On love songs in C….bees in The Hive 60/100

DSC_0003_7Bees hum in the key of C. That is such a wonderful fact I am not sure I need to say anything more. Except to add that my beloved Frank Turner reminds us, “…we write love songs in C. ” Now I could just drop in a few stunning photos and…..voila, latest post finished.

Oh, but I can’t help myself. I WANT to drone onDSC_0010_6 (ha ha, little pun there) about The Hive, the gorgeous and heartwarming installation at Kew Gardens, in celebration of the humble and extraordinary bumblebee. And the buzz of scientific research (ha ha again) that has gone into creating something that is not only beautiful to look at, incredible to experience, but is a statement on the future of our existence on this planet.

Built for the 2015 Milan International Expo, the theme of which was “Feeding the Planet-Energy for Life” the UK committee knew it needed something extraordinary. In part of their pre-planning research, the committee polled non-UK nationals as to the UK’s reputation. Hannah Corbett, UK Milan Expo 2015 Commissioner General & Director, discovered that the UK was considered “unusual in its preference for eccentricity and its love of the quirky.” Well, eccentric and quirky have always been positives in my book, and The Hive delivers magnificently on both. Another was that the UK has a long, solid history of engineering brilliance. Just think of all those amazing things the Victorians DSC_0005_7built. Railways, bridges, greenhouses. Yes, greenhouses. Which revolutionized their influence on worldwide food production. Suddenly seeds and plants from vastly different environments could be cultivated and studied, it was the impetus to re-inventing Kew Gardens in the 1840s…., from a place of elite leisure to one of serious science, which continues today.

But let’s get back to the bee, the lovely, precious bee, which we have taken for granted for so long we now find ourselves in rather a panic about its demise. The reasons are varied but with a common denominator. Us. Climate change, industrial farming techniques that prefer one crop over a variety, the widespread use of pesticides, the invasion of other bee varieties. Many types of bees feed on just a tiny selection of plants. Remove them and the bee population will soon follow, or vice versa. As 3 out of 4 of plants rely on animals for pollination and of that 75% is done by bees, well, they are rather important. Albert Einstein did NOT predict that humanity was done for without the bee, but an Belgian Nobel prize winner by the name of Maurice Maeterlinck did. Maybe the attribution was reassigned to give the quote more weight. Because it may not be far from the truth. But don’t fear. There are lots and lots and lots of bee champions out there and beekeeping has suddenly become the “in” past time. We are rather keen on self-preservation after all. I am an optimist.

DSC_0014_6The Hive is one more method of awareness raising, and a spectacular one at that. It sits nestled in a wildflower meadow at Kew, rising magnificently skywards like the most fantastic Meccano built greenhouse, without the glass. Instead the Hive offers lights and music, lights and music that are controlled……dramatic pause…wait for it, wait for it….a real hive at Kew. The bees humming and movement activate the light and sound sensors in the installation, waxing and waning throughout the day and seasons. The experience is amazing. It is like standing inDSC_0008_6 gorgeous, non-reflective hall of mirrors with invisible walls of sounds, not unlike waves, crashing all around you. Does any of that simile work??? Suffice to say it is a marvelous, beautiful sensory overload. And an Instagrammers” dream. From all levels and angles.

DSC_0018_5Back to bees. They communicate through vibration, rather than hearing, as we do. You are welcome to imitate the affect by “listening” holding a wooden stick between your teeth. The sensation is rather like being at the dentist. But the Hive is filled with sound we can hear with our ears as well. I started this piece by stating that bees hum in the key of C. The artist approached a team of musicians to “work” with the bees to create an orchestral accompaniment to their humming, in the key of C, using cello, voice, piano, mellotron and steel guitar. The musicians didn’t impose their own playing, rather reacted to what the bees were doing in a sympathetic manner. The result is a stunning, often haunting soundtrack. So much so that it has gone on tour, even making an appearance at Glastonbury, and the album ONE is available to buy.

The artistic genius behind The Hive is Cumbria born, Nottingham educated Wolfgang Buttress. Known for being someone comfortable outside the box, he was concerned, and I quote, “how could one produce a response beyond something glib and tokenistic.” It had DSC_0017_6to be meaningful, but not boring and earnest. It needed real wow factor. And wow, did Buttress deliver. But like all masterpieces, it wasn’t a one man job. Bee specialists, musicians, engineers, landscape architects, contractors and gardeners all played roles in this extraordinary installation. “It was a true collaboration in that egos did not restrict us, instead our different disciplines enabled us to let go where necessary and create when required, ” explains Buttress. Oooh, if only more groups of people could think this way, what a happier (and perhaps more productive) place this world would be.

Have I convinced you to visit? What if I tell you that Kew Gardens is thinking of hosting adult evenings in the Autumn with drinks and the chance to experience The Hive at night, lights and sounds shining and buzzing and humming to our heart’s delight in the Autumn air. Well sign me up, certainly.

