On 2016 and Sculpture….and roll on 2017 72/100

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I greeted my lovely neighbour at the door this morning with the words, “who has died now?” She responded, “would you like to come for drinks tonight?” But it does rather feel that way, doesn’t it? Here we are, almost at the end of the this mind boggling year that has been 2016 and yet it hasn’t stopped. Three adored celebrities in the last 3 days alone, two well before their time. George Michael (53!) Carrie Fisher (60!) and her heart-broken mother, Debbie Reynolds. Obviously, 2016 intends to shock until the end. But then, she did start as she meant to go on, taking David Bowie on 10 January and then….well, go on she certainly did! Alan Rickman, Prince, Muhammed Ali, oh, I don’t need to do “the list” for you. That is what the internet/social media is for.

But slamming the door on 2016 and shouting “Good Riddance” doesn’t really end anything. In fact, so so many of the troubling things 2016 brought us are going to have to dsc_6161be actually dealt with in 2017, Article 50 and the Trump presidency to name but two. And to get through these and all the rest, we may need to take the (hard) lesson 2016 gave us and start out the way we mean to continue…and go on. Follow it through. Whatever that is. “Start as you mean to go on,” one of those really annoying pieces of advice that parents and teachers like to give students at the beginning of an school year, and irritating friends work into a clichéd wedding speech. And yet…..how often do we carry through our intentions? Probably not nearly often enough. But living sometimes gets in the way of life’s plans and we have to let things go. But maybe, just maybe, 2016 has used shocking tactics to tell us all to give it a go. Stick to it. Even if it is something small. Something we can hold on to when 2017 takes a dark turn.

dsc_6179I told you last year that I am not one for New Year’s Resolutions. And I am not advocating that, we can only do what we can do, afterall. But maybe we can all resolve to find a little corner of happiness and cling on to it, to take the example of 2016 and turn it on its head. Start with something twinkly and keep on keeping on. So what will mine be? London of course. London, London and more London. What is there left to do???? Loads and loads. My children gave me a beautiful big book called London Uncovered: 60 Unusual Places to Explore,  by Mark Daly and Peter Dazeley, for Christmas. Filled with gorgeous photos of places I have been but not yet written about, places I keep meaning to visit, and (oh the excitement) places I haven’t heard of. Shall I dip in here and there? Or make my way methodically entry after entry in order. Or maybe…yes, a bit of catch up.  Regent’s Park! The Frieze Sculpture Park in Regent’s Park. I have been trying to get to this since early October!!! I love sculpture. In parks. In London. At the almost end of the year. Work by Lynn Chadwick, Barry Flanagan, Jean Dubuffet, Zeng Fanzhi, Conrad Shawcross and more…wow.

As I was strolling through Regent’s Park, today, 29 December, 2016, with my culture-mad, youngest child, gazing at art in the dsc_6175winter sunshine, I remembered something else that 2016 taught us. That life is short and sometimes death comes much much too soon. We shouldn’t wait to tell people how much we love them. So I am adding love, more and more and more love to 2017. London and love. And poetry. I am really going to give it a try (I have been promising this for years.)  I found a website of famous poems read by famous people. I have been listening to one a day. And today I got this one. By William Butler Yeats. A Drinking Song.

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

Given how the day (year) has been and the musings of my mind, it is perfect. London, love, poetry and wine. Come on 2017, give me what you’ve got. Happy New Year. xxxx

