On Ray Lewis, Jasper Johns and London…the last one 100/100

davSo here it is. The 100th post. I thought this project would take 2 years.  It has taken almost 3. But, as John Lennon is credited with saying, “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” And wow is that true. For better and for worse. The world is quite a different place than it was 3 years ago. Terror, Trump, Brexit, Corbyn, North Korea, to name but a few. But no need reiterating the obvious, let’s get to 100.  But how? What could possibly be the topic of the final scribbling? This is London, so the possibilities are endless…but it has to be right. A clear finish, a final wrap up.  The universe, who keeps me on a short leash, got tired of listening to all this self-indulgent angst and said:  “OK.  You want a final post, well hold on tight. I will give you a weekend so full of experiences and thoughts and connections, there will be a cats cradle of interwoven threads when it is done.” And so it was. And here it is.

mde

Several weeks ago the Cathedral asked if I would be the guide for some VIPs when the professional American football team, the Baltimore Ravens, came to town. Would I ever! Not because I follow celebrities, I am pretty clueless about most. And not because I know anything about American football, because I don’t. But because I love, feel it my raison d’etre, to show the Cathedral off to fellow Americans. Sure, I am delighted to show round any and all nationalities, but I especially enjoy the Americans. Because only the best of my country come to the Cathedral. The best of the best. It makes me proud. I have met amazing Americans. Of all ages, regions, ethnic backgrounds, interests and lifestyle cofchoices.  They are people whose existence I want to be reminded of as often as possible, particularly of late, when so much of not-our-best seems to be on permanent display. The one thing all these visitors have in common is curiosity. Intellectual curiosity. A dying virtue. So, on Friday, there I was. No surprise, the Ravens’ VIPs were terrific. Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, Hall  of Fame players both. I took these lovely gentlemen and their sizable entourage on a tour of the American Chapel and the Quire, which they seemed to enjoy very much. But upon leaving the Quire, Bill Viola’s video art installation Mary caught Ray Lewis’s eye….and despite the efforts of the handlers, I had to speak. It had stopped him in his tracks, after all.  It is piece that I feel passionately about. The essence of human life, in cofsome ways.  As I gushed away about why this work is so relevant for us today, I could actually see the instant (it didn’t take long) when Mr. Lewis got it. I mean he really “got it.” That beautiful moment when you are talking about art and you see the spark in the other person. Not only was he charming, interested and curious, he got the Bill Viola. Honestly, I have the best job in the world. I floated out of the Cathedral.

And onto more art. Not ready to go home,  I popped into the RA for a preview peek of the Jasper Johns retrospective. Another American. And one who is without question one of the best of the best. At the first glimpse of his Target, I almost wept. It was the perfect carry on from the morning. Concrete, or rather paper and paint and objects, proof that not all is broken in my native land. That there is still greatness. And Johns is great. One of the greatest.  So much of his work is about seeing and, a rather loaded word these days, perceiving. How we perceive the world matters. Johns is a master at asking us to look at the familiar with fresh eyes. cofHis art invites us to look again, “let go of habits of perception and see things in a new way.” In today’s ever polarized society, these are almost fighting words. Oh yeah…and Johns is perhaps most famous for his American flags. A symbol, once again, mired in controversy. But that is Sunday….

As if Friday hadn’t been full enough I had one more engagement. Theatre. The Ferryman by Jez Butterworth. I have a  complicated relationship with Mr. Butterworth’s work, but this is a play about the cycle of  violence of the IRA (though they certainly don’t have the monopoly on this most damaging of issues.) The acting was excellent, despite someone walking off stage due to illness in the 3rd act and the understudy having a broken hand. Add a real but unhappy goose, a pocketed bunny, and an unusually placid baby into the mix and I admit I did wonder if health and safety had had a chance to look round. But the message of the play was clear. This world is a disaster thanks to our own doing. Ever thus. And on to the next.

davHaving just turned 49 I have given myself the challenge of running 50 races or running events before turning 50. Almost immediately I realised this was a challenge of dedication and logistics rather than athleticism.  Or so I thought. The first 5 races were rather fabulous. The 6th, Sunday morning, 10k in Hyde Park. The weather was glorious. One of those perfect, warm London autumn days. The location could not have been more beautiful. Hyde Park, in the sunshine. And the race, sponsored by a Crohn’s Disease charity, was well organised.  But my legs weren’t in it. They were tired and tight and every step hurt. Every very slow step. It is true that there is no run you regret. But there are runs that disappoint. This was one.  Alas.  Life often disappoints.

