Tag Archives: London

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.

 

 

 

 

On the Unicorn Theatre….the only thing childish is the price 47/100

IMG_20160410_134641Many many many years ago, when my eldest was a tiny thing, I stood in a queue in an American shopping mall to “meet” Arthur, an aardvark off a children’s cartoon show. The queue was long and the other mothers were spiky, all eager that their little treasure have the best possible moment with Arthur. Unable to stand the tension, the frantic woman in front of me shouted to the girl managing the crowd, “will Arthur be signing autographs?” I will never forgot the sequence of expressions on the young handler’s face. From initial shock to bewilderment and then slowly, slowly, deep, deep pity. “Ummmm” she replied, speaking very calmly as if to an accident victim, “you are aware that this isn’t really Arthur. It is just a store employee in a costume.” Deep breath. “And he is wearing really big furry paws, so I don’t think he can hold a pen.” I dined out on this story for years. Yet, with each telling, I knew, in my heart, that it was only a very thin barrier keeping me from falling into this kind of insanity.

As the years went on, and I had more and more children, I found myself willingly attending “performances” of children’s shows. Dreadful things they were. Always shockingly expensive, loud, chaotic and the audience was filled with screaming babies, exhausted parents and utterly disinterested nannies. It was awful. Even the slightly more reputable billings were terrible. We once attended a startling truncated version of Wind in the Willows where the theatre was stifling hot and all the children around us seemed to be suffering horrible and unending flatulence. My younger son began breathing through a straw. “I don’t want to taste anymore farts,” he whimpered. I knew there had to be a better way. And as if by decree, I  discovered the Unicorn Theatre. A beacon in a storm. A soft landing at the end of a rope. The answer to my prayers. As you start up the staircase  at The Unicorn, a tile on the floor reminds you that children don’t need to be coddled  with the boring and unchallenging. “Don’t worry your kid is fine,” perfect ethos for this escape from the mundane. IMG_20160410_134832

What the Unicorn does best is taking famous, difficult or complicated stories and honing them into a sizeable (60 min +/-), engaging performance with none of the patronizing, saccharin, everybody’s-a-winner attitude prevalent in most children’s theatre. And the actors treat the material with respect. Because of this, the audience, even the very young ones, are involved. One performance I attended was for those children who aren’t usually encouraged to go to the theatre, for reasons of mental or physical disability. It was amazing to watch and listen to their reactions to what they saw on stage. Delight and awe. And any shrieks or grunts or calling out only enhanced the show, such was the sensitivity of the actors. Beautifully done.

The first performance we saw at The Unicorn was Cinderella. Not the Disney Cinderella where everyone winds up happy at the end and the cruelty at the beginning is mild. This was the good stuff. Complete with cut off toes (neat use of streamers) and gouged out eyes. We were hooked.

We’ve seen a brilliant Othello done in filthy American hip-hop. Very glad the grandparents couldn’t understand a word. Reworkings of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale held us spellbound. I took my older two to a wonderfully thought-provoking piece for young adults entitled Pim & Theo. Pim Fortuyn (politician) and Theo van Gogh (filmmaker) were both murdered in their home country of Holland by extremists (animal rights and Islamic, respectively.) The play puts them together, post mortum, their wounds still visible, to spend eternity mulling over and discussing what their deaths mean to a free society “Does a tolerant society tolerate intolerance?” being the key question. No easy answers, no glib solutions. Just solid food for the mind and soul.

1397235_1118526704840716_4290093153332554992_oThe story of Henry V, with red balloons as soldiers, all crumpling latex when killed in battle. And most recently, both stories in the Greek season. Minotaur, done in the round with many of the younger audience as noble youths. And My Father: Odysseus. A set littered with modern day toys, hip hop at sometimes earsplitting volume, with a fantastic use of ketchup at the end. What isn’t to love.

Theatre. Real, engaging and so very very good. In an hour. The only childish thing about Unicorn is the ticket price. Take the kids. They’ll be fine. And you deserve it.

