london

Merry Christmas

I wish ye all a very Merry Christmas. Or Happy Holidays for the atheists. Or Happy Tuesday for all you of other faiths. What’s it for me? Food and Freebies day. It was good. Hope yours was too, however you like to celebrate it. Or not. I wish everyone well, every day. Mostly. Except for a select few – a very select few – whose absence from planet Earth would be a benefit for mankind. But that’s not an avenue to go down today. Today is all about goodwill, is it not?

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This is my second Christmas since returning from Mexico. I grew to like Mexican Christmas’, even though they were far from what I was used to. I loved the food served up in Mexico. I wasn’t so fond of the midnight starting time. I’m not a night owl. By midnight I want to have been asleep for at least half an hour. I also like a traditional British Christmas dinner. Nothing beats pigs in blankets. Christmas lights work better in the UK’s bleak midwinter darkness too.

I have never been to church over Christmas, in either country. My Mexican relatives would have been and said their prayers,made their confessions and otherwise played their part in their local religious communities before I and Mrs P arrived for feast time. I always assumed so, anyway. Perhaps they assumed the same of me. I don’t know. I never really got into religious discussions with the extended members. I expect my agnostic outlook might not have won their approval. At the same time, I don’t think many, if any, would have held it against me.

My Mexican relatives and friends would probably find one of our traditions, the Queen’s Christmas Message, a little peculiar. It is a little peculiar. A little old lady who lives in a palace with servants, countless diamonds on hand for every occasion and a property portfolio that would many any corporation blush, presents herself on television to report on the world this year. What, one wonders, does she know of our world? Still. It has a quaint and charming appeal. It lasts just a few minutes. We’re stuffed full of enough turkey to forgive her for her indulgences. But yes, most Mexicans would find the message peculiar. Perhaps they would prefer my set of photos of London at Christmas – click here.

RIP Jack Klugman. I loved Quincy. A loved all those 70′s and 80′s American shows. Dallas, Cagney and Lacey, Magnum. But Quincy played perhaps the best character of them all.

The Lord Mayors Show

London is exhausted. We kicked the year off with the best New Years fireworks display ever. We bumbled through a deep recession. But we got on our glad rags for the Queens Jubilee. The partied with the world at the third London Olympics. Then we sat back and relaxed. But wait. This is an ancient city, built on centuries of tradition. New York may be the city that never sleeps. Perhaps London is the show that must go on. And on, and on.

This weekend was the Lord Mayors Show. A three mile parade, of floats, marching bands, military machines, worship companies of something or other, and finally the new Lord Mayor in a fancy gold coach. So a few hundred thousand Londoners and visitors (which one of these exactly am I?) took to the streets once again, plastic Union Flags in hand, brollies at the ready.

The Lord Mayors parade is only a decade or two away from it’s five hundredth anniversary. It was about time I saw one. Other than the pantomime version, with Dick Whittington. Was it good? Like I said, London is exhausted. The traditional fireworks display was taken off the programme this year. We’ve had out fill of fireworks this year. Some of the participants were fun. Some were interesting.

A few too many were dull and self promoting. Pimlico Plumbers driving in vans with their radio advert blasting over loudspeakers? Really? Enjoy my photo set of the day on Flickr – click here – the vast majority of which I ran through Lightroom presets. Free ones by onOne and a bunch I actually paid of few dollars for on Stuck in Customs. I’m having a lot of fun with my growing collection of presets. Hope you like the effects.

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Musicals and Memes

Weren’t the Olympics great? Unless you were a London hotelier, restaurant owner or theatre company. In which case, it seems the Olympics weren’t so great. Empty beds, empty plates and empty seats throughout the grand sporting event. I have to say I didn’t quite get why this happened, even though it is a common trend in recent Olympiads. London’s airports shipped jumbo loads of extra visitors, putting a huge strain on the capitals airports. Where did the all sleep and eat? And surely they must have gone into town when not watching the games? And what sort of London visitor would want to miss out on a West End show?

I love the theatre. Especially musicals. I went to see Thoroughly Modern Millie on Broadway in NY – my favourite show ever. Singing in the Rain is full of cheese and as equally full of fun – I saw that in Bournemouth at the local theatre. And who didn’t love JC Superstar? I saw that on television. It’s now been turned into a live show, which I’d rather like to go and see at the O2 Arena. There’s not long left as it’s ending its run soon, so I guess I’d best get myself some Jesus Christ Superstar tickets fairly soonish.