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

On skating in the magic of London….71/100

 

dsc_6118-2I have always loved ice-skating. I am not particularly good at it, but I have always loved it. Not the twirly, fussy stuff of Olympic awe, but the fast, playful, adventurous stuff of storytelling. My mother read me Mary Mapes Dodge’s Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates when I was little. Oh how I loved that story. That was the kind of skating I wanted to do. Action packed. One of the very few regrets I have of my 5 years in Holland was that I didn’t learn to speed skate. The Dutch excel at this sport, and I should have taken it up. But instead I had a couple of babies, neither of whom I would trade for all the ability on ice a person could have. Yet the dream is still there. And my beloved London makes sure I get a little taste each winter-time. London has a surprising number of permanent, indoor, ice rinks. A hold over from the GIs. There dsc_6111-2are even plenty of local hockey teams, most named for American Football teams, for the same reason. And while I have spent many a birthday party grabbing small, wet children out of the way of older, aggressive packs of teens, it isn’t quite that same flying along canals experience I had dreamed about. For that I must wait til Christmas time. When London landmarks flood and freeze themselves and offer glorious, beautiful, magical moments on ice. We have gone every year, to many locations including Marble Arch and the Tower of London. But the two best, year in year out, remain the Natural History Museum and Somerset House.

dsc_0068_6Somerset House skating used to be sponsored by Tiffany & Co., and a great tree stood in the courtyard festooned with ribbons of the trademark light blue. A luxurious tent alongside offered appropriately elegant coffees and cakes and a perfect view of the skating excitement. More recently Fortnum & Mason has taken over the sponsorship and has continued the glamour. In the evenings the tent turns into a bit of a warm disco, mimicking the on-ice action. A friend and I wandered in one night after a gallery party. We were much too old for the “scene,” unfortunately and didn’t stay long. Years ago, still in the Tiffany years, I took a group of young girls to skate in the afternoon at Somerset House and continued on into the Courtald Gallery afterwards. We ignored the priceless Impressionist paintings to gaze out at the skaters below in the now-enveloping dusk. They all seemed to be couples. Young, very much in love couples. “It is the romance hour,” one of the girls said with a sigh. She was right.

dsc_0001_50We once witnessed a proposal of marriage on the ice at the Natural History Museum. At sunset. In front of the tree. She said yes. We on-lookers went crazy. So romantic. Of course, most of the skates aren’t romantic so much as stoic. Whizzing round and  round surrounded by the inexperienced and the seriously wobbly. Dodging crashes and whining girlfriends and frustrated children and the idiotic selfie addicts. It is a popular last-day-of-term treat and I took my youngest and her friends to the NHM last week. It was pre-teen on ice heaven, complete with photo booth. But the landmarks. Oh the landmarks.dsc_0004_41 Skating under the skyline of London, well, what can I say. It is more beautiful than I can properly express.  London never looks more regal than from the vantage point of a skating boots.

So this is how I have come to be spending very early Christmas Eve morning skating. At Somerset House. It is still early enough for frosty mist. Romantic and magical. 2016 has been a grim year. No one seems to be sorry it is almost over. The world seems to be rushing ever faster into madness. We need to grab happiness where we can. And here I am, flying through the London landscape, like Hans Brinker in pursuit of the life-changing skates….and just for a few moments, the world is perfect.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

On Kew Trees and Medieval Christmas….70/100

dsc_0084_4Christmas is not my favourite time of year. It never has been. Easter I love, and theologically speaking, that is the better choice. Handel’s Messiah was originally written for Easter. Really, it was. But Christmas hijacked it. And, along with overly-rich plum pudding, has become a “tradition.” “Bah Humbug,” I say. “Scrooge,” you may call me. But I am not Scrooge. I don’t want to be Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, the ghost of any Christmas or those dancing relatives either….in fact I don’t want to be any of those Victorians….and there it is! It isn’t that I don’t want Christmas, I don’t want Victorian Christmas. I don’t want Christmas cards (though I have sent them by the tonne in years past), I don’t want Christmas trees (though I have one this year and last year had 4! And I have an enormous collection of historical ornaments that would take several 12 foot trees to display completely), I don’t want overdone meals with desserts no one but me likes or insipid Christmas songs sung by pop stars (groan.) And I really, really, really don’t want anyone to tell me that any of the above has religious significance. Because it doesn’t. The Victorians reinvented what had been a pagan holiday in an effort to make themselves forget, albeit it briefly, that life was pretty horrible for most. I don’t want the desperate shopping (the Black Friday spending binge, is there really anything more repulsive) or the Coca-Cola Corporation’s fat, red Santa, or that hideous recent addition of The Elf on the Shelf (seriously?). And all that peace on earth blah, blah, blah is particularly disingenuous. You only have to look at one photo from Aleppo to see how little we mean any of those platitudes. All the faux seasonal joviality just makes a mockery of the reality of the state of the world.

