29 November 2009

Visiting the home of the enemy!

As we know football is a very important game and in London we have several major rival teams. Mine is Tottenham, known as the Spurs and their rivals are Arsenal, known as the Gunners (when we are being polite). The grounds are close together but I've never been to Arsenal's, neither their old ground nor their new one called the Emirates thanks to the power of sponsorship. So, when Visit London said they were holding a business seminar there I jumped at the chance and must admit that it's a very impressive stadium. It did feel odd being in the home of the enemy and luckily the photo is too small to see that they have all of their achievements inscribed on the second tier hoarding and they do have rather a lot of cups and championships.
We are still beset by rain but it is not constant and I went to the South Bank to meet a colleague in the wonderful British Film Institute (BFI) cafe. I love film and walking around there you just want to spend the rest of your life in the cinema catching up on old films. It was a beautiful day and the river Thames was at its best so here's a photo showing the river, the boats, St Pauls, Tower 42 and the 'Gherkin' and the classic double decker red bus on the bridge.
While on the South Bank, I popped into the Royal Festival Hall to get a sneak preview of the Press Photographers exhibition which was showing wonderful, haunting photographs of some of this year's dreadful events. Faces stare back in suffering and again many from Afghanistan but also from the Chinese earthquakes and Kenya. I think I'll go back as they had not finished displaying them all and these images deserve my full attention.
London is great for shopping and a visiting friend had 2 requests - ballet tights for men and a tartan beret with a built in ginger wig - well of course! He's in a play is his excuse and he's sticking to it. No problem in London, so we found a ballet shop near Baker Street who had a good selection of manly tights and then we headed off to Portobello Market. The Scottish hat was more of a challenge but a party shop delivered and I was very tempted by the full length blonde Abba wig but just held out. Portobello was buzzing as always and although I live very nearby, I never tire of it as it's so full of life.
It was the last Bookslam event of the year at the Tabernacle with Lionel Shriver, author of 'We need to talk about Kevin fame', Paul Lyalls a performance poet, Robin Ince was comparing, and music came from the Great West Singers and Andreya Triana. Paul was the star for us - funny, entertaining and great poetry.

Restaurant and bar update: I went back to the Oak which houses my new favourite local bar and this time managed to get into the restaurant. They don't take bookings so we chanced it on a Monday as it's a bit hit and miss later in the week but the food was wonderful and I'll be back. I think I missed out mentioning a neighbour of the Oak, a Mexican restaurant called Crazy Homies which serves proper Mexican food surrounded by Mexican artifacts, so skeletons and pinatas everywhere, in a lively fun atmosphere. It's run by Tom Conran who has a few places in the area, all of good quality. A return visit to Albertines wine bar in Shepherds Bush was as cosy as ever on a rainy evening.

The next blog will be in December so watch out for tales and photos of Christmas lights as there are some good ones around already!

Bye for now,
Sue Hillman

23 November 2009

Rain and rainforests

I have to admit it does rain in London sometimes and this week was one of those weeks and some! So it was fitting that the rainforest came town in the form of the 'Ghost Forest - from the Tropics to Trafalgar' an outdoor exhibition which highlights the extent and danger of deforestation. Ghost Forest brought us 10 stumps of rainforest trees from Ghana filling up Trafalgar Square in an haunting and beautiful display of fallen giants. The square was well chosen as Nelson's Column is about the height of one of the fully grown trees and we learned that Ghana has lost 90% of these trees in the last 50 years . I went to see them by night in the rain and by day in the sun, so I've posted one photo from each visit and you can see the trees against the backdrop of the square and the National Gallery. The trees are now off to Copenhagen for the climate change conference.

London Jazz Festival was in full flow this week - good indoor activities for rainy evenings! There was a huge range of artists in town for this and I chose to see the African Jazz Quintet at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill. They were really good and for me the saxophonist was outstanding though my friend thought the guitarist was the star but the photo is mine so it's of the sax guy! The music was full of melody and life and the band were clearly having a great time as well as the audience.

Another great escape from rainy days in London is the amazing variety of courses you can take. I treated myself to a one day on British cinema at the City Lit college and we watched clips and discussed how the cinema showed us the massive social change just after the 2nd World War (lots of great black and white movies) . Not everyone's cup of tea but I thought it was fascinating and on that day the college were running everything from singing to keep fit to professional study. Afterwards we caught up on cinema as I've been a bit lax lately and went to see An Education which was really evocative of the 60s and had some great performances.

Restaurant update. In London you can get special deals through a website called OpenTable  and we picked up a great deal of 2 courses for £14.95 at Brasserie St Jacques in St James's. It's a good quality French restaurant with excellent food and charming staff who were keen to tell us that on Tuesdays they will be bringing opera to diners at their tables, rather than the enjoyable background jazz we had. I've also been frequenting coffee venues in Notting Hill and can recommend Daylesford Organic and 202 on Westbourne Grove as this week's favourites for meetings and catch ups. Good coffee but don't expect it to be cheap!
My neighbour's just turned up for coffee, so bye for now.

16 November 2009

Exhibitions and exhibitionists

Last week was full of exhibitions. It was the World Travel Market in London's massive ExCel exhibition centre out east in the Docklands. It was sadly only for travel trade people, sadly because there must have been a stand from every country in the world and for a lover of travelling it was heaven. However, I was a there a couple of days for work and restrained myself from spending too much time looking at the wonders of South America and Africa.

