Tag Archives: London

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@mylondonpassion

On Borough Market…& food for the soul 87/100

IMG_20160325_134702Oh how I love Borough Market. How my husband loves Borough Market. In fact, it may be the single thing in London he really, really likes, as he finds my beloved city loud, crowded, dirty, inconvenient and ridiculously expensive. All of which is true. But I love it still. And Borough Market is certainly top of the list. I would never consider myself a foodie, far from actually, but there is something about the quality and the beauty of the market that makes it irresistible. It lulls you into believing you can cook anything, turn every meal into a feast, excite every taste possible. I have davstruggled home with bulging sacks filled with fruit and vegetables, not the boring kinds but the good stuff: artichokes, figs, pomegrantes, mushrooms. Once I decided that I had to have a dozen blood oranges too. Certianly appreciated by my family, but bloody heavy to carry home. Cheeses, saucisson with hazelnuts, Spanish ham, olives, bread, fish, exotic meats, cake, licorice, everything that looks good, and it all looks good. Why I haven’t written about it before, I don’t know. But now is certainly the time. Sadly, sadly now is the time. Following the devastating terror attack, the market was closed for 11 days. But it has reopened, and I was there.

cofThere has been a market, in one form or another, at London Bridge, for at least 1,000 years. Over the centuries, and more recently, the decades, the market’s size and success has waxed and wained, and by the 1970’s the growth of the supermarket made the market obsolete. But nothing this good could be gone forever. In the 1990s the interest in local and artisan foods began to grow. A collection of traders met once a month, then once a week and now the Market is open Monday-Saturday and has stalls from all overIMG_20160325_135011 the UK and Europe. A quick glance down the current trader list includes Spanish cheese, vegetarian pasties made with Balkan recipes, French pastries, olives from Greece, Turkish condiments, Oysters from Essex and  charcuterie from south Wales…you get the idea. It is a destination for anyone interested in food of any kind. It is also a popular spot for after work drinks and dinner. A gorgeous place to spend a warm Saturday night. Hence the horror that took place there only two weeks ago. And why I had to go back as quickly as I could.

davThis time I wanted to be a little more organized than usual, not just roam round and grab anything and everthing that appealed. I wanted to prepare something exclusively sourced. Given how hot the weather has been, I decided on a salad, a gorgeous, colourful summer salad. A Borough Market salad. I chatted with vendors, all of whom were so happy to be back at work. “Everyone is coming with so much love,” the adorable olive seller told me. The market was crowded, but less so than I have seen before. Everyone was taking pictures. Not just the hideous selfie versions, or artistically arranged piles of peppers, but of the market itself, as if people wanted to prove that life was continuing on. I shared my idea of the salad and got great suggestions. In the end, I made something really rather beautiful. And delicious. Rocket, bibs of many colours, tomatoes  in all their many, many shades of sunset, black olives and violets. A treat for the eye and the stomach. Made with so much love, food for the soul.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

On Noses….they are watching you….85/100

cofOn Tuesday night I was supposed to join Secret London Runs (the cleverest and most fun running company out there) to find the hidden noses of Soho followed by some pub conviviality. But it was rcofaining. Hard. It was cold. I was tired. And I am a terrible map reader (no wonder I only guide inside), I can’t even follow google map instructions properly. Getting lost in a cold hard rain while running isn’t fun. So I made my (pathetic) excuses and stayed home. But the lure of the noses had me. And getting lost while strolling on a sunny, warm Saturday morning is bliss. Not least because I absolutely LOVE the morning after the night before in big cities. When the streets are devoid of people but the detritus of nighttime fun is everywhere, Show me your filthy doorways and your littered alleys. Hastily bagged rubbish and appallingly parked cars. Mysterious liquids running down pavement cracks. Dried vomit and pungent wee. Shuttered windows andsdr metal encased entrance ways. The silence. The stillness. The emptiness. I love it. You can walk in the middle of the road. Snap photos of street art without anyone tutting. Notice things you would otherwise never spot. A chance to look up and around. The perfect time to find a few noses.

