On connections, cabaret and red shoes… 5/100

Reason I adore London #5, because here in London the following sentence doesn’t sound out of place.

“Last night, wearing red shoes, Lucy and I went to a cabaret show at the Royal Albert Hall that featured my handstand teacher from circus school.”

red shoes

Ok, maybe a little unusual. I mean how many people are as obsessed with red shoes as me? And we all know how badly it ended for that ballerina….but I digress.

London is a huge, metropolitan, worldly city in which it is completely possible to find oneself gliding from one connection to the next. All my various threads frequently lead to one large beautiful spiderweb, and last night was a terrific example.

Starting with my gorgeous friend Lucy, who I met at the school gates. Instant attraction, not least for her irrepressible joie-de-vivre and life-is-what-you-make it attitude. Thanks to Lucy I tried circus school (will write about that eventually…..) and loved it. But not as much as Lucy does. In 9 months, Lucy has gone from a trembling wreck a top the trapeze ledge to someone who not only flies with confidence but writes, blogs, tweets so much about circus, and by extension, cabaret, that she has made a name for herself in her own right in this world. So the perfect person with whom to enjoy a Christmas Cabaret. But enough about her, this blog is all about me, me, me…..

WChristmas Cabarete arrived at RAH, not wanting to miss one second, rather too early. In fact, a worthy carol concert was taking place in the main auditorium with formidable matrons swathed in brocade belting out Oh Come All Ye Faithful. The ushers looked askance at us. Not only far too young (no seriously, we were), but all dolled up gasping for champagne. They kept stopping us asking to see our tickets as we roamed the empty passageways waiting for the Elgar Room to open upstairs, clutching our flutes of bubbly. And they seemed stunned when they saw we weren’t lying about the cabaret.

And finally it was time. Within moments of being ushered in, the divine MC for the night, Reuben Kaye, aka Ruby, swooped down on us, well Lucy, kisses all round. They know each other from former fab evenings. I had to ask about Ruby’s eyelashes and the sparkling lippy and the jacket and the…..Oh I wanted everything EVERYTHING he was wearing. And then the super sexy waitresses came along, with stockings I wanted even more…..let the naughtiness begin!  Christmas Cabaret 2

My teenage daughter asked me earlier in the day what the difference between cabaret and a strip club is. Well, the short answer is not a whole lot, except cabaret sounds much classier and I go. So it is. The slightly longer answer is that it is much more beautiful, with terrific music, and the women are strong. Crazy, insanely, circus strong. Flexible too, but that is a given. Cabaret is also popular with the more flamboyant members of the gay community, a community I seem to increasingly find myself involved with, which I love. NO ONE can flirt like a mature gay man. I recently lead a tour for the Gentlemen’s Walking Group of the Camden Chapter of AgeUK….25 charmers following me through the streets of London. Heaven. And my kiss from gorgeous retired gay porn star, Aiden Shaw, back in September, is a tale I am STILL dining out on…

The show, the show, back to the show…. drinks, dinner and the show. It wasn’t nearly as naughty as I hoped, and the audience was rather lackluster. Ruby and Miss Polly Rae did try bloody hard, but a general spirit of fun seemed to be lacking from the crowd. Well it was Royal Albert Hall, after all. Maybe the proverbial hair never really comes down there. But the acts were great.

SammyPerhaps I am biased, but I thought my handstand teacher, Sammy Dinneen was incredible. It is always nice to see men in the spotlight and he makes it all seem so easy. Trust me, it is not.

Cabaret always has an element of maybe you see it, maybe you don’t, and to add to the frisson the “theme” of the night was “my secret is…” I LOVE secrets. I have loads and loads of secrets. Many of them aren’t vaguely interesting. I just like the idea of having them. This summer, in Las Vegas, I met the installation artist, Taxiplasm, and went to the opening of his show, “Tell Me Your Secrets” in which I enthusiastically participated. No, I won’t tell you what I whispered into his ear. I won’t tell you what I wrote on the paper they gave me last night either. In any case, it wasn’t deemed worthy to read aloud….and Ruby turned his favs into a hilarious rendition of 12 days of Christmas, with the stirring #5 being someone’s heartfelt “No English, sorry,” which we did all shout with gusto at the appropriate times. And that is it. Cabaret is different from strip tease because it is clever. Very clever. And funny, at times, champagne snorting out of nose funny. And, for me, anyway, this Christmas treat seemed to be encapsulate the highlights of 2014, in red shoes. Fabulous!