And see, I wasn’t just using bees as an excuse to quote Turner, as if I need an excuse, we really do write love songs in C. The bees perhaps writing the greatest one of them all.

http://www.kew.org/

Instagram & Twitter: @mylondonpassion

On Ceremony of the Keys and tortuous death…..59/100

13754473_10210310621783791_1200527489421743719_n“Halt! Who Comes There?” asks the solider at The Ceremony of the Keys. This official locking up of the Tower of London, a ceremony dating back more than 700 years, takes place every single night, without fail. During an evening of enemy bombing in WWII the ceremony was delayed. The Yeoman Warders sent the King a written apology. Such is the import of this ceremony. Important and beautiful. Spine-tinglingly beautiful. And so it was with much, much pleasure I attended with my younger two and The Guests, two friends and their sons over from both coasts of the USA. It was a clear, warm night, a perfect evening to be at the Tower. It is a magnificent place during the day. At night it is magical, eerie, otherworldly; you can almost hear the footsteps of those who came before. And the ceremony is more than just tradition, it has a sacred quality to it, IMG_2641heightened by the fact that absolutely no video or photography is allowed and strict silence is requested. Which meant we all had to stand still and watch, listen, absorb, quietly. Something we do so rarely these days of non-stop technology. A brief digital detox, if you like. And history. To be part of something so old, so steeped in legend and lore, is a true treat indeed. I will stop there, as should any of you reading this have the opportunity to see it yourself, I would like your eyes and minds not to be fuddled by my observations. It is worth a fresh, IMG_2640unfettered reaction. Of delight and wonder.

If, before or after the ceremony, you would care for a small drink, may I suggest the fantastically, but grammatically incorrectly named pub The Hung Drawn & Quartered, just across the way from the Tower. People are hanged. Pictures are hung. But that is a fussy detail. The pub refers to a particularly gruesome method of execution for men convicted of high treason, dating back to the 13th century. Hanging until almost dead, but still conscious, disembowelment, emasculation and finally a (at that point merciful) beheading and cutting up of the body into 4 pieces. This pub carries the name in remembrance of Major-General Thomas Harrison, one of the men who met his end in DSC_0358this way. Why? Because it was Harrison who signed the death warrant for Charles I. There is a plaque on the outside of the pub, quoting the famous 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys’ account of Harrison’s execution at Charing Cross; Pepys lived round the corner from the pub, which probably explains why it is there. When the first Charles’s son, Charles II, was restored to the throne, 11 years later,  he settled a few scores. Revenge can be a bloody business indeed. But don’t be put off by this grim scrap of history, it is a lovely, charming place. Welcoming to children, if not too busy, and beautiful window boxes (yes, that matters.)

DSC_0002_8“So,” I hear you asking, “how do I get an evening like this for myself?” It is possible, as long as you have patience. The Ceremony is free and open to the public, but tickets are limited. Most evenings sell out months in advance. For those of you who are organized, it will be some worthwhile advanced planning. And if you spend some time at the pub, don’t forget to raise a toast to My London Passion, may she be dazzled by this city for years to come.

To book Ceremony tickets: http://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/whats-on/ceremony-of-the-keys/#gs.dvdBg2A

Instagram & Twitter: @mylondonpassion

 

On Romans…..and Billingsgate Bath House 58/100

DSC_0261Many years ago, a university friend sent me her daughter for 2 weeks, in the summer, while she and her utterly vile, soon to be ex-husband battled things out. I was not only determined to show Julia a marvelous time (I did) but more specifically, I was determined that she experience something, anything that she couldn’t find in the US. After much thinking the answer was obvious. Romans. Lots of lots of Romans, because while plenty of people are happy to devulge the locations of alien invasion, there are absolutely no Roman remains in the 50 states. And that is how the children and I, plus Julia, spent a fantastic week on Hadrian’s Wall. Far,far from London. But the Romans spent plenty of time in London, as well. They founded Londinium, a thriving city on the edge of Thames from 43 to 410 AD, the footprint of which remains, more or less, current day City of London. Roman ruins are scattered all IMG_2228round the City, many of them only revealed when Hilter’s bombs destroyed so much of the Square Mile in WWII. But ruins in a modern city are a funny thing. Often, the ruins are known, but kept buried, both for their own safety and the needs of the current populace. Lately, the trend seems to be swinging toward finding a happy balance between the intellectual curiousity of the public and the desires of developers, by creating viewing platforms within the modern buildings. This is a very good thing indeed. Especially when London wants to show off for guests.

DSC_0256I wrote last year about some embarrassingly pointless Americans who insisted on visiting my city and hated it. But they are bad Americans. They are probably going to vote for Donald Trump. Happily, most of the Americans who visit London are good ones. And if they are MY friends visiting, well, obviously they are the best of the best of the best and deserve….well, some Romans. …so I really needed to come up with more than a few old walls for Greg and James, two friends from NYC days and their respective 11 year old sons Danny and Alexander. Fortunately, as so often happens, London responded beautifully by opening Billingsgate Bath House on Lower Thames Street just in time for their visit. Thank you London.

Billingsgate Bath House is a Roman complex underneath an otherwise unremarkable concrete office building at the eastern end of Lower Thames Street. The Victorians were aware that the complex existed, and there must have been something about it that DSC_0257appealed as they didn’t demolish it to make way for something else, as they so often did, but just left it alone, the nicest thing they could have done. After protracted negociations with the council, the Museum of London was given permission to offer tours to the public. I couldn’t wait to sign us up!

The site is so new and the staff so eager, that they came and found us wondering up and down Lower Thames, worried that we might have trouble finding it, which we did, and escorted us into the site. I do appreciate good customer service! And then we were treated to a wonderful, funny and thoughtful private tour. We learned, among other things, that where building works go, nothing much has changed. Research suggests that the earliest and best built parts were constructed at the beginning of the end of Roman rule on this isle. A villa or perhaps a guest house. With magnificent underfloor heating. The engineering required, all still very much on display, is spectacular. But as so often happens, someone decided to make some unfortunate changes at a later date. Shoddy workmanship and extremely poor planning DSC_0259meant the floor would have become significantly less effective as time went on. Was it cheap labour? Or just cowboy builders? Worse, a little DIY? Happy to hear the Roman empire struggled with these difficulties as well.

