29 June 2011

Music and laughter in London!

Afrocubism is a show I'd been waiting for ages to see. This combination of Cuban and Malian music was the original concept by Nick Gold that became the Buena Vista Social Club, just half the idea, because the Malian musicians couldn't get visas to travel. I love that record so was very excited to the full line up at last although time has taken away most of the Cubans and Eliades Ochoa is the key survivor of the original line up. He was joined with the cream of Malian music: Bassekou Kouyate, Kasse Mady Diabate and Toumani Diabate. They won a Songlines award which was presented by Carlos Acosta, the ballet dancer, a fellow Cuban It was a brilliant evening of music and made me wonder what would have happened if those visas had come through!
Photos are: Royal Albert Hall, the band, Eliades Ochoa, Cuban trumpeters and Carlos with the band.

Sometimes in London you can stumble across music without any plan or expectation. Last week I found myself with a spare hour before it was time to meet up with friends for a theatre trip. I was on the South Bank and it was about to rain so I dipped into the Royal Festival Hall to revisit the Festival of Britain 1951 exhibition. I heard some music and it turned out to be an indoor busking session (they'd moved in due to the rain) and I was lucky enough to see She Keeps Bees followed by the excellent Guillemots. They played for about half an hour, it was free and there was a good, very appreciative crowd. A great. unexpected treat!

Comedy is very popular in London and any night you can find great comedians all over town. June and July are especially good times as many of the top performers are trying out new material for the annual Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Festival. One recent Friday night we booked in to see a comedy gala in aid of Anno's Africa a development charity and great cause. They lined up a great evening of laughs from the following: Daniel Kitson (host), Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery, Jenny Eclair, Simon Amstell and Miles Jupp - to name just my favourites. To top this fun evening off there was a raffle with the prizes awarded by Hayley Mills and my friend won a golfing trip to Ireland (with me of course!).

Photos are Hayley, Stewart Lee, Simon A, Jenny, Miles, Simon M

Bye for now, Sue



24 June 2011

Wimbledon fever!

It's the last week in June so of course our annual Wimbledon fever has hit! Us Brits go mad for tennis for two weeks a year and put immense pressure on all of our home tennis players but mostly on Andy Murray!

Apart from the tennis, Wimbledon is famous for its queue so I decided to give it a go. My thinking was: it's day 2, only the first week so there will be plenty to see on the outside courts and it's a dry day so why not join the queue and hope for the best. Well, I was not alone, it felt like half of London had exactly the same idea. We joined the snaking line at 1.30 only to be told we wouldn't get into the grounds before 5.30! Rather bad news but being Brits we stuck it out and it wasn't that bad - we finally got in at 5.10! We passed the line of tents for the people already camping out for the next day to see Nadal on centre court! The queue is well behaved as you get a numbered ticket on arrival so any attempt to jump to the front by joining friends who were there earlier is stamped on - good news for proper queue-ers!

However, once inside all that waiting faded away and I roamed around the outside courts in the sunshine seeing loads of tennis action very close up. Many of the players were new to me but the better known included Bhagdatis, Nalbandian, Tsonga, Webley-Smith (Brit). It's amazing how close you get to them and 3 and half hours of great tennis and the wonderful Wimbledon atmosphere was a good reward for all that queueing. Yes, it would have been brilliant to have centre court tickets to see the Federer and Djovovic matches I could only hear the shouts for but I recommend taking all your good queueing skills and giving it a go next year.

Photos - where we started at 1.30 with a handy sign so you know you are in the right place!; the tent city; beautiful outside court; one to show just how close you can be; the backdrop of the wonderful centre court; and, an action shot of the brilliant Tsonga.
Exhausting work so that's all for this week!

Bye for now,



14 June 2011

London's largest roof top bar!

This week's highlights were a massive bar opening, a black cab tour and nosing around some beautiful private gardens - the usual great mix!

The Trafalgar Hotel (on Trafalgar Square of course) have revamped their rooftop bar and it is now the largest in London so they threw a brilliant party to celebrate its opening. The weather was a worry as it had rained on and off during the day but we were lucky and the clouds held off raining but gave us dramatic skies. The views over Trafalgar Square and toward the London Eye and Houses of Parliament are exceptional and add to that a great bar, lots of heaters, big umbrellas, a covered area with a second bar, it all adds up to a great venue. We were treated to champagne all night and a special performance by the lovely Beverley Knight in the stage/DJ area. Ice sculptures, dancers and fire throwers all added to the party atmosphere. What a great night!
Photos are: the ice sculpture; Trafalgar Square view; the outside and mobile bar!; Houses of Parliament and Big Ben; the London Eye and a gathering storm; Nelson's column almost at eye level; sunset over London; and, the lovely Beverley Knight - yes I was in the front of the crowd!