Follow Lucy on Twitter: @LucyLovesCircus or read her blog: http://lucylovescircus.blogspot.co.uk

@sammydinneen

 

On the hunt for elephants, bears, eggs, buses, mascots and more-Adventure Trails 4/100

mascots
The thrill of finding the 83rd and final Olympic Mascot!

For someone who enjoys travel and exploring so much, I have an appalling sense of direction. I am a trained tour guide, for heavens sakes, and still find referring to direction using compass points stressful. “North” means nothing to me, unless I am actually standing on the Southbank gazing across the river. And reading a map? Even worse. I always feel maps are but suggestions of where I might be and where I may end up…with endless, pointless, frustrating diversions in between.

However, if you want to see me leap from my couch, map clutched in hands, desperate for the challenge, then drop themed sculptures all over London and tell me to find them. OOOh I do love a good hunt!!

I have searched for elephants and eggs and Olympic mascots, crazy hats, more eggs, book benches and currently, simultaneously hunting buses and Paddington Bears. There is something about rouding a corner, shortly after moaning aloud “it has to be here somewhere…” and seeing it there in the distance….a bus covered in painted safety pins, Paddington doffing his hat, that fills me with joy.

What is about these treasure hunts that I love so much. Well I do love a challenge. And checking things off lists. And photo opportunities. And the sense of accomplishment. And the creativity that goes into the making and

Bear in the Wood outside St. Paul's
Bear in the Wood outside St. Paul’s

planning of both the objects and the hunt. I love the excuse to drag children all over the city. I love the moments you share with strangers. “Oh Mummy is losing the will to live,” groaned a woman next to me in St. Paul’s churchyard….and then we both saw the object of our desire and bonded over this short term happiness. “If you are looking for the Paddington, he is right round the corner,” a young woman told us, clearly noticing the glazed desperate look in my eyes as I clutched the increasingly creased map. She has never heard such effusive thanks.

Paddington2
Shakesbear, outside Globe Theatre

Of course it is vital that you have at least one child in tow. This not only makes the photography more acceptable, but creates the impression that you are on some sort of cultural outing.

And there are practical benefits. The only way I can begin to find my way round the West End (does no street run straight?) is that I spent hours and hours and hours trying to find the eggs, making endless navigational mistakes. And there are the unexpected moments. I would never have met the chewing gum graffiti man on Millennium Bridge had we not been in pursuit of 2 Paddingtons and 4 buses.

These hunts are, of course, largely fundraising exercises. I had a unnerving experience, years ago, when I boldly bid on an egg in order to be invited to the “supporters” party at Covent Garden. I felt quite sure I would be quickly outbid. But I wasn’t. Not for days and days and days. In fact it went down to the wire, with only hours to go before the auction ended. Was already well into planning the groveling,  explanation speech for husband when some angel from heaven offered more money. The relief was overwhelming.  That said….I do quite fancy having a bus…..

bus5
Journey to Anywhere, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
bus4
Brolly Bus, Bankside
bus
Lest We Forget, Horse Guards Avenue

What are you waiting for? Download that map. Grab the nearest child and any photographic device and get out here with me. A great way to explore the city!

On Alchemy at London Bridge-London Glassblowing 3/100

glassblowing2
Enchanted audience

“Come visit us, we blow every day,” whispered the charming, dapper artist and gallery owner, Peter Layton. How could I resist an offer like that? And so I was introduced to what glassblowing3has become one of my favourite London haunts. London Glassblowing on Bermondsey Street, not far from London Bridge. Who would have thought that in one of the busiest parts of this busy, busy city is a studio where beautiful, delicate things are made in much the same way they have for hundreds of years. With strength, fire, imagination and a whole lot of patience a burning liquid metamorphasises into something extraordinary.   The process is mesmerizing to watch, for children and adults alike. And the artists, men and women, are always willing to explain, describe and show off their talent. It is like seeing alchemists at work. The furnaces burn hot, hot and time just slips away.

Bruce Marks at work
Bruce Marks at work

I have spent many a happy hour just sitting and watching the magic happen.

The gallery, in front of the studio, winks at you from the street, especially later in the day. Full of shining, twinkling, fragile bits of beauty. Gallery assistants, Rushka and James greet visitors with enthusiasm. The atmosphere is simultaneously calm and charged with creativity. There is an otherworldly quality to it all. Which makes leaving and returning to the outside hustle and bustle a bit of a shock.