And then the bath house itself. A very small version of what would have been a grand structure back in Rome. Maybe that was the problem, that whoever designed this bath house had never actually been to Rome. Maybe they didn’t really know what they were building and all the guess work resulted in a strangely improbable arrangement. Rooms all too small and only a tiny tub in which to plunge. A tub with no drainage,  no less. How odd. How dirty! Maybe the owner just ran out of money and wound up with only an approximation of the original plans? Maybe the baths here weren’t meant to be the public occasions they were in the old country, but a private location for ….well, things that require privacy? Or just more bad workmanship? Plenty for the imagination to play with.

And then there is the mystery of the Anglo-Saxon brooch…..so many options…we of IMG_2252course went with the secret lovers….oops, I say too much. Grab your favourite people, friends or relations, and bathe in some Roman history.

On The Lost Palace and holding a dead man’s heart…..57/100

DSC_0464Good guests were coming to town. Really, really good guests. So I needed to pull out the proper showing off stops. Fortunately, as regular readers will know, London treats me very well. Often, I have but to ask and I am given. No exception this time. I wrote “what to do with James and Greg” on the top of a blank piece of paper and within hours the HRP sent me an email about their brand new interactive tour, opening just days after The Guests arrived. Would I be interested in tickets??? Would I ever!!! And so it was that on a sunny afternoon (of course London was sunny for The Guests) that James and his son Alexander (age 11), Greg and his son Danny (age 11) and me with my Stephen and Katherine (ages 10 and 12), history lovers all, set off to explore Whitehall Palace, an enormous complex that extended from Trafalgar Square to Big Ben and over into St. James’s Park. At its height it had more than 1,500 rooms, far more thanDSC_0496 either Versailles in France or the Vatican in Rome. It was a favourite of Henry VIII, who married two of his queens and died at the Palace. Both Charles I and II also died there, under very different circumstances. It hosted plays and masques and enough intrigue to keep thriller writers busy for years. Unfortunately, the whole thing, except for Banqueting House, with its still stunning Peter Paul Rubens ceiling, burned down 300 years ago. But that is the beauty of technology. And imagination. And feet.

DSC_0466Using headphones and the two before mentioned accoutrements, the tour takes you round and through Whitehall Palace, exposing celebrations and secrets alongIMG_2966 the way. It runs in geographical rather than chronological order, so we were sometimes a bit confused by the details. But the main acts were great. Playing Cordelia in the first ever performance of Shakespeare’s  King Lear, overhearing the secret marriage of Anne Boleyn to Henry, eavesdropping on the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot. A busker sang us a ballad near 10 Downing Street. The triangular device we carried along the way turned into a sword, complete with satisfying swishing sounds. We enjoyed the full gruesomeness of a cock fight in Horse Guards Parade, though some chose to watch a joust instead. We heard fire consuming the building without mercy and the equally merciless looting that took place after. But best of all, BEST of all, we held the beating heart of Charles I in our hands as he was executed, his DSC_0480head removed from his body just above the current entrance to Banqueting House, the throbbing device in our hands made still by an axe. How often do you get to hold a dying man’s heart in your hands? That alone is worth the tour.

It is only running until 4 September, 2016, so book those tickets now and get ready to live history.

http://www.hrp.org.uk/banqueting-house/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/the-lost-palace/#gs.V711Qcs

Instagram & Twitter: @mylondonpassion

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On how London is Open and FULL of Pokemon….56/100

DSC_0512Weeks later and the pain from Brexit shows no signs of abating in London. While the rest of the country seems to have returned its attention to Celebrity Big Brother and the even more horrific reality television show that is the upcoming US election, Londoners have yet to raise their mournful heads from their hands. So much so, that our new mayor, Sadiq Khan, has taken my advice and is trying to soothe heads and hearts with art. Friday was the launch of the #LondonisOpen campaign using artists to proclaim that London is Open…to everyone. As I adore my new Mayor, who was formerly my MP, I will quote him at length “Art is a powerful way to say London is open — open for business, open to ideas, and open to the people from across the world who have chosen to live and work here. London’s world-renowned arts and cultural activity is testament to the success of London as an international city. We’ve asked some of the world’s leading artists to help us communicate the simple but vital message that despite uncertainties around Brexit, London will remain an international city.”

The first poster unveiled, on Friday, at Southwark Tube station, is by artist Richard Shrigley. A simple message: everyone welcome. Work by other artists can be found scattered throughout the transport network, including Gillian Wearing’s Towards DSC_0524 (2)World Peace on the moving posters at Bank. Additional artists will add their own images to stations starting in September. An ad campaign dedicated to reminding us that London is the greatest city in the world, regardless of the Brexit fall out. If you are a smart person you already know this to be irrefutable. For the rest, I don’t believe Brexit will make any difference. So an ad campaign for the true believers….how lovely.