On mini golf in the afternoon…..46/100

IMG_20160513_140357We all have hidden talents. I have many. And my skill at mini-golf came as a complete shock to my husband, when I finally revealed it after years of marriage. Ha ha, I know you were all hoping for something naughtier, but trust me, as someone with little concentration, less patience and absolutely no spatial relations what so ever, the fact that I am pretty good on a crazy golf course is a shocker. But I spent my adolescence in the mid-west where legal entertainment for teenagers is scarce. Putt putt, as we called it, was one of the few IMG_20160513_133758options. I suppose it proves that if you do something often enough you get good at it. I did and so I am. Mini golf has become a recent craze in London, but all courses are short term pop ups only (the exception being the soon-to-open course next to the Gherkin, which will be permanent.) And indoors. Always indoors. With bars. Certainly a different atmosphere to what I grew up with. I had to have a go.

IMG_20160513_133850So I convinced Alice, my full time working in the City friend, to spend a beautiful, sunny London Friday afternoon in the underground gloom of the Truman Brewery playing at the Junkyard Golf Club. Properly decadent really. And we had the place practically to ourselves, which made it IMG_20160513_140313feel even creepier and skive-ier. But the emptiness allowed us to wander through all three courses and admire the “junk” put together not just to create obstacles but make you laugh. And we laughed a lot. Along with cast off appliances and quantities of neon paint was a speed boat carrying mannequins that must have spent time in a porn shop, given their attributes…we particularly liked the one wearing a boa made of fake dollar bills. Classy.

A grotesque clown lounged in a jacuzzi, a playhouse boasted a garden of maimed Barbie dolls and a large cow requested you not molest her. Certainly not the family friendly courses of my younger years; no worry that you will run into the local youth group here, thankfully. And all with a pounding soundtrack of classic Funk. A great way to be a little bit naughty.

The courses themselves offer plenty of challenge. Awkwardly positioned props, uncooperative tunnels and ramps, annoying use of gravity. And the final hole on the Helga course is impossible. Completely impossible. But really good fun. Naughty and fun. Perfect Friday afternoon.

http://www.junkyardgolfclub.co.uk til early August

Instagram & Twitter:  @mylondonpassion

On milk bottles and springtime…45/100

IMG_20160324_095054Spring may be here. It is always a tentative thing on this fair isle. And it has been a funny year, weather wise. Balmy at Christmas, freezing winds and rain in the early new year, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, sunny in the mornings, ice cold by lunchtime, woolens, t-shirts, the full spectrum of British climate, and now a hint of spring. And daffodils. I wrote last year of my love for this most unique of flowers, with its funny happy face and sweet soft smell. It doesn’t offer itself year round, but jumps out, for a short time only, from what is oft unlikely and forsaken ground. Rarely alone, daffs like to sway in groups, not at all fussy about their surroundings. Gardens, traffic circles, tiny patches of earth between slabs of concrete. And then they go. But while they are here, I take advantage. I fill my house with them. I fill my milk bottles with them. Yes, I have milk bottles. Because I have a milkman. Who leaves pints of milk on my doorstep every morning but Wednesday and Sunday. He drives a funny, electric cart. I often hear it stopping, with a pnuematic whosh, on the road at some impossibly early hour of the morning. But sometimes the milk comes during waking hours. I could, if I wished, have a variety of items left with the milk: cheese, bread, vegetables, pretty much any cupboard staple. But the simplicity of the bottles, all in a row,IMG_20160329_075913 on a frosty winter morning has become too iconic an image for me to ever tamper with, even for convenience sake. The one draw back of delivered milk is that it tends to have a shorter life than grocery story milk. This means there is sometimes frantic expiration date checking and wasteful pouring out, especially when something has happened to upset the delicate milk-use balance. Occasionally there is a thick stopper of cream in neck of the bottle. A few hard shakes usually does the trick. When I first moved to England a proper country matron told me how she would carefully remove this mass and serve it up to her children with fruit as cream. Yikes. The thought still makes me feel vaguely sick. Rather like eating the freezer burnt scraps of ice cream in an empty tub. But to each their own.

DSC_0015My milkman is lovely. His name is Simon. He has never travelled to my country but would very much like to. He is knowledgeable about the current state of affairs there, always much to discuss with this presidential race going on. Well read too. He greeted me one morning with the question, “have you ever read Go Ask Alice?” Have I ever? A staple of my pre-teen years. How random. How divine. To talk about books on ones doorstep. I know his daughter enjoys outdoor adventure like abseiling and kayaking. He is always cheerful. And he delivers my milk. In gorgeous, traditional, glass milk bottles. Which, when empty, I leave out for him to collect….except for this time of year. When I keep back six, wash them up, and fill them with daffodils.

