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When Dr . Johnson was talking about not being bored, he had it a lot easier than I do.  Museums were in their infancy, there were only a few theatres and cinema wasn’t a twinkle in its fathers eye.  Enough was going on to keep him entertained, but I’m guessing his brain wasn’t about to explode with options every Tuesday when Time Out was published.

My problem isn’t boredom, though my children claim to suffer pretty regularly, but too much choice.  Living in London I could literally do five things every single day and still not do everything I want to.  That’s before you factor in all the books I want to read, films I want to watch and family and friends I want to see. Add in kids who need to spend some time at home watching TV and fiddling with stuff and it’s hardly surprising that my head’s spinning.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been to a photo exhibition which made me laugh out loud, moved me, and has stayed with me ever since; been to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the theatre, a thought provoking evening with some gasp moments, taken the kids to an exhibition of objects confiscated by a teacher which we’ve been talking about all week, seen breathtaking fire art at Kensington Palace, and frolicked in a  room literally half filled with balloons.  I’ve not been bored, far from it, but still there could have been more.

I could have attended the world thumb wresting championships, a taxidermy workshop, a punk science comedy show or a movement workshop inspired by the workings of the human body.  All of which I would have probably really enjoyed, except for possibly the last one, though I would like to be able to say that I stand corrected, if I had the time to try.  I could probably write about things to do in London all day every day and not run out. For ever.

Which leaves me feeling like time is slipping through my fingers, because there will simply never be enough. If I think too hard about it I get slightly panicky.

This, I guess, is why I don’t blog very often.

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*disclaimer* If you’re expecting a coherent blog post, look away now…

Half a lifetime ago, I lived in an airy, light-filled Victorian flat near Battersea Bridge.  It was built on the site of Sir Thomas More’s orchard.  The tree outside my bedroom window was the last remaining mulberry tree planted by More, a huge gnarled, many branched tree, heavy with sweet fragrant mulberries which exploded staining pink juice when I picked them every summer.  I don’t know if the tree is still standing, but I feel immensely privileged to have eaten Thomas More’s mulberries.

Our parish church, when we lived in that flat, was a not particularly attractive, red brick, mid-twentieth century building.  The building belies the history.  There’s been a church on the site for as long as there have been Christians in England.  It was flattened during WWII, the Bishop of London decided not to rebuild it as London is heavy with churches, but the parishioners wouldn’t countenance that, and rebuilt it themselves.  The outside of the church isn’t pretty, but the inside is rather lovely, filled with the tombstones and pieces of broken masonry.  My favourite fact about the church is that Anne Boleyn marries Henry VIII there.  I’m not sure why they were married in a church on Sir Thomas More’s land, maybe they were sticking two fingers up to him.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Epiphany service in the chapel at the Tower of London, the chapel where both Anne Boleyn and Thomas More are buried. Also at the service was the Lord Mayor  of London, wearing full regalia.  Around her neck was Sir Thomas More’s chain of office, the actual one that he wore in his portrait by Hans Holbein.  It’s the only time of the year that it’s allowed to leave Mansion House, to visit the site of More’s tomb.  I was close enough to her to touch it.  I didn’t obviously, but I could have.  Isn’t that more than a little bit amazing?

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Do you believe in ghosts?

I do.  I don’t mean that I think you can see floaty sheet covered people wandering around of an evening.  But that that people leave something of themselves in the places they’ve been, they imbue the walls of a house with their spirit, their footsteps echo in the tunnels of a city, layers of wall paper in a cupboard and layers of soot in a fireplace provide an unbroken link with the people who lived there before.

Dennis Severs’ House is a place where ghosts live.  It’s like stepping into a beautiful eighteenth century oil painting.  Lit solely by candles, oil lamps and firelight, it smells of beeswax, oranges and toast cooked over the fire, and you can hear church bells ringing in the distance and a maid making up the fire in the next room.

You are instructed to walk around in silence, to better use your eyes, ears and nose.  Shake off the rushing and jangling of modern life.  Adjust to seeing by candlelight and breathing deeply.

The house belongs to a Huguenot weaving family, but there are references to Dickens in the pages of writing on the desk in the corner of the drafty, dusty, sparely furnished attic; to Hogarth in the abandoned debris of last night’s dinner party in the dining room; to Queen Victoria in the nicely stuffed sitting room with invitations jostling for space on the mantle; and, I fancy, to The Tailor of Gloucester, in the cosy kitchen, where sugar mice peep from under the sparkly glazing of the cups on the dresser.  The house cat watches accusingly as you pick your way carefully around his home.

In their promotional material, they caution that it’s not a museum, and you must not expect to see neatly labelled artefacts.  This is it’s strength.  It’s an experience, a way of seeing things, a mediation.

It’s enchanting.

I’m watching the montage and crying again.  Moments of glory and defeat scrolling across my screen, heros crossing finishing lines, looks of disbelief and joy on their exhausted faces, the feted weeping on podiums as eighty thousand people sing the national anthem in their honour.

We’ve always been accused of being reserved, frigid even, but I think we British have been wrongly judged.  We feel as deeply as anyone, we just don’t shout about it like some.  This summer, this amazing summer, has allowed us to say out loud what we often feel.  How proud we are, how moved we are, how much being part of something greater than ourselves means to us.  Turns out it means an awful lot.

We’ve talked to strangers on the tube, screamed in stadiums until our throats hurt, jumped up and down and hugged in the manner of people on the X Factor.  Maybe we’ve even been on a journey, but I wouldn’t like to cheapen it by talking like that.