Creatures who definitely understand the worth of my city, however, are Pokemon, because there are so so so many of them here. And catching them has become my latest addiction. The whole concept is genius. Utter genius. The game came to the UK the first week of July. In my rare disguise as a responsible parent I pretended to disapprove and refused to allow Stephen to put the game on my phone. So he put it on his father’s. And he was off. Navigating the neighborhood like he had The Knowledge. I realized I had so missed a trick. A game that involved dashing from landmark to landmark in pursuit of tiny creatures was sweeping the world, and I was opting to sit it out???? The woman who has hunted elephants and Easter eggs and sheep and bears and buses and dream jars and Olympic IMG_2016-07-30-12142215mascots was turning her nose up at this??? A chance to roam for hours and hours and hours in the city that she loves with no more goal than being in the moment??? And best of all, my children think I am WONDERFUL, more than wonderful, THE BEST MOTHER IN THE WORLD for saying “let’s wander round London all day long…..” If the only concession I am forced to make in this deal is allowing a little phone fiddling at intervals, well I can certainly live with that. AND you can take the most adorable photos. Instagramming heaven. I put the app on my phone and “gave” it to Katherine. Yesterday with Stephen on his father’s phone and Katherine with mine, we emerged from the Tube at Charing Cross and walked for hours and more than 10 kilometers, all over Westminster, seeing the buildings and parks with fresh eyes…not rushing from one location to the next in pursuit of some schedule, but strolling, watching, waiting for magical creatures to appear and dance for the camera. When both phone batteries died we headed home for some literal recharging…..and IMG_2016-07-30-21464462then back out. Because the Tate Modern is open until 10 on Saturdays, and the illusive Mr. Mime was rumoured to hang out there. Never have two young children been so excited to go to an art gallery, at night. And while we didn’t find Mr. Mime, the galleries were filled with other Pokemon. And art. Gorgeous, wonderful art, including the new Georgia O’Keeffe show. This is exactly what is meant by a win-win situation. At 10pm we headed out to Bankside and wandered, along with crowds and plenty more Pokemon, IMG_2016-07-30-22134596down to Waterloo Station. Outside the National Theatre a drag queen disco was taking place, the Pokemon caught there, Jynx, seemed to have dressed for the occasion, complete with blond wig. Hilarious.

Up early this morning to join the queue for the Tower of London, THE hotspot according to Time Out, 30 minutes before it opened. Good thing I am a member. And yes, Stephen and Katherine caught loads, often helped by the equally mad for Pokemon Go Tower guards. And for me, it was a most wonderful morning. I have been to the Tower many, many times. But always just rushing from exhibit to exhibit, worrying about time and schedules, fussing over guests…and this morning, well NONE of that. Just looking up and around and admiring and taking time, lots and lots of time (sometimes Pokemon keep you waiting) to absorb the Tower itself, the buildings against a pure blue sky, the gargoyles, the stonework, the pieces of armor ignored by the crowds, the way the shadows fall on the grass and the silhouettes of the ravens on the walls. “Isn’t it nice to just stand and take it in,” said a DSC_0532guard. I couldn’t agree more.

Then on to Regent’s Park, which was crowded. Very crowded. And filled with Pokemon hunters. Of all ages and shapes and sizes. Wandering the paths and gardens, phones held aloft, shouts of delight and disappointment piercing the air. Regent’s Park isn’t my usual patch. It is place I find confusing and get frequently lost. Usually I am rushing (late) to the Open Air Theatre or waiting for the Frieze Art Fair shuttle….but this afternoon was different. No rushing and all waiting done without frantic “I am going to miss out” impatience. These Pokemon are tricky, wily creatures. They don’t always show up where IMG_2016-07-31-17224868you expect, they surprise and delight. They reward rambling. And flower sniffing. And people watching. And taking it all in. And that is exactly what I have been doing. Peacefully, happily taking in my beloved city. The most open city in the world. London: Everyone Welcome. Especially Zubat and friends.

IMG_2016-07-31-18513771IMG_2016-07-31-09272647Tonight, 48 hours on from the start of our Pokemon Go odyssey, we are weary. My feet hurt. We have covered more than 30 kilometers in 2 days. But I am happy. Katherine has caught 174 on my behalf, Stephen boasts over 200. I have hundreds of fabulous photos. And my Good Mummy badge is shining brighter than Pikachu himself. Perfect.

On Carole King and new friends and love…lots of other things too 55/100

IMG_20160705_162236My first Hyde Park concert was Closing Night of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The final evening of what had been weeks of euphoria. The city that I loved had made me fall head over heels in love with it all over again. I had never been so proud to live here. That night the headliners were Blur, perfect sing along band, with New Order before. New Order!! Oh that took me back. I went with my friend Mark and we took my daughter Lizzie and her best friend Alice with us. They were 13 at the time and this was their first concert ever. They weren’t very impressed. “Is this it?” Lizzie asked in bewilderment. “You just stand around like this?” Lizzie and Alice spent much of the night sitting in deck chairs provided by The Sun newspaper, reading through stacks of copy. “The Sun is filled with information,” they cheerfully told us when they re-joined us. Mark particularly admired their word choice. Information indeed. And despite their reservations, it was a wonderful, magical night at the end of what had been a wonderful, magical few weeks. (For the record, since that night, Lizzie and Alice have taken themselves off to music venues all over the city to enjoy what I can only describe a Scandi heavy metal played on lutes. London caters for all tastes.)

The following year, Hyde Park hosted Bon Jovi, and my husband invited me to join him for a corporate event. I love corporate events. This one was fantastic. The hospitality tent was incredible. Towers of shellfish, endless rivers of champagne. I received a marriage proposal from a man, a stranger, sitting with two women. “wow, you are optimistic,” was my reply. Bon Jovi puts on a great show. Come on, we ALL know ALL the words. And Mr. Jon Bon Jovi has an amazing AMAZING plastic surgeon….if anyone has the name, please send.

