Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Concert: Plácido Domingo

Of course, tonight's Plácido Domingo concert was coming from the Roundhouse. But it was part of the iTunes Festival, and tickets were allocated by ballot before I even heard about it, so getting one was impossible. Still, why bother, when it streamed free on iTunes, and you could listen to it in comfort, instead of traipsing all the way across town? (It also gave the representative from the Battersea Cats and Dogs Home a chance to doorstep me. Could they have chosen a more apt charity for me?)

So that's what I've been doing, and indeed, it's just finished. An hour and a half of songs we knew and songs we didn't, beautifully sung. Ladies in evening gowns and gents in tuxedos, in a venue more accustomed to rockers and jeans. Even Plácido's son (also Plácido) took part. A bit weird, seeing the audience standing at a classical concert. But a lovely idea, and a lovely way to spend the evening. And I have got things done tonight, while listening! V handy.

No such respite for the next few days. Tomorrow - Land of Our Fathers in Trafalgar Studios. Thursday - Breeders in the St. James Theatre. Can't link to it just now - there's some problem with the website! On Friday, it's Rudy's Rare Records in the Hackney Empire. And on Saturday, Sequence 8 at Sadler's Wells.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Play: Doctor Scroggy's War

I wasn't 100% sure about Doctor Scroggy's War when I was considering whether to go to it. It's about the First World War - and there's so much of that going around, and while I don't mind war as a theme, I was unsure what tone this would take. But it's in the Globe, which almost makes its subject matter redundant - it's such a great place to see a play! And the Time Out review was glowing - it remarked that the writer, Howard Brenton, is the only person who knows how to write for the Globe. Apart from Shakespeare, of course.

Cheapest non-restricted view tickets were available through my old friend, LoveTheatre. At £24 for a front row seat (not at the side), in the Lower Gallery (equivalent to the stalls), I wasn't complaining. It does get my goat, though, that they inflate the face value; I would've paid £41.50 through the official box office for that ticket, not the £46.10 LoveTheatre was quoting! Heavens, it's a good enough discount as it is - no need to gild the lily.

Interestingly, Google Maps was suggesting I get the Tube to Blackfriars and take a boat to the Globe - there's a pier right outside, conveniently. Well, that would've been the romantic, traditional way to arrive, and I definitely considered it - until I checked, and discovered that the fare (for a journey of one stop) was £6.10 one-way, £10.80 return! and that's with a discount for a PAYG Oyster card. Nah, don't think so. For a treat, it would be lovely, though. Google Maps also suggested that, if I were getting the Tube all the way to Mansion House, I could get the bus the rest of the way. Thinking of the approaching winter weather, doubtless.. I wonder whether their directions do change in winter!

Well, my answer as to whether I really need to hire a cushion in the Globe is now answered - I didn't have time to get one! I left in decent time, although could've cut it a bit less fine. Shortly, there was a Tube straight to town. All was well - for once - until we were held at St. James's Park - there was trouble at Blackfriars. Uh-oh. Someone on the track, it sounded like. All of a sudden, I predicted that I wasn't going to make it. I couldn't think of a viable alternative route - all I could do was stay on the train and read the paper. And hope.

Well, we were only held for about five minutes - they're quite used to this. And the rest of the journey was uneventful. I'd have missed that boat, mind. But we pulled in to Mansion House with just under ten minutes to spare for me to get to the Globe. At least I know the way! Take the exit to the left, marked with the Globe as one of the places you can get to from it. Turn right out of the station, cross the laneway, take the first right after that, and keep going across the bridge. Down the steps to the right, and head left a short distance along the waterfront. As I scurried along, wishing I could walk faster, I did wonder whether my lungs were gonna give out. Surprisingly, I made it without medical incident, and panted my way to the box office to collect my ticket - there's never very much fuss when the show is on the point of starting. I should know. Up the stairs, and flew straight through the door they were on the point of closing - I was lucky, they'd already closed the one beside it! I was taking my seat as the first actor came onstage.

Immediately immersed in the story, it took me quite a while to realise that this was the first event I've been to in the Globe after dark! The last time I was here, it was just getting dark by the end, and I mused that it would be lovely - if a bit chilly - to come to something at night. I was right - it's so intimate! The night was mild, and the light breeze was welcome after my mad dash (it's open to the elements). Mind you, it did turn chilly at the interval.

Well, this is the story of a plastic surgeon during WWI. Immediately, it establishes its comic credentials. Y'know, I'm doing an online course at the moment on the fight for Irish independence, and watching this first scene, you would wonder why they bothered. It's all jovial wisecracks and chaps in uniforms. Tea and cricket and cucumber sandwiches - that sort of thing. By the second scene, you see another side to British society, as the toffs appear and act unpleasant, and you cease to wonder anymore. Indeed, one of the themes of this play is the change in society between the beginning and end of the war. Pastimes become less frivolous, attitudes change, and people's cherished beliefs are turned on their heads. There's even an Irishman in it, who starts off keen to fight for Britain, but later decides to do his fighting in Dublin. Against Britain.

But now, that's not to say that this is a serious play - nor, indeed, a frivolous one. Maybe a serious play in lighthearted clothing. It's alternately hilarious and moving, and Doctor Scroggy himself plays a blinder - a natural comic actor. Really, it's very good, and highly recommended. When the percussion is imitating artillery fire, and all the actors are gazing skywards, you do yourself, half expecting to see rockets come in over the roof of the Globe. Four performances left - next Friday, Saturday, and Monday, and the following Friday. Go see! They had a collection afterwards for a charity for homes for disabled servicemen and women - I couldn't spare much change, but gave them a fistful of coppers, which greatly lightened my wallet! Oh, and the lack of cushion? Not a problem! I was plenty comfy without anything - which is good to know.

When I emerged, I was devastated that I didn't have a camera of any sort on me - my phone was at home, charging. I haven't come out of here in full darkness before, and the sight was riveting. St. Paul's looked as spectacular as I've seen it, huge and floodlit white against the dark, and Southwark Bridge's lights were a riot of colour, with the towers of the City in the background.

I was right, mind you - I predicted that I'd just miss the boat and wouldn't have taken the return trip in it (there's just one an hour at that time). Yep, I'd missed it by five minutes - just out of curiosity, I wouldn't have taken it anyway. I made my way back to Mansion House, and hopped on a Tube. Blackfriars was having quite a night - as we left the station, the driver announced that we wouldn't be stopping there (again, good job I didn't take the boat!) - Blackfriars station was closed, following a cable fire earlier. Indeed, as we passed through, the firemen could be seen lounging on the benches on the opposite side, swigging water. Danger over, I guess. And the rest of the journey was accompanied by nothing more eventful than a number of passengers swinging off the overhead rails. For something to do, I guess. Pity the poor City workers, probably just leaving work, though - on a long Tube journey home in their suits. Tsk.

Right then! For tomorrow night, I just got a ShowFilmFirst offer of a free ticket to a musical - in Fairfield Halls in Croydon again. But you know what? My original plan was to listen to the last night of the iTunes Festival - Plácido Domingo is singing at the Roundhouse, and it's being streamed live (and free). I think I'll stick to that plan - either is free, but this way I save myself a hefty trip. (All those ShowFilmFirst tickets are gone now anyway, I see.) And I can do chores that never get done.