But a slow run is really not something to fuss about. I went home via Marble Arch, for a little trip down memory lane. Because it was here, just off Marble Arch that I lived for 3 months in the Winter of 1989 while attending LSE.  Art and theatre, theatre and art is davhow I spent most of my time. What had always been an ember burst into flame over those months. I was hooked. No wonder many, many years later, for reasons that have nothing to do with me at all except for exceptionally good taste in a husband, I was back. Art, theatre and everything that London has to offer. While revelling in nostalgia I noticed the new  sculpture, Celebration of Life, by Bushra Fakhoury. Dancing with naked, masked abandon. Yup, that is it. But I couldn’t linger for long as I had promised to take the kids to the Colourscape on Clapham Common.

Colourscape, an annual music festival “of unusual instruments and sound,” since 1989, the same year I first lived in London.  The wait was so long I sent my children to find conkers. Conkers aren’t just so English, they aren’t just beautiful symbols of Autumn, they keep moths at bay. I need them. Stephen and Katherine returned with two bulging mdesacks. Very pleased. But while alone in the slow moving queue, social media started to implode. Ray Lewis had dropped to his knees during the American national anthem at Wembley Stadium.  And people on both sides of the issue went wild. Insane. Out of their minds. With hate. So much hate. He seemed to have suddenly become the most reviled person in the world. No small feat these days. Everybody, from all sides, was baying for blood. Yikes. And the language being used, again, from all sides of the argument was unacceptable. Utterly unacceptable. Ugly, ugly ugly stuff. I was mulling over how much I would not like to be famous when we finally made it to the top of the queue. And those thoughts were put on hold.  We stepped into  Colourscape and time evaporated. We were literally cocooned in colour and sound. Strolling musicians at every rounded turn. So peaceful and beautiful. Yet the shifting colours made me feel unsteady. The experience, as lovely as it was, was unsettling, disorienting. Such is life, isn’t it. Unsteady even at the best of times. When I got home I switched on the television to watch the opening ceremony of the Invictus 10631274_949261878433867_4232479405504663826_o (2)Games, the Olympic-style games for wounded service people, an event close to my heart.  (see post #96.)  The overriding message, or series of messages, of the long weekend fell into place.  No one, Prince Harry reminded the audience, would have wished to be eligible for these games. Yet here they are.  The keynote speaker before him,  a man who had been attacked with an axe by the Taliban, said that no one thinks it is going to be them, until it is. And the competitors all spoke, after they crossed the finish line, of having made a choice, a choice, sometimes against all odds, to keep going. To keep going when life if horrifically, cruelly or even just irritatingly, interrupted. Real life happens as you’re busy making other plans.

davMy gorgeous, fabulous, wonderful sister in law, who I have known since we were teenagers, has breast cancer. The devastating recent hurricanes and floods and earthquakes. The seemingly unbreakable cycles of violence. The idolization of symbols and causes and slogans over the simple act of caring for one another. The hate. It is enough to set the Black Dog howling. And here I come with my tiny little banner of hope. Call me naive or even stupid, though I prefer the epitaph that a lovely elderly Indian visitor to the Cathedral gave me, “most excellently cheerful.” Perhaps that is why I was brought back to London. Because in this greatest of all cities I will never ever be lacking in things to inspire, to be curious about, to fill me with crazy, passionate joy. Not just the big stuff, and lucky me, I have plenty of big stuff, but the little moments too. Sharing a great piece of art with someone who gets it. Running, slowly, past a Henry Moore sculpture. An uncrowded art gallery. Conkers. A bassoon player appearing round a colourful corner. Theatre with friends and yeah, being followed round by photographers at St Paul’s cathedral is pretty great too. I love them all.

So, having reached 100, writing about my adventures has come to an end. What have I learned? I am very American, in all the best ways. I love London, really, really love London. I am the luckiest person alive. And having adventures, every day that I can, with enthusiasm and joy and passion, that is what I do.  My London Passion. Thanks for sharing it with me.