What noses?? I can hear you all saying. Well, it turns out that there are 7 noses and 2 ears affixed to buildings in the Mall, Soho and the West End. About the same size as my own impressive honker, they have become a thing of mild urban legend. There are as many explanations for their existence to be found on the internet as, well, anything to be found on the internet. But I am going with it being a bit of a prank that has turned into a bit of fun. Nostalgic fun, as it may be. The story I am sticking to is that artist Rick Buckely molded these plaster of paris noses on his own and placed them about London, in 1997, to protest, discreetly and wittily, the ubiquitous CCTV camera. State survelliance. Nosiness (get it). There may have been 35 of them in total at the start, scattered throughout London as an art installation, and these are the 7 that remain, though two don’t fit the size or look of the others, so perhaps some additional artistic license has been used.  But no mind. A hunt for noses is a hunt for noses. And I found them all. The two ears too.

digEars?  They seem to be casts of the artist Tim Fishlock’s own ear. Why? When? What for? I haven’t a clue. Both on Floral Street. One attached to a Ted Baker shop, the other the Tintin shop. If there is a political or social message being made here, I missed it. Or else I am too worn out by the last election to care. But they are rather magnificent ears. Gorgeous helix of the auditory system. Certainly something worth smiling about. And smile I did. As I wondered about. In the early morning sunshine. Backtracking, diverting, enjoying a city stretching itself awake and taking on the day.

cofAnd all with a tremendous sense irony. Because I was hunting for what could be symbols of anti-big brother behavior in a city experiencing a heightened state of surveillance. Police, barriers, road blocks everywhere. The St. Anne’s church in Soho, which boasts a gay congregation,  had security out front  when I walked by.  I have no doubt that computers and cameras are working night and day to track people with terrible intent. And, one week on from the London Bridge/Borough Market attacks, that is exactly how we want it. Need it. digThis is the world we now live in. As I walked up Haymarket I noticed the London Welcome Everyone banners hanging from above, in a variety of languages. London: multicultural, international, the best city in the world, and site of yet another extremist attack. Freedom, of the monitored variety,  the plurality of modern living.

digBut let’s get back to the noses themselves. Found the first one on the Admiralty Arch. It took a while to find it, but once spotted I couldn’t believe I had ever passed under the arch, currently impossible, without seeing it. Another nose on Great Windmill Street and then into Soho. Oh what a rich past this area has. The oversized protuberance on Meard (one thought to have been added later) can’t quite compete with the history of this very short street of still existing  and stunning original 18cth Georgian townhouses, includingcof the one with the famous sign This is not a Brothel. Then on to D’Arblay Street where I worried the crowd outside the inexplictably popular Breakfast Club that I was trying to queue barge (as if!) to find what (to be honest) looked more like a bent screw than a nose. Peeked through an olive tree on Dean Street, loitered outside the Milkbar on Bateman and found the last nose on what was an otherwise totally uninspiring printshop store front on Endell Street. Equally fun were all the Invader pieces I found. A French street artist who creates 1980s video game creatures out of tiles and mounts them high up.

Then onto Floral Street and the fabulous ears. Ted Baker and Tintin. Lucky them.

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It had been a lovely, entertaining morning. But with constant reminders of what had happened the previous Saturday. So before I headed home, I stopped into St Martin’s in the Fields. The beautiful 18th century church (having replaced at least two before it, dating back to Norman times) just across from Trafalgar Square. Currently, the nave is filled with hundreds of paper doves, folded by people in the community at large: church goers, late night revelers, visitors, people of all faiths and none. An art installation entitled Les Colombes by the German artist Michael Pendry. Doves are a symbol of peace, something so badly lacking right now. Suspended in flight, as sunlight streams through the windows,  it is a beautiful and humbling experience, full of hope. This is London.