For Wednesday and Thursday, I got Time Out offers (since expired, I'm afraid!) on theatre tickets. Wednesday is Land of Our Fathers, in Trafalgar Studios. About coal miners, stuck down a Welsh mine in 1979 - the title refers to the Welsh anthem. On Thursday, I'm off to Breeders - a comedy in the St. James Theatre, starring Angela Griffin and Tamzin Outhwaite as a lesbian couple who want the brother of one of them to inseminate the other, so they can have a child with the DNA of both.

At least they're closer to home - on Friday, however, I'm back to the Hackney Empire, to see Lenny Henry in Rudy's Rare Records, a comedy about the owner of a record shop. I got literally the last cheap seat in the house (there were three, but the others would have left single seats, apparently). Edge of the dress circle. And on Saturday, I'm off to the matinee of Sequence 8, a circus/dance performance at Sadler's Wells - and the very last day of it! Well, it's hard to get to everything.. cheapest seats are at the rear stalls.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Restaurant: White Hart

Went down to Guildford today - my usual monthly trip. An early start - but I went to bed on time for once, so it wasn't so bad: chilly at that hour, though. I made the Overground station at 7.35, arriving on the platform at the very moment that the delayed 7.27 train pulled in! I see, therefore, that the timetable has changed - I'm used to trains leaving at 7.40 and 7.50. Anyway, it was - catch this one, or wait for 21 minutes for the next. So I decided this one was a good train to catch.

The faces crushed up against the door were unnerving, as the train came to a stop. However, I'd forgotten how many people get off there - the train was actually nearly empty by the time we could get on. Well, not counting the people in seats! I mean, there was plenty of standing space. Definitely more space than I'm used to - taking an earlier train is delightful, from that point of view - if you can manage it. The train from Clapham Junction to Guildford was also uncrowded - a welcome change from the last time I took it, when I had to stand most of the way.

But the point of this post is lunch. We had a team lunch organised - which makes a nice change - in the White Hart. The car park was crowded - we ended up parked on the road outside. I've just eaten here once before - we had a Christmas lunch here a while ago. I remembered it as good. I was right. The menu includes pasta, pizza, Smorgasbords, salads, and a "Stove & Grill" section. I was torn between chicken and steak - the steak comes in three varieties, and you can have it with sauce, foie gras, or tiger prawns. In the end though, I went for the chicken..

..which must rank among the very best chicken I've ever had, if not the best! The chicken was succulent, with crispy skin, swimming in a gorgeous Gorgonzola sauce. If you searched, there were walnuts hidden in that sauce. And the potatoes Dauphinoise were packed into a little cake, and very moreish. My only regret was that we felt obliged to hurry back, and only had one course. Friendly service, too. Very highly recommended..

Well, it's back to Ireland for the weekend. On Monday, I've booked to go to the Globe again - hopefully the journey will be easier than my last outing! The show is Doctor Scroggy's War, and I got a terrific ticket deal with LoveTheatre - front row, lower gallery: they always have good seats. What beats me though is why they inflate the official price. My ticket was £24, they quote the official price as £46.10. It's not - it's £41.50, including booking fee! Honestly, why bother to exaggerate what's already a good deal?!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Play: Chicken Shop

I booked a ticket for Chicken Shop tonight, at the Park Theatre. I wouldn't have bothered booking, except that a website, A Younger Theatre, offered a discount code - CHICKEN - to use when booking on the venue website.

There are a couple of problems with going to something on the other side of the city. One is the length of the journey, another is the possibility of mishaps..

Anyhoo, I set off an hour before the play was due to begin (Google Maps predicted a journey time of about 40 mins). I took a Tube from West Brompton - I had a choice thereafter: I could stay on until Victoria and take the Victoria Line to Finsbury Park, or change at Earl's Court and take the Piccadilly Line to Finsbury Park. The platform indicator said that the next train was headed into town, which meant that either option was viable. Of course, the indicator was wrong, as usual - which meant I had to change at the next stop - Earl's Court - and my decision was made for me.

A Piccadilly Line train pulled in just as I got to the platform, which meant I was ahead of schedule. It was pretty crowded - I didn't get a seat until Russell Square, over halfway through my journey. Which is where the trouble started - although I doubt my taking a seat had anything to do with it. But you never know.

We were stopped for five minutes outside Russell Square station. The driver - as usual - had no idea why, except that there was a train on the platform ahead of us, and we needed to let it get out of the way first. Why it took so long to get out of the way remains a mystery. We eventually made it that far, then crawled to the next stop, King's Cross St Pancras.

We had quite a long stop there - but then, there is always a large number of people embarking and disembarking at that station, what with all the different Tube lines that pass through, and people going to and from the train stations. It was when it took us 15 mins to get to the next station, Caledonian Road - again, crawling through the tunnels, and with several people beginning to look irritated - that I realised I wasn't going to make it (to put it in perspective, the same trip between these two stations, in reverse, took 3 mins). There were three stations to go after Caledonian Road, to the one I wanted. Should've taken the Victoria Line, eh?

What the hey, I waited until Finsbury Park, just to see how long it would take. We made it at 7.50 - five minutes after the play started, and fully 65 minutes after I left home. I exited the station for the sake of it, so as not to confuse my Oyster card reading with an "incomplete journey". As I left the station, I watched a quartet of TFL workers push a broken-down bus down the road, to the amusement of the passers-by. Gee, TFL just wasn't having a good evening, eh?

Well, when the fun was over, I touched back in again with my card. It's just a reader on the wall - there are no barriers here. It registered, but I thought it said "EXIT" again, instead of "ENTRANCE". I wasn't sure though, and carried on. Sure enough, when I finally got home (after 45 mins - 20 mins less than the outbound journey), I do believe I was charged maximum fare when I touched out. Which is what happens when there's an incomplete journey. I guess, with me touching out and in again so quickly, it thought I'd tapped twice by accident. Great. As soon as it registers on the website, I'll have to contact them and explain. If I'd gone through the open gate without touching out, I'd have gone for free, and not have to explain anything. Sometimes crime pays..

For tomorrow, the African Music Festival (whose website is very confusing, I might add) is throwing up something interesting. I've never heard of Debra Debs before - but I don't generally move in soul circles. She sounds really good. Only thing is - it's in Shoreditch. And after tonight.. and given that I have an early start the next morning (I'm in Guildford)... Plus, for this kind of music, I don't think it pays to arrive stressed. We'll see, but I just don't think it's gonna fly. Might just stay home instead and listen to her online. Sadly, I'm then in Ireland for the weekend, so I'll miss the rest of the festival..

Monday, 22 September 2014

Film: Night Will Fall

The phrase "night will fall" - as we discover in the film of the same name - comes from a document whose author states that "unless the world learns the lesson these pictures teach, night will fall". In short, after WWII, Alfred Hitchcock was called in to edit a film of documentary footage of the liberation of the concentration camps. The film was never ultimately finished, and was shelved and forgotten - until someone discovered the footage in the 90s. The Imperial War Museum restored it, and this film is a documentary about it. So, a documentary about a documentary - incorporating much of the original documentary, and shedding light on why it was deliberately forgotten.

It's a BFI presentation, but showing at many cinemas around town - the nearest to me is the Vue Piccadilly, which also had the earliest showing I could make: always handy! So I headed in after work - accompanied as far as Piccadilly Circus by Helen, who was on her way to the British Museum - they were doing a members' evening. Anyhoo, it's a while since I was at this cinema, and I needed to look up directions. The Streetview image was useful, but there was no problem - directly across from the right-hand ticket barriers is the Regent Street exit; this brings you out at the top of Regent Street, and all you have to do is cross the road and walk a short distance to the left.

