Tag Archives: St. Paul’s Cathedral

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



On Cancelled Flights, Baby Blackbirds, Wimbledon….and St. Paul’s 95/100

davSome days just don’t turn out the way they were planned. Saturday was one of those. I was going to collect my older son, Joseph, at Heathrow early in the morning, back from 3 weeks of surfing and climbing in California. After some suitable home comfort spoiling, I would leave him to sleep, no doubt he would be in desperate need, and I would still have plenty of time to get to the roof garden of One New Change, the shiny, retail complex across from St Paul’s, and watch Venus Williams, a player I have adored for close to two decades, win her 6th Wimbledon title. Well that was the plan, anyway. Things took at turn at 4 am. Joseph called to say his flight had been cancelled and as he is underage the airline (yes, that same one that has gotten such bad press recently) weren’t at all interested in finding him somewhere to stay until a new flight could be found. They weren’t too concerned about finding him a new flight either, actually asked him to leave the queue as “the line is  too long to help 19942839_10156396567574368_8958150766087905082_oyou.” Nice. We found him a hotel room and a few stand by options. “Don’t worry,” he  told us. “I will be fine here in San Francisco. I don’t mind staying a few more days.” Yeah, I have no doubt about that. Very exciting end to what had been a very happy adventure.

A few hours later, bleary eyed, I walked downstairs to hear a cheeping sound coming from the basement. “For heavens sake,” I snapped at my younger son “turn off that damn play station.” “It isn’t the play station, Mum. There is a bird in the basement.” WTF? A bird in the basement? How in the hell did a bird get in the basement? It has been very hot and the skylights in the kitchen had been left open…so maybe? But there it was. Cheeping away. Huddled near the door to the outside, a door that is never opened. Cheeping and hopping, because one of its wing was broken. I managed to get the door open and move the bird outside, into the stairwell. And then the rest of my family disappeared. Out for the day. This poor little creature left in the care of a woman well known for her general disinterest in animal welfare. Unlikely and unlucky for this bird.

I went next door to ask the neighbour’s opinion. “I’ll wring its neck,” Paul offered. But isn’t a pigeon, I told them. If it were a pigeon, no problem. But it is a cute little thing. They rushed over to see. Oh, its a blackbird, a baby blackbird, they told me. Which made sense as an adult blackbird often suns herself on our astroturf in the garden. So that must be the mother bird and this must be her chick. No more talk of neck wringing. I called London Wildlife. “Yes, we can come get it, but it might take a while,” they responded. “But you will need to protect it ’til we get there.” I went back outside and the sweet thing had hopped up all the steps and was making a break for freedom, towards the Common. “Don’t worry,” I texted back “he has run away.” Phew, I thought. That is the end of that. Lucky escape. For me, anyway.

mde“No” came the immediate response. “He won’t survive the hour. Go get him.” Suddenly feeling  the weight of my responsibility, I dashed back out the front door with a shoebox in hand.  A delivery van came to a screeching halt. The driver jumped out. “Are you looking for the bird? He went that way.” And the chase began. Clamoring over fences and rubbish bins. The lovely driver finally caught him up in his hi-viz jacket. And into the box the bird went.  I took him back inside. The poor little thing kept opening his beak for me. “Please try to feed him,” London Wildlife told me. “Go down to Tesco and get some wet cat food and put little morsels into his beak.” This was beginning to get farce-like. But of course I obeyed, I was in too deep now. I was pretty bad at it. Not sure how much of that disgusting paste actually made it into his mouth. But I tried at least. “We aren’t going to be able to get to you anytime soon,” was the next message. “Could you get him to us?” This is London. Of course I can get him to you. “Can I put him in  a cab?” I asked. Of course I could. This is a London bird, after all. Cabs are a way of life. Taxi called, driver slightly nervous, but willing. And off he went. “Thank you,” was the text I received 35 minutes later. ” Thank you for rescuing this baby blackbird. He arrived in a fine and lively state.”  So that was job done. And 3 hours gone. The tennis!

davI rushed off to One New Change. Venus had to win now. I had saved a bird!!! Me! Yes, so unlikely. But I had done it. Now to the tennis! At One New Change. This marvel of glass and steel, designed by French architect, Jean Nouvel opened in 2010. It was constructed as an homage to Christopher Wren, the genius behind St Paul’s Cathedral, my favourite place on earth. One New Change affords a perfect view of the Cathedral from many angles, but because it is a structure more of space and light than form, it doesn’t loom, it shimmers, almost blending into the sky. It is sometimes referred to as the “stealth bomber,” you can’t see it, but from it you can see everything.