@mylondonpassion

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On Being a Woman Phenomenally…running into the next decade…99/100

cofBirthdays are a funny thing. They are supposed to be meaningful, monumental even. But I’ve always found them to be rather like New Year’s Eve, overhyped and ultimately disappointing. And as we get older, depressing. A few days ago I turned 49. “Oh, its the beginning of the end,” people told me. “The big 50 next year…it’s  all downhill from here.” and other such ridiculous nonsense. “But why?” has been my consistent answer. Why should it be depressing and downhill and the end? I am so looking forward to turning 50. I have long thought that my 5th decade is going to be my best yet. 50 and fabulous. 50 and fighting fit. 50 and fearless. And technically this is my 50th year, so why not start celebrating now. I don’t generally do much birthday celebrating. Instead I use it as an excuse to do more Londony things, as if I ever need an excuse for Londony things. Last year I stretched it out and did a full week of Londony things with different people, IMG-20170908-WA0004including breakfast in the Sky Garden with Sara, sculpture walk with Milly and drinks in the London Eye with my husband, Craig. But this year I wanted something a bit more. Not expensive, fancy more. Not exclusive London more. Not once in a lifetime more…just me more. As in how I see the future. And would remember forever. A tall order, perhaps, but my passions are widespread and I know clever people. One of the cleverest is Vanessa, the woman behind the amazing Secret London Runs running tours. “I might like to run on my birthday,” I said to her back in June. Almost without hesitation came the response, “why don’t I write a Famous Annes of London tour.” Why not indeed.

But this wasn’t just a super fun run in honour of my famous London namesakes, with Philippa and Alice and Vanessa, it was a flamboyant start to my year long pre-50th celebration. Yes, year long.  If I want to celebrate for a year, why not. It’s my beginning of the beginning. (Most certainly not the start of the end!)

 

So at 6:10 pm on the 7th of September, 2017, my 49th birthday, Alice, Philippa and I met Vanessa at the Duke of Wellington statue outside of Bank station for an adventure through the City, the West End, Soho and Camden.  Along the way Vanessa introduced us to the most wonderfullyIMG-20170908-WA0010 colourful and interesting Annes. Naughty, powerful, rich, talented and sainted. We saw where Anne Bronte met her publisher, who was of course expecting a man, not a provincial young lady. We admired a statue of Shakespeare and agreed that being left his second best bed in the will didn’t mean he didn’t care for his wife, Anne Hathaway…she got the money too.  Poor Anne Askew was racked so badly for her religious beliefs she had to be carried in a chair to the stake, to be burned alive for heresy. Anne Redshawe ran The House of Intrigue in the 18th century, a lesbian brothel frequented by ladies of the upper classes. Anne Morrow LinIMG-20170908-WA0016dbergh, Queen Anne, and her mother Anne Hyde all have great stories. St. Anne, Jesus’s granny, got two stops. The second included oznoran extraordinary mural. Art! Plus a few more Annes (I can’t give all the secrets away!).

By the time we arrived in Camden, tired but full of happy history, Craig, Ange and Paul had a table waiting and wine cooling. The evening rolled on. The laughter rang out. It was the BEST birthday ever!!

But that was just the start. Shortly after we came up with the plan for the Anne run, I decided it would just be the first of….well….50. To prove that I am not afraid of turning 50 by literally running into it…..50 times. That is the challenge I have set myself, to run 50 races or events (of course Secret London Runs will feature often in this experience!) in the year. So after each one I will have either a medal (I do love a bit of bling) or some fab photos of London (can you ever have too many?).

cofAs I started to look at the options, and there are so many running options in London, I quickly realized that the challenge isn’t really going to be the running so much as one of logistics. Stephen, 3rd child, age 13, has so many rugby matches this Autumn I need to figure out how to be in two places at once. But I am a mother, I can do it! In fact, as I type I already have 3 runs under my belt. Two days before the Anne run, I went on the Street Art run with Secret London Runs (same week counts,cof I need all the events I can get!). Not only was it great to run through East London and find some incredible street art, we were filmed by a young, local woman who couldn’t believe we were doing such a crazy thing. Running! To see art! Later, one of the men in my group stopped to help a collapsed homeless man, “I am a first aider,” he explained. With impressive efficiency he established the man was breathing but unconscious and helped arrange for an ambulance, and then we carried on. London life.

cofYesterday morning I ran the Clapham Common 10k with Run Through UK. No watch, no earphones, nothing but London sunshine. And the peace of mind to enjoy it. A terrific medal too. It was then that I realized this isncof‘t really a challenge at all. It is a privilege. More than a privilege, a gift. I have the health, the time and perhaps most importantly, the freedom in which to make this happen. Suddenly a silly, self-indulgent idea becomes a feminist statement. Maya Angelou rings in my ears. “I am a woman PHENOMENALLY.” Now I do love that. Passionate about that. My London Passion. xxx