There was nobody on duty at street level, so I had to head downstairs to buy my ticket. I do have a Vue voucher, but - as I explained to him - wasn't sure I could use it there. He checked, and confirmed I couldn't. However, he was good enough to give me a student rate! which gave me a bigger discount than the voucher would..

I was first into the screen. I sat where I liked - in the end, there were just about six of us, and seating was not an issue. The seats are fabulously plush - I had to check I wasn't in the premier row, but no - they're all like that! Mind you, although the seat backs do recline, they're on a spring, and the fulcrum seemed to be too high up the back - I would've liked more lower back support. Never mind, they were quite comfy! Among the trailers was a scary, new one for Annabelle. Looking forward to that..

Right, back to tonight's film. We all remember the footage we've seen - emaciated prisoners, striped uniforms, mass graves, war trials. What was unique about the footage used in this documentary is how intimate and up-close it is - as is explained, this was very unusual for war footage. Untrained soldiers were given cameras and told to shoot what they could to prove that this really happened. Indeed, as is explained, Russian soldiers had already come across such camps in Poland, but had a history of exaggeration and weren't believed - until the same were found in Germany. The film-makers aimed to make a work of art that told an important story.

But then - events overtook them. It was taking too long.. the Americans produced a shorter, quicker, more sensationalist film, "Death Mills". Besides, the emphasis now was on helping the Germans to recover, not lecturing them. Plus, the flood of refugees heading for Palestine was a worry, and the British government didn't want to back anything that could encourage support for them..

Original, restored, footage is added to by later interviews with participants, right up to the present-day interviews with camp survivors. The images are truly moving - and unlike many a documentary I could mention, this one deserves its high rating. Not just a rating on the basis of subject matter, this is a true rating of the quality of the film.

I must note my trip to the toilet on the way out - the first cubicle in the ladies' was in a terrible state, the seat smeared with excrement. "Tell a staff member", the sign says - pity there weren't any about. The handy Tesco Express next door provided me with a pizza for dinner, and other essential grocery items. For tomorrow, I've booked a ticket for a play called Chicken Shop. It's a bit of a slog up to the Park Theatre, but it sounds good, and I did get a discount code (CHICKEN) for full-price tickets, from a website called A Younger Theatre.

Open House (Brompton Cemetery)

Yes, I did get to Open House London yesterday! Oh, I was so diligent. I spent so long researching the hundreds of properties available to view. I narrowed it down by area, figuring I'd start with those in walking distance and move into town. It took ages.


How many did I get to see? One. Brompton Cemetery, five minutes walk from home.

Well, y'see, there was a guided tour at 2 - which I was keen to go on. I knew there were stories associated with this graveyard, and really needed a guide to tell me them. The tour started outside the chapel - which was interesting in itself, I've never been in there before. As I waited in the chapel, and checked my emails, they were handing out questionnaires about a new development they're planning in the cemetery. A cafe, children's play area and the like.

A Royal Parks representative actually accompanied us on the walk, arms full of questionnaires and information leaflets. The tour guide, however - an official London guide - was a little late. He announced himself, then took off at a gallop down a side path.

When we caught up with him, he explained that, if we were to cover everything, we'd need to move fast - there are 40 acres. What followed was the most fascinating and engaging tour I've ever been on, led by the most enthusiastic guide. With an obvious love, and encyclopaedic knowledge, of his subject, he regaled us with facts, figures, and anecdotes. We learned how the cemetery contains 35,000 monuments, how 215,000 people are buried there, how it's still a working cemetery, wih an average of one burial per week. This compares with the average in Victorian times of 17 per day - on one fateful day, there were 32! We also learned how the number of listed monuments in the cemetery has recently increased from 1 to 28. They keep pushing for more to be included.. (Listing means that English Heritage has to cover the cost of repairs to damage incurred after the listing. Not that they're quick to get around to it..)

We duly tore around to various parts of the cemetery, stopping at various monuments that the guide had stories about. Not only was he a treasure trove of information, but he was egged on by enthusiastic tour participants, who kept asking interesting questions and probing into areas that, as he said, he could go into, but we'd be there all night.. We stopped at the graves of people with interesting stories, we stopped at graves that were architecturally interesting. We went down overgrown side paths, and down the main avenue. Interesting sights there included the family walking their cocker spaniel. We had to make room for them to pass on the main avenue. Next time we saaw them, we were on a side path - and the little girl had climbed onto her skateboard, and was being towed by the cocker spaniel. At speed. Five minutes later, they passed in the other direction, the dog still towing. At speed. A 1-dog-power skateboard..

We climbed onto the terrace - specifically for dog walkers, it offers an elevated view of the cemetery. There, the guide kicked at some undergrowth to show us the edge of a grave that belonged to the founder of the Victoria and Albert museum - the most unassuming grave in the whole place - completely overgrown and invisible! Some more tales attached to photos, posted here.

At 10 past 4, he asked us how we were doing. Some people dropped away, but most were still going strong, so he said he's keep going for another hour (the Open House ended at the cemetery at 5). When he asked for the time again (he doesn't wear a watch), it was 5.15! He peered up the avenue towards the chapel - the doors were locked. Oh dear, he'd left his coat in there. He checked his pocket - no, he had his keys, that was all right then. He could keep going. And so he did!

Most people had fallen away at this point - including the Royal Parks representative. He didn't mind, he was having a ball! So were we, although it was exhausting. When he finally finished, at 6.30, we'd been going for 4.5 hours. And were shattered. I checked my list - yep, everything else was closed by then that I might have gone to. Hey-ho.. that's the second year in a row I haven't got to St. Cuthbert's! And it within walking distance, tsk. Well, one of these years..!

Tonight, I might have gone to a play called My Night with Reg, but it was completely sold out. So a film it is - after eliminating a football documentary, I'm left with Dark Will Fall - a film of documentary footage, shot by war correspondants, of concentration camps liberated at the end of the Second World War. Among those who worked on it was Alfred Hitchcock. Thought too controversial for release at the time, it was shelved and rediscovered in the 90s. Restored by the BFI, the closest to me (and earliest) showing is at the Vue Piccadilly.

Tomorrow, I am off to a play - a different one though, called Chicken Shop. Showing at the Park Theatre (oh Lord, up there again!), best price is available on the venue website - code CHICKEN gets you a discount on full price tickets (found this code on a website I haven't heard of before - A Younger Theatre).

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Concert: Cabaret Songs

ShowFilmFirst played a (non-film) blinder this week, sending me a mail full of events I could get a free ticket for. Well, this evening's was the second I booked - a concert called Cabaret Songs. It was showing in King's Place, which turned out to be a short walk from King's Cross Station. So off I headed today, after a lazy afternoon.

Google Maps predicted I could make the journey in 38 minutes - so, of course, it took about 50. Mind you, it didn't help that I got completely lost upon exiting the station. Turned out I could have gone a shorter way - according to the map on the back of the ticket, when I eventually got it - but I'm just not familiar with the area. Anyway, I did find the right road in due course. I was passed by a woman, trotting in a hurried manner in the same direction and brandishing a piece of paper. Ah, I thought, that looks like the self-same ShowFilmFirst confirmation I have myself. (You need to print them out, the box office needs them.) This was to prove very useful, as I just followed her.

The venue is a large, multi-purpose space. The box office is just inside the door, which makes it easy to find. Unfortunately, the hall itself isn't. Tip: the concert halls are down the escalators. I learned this by, again, following the lady. As I approached the escalators, I could see signs for the concerts showing today. Great - pity they don't have a large sign saying something like "Concert Halls Downstairs"!