And then, this past Sunday night, the 3rd of my British Summertime experiences…..it could not have been more perfectly timed. London is still reeling, bruised and battered from the recent Brexit vote. Who better to heal our aching souls than the one and only Carole King. I have been excited for this concert since the annoucement of it months ago. Really really excited. “I don’t know why all you women are so crazy for Carole King,” my husband grumpily announced the other night. “Because,” I gushed, “she has written the soundtrack to my life.” A great deal of eye-rolling ensued. But it is true. We love Carole King because she HAS written the soundtrack to our lives. Yes, lives that are privileged and sheltered certainly. But lives filled with heartbreak and best friends and the eternal question “will you still love me tomorrow.” And her concert in Hyde Park was tremendous. Notoriously shy of the spotlight, the enormous crowd in the Park was determined to let her know she was loved. LOVED. From start to finish. The review for the Guardian described it as a 50,000 person sing-along with group snuggling. Well that was certainly true where we were. From the first racucous chord of I Feel the Earth Move, we were off. And when the gorgeous group of strangers invited us to join them, far too generous with their chilled wine (a wine bucket! How clever!) the evening just bloomed into something very very special indeed. A night to remember forever. How fun the last several days have been getting to know my new Cheltenham and Dorset friends over Facebook, the euphoria of Sunday just rolling on and on. And then yesterday I learned that one of them, Clare, is starting her 5th  round of Chemo for breast cancer. Suddenly the sunshine and music seem even more magical because reality is often grim. But not without hope.

Today, as I write, is July 7, 4 days on from the concert. The last day of term for all my children. And the last day for my youngest at her current school, a school she has loved for the last 6 years. It is also the 11th anniversary of the London bombings, an event that remains frightening and surreal and desperately sad. So with memories of that horrible day more than a decade ago and thoughts for my new friend Clare, mixed with the usual distractions of motherhood (when am I going to do the food shopping, does younger son have his gi ready for the karate weekend etc.) I walked into the beautiful St. Luke’s Church Battersea, for the Broomwood Hall Leaver’s Service. Broomwood does ceremony well. This was no exception. Given that my daughter is very excited to be joining her sister at secondary school, and that I will continue to see many of the other mothers on a regular basis, I wasn’t expecting to feel much more than admiration for a service well done. I was simply looking forward to 45 minutes of reflection and calm before the end of term storm. Then those little voices began reading out Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata. It gets me every time. “..do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.” I started crying. A lot. The woman next to me, a stranger, handed me a tissue. I felt so grateful.

And that is why we love Carole King, why we love singing along with her, arms round people we have only just met, in a beautiful park in the sunshine, because the world is a hard place. It is filled with bombings and political confusion and cancer and sadness. But it has great moments of joy as well, and these are what we hold on to through the dark days. As Ehrmann wrote so perfectly “With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” Share your tissues, hand out the wine, sing with strangers, remember the good and above all, Love.

Instagram & Twitter: @mylondonpassion

On Brexit and Art…54/100

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Many weeks ago my mother asked if I would write something about Brexit. “No, I don’t write about things like that,” I responded. Oh dearie, dear. I have done little but write about Brexit in the last week. Perhaps not Brexit exactly, but the aftermath of. The madness that has descended on my beloved city of London and indeed on the entire UK. It is as though everyone has been given permission to release their inner demon. As if, for all you Seinfeld fans, there was a collective decision in favour of the Festivus tradition of Airing of Grievances. Publically. The sudden spike in racist behaviour, against, but certainly not limited to, the Poles. The Poles? Seriously? They have been an integral part of British society, London society since the 1940s. But the ugliness has not been limited to one side only. This is a proper free for all. The vitriol aimed at the elderly in my lovely local post office earlier in the week was shocking, not least because there were several pensioners in the queue. The ferocity of the anger expressed made me very glad I have no beloved granny living alone in this country, at the moment. And then there are the calls to limit voting rights to those with acceptable GCSE results. I love the clip of Eddie calling for a Stupid People Tax. But Ab Fab is comedy television. It isn’t real. My friend Mark, who appears to have taken a leave of absence from life to promote Remain on social media, was verbally attacked in the Tube 2 days ago by a stranger, accusing him of looking like someone who would have voted Out. Mark fights with longswords in his free time. Not necessarily the man I would choose to randomly attack on public transport, but then all sense is gone. A close friend voted Leave, having thoughtfully weighed the options. Her own mother is no longer speaking with her. There was an altercation between neighbours on my street, not over parking or noise, but the vote. And then there is the government. Which is falling apart. In every way. It is Madness out here.

 

I can do nothing but hold onto the words of the Culture minister Ed Vaizey who called for the arts to help heal the post-Brexit wounds. “In times of uncertainty and division it’s the arts that bring us together,” said Mr Vaizey. “London 2012 united the nation and the world looked on in awe of our creativity, courage and character. Now is the time to come together once more.”

DSC_0111Oh, I do hope this is true! And so it was with delight I realized I had been invited to Linklater’s RA Summer Show evening, on Monday night. “This will be the perfect cure for troubled souls,” so I thought. The evening was gorgeous. Lawyers certainly can manage details! The semi-circles of beautiful young men holding trays of drinks as you entered the Central Hall. The exquisite food served with such abundance there was no suggestion of having to wait between nibbles. And the art. Oh the Art. The famous and the unknown and the awe-inspiring and the bewildering and the covetousness I don’t even try to hide. “I will immerse myself in art and temporarily forget about the world,” I told myself. But alas, the event was popular. The rooms were crowded. And everywhere I went all I could hear was talk of Brexit. How the world is ending. Might have already ended. There was no escape. I admit a DSC_0110 (2)good part of me thought, “well if it all coming to an end, I might as well go out with a bang and buy that Boyle Family piece….”. Fortunately for the family finances I am still an optimist.

