finished the story and put it away.  A visit to the Heathrow Control Tower with the Tourism Society in the spring of this year brought it all back and I decided to rework the story and publish it as an eBook.

This is a story about the convenience, excitement and the orderliness of air travel and how it works so well, nearly all the time. When it does go wrong, the impact can be catastrophic.  Quite a sombre subject, you will agree, as inevitably it involves many people dying and others suffering injury and loss.  But there are miracles too, in my new book, “The Go Around”, now available as an eBook on Amazon.

It’s a sunny summer’s day in August in London and conditions at Heathrow are perfect with aircraft on the flightpath approaching the airport in a steady stream. The unthinkable happens – two aircraft collide over London’s western suburbs. The peace and enjoyment of a summer Saturday is shattered, as London’s emergency services respond to the disastrous consequences over a wide area. 

“The Go Around” focuses on individuals and how they cope, as well as on the unlikely report that there are two survivors from one of the planes. Is that possible? The world’s media gather in a town hall in South West London to find out what went wrong – somebody must surely be at fault – or is it just the systems?

All the characters and events in this book are purely imaginary.

Read it on your PC or handheld or Kindle; download now from the Amazon Kindle Store, www.amazon.co.uk or www.amazon.com