When you get downstairs, it suddenly becomes easy. The lady and her companion were seated beside me, and we all made it with two minutes to spare - not that there weren't latecomers after us. The venue is modern, the seats comfortable enough - although by the end, I was wriggling. And the concert was only about 45 minutes long! Ironic that the journey there took longer than the concert itself..

So, the soprano in this concert is a music student, and I'm guessing this concert is part of her coursework. Or maybe they just take every opportunity to perform, and the colleges facilitate them as they can. The pianist is a student, too. The soprano's nervousness was apparent - rapid breathing, and a fluttering in the tummy area. It didn't affect her performance, though. I wouldn't have chosen to listen to such music, but her singing was spectacular, and she sang most expressively. Pity I didn't understand more - it was all in German and mine isn't up to it. Anyway, I wish her well in her career.

As I exited, I noticed water around the back..

Turns out that King's Place backs onto Regent's Canal, which is full of houseboats - the cheapest (decent) accommodation in London. The London Canal Museum is just across the water. Also living on the river are a number of (hungry-looking) swans, which swam over hopefully as I took my picture. There's seating at the back of King's Place, overlooking the water - making this a most pleasant place to spend a sunny day!

Today, as you may be able to tell from the photo, was not such a sunny day. However, I'd have eaten in the café in King's Place, had I not had food at home that needed to be eaten before it went off. Ah well.

This weekend is Open House weekend in London, so that's likely to occupy me tomorrow. This is when they open many buildings to the public that are not commonly available to view. I'll probably do as before, and stick to the centre - there are quite enough venues there to keep me busy! Indeed, this evening will be busy, researching where I want to go..

Friday, 19 September 2014

Opera: Otello

As I mentioned in my last post, I wasn't sure about going to see Otello - until I saw a trailer, and was blown away by the music. So that was that. I did an online search for tickets, and found the best value with LoveTheatre - not only that, but I'd get to sit in the Upper Circle; a level lower than I've ever been before in the Coliseum.

So when drinks were suggested this evening after work, sadly, I had to decline - I just wouldn't have had time. I had to run home first with groceries, and changed to slightly posher clothes, and off I went. Astonishingly, the platform indicator in my local station was actually working, for once. I had a choice of routes - Tube to either Piccadilly Circus or Embankment, and walk. I wouldn't have to change to get to Embankment, so that's the route I took. Pity about the guy who sat beside me - one of those with a need to free their elbows, you know! So I had an elbow leaning on me most of the way. Could be worse.

There are few things more pleasurable than walking through the West End on a balmy, sunny evening, with crowds spilling out of the pubs, and everyone en route to a good time. I had printed out my ticket confirmation, which is always handy when the box office is busy - they then don't feel the need to ask you for identification, and everyone has an easier time. Interestingly, I discovered that face value of my (£23.40) ticket was £39. They'd said something about £45 on the website. What the hey, it's a saving anyway, and the cheapest I could get!

Now, I'd forgotten that the Coliseum balcony - where, remember, I'd always been before - has entry via the back stairs. Anyway, for the Upper Circle, I could take the main staircase. Already better! Fewer stairs too, of course. I got there with just ten minutes to spare, so didn't bother with a drink and just took my seat. Sure enough, there isn't such a drop as on the balcony, which makes it easier for anyone with phobias of a height-related nature. Also, I was towards the outer end of the row - and they do provide rails at the walls, although not down the centre. The most noticeable thing about Upper Circle seating is the considerable overhang from the balcony. You can certainly see how steep the balcony is, from the angle! When I was standing at my seat, which was third row from the back, I couldn't see the surtitles - I wonder whether the last row had problems. Final observation - the seats on the balcony are very comfortable, but the Upper Circle seats are even better - much more padding! Legroom is decent.

The guy beside me was eating a McDonald's wrap, of all things. Honestly! Mind you, as soon as the lights went down, he and his companion switched to better seats. There was a lot of that - the back of the Upper Circle was practically empty. There were three intervals - one major, two minor - and after the main one, everyone in front of me had moved! which left me with a terrific view - I wasn't complaining.

It was nice to be close enough that you could practically see facial expressions. This was also the first time I could actually see the orchestra. And what a show I was in for.. the stage is quite large. It needs to be, to accommodate the whole company. There must have been a hundred people onstage at parts. I already knew the music was spectacular - let me tell you, when the whole company is belting it out - even in the Upper Circle, you sit back in your seat in shock! The reviews were right - the singing is terrific. The singer portraying Desdemona has a voice so strong that you could literally imagine the notes shattering glass.

The stage is quite sparse. Lighting is used brilliantly, with low lighting creating ominous areas of light and dark, and throwing looming shadows on the wall. The performance is in English, but the surtitles are useful, since it can be difficult to pick put words in this kind of singing, and also for when people are singing different arias in tandem.

The reviews mention that this production lacks intimacy: true, but it works, I think. This is an opera on epic scale. If you love opera, you will love this. Go see. Runs until the 17th. As evidenced, shopping around is probably worth your while - although, on the night, the box office was selling tickets that might not have been available on the website. Cheaper than the lowest official price. Mind you, still more expensive than mine!

For tomorrow, I have a free ticket - courtesy of ShowFilmFirst - to a concert called Cabaret Songs. Could be interesting - I'm up for it!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Film: Kraftidioten (In Order of Disappearance)

In looking for a film for tonight, I rejected two documentaries at the top of the list. That's not to say I have stopped going to documentaries - just that these didn't float my boat. One, Ballet Boys, is about three young male ballet hopefuls; the other, Letters Home (2006) is about a series of letters written by a suicidal young woman to her mother. Both showing at the ICA, if you're interested.

Instead, I went to Kraftidioten (In Order of Disappearance) - a Norwegian thriller, starring the ever reliable Stellan Skarsgard as a father who goes on a murderous revenge spree following his son's murder. The closest place it's showing is the Curzon Victoria - horrendously expensive, but close is good. I chose the early showing, and left straight from work. After an extremely sweaty Tube ride, I ploughed through the crowds at Victoria, and had to queue for a ticket - but the trailers were still showing when I got there. There were five other people at the screening, and I decided on a different seat to the one I'd chosen. Took one of the double seats at the back - plenty of room for my stuff.

This is a thriller with occasional, pitch-black, humour, set in a, well - snow-white landscape, somewhere in northern Norway. And the scenery is spectacular. I shivered, the depiction of cold is so effective - it's all howling winds, snowdrifts, and people wrapping up to go outside. Tough folks, up there - which must be why Stellan Skarsgard, a mild-mannered snowplough driver who's just won Citizen of the Year - transforms into Bruce Willis when provoked. They keep mentioning Fargo in relation to this, and I can see their point - inept cops, in a barren landscape, way over their heads with drug dealers - but Fargo is much more lighthearted. This, on the other hand, is extremely violent in parts. The title refers to all the people that get killed - emphasised onscreen by a black frame, with the man's name topped with a cross, or other religious symbol.

It is entertaining, but be warned about the violence.

For tomorrow night, I'm delighted to have scored a good deal on a ticket to the opening night of Verdi's Otello, showing at the Coliseum (the largest theatre in London, and home of the ENO, rather than Covent Garden, which is actually the home of the Royal Ballet!) I was dithering, until I watched the trailer and was won over by the spectacular music. LoveTheatre (via UkTheatreTickets) turned out to be the best value I could find.. cheapest on the official website were £30, Viagogo advertised tickets for about £21, which rose to over £25 by the time booking fees were applied (and I had a bad experience before with them anyway), and What'sOnStage would have given me one for £23.99. But LoveTheatre obligingly sold me one for £23.40, no booking fees, my experience with them has always been excellent.. and what's more, for that, I get a seat in the Upper Circle, one level lower than the balcony, where I've always been before! Result! It's worth it for not having to climb so many stairs, alone.. the Coliseum is terrible for them!

Remember how ShowFilmFirst sent me an email with offers of free tickets to six events? Well, I didn't just book last night's event - I also booked a ticket with them for a concert called Cabaret Songs on Saturday. Can't seem to find any information on it now - shall just have to rock up and see what the story is..

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Dance: New Adventures Choreographer Award Showcase

Ah yes, I do like to surprise, eh? There I was, all set to go see Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, showing for free at The Scoop.. and ShowFilmFirst sends me a mail with offers of free tickets to no fewer than six (!) events. One was showing this evening and tomorrow, but tomorrow's ticket allocation was all gone. So it was that, instead of the Scoop, I ended up taking a comfortable seat (indoors) at the New Adventures Choreographer Award Showcase. Not that I knew - in advance - what it was: but it's dance, which I haven't been to for a while, and it has Matthew Bourne attached to it. Now, I saw his production of Sleeping Beauty last year - and let's just say it left enough of an impression that I was gagging to get to something that he was involved in. Ah well, that's it for the Scoop for another year - I've seen all the other films they're showing this month.

Well, this show takes place in Hackney - which in itself is interesting; I've never been before! Google Maps assured me that the Hackney Empire is a short walk from Hackney Central Station, on the Overground line. The journey would take about an hour, and as luck would have it, a train left just before I arrived on the platform. (Interestingly, the Overground gates were open today at the station - I'm not used to that, and failed to take that route. Will check in future - it saves a few steps.)

So I had a 15 minute wait for the train that, mind you, was still the one before the last I could get and still be on time. Well, when it arrived, the last door was far too crammed to crush into. I investigated the second last door, and found that, if I squeezed sideways, I could get in. So that's what I did. A train this packed presents an interesting phenomenon. I mean, I don't often have to endure this, so I'm probably less irritated by it than I would be if it were a daily phenomenon for me. But I did have just about enough space that my lungs expanded as necessary, and falling over certainly wasn't an option - there wasn't the room.

Enough people got off at Shepherds Bush that I could move down the carriage, and so it was that I found myself standing beside three middle aged, Irish guys. When two of them got off at Willesden Junction, I finally got a seat - the train was much emptier now. BTW, I overheard one of them say that his biopsy results weren't good - I hope things go ok for him. After an eternity, I disembarked at Hackney Central. Google Maps indicated that I should turn right, head under the bridge, and the Hackney Empire was just up the road (on the right). So it was. Mind you, you still need to check whether you're in the right queue - there are different ones depending on whether you're buying or collecting..

The building is magnificent - a Grade II* listed building, apparently. I had a stalls seat:

The opulence of the Hackney Empire

Caroline Lynch's photo.
The people in front of me were wondering about programs, but none were in evidence, so we went into the show blind. I knew there were to be three pieces. The first was magnificent, and appeared to be about something organic (at a guess). The music was also very well chosen. Afterwards, Matthew Bourne himself made a bit of a speech, and we found out a bit more. Seems that, when he turned 50, his friends decided to make an award available in his name - he could do with it what he chose. Well, as he said, it had to be choreography. So he funded this New Adventures group for young dancers and choreographers, and every second year they give an award for choreography, and the winner gets to have their work premiered in public. Ta-da! That's what we were seeing tonight. Matthew Bourne, by the way, spent the rest of the evening chatting to the crowd, and was seated right in front of me. Yes, I did consider asking for an autograph. No, I didn't do it..
John Ross was this year's winner. Remember the name - because he's fantastic. Really, it's this kind of thing that reminds me why I love living here. In very few places could you expect to see this level of talent - and by accident, yet! That first piece was called "Eclipse", and depicts the Chinese legend of the sun being swallowed during an eclipse. The second, "Wolf Pack", is about a group of lads out on the town. The third, "Little Sheep", takes as its subject the riots of 2011. Includes some Cameron-bashing. All three are vital and visceral, accompanied by a thumping soundtrack, and with a coherent and topical message to convey.
Really, wonderful stuff. On again tomorrow night - plenty of seats. Go see.
For tomorrow, at the moment, it's looking like film. Having eliminated two documentaries in which, I'm sorry, I have little or no interest - I come up with In Order of Disappearance - a Norwegian thriller in which Stellan Skarsgard plays a fellow after revenge when his son is murdered. 'Sposed to be really good. Pity it's in the (expensive) Curzon Victoria!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Play: Eye of a Needle

Eye of a Needle has been getting a lot of publicity lately. I'd have gone to see it last week, but wasn't feeling well the night I'd planned to go. When I checked for this week, I discovered a Living Social offer for tickets - £10 instead of £18 regular price - starting tonight. Yes, sometimes it does pay to join these things. So tonight it was, at last!

Southwark Playhouse was the venue. I've been here a couple of times before, and it's not bad to get to, when you know how - Tube to Elephant & Castle, take the university exit, and when you get outside, turn left onto Newington Causeway. It's just past the bridge, on the right. Takes about 45 minutes from my place. Mind you, the outside sign was off when I arrived, but all was as normal inside.

This play is showing in "The Little" - there's also a "large" theatre. In both, seating is unreserved. It wasn't quite full, but very nearly - booking might not be necessary (not on a Tuesday night at least!) but arriving early is advisable. People arriving after me had great trouble finding seats, particularly if they wanted to sit together. Seating is on (upholstered) benches - comfy enough, and with back support, but snug, as we were crammed together. Note: the plastic seats in the centre of the room are props. Just in case you're tempted!

Well now, this is a play set in a London immigration office. Given that information, and the title, you can tell immediately which side the author takes. UKIP would hate it. We have five characters, all brilliantly portrayed. Two are immigration officials - the older, cynical, world-weary manager and the younger, floppy-haired, fellow working for him and somewhat overwhelmed. Then there's the hardworking young lawyer who represents asylum seekers, and two black Jamaicans, fleeing persecution for homosexuality back home; one intelligent and articulate, the other less so.

The set is sparse and grubby. Rows of plastic chairs fill the centre of the stage - symbolically, the actors spend a substantial portion of their time weaving around them, rather than using them. A row of decrepit phones lines a wall, underneath which are piles and piles of paper, in no apparent order. Standard civil service, then. The young immigration official is intermittently hilarious at the beginning, as he struggles to keep up appearances while nursing a hangover, and generally wishes he were somewhere else. His boss is generally lenient. The lawyer is infuriated by the system, and appalled at the young official's lack of professionalism. The asylum seekers are, respectively, nervous and irritated.

But by the end of the play, you'll have changed your opinion of every character - for better or worse. The acting is terrific, the drama unfolds viscerally, and the play touches on many aspects of the immigration process - which, needless to say, doesn't come out of this terribly well. It's a damning indictment of a system that forces people to such lengths - on both sides. Compelling viewing - ends Saturday, so hurry!

The Scoop, that free venue I'm so fond of, runs films in September. This year, the only one on the program that I haven't seen is Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - showing tomorrow. So I think I'll mosey along to that, get a seat if I can..

Monday, 15 September 2014

Film: Pride

It's a funny thing about Indian film. I've mentioned before how so many Indian films are over-rated (in terms of IMDB ratings, anyhow), and someone seems to be listening to me. Because it's a long time now since I've been to an Indian film - and this is because of the ratings. Case in point: Finding Fanny, an Indian rom-com. When I looked up the rating on Thursday, it was at 7.8 - then shot up to 8.5! By Sunday, however, it was down to 6.8, and I see today it's down even further, to 6.6. Hardly likely to trouble me, then.

Considering the other films on my list, eliminating One Night In Istanbul - a soccer comedy: sorry, just not interested: a jump in ratings for Pride meant that was the highest on my list for tonight, so that's what I went to. Pity the ShowFilmFirst tickets to a free preview of this were sold out - as usual - by the time I got to them. Never mind - I did remember, despite it being a long time since I've been to a Vue cinema - that I had a voucher. So, not free,, but I did get a discount. Also, seeing as it was showing in my local Vue, I could combine my trip with one to the sorting office, to pick up a parcel.

It was a pleasant stroll, and I was in no hurry, for once, to get to the cinema, having come early to catch them at the sorting office. I got a replacement voucher at the till, and chose a seat that turned out to be in about the best spot. I fancied some Crunchie Rocks, despite the exorbitant price for what turned out to be a small quantity of chocolate. I was very early, and although I had been assured that the screen was open and I could go in, I think I startled the staff member who later came to clean it! Anyway, I enjoyed playing with my parcel while I waited for the film to start.

There weren't many at the screening - mind you, it was a Monday. The story is based on the real-life miners' strike of 1984, when Thatcher determined to close the mines and unilaterally destroy the livelihoods of entire communities. As she is shown to say during a tv interview, "One is not a softie". This film, in particular, concerns itself with the true story of a London lesbian/gay group that fundraises for a particular Welsh village of striking miners, feeling solidarity with them on the subject of police persecution.

Now, I read a review of this film that said it was terrific, apart from the failure of Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton - who play committee members in this village - to master a Welsh accent. I can't say their accents were terrible - personally, I heard nothing wrong with them at all: although, of course, I'm not Welsh! What I did find was, indeed, a terrific film - warm, laugh-out-loud funny, with plenty of comic opportunities in the descent of openly gay Londoners on a small Welsh village. Never descending into caricature, the characters are warm and well developed, and the film is genuinely moving. Andrew Scott, who plays the voice of the Irish employee in Locke (a film with one character on-screen and many on the phone), here plays the owner of a gay bookshop in London, but originally from Wales, who helps the group in their quest. Paddy Considine is another Welsh committee member.

A really lovely film - go see. And oh! the eighties soundtrack is terrific. Really, music hasn't been the same since..

Tomorrow, I'm off to Eye of a Needle, showing at the Southwark Playhouse. It's a play - a comedy - about immigration, supposed to be good. You might recall me mentioning it last week - I'd have gone, but wasn't feeling the best that night. Again, I might have gone tonight, but found a Living Social deal for tickets at just over half price, valid from tomorrow night. Hence my scheduling! And on Wednesday, I'm going to try to make the Scoop in time to get a seat for Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. (Weather permitting.) See, they show free films throughout September, and this is about the only one of them I haven't seen!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Film: What If

So, last night I decided to go to the pictures, and when I trawled through that enormous film list of mine, I discovered that I could delete about 50 films from the top of the list, that weren't showing for the rest of the week! Not at times that suited, anyway.

This left me with.. What If. Now, I was a bit dubious about this. It's a rom-com with Daniel Radcliffe, and I remember him appearing on a talk show recently to promote it, and looking very, very awkward. But anyway, I said I'd go.

The nearest place showing it was the Odeon Kensington, so I had a vigorous walk there yesterday evening. Ah, it was nice to get out again - I haven't been out since Sunday! It's also a while since I've been up this way. The door to the self-service machine lobby was locked, it being past 9, so I entered the main foyer, and bought my ticket from a human. They might have improved their customer service, because it was no time before someone came to tear my ticket - v unusual for this venue. He mentioned that the standard seats were the first three rows, or the back row.

He could've saved some time by telling me to just not sit in the fourth row, which was the premier row - this screen only has five rows altogether! Anyhow, the third row was just fine. Interestingly, the trailers included one for Horns, a horror film to be released at Hallowe'en, also starring Daniel Radcliffe. Hmm - Harry Potter as the devil, following Harry Potter as the romantic hero. You don't think they might be trying a bit too hard to find a new niche for him?

Now, I came very close to walking out during the first scene - mainly because it features Daniel heavily, as you would expect - also because it seemed as though this was going to be ridden with rom-com cliches. Sorry Daniel, I just don't buy you as a leading man, I think. You're just too awkward. I know this character is supposed to be shy and retiring, but - does he have to be cringeworthy?

Daniel Radcliffe, for me, is lacking something - charisma, maybe. I didn't buy him as a romantic lead, and I groaned inwardly when he attempted comedy. Stiil n all, I'm glad I decided that one scene in was too early to make up my mind - because everything else about the film is rather good! It's got a cool soundtrack, I liked all the other characters - the female lead is cute and quirky, the guy who plays her cousin has a knack for comedy. Even the female lead's boyfriend, Daniel's love rival, is a likeable soul, but one whom you could learn to despise. The film even has an international element - it's set in Toronto (ooh, a film made in Canada that admits it was made in Canada! how rare) but the boyfriend conveniently gets a job transfer to Dublin, allowing Daniel and the girl to get closer. But then she goes to visit the boyfriend to try to rekindle their relationship, so we get that international bit. Oh, and Daniel's character is downplayed a bit. So I quite enjoyed most of the film.

Except the last scene, which has a bit more of Daniel in it again than I would've liked. Nah, I don't think he'll be winning me over any time soon. Hey-ho, good luck to him.

Well, I could go out tonight - or I could stay in and wash my hair, which is sounding more attractive. I'm back in Ireland for the weekend, and for Monday, it's looking like a film again. Luckily, the film list for next week is waay less - full - than this week's, so I've done it already, and after I reject a documentary about Donald Trump, I have a choice of three for Monday: Finding Fanny - an Indian rom-com, In Order of Disappearance - a Norwegian thriller, and One Night in Istanbul, a comedy about British soccer fans abroad.

And would you believe, in the few hours between checking those ratings and checking the links again to add here, the ratings for two of those three have shifted! Now that's fast.. Right then, it's looking like Finding Fanny for Monday. For the moment..

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Tourist London - Part 3 (Sunday)

No buses to research on Sunday - I'd done that already and the route hadn't changed. My guests were flying out of Stansted at 5, and we had decided they'd take the Stansted Express from Liverpool Street Station. Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane are within walking distance from there, so we had a rough plan to explore in that direction.

We took the #11 bus - one of the best for sightseeing - from Victoria to Liverpool Street, the end of the line. The bus was one of the heritage Routemaster, old-style buses that run on some routes, with access from any door if you have Oyster, and two sets of stairs leading upstairs. You can also hop on and off between stops - not that we needed to. The journey was fun, passing many landmarks..

St. Paul's in the distance

St. Paul's. Impossible to get a good shot here, the streets are so narrow.

The Bank of England  

We arrived at Liverpool Street and deposited their bags at the Left Luggage office beside Platform 10. We had three hours for the basic price. We bought their train tickets - not an easy job, considering the queue at the ticket office, and that of the four ticket machines for the Stansted Express, three were out of order - and they only take cards. Then we returned their Oyster cards, and we were off.

