3 October 2008

Paris and packing

September saw another trip to Paris - sorry London I've not been around much! Eurostar was in a mess following the tunnel fire the week before, so I decided to drive to Paris which was fine, even tho' we had to traverse the entire width of Paris in the dark in the busy traffic of a Friday evening. But it was worth it and we had 4 glorious days there and it was all going well until the return.... A flat battery in a underground carpark 5 floors below the Paris streets was not a good start to our journey back to Calais. However, we were saved by a mobile jump start kit and chap from the local garage and we were finally on our way at very high speed to catch our ferry. Odd being on a ferry again after so many years of the train. The train still gets my vote so let's hope the tunnel is repaired soon.

What's the 'packing' about in the title? Well, I'm off to South America for 2 months to do some voluntary work with conservation projects and local communities. I'm looking forward to a different life for a while but at the moment am just hugely relieved that I have got the bag shut for the first time. I hate packing for any holiday but a 2 month trip with outside work clothes, temperature uncertainties and a long list of extras that don't usually get bag space (sleeping bag, water bottles, head net - don't ask! - travel towels, head torches etc etc) have meant I've driven myself mad trying to make sure I pack all the right things and can still close and lift the bag. It's a bit heavy....

I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Rothko exhibition at the Tate Modern today which is good and needs time to really look closely at the painting to appreciate the brush work. All to easy to rush through and wonder what the fuss is all about when faced with a seemingly black canvas - anyone seen the play 'Art'? Also saw Hedda Gabler at the Gate Theatre which is a very small room in Notting Hill. It was good and well performed tho' the lead character was hard to feel any sympathy for and therefore the play lost a bit of its power but was well worth seeing.

So, back in a couple of months when I shall be ready for all that London has to offer.


8 September 2008

Sunshine - remember that??

Menorca has sunshine, something we all know but it was still a bit of a shock after our rotten summer to feel the heat of the sun on the skin all day long! We sat in the sun, explored the island, went out on a boat for a day and had a roller coaster ride back to port followed by very strange attack of unsteadiness during dinner even before the wine started. We saw bronze age remains, went to local fiesta and became part of the parade by walking alongside the floats and giant figures in an odd foreigner not realising what they were doing sort of way. Of course we had lots of lovely meals and drinks from Pimms on the veranda to sangria on the portside. All very good then back to the rain, cold and storms of England.

My last post had mention of a visit to the Edinburgh Fringe. I penned a short article for a travel writing competition on the trip - sadly no prized publication in the Guardian but here it is for posterity and because I've not been in London to report anything of interest..

More next time!

Peeping through the Fringe
It’s August and it’s Scotland so we are simply hoping to miss the rain, there seems no danger of exposing still pale English skin to the northern sun. Avoiding the guilt of a carbon footprint we take the train from London which zooms up the West Coast of England and we feel smug if a little cramped as everyone else has the same thought and there is not a spare inch to be had.
We arrive at Edinburgh Waverley armed with 6 bookings and 2 days in which to pack in comedy, theatre, an exploration of the city, some galleries and a big brunch on the last day – it’s Fringe time, the annual burst of performance which Edinburgh hosts each August. Edinburgh is a fabulously physical city which you can navigate by its hills, valleys and the wonderful volcanic ridge at the heart of the city on which sits the Royal Mile. Now there’s a thing, the Royal Mile is in fact the High Street and therefore does not appear on maps, guaranteed to confuse the tourist who has this on their list of ‘must sees’.
We dash from comedy to comedy, desperate to arrive on time and miss the walk through the dark to the special seats in the front row saved for late comers. Thankfully cabs are quite cheap to those from London so we treat ourselves, dodge the showers and slip safely into our seats.
Edinburgh is buzzing, the Royal Mile is full of street acts and hoards of students dressed up as who knows what handing out flyers by the hundred. Every street has lines of excited punters waiting eagerly for their next show to start. But it’s not just the Fringe in town, an altogether posher crowd gather for the Book Festival who clutch their volumes for the many book signings and the chance to get up close to their favourite author. If that was not enough, or not to your taste, Edinburgh looks to cater for all comers: the Festival is all dance, classical music, opera and proper theatre, I’m sure there’s a circus somewhere and there’s a Tattoo in the castle every night, the greatest exhibition of military music in the world (they say) but it’s outdoor so is a great excuse to buy a tartan rug. Did I mention there’s a lot of tartan in town? It’s everywhere so beware.
Time accelerates so an art gallery and a jazz brunch have to be squeezed in before a dash back to Waverley and we pull out of town in the blazing sunshine as the blue sky has come to wish us a good journey. We did get our blast of warmth in the end as the air conditioning on the train broke down and short sleeves suddenly appeared. Our peep into the Fringe was exhilarating and just made us want to go back for more and to really get to know Edinburgh, whatever the weather.