 

And I am optimistic that art can, if not save us all from ourselves, at least distract us enough to allow tempers to cool. Little could the organizers have known, when they started putting Art Night with ICA together, the idea taken from a similar event held in Paris, of the importance, for me anyway, of the night. A one night summer festival in the West End with opportunities to stop into both iconic and never-before-noticed buildings and spaces and see art. In all its many forms. Yes please, a short break from Chicken Little and mob rule. And on that front it delivered. Bland, pastel coloured copies of L’Origine de Monde on enormous scale hung in an about-to-be renovated building on The Strand. Further along The Strand we waited for quite a while to be let into what turned out to be a suite of rooms that looked like every Sofitel I have even stayed in.  Some girls were doing yoga in the bedroom. My family would have been impressed by how the towels were folded on the toilet in the bathroom. A real dog was on the rug in the living room. Most bizarrely, we were all speaking in hushed tones, as if in a sacred space, instead of some homage to 3 star living.

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Tai Chi in the courtyard of Somerset House. I have done Yoga in several beautiful places, including Tower Bridge. Not sure it could be considered performance art, however. At St. Mary le Strand I was much more interested in what the young art students were working on than the film theyDSC_0149 (2) were tending, which was little more than a list of films someone called Jennifer West likes. Rather like those Facebook round robins. We couldn’t find the abandoned Jubilee Station, though we walked round and round in the rain. Two Temple Place is such a beautiful building that none of the exhibitions I have seen there can compete with the venue itself. That staircase!

Couples were dancing on the steps of Duke of York. But this is London. People are always dancing everywhere. The queue for the installation in the Admiralty Arch was very very long. And given what we had seen already we decided not to join. But went, briefly, to the DSC_0150 (2)pub across the way. Which was filled with similarly minded people. All talking about how hilariously Emperor’s New Clothes piss take this evening was. And in that, the night was a roaring success. Not a whisper of Brexit anywhere. As for creativity, courage and character, well those were on display absolutely everywhere. The sky hasn’t fallen quite yet.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

 

On Sadness and Love and Vicars….Jo Cox, Gay Pride & John Donne too 53/100

DSC_0026_3I have a collection of vicars. An unusual thing to collect, perhaps, but utterly worthwhile. I think it is their compassionate intellect that appeals. And their sense of humour. I suppose a job that includes so much listening to others requires an impressive ability to find the funny. Some of my vicars are gay. Which as a stand alone fact has as much relevance as their eye colour. Except that it explains how I came to be attending London Pride with a vicar.

DSC_0009_5This has been a tough week. On Wednesday I went to the vigil for Jo Cox, on what should have been her 42nd birthday. Had not a crazy man shot and knifed her to death. Previous to her murder she was unknown to me, but now I could put my name on the shortlist of potential biographers for this MP who genuinely lived to serve. An Oxfam worker in Africa, an advocate for refugees, a responsive representative for the people of Yorkshire and a mother. It is the latter that makes me tear up the most. Her killing shocked the world. Not least because it came so soon after the shootings in Orlando. Plenty of despair to go round.

Jo and her young family lived on houseboat (how cool is that) near Tower Bridge. So on herDSC_0003_6 birthday a small boat, filled with flowers, was sailed down the Thames and moored outside the Houses of Parliament. And there it sat, bobbing gently on the water, all alone. Metaphors were fast and thick at the sight.

On to Trafalgar Square. To honor the woman who had said “far more unites us than divides us” spawning the hashtags #moreincommon and #lovelikejo. The day was muggy and close, even more so in the square packed with people. Despite the numbers it was a solemn and quiet crowd. A beautiful, at times halting speech from her husband, Brendan, and a moving tribute, via video link on big screen from her sister. Then the celebrities got involved (Bono! Seriously?) and I made my way back home, overwhelmed with desire to see my own children as quickly as possible.

DSC_0030_3Then the Brexit vote. Two days on I still don’t know what to make of it all. Except that here in Wandsworth it was a 75% vote to remain. So lots and lots and lots of shocked and sad people. Uncertain times ahead for sure. And a desperation to do something inclusive. And happy. What could fit the bill more than London Pride. With Christians.

After the pre and post vote rhetoric, the parade was positively calm,  un-confrontational and fun. Because I was attending with vicar Louis, and his impossibly young and glamourous mother Janice, we joined the Christians at Pride group, made up mostly of members of St Anne’s Church, Soho and Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. Their position along the parade route was strategically DSC_0029_3chosen as a group of  so-called “religious” haters positioned themselves at the end of Lower Regent Street, the perfect vantage point to promise hellfire and damnation to each passing float. We were a bit further along, smiling faces without angry placards. Before the parade started, one of the vicars produced a loaf of bread and several bottles of what my mother and I would call “sangria wine,” and offered a short communion service, open to anyone. There were a lot of enthusiastic takers. My teenage daughter couldn’t quite choke down the plonk, but she appreciated the ceremony. My younger was given a long blessing from a priest. Sharing Communion, on a London street, in the sunshine, with strangers, most of whom happen to be gay. Does it get more inclusive than that? Gorgeous moment. We weren’t the only ones to think the parade deserved special treatment. Some older punks across the way had champagne with real glasses, serious parade preparation envy from me. And a great image on a day that aims, among other things, to dismantle stereotypes or expand them, depending on your point of view.