 

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

 

On Sculpture in the City….and my favourite House of Cards 97/100

DSC_6239 (2)I love public sculpture. The quality of a city can be judged by its sculpture, I believe. I was once lured to Chicago on the promise of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud. London, the best city in the world, is filled with sculpture. Some of it awful, but much of it fantastic. And for the last 7 years, the City of London has filled its streets with work by famous, ultra-famous artists, in 9 month rotations. Sculpture in the City, as the programme is called, apparently came about as a gentlemen’s bet by the head of Hiscox, the art insurers, at a industry dinner. Could he get artists to donate work to the City? No way, was the reaction. Watch me, was the response. And the rest, as they say, is history.  Not only do artists and galleries willingly donate the work, the selection committee gets more than a hundred offers every year. And why not? The chance to have your work showcased in the busiest part (Monday-Friday anyway) of the greatest city, to be admired by millions of sympathetic eyes…..an artists dream. Mine too. I love this programme. I look forward to the unveiling of the new selection each summer. Last year, I was fortunate enough to take a tour with one of the selection committee members. What a fascinating insight into the work, chosen at times for its potential reaction to the buildings around it as much forP1030307 (2) the work itself. The City is an incredible mix of the old and the new. Beautiful post great fire (1666) buildings up against brand new shiny towers with unfortunate post WWII construction in between. Stone and glass and cement, all under London’s changeable sky. Add some contemporary sculpture and this is for what Instagram was made.

P1030308Another of my favourite things is the morning after the night before in a city. Early  morning, streets empty of people but with the debris of nighttime fun still in evidence. An eerie calm with traces of raucous frivolity. The perfect atmosphere in which to admire art. With a rather vague map from the City of London downloaded on my phone I set off, with only the ubiquitous packs of builders as company. I found all 18 pieces, and dare I say, the overall affect was a little disappointing. Two of the works were part of last year’s group, Gavin Turk’s Ajar and Recycle Group’s Falling into Virtual Reality. I adore the Turk piece, photographed my children in it on our New Year’s Eve day outing, would be happy for it to live in the churchyard of St. Botolph’s without Bishopgate forever. Not sure, however, that is P1030318can be presented as part of a new series. Some of the others I just didn’t like as much as what had come before. For me, Paul McCarthy’s Apple Tree Girl Apple Tree Boy just wasn’t as engaging as Giuseppe Penone’s Idee di Pietra of last year, and with the Gherkin as the backdrop, you do want something rather fabulous. But fabulous is what Nathaniel Rackowe’s Expanded Black Shed looks like against the iconic building.

DSC_0049_4Sarah Lucas’s Florian/Kevin phallic vegetables, last year,  were such a pleasure on the eye and funny as well, but to everything  a season and the current season offers its own brand of humour. Not sure I was all that taken with Mhairi Vair’s Support for a Cloud, until I read that TimeOut (which did like them) suggested the Lloyd’s building had contracted a fungal infection or grown testes, depending on ones angle. This made me laugh out loud. Artist as interpreter of public opinion, surely. Similar wink and nod to Damien Hirst’s Temple, a giant medical model torso of a man. The worship of self has gotten more than one city boy in serious trouble over the decades.

Martin Creed’s plastic bags in the tree on Bishopsgate weren’t nearly as charming as LiziDSC_0007_11 (2) Sanchez’s party rings in the same tree (and Leadenhall Market), but then they weren’t meant to be. Creed may be making a big statement with his glorified rubbish, Sanchez was P1030306just having a bit of fun. But perhaps I am being too harsh. And a walk through the city is always worth doing, regardless of what you find. It was in this spirit that once finished with the sculpture trail I walked back on myself, to Broadgate. Because it is there that one of my most loved pieces of public art stands, permanently. Richard Serra’s rusty wedges with a gorgeous view of the sky from inside. P1030356 (2)Its official title is Fulcrum, but to me it is House of Cards, these big pieces of metal not quite leaning on each other, precariously defying gravity, unstable.  The perfect symbol for the financial capital of the world, upsetting as that truth may be.  Now that is great public sculpture. P1030358