 The Gherkin, on the left
Spitalfields was just a couple of minutes walk away, and we spent a lovely time browsing the stalls, and buying a couple of things. For lunch, we ate at the market - we had been thinking of Brick Lane, but were enjoying the atmosphere, and stayed where we were. We ate at Gourmet Burger Kitchen, and ate heartily indeed, unable to finish what we'd ordered. A trip to Montezuma's chocolate shop completed our visit, and as we exited, we came across a concert in progress under an awning at the entrance, and we stopped for a while to listen before I put them on the train.

A quiet evening ensued, and I've spent most of my time since trawling through the new film lists - a process I only finished last night! I didn't bother going out last night.. For tonight, I see Autobahn is showing, in the King's Head in Islington. This is a series of short plays, each featuring two characters sitting in the front of a car, and I heartily recommend it. However, I saw it some years back at the Galway Arts Festival, and frankly they staged it in a way I think can't be beaten. They stationed four cars in front of the theatre, and two or three audience members at a time got into the back seat of each car, then the actors got in the front. When each play ended, the audience members got out and went to the next car. Now, you can't beat that for intimacy - a play happening in the front seats while you eavesdrop from the back! So I'll skip this production - although the King's Head is a nice venue, and I do recommend it. Alternatively, there's Eye of a Needle, at the Southwark Playhouse. Sounds good.. but confidentially, I might stay in tonight too! I need to get my head together..

Tourist London, Part 2 (Saturday)

Saturday dawned with work to be done, as our plans had changed and, with District and Circle lines out of action, I had to research bus routes. They wanted to go to Harrod's, I wanted them to see the V&A, and it turned out they're only ten minutes walk apart, so that was a perfect pairing! Just take the Cromwell Road exit from the V&A and turn left. Initially, I discovered we could take the Victoria line, followed by the Piccadilly line, to South Kensington for the V&A, so that's what we agreed to do, and I met them at Victoria Tube Station. After a bus ride (the C1) that, ironically, took me right past the V&A and Harrod's. Ah well.

My guests declared they'd slept very well, that the hotel was comfortable and quiet - and despite only continental breakfast being available at the weekends, they were delighted with the selection. Enchanted by the hotel overall, in fact!

The Tube was about as packed as I've seen it - all the tourists diverting from District and Circle, of course. So we had a crammed ride, but fortunately not many stops. Again, I say, if it's crammed, head for either end of the platform, so as to board the very front or back of the train - it's less crowded there.

We disembarked at South Ken, and took the subway to the V&A, passing the obligatory busker, who was blaring out jazz. Had a lovely stroll around the V&A - photos here. It's a gorgeous museum of art and design, with a statue hall at the subway entrance, and highlights including a large jewellery gallery and an enchanting gallery of stained glass and religious metalwork. We were also particularly taken by the silver gallery, and my guests were delighted by the central garden, with its feature pond, and people sitting around, eating ice cream and having drinks from the stall, and children paddling in the pond. We agreed that this is a most liveable city. If you can handle the rent/mortgage..

By the time we left, we were getting hungry, but the museum cafe was packed and we decided to search further. On the way to Harrod's, we passed a pub called the Bunch of Grapes, and since pubs generally do food, we said we'd give it a try. It turned out to be an excellent lunching spot - not too busy, reasonably priced, good service, and delicious food. I was boring and had the hunter's chicken again (obviously an English pub lunch staple), and my guests had traditional fish n chips.

Saturday afternoon was primarily given over to shopping. After lunch, we detoured to a nearby souvenir shop, then it was Harrod's turn. It was as crowded as ever, of course, and impossible to navigate. Bears, as ever, featured heavily. We did make a point of visiting the shrine to Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, the former owner's son, who was going out with her when they were killed in a car crash. The shrine is on Lower Ground level, at the bottom of the famous Egyptian escalator. Now, the shrine itself, with pictures of them both, and candles, is one thing - but in my opinion, the large statue that stands between it and the book of condolence - which is still open - and depicts both apparently setting free some kind of bird.. that's a bit much. Anyway, now you know where to find it.

We took the #74 bus from just across the road to Oxford Street, alighting for Primark, which one of my guests had a particular interest in visiting. We other two made for Selfridges, just up the road, where we had less interest in shopping and more in just having a drink in the cafe and relaxing. We were on our way to the toilets when we passed the new cinema! They only opened it about a week ago - I'd forgotten all about it. They seem to be showing mainly classics - we were browsing the listings when an usher emerged and asked whether we were going to a film. "No," we said - but she invited us in for a look around anyway. The interior is dark, the walls decorated in dark grey and hung with film photos. The bar is small and intimate, lined with comfortable seating, and staffed by people who looked quite bored, kitted out in 50s-style usher uniforms. So we decided to have another drink there, occupying the plush sofa. On our way out, we had a peek at the cinema, which had comfy-looking double seats. Definitely a welcome addition to a busy store on a busy street, this cinema will provide welcome respite after a hard day's shopping. Or indeed, somewhere to plonk the less enthusiastic shoppers in your group!

Mind you, our trip to the toilets was less successful. Oh, we made it to the toilets all right, and did what we needed to - but the queue was horrendous, and the state of the cubicle floors was woeful, filthy and splashed: despite the lady going around with a mop. Ugh. Proceed with caution.

Our bus stop to head southwards was conveniently located just outside. We texted our companion to meet us there when she was done. Now, I had method in directing us southwards - unbeknownst to my guests, I had booked tickets for all of us to an all-male burlesque show - Briefs, the Second Coming - at the Spiegeltent in London Wonderground. Thing was, the show was at 7.30, I still had to pick up the tickets, and we weren't going to be able to get a bus all the way there. From the convenient map on the bus stop, I could see that three of the four buses that stopped there went to Trafalgar Square, which was the best we could do. As she kept texting us to say she was delayed, I began to get a little worried..

Well, she showed up just past 6.30, with stories of unbelieveable queues, and how she ended up just pulling clothes on over what she was wearing, in front of a mirror, to save queueing time. She was delighted though - apparently, the range is much better here than in Ireland. And off we went to Trafalgar Square, on the #6, which happened to be the next bus along, and passed some interesting sights on the way. And when we alighted, I had to balance my understandable desire to race down the road with the knowledge that the longer I kept this a surprise, the better the surprise would be - so I couldn't seem to be in too much of a hurry. We took a route down Villers Street, so I could show them some restaurants where we might eat later - L' Ulivo appealed. (I was just worried someone was going to suggest we eat now..!)

We trekked the steps up to the bridge - I think I'm more accustomed to them; it's a bit of a hike! We took the right side up, so they could have a view of the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. Well, it's a beautiful view - but I could've cursed their photo-taking as I tried to hurry them along (gently), the box office now in sight! Finally, I asked the one to go find the other, as I had a bit of business to conduct yonder. "Ok," she said, and off I dashed. By the time I had the tickets, my other guest had reappeared, and both were staring at me curiously. "C'mon, ladies," I said, "we have a queue to join!"

Well, they were delighted! Firstly, by the fantasy-land that is the Wonderground. I pointed out the foodstalls and the carousel that doubles as a bar, but we really didn't have any time to explore as I hurried them towards the spiegeltent. Anyway, we made it with five minutes to spare, and were lucky to get three seats together. And I still hadn't told them what they had come to see! Finally, I gave them the title.

