Tag Archives: Hyde Park

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.

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