On Chelsea Hospital and Turning Strangers into Friends….98/100

davA trait I have inherited from my father is the ability, no,  the compulsion to talk to strangers. I know my children hate it, my friends cringe, but I can’t help myself. Nor do I have any desire to curb this habit as it almost always turns out well, sometimes very well indeed. At the recent Chelsea Flower Show I began chatting with one of the Chelsea Pensioners, resplendent in his iconic red coat. I invited him to St. Paul’s. He came the following Tuesday. He invited me to lunch at the Royal Chelsea Hospital, the world famous home of the Pensioners. Friends welcome. And this is how Ange, Lizzie and I got to spend Monday, a gorgeous, sunny, beautiful, London summer day, at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. What a treat!

davCharles II, motivated, as much by admiration and envy of the French system,  as desire to do the right thing, in 1681, issued a Royal Warrant to build the Royal Hospital “for the succor and relief of Veterans broken by Age and War,” and more than 300 years on it is still going strong. It is a place of wonder and beauty and its Pensioners are the toast of the town, wherever they go. “Hospital”  in its original form means hospitality more than a place of medical care, and while there is a medical wing in the current complex, is was place in which to live out life with dignity, including a bed and meals, something many 17th century soldiers would have found to be the height of luxury. Expectations have changed and so has thedav Hospital, so that the  sense of luxury remains in tune with todays standards. So much so that my friend Ange and I are plotting how we too can get ourselves a spot. We need to wait ’til we are 65, bump off  the husbands and join the army. Ok, the first two are doable, the third a bit trickier but we are resourceful women. Because this place is gorgeous! GORGEOUS.

dav

 

The Wren Chapel is particularly stunning, built by the great man Christopher Wren of St. Paul’s fame himself, in the 1680s. It is still a local parish church, it was the church of Baroness Margaret Thatcher and Denis. They are both buried on the grounds. cof

 

Ok, the individual rooms are a bit cramped but the idea is that one spends a little time alone as possible. There are large common areas where games abound. Posters and flyers for outings are everywhere. The grounds are stunning. The bar is open from 10:30 am and that red coat. Oh how much I would like to swan round in a red coat like that. Would need to nick a few medals to pin to my chest, obviously, but otherwise I think I would look dashing. And London would fall at my feet. London falls at all the Pensioners’ feet, as well it should.

davYes, there are women in the hospital, since 2009.  Today there are 15. But they don’t get on with each other, we were told. We assumed this was just male hyberbole until Ange started chatting with the female pensioner in the gift shop. “We had a lovely tour of the Chapel from one of the other women, Xxxx.” “PHeffff” was the immediate response. “I don’t like her. No one likes her.” Ange was stunned into silence. Ok then. No group singing of “We are family, I’ve got all my  sisters with me,”  for this lot. But the men seem to get on. One of the gentlemen we met had recently been hugged, on television, by Jo Konta, at Wimbledon. The press were now after him. Are you “that man,” we joked (having been prompted  by Peter). Yes he acknowledged, with a smile, he was. But no autographs today. We all laughed. We laughed often on Monday. Peter told fantastic and funny stories of his life and his time in Chelsea. But there is a solemn side to it all as well. These are men and women who have seen conflict, of the most brutal kind. And many of their friends paid the highest price. Standing in the North Front is a larger than life statue of a Pensioner, arm raised, as if hailing a cab (it is Chelsea, after all). Around the base are the words Sir Jacob Astley spoke before the Battle of Edgehill in 1642, known as the Soldier’s Prayer: “O Lord you know how occupied I shall be this day. If I forget thee do not forget me.” Words that pierce the soul.

sdrBut this is not a sad place, not at all.  There is not any sense of what most of us generally feel when in an institution for older people: Despair. Chelsea Hospital tackles head on the great scourge of our modern times, especially for those in advancing years: loneliness. To be lonely here would take an effort. In a world that is becoming increasingly fractured and alienating, Royal Hospital Chelsea retains a tangible sense of community. A belonging. We should all be so lucky. There is a lot we could learn from this place. It was an honour and privilege to be invited in. A perfect London day indeed. dav

 

 

On Para Athletics and the Olympic Legacy…96/100

davOne of the many controversies surrounding the Olympic Games is the concept of “legacy.” Each city makes big promises. None deliver. None except London. London has done a fantastic job with the Olympic legacy. Sure, I have no doubt lots of people have lots of gripes, but overall it is something of which to be proud. Olympic Stadium now the home of West Ham. The aquatics complex in constant use by the public. Beautiful and popular Olympic Park. But the best legacy of all is the London attitude to disabled athletes. There isn’t a city in the world that can claim what we have. Popularity.