The 6th floor roof terrace stretches outwards for stunning views over the city, the Old Bailey and Grey Friars in the foreground. But it is the dome of the Cathedral that takes center stage. Breathtaking.  Accessible by a great glass elevator to make Roald Dahl fans swoon. Many years ago, I went along on a Sunday to take some photos of the view. In the elevator with me was a woman and her disabled son. As the elevator began to rise the boy got more and more excited. “I am Charlie, I am Charlie.” he shouted. When we reached the top they didn’t get out. “We will ride up and down being Charlie for a while now,” the mother told me. Never mind the view, the joy of that little boy makes this the loveliest building ever. And since at least 2012, the terrace has played host to Wimbledon lovers. A big screen television is put up, with the dome of St Paul’s floating in the background.  Giant Union Jack cushions and deck chairs are scattered about for viewing comfort. All free. Food and drink from other venues encouraged, though in more recent years a little bar has been set up. Often I would have the place almost to myself. But word has gotten out. And this was the women’s final. By the time I got there the place was packed. And Nandos was doing a delivery service. The queue for the bar was sizeable. I manage to find a little patch on the ground quite near the front and settled in for what I hoped was a triumph for my Venus.

Muguruza and Williams traded games, each holding their serve. Williams had two setdav points. And then she didn’t. The set slipped away. Then the match evaporated. She lost the second and final set 6-0. Yikes. Certainly not how I had envisioned it. Not how she had either, I am quite sure. But there it was. A rescued bird in a taxi, tennis overlooking St Paul’s, and a son extending his holiday in another great city. Unlikely, but true. Such is life, especially life in London. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On Harry Potter and St. Paul’s….92/100

cofThe other day was the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first Harry Potter book. No, this fact doesn’t make me feel old. Instead, I am grateful that I have had 20 years of a life with Harry. Because I love these books. I am true believer, have been since the start. And so are my children who have grown up with the books, the audio, narrated by the stupendous Stephen Fry, and eventually the films. We really, really love the films. Our New Year’s Eve tradition is to watch them, one after the other. We have been to the Harry Potter-WarnerIMG_20160102_125348_edit Bros. studios, just north of London many, many times. It is a fantastic, magical place. The last time we were there we saw a marriage proposal…..on the Hogwart’s Express. Of course we have been photographed pushing a cart into Platform 9-3/4  at King’s Cross. I can point out the entrance to Diagon Alley in Leadenhall Market and that opening scene in Half Blood Prince with the Death Eaters Flying over and through Millennium Bridge makes me swell with pride, as I feel rather possessive of what I think is one of London’s mot beautiful locations. And then there is the St. Paul’s connection.


I love St. Paul’s.  It is the most gorgeous building in the world, and lucky, lucky me gets to work their as an official guide, every week. Built by the great St Christopher Wren between 1675-1710 after the Great Fire of London left the previous St Paul’s in a ruinous state, the Cathedral is awe-inspiring, it is perfection in stone and light. And then there is the Harry Potter connection…..

IMG_3022The Dean’s Staircase, also knowns as the Geometric Staircase, was built, in the south tower, on Wren’s request, by William Kempster between 1704/05. It connects the floor of the Cathedral to the Triforium, an attic like space between the inner wall of the nave and the outer screen wall of the cathedral, which among other things, contains the library. It is 88 steps of sheer marvelousness; the stairs seem to float. When I stand on the landing at the top I feel like nothing is actually supporting me, a sensation I distinctly dislike and I  am too afraid to get close to the edge. So my photos of it from above are always rubbish. But it is beautiful. Incredibly, dazzlingly beautiful. Wren was so pleased with the final result he gave Kempster of bonus of 20 guineas.  Google wouldn’t give me an exchange rate from 1705, so I am going to guess the spending power was about 200 pounds. Not a bad tip.

300 years on it is the staircase to Professor Trelawney’s  studio of Divination. Emma Thompson’s character, the one everyone thinks is crazy but turns out to be right, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It is also in the final installation of HP, Deathly Hallows Part  2, though the railing is made plain in the scene. Harry is going up to search mdefor Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem and Ron is heading down, wand out, ready to fight. They stop on the stairs and exchange a few words.