Then there is the stress, the stress that comes with trying to live up to an unattainable level  of perfection. Because a perfect Christmas is what we all want. What we all need. What we all have to have. Right?  Just look at the packs of exhausted women and their overwrought children filling the pavements. The endless rounds of Christmas parties with burnt out colleagues. Extended family, under one roof, for days at a time. Or crushing loneliness.

dsc_6108-2And it was in this state of unfestive gloom that I took myself up to York, my favourite English city after London, and realized it isn’t Christmas that I don’t want. It is Victorian Christmas I don’t want. But a Medieval Christmas, a proper yuletide festival, like the one I saw in York, with a modern twist, that would be ok.  Fun and games led by self appointed Lords of Misrule and Abbots of Unreason and lazy time with family. Greenery, holly, ivy, box, laurel, yew  brought in from the cold and lots and lots and lots of flowers. Flowers in red and white and gold spilling out of every container in every corner of the house. A permanently burning Yule log would be great, but probably not such a good idea in a no-longer working fireplace, so candles, a virtual log of candles. And lights on trees. Not trees that have been cut down and dragged into homes to die slow needle-dropping deaths, but glorious living, breathing, gigantic trees covered in electric colour.

dsc_0076_5And for this, you can ask for no better place than Kew Gardens. In a moment of trying to plan something Christmassy, I had bought tickets to Christmas at Kew weeks earlier, something we had never been to before. I didn’t know what to expect. WOW. I should have known it would be fantastic. It is Kew Gardens after all. 300 acres of growing glory. The gardens are a wonderous, magical, fantasy land of light and shadow. And we walked through together as a family, a long walk, in the dark and the cold, dsc_0101_4looking at beautiful things. No gimmicks, just loveliness. We had a calm, happy, wonderful time.

What else would I want in my modern Medieval Christmas? Christmas crackers, Victorian I know, but I like the jokes. And I love carol concerts. So to my fantasy I add many, many sing-along carol concerts lead by gospel choirs in which the women wear angel wings. I will wear angel wings too. And will belt out every song that feels good to sing, seasonally appropriate or not. And our Lord of Misrule (my youngest would relish the role) will lead us in harmless fun without any deeper meaning or import than that it is a bit of joy at a dark time of year. And we will enjoy ourselves. And enjoy each other. Yes, I think that is the way forward.

So what about this Christmas story then?  The one that has absolutely nothing to do with shopping and postage stamps and tediously long queues for everything and cakes that no one eats. The beautiful, simple tale of a  teenage girl, pregnant and unmarried and her frightened young boyfriend, bringing a child into the world, not in December, more likely in the spring, in very unpromising circumstances.  Yet this child becomes a figure of incredible influence. He changed the course of history. And offered the promise of a new humanity. Sadly, that hasn’t really worked out so well, we are just as awful as we ever were. The first 5 minutes of the BBC news this morning confirmed that: Aleppo, Berlin, big banks punished for their role in the financial crisis, pedophile football coaches, government snooping and this little beauty on the front page of the newspaper: “Civil servants who dole out foreign aid billions pay themselves more than any other ministry.” dsc_0108_2-2For shame!  The truth is, 2,000 years on we have a lot more Herod in us than shepherds or wise men. And that, my friends, is something we should think about every day of the year. Not just for Christmas.