Poppy  by Peter Layton
Poppy by Peter Layton
Birds by Bruce Marks
Birds by Bruce Marks

On Crazy Customs–Guys, Grapes and Taking the Piss 2/100

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Remember, remember the 5th of November. More remembering today. Just of a very different kind. Not so much a London thing as an English thing. And wow do the English have some crazy customs and traditions. Today being perhaps the most baffling of all, to a foreigner. For today is Guy Fawkes Night, or more recently Bonfire Night. And what happens on this evening?, you ask. Well, an enormous bonfire is built and lit, an effigy of “Guy” is made from old clothes and appropriately flammable materials and tossed on the bonfire. Then follows a fireworks display. Fun for the whole family.

Wait, wait, wait, I hear you, the bemused outsider (BO) calling, you make a “Guy” and burn him???

London Passion (LP): Yes.

BO: How….unusual. Why?

LP: Well (the quick & simple version) because back in the year 1605 a Catholic by the name of Guy Fawkes thought it an excellent idea to try and blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill (Protestant) king James I. His plot failed as he was ratted out, possibly by his co-conspirators. Mr. Fawkes was captured, tortured and then hanged, drawn and quartered (pretty awful). The others involved were executed in St. Paul’s churchyard. Most likely, Guy was only the fall guy (ha ha ha) not the brains behind the operation, and like all good historical yarns, this one has more sub plots and conspiracy theories than you can wave a sparkler at. Regardless, this near miss is marked each and every year in the above described manner.

BO: And this is a celebrated holiday?

LP: Yes. A tradition most revered. I expect all of my English friends to fill the comment box with tales of ages past when they used dear grandfather’s clothes to make their own Guy and wheeled him round the streets receiving coins from neighbours for their troubles.

BO: (stunned silence)

LP: Bonfire Nights have become a big business for local governments. They spend the calendar year planning the event. In my area, the local private schools get together and put on their own display on the Friday closest to the 5th. I am in charge of selling tickets. I can’t believe drug dealers have a more rabid and desperate clientele than me.

Tonight I will attending a friends lavish Bonfire Night party…South of the Border has nothing on the fireworks display our local Mr. C puts together. Drinks will be served, children will be narrowly rescued from flames and everyone will have a very jolly time.

Another amusing custom is that of bringing grapes to someone in hospital. Magazines, yes I can see the point.  A fruit that needs to be washed, not so much. I have no idea where this practise comes from. I hope someone will tell me. grapesThe other week I found this fantastic bit of sculpture on the railings of St. Guy’s Hospital in London. The poor man has received so many bunches of grapes that his hospital room has been transformed into a vineyard. So clever. And so typically self-deprecating. And one more wonderful English custom: “the piss take,” or the national sport of mockery. There is almost nothing the English can’t laugh at, most of all themselves.

Oh London, you really do have it all: burning catholics, unnecessary grapes and the strength of character to know when something is ridiculous and love it anyway.

On Grand Gesture–The Poppies 1/100

Poppies at Tower 5 Oct.

One of the many things that my wonderful London does well is the Grand Gesture. Think back to the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee….happy people as far as the eye could see. And London has done it again with these poppies. I know, I know, the poppies around the Tower is probably the most shared photo on FB at the moment, in the UK anyway, but for good reason.

beefeater in poppiesThis installation is sensational. And moving. And just plain beautiful. Definitely something that any of you who can physically get to the Tower MUST, MUST see. Yes, I too have heard the reports that it has gotten so crowded people are being encouraged to stay away, but go, go, even if that means you go at dawn. Then as you look down on those waves of red, remember that every single one of the (to be) 888, 246 ceramic poppies represents a life lost by a member of the British military in WWI. The Great War. The War to end all wars. Wow, we’ve done a spectacularly bad job of that. True, true. But the other half of that evil coin is that we forget. So we haven’t eradicated war, quite the opposite it feels today, but “Lest We Forget” has been proven unfounded.

If you really want a heartwrenching treat, squeeze yourself there forlost post in poppies the Roll of Honour. Originally planned as a weekly event, the response was so immediately overwhelming the ceremony is daily, starting now from 16:55. But you will need to get there early. Names are read. The Last Post is played. Collective breath is held. And then those gathered feel emotionally drained, yet uplifted. Reminded that sacrifice and honour still matter in this cold, selfish world.

The Poppies at the Tower. My London Passion 1/100.

There until 11 November only.

kids at poppies
Waiting for the Roll of Honour to begin, in the rain.