29 August 2008

Back for Carnival, what a blast.

London Living has been out of town and missing London. 2 visits to Scotland and one to Bristol have taken me out and about around the UK which has been fascinating but I was pleased to be back home in time for Carnival. It's a fabulous event and being a Notting Hill resident is even more of a treat at this time of year. The build up starts a few days before as posh shops start boarding up their windows, giving a very odd feel to the area. On the day it starts quietly but by mid morning the noise begins to build and the smoke rises from the BBQs, then it's all go and the place is rammed full of visitors. Some areas had rather more police than usual which was odd and somewhat unnerving. We wondered around, soaked up the atmosphere, felt the music blasting our ribcages, smelt the jerk chicken and imagined we were in the Caribbean for just a little while.

As for my time out of town, I can recommend Mull and Iona for the big skies and fabulous light, although we were not blessed with much sunshine which is a big feature of summer 2008 wherever you are in the UK. The second Scotland trip was my annual foray into the mad world of the Edinburgh Fringe where we rushed around town to see 4 comedies, 2 plays, a BBQ and a jazz brunch. What an wonderful opportunity to fill your days with a bunch of different shows and take a chance on new names.

Bristol has its charms too - SS Great Britain, a fascinating visit, its surrounding countryside, Bath, and we managed to get to 2 very constrasting music shows - a blues band in a tiny cramped buzzing pub and a classical concert in the cathedral. Always love those contrasts...

Back in London with a second trip to the Proms to see a more conventional classical programme which bizarrely featured one piece from the Bristol concert, Vaughan Williams's Lark Ascending.

Next week sees me off to Spain for a week in Minorca in search of sun and lazy days on a lounger - can't wait! So back in a week.

7 August 2008

Jazzy days....

Been trying out some of the 'been there forever' sights of London but mostly those here for just a few months. The forever - Buckingham Palace - open for the summer and all very impressive with lots and lots of gold paint. They have a room set out for a state banquet which was beautiful but the chairs looked very small and uncomfortable as only Betty gets a chair with arms.

Things that are passing through - Frank Gehry's summer pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery which is light wood and glass and wonderful tho' I did miss his usual style of curving metal. I was there in that wonderfully hot and sunny bit of summer we had so I saw it at its best. Ealing Jazz Festival Sunday also benefitted from the height of summer and it was baking and just got hotter as the afternoon went on. The good jazz took rather second place eating, drinking and keeping cool - apologies to the musicians!

More music this week than usual and more jazz. A jazz brunch at the Albert Hall on Sunday saw Edison Herbert and his group serenade us through a full English. And a second trip to the Albert Hall in one week (always the way) saw a marvellous world music prom give us a whistle stop world tour - Cape Verde, Spain (the extraordinary Son de la Frontera very proper flamenco), China, Gambia and finally a magnificiant show from Mali. Well done to the new proms supremo, Roger Wright, for putting this in the main evening slot not the late tube slot.

Other temporary delights - the Cezannes at the Courtaulds and Hadrian at the British Museum. Not enough wall in the Hadrian for my liking, isn't that what he means to us Brits rather than huge models of his villa in Tivoli? Still, always great to be able to drop in and see the Rosetta stone and a Moai from Easter Island on one's way out of a building.

Off to Scotland for a few days to visit the isle of Mull and then to Edinburgh for the Fringe, so back soon....


25 July 2008

Sons et lumieres

Paris was a delight - the sun on the river, the outdoors Rodin museum where there is space to think and a space for The Thinker, not too busy and the Eiffel tour lit up in glorious blue each evening and sparkling for 10 minutes on the hour which is quite magical.

London fell a little short on the 'lumieres' front as Kenwood open air concerts, back after a year's break due to residents' complaints, was good on the music but no fireworks. Something about protected bats being disturbed - well, they've survived at least 20 years of Kenwood fireworks, but what do I know except that it wasn't quite the same. And, they've moved the site away from the lake. However, the classical pieces were great andOmara Portuondo was doing her Buena Vista stuff and it was dry 2 weeks running if you ignore the very small shower on week one...