413539_516340165059376_890046018_oThink back to that dreamy summer of 2012. The Paralympics weren’t just attended, they weren’t just well attended, they were sold out. SOLD OUT. I saw more sports that I can even remember, and the venues were packed. Crowds cheering, flags waving, heroes made, breakfast television couches filled, more victims for the paparazzi. Of course, this could all have been just leftover euphoria from the incredibly successful Olympic games. Except that it lasted. It still exists.

It was not too much before the Olympics that I became involved in the charity Walking with the Wounded, an organization that helps soldiers with life-changing injuries create a new life in the civilian world. Through a friend I met the founder, my boys’ school chose them as their charity of the year, I ran the marathon for them in 2013. Later in 2013 I climbed Kilimanjaro, with 4 friends and a wounded serviceman, Ibi Ali. It was a phenomenal experience. Through Walking with the Wounded, injured ex-military have done extraordinary things. Artic Circle, Antarctica, Marathon des Sables and more.

In 2014 Prince Harry founded the Invictus Games, Olympic style games for wounded service people, first held in London. My Kili friends and I couldn’t buy tickets fast enough. But 10531422_948361465190575_3824424820928126635_owe weren’t  the only ones. Once again, the venues were crowded with loud, enthusiastic members of the public. Like the 2012 Olympics, the 2014 Invictus Games were a magical few days, finishing off with a concert in Olympic Park which may have been one of the best I have ever been to, not least because the line-up included my beloved Frank Turner and the10419582_947826481910740_2477249639805078664_n incomparable Foo Fighters. It is impossible not to feel overwhelmed with awe when the lyrics “learning to walk again” are being shouted by women and men with prosthetic legs who, on a bad day, can run far faster than I can on my best day. Inspiring indeed.

Fast forward a few years and while I don’t raise money for WWTW anymore (they have rather outgrown the efforts of Wandsworth women,) my interest in paraathletics has not dimmed. So I was delighted to attend the 2017 World Para Athletic Championships, in the previous Olympic stadium, now known as London Stadium, last Saturday night, with my younger two in tow. Happy to repeat myself in saying we weren’t alone. The stadium was plenty full. The people around me were knowledgeable about the competitors. The crowd went crazy when the British were on the track or field, even more so when they won. And win they did. Often.IMG-20170716-WA0004 (2) The highlight was the 200m…starring gold medal paralympian Richard Whitehead and Invictus superstar and bronze medal paralympian Dave Henson. They finished 1st and 3rd. The stadium roared. It roared again when Hollie Arnold broke the world record in the javelin. It roared when the Kenyans ran too. Actually the noise was consistently high throughout. Lots of Americans competed and won as well. When interviewed they all said the same  thing, that London was the “best, the BEST” place to compete. London’s legacy. Doesn’t get much better than that.

On Cancelled Flights, Baby Blackbirds, Wimbledon….and St. Paul’s 95/100

davSome days just don’t turn out the way they were planned. Saturday was one of those. I was going to collect my older son, Joseph, at Heathrow early in the morning, back from 3 weeks of surfing and climbing in California. After some suitable home comfort spoiling, I would leave him to sleep, no doubt he would be in desperate need, and I would still have plenty of time to get to the roof garden of One New Change, the shiny, retail complex across from St Paul’s, and watch Venus Williams, a player I have adored for close to two decades, win her 6th Wimbledon title. Well that was the plan, anyway. Things took at turn at 4 am. Joseph called to say his flight had been cancelled and as he is underage the airline (yes, that same one that has gotten such bad press recently) weren’t at all interested in finding him somewhere to stay until a new flight could be found. They weren’t too concerned about finding him a new flight either, actually asked him to leave the queue as “the line is  too long to help 19942839_10156396567574368_8958150766087905082_oyou.” Nice. We found him a hotel room and a few stand by options. “Don’t worry,” he  told us. “I will be fine here in San Francisco. I don’t mind staying a few more days.” Yeah, I have no doubt about that. Very exciting end to what had been a very happy adventure.