It’s a good time of year to take in a show too. The evenings are drawing in, and the air is chilly. It’s time to get inside somewhere warm after dark. And even if the theatre companies suffered during the summer, I’m sure they will see a rebound heading into Christmas. By the way, I know Emm in London went to see JCS recently, so I’m sure she’ll have a review up on her blog soon.

Before any trip to London though, I have another musical event to attend. They guys has become this centuries ultimate internet meme. I’ve been sat here for what seems an eternity (about 3 minutes) straining my brain trying to work out how to insert a literary version of this viral video. And I’ve failed you. I’ll have to leave the video to reveal all. Yes, Mrs P and I are going to step back into the 80′s and go see him…

 

A Hollywood Moment

There’s a famous film star in this photo. Mrs P noticed the person strolling by, not I. It made her day. Who is he or she? Typically, in  Brit quiz style, you’d be asked to send in your answers on a postcard. But today, you can post your entries in the comments and I’ll send a London postcard to the first person who guesses correctly. You haven’t got the faintest idea? Have a wild stab in the dark anyway. For every wrong answer, I’ll provide a clue. You can keep making guesses, there’s no limit.

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The Mexican Winner

I’ve been looking out for Mexican dining options since arriving back in the UK in 2011. Sadly, most of the restaurants I’ve found purporting to be providers of fine Mexican cuisine are non-starters. I won’t even waste my time in walking through the door. The menu displayed on the window or door tells me all I need to know – Tex Mex. Which is not, of course, Mexican. It might be a good Tex Mex restaurant, but it’s not what I’m looking for.

I held out hoped for Wahaca, following the owners TV series. But that turned out to be 99% Tex Mex too. Not real Mexican food. I’ve since discovered Benitos Hat, but the atmosphere was a little dull. And Mestizos, but the staff aren’t the friendliest and the £55 Independence Day charge was extortionate.

That leaves just Lupitas, behind Charing Cross Station on the Strand. Not cheap, but not expensive either – a fair price. Genuine Mexican food. And a Mexican atmosphere. Mexican staff! It’s a real little piece of Mexico in London. We had a booking for last night at 9.30pm, but our plans changed and we had to do dinner earlier. They were heaving, but still managed to smile and find us a table for four. Look no where else for your Mexican experience in London!

Viva Mexico  Cabrones! I hope you all had a jolly good time if you were out celebrating Hidalgo’s big night.

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Taming of the Shrew

Yesterday, the Globe Theatre in London was graced with the presence of Viscount and Lady Denness. Disappointingly, there was no red carpet awaiting us. On the plus side, we weren’t arrested for attempting to pass ourselves off as nobility. We simply had to rub shoulders with the hoi polloi and watch the show alongside everyone else. The show was Taming of the Shrew – a Shakespeare play, of course.

There are two ways to do Shakespeare. As he wrote it then, and as he would have written it today were he alive. These are two very different languages. It should be said that old Willy created hundreds of brand new words during his career – so even if he were a 21st century bard, there’s no guarantee it would make any more sense.

The play is performed in olde English of yore. I’m in two minds about this. On one hand, the Globe Theatre is a reasonably accurate recreation of (one of) the original theatre. It’s meant to enable us to travel back in time for a few hours, to hear and see it as it would have been done. On the other hand, the audience is far more cosmopolitan that would have been the case in the 1500′s. And I suspect many come for the occasion as much as the play and may get a bit lost in the language.  There are digital displays on a couple of walls, which run through the script, to allow us all to keep up. Although perhaps a translator would be a better idea. Having said that, I did keep up with the storyline and I suspect most others there did too.

Mrs P and I went to the show with a little trepidation. Neither of us are Shakespeare fans. And we had standing tickets. Neither of us are fans of standing still for hours either. Other reviews, admittedly of other plays, weren’t all positive. But was the play any good? Fantastic. Brilliant. Hilarious. The actors were superb and their performances blew us both away. Anything lost in language was more than made up for by the acting.

I throroughly recommend going to see the Taming of the Shrew. I cannot speak of any of the other plays which are regularly put on. The big decision is whether to sit or stand. By choosing the standing option, you do pay just a fiver, as opposed to a score. And, if you’re early you can lean on the stage. Plus, the actors regularly charge through the yard, so you might even get to participate. But then….standing for three hours is pretty tough!

Photography is allowed, but only during intervals. I got told off for taking the snap below, when the minstrels took the stage prior to part two beginning. But then, I’m used to being told off. I have a shrew of my own. Be in no doubt, I went to see this play to take notes and learn, not solely for purposes of entertainment! The other handful of photos are on Flickr.

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Free Brainwashed Postcard

I am no art expert. I couldn’t tell you the difference between brush stroke and splatter. I do know that it’s best if you cut off an ear before you start painting, and that it helps further the value of your work if you die. Preferably young, in a bizarre and painful manner. Extra dollars are added if there’s a whiff of conspiracy, I believe. But that’s your lot. My knowledge of art is exhausted at that point.

But that’s not to say I don’t like a bit of art now and then. I do appreciate a good piccy. What sort of art tickles my taste buds? I like something creative. Colourful. Imaginative. Different. I like stuff I can relate to. Be it a person or a place. The status of the artist usually means little to me.

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I first saw the image above on Facebook. Except someone had added ‘the people of Mexico’ to it. At the time, I had no idea the Mexican reference had been added. I assumed it was a bizarre, but brilliant, piece of graffiti someone had seen in DF. But I bumped into it again last weekend, without the Mexico part. It turned out I had stumbled across the latest gallery of Mr Brainwash.

The gallery is situated in the Old Sorting Office, just around the corner from the British museum. You can’t miss it. The exterior is plastered in giant pieces of his stuff. It’s a mix a graffiti, art and funky sculptures, and not everyone appreciates it. But it ticks all the boxes listed above, plus one more. It’s fun. Why do art critics have to drivel on about techniques, how many assistants an artist has and the qualifications the artist boasts? Why can’t art just be fun sometimes?

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Just to add to the visitors experience, you get a free poster and postcard when you exit the gallery. Free entry, free poster and free postcard – what’s not to like about that?! I’m easily pleased, of course. I’m keeping the posters – Paola and I picked one up each. But I’d like to give away the postcard. I used to enjoy popping postcards off to strangers who’d stumbled across my blog, back when I was in Mexico.

Do you want this postcard? It can be yours! Write a note in the comments to claim it, and then send me the address I should post it to using the Contact page. The rules regards eligibility? Simple. You must be outside the UK, and mustn’t have received one of my postcards from any of my old giveaways. If you’ve misssed out and the card has already gone, you can always check out my photos from the exhibition on Flickr by clicking here.

The Diamond Jubilee

I’m a bit late with this post, seeing as the Diamond Jubilee celebrations were a couple of weeks ago. But  better late than never. Mrs P and I did go up to see the sights and soak up the atmosphere. And soak up even more rain. We were just in the right place at the right time at a street party in Piccadilly – Prince Charles and Camilla appeared from the doorway of a hotel and had tea. Just a few feet from us. It made Mrs P’s day.

A little later, during the river pageant, we found ourselves in just the right place at the right time again – in a French restaurant watching it on television. We were just metres from the Thames and could hear the boats and crowds. We had a great view and completely avoided the thorough drenching that afflicted everyone else.

We hadn’t planned to go all that way just to sit in a restaurant, of course. I had assumed that, as the pageant was to sail along seven miles of river, we’d find a decent viewpoint. I mean, seriously…how could we not, with 14 miles worth of riverside to find a spot? It turns out that 1.25 million people is actually quite a lot, and every vantage point was taken hours before it even began. That is the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen. By far.

We did get a nice spot for the concert on Monday night though – the video at the bottom of this post shows the finale – a bit of Paul McCartney, the national anthem, lighting the beacon and then a pretty spectacular fireworks display. We weren’t that close to the front, but we had a good view of a big screen, the sound system was excellent and the atmosphere was great. Best of all, it didn’t rain.

We really enjoyed the weekend. It made having a Royal Family worthwhile. Briefly. I have one thought on how it can be improved any future jubilees she may choose for us to celebrate. The next one, incidentally, would be her Platinum Jubilee in ten years time. Assuming she gives the 65th, Blue Sapphire, year a miss. Assuming that jubilees follow the same pattern as weddings, which they seem to be doing.