And the parade itself? Fun. Lots and lots of fun. Our new Mayor Sadiq Khan and his wife DSC_0032_3marched. There were mentions of the massacre in Orlando, though not a many as I thought there would be. But then this was a celebration not a memorial. Plenty of flesh on display, not all of it tanned and toned. “Oh dear,” blurted out by someone near me may have been the understatement DSC_0035_2of the day, as a series of particularly exposed, pasty pale and jiggly stomachs passed in front of us. There were lots of men and women in uniform, military and civil service. Starbucks and Barclays were doing some serious promotion, both with large, lively packs of marchers. Plenty of earnest groups as well, colleges, universities, health clinics, the Women’s Institute!, Muslim and African organizations, bikers too.  But what I really wanted was flamboyant. And I was not DSC_0050_3disappointed. More Patsy’s and Edina’s than I could count. Feathers, sequins, impossible high shoes, ball gowns. Some proper fabulousness.

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And in the midst of all this happy fun came a text from my dear friend Lucy. My circus writer friend with whom I share so many adventures. Her mother had been rushed to the hospital and was now in a medically induced coma. Prognosis cautiously optimistic, as long as nothing more happened in the night. Lucy is the youngest of 6, a very late in life baby. She has always said that she will never get to have her parents for as long as she would like. But today is too soon. Please not today. And suddenly I realized, sometimes today is all we get. Which makes finding our way past the last weeks of horror and shock and fighting and divisiveness all the more important. We need to try to be kinder and gentler to each other. We need to not pass up the opportunity to tell someone we love them. A smile for a stranger is a good start. Maybe even a conversation, not a shouting match, with someone who disagrees with us. Because we are all in this together.  As John Donne, former Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral famously reminded us in the early 17th century, “no man is an island” and admonished us “for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.” We aren’t in this alone. Let’s stick together and make this living thing work. Those bells are ringing for us all.

DSC_0028_3At time of writing, Lucy’s Mum has made it through and is awaiting surgery. The Cox family has announced their intention of withdrawing from public life to concentrate on each other. The sky over the UK hasn’t fallen yet. There was a marriage proposal at the Pride parade. And I have DSC_0074_1two more vicars to add to my collection. Let’s gather round, pass the wine and ring ring those bells till our arms ache and our throats hurt from laughing. At least for today.

On the Switch House….my love for the Tate 52/100

DSC_0037_2Faithful readers, you know how I appreciate a good staircase. Here is another one to add to the list: the gorgeous, swirling, creamy staircase at the brand new, just opened, Switch House wing of the Tate Modern. 8 years in the making, this extension gives the Tate the opportunity to showcase less traditional forms of art, as in not just things that hang on walls. Pieces that are massive or interactive or include living things like horses and parrots and people. Art that is much much further outside the proverbial box than what is now being called the Boiler House, the old power station we have known and loved. I have been looking forward to this for a long time. My children and I have studied the models across from the cloakroom, watched the earthmovers and the cranes and the ever-expanding building site and then suddenly, the skeleton of a building being filled in and filled out. The anticipation was delicious. Made all the more because by the time the doors were flung open on the dot of 4 pm, on 14 June, for those of us standing in a long queue, clutching Member’s Invites, it had been raining, monsooning, for hours. The soaking I got in the morning hadn’t dried by the repeat at lunchtime. Everything was wet. And my hair was beyond repair. Nothing to do but wrap myself into another world and allow the senses that respond to light and beauty and imagination and shock and all the things that make my pulse race, actually anything but the sensation of wet feet and clammy clothes. Because the Tate has always had a cocoon like quality for me, and this new space delivered beautifully.

I first visited the Tate in 1989, before its current groovy location on bankside, when I was DSC_0039_1spending a term at LSE. I still remember the sensation of seeing Matisse’s Snail for the first time. As though all beauty and colour and joy had been contained in one enormous canvas, just for me. I became obsessed with it. Returned to it time and time and time again. Hung a poster of it in my university room. Even once reconstruced a small version to send as a card to a friend. I felt I had been given the keys to the most wonderful, exciting, inspiring, challenging castle….a castle I moved into and never moved out. Art, good art, so often takes on a life of its own. What starts as a particular vision by a single artist becomes, over time, part of a collective memory. Collective, but yet personal. Sometimes the official interpretation of a piece holds its meaning, but more often it morphs into something much, much different, as time and history and experience influence how we respond. This is all very very good stuff. For me, the Matisse was the start of what has become a passionate love of art. Of art that I react to, that makes me feel and think and absorbs itself  into my own personality. I heard an interview with the British pop star Corinne Bailey Rae, who said that once a song is shared with the public it isn’t hers anymore, because it becomes part of other people’s experience and interpretation. That is the beauty of art, that reaction can be on such a personal, visceral level, regardless of the original. It is why places like the Tate are so popular. Why people can spend what seems like ages in front of a piece, just looking. And why kids love it. In 2009, Tate’s Turbine Hall held Miroslaw Balk’s How It Is, a enormous container whose interior falls DSC_0038_2were covered in soft black flock which, once entered, left the visitor in total darkness. The experience was supposed to give one the sense of utter despair, to remind us of terrible terrible times in history, our own emptiness etc, etc. But that is just what the write up said. It was a huge black box. And it was half-term, always a testing time for parents and children, and those trainers with flashing lights were all the rage. We visited the installation many times. And each time it was filled, FILLED with shrieking children, dashing heedlessly, happily round and round, little lights flashing, delighted that they had been released into such a crazy kind of space. Like the most awesome game of It of all time. And when they wanted to come out, they lay down and rolled down the ramp. How great is that. Exhausted parents slumped against the Hall walls, watching from a distance, relieved and grateful. Nevermind existential fear and doubt, this was the happiest place in London. The opportunity for cliche irresistible: hope out of darkness manifest. That is art.