A few hours later, bleary eyed, I walked downstairs to hear a cheeping sound coming from the basement. “For heavens sake,” I snapped at my younger son “turn off that damn play station.” “It isn’t the play station, Mum. There is a bird in the basement.” WTF? A bird in the basement? How in the hell did a bird get in the basement? It has been very hot and the skylights in the kitchen had been left open…so maybe? But there it was. Cheeping away. Huddled near the door to the outside, a door that is never opened. Cheeping and hopping, because one of its wing was broken. I managed to get the door open and move the bird outside, into the stairwell. And then the rest of my family disappeared. Out for the day. This poor little creature left in the care of a woman well known for her general disinterest in animal welfare. Unlikely and unlucky for this bird.

I went next door to ask the neighbour’s opinion. “I’ll wring its neck,” Paul offered. But isn’t a pigeon, I told them. If it were a pigeon, no problem. But it is a cute little thing. They rushed over to see. Oh, its a blackbird, a baby blackbird, they told me. Which made sense as an adult blackbird often suns herself on our astroturf in the garden. So that must be the mother bird and this must be her chick. No more talk of neck wringing. I called London Wildlife. “Yes, we can come get it, but it might take a while,” they responded. “But you will need to protect it ’til we get there.” I went back outside and the sweet thing had hopped up all the steps and was making a break for freedom, towards the Common. “Don’t worry,” I texted back “he has run away.” Phew, I thought. That is the end of that. Lucky escape. For me, anyway.

mde“No” came the immediate response. “He won’t survive the hour. Go get him.” Suddenly feeling  the weight of my responsibility, I dashed back out the front door with a shoebox in hand.  A delivery van came to a screeching halt. The driver jumped out. “Are you looking for the bird? He went that way.” And the chase began. Clamoring over fences and rubbish bins. The lovely driver finally caught him up in his hi-viz jacket. And into the box the bird went.  I took him back inside. The poor little thing kept opening his beak for me. “Please try to feed him,” London Wildlife told me. “Go down to Tesco and get some wet cat food and put little morsels into his beak.” This was beginning to get farce-like. But of course I obeyed, I was in too deep now. I was pretty bad at it. Not sure how much of that disgusting paste actually made it into his mouth. But I tried at least. “We aren’t going to be able to get to you anytime soon,” was the next message. “Could you get him to us?” This is London. Of course I can get him to you. “Can I put him in  a cab?” I asked. Of course I could. This is a London bird, after all. Cabs are a way of life. Taxi called, driver slightly nervous, but willing. And off he went. “Thank you,” was the text I received 35 minutes later. ” Thank you for rescuing this baby blackbird. He arrived in a fine and lively state.”  So that was job done. And 3 hours gone. The tennis!

davI rushed off to One New Change. Venus had to win now. I had saved a bird!!! Me! Yes, so unlikely. But I had done it. Now to the tennis! At One New Change. This marvel of glass and steel, designed by French architect, Jean Nouvel opened in 2010. It was constructed as an homage to Christopher Wren, the genius behind St Paul’s Cathedral, my favourite place on earth. One New Change affords a perfect view of the Cathedral from many angles, but because it is a structure more of space and light than form, it doesn’t loom, it shimmers, almost blending into the sky. It is sometimes referred to as the “stealth bomber,” you can’t see it, but from it you can see everything.

The 6th floor roof terrace stretches outwards for stunning views over the city, the Old Bailey and Grey Friars in the foreground. But it is the dome of the Cathedral that takes center stage. Breathtaking.  Accessible by a great glass elevator to make Roald Dahl fans swoon. Many years ago, I went along on a Sunday to take some photos of the view. In the elevator with me was a woman and her disabled son. As the elevator began to rise the boy got more and more excited. “I am Charlie, I am Charlie.” he shouted. When we reached the top they didn’t get out. “We will ride up and down being Charlie for a while now,” the mother told me. Never mind the view, the joy of that little boy makes this the loveliest building ever. And since at least 2012, the terrace has played host to Wimbledon lovers. A big screen television is put up, with the dome of St Paul’s floating in the background.  Giant Union Jack cushions and deck chairs are scattered about for viewing comfort. All free. Food and drink from other venues encouraged, though in more recent years a little bar has been set up. Often I would have the place almost to myself. But word has gotten out. And this was the women’s final. By the time I got there the place was packed. And Nandos was doing a delivery service. The queue for the bar was sizeable. I manage to find a little patch on the ground quite near the front and settled in for what I hoped was a triumph for my Venus.