It was a misty couple of days and the photo from the terrace captures that feel in contrast to the mad, busy, bright interior of the event.

I've been to a couple of great public exhibitions this week. One was a photographic delight - Beatles to Bowie: The 60s Exposed. This traces the course of the 60s and its pop stars through brilliant photography and magazine and album covers. It's great fun to see all these icons in their earlier seemingly innocent times when we know what is in store for them. Each caption mentioned a key song from that artist at that time so there was shameless singing along from many visitors, including us at one point I must admit!

The second was at the wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum who are hosting the Maharja: Splendour of India's Royal Courts. It's a tour through their world over a couple of centuries of colour and excess. We saw fabulous jewels and paintings and even their 20th century luxuries when their commissions kept Rolls Royce and Van Cleef & Arpels extremely busy. There's a lot of information and it look nearly 2 hours to get around and a coffee afterwards in the extravagantly decorated V&A cafe was essential.

From a lost worlds of Indian princes and the 60s to a film about lost millions and the internet but all about living lives on the public stage. 'We Live in Public' won the documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival and traces the life of Josh Harries, a pioneer in the cyber world through his rise and crash including a section where he lives with his partner on camera 24/7 in a fore runner of films and TV to come. Josh himself was at the cinema for Q&A afterwards which was strange as the film portrays him as an interesting but very unsympathetic character, both of which were borne out in person. We squeezed in cocktails at the Criterion bar and a wonderful lunch in one of Soho's authentic Italian restaurants - Il Porchetta - huge bowls of lovely pasta and very reasonably priced.

It feels like winter is nigh and the Christmas lights are coming on all over London - more on that next week and perhaps some photos.

Bye for now.


Sue Hillman

8 November 2009

Fireworks, fairs and fun evenings

This weekend saw the main fun and games for Bonfire night although the actual night was of course on 5th but as ever we have the nearest weekend for the big events. I went to was at Alexandra Palace which is a great venue as it's a steep hill so you get the best view of the huge fireworks with suitable musical accompaniment - Star Wars, ET, Doctor Who etc. It was absolutely packed with families having a good scream as the rockets exploded with maximum noise and they almost slipped down the hill in the excitement! I tried my hand at firework photography which is pretty hard so here's one to give you an idea.

Sunday was the Luxury Travel Fair at the Olympia Exhibition centre so of course I went to that. It was quite quiet and as a friend had a stand at the next door Spirit of Christmas Fair, they let me in and I helped out on their stall for a couple of hours. This was great fun and I even sold a few things for them! Her company is called Floreat and we had beautiful candles, holders, decorations and the like. It was much buzzier in there and I began to feel a bit Christmassy helped by the wonderfully decorated massive hall it was held in - see photo.

One very fun evening was at the Jonathan Wylder Gallery in Knightsbridge. They were showing their fabulous sculptures, many of ballet figures ranging from tiny to life size and paintings, mostly of London. The garden was open and was also a venue for sculpture and was a magical oasis. We were wonderfully entertained by Rebecca Poole's jazzy tones and I think she is one to watch for the future. Afterwards we adjourned to the famous Motcomb's bar and restaurant to savour the evening.

Any other restaurants this week? Of course - Mulberry Street in Notting Hill with their 20 inch pizzas and yes they really are that big but between 3 they seem to disappear quite quickly and they do offer them by the slice for the faint hearted! And coffees at the excellent people watching venue of the Kitchen Pantry also in Notting Hill.

Off to meet some business contacts in Pimlico so bye for now.


2 November 2009

My blog's being posted a day late this week - sorry! I'm busy helping my mother move house and opportunities to get online have been a bit limited but we are nearly sorted - phew. Also means very few photos this week.

Last week was dominated by my excitement at seeing David Tennant! Anyone who knows me is well aware that I think he's absolutely gorgeous so the chance to see him close up was not to be missed. I was at the London Film Festival catching a good Spanish film called 'Three Days with the Family' made with new actors and technical staff. I enjoyed this although I was hoping to get my ear in with Spanish and it was in Catalan so more difficult to follow. The London Film Festival is a brilliant event with hundred of films of all genres and nationalities packed into a few weeks in October. So many stars were in town there were red carpets rolling out all the time!

On the way out I came across a huge crowd waiting along the red carpet to see the stars of 'Glorious 39' arrive. Bill Nighy, Jenny Agutter, Hugh Bonneville came and went and then the screams started for David (not just me!) See photo for closeness but it's a bit blurry due to all the other flashes going off....

The same afternoon I got 'wristbanded' as I was passing Leicester Square and gained access to the special night time party to celebrate the launch of the Michael Jackson film 'This is it' We saw videos of Michael's career on the huge screens and all kinds of folk interviewed on stage as part of the red carpet - Westlife, Harry Connick Jnr, Scarey Spice, JLS, Diversity, Tao Cruz, Peter Andre...... More screaming but this time not from me.

Thursday saw this month's Book Slam at Notting Hill's Tabernacle and the star was undoubtedly Roger McGough with his witty, insightful and accessible poetry read with charm and warmth.

There's not been too much time for eating out this week but I did spend a fun evening at the Chepstow in Notting Hill which is one of my favourite local bars. We had a few drinks and then got caught up in their weekly quiz and had we joined properly, might have done rather well but who knows.....

That's all for this week.
Bye for now.