As a special treat for a great group of London bloggers, John the Cabby (as he's known on twitter @Johnthecabby) took us round his tour of London for a couple of hours. It's always fun travelling in a cab and John has his own commentary as we pass by the great sights of London. Given the combined knowledge in the cab (the other 4 are masterminds - Laura, Ian, Tom and Matt), John's challenge was to find something new to us all. He really excelled and even found a doorway which he'd not seen before - the entrance to a 17th prison just by Parliament! Thanks John for a brilliant morning!

Photos: yours truly pretending to be a cabby; the real thing!; and, the plaque giving the details of our new find.

It was Open Garden Squares Weekend so we set off with our trusty Oyster card and a £7.50 ticket giving us entry to every garden and tried to work our way through a list of gardens not normally open to the public. We strolled around: the residents' gardens by Regents Park with a famous underpass formerly used by posh nannies looking to get their charges to sleep; a tiny garden at the Academy Hotel; a Japanese roof top garden at the University of London; a strip of garden along a side street trying to make the most of a precious piece of inner city green; a perfect garden square in Bloomsbury; a tranquil oasis just by the Mall; the palatial lawns at Marlborough House (with a royal pet cemetery!) and, the spacious private gardens of Cadogan Place. The last one was our favourite and not just because they had a jazz band and were serving freshly made Pimms! We bare touched the surface of the list of 200+ gardens but felt we'd poked our noses into some new areas and seen loads of wonderful plants and expertly cared for gardens.

Photos are: The Academy Hotel garden; the Carlton House gardens; Marlborough House lawn and royal pet cemetery; and, the jazz tent at Cadogan Place.

Bye for now , Sue

7 June 2011

Fun in the sun at Somerset House

You may have heard already and it's true, we are having great weather this year in London and this spring has been the warmest and driest on record. Londoners really know how to make the most of any bit of sunshine and my trip to Somerset House last week gave me the chance to see a perfect example of this. That visit was topped with a trip to the theatre to take in a new play.

Somerset House is an amazing place, dating from 1801 and is most famous to Brits as where all the birth certificates were kept. It was also: the nation's Stamp Office where every newspaper was stamped before distribution; where the Royal Academy of Arts began; and, the home to various government offices. It still houses government departments but it is more famous for its wonderful courtyard (which was once just a car park!) and fountains, its restaurant, its exhibition and the events in the courtyard. Currently in the courtyard is an amazing exhibition by Ai Weiwei, the famous Chinese artist who was behind the Olympic Birdsnest stadium in Beijing and the Sunflower Seeds exhibition of 100 million pieces in the Tate Modern. Sadly at the moment he is in prison in China but his work speaks out for him. Here we have 12 massive bronze animal heads depicting the traditional Chinese zodiac called Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads. This is his first major outdoor exhibition in London and Somerset House's first outdoor modern sculpture display.

The day I went to see them was very warm and sunny so we could enjoy the heads while families enjoyed themselves running in and out of the fountains. People of all ages couldn't resist running through the changing fountains and the kids stripped off to their swimmers and there was no stopping them! We however enjoyed a light lunch at Tom's Kitchen within the main building and remained fully clothed!

Another good reason for visiting Somerset House is the Courtauld art gallery where you can view a wonderful collection ranging from some of the most famous impressionists and post impressionist work - Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, Degas - and some more modern pieces - Bacon, Hepworth and Nicholson - and many older pieces too - Ruebens and Brueghel. For a mere £4.50 entry to what is termed a small museum, you can treat yourself to a journey through some great art.

Photos are: a view of the full courtyard; various shots of the zodiac heads and people playing in the fountains.

This week's theatre trip was to see Butley at the Duchess Theatre, a piece by set in the world of academia in the 1970s. The undoubted star of the play was Dominic West, playing the once great professor whose decent into drink has lead him to rail against the world and those closest to him. We were treated to a question and answer session with the whole cast afterwards which was great as we were in the front row for this and I was reminded of my close up moment with Dominic West when he was at the Donmar so here's our photo!