 

On cleaning up The Thames…take me to river part 2 69/100

dsc_0005_32I love the Thames River. I have written before of this love, including post #12, Take me to the River, on the anniversary of Churchill’s funeral flotilla. I have travelled on the Thames and run along the Thames and crossed over it more times than I can count. I love to stop in the middle of the Millennium Bridge and admire London from every angle. Tower Bridge to the East. Southbank to the West. St Paul’s to the North and Tate Modern at the South. And then there is that scene from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, when the dementors sweep and swoop through the bridge. It is a river so rich in history, with so many, many stories…. So when my girls’ school organized a river clean up, in Richmond, I signed us up, and immediately began dreaming of all the Roman coins I was going to find!

Once a year, the locks are opened and the section of river below Richmond Bridge empties dsc_0018_19out. This make it the ideal time to do a good clean. Sadly, on the morning of our clean up, it had been raining for hours. And hours and hours and hours. It had been raining so hard for so long, that the river had refilled as fast as it had emptied. And it was still raining.  The current was strong. Dangerously strong. But there we were. In our water proofs and wellies and gloves, clutching grabbers and bin bags. We were ready. We just needed to be cautious. And make sure our sense of humour was in full working order.

dsc_0020_18The good news is that the river, despite its appearance, wasn’t nearly as dirty as I expected it to be. No plastic bags at all, that bag tax must really be working. No fag ends, but then they do tend to disintegrate. Loads and loads and loads of glass. All kinds of glass. Bottle glass, wine glass glass, random rubbish glass. Even a pair of reading glasses. But then, just above that section of river sits a long line of upscale bars and restaurants. We also found pottery, some of it distinctly Victorian in style, sadly nothing Antiques Roadshow excitement old. Lots of tdsc_0013_23yres, blocks of concrete and metal rods. All of which we collected and dragged into a large rubbish container. When we finished, the cage was overflowing with our bounty. It was a happy sight indeed.

Another happy sight was something we didn’t pick up. Hundreds and hundreds of mussel shells. I couldn’t believe it. Actual shellfish in the river. “Can you eat them?” I asked the leader. I  am quite the fan of a mussel or two. “Please don’t,” was the reply. “Their job is to clean the river. You don’t want to eat what they have eaten.” dsc_0011_25Fair enough.

We all know that David Walliams had to swim through raw sewage (and got sick!) during his epic Thames swim in 2011, but things used to be much, much worse. And things have gotten much, much better. The river was officially dead in the 1960s. But then the sewers were improved and earnest people like those of us on the river that morning decided to start cleaning our mess up. And we cleaned and we cleaned and today the Thames is the cleanest city river in Europe. It boasts 126 species of fish plus, porpoise, dolphins and seals. Wow!

dsc_0003_33We didn’t find any Roman coins, but a few from Brazil and Ukraine. We also found an empty ring box. Oh the stories we were able to spin from that combination.

The world is a mess. But the Thames is pretty clean. That has got to be worth a smile.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