We’ve always felt things deeply but I do believe we’re different now.  We who were there, we band of brothers, shared something so special, that we’ll always be linked by our experiences this summer.  When we meet and talk, there’s a spark of recognition, of shared wonder at the gloriousness of it all. When I talk to people who went away, who weren’t here, they don’t get it, how special it really was.  I feel sorry for them.

We were lucky enough to go to the closing ceremony on Sunday.  It was the perfect end to a perfect summer.  We clapped and cheered and cried and stood up time and again to show our appreciation for everything that had passed.  As we wearily made our way towards Stratford Tube after one of the finest evenings of my life, one of the ever cheery Games Makers, sitting on her high chair, sang the ‘So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye’ song from The Sound of Music and the snaking crowd replied. Then, as we walked through the station to the trains, the Tube staff lined up and said, one after the other “Goodbye, safe journey, we’ll miss you all.”

It really was something, wasn’t it?


Our revels now are ended, or almost, at least.  From the exhilarating swoop down the Thames at the start of the Opening Ceremony, to Mo’s eye-popping second gold last night, it’s been quite a ride.

I’m not a keen follower of sport, but the Olympics are something different, something special.  Maybe it’s the way that the nations of the world come together in peace that brings tears to my eyes and obsessiveness to my TV viewing.  Whatever, I knew when we won the bid to host them in my home city, that these two weeks would be amazing, in the truest sense of the word.

My hopes for London 2012 were high, but my expectations have been exceeded.  I’ve been moved to tears  by the striving of athletes,  delighted that the stunning backdrop of a sunny London has been admired by the rest of the world, relieved that the tube has worked perfectly, or as perfectly as something as old and creaky as the tube can work, bursting with pride that a Somalian refugee can flourish and win in our welcoming country, and buoyed on a wave of joyous optimism and celebration.

It’s the sharing that is the thing.  I’d bet quite a lot of money that most of the people who clapped and cheered and wept with me in the shadow of Tower Bridge this afternoon, as a Ugandan crossed the Marathon finishing line in first place, don’t really care about marathons, or about Uganda.  That once this is over we’ll go back to not caring much about sport.  But we were watching the marathon on a big screen, with a stunning backdrop, in the company of others for the feeling of shared admiration and jubilation.  We gathered together because being together is better than being alone.  Because joy is only truly joy when it is shared.

I’d like to think that London could always be like this, but in truth, I’m not sure I can maintain this level of obsession.  My husband, children and kitchen floor are all sorely lacking attention and if I’m honest, I’m looking forward to watching something different on TV.  So I’ve ordered Twenty Twelve on DVD…

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It was like Christmas.  I was just as excited, preparing for weeks.  Popping into M&S on a regular basis for biscuit tins.  Looking up recipes, buying special food, sending last minute texts to friends with panicked requests for slivered almonds.  Doing an extra Ocado order, with booze I’d never normally drink, pretty paper straws, buckets of sweets, fancy crisps and the ingredients for pavlova.  Making plans, trying to squeeze in as many visits from friends and family as possible.  Organising a party with our neighbours.  Setting the Sky box to record a slew of commemorative programmes.  Festooning our house with decorations, and watching with excitement as London turned red, white and blue.

And did it live up to the hype?  To my feverish, childish excitement?  Yes it did.  Every last minute of it.

From the spontaneous rendition of the National Anthem, accompanied by a waving a sea of flags in a faintly icy Battersea Park, as we watched the Queen on a huge screen, metres from the river, to cosying up on the sofa, Dubonnet in hand, fire in grate, rain pelting down outside, watching the highlights on TV and not really minding that the street party was a wash out.

It was a weekend full of friends and family, a thing of joy whatever the occasion.  We feasted on special TV and special food.  We watched red, white and blue flypasts and listened to spectacular fireworks echoing round the city.  We overheard people saying “it’s not that cold really” as they huddled in their union jack pac-a-macs, clutching thermoses of tea.  We helped my brother write his top 20 Jubilee moments feature, whilst watching a flinty David Starkey weep with emotion on live TV.  We scooted through the crowds of people enjoying our beautiful, flag-bedecked city and watched it sparkle on TV like the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland.  I was proud to be a Londoner.

Thank you Your Majesty.

I’m cross.  Positively ranty actually.

I’m insanely excited about the Olympics.  It sort of ties in with my excitement about the Jubilee.  Jubilympics if you will*.  But today I’m angry.

Did you know that we are not allowed to use the word Olympics or the numbers 2012 without infringing somebody’s regulations?  That means we can be asked to unsay it, or even prosecuted.  How can it be not allowed to say the name of the year THAT WE ARE ACTUALLY LIVING IN?

Not only can you not use the word Olympics, but you can’t use any variation of it.  At all, even if you’re being nice and trying to help promote good things.   Even if it’s entirely coincidental that you’ve used it.

The Olympic Cafe in East London has been forced to change it’s name, despite being called that for years and years.  A butcher who made a display of sausages in his window in the shape of the Olympic rings was asked to take them down.  Who makes this shit up?

I’ve worked in marketing, I know all about brand integrity.  But sausages?  Seriously?  What kind of 1984 state are we living in?

One that pretends that world class athletes eat McDonalds crap and still win races, clearly.

How much time, effort and money is going into policing this?  And don’t they have anything better to do, like work out if they’ve got enough loos for the athletes?

OLYMPICS OLYMPICS 2012 OLYMPICS OLYMPICS 2012 OLYMPICS OLYMPICS OLYMPICS

Sorry about the shouting, I feel a bit better now.

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*this excellent term was not coined by myself but by the writers of the brilliantly hilarious Twenty Twelve.  So called because they couldn’t use 2012.

If you want to know more about this, you could do a lot worse than listen to this excellent radio programme, as recommended to me by the estimable Emily.