Mark Rothko is an artist whose work is forever being reinterpreted; I won’t toss my own ideas into that ring. But the Rothko Seagram Murals room has such a sense of sacred space I can actually feel my heart slow and then expand as soon as I walk in. A few times I have been fortunate enough to have it to myself. It is like being kissed passionately by someone you love, that feeling that nothing else matters, that everything is going to be fine, that peace is indeed possible. That is art.

But these are all things you already know. What of the new space? It is fantastic. So fresh it still smells of paint. And the art…whew…I’m not sure I have the vocabulary. I walked into the first room and was so blown away I just blurted out “wow, this is some crazy stuff.” The guard standing nearby answered, without hesitation, “I think it is all beautiful.” Well said sir, well said. There is much to admire in the Switch House, but perhaps my favourite was on the 3rd level. The Artist Rooms, a space set aside for solo exhibitions of artists DSC_0043_2already in the collection. First up is Louise Bourgeois. I love her work. I adore her much larger than life spiders. Yes, yes, I know they are often called Maman (French for mother) and carry with them all that difficult mother stuff. But not for me. I think they are fantastic and not the least bit threatening. I particuarly like the way their shadow beomes part of the image. But then I don’t have mother “issues,” my own is pretty bloody marvelous.  And I am not afraid of spiders. Quite theDSC_0045_2 contrary actually. They are protected creatures in my house. It is utterly forbidden to kill them. I watched with great pleasure as my husband carefully coaxed one out the bathroom window recently. It think they are magical, powerful, stunning things and what I wouldn’t do for a line of Louise B’s spiders and their shadows along my wall…

And standing between the old and the new wings, high on the bridge, is Tree 2010 by Ai Weiwei. His triumphant show at the RA made devotees of us all. And there it stands proudly, a country in all its many parts. Factured but whole. Just like us. A metaphor for life. And living. And the reason we need art.

On Beating the Bounds….51/100

Picture the scene…..you are walking between meetings in the City, take away coffee attached to one hand. Mobile to the other. If very clever, a sneaky fag in there somewhere as well. Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye you see it. A gaggle of school aged children in smart uniform, with a Vicar, and some other people in fur-lined robes, just there on the P1010973pavement. They seem to be singing. A hymn perhaps….and then you notice the sticks. The long sticks. In the hands of the school children. Who begin smacking these sticks on the ground in an enthusiastic manner. Have the post-work sessions in the pub finally rattled the brain, is this some sort of anger-management seminar, or maybe a new reality television nightmare??? Actually, the average City worker would think none of these things, would only nonchalantly move out of the way without breaking step, used as they are to crazy shenanigans in the City. Tourists, on the other hand, go wild. Cameras and phones whirring away. I would love to know how they try to explain it to the folks back home.

 

And here I am. In the mix. Because I do love a City ceremony, and this is one of the best. The Beating of the Bounds. Ascension Day. With All Hallows by the Tower. And St. Dunstan’s College. The Worshipful Company of the Waterman and Lightermen, as well (yes, them again, of the Knollys Rose Ceremony, post #48, a busy season!) A ceremony dating back to Anglo-466215_651787474847977_903993130_oSaxon times, now just for traditional purposes, but in times of old to make sure, MAKE SURE everyone knew exactly where the boundaries of the parish of St. Dunstan’s in the East were…in case anyone got any ideas about pinching a few feet. We are a protective species, especially when it comes to land. Death by hedgerow dispute remains a reality. We like our borders and our boundaries (cue Brexit furor).

The boundaries are roughly that of the parish of St. Dunstan in the East, a beautiful 13th century church that survived the Great Fire of 1666, though Christopher Wren rebuilt the tower in the late 17th century.  Today, only the tower remains as the rest of the church was destroyed in WWII; the former footprint of the nave is now a lovely, almost secret public garden. Following its destruction, the parish was amalgamated into that of All Hallows by the Tower, which is why the privilege of leading this ceremony now rests 472335_651788098181248_292800350_owith them.  The school of St. Dunstan’s dates back to the 15th century and when, by mid-19th century, the City had ceased to become a residential area, it was moved to Catford, SE London, where it remains. What an honour to be selected as one of the students taking part; proud parents are always an element of the procession. And what a great day off school for the kids, instead of double maths some public stick smacking. Nice.

The beating starts at the Tower and then moves to the river, because the south boundary is mid-Thames. In days of old, parish worthies would take a boat out and dangle a small boy upside down by the ankles over the water and let him give the river a good thrashing. I have seen pictures. Quite remarkable really. Sadly, health and safety no longer allow this kind of priceless photo op and instead the students (boys and  girls) ride out an a vessel and tap the water, with their very long sticks,  from a standing position. The procession continues on land, stopping at several points, including the tower of St Dunstan’s in the 462451_651787644847960_1777160827_oEast, Planation House and Seething Lane before returning to All Hallows. A thoroughly satisfying afternoon. History, odd behavior, some old buildings, a little walk and men in costume. Instagrammers dream. What isn’t to love?  And next year there will be a battle. With the Beefeater’s at the Tower of London….watch this space.