On a kringle of santas…London Santa Runs 68/100

dsc_0005_36-2img_4743-2The British love to dress up. Any excuse will do. Fancy dress, as it is called, is a staple of the social scene, year round. Costumed runners have long been part of races of all lengths, especially for charitable fundraising.  Why not combine the two? Not a great idea, so I thought. I am not a fan of dressing up for parties. I really don’t like dressing up to go running. But when in Rome, or London, to be exact…I have run in a bunny costume, particularly humiliating as it was after Easter so we all looked deranged. I have also run in a gorilla suit, much too hot and heavy to try again. In 2011, the older two children and I ran in a Nativity run. The remit was to dress as a Nativity character. I dug out a battered pair of wings from our dressing up box. My daughter wore a cape, crown and carried a box, a wiseman obviously. Joseph ran in his bathrobe holding a real hammer. He was Joseph because he is Joseph. The organizers seemed overwhelmed by this fact, as if he was in on a secret joke. They couldn’t stop mulling it over aloud, which was rather off putting.  As I said, I’m not much for the costume runs. With one big exception.  I have run in a Santa suit. Many, many times. Too many to count now. The Battersea Park Santa Run has been a fixture in my diary for years now, even when I wasn’t in a running frame of mind. Usually, 10854272_1006953772664677_5097500656784772341_oI have been able to convince a child or two to tag along. Felt, one-size fits all, santa suits are distributed upon arrival at the start, which means we all look the same. For most, the suit is far too big, though occassionally there are matching child-size ones, ill-fitting in their own way, so we are rather a motley crew of santas. And the beards are horrible. But we are all willing. No one doesn’t wear the suit, and the few girls who show up in sexy elf suits just look like idiots. They are shunned by the pack. I love this race. For many reasons, but most especially for the looks on the young Battersea residents’ faces, staggering round the park in hopes of clearing their holiday overdosed heads, when suddenly one thousand (literally) santas come lumbering along….”I am still 1396756_775235222503201_1053749200_odrunk” and “I’ve got to stop the recreational LSD” are but a few of the visible responses. We santas wave, we cheer, we photograph ourselves and others as slack jawed strangers try to settle their over-excited dogs. A perfect way to start the Christmas season!

This year I decided to try something new and signed up for the City Santa run, and convinced 3 of my children plus Katherine’s good friend and frequent running partner, Lexi, to join me. As you know, I will do pretty much anything in the City. And running in the City is a beautiful thing. This morning was perfect, blue, sunny sky and just cold enough to make the fabric felt a welcome overcoat. The santas gathered were fewer in number than Battersea, but just as enthusiastic, maybe more so. The crowds watching were also fewer, but made up of tourists instead of hungover locals. They were amused, delighted, baffled, all holding phones aloft. No telling how many of us are on strangers’ social media sites. dsc_0023_16-2And what a glorious run it was. Starting from the north end of Millennium Bridge, a flood of red flowed, poured over my favourite bridge, much to the surprise of early morning strollers. We continued along past the Tate and the Globe, back across Southwark Bridge. Along the Thames Path the Shard and Tower Bridge came into sight, dodging tourists I drank deeply of this view I love so much. dsc_0026_15-2Through the hordes queuing to get into the Tower of London and then back along Fenchurch Street, through the festive Leadenhall Market and then the final bit, my beloved St Paul’s ahead, to the finish in Paternoster Square. The race was only 6k, yet it seemed to pass in seconds. And despite the cloying felt suit, I felt invincible. Yes, the world still exists with Syrian and Brexit and Trump and upcoming French elections and Italian referendum and Austrian vote (relieved to have just seen the result) and the youth football child abuse, but for a little bit of time, none of that mattered. Instead, my eyes and brain could only concentrate on things I love: art, theatre, history, Harry Potter, beauty. The things that keep us all going in troubled times. Running in the City, the city I love the most, it just might be what gets me through.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

 

On Harry Potter…..#keepthesecrets 67/100

dsc_0001_35I have seen the Harry Potter plays. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I took husband and children with me. We are all true believers. So when the great JK Rowling asked us (ok, not personally, but the HP community at large) to #keepthesecrets and NOT reveal anything about the plays we took that as an unbreakable edict. I won’t give anything away. But I will share thedsc_0002_32 following:

 

  1. It is an absolutely amazing couple of theatre.  We all loved every second of it. Funny, sad, shocking, beautifully staged. It is the kind of piece for which superlatives were made. Everything is done well.
  2. Our audience was made up of true believers. The collective love is tangible. But you do need to know the stories.
  3. It is one play in two, full length parts. They must be seen consecutively. We went on a Thursday and Friday evening, which my children liked as they said they needed the intervening hours to mull over it all. I am greedy. I wish I could have done it in a one-day matinee/evening extravaganza.
  4. The wait for tickets is quite long. I bought my tickets in the very first round, on October 29, 2015. We saw the performance on Nov 3/4, 2016. You do the maths.
  5. The next time a notice goes out that the run is being extended and tickets are going to go on sale, clear your diary for the day. Make sure you are logged on before the opening time. And wait. If you are below 10,000 in the queue don’t panic. You could be 45k or even 89k, as my eldest was when she thought she might like to go again. She didn’t get tickets. Don’t fuss over dates, just take what is offered. But think carefully as to who is deserving of going with you. The tickets will be for a year or more in advance. Something to look forward to indeed.
  6. When the big day finally arrives go with an open heart and an eager mind. And enjoy. It really is magical.
  7. And then just smile knowingly. #keepthesecrets.