Harry Potter isn’t the only film to feature this special space. It is also in the opening scene of Guy Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey Jr. runs down and down and down the staircase, they make it seem much longer, to rescue a woman who is tied to a table in a room that is clearly not St Paul’s. Ah, the magic of movies. Recently the cathedral was closed for the filming of Paddington 2…please, please let our favourite bear get into serious mischief on these stairs. Maybe rivers of marmalade cascading down from the top? Back in 2010, sculptor Antony Gormley created a piece specifically for the Geometric Staircase, a falling figure in a dense cloud of wire, entitled Flare II. As Gormley explained at the time, “Wren understood proportion, space and gravitational dynamics as no other British architect of his time, and the Geometric Staircase is a supreme and elegant outcome of this understanding. Flare II is my attempt to use applied geometry to construct an energy field describing a human space in space.” Stunning.

davBut all of St. Paul’s is stunning. My passion for the place is only matched by my passion for sharing it with others. So it was an honour and a privilege when the Cathedral recently asked me to yap away about the American Memorial Chapel and Billy Fiske for PBS, the American television station, for their series on English cathedrals. I was thrilled. Beyond thrilled. And I loved every second of it. Of course, I may end up on the editing floor, but I hope at least my glovedcof hand pointing out Glenn Miller’s name (the  musician and band leader) in the Roll of Honour in the Chapel will make it to air. Why is he there? Because he is one of the 28,000 Americans who died in World War II having spent time in Britain. Miller was on his way from the UK to France when his plane disappeared over the English Channel on 15 December, 1944. And what about the other man I mentioned? Billy Fiske. The first American to fight and die in WWII. A short life, but an incredible one, but I say no more. You 10960180_1052030951490292_6522425843146799131_owill have to wait for the  PBS show, due next summer. Better yet, come visit me at St. Paul’s. I will show you Fiske’s pilot wings and tell you all about him.  I will show you Prof. Trelawney’s stairs too. And so much more. I will wear sparkly shoes. You will be enchanted.


Photos at St. Paul’s 19/100

The Quire
Beneath the Dome
Mother and Child by Henry Moore, from the conception side

Photography at St Paul’s is strictly forbiddden. Not because the fabric of the Cathedral would be harmed in any way, it has survived bombs afterall, but because, unfortunately, people did not respect the privelege and behaved baldy. So, several years ago, the Dean forbade the practise. And that was well-before the hideous invention of the selfie-stick. Can you imagine? But last night, St Paul’s encouraged photographers, of all kinds, to snap away. A ticketed event, open to the public, transformed the Cathedral into the world’s most beautiful still life. And despite the fact that I am not a particularly talented photographer and my camera is just a tiny, red Nikon coolpix, of course I was there! Finally, a chance to take a picture of the Henry Moore from THE angle.

Photographers at work

I was a little worried I would be looked at oddly for lack of professional equipment, but as it turned out plenty of people had little cameras like mine. Even more just phones. I had no grand plan. I wandered round. I watched those with tripods and huge lens. I took many nosy peeks into peoples’ viewfinders. Some were trying to catch the perfect long view, but even more were focusing in on details, on the floor, the walls, the ceiling, the pillars. There is simply so much beauty at St. Paul’s it is no wonder that 300 people found 300 different things to capture on film or phone.

High Altar


Lord Nelson’s seasick lion

The evening, SurpriseStPauls, was not only fun and a fundraiser (St Paul’s receive no government money) but, for the more serious attendees, a competition. Everyone was encouraged to post their photos on the Cathedral’s social media sites. They will be complied on the Cathedral’s Flickr account and the Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Naime, will chose the best image, to be displayed in the soon to be re-opened Chapter House. Needless to say, I am not sending my photos. But will treasure them, nonetheless.

Sneaky pic of my Tuesday shoes on the Cathedral floor…sssh don’t tell

And how did I hear about this event? Facebook, of course. St Paul’s is a prolific poster. Of events and funny facts and interesting links between the Cathedral and the world….
I suppose it is time for me to tell you that I love St Paul’s more than any other place in London. I am an official Tour Guide there, on the Tuesday Team. If you ever want a tour, come along (on a Tuesday of course) and ask for the girl with the shoes…


Crocodile in the crypt

Keep a look out for this event to be run again in the future. And get yourself a ticket, grab that iPhone, and snap away!

Facebook.com/St. Paul’s Cathedral

Twitter: @StPaulsLondon

Check out the competition yourself: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stpaulslondon/sets/72157651166937362/