Tag Archives: Somerset House

On skating in the magic of London….71/100


dsc_6118-2I have always loved ice-skating. I am not particularly good at it, but I have always loved it. Not the twirly, fussy stuff of Olympic awe, but the fast, playful, adventurous stuff of storytelling. My mother read me Mary Mapes Dodge’s Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates when I was little. Oh how I loved that story. That was the kind of skating I wanted to do. Action packed. One of the very few regrets I have of my 5 years in Holland was that I didn’t learn to speed skate. The Dutch excel at this sport, and I should have taken it up. But instead I had a couple of babies, neither of whom I would trade for all the ability on ice a person could have. Yet the dream is still there. And my beloved London makes sure I get a little taste each winter-time. London has a surprising number of permanent, indoor, ice rinks. A hold over from the GIs. There dsc_6111-2are even plenty of local hockey teams, most named for American Football teams, for the same reason. And while I have spent many a birthday party grabbing small, wet children out of the way of older, aggressive packs of teens, it isn’t quite that same flying along canals experience I had dreamed about. For that I must wait til Christmas time. When London landmarks flood and freeze themselves and offer glorious, beautiful, magical moments on ice. We have gone every year, to many locations including Marble Arch and the Tower of London. But the two best, year in year out, remain the Natural History Museum and Somerset House.

dsc_0068_6Somerset House skating used to be sponsored by Tiffany & Co., and a great tree stood in the courtyard festooned with ribbons of the trademark light blue. A luxurious tent alongside offered appropriately elegant coffees and cakes and a perfect view of the skating excitement. More recently Fortnum & Mason has taken over the sponsorship and has continued the glamour. In the evenings the tent turns into a bit of a warm disco, mimicking the on-ice action. A friend and I wandered in one night after a gallery party. We were much too old for the “scene,” unfortunately and didn’t stay long. Years ago, still in the Tiffany years, I took a group of young girls to skate in the afternoon at Somerset House and continued on into the Courtald Gallery afterwards. We ignored the priceless Impressionist paintings to gaze out at the skaters below in the now-enveloping dusk. They all seemed to be couples. Young, very much in love couples. “It is the romance hour,” one of the girls said with a sigh. She was right.

dsc_0001_50We once witnessed a proposal of marriage on the ice at the Natural History Museum. At sunset. In front of the tree. She said yes. We on-lookers went crazy. So romantic. Of course, most of the skates aren’t romantic so much as stoic. Whizzing round and  round surrounded by the inexperienced and the seriously wobbly. Dodging crashes and whining girlfriends and frustrated children and the idiotic selfie addicts. It is a popular last-day-of-term treat and I took my youngest and her friends to the NHM last week. It was pre-teen on ice heaven, complete with photo booth. But the landmarks. Oh the landmarks.dsc_0004_41 Skating under the skyline of London, well, what can I say. It is more beautiful than I can properly express.  London never looks more regal than from the vantage point of a skating boots.

So this is how I have come to be spending very early Christmas Eve morning skating. At Somerset House. It is still early enough for frosty mist. Romantic and magical. 2016 has been a grim year. No one seems to be sorry it is almost over. The world seems to be rushing ever faster into madness. We need to grab happiness where we can. And here I am, flying through the London landscape, like Hans Brinker in pursuit of the life-changing skates….and just for a few moments, the world is perfect.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion


On Singing Bridges and Waterloo…62/100

I admire people with a passion. And when they are clever enough to share their passion with others, I adore them all the more. I’m not that bothered by what the particular passion is, but if they can make it appeal, if only for a bit of time, I am all for it. So when I heard about composer and conceptual artist Claudia Molitor’s musical homage to Waterloo Bridge, I had to experience it. The Singing Bridge is an auditory feast that both responds to the reality of Waterloo Bridge and encourages a dreamy, unhurried meandering over and around the physical structure. Her art is to transform the ordinary, things we take for granted or even downright begrudge, so that we see them with fresh, full of wonder eyes and unbiased ears. Molitor chose Waterloo Bridge because it is a place she knows well, but also because bridges interest her. As she explains in the narrative at the beginning of the walk, bridges are often the first thing to be destroyed during conflict and the first things to be rebuilt in peacetime. The desire to connect and to divide ourselves seems to be part of our genetic make up, and bridges are both a metaphor and a reality of human interaction. p1030022The Singing Bridge, part of the Totally Thames festival, is free, always a bonus. So, on this recent rainy Saturday afternoon, with my girls in tow, I gave it a go. And loved it. I loved Molitor’s voice and her narrative. I loved her compositions and that of the other musicians. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, my girls weren’t so sure about all the pieces, but, for me, the ethereal, electronic, at times faux folk (is that an actual genre?) worked beautifully.  I was completely of the moment with Waterloo Bridge and my youngest captured the magical nature of London and the Thames in the rain, all that tangible mist and shadow, on camera  The walk begins at Somerset House, where you are handed p1030005some large, trendy white headphones and a map, but are immediately told the route is optional. That said, you are crossing a bridge, so the options are limited. The idea is to slowly, thoughtfully and with a heightened sense of awareness cross Waterloo Bridge to the south, have a short stroll round the National Theatre and then back across the bridge. Normally, this can be done in about 15 minutes or less. Quite to my surprise, we took a bit longer than the 40 minutes of audio. Despite the weather and thep1030021 tourists and the crowds of charity walkers and runners, we dawdled with pleasure, refusing to let the frantic pace of London rush us along. Just as Molitor designed. You really do feel that you are looking at the city and the river with a detail you have never noticed before. It is an incredibly relaxing sensation. Romantic even.

Waterloo Bridge, for most people, is iconic for two reasons. The French Impressionist Claude Monet painted a stunning series of paintings from it, capturing London and the Thames in ever-changing light. Two of these paintings can be seen in the National Gallery.  And the Kinks sang about lovers crossing the bridge in Waterloo Sunset, “dirty old river,” below. When my eldest daughter was in Year 2 (7 years old), her class went to Somerset House, home of the Courtauld Gallery collection of impressionist works. Part of the day was spent p1030031on Waterloo Bridge drawing the view, as Monet did more than 100 years earlier. I was a parent helper on this trip and was beside myself with joy at the  sight of my American daughter drawing on Waterloo Bridge, like the famous French artist himself….the gorgeous cultural mix alone made me giddy. But of course Lizzie wasn’t really drawing as Monet had done, because it was a different bridge. Monet’s Waterloo Bridge was opened in 1817 but closed in 1924 due to disrepair. During WWII the bridge was rebuilt, by a mostly female work force, so it is referred to by people who know these things as the Ladies Bridge. Even better, the Portland stone cladding atop the reinforced concrete releases cleaning chemicals whenever it gets wet…as in whenever it rains. So it self-cleans. Now that is properly clever…well done ladies. It was also the first bridge in London to have electric lights. And it links Somerset House, home of art and ideas of every description, with the National Theatre, an institution dedicated to offering plays and musicals of the traditional and the modern in often new and unexpected ways. Two bastions of London culture, on either side of the mighty Thames, connected by Waterloo Bridge, which for the month of September, sings for you. What could be better?

p1030035When the girls and I came up out of the Tube, rather wet but happier for our singing bridge experience, this notice greeted us in the ticket hall of our station. The opening stanza of The Water is Wide, a folk song covered by so many famous voices including Bob Dylan and James Taylor. Could there have been a more fitting note to this day. Thank you London.

For more information on the Totally Thames festival: http://totallythames.org/