Muguruza and Williams traded games, each holding their serve. Williams had two setdav points. And then she didn’t. The set slipped away. Then the match evaporated. She lost the second and final set 6-0. Yikes. Certainly not how I had envisioned it. Not how she had either, I am quite sure. But there it was. A rescued bird in a taxi, tennis overlooking St Paul’s, and a son extending his holiday in another great city. Unlikely, but true. Such is life, especially life in London. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On Jousting in the Sunshine…94/100

IMG-20170714-WA0000The weather in London has been glorious, beautiful for weeks now. What better way to enjoy it than a spot of jousting at Hampton Court Palace. As one does.

Jousting, when two men ride at each other carrying long lances and try to score points by hitting each other, rather like fencing on horseback. It is fast and furious and a sport of Kings. Henry VIII was a particularly keen jouster. It was during a jousting tournament at Greenwich Palace in 1536 that he got the injury to his thigh that would never heal cofproperly, become infected and torture him for the rest of his days. It is a dangerous sport, still so today. I had a nice chat with one of the competitors at the end. Last year, at this same event, he “was so broken,” (his words) that he was out of action of the rest of the year. Dangerous, but great fun to watch.

Henry VIII loved Hampton Court Palace and lavished money on the place, once he took it off Cardinal Wolsey in 1529. Banished for failing to get that divorce Henry so desperately wanted  from Catherine of Aragon, his brother’s widow and his wife of more than 20 years,  so he digcould marry Anne Boleyn. Anne was there today as well. In fact, a whole host of worthies filled the Royal Box. Wimbledon has their Royal Box, and a few favourites filled the one at Hampton Court for the tournament, including Thomas Cromwell, my great historical crush. He is a very good looking man indeed. And speaking of tennis, when the jousting was over (and I may or may not have been lurking about in a stalkerish manner) I overheard Henry invite Thomas  to play some tennis, a game Henry frequently davplayed on the grass courts he had built, (still in use today, refurbished, obviously) at the Palace.  He also installed two bowling alleys.  His jousting days were behind him by the time he occupied Hampton Court, but his competitive nature was not. Sport, in a gentler fashion, was still necessary. But I digress. Jousting.

Today’s competitors were Henry Grey, Henry Radcliffe, Francis Weston and George Boleyn. Sadly, two of these men will lose their heads soon….as will Anne and later on, Thomas. Historians speculate that part of Henry’s paranoia and rage, often resulting in the bloody machinations that make him famous, were caused by the limitations his injury put on his sporting life. Sport wasn’t just a past time for Henry, it was a passion, and without it he struggled, even more so the people around him. But today he sat back and enjoyed. He in his Royal Box

and me in a rather nifty historical deck chair. My children lounged on picnic blankets on the grass. The sun was out. The horses were gorgeous and high spirited. The palace buildings glistened in the background.

davThe jousting took the form of 2 runs between each competitor, for a total of 6 runs. Except Francis Weston insisted he get an extra go at George Boleyn and the Knight Marshal let him have it, twice actually. So it ended up two versus two, four times each. Misses, hits, points scored, lances shattered. That is a modern thing, the shattering. Back in the day, lances were solid. Spectators were familiar enough to see what touched where, at top speed, but no longer. We need things to blow up. So the lances are hollow and breakable and what a satisfying smacking sound they make when they clash. dig

 

IMG-20170714-WA0001The finalists on the day were George Boleyn and Henry Radcliffe. They had two passes. The first was a stunning lance to lance touch, a thing of rare beauty, so the commentator told us. 5 points each. But the next pass was a total miss. From one extreme to the other. Such is the nature of sport.

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Jousting isn’t just about the physical, manners and control count. The Knight Marshal deducted a point from Radcliffe for not being ready when called. The crowd groaned. He gave the point back for Radcliffe’s excellent handling of his horse. The crowd cheered. A draw. A happy finish to a happy day. For now. Storm clouds are gathering for many of those seated here today. And for us too. This balmy weather won’t last forever, so must take advantage while we can. And we did.

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We remained in the gardens and played in the sunshine. A band cofstarted up. We wandered over to a tent to find our merry Royals dancing. We stayed and watched. Thomas Cromwell may have smiled at me. Oh Thomas, 500 years is but a moment in time when in your presence. And jousting is a perfectly reasonable way to spend an sunny July afternoon in 2017.

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