Other sons et lumieres - an installation on the South Bank where you can walk amoung tall thin speaker like structures which have music coming out and light patterns going up and down them. Apparently as you move around them you affect the light and sounds but we couldn't work it out at all.

The final 'lumiere'? The appearance of the sun! Not constantly but enough to feel a bit like summer and get that awful sweaty feel on the tube , yes summer must be here so I'm off to soak up some light.


14 July 2008

Viva la vida - in France

This week's blog will be delayed due to a short trip to Paris. Off to sample life over the channel courtesy of Eurostar's fabulous speed and a friend's gorgeous flat. More on my return...

9 July 2008

The rain came and loads and loads of tennis....

So, second week after leaving work and this week's highlights were: tennis, another street party, City of London Festival, Press Photographers exhibition and rain, rain, rain.

Wimbledon seemed to take up all of Sunday! It was compelling but also very hard to watch as a Roger fan, even from the sofa and goodness knows how exhausting it must have been to experience it in Centre Court. The rain added even more drama and gave us what must be one of the latest and darkest men's finals to date and what is officially the longest.

Another street party - well more of a square party but that sounds rather dull and it certainly was not. It was in one of those amazingly beautiful London squares - all railings, greenery and surrounded by white stucco fronted terraces. For a modest entry price there was free drink, nibbles brought round as we stood and a chance to grill our local council members and MP on what's happening with road closures, recycling, and other fascinating topics (!) to the sound of a jazz band. Some amount of drinking, meeting local residents and even nipping into the local pub after- good job it was only an 10 minute walk home and took place before the rain got set in.

A trip into the City for a friend's work do led to a lucky find. We followed our ears which picked up jazz at 6pm just off Cheapside, very unusual in the serious surrounding of all the money making, and we found a Balkan jazz band playing in the Guildhall yard as part of the City of London Festival. Never heard of it before but it has free music over the summer across the City including on the steps of St Paul's and at Liverpool Street Station to help out harassed commuters. Find more at http://www.colf.org/

The Press Photographers' Exhibition in the National Theatre was sobering and interesting - sobering because of the number of stills and a video from Iraq and photos from Pakistan around the return of Benazir Bhutto. But also some great sport shots and quirky items. See attached: www.thepressphotographersyear.com/content/exhibition

And finally, rain, rain, rain. Annoying and always seems to lead to the break down of transport so I found myself and a friend stuck in Camden on Saturday for ages waiting for a bus home at 3.30am . Still there were lots of guys enjoying Gay Pride day long into the small hours so it certainly wasn't dull. Inevitably decided on a taxi in the end and the sight of the little orange light was so welcome...


2 July 2008

What a week...

First post on my new London blog. I want to share London living - the fun and the frustrations. I've just left my full time job and it seemed a good moment to go into print and hopefully graphics, well, photographs if my blog skills allow, about a summer in London.

First week has seen a trip to Wimbledon, a London Walk, a street party and a comedy club. All this and it's been sunny as well!

Bit more info to get those jealousy buds going.....

Wimbledon: no centre court tickets sadly so I headed down on the tube on Friday afternoon and joined the jolly queue hoping the dark and rumbling clouds didn't deliver. About an hour later I was in and wandering around the outside courts with easy view of the matches and the amazing speed of the balls (one of which hit a photographer in a painful place of the same name!) Bumped into a friend who gave me his centre court ticket for over 2 hours of top class tennis from Ancic and Ferrer into the dark and gloom at 9.15. What luck...

A London Walk around Kensington led by the excellent Russell was an insight to an area often just rushed through on the way to the Albert Hall or ignored when going to the shops. A few moments behind the main road take you into old and graceful squares full of stories.

Comedy in Crouch End. As ever a mixed bag but Danny Bhoy was the stand out winner on the bill, along with Dominic Frisby the compare who outshone some of the acts. Contributions from the audience included cheery drunk doing a wonderful comedy fall off his stool.

Street party: where I live we have an annual get together in the small public garden in the middle of the street. A wonderful point in the year when those of us who normally rush out of the flat to work and back late evening get to say hello to people who live very close by. Interesting people - artists, doctors, film makers, some finance guys, some retired, many many families with youngish children - and me.

There's a flavour of the week - missing out the drinks with mates and the lounging around in the sun.

Back with more next week......