Because that is the beauty of spring in London.

Sometimes you gotta sing…..44/100

Many years ago, my friend Sarah and I joined the adults choir at our boys’ school, for the Christmas Concert. It was a disaster. There is nothing quite so unintentionally hilarious as incurring the wrath of a 13 year old chorister whose seat in the stalls you have taken, especially when your grasp of the music on the night is shaky. Strangely, we weren’t invited back. We may have retired from public performance, but we have not yet given up our choir singing dreams.

So I was delighted when, as my daughter and I exited the church after the fabulous R&J screening (On R&J with Choir 40/100),  a leaflet was pressed into my hands. An invite to see/join Some Voices choir for a Bowie/all about space, gigantic sing along at Electric Brixton, entitled Across the Universe: in space, everyone can hear you sing. How could Sarah and I not go? And stand right up front!

The bar was doing a brisk business when we arrived and lots and lots of very young things were everywhere,  wearing all white with neon face paint. For a few horrible minutes I thought I had missed the missive, both in terms of costume and age. But thankfully no, these were the choir members, doing some pre-show milling. And there were plenty of people in the significantly older age bracket than us. Many of them sitting down! Relatives of the performers, clearly, but nothing to suggest we weren’t as well. So all was ok.

IMG_20160422_201446_editThe choir filed on stage, robotic in a delightful 80s music video sort of way. And then began the ballad no one has been able to resist of late….Ground Control to Major Tom…..and we were off. Crooning our little hearts out to Bowie, and Elton John and anyone else who had had the good sense t0 write a song about space. The accompaniment was organized by a Prince lookalike with ultra cool demenour. In complete contrast to the conductor. Young, female and blond, she put an aerobics instructor (still in the 80s theme…) to shame. She was pure energy, leaping, arms pumping the air, barely contained on her little platform. IMG_20160422_211022_editAnd when she sang the opening lines of “Fly Me to the Moon” in a rich, soulful voice..wow, passionate and talented. Fantastic.

And then I was shushed by the girl in front of me. To be fair, for talking not singing, but still,  I did feel rather sheepish. I didn’t utter another word all night, but we did keep singing, if in a slightly softer tone.

The choir left the stage to thunderous applause. We were invited to stay to for a Prince tribute. We didn’t.  I have loved Prince for more than 33 years. He was my first true fan experience and the feeling has never faded. So while I throughly enjoyed my time with these young, enthusiastic singers, didn’t think it quite the right crowd with whom to belt out Little Red Corvette….

That said, would happily join them again. Maybe even, with enough time gone, for a evening dedicated to his purple majesty. In the meantime, should any of you dear readers fancy joining a “choir without the boring bits” or desire some fabulous singing for an event, these are your voices.

Instagram & Twitter: @mylondonpassion

 

On Running & History…..Secret London Runs 43/100

There is nothing that fills me with quite the same amount of Not Taking Part despair as the London Marathon. No matter that I had no place nor trained even one step, I knew that on the morning I would be filled with longing, tears maybe, as would my friend Alice. What to do?  A private booking with Secret London Runs, In the Shadow of the Shard tour, to the rescue. It is an idea sooo clever, I really really wish I had thought of it myself! Founded by history buffs and experienced runners, Amy and Vanessa, they organize runs in London that include a good dose of history and great deal of fun.

IMG_20160331_203753My first outing with SLR was on their  Jack the Ripper night, a few weeks ago. A short run, in teams, through Spitalfields/WhiteChapel/City in pursuit of clues on the identity of Jack the Ripper. Actors (or long-suffering friends?) were scattered along the route, dressed in Victorian costume, ready to answer questions and direct or mis-direct inquiries. This should have been so my kind of thing. But at the very last minute, my only teammate and above mentioned Alice had a childcare crisis and couldn’t join me.  When I finally arrived at the starting venue, a pub just off Petticoat Junction, the only other single runner was a woman who told me, but only once we were outside in the freezing cold!!, that she couldn’t run. Oh dear. Suddenly my running attire seemed woefully inadequate to cope with the weather. Because we walked. Slowly. It was bloody cold. I did try to get into the spirit of it as much as possible and, as we were now not really competing against other teams for times, I felt free to chat away to the Victorians as much as I liked. We were hardly going to get less cold or be any slower. This is how I know that the policeman at the Tower is from Ventura, CA and that pretending to sell oranges in front of the old Billingsgate Market is a cold and lonely prospect indeed.

IMG_20160331_204309We didn’t guess the correct villain, but I did get some lovely photos of London at night, never can have too many of those, and had my circumstances been different, it would have been a fantastic night. I had to try again.

So that is how Alice and I found ourselves greeting Amy half way across London Bridge, such an alluring place to meet, feeling slightly sorry for ourselves that we weren’t traveling on to Greenwich with the other marathoners….but a few minutes on London Bridge cured that. Just look around in all directions, Amy encouraged us. To the north the City, still the financial heart of the capital, and to the south, Southwark. Once a dangerous and filth filled area of town.  Now, with the  Shard, the tallest building in Europe (for the moment), a symbol of new wealth and power, looming of the southern bank, a respectable, trendy and expensive part of London. But yet, touches of its dirty days still remain, and those are what we came to see.

IMG_20160424_103245One of the first stops was the ruins of Winchester Palace. London history can be dreadfully confusing, both chronologically and geographically. This is a good example. The Bishop of Winchester had his palace, not in Winchester (about 70 miles SW of London) but here on Bankside, between Southwark Cathedral and Clink Prison. The Bishops, down the ages, would have allowed prostitues to ply their trade in the area, but for a sizable fee. Extracting money from the desperate has always been a reliable money maker for  those in power. But when they died, these same women were not given final rest on consecrated ground. Instead, they were buried at the Cross Bones Graveyard, along with plague victims and the general poor. A literal dumping ground for the unloved. A final insult to lives filled with injury.

IMG_20160424_103934The land was closed to burial in 1853 on health grounds. It retreated into folk-lore and was then forgotten. Until London Underground started digging around in the 1990s. And historians realized what they had found: a tip filled with the unwanted of ages past. A garden of sorrow, if ever there was. Now the gates are covered in ribbons and it has become a quasi-shrine to remember the outcasts and unwanted of society, though increasingly it has become a place for people of all traditions to show respect and remembrance. Today, many of the ribbons are for people who are deeply loved and painfully, achingly missed. IMG_20160424_104258_editA baby, a young mother, a son. It is a wall of collective grief atop bodies for whom no grief was shown. With the iconic Shard looming overhead. Circle of life at its most theatrical.

And that was just the start….for about an hour we ran, at a very nice pace, chasing tales. Listening to Amy’s stories of misery and dirt and death (I do love a bit of grim) and the subsequent transformation to…well, the café and art gallery  filled Bermondesy Street we know today.

By the time we finished, many, many photos later, Alice and I had rather forgotten about the Marathon. We couldn’t get the rejected women of Cross Bones out of our minds. And the fact that running history laden streets with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide like Amy is a pretty perfect Sunday morning.

http://www.secretlondonruns.com

Instagram & Twitter: @mylondonpassion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On A Perfect Day…..the Southbank Poet 42/100

poemWhen the sun is shining there is no more beautiful place in the entire world than London. Perhaps it is because sunny days are not to be taken for granted on this northern isle, especially this spring. The weather has been fickle, to say the least. So, on Friday, when my frequent partner in adventure, Sara and I exited the Tube at Embankment, with the intention of visiting the Botticelli drawings at the Courtauld Gallery, we couldn’t bear to go inside “Let’s just stay outside a bit longer,” said Sara. So we walked through to the Somerset House terrace. The Thames was sparkling in the sunshine. The Eye was visible through the buds on the trees, framed by endless blue sky. London was aglow, as only London can be. Magic.

Then we noticed some activity to our right. Tents, chairs, tables….oooh what is this? And so I said, in my loud American voice, “Ooooh what is this…” As if by command, Richard, head chef of soon to open Tom’s Kitchen at Somerset House appeared. For the summer, outdoor drinking and dining, ideal place to meet up with friends…We made enthusiastic responses. Soft opening Tuesday night, press night Thursday, want to come??? Well yes, we do. But can’t do Thursday, maybe Tuesday? Weather permitting….Oh, Sara and I do like to be the first at things….

Still reluctant to go inside we continued along the Embankment. To Two Temple Place. A little jewel of a building happily unknown to most. I intend to dedicate a whole piece to its worship so don’t want to say too much now, except that it is only open to the public for occasional exhibitions, and I knew the recent one was over, having visited on the penultimate day, previous week. But the movers were still carrying things out. And the doors were wide open. “Oh, please can I just show my friend the staircase. Two minutes, I promise.” I begged the foreman. He broke into a wide smile. “Two minutes.” Sara admired it as I knew she would. Greatly. And then I told her it was available for private parties. We are forever planning our fantasy party at dream locations all over London. Add this one to the list.

Where next? Southbank of course. Over Hungerford Bridge….and, suddenly, nothing. Or no one, actually. After the madness of the recent Shakespeare extravaganza and the all too familiar jostling with clueless tourists in my favourite part of London, it was almost eerie to have it to ourselves. Nice, but eerie. Where was everyone? At work (as Sara was supposed to be, but I am a bad influence) or perhaps scared away by the dire forecast. What a pleasure to stroll along, admiring the city from Bankside without having to navigate selfie sticks and packs of bored school children. As we approached the Tate, discussing whether we pop in for coffee  there or continue down to Borough Market, I saw him. The Southbank Poet. I have been looking for him forever. IMG_2210And there he was. Between the man blowing enormous bubbles and the musician. At his little table with his adorable green Olivetti typewriter sat writer and poet, Lewis Parker. I had heard rumour of him for years, but had yet to find him myself. His sign offered poems, stories and suicide notes (certainly not!), & more. We later found out later that the “more” tends to be resignation letters.

IMG_2206“There he is, there he is,” I shouted at Sara, grabbing her arm excitedly, like a crazed pop fan or royal family devotee. If she was surprised that the object of my enthusiasm was a young, serious man with typewriter, she didn’t let on. She knows me well, after all.

We rushed over. Oh please, please write me a poem. He nodded and asked if I could provide either a subject or a title. Something cheerful, because I am the happiest person you will ever meet and it is a glorious day!!! He nodded calmly, unfazed by my exuberance. “Give me ten minutes,” he said

So we wandered a bit further along. Then watched as another man approach Lewis and demanded a poem , “I am in a rush.” A rush for poetry. How extraordinary.  He seemed desperate, unhinged almost. So I graciously nodded to indicate it was fine to take him first. And so we stood, Sara and I, gazing up over Millennium Bridge toward St Paul’s. IMG_2216With the trees rustling and bending in the increasingly strong wind. Daydreaming. Nowhere else on earth I would have rather been at that moment.

I wrote recently about my desire to learn to read poetry properly. (On Good Friday and Poetry, 38/100) The mastery of verse remains a mystery to me, but one I very much want to crack. I fantasize of spending my advancing years sitting somewhere lovely, with a small tome in hand, relishing the beauty of the words. It must be considered progress that on this gorgeous day I was having a poem written for me, on the Southbank.  By the Southbank poet.

And here it is:

A Windy Day
The weathervane pointed at suicide
until you came by and it swung to coffee.
Then as you chased a bobble hat down the street
it switched again to sunbathing-by-contemplation.
As we swirled in all directions like propellers
shedding scarves and hat and sunglasses,
we decided to just stand still and listen
to the whirlwinds and hope somebody was
taking notes.

We read it out loud. Loved it. I was delighted. More than delighted. I may have it framed. We thanked him verbally and monetarily, profusely and vowed to stay in touch. Then, as I clutched my poem and began to walk away, it started to hail. And snow. Because London is magic. Pure magic.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

On Malvolio in the museum….More Shakespeare fun 41/100

IMG_20160414_102504_edit_editApril has arrived and with it the start of what is going to be a London love-in of all things Shakespeare. This month marks the 400th anniversary of his death, and it isn’t just The Globe ready to remind us why we love this man so so much. My London Passion has plenty of plans as well, all over the city. As I wrote in my last post, I started with a super special screening of R+J, thanks to Backyard Cinema. Today, something a little funnier, but equally as clever, at the V&A. Malvolio’s Misorder. A delightful spin-off from Twelfth Night, written by Dominic Gerrard. The British galleries, 1500-1760 are now the interior of Olivia’s home. And lucky guests, we have been invited on a tour. Malvolio (Alasdair Craig) is our host, as his lady is indisposed, with lady’s maid Maria (Lotte Allan) as assistant. It all starts off well. Pompous but well meaning Malvolio shows us a bust of Henry VII, admits to being baffled at his a lady’s interest in these English things, but he does a stellar job at presentation never the less. Next, a terrible copy of the famous Holbein portrait Henry VIII on copper….and then, poor Malvolio, drunken Sir Toby (Nick Haverson) begins bellowing from the next room. Dear Maria tries to take over. We see the “deliberately damaged” 15th c panel of the Annunciation, the violence done in the heady, early days of the split from Rome. Then the Bed of Ware. IMG_2102So large it could hold 4 couples at the same time. A faded painting on the headboard suggests what all those bodies could have been up to…coitus interruptus by means of Malvolio. He is horrified Maria is discussing this racy item and hurries us into yet another room, to show off a fireplace and a ceiling. But we don’t really get to admire these blander fixtures as immediately he is overtaken by Toby. And then the fun starts. A back and forth and round again between all 3 characters. A song. More badinage. The famous yellow stockings. No, they didn’t speak Shakespeare’s words, Yes, you needed to know the play to appreciate all the jokes, but it is such a playful and fast romp it didn’t require any in depth knowledge. Why do you tease me so, whinges Malvolio. Because “you delight in others misfortunes.” And this afternoon we also delighted in Malvolio’s misfortune. After being invited to join a lovely rendition of With Hey, Ho, the wind and the rain (a familiar ditty to any as dedicated to the Globe as me), Malvolio staggers off. Howling. In self-pity. A thoroughly entertaining 35 minutes. If only all museum tours could be so engaging. Shakespeare and the V&A. Great combination.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

On R+J with choir…Shakespeare anniversary begins 40/100

IMG_20160409_193023Some of the best ideas are the simple ones. Want to share a fav film with friends?   Tack up a sheet in a London garden, crack open some beers and let Backyard Cinema be born. 4 years on, these are the perfect people to host Shakespeare’s classic tale reworked for the MTV generation. This spring not only marks the 20th anniversary of Baz Juhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet…how can it have been that long! It is also the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. And London has great plans in store. So what better way to start my own Shakespeare-adoring fest than here, on a comfy couch, generously poured G&T in hand, in the beautiful St Mary’s Church in Marylebone, which has been decorated to resemble the church in the film. And a choir. A real choir. IMG_20160409_194744Some Voices Sing Choir.  Oooh what a choir. Backyard Cinema, you are genius. But then you are London.

I am not one for the cinema. And I know nothing of films; I leave it to my film friend aficionados to let me know which are good and which aren’t, and then I never see either. Except in a few cases, and those I love beyond sense. And this is one of them. R+J. Loud, brash and at times ridiculous, but so is this story of self-obsessed, indulgent, impulsive teenage lovers of the foolish grand gesture. And Leo and Claire are just so young and beautiful. It is, of course, Mercutio, who is the star of this tale, charming, witty, braggart and in this instance, in drag. Fabulously in drag. It’s pretty short too, even some of the more famous speeches have been cut. But that is the prerogative of every director of Shakespeare throughout the ages, and it is the breakneck speed of this production, accompanied by an often throbbing soundtrack that reminds us that this is less a story of romance than one of pointless brutality and mindless violence.IMG_20160409_203025_edit And tonight we get it all, with a choir. As the previously boisterous crowd quiets, and the newscaster explains “In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…..a pair of star cross’d lovers take their life,” the choir, in red robes, holding candles, processes, and in full operatic voice begin “Oh Verona.” Mesmerizing.

They didn’t accompany the entire soundtrack, only featured in few of the favourites. Sadly, this didn’t include “When Doves Cry,” which I really would have loved to hear sung live. And then, in the final moments, as the lovers end their lives, his with poison, hers with gunshot to the head, the choir begins a slow, thoughtful version of Radiohead’s Creep.

Not in the original film, (orchestral music fills the silence) but WOW did it work. “You are special, so fucking special, I wish I were special…” I felt chills that were more than just the melancholy of watching a well know tragedy. Suddenly, this film wasn’t just about the waste of this young couple, but the waste of human life throughout the world…such is the power of words. Such is the power of song. Sung by a choir. I think Mr. S would have loved it.

On loss and life…because I’m not dead yet 30/100

10296385_865489703477752_1664646403642316938_oThe bleak midwinter was even more bleak this year by the loss of a dear friend’s husband. It was sudden. The circumstances were particularly upsetting. A terrible shock. The subsequent deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, celebrities to whom we had such personal attachments, caught us all off guard and confirmed that things were definitely off-kilter. Death comes for us all, yet we are unprepared for it in people we know and love, still less for people we admire and respect from afar. We can be irrational in our mourning, not always able to understand the difference between genuine sorrow for someone gone and the fear of our own mortality. It stops us in our tracks. It makes us howl for our own days gone by. It makes us look at the world in a new, harsh, unforgiving light. It hurts. As well it should, because to be reminded that this is our one shot at life is a jolt. But for those of us on the edges of the grief, that jolt can be a chance to stop and think. So I took some time off. I retreated into my own kitchen and thought about friendship and heroes and family and how I spend my time, what I have done with my life. A pause after the shock to re-evaluate, reorganize, reflect, change, and then have another go. To restart.  Like the crouch, bind, set formation of a scrum: Shock, Pause, Restart. Definitely restart, because, in the words of my beloved Frank Turner  “we’re not dead yet.”

I had the privilege of screaming these lyrics along with Frank himself, and a few thousand others, back in November, a sad time for other reasons, at Alexandra Palace. Ally Pally, destroyed by fire only 16 days after it first opened in 1873, is certainly no stranger to destruction and restoration, a bricks and mortar form of shock, pause and restart. Fire raged through the Palace again in 1980, and, after extensive development and rebuilding, reopened 8 years later. Over the decades it has been a WWI internment camp, the place from which the BBC made its first public television transmission, the unfortunate recipient of a German doodlebug in 1944, which cost the Great Hall its rose window, and, of course, the final stop on the Frank Turner, Positive Songs for Negative People 2015 tour.

IMG_9031 (2)It was a memorable occasion not just because listening to Turner live makes me giddy with devotion, but because this concert was held on American Thanksgiving, 13 days after the Paris attacks. A time to be thankful and alive. Turner is an artist for whom the act of doing is essential. “No one gets remembered for the things they didn’t do.” I only had to hear that once and I was a true believer. His lyrics are frequently a call to action. To travel, to change, to grow, to get out there and meet the storm, if that is what’s coming. To live. On the night, he paused often to remember those who died at the Bataclan, one of whom was his close friend, the victims at the cafes, the narrow escape of the football fans, all people out for an evening of companionship and pleasure. The venue is standing only, the hierarchy one of timing rather than price, enhancing the atmosphere of togetherness. Together in raucous, defiant joy, “because we’re not dead yet.” I do not in any way mean to trivialize the horror of the Paris attacks by suggesting that singing along at a concert a few days later will in any way deter terrorism or heal the grief of the aftermath. Rather, I use it only as an example of London’s famous defiance, an attitude that has become a hallmark of Londoners through the ages. After the Great Fire of London, 1666, they rebuilt their city, shunning ideas of razing the remains to create a more elegant landscape of broad boulevards, on the old footprint.  By 1672, only 6 years on, life and trade were pretty much back to normal, impressive even by today’s standards. Their stalwartness in WWII, particularly during the Blitz, a German bombing campaign that lasted from the 7th of September 1940 until the 11th of May, 1941, including 56 nights of consecutive bombing, has become something of lore. The outpouring of kindness and strength in the days and months after July 7, 2005, when terrorist bombs ripped through tube trains and a bus, is still a vivid memory for many. This past July, I was lucky enough to be invited to the 10th Anniversary Memorial Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral; I even made the BBC news clip, looking appropriately solemn, if rather stern. All the moving speeches mentioned the unquestioning help of strangers. How Londoners’ reputed standoffishness melted away; how emergency personnel worked without concern for their own safety; how ordinary people were able to do the extraordinary, often in little but important ways.

IMG_20160204_132440Thankfully, most of us will never have to test ourselves like this. But we can all try to scrape the gloom of winter away and get out there. Yeah, the weather is shocking, mornings on the Northern Line are a special kind of hell, the laundry never does itself, IS continues to threaten and sometimes very bad things happen to very good people. All the more reason, after the shock and pause, to restart. Get out there, have another go. Because we aren’t dead yet. Ok, I certainly won’t save the world (not clever enough) nor will I invent something that profoundly improves the lives of millions (really, really not clever enough) but I can live with a spring in my step, a curiosity that doesn’t know when to stop, a passion for this city I will never cease exploring and a desire to do it all in beautiful shoes. “And on the day I die I’ll say at least I fucking tried..” That will do, yeah, that will do quite nicely.