 

On Grayson Perry and the state of the world…83/100

cofSo here we are again.  Another election with vitriol, scare mongering and yap yap yap from all sides. Another shocking, horrific and desperately sad terror attack. And more rain. This seems to be an unbreakable pattern. But it does explain how I came to be standing in an impossibly long queue, at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, on election night, only days after the London Bridge/Borough Market attacks, in the rain. Waiting to get into the preview of the Grayson Perry show: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! Well if nothing else in the world seemed certain, that did!  As we stood and stood and waited and waited.  “But I am on the guest list,” I spluttered when I arrived on the dot of 7 to find myself at the end of something I couldn’t see the beginning of. “I think all of London is on this guest list,” the man in front explained. The already overwhelmed security men just shrugged and gestured for me to take my place behind the others. So I did. It began to rain. And strangers began chatting. Soon it was all rather jolly, especially when waiters with trays of wine and fistfuls of beers began to appear. The attacks were mentioned only obliquely, as in “so glad so many people came out” and the election in passing, “so glad it will be over,” (ha ha, wishful thinking, as it turns out). We inched along (the gallery was working on a one-out-one-in policy) we talked about the weather (of course) and books (never a dull subject) and Harry Potter (so much to discuss) and art. Then a frisson in the crowd. The great man himself was approaching. Wearing fabulous shiny shoes and an impossibly short pink frock, his cyclist legs on full display. We were giddy. Camera phones clicking. He stopped by my group and surveyed the length of the queue and the patience with which we were all waiting. “You have made all my dreams come true,” he told us before he breezing on. Grayson Perry. A National Treasure. But to call him that seems too trivial, too patronizing, like patting the hand of an elderly relative. Because I believe, at this moment, in this crazy world we live in, Grayson Perry is a voice of reason and sense. And the size of the crowd trying to get into the Serpentine Gallery proves I am not alone in this belief.  He is known primarily as a ceramicist who likes to wear women’s clothes, whose work reflects the times we live in. Not a reinterpreted, through the lens of high culture, reflection, but the way it actually is. mdemdeWhich is why he is so popular, with the masses, if less so the elite. And he is funny, pointedly funny, with a fantastic laugh. In this new show he pokes fun at high brow culture with “luxury brands for social justice,” a large pot covered in drawings and pithy statements like: “I’m off to buy a serious piece of political art,” “I’ve read all the academic literature on empathy,” and my personal favourite “super expensive knick-knacks against fascism.” There were plenty of chuckles (and many winces) round that piece. His two pots on Brexit had been highly anticipated. Using suggestions via social media from people on either side of the debate as to what Britain means to them,  he created a Leave pot and a Remain one. And the joke on us all is that it takes time to figure out which is which….to quote Jo Cox, the MP murdered last year, “far more unites us than divides us.” A concept we seem neither able to embrace nor reject, but instead turn it over and around and back again as we make our way through these times. Because, as Perry suggests, there is a gap between how we feel and how we think. And when faced with decisions, we often go with feeling over thought, no matter the evidence that should make us choose otherwise. Sometimes, for that reason, bad things happen. But sometimes not.

 

All of this was very much on my mind when I went, the following day, to see the impromptu post-it note memorial to the recent terror attacks. Borough Market was still closed, police positioned all along its perimeter.  But that cement thing on the southeastern side of London Bridge was covered in messages, some small posters but sdrmostly post it notes, on which people have written messages. Messages of hope, of love, of sorrow. From all over the world, as were the victims: France, Spain, Canada, Australia. From places that are all too familiar with horror: sympathy from Lebanese journalists, love from Ukraine, hope from cofIran. And some messages that should never have to be written. “I miss you so much Sara love from Mum xxxxxx” People stood and read, took photos and cried, a few added their own messages. But mostly people just stood and read. In silence. The immediate area was eerily quiet. Somber and still. While the bustle that is London Bridge, station and streets carried on in the background. It was moving, overwhelming.

I crossed the bridge for a little emotional break. Admired the view down the river to the east: HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge, Tower of London.  Saw the new barriers between the road and the pavement. Police were everywhere. Two youngish men, who had obviously enjoyed a long and very liquid lunch, felt it necessary to overwhelm some officers with their affection. Shaking their hands, throwing their arms around them, declaring their respect and admiration. cofThe police were very patient, simply disentangled themselves and encouraged the gentlemen to stagger along. Oh, some things never change. And that is what Londoners keep saying to themselves post-terror. That London won’t fear, won’t give in, won’t divide. At times I worry that this attitude isn’t defiance so much as a form of passivity, that in saying we carry on, we normalize the events,  make them seem simply one more part of the urban fabric. Which is unacceptable. Because these attacks are unacceptable. And to treat them as cofanything but abhorrent is unacceptable. But the solutions are complicated. And in the meantime this is perhaps the best we can do. Feel more than think. Share thoughts on colourful squares of paper, stand in long queues to see art,  have a laugh with strangers, let the politicians bray on and know that sometimes the wisest man out there is wearing a very short pink dress.

 

On Carrying On and the Westminster Horror….79/100

cofMy hurt, beautiful, beloved city of London. Such terrible, senseless, pointless misery.  Westminster Bridge is unnerving at the best of times, overloaded with tourists and selfie sticks and shell game con men, but it does have some spectacular views. Yesterday, the views were horrific, the stuff of nightmares. All those people,  all those children. A friend asked if it was selfish to think of one’s own children at times like this. “No,” was my response. Though I can’t. I can’t possibly, for even one moment, think that they might have been there. If I did, I would never let them out of the house ever again. But I haven’t stopped thinking about those French girls. And their parents. Oh, I can’t imagine what their parents are going through. I’ve also been thinking about the group of high school girls from New York City I had on my Cathedral tour on Tuesday. Their teacher did not want them to see Bill Viola’s video installation, Martyrs, that hangs on the end of the Dean’s Aisle. “They are not worldly enough for that kind of reality,” she told me. I am sure I looked incredulous (they were 14 and 15 years old!),  but moved them along, as she asked. Martyrs does, after all, deal directly with reality. The reality of a world that is filledDSC_6301.JPG with violence. I wonder how that teacher spun yesterday’s events? Hiding from truth doesn’t make it go away, it just makes it harder to accept. And the truth is that London has long, long been a favourite spot for terrorists. Yesterday’s attack came one day after the accused terrorist turned peace-seeking politician Martin McGuiness died. Before Islamic State sympathizers was the IRA and the Suffragettes before that. Perhaps this explains  why Londoners rose to the challenge on the afternoon and have remained sensible since. Keep Calm and Carry On, and all that.

 

cofI was on the Tube early this morning. The Northern Line was its usual sweltering crush of humanity. While there was intense competition to give the pregnant woman a seat, when the lady next to her announced that she too needed to sit down as, and I quote, “I don’t like changing temperatures,” no one budged. Kindness in crisis, certainly,  but there are limits. And that is the beauty of London. Brave, strong, unflappable, and fantastically matter of fact. So what were Londoners up to this morning? Changing their social media profiles to elicit sympathy?, penning pithy memes to share with the world?, engaging in some sort of cringey piggy backing on someone else’s grief?, group hugs? Like hell. They were getting on. Getting on, with a level of sadness and an even higher level of  admiration and  respect for the police and emergency workers and heroic passers by, without whom this tragedy could have been so much worse, certainly, but getting on. A quick glance at Instagram proved that my friends were clearly out and about in town…shopping at Borough Market, admiring a tree in bloom, creating something interesting, or, in my case, at the Royal Academy with a good friend, chatting and looking longingly at the Gary Hume prints (which are for sale!!!!). This isn’t to suggest we are heartless, quite the contrary. I think emotions are running deep, and tonight’s vigil in Trafalgar Square will be plenty weepy, but until that time, we will go about our  lives and let the Tube station announcement boards speak for us. Those “Thought for Today”  get us through the ordinary days, even more so on the extraordinary. My own station reminded us that we are stronger united than divided. Well, we were certainly united in not giving that climate fussy woman a seat.  Tower Hill  told us that the rarest and most beautiful flower is the one that blooms in adversity. Making the social media rounds (sodig don’t know if an authentic station sign) is a message politely reminding terrorists that: “This is London and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on. ” The wisdom doesn’t stop at the ticket hall, however, as the platforms are plastered  with Cabinet War Rooms’ posters of  Churchill and his various empowering phrases, such as “we must not lose our faculty to dare, particularly in dark days.” Indeed, Mr. Churchill, indeed. So strap those boots on and go.

I may not have been born and raised here, but I claim London as my own. And I am proud. Shocked and saddened, but unbowed. And carrying on. As are we all.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

 

On Murder, Marching, Masterpieces and …Hope 76/100

dsc_0001_54Saturday. It was rather full on. So much so that I am still fitting it all together in my mind. Because it must fit together. Too many connections for it not to. But where to start? I suppose at the beginning….which would be shortly after 3 am when we were woken to police lights and screaming, lots of screaming. From directly across the street. The road was absolutely filled with police cars and ambulance vehicles. A girl was on the pavement, hand wrapped in something bulky.  Officers and paramedics were everywhere. Rushing in and out of the house. Controlled chaos. Eventually the screaming stopped but the police stayed. By morning it was quiet, though officers and their cars were still everywhere. The whole area was cordoned off, including my car, which was now part of the crime scene. Details emerged. Two men in their 20s, both with stab wounds, one dead, the other arrested. And the girl, only 17 years old, with wounds to her hands. Why was she there? At 3 am? The whole thing is so so so sad. And unacceptable.

dsc_0002_48Later that morning, but still early, just as the police were finishing marking the area with their blue and white crime scene tape, Taylor, the gorgeous Australian girl who lived with us in 2011 on her gap year, strolled up the street, for a 24 hour visit on her way to other cities. What could I say but “welcome back to SW London.” We didn’t stay long in the neighbourhood however, as Taylor needed some art and it was the day of The March. National Gallery and Trafalgar Square. Off we went. Arriving in the square hours before the march even set off, we wandered through the very crowded halls of the National Gallery. Such beautiful old old things. dsc_0005_45dsc_0008_30My addiction to art is well known, but you may also be wondering why I didn’t actually join the march, just waited for it to arrive. And that is because I didn’t know, and still not sure I do, what everyone was marching for. And when the first marchers arrived, I was none the clearer.  Vegans, Communists, Socialists, anti-nuclear,  anti-Brexiteers, Environmentalists, and lots of women holding slapdash signs with crude slogans using the word “pussy.” Not funny slogans, just crude. And herein lies my problem. I have never, ever been convinced that the way to equality is through ladette behavior. Proving that I can be as rude and unpleasant as any man isn’t the feminism I have believed in passionately for decades, nor is it the one that I have shared with my girls. Worse still, a group of very little girls, under the age of 10, were holding pieces of paper on which “I am a Pussy,” was written. Presumably by their mothers. Really??? Really?? This kind of things upsets me greatly. The sexualiziation of children does nothing to promote equal rights. It is one of the many reasons I loathe Taylor Swift with her baby doll clothes and little girl persona. A paedophile’s dream. But I will save that particular rant for another day. With all these disparate causes, there was no sense of fun or excitement or indeed purpose. Just lots of milling about.  And eventually dsc_0013_28we wandered off, back into the gallery, where we were joined by many many others who had taken place in the march. A protest of it own, if we take Churchill’s words about the arts being something worth fighting for as truth.

Since Saturday afternoon, my Facebook feed has been filled with friends telling me that their experience was completely different and sharing loads of photos of witty, clever placards. I am very very glad to hear this. I must have just been at the wrong place at the wrong time, delighted to have so many disagree with me. But still…

And then came the furor over numbers. The numbers at the inauguaration, the numbers at the march, fake news, dsc_0014_30real news….and into this discussion my wonderful, wise,  former NYC roommate and reporter offered the fact (a controversial word these days) that with news organizations cutting the number of actual reporters on the ground and increasingly relying on talking heads in studios just reading out stuff other people have cobbled together, it should be no surprise that into this gap has come the scourge that is fake news. Or, as it is now being described, “alternative facts.” For shame.

Then Saturday night, the theatre. The Kite Runner. I am going to assume you have all read it, so you know what a powerful story it is. And an intense two hours plus of  theatre. A tale, about, among other  things, weakness. The weakness of one boy and the loyalty of another. And the terrible, terrible price of this imbalance.

What was I to make of it all? A full on London day, if ever there was. And Taylor too, a young woman who slotted seamlessly back into the family after so many years. Suddenly, slowly, slowly it was all coming together. And I realized what I had missed about the march. It wasn’t so much about this issue or that one, or no issue at all just a general sense of disquiet, unease and anger, but rather the gathering of people, lots and lots of people, on a beautiful London day to say not just I AM HERE, but WE ARE HERE. We. You and me and all of us. A collection. A community. A community with different agendas and viewpoints and goals, yes. But a community nonetheless. Not social media, not phones, not political organizations, but an actual community of real people, talking to each other. Laughing with each other. Walking with each other. Looking at great art with each other. Murder, that is about as far from good community you can get. A peaceful march, even with fluid purpose, is good community. Beautiful community.

dsc_0014_31-2These are unsettling times. It is easy to be weak and cynical and belligerent. And therein lies the challenge. To hold onto the good. The people we care about, even if we only see them occasionally. The art and culture that need, not just support with words but actual bodies in buildings, bottoms on seats. Kindness towards those who are struggling with all the many many ways the world can be cruel. Patience. Understanding. All the hard stuff. But if we do it together, maybe it will get easier. Maybe we will all feel a little less fearful. So grab a friend, or several, an old one, better yet a brand new one, and go look at some paintings, listen to music, stroll through a park in the winter sunshine, talk to strangers, read that book you keep meaning to get to, or read an old favourite to a child, anything that lifts, inspires, gives hope, if only for a moment in time. Because my friends, hope and beauty, in all its variety and variation, is how we are going to overcome.

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

 

 

 

 

On breakfasting in the sky 61/100

img_4755One of the great things about a birthday is that it focuses the mind. No, I don’t mean being overwhelmed with thoughts of the wretchedness of aging and death and how irritating accomplished 26 year olds are and does sitting in a cold chamber really remove wrinkles. I mean it gives one the excuse to do things you want to do but hadn’t otherwise gotten round to doing. “It is for my birthday,” is a very useful phrase when booking all sorts of self-indulgent outings. Especially, if, like me, you decide that a birth DAY is so limiting, better a birth WEEK. Come on, I made it this far in relatively one piece, I should be able to do better than a few witty cards and a slice of Sainsbury’s rose iced madeira cake (which was delicious by the way.) So I dug out my “things I should have already done in London” list and got busy. Top of that list (oh, a little pun there) was the Sky Garden. The beautiful, mostly enclosed botanical garden on the very top of the Walkie Talkie building, the one that set fire to things when it first opened in spring 2014. But I didn’t just want aimg_4769 quick dash up. I wanted to savour, relish the experience. And the security protocol is formidable, so might as well make it worthwhile. Most of all, I wanted to enjoy the Sky Garden before hoi polloi swarmed in with their buggies and backpacks and selfies. It was my birthday, after all. And I am an unrepentant snob, if you haven’t figured that out already. So I booked an early morning breakfast, at the cafe, and invited my gorgeous friend and frequent companion in all sorts of London adventures, Sara, to join as my “birthday treat.”

img_4752We loved it. Being there early in the morning meant we had it almost to ourselves. We lounged elegantly on the blanket-strewn sofas with our coffees and grapefruit juices and admired our gorgeous city from on high, from all angles. The Shard looked particularly powerful and the rooftops of the older, shorter buildings are such a jigsaw of shapes and shadows I half expected to see free runners or secret lovers. The roof of the Walkie Talkie, officially 20 Fenchurch Street, designed by Rafael Vinoly, is a series of curved, glass panels, which were being carefully cleaned by a team of harnessed window washers on the morning. The light is extraordinary, constantly changing under the swift moving clouds and multi-coloured sky. Dutch 17th century painters,with their talent for painting sky in permanent transition, would have img_4763loved the space.

We had cake, but the request for a candle was met with great nervousness and suspicion, as though we had suggested a little live grenade throwing, and ultimately denied. Nevermind, it was delicious anyway.

The gardens themselves begin just above the expanse of img_4762the cafe and swoop upwards, on either side, to a smaller, higher level, with a restaurant just above. The planting is beautiful and meticulous, segmented by water features, narrow pathways and hidden alcoves. It would be a fantastic place to have a party. London spreads out below you, yet, standing under the trees, you feel very far away from the hustle and bustle indeed.

img_4760And then 10 o’clock came. The hordes arrived. The spell was broken. And we’d taken all the photos we wanted. So we left. But with plans to return. Soon. It is a rather lovely way to start a day, birthday or not.

Visiting the Sky Garden is free, but booking is essential. https://skygarden.london/sky-garden

 

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.