On London’s loving reminder….Anno Domini 66/100

dsc_0001_422016 has been a tough year. I’ve mentioned that often. And the result of the US election about did me in. Having said I was going to go to bed early, as I, like most of the world, thought I already knew the outcome, I ended up staying up all night, watching with shock. I stumbled bleary eyed and sad to the gym the next morning. “My wife has been crying for hours. And we aren’t American!” one of the lovely trainers told me. I felt defeated and drained. And fed up. I decided to turn my back on the world. Not the correct reaction, I know, but nothing seems to be right at the moment. Turn my back on the world, but a quick trip to the theatre first. For I had tickets for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse to see a new version of Milton’s masque, Comus. The Globe, and it’s indoor theatre Sam Wanamaker, are places I consider to be sacred (posts #8 & 25 ), a refuge when everything seems wrong. I went alone, not sure that the exhausting combination of no sleep and reality wouldn’t send me straight back home. Instead, I sat mesmerized by the play, loving every word. And re-wrote my pledge. Not turn my back on the world, but move, at least temporarily, into a impenetrable bubble of culture. Went into a self-imposed exile, stayed off social media, and when I did engage with others it was only over art or theatre or anything Harry Potter. Even London herself was kept at a distance. I spent hours at home alone, finishing tasks I had started years earlier. I cleaned up rooms and cleared out closets and caught up on all the family holiday photo books. I was quiet and dull and looked at life only through the very hazy lenses of paint and poetry. And you know what, it has been bloody great. I think I am going to stick with this lifestyle a while longer. But London, knowing me as she does, has given me the occasional wink, the gently blown kiss, the silent connection. Because connection there still is, and connections, all round, there still are. On Wednesday afternoon I learned that my son Joseph’s wonderful trumpet teacher, Sandy Hooks, had not only written a Christmas musical, Anno Domini, but that it was being performed that night at St Paul’s Covent Garden, the Actor’s Church. I decided to go. And London smiled slyly.

St Paul’s, built by Indigo Jones in 1633, is an oasis of calm at the edge of manically busy Covent Garden. Due to its location in the West End, it has long had a connection with the theatre community. Last December, I was lucky enough to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) Christmas Carol service at the church. A glorious evening of Christmas-related readings and gorgeous hymns. Funny, irreverent, traditional and simply beautiful, it showed off the wide range of the students’ talents. In the warmer months, plays, often Shakespeare, are performed at the church. I have yet to make one, but it is on the list!

I didn’t know what to expect of the evening, but I was ready for a little Christmas cheer. What I got was something much, much more. A beautiful, thoughtful, moving re-telling of the Christmas story with Mary, a vulnerable, frightened, scorned Mary as the central character, with a soul swelling West End musical score. That alone would have been enough to lift my spirits. But this is London. Of course there is more. The actors on the evening were an impressive collection of stage and screen talent. With gorgeous, incredible singing voices and fabulous accents from…..everywhere: east London, Manchester, Nigeria, posh, Wales, and more, the stunning voices that make up this City I love.  And suddenly I felt London’s gentle poke to my ribs. Reminding me that for all the misery that this world makes for itself, London still holds a glimpse of the world I wish to live in. A world full of theatre and music and diverse accents and hope. Most of all, hope.

Anno Domini will be performed again at the Clapham Omnibus, in December. Tickets available through Eventbrite.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion