Tag Archives: London

My London. Love it. Or get the F**k Out! 27/100

1012424_401145489989755_1272307498_nI haven’t written my blog for ages, 4 months to be exact. Daily life and loss of will overwhelmed my ability to get fingers to the keyboard, and the weeks stretched into months. I assumed, when I thought of it at all, that it was to be a project left unfinished. But I was wrong. I was simply on a break, waiting for new inspiration. And the creative among you will know that inspiration is a funny and fickle ole gal. Never can be sure what she has in store…and this time it was spite. With a very generous dollop of pride. Oh London, ours is a love affair of grand gesture. And I am ready once again to chronicle every chapter of our romance.

Recently, someone from my forgotten past told me he was coming to London and bringing his girlfriend and her offspring. They are people my mother and I call “white trash.” And their entire world view is formed of what they (obsessively) watch on reality television programs. No culture save what they imagine to be in low-end high street shops. A sad existence, perhaps, but a familiar one in parts of my country. (It is a big country; we have all sorts; don’t sneer.) I predicted that they would not enjoy London. Ha ha ha. I was so right. And more so. They HATED London. Everything about it. In fact the word used was they “raged” about London. (For those of you reading quickly, I wrote “rage” with a “g”, NOT “rave” with a “v”.)

And my heart about burst with pride. Granted, the week they were here it rained non-stop and everything that could have gone wrong logistically did. But I don’t believe that was a coincidence. Not at all.

2015-04-07 12.41.56London is the greatest city on earth. And when it wants to it can turn on the charm and dazzle in ways you didn’t think possible. It is also a strong city. It has the balls to stick two fingers up and say “get the fuck out,” to the unappreciative  and unworthy. Respect. Proper respect.

So I am more determined than ever to write about my City. Not just to spite the ignorant, but London deserves to have adoration, even my feeble attempts, in print, regardless if the only person who reads my blog is my mother (who loves London, by the way.) Happy for it to be just an aide memoire of my time here, because oh oh  oh what a time it is!!! I’m back. And more passionate than ever.

(just wait til I tell you what happened next…the love is mutual…at least in my besotted mind…)

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On Cereal and Hipsters….11/100

Arcerealkillere you finding yourself flush with cash and in need of something sweet? Then the Cereal Killer Cafe it must be. My children thought they were getting a peek into heaven…

On the corner of Brick Lane and Bacon Street (why does that make me laugh every time) has recently opened the uber trendy Cereal Killer Cafe. A tiny shop that sells hundreds of different cereals from round the world, with toppings, and flavored, and normal, milk. At expense. But wow it is fun. Every hipster in London is there. Lots of purple hair. Queue out the door. But moves quickly. The staff is terribly efficient. Orders placed at the bar, cheque tallied on roving ipad, no faffing about; I do admire that.

Hits from the late 80s and TV show theme songcerealkiller2s act as soundtrack. Skateboards hang on the walls. A cheerio within a cheerio has been framed and mounted on the stairwell. My eavesdropping concluded that this is an ideal first date location. Popular, cheap (expensive cereal is still relatively cheap), easy conversation props, non-alcoholic and best of all, fast.

cerealkiller3And all that cereal. My children had two rounds. Teen daughter chose Honey Smacks. That was a treat so utterly forbidden in my own childhood I would have crawled across open flame to lick them off a dirty floor..to see my own child chose them (unprompted) above all other choices made my little girl heart proud. Youngest child chose Cheerios from Israel, delighted in the fact she had distance in her bowl. The boys had “cocktails,” shocking mixtucerealkiller4res of sugar and more sugar. Delicious.

Many, many (monetary) pounds lighter, and slightly dizzy from the additives, we staggered back down Brick Lane to the Tube. Not for everyday, but definitely a fabulous London treat. Enjoy!!


On The Natural History Museum, a wonder of wonders 10/100

IMG_3913Inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of sources sometimes. Spent the last few days typing away on a variety of worthy topics but all with dull result. So took the kids to see the Paddington movie. What a delightful, charming film, full of gorgeous locations (I want to live in that house…the mural in the stairwell alone….) in London. And the best part was that the last many moments of the story take place in the Natural History Museum, not as an unrecognizable film set with a few outside shots of the building, but the real thing, in all its fabulousness. And as one who has spent hours and hours and hours and hours there, I am well equipped to recognize the beauty that is Alfred Waterhouse’s masterpiece. What a dream it would be to run through that building late at night…wearing those incredible shoes Nicole Kidman gets to wear (of course I noticed them, I adore improbable shoes). That wide staircase, those elaborately carved CNV00017columns, and the reliefs that surprise at every turn. The monkeys, the fish, the birds, the plants, the mythical beasts; and this is all before you get to any of the fossils and dinosaurs and taxidermied creatures and minerals and jewels and bits of planets and oversized creepy crawlies you normally can’t (thankfully) see…and oooh, it is an embarrassment of riches.

The reason I know it so well is that for the first two years of living in London I took my boys every Tuesday. Every single Tuesday.

Tuesdays with Joseph and Stephen

We would visit the dinosaurs, no long line for us, and the creepy crawly exhibit; who doesn’t like moving a fly from the poop to the picnic over and over and over again. We would take long looks at the enormous fossils, especially the one found by teenager Mary Anning.

fabulous fossils
fabulous fossils

Sometimes we would look at the mammals; whales on the telephone is a draw. We always looked at the big tree; the cases in the minerals were a bit high, and the escalator in the earth science was too long and steep for comfort. But a satisfying day for everyone. Every time.

little explorers

When grandparents came to visit we would hire the “Explorer Backpack,” a scavenger hunt of sorts with the added bonus of a borrowed helmet and binoculars. The fact that the questions remained the same meant that the children looked like geniuses, always a nice treat for the relatives.

the half-term queue

But then school started and we couldn’t visit every week. But we kept visiting. Once we went on a Saturday and we were horrified, horrified, to see that the queue snaked all down the front and round the building….who were all these people at our museum? Even if the queue outside wasn’t long, the one inside for the dinosaurs was endless! I tried to take my older son, Joseph, on a rainy day during the recent Autumn half-term. Yikes! The queue to get in double backed on itself. All those exhausted looking parents! We felt smug remembering all those line-free Tuesdays!

We’ve skated on their gorgeous rink set up during the Christmas season many times. Even saw a proposal of marriage one particularly beautiful evening there, and yes, she said yes.

ice skating

DSCN0071We try never to miss the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit, even if we never, ever agree with the winners. And the gift shop is a must for Christmas presents.

Professor Richard Owen, the controversial character who campaigned tirelessly to have the museum built, wanted to create a place where scientists, the uninformed and the middle class hobbyist could all benefit. A place to cater to the professional, the enthusiast and the curious simultaneously. Architect Alfred Waterhouse, using designs from a variety of sources and influenced by the demands of politicians and financiers, was able to fashion a cathedral to science uniquely his own, a pleasing compromise of Italian Renaissance, Gothic Revival and German Romanesque. In other words, a blend of styles that work both physically and aesthetically.

And yet, and yet…none of that is what I love most about the Natural History Museum. It is the feeling I get when I step into all that history. Not of centuries but of millenniums and more. I think what it must have been like for those earlier fossil finders and paleontologists when they discovered things that literally changed the way people thought about the world. The excitement of researching and studying things that must have seemed magical or otherworldly or just plain amazing. Because they still are. It is a gorgeous building filled with wonderScreen Shot 2015-01-07 at 2.16.43 PMs. Just as it should be…and now imagine me with those shoes on those stairs….perfection!

On Passion for all…Dorian Gray and immersive theatre…6/100

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 4.48.50 PMNot only is London a city of connections (see previous post), it is a city that nurtures obsessives. I include myself in this category. So it was with tremendous pleasure that I met Samuel Orange, last night, a man so obsessed with Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, he has transformed his Greenwich townhouse, including the garden, into a spectacular set for an immersive production of the novel. And what an experience it is.

Dorian Gray is often a “first” for those of us in love with literature, because it is short. Short and funny and scary and full of terrible truths, all penned with a sharpness and wit only possible from Oscar Wilde. I remember well the first time I “discovered” him. My mother took me to see The Importance of Being Earnest at the Cincinnati Playhouse. I must have been about 14, and left the theatre overwhelmed. “How how how can someone write like that,” I asked. I still ask. Genius, in its purest form.

And Dorian Gray is no less perfect, if much more frightening. Narcissism in its most destructive, horrifying state. But irresistable as well. We would all like to be good. But bad is just so fun, and addictive. Toss in eternal youth and you have the perfect storm of evil. And that is why it is easy to understand why someone would live out of an upstairs bedroom and drape the rest of their house with silks and velvet and an ornate four poster bed and oh….I say too much. Much of the experience is exploring the set, litte bit by little bit and being amazed.

Drinks are served periodically, including “absinthe” as a delicious apple snapps. Chatting with strangers is encouraged. A very pretty (think Keira Knightely on a very very good day, minus the irritating voice and mannerisms) young girl sat sat near us at the beginning and we three inclusive matrons of Wandsworth scooped her up immediately. Turns out she is a trainee lawyer and lives with her step-mother, who was in the cast, on a houseboat. Oh I love London.

But what about the play itself? Superb. Could have sat through it all again, immediately. Samuel Orange is an extraordinary Lord Henry, witty and cruel, always hiding his utterly reprehensible behaviour behind a clever comment.

Dorian and his picture are both played by impossibly pretty young boys. They spend a delicious amount of time loving each other up. (I do enjoy a little boy-on-boy.) But this is self love in the extreme. And they destroy everyone they touch. By play’s end you are simultaneously excited and revolted. Perfect.

We were invited to stay after and “meet” the cast, which involved scrumptious vodka martinis, lots and lots of chatter and general hilarity. All in the creepy Victoriana surroundings. One of those late, late nights I will remember forever.

The official name of the production company is The Alchemic Order. In their own words, “The Alchemic Order is a unique collective of creative minds. Within a synergy of media, we propose new rituals of aesthetic transfiguration. Artistic Director, Samuel Orange collaborates with those seeking new dimensions in art, thought and life.” I think that means that Samuel lives his passion and invites others to do so as well. I admire that tremendously.

This production was first performed over the summer (2014) and then revived for the run up to Christmas. Unfortunately that means there are only 2 more shows this season. There was talk of doing it again this coming summer. And maybe something else too. I really, really hope these come to be. If last night is anything to go by, Mr. Orange does obsession well.


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On Crazy Customs–Guys, Grapes and Taking the Piss 2/100

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 1.46.34 PM

Remember, remember the 5th of November. More remembering today. Just of a very different kind. Not so much a London thing as an English thing. And wow do the English have some crazy customs and traditions. Today being perhaps the most baffling of all, to a foreigner. For today is Guy Fawkes Night, or more recently Bonfire Night. And what happens on this evening?, you ask. Well, an enormous bonfire is built and lit, an effigy of “Guy” is made from old clothes and appropriately flammable materials and tossed on the bonfire. Then follows a fireworks display. Fun for the whole family.

Wait, wait, wait, I hear you, the bemused outsider (BO) calling, you make a “Guy” and burn him???

London Passion (LP): Yes.

BO: How….unusual. Why?

LP: Well (the quick & simple version) because back in the year 1605 a Catholic by the name of Guy Fawkes thought it an excellent idea to try and blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill (Protestant) king James I. His plot failed as he was ratted out, possibly by his co-conspirators. Mr. Fawkes was captured, tortured and then hanged, drawn and quartered (pretty awful). The others involved were executed in St. Paul’s churchyard. Most likely, Guy was only the fall guy (ha ha ha) not the brains behind the operation, and like all good historical yarns, this one has more sub plots and conspiracy theories than you can wave a sparkler at. Regardless, this near miss is marked each and every year in the above described manner.

BO: And this is a celebrated holiday?

LP: Yes. A tradition most revered. I expect all of my English friends to fill the comment box with tales of ages past when they used dear grandfather’s clothes to make their own Guy and wheeled him round the streets receiving coins from neighbours for their troubles.

BO: (stunned silence)

LP: Bonfire Nights have become a big business for local governments. They spend the calendar year planning the event. In my area, the local private schools get together and put on their own display on the Friday closest to the 5th. I am in charge of selling tickets. I can’t believe drug dealers have a more rabid and desperate clientele than me.

Tonight I will attending a friends lavish Bonfire Night party…South of the Border has nothing on the fireworks display our local Mr. C puts together. Drinks will be served, children will be narrowly rescued from flames and everyone will have a very jolly time.

Another amusing custom is that of bringing grapes to someone in hospital. Magazines, yes I can see the point.  A fruit that needs to be washed, not so much. I have no idea where this practise comes from. I hope someone will tell me. grapesThe other week I found this fantastic bit of sculpture on the railings of St. Guy’s Hospital in London. The poor man has received so many bunches of grapes that his hospital room has been transformed into a vineyard. So clever. And so typically self-deprecating. And one more wonderful English custom: “the piss take,” or the national sport of mockery. There is almost nothing the English can’t laugh at, most of all themselves.

Oh London, you really do have it all: burning catholics, unnecessary grapes and the strength of character to know when something is ridiculous and love it anyway.

On Grand Gesture–The Poppies 1/100

Poppies at Tower 5 Oct.

One of the many things that my wonderful London does well is the Grand Gesture. Think back to the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee….happy people as far as the eye could see. And London has done it again with these poppies. I know, I know, the poppies around the Tower is probably the most shared photo on FB at the moment, in the UK anyway, but for good reason.

beefeater in poppiesThis installation is sensational. And moving. And just plain beautiful. Definitely something that any of you who can physically get to the Tower MUST, MUST see. Yes, I too have heard the reports that it has gotten so crowded people are being encouraged to stay away, but go, go, even if that means you go at dawn. Then as you look down on those waves of red, remember that every single one of the (to be) 888, 246 ceramic poppies represents a life lost by a member of the British military in WWI. The Great War. The War to end all wars. Wow, we’ve done a spectacularly bad job of that. True, true. But the other half of that evil coin is that we forget. So we haven’t eradicated war, quite the opposite it feels today, but “Lest We Forget” has been proven unfounded.

If you really want a heartwrenching treat, squeeze yourself there forlost post in poppies the Roll of Honour. Originally planned as a weekly event, the response was so immediately overwhelming the ceremony is daily, starting now from 16:55. But you will need to get there early. Names are read. The Last Post is played. Collective breath is held. And then those gathered feel emotionally drained, yet uplifted. Reminded that sacrifice and honour still matter in this cold, selfish world.

The Poppies at the Tower. My London Passion 1/100.

There until 11 November only.

kids at poppies
Waiting for the Roll of Honour to begin, in the rain.