I don't really think a more detailed explanation would've done this show justice. Spangly costumes gave way to barely-there costumes, held on with a lick and a prayer. It was raucous, it was irreverent. Bananas featured prominently. The show also incorporated some circus, and the opening act, gymnastics on a suspended ring, was stupendous - my stand-out moment. I've never seen a gymnastics act performed so gracefully and fluidly. And all to a thumping soundtrack.

Mind you, we were to be glad to be in the back row. Banana peels flew everywhere, whizzing past our heads. The guy with the flaming ring got quite close to the front row - and the last act featured water so prominently (and enthusiastic splashing) that the front row was given plastic sheeting to hold over themselves: but even in the back row, we got splashed. Still, all in a night's fun, eh? The show is fantastic fun, and was a sell-out, from what I could see. Booking definitely recommended - runs until the 28th. (BTW, what is it about Aussies and circus acts? Do they have an enormous circus school in Australia or something that keeps churning them out, so they keep streaming over here? Well, keep 'em coming!)

We were well ready to eat afterwards. I took them back via the other side of the bridge, to show them the gorgeous view of the City, St Paul's, and the South Bank, and we took the overhead passageway back to Villiers Street because of the construction work at Embankment. The meal was excellent, with warm and friendly Italian service, and we got a window seat to watch the passers by.. I'll be back.

On the way back for the night, we took a small detour to see the buzz of Leicester Square and Theatreland, and wandered past Chinatown and down Shaftesbury Avenue to Piccadilly Circus. The city that never sleeps entertained us properly, before we took the Tube home. I sent my charges on their way at Green Park, to change to the Victoria line - the reverse of the journey we'd taken in the morning. Well, apparently they made it to Victoria all right. Unfortunately, they got lost in the train station, having taken the wrong exit. Ah well, all's well that ends well, and they did get to their beds eventually!

Right, lunch beckons! Just one more blog to do for the weekend.. Sunday brought a wee bit more sightseeing.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Tourist Weekend! Friday

Phew, what a weekend! So, as I mentioned, I had friends come to London for the weekend. Dashed through work on Friday so I could go meet them at lunchtime - I had a half day. I needn't have been quite so worried - turned out they took a slower bus than recommended.. :-) and I arrived at Victoria before they did.

Well. Yes, I did arrive at Victoria. So were they to do. However, I have never before been to the Victoria Coach Station, and just assumed it was in the main building, along with the bus, rail, and underground stations. So I followed the signs that said "bus" and positioned myself there. Sure I was in the right place, I refused an offer of help from one of the people standing around waiting, employed to give it. After a while though, it began to bother me that the only buses I could see were London buses.. so I had a wander, and came across a sign (in the train station) for the coach station. Somewhere else entirely. Wonderful.

It was at that point that they phoned me to say they'd arrived. I naively asked whether they could possibly come to the train station. I didn't realise that the coach station is several streets away and very badly signposted, both on approach and the building itself. I wandered out onto the street, trying to get directions from them and being woefully confused that none of us could see the same things. In due course, I came across a map that directed me to the coach station - even when I did find the right street, and was walking alongside the station, I didn't realise it until I happened upon the entrance at the end! Jeez, talk about the poor relation of the stations..

Anyway, once I got that far, I found them. We were all hungry, it being lunchtime, and stopped at the first eatery we came across - the Traveller's Tavern, in the station itself. We easily got a table, ordered and paid at the bar. I can testify that their hunter's chicken is delicious! The pub itself is attractively decorated, and service comes with a smile. We were well fed by the time we ventured outside to figure our way back to their hotel, so they could leave their bags.

They were staying at the Grange Rochester - which we were glad to find (eventually). In retrospect, we took a slightly roundabout route - but then, as I say, I've never before been to the coach station. Anyway, we eventually came to the filling station at the junction with Rochester Row, which meant we were nearby. This would be their nearest stop to fill up on the essentials. Sure enough, we were at the hotel minutes later.

It's a cosy place - quiet, they said afterwards. Lots of wood, lots of brass. Rather attractive. Too hot upstairs, as usual - there isn't any aircon either. They were to find London very humid all weekend, compared to what they're used to - but at least they were provided with two electric fans in what turned out to be quite a large room, with three beds. The room also provided a decent-sized ensuite, a flat-screen tv, a safe, and tea/coffee making facilities.

After a bit of r&r, we hit the town. The original plan had been to head to Notting Hill, but with a ghost walk planned for a specific time that evening, we figured that time was now against us. They suggested we stay more local, and I suggested that we skip straight to the bit of the itinerary that involved walking up to Buckingham Palace - not far, closer than the coach station - then up the Mall, drop into the ICA bookshop for a minute, and to Trafalgar Square, where we could decide what to do next.

They got Oyster cards on the way, at the Underground station. Seems the procedure has changed somewhat from when I got mine, some years back - in those olden days, you just paid for the credit on the card, and had to get it from a ticket office. Now, you can get them from a machine, and must pay a £5 deposit on each! (refundable if you return the card). Which means the card now costs £5, basically. Well, you need it for the buses - and with engineering works on both Circle and District lines this weekend, that was going to be necessary: and it's still much better value than cash, even when you can use that.

That done, off we went to Buckingham Palace. They were quite impressed to find it so close to their hotel, and we spent much time photographing each other in front of it. Time didn't allow us to go in. We then made our way up the Mall, stopping for refreshments - including some very tasty ice cream - at a kiosk in Green Park. Photos of the day available here. Progressing up the mall, we came across a pair of sentries guarding some side entrance or other. A number of tourists were gathered around, and as we were fumbling with cameras and deciding what photos to take, I guess someone must've got too close, because - for all their famous statue-like composure, one of the sentries completely lost it and roared to GET BACK! NOW!!! Um, yes. We all legged it.

We popped into the ICA bookshop briefly, where some purchases were made - it's got a very interesting range. We sat, chatted, and people-watched in Trafalgar Square for a while, having some more snacks at the café, wandered around Westminster, then made our way to Monument for the ghost walk. Corinna was our guide, and despite being softly spoken as she chatted to us beforehand, she was quite capable of projecting her voice as needed. I hadn't researched the guides beforehand, so it came as a surprise both to learn that she is an actor, and to have her burst into song - not once, but twice, on the tour. See, I've done this walk before - last Hallowe'en, in fact - but with a different guide (Shaughan), and not only are the guides different, but it transpires that they cover different routes, and have completely different repertoires of stories! So it is possible to take the same tour twice and have a completely different experience.

She led us on a merry trek for the next two hours, through narrow passageways and underpasses, over hidden bridges, around the City. We got to stand on a height, with a lovely view of the Thames, Tower Bridge and the Shard, as the daylight dimmed and the City lights came on. We unexpectedly got into a church, bombed during the Blitz and converted to a garden, and whose gate should have been closed by then. It was lovely, with a fountain in the middle, surrounded by benches - onto which we gratefully sank, as she regaled us with a tale of a ghostly white Persian cat, and a song. Our next musical interlude (which included seating too) was in the courtyard of the Guildhall, where she got us all to join in as a ghostly chorus. The tour ended in the Barbican, where we got to explore passageways I hadn't seen before.

The night ended with a seemingly interminable wait at Barbican Station for a Circle line train, so we could go direct. So much for a 15-minute wait between trains - we must have been waiting for twice that long when, just as we gave up and were planning an alternative route, one finally deigned to appear. We really needed to eat now, so figured the easiest was to head for the Buckingham Balti, near Victoria.

And so to bed. And so to bed for me now too, as it's past my bedtime.. more to follow, when I get a moment!