But back to my thought. In the UK, when the national anthem is played, we play just the first verse. That’s it. There are five verses, but we stick to just the first verse. Everyone knows the words to the first verse. Good save our gracious queen, long live our noble queen, god save the queen. Tra la la la la, send her victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us, god save the queen. We stop there. For good reason. No one has any idea what the words to any of the other verses are.

But for some strange reason,  it was decided that two verses would be played throughout the jubilee celebrations. Which lead to awkward moments. Firstly, at the end of the first verse everyone would start cheering and clapping. And then abruptly stop, a little embarrassed, when it was realised the band had struck up again.  Followed by an awkward silence. Followed by mumbling and miming. Followed by more embarrassed clapping at the end. So next time, dear Queen….just one verse. Please. I have a few photos on Flickr here, and a load more on Instagram here.

 

The Closet Monarchist

I returned home yesterday to find Mrs P had draped bunting across the exterior of the house. Who’d have imagined? A closet monarchist indeed. Alternatively, she just enjoys a party, the colours and the atmosphere. There’ll be plenty of that in London when we arrive on Sunday, I’m sure. I’ve always found the word ‘bunting’ to be rather peculiar. There was boy at school called Bunting. He was exactly as you’d expect someone called Bunting to be – rather weird. An oddball. Still, it was a rather a well-to-do school, so he’s probably now Sir Bunting. Although, on second thoughts, he wasn’t terribly smart. Quite the opposite in fact. So perhaps he is Lord or Baron Bunting of Somewhere or Other. That’s how we roll here.

We’ll be leaving by bus at the crack of dawn tomorrow and shan’t return till the early hours of Tuesday morning. We have another trip which requires us to depart on Tuesday afternoon – three nights in Paris, which I’m sure will be very nice. So there may be little chance of blogging or uploading to Flickr for some while. But fear not, you can follow me on Instagram and get on the spot photo updates. Or, if you prefer your digital content on the PC rather than the smartphone, there’s my Tumblr blog, Instagary. All my Instagram photos go there at the same time, plus there’ll be a few videos too I dare say.

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Plaza de las Cuatro Culturas

In the best traditions of international one-upmanship, I present to you the Plaza of the Four Cultures. Technically speaking there is no plaza here, but there’s a few spots which could qualify as low rent substitutes. But nonetheless, there are four evident and very seperate cultures easily identifiable from the architecture they’ve left behind. Take that Mexico, and your trifling Plaza de las Tres Culturas.

Sadly, it’s tricky to get a good shot of all four cultures in the same shot without really going to work on a Panorama. And whilst it is possible to get all four in the shot, one of them will always be mostly hidden from view. The oldest of the cultures belongs to the Romans, who left a pretty solidly built wall that once protected Londinium.

Then, nearly a thousand years ago, William the Conqueror (aka William the Bastard) introduced what would be one of the most influential cultures in the creation of modern Britain – the Normans. And the Tower of London was left as their gift to 21st century London tourists.

During the height of the British Empire, Victorian era engineers built the wonderful Tower Bridge. That’s the bridge that many (perhaps most) foreign visitors assume is London Bridge. The fourth culture? That’s our current culture. Take your pick, but with the Shard towering over the skyline as it does, that’s my choice.

But back to the Tower of London. Mrs P and I parted with £20 each to visit the Tower at the weekend. Money well spent? Well, depends how much money you’ve got to spare, doesn’t it? For historical content and history, only Westminster Cathedral is even a competitor. But personally, if I were to be asked to name the top five ‘must-see paid-for’ attractions in London, the Tower of London wouldn’t be in the list.

It is impressive, and you should see it, at least from the outside. But unless you’ve really got a thing for diamonds, or absolutely must have your photo taken with a beefeater, you can probably give the interior a miss. Fact is, the most impressive view is from the outside. And the crowds on the inside are such, and the view over the parapets so covered in glass and metal skyscrapers, that I found it hard to let my imagination run.

It was hard to soak in the historical atmosphere. I just couldn’t picture Anne Boleyn having her head chopped off. Or German spies (actually, I think it was just one) being executed by firing squad in WW2. Or even the Rudolph Hess or the Krays being briefly incarcerated there. The interior of the Tower almost has more of an amusement park atmosphere than it does that of an ancient and historical monument .

Most disappointing, for me, was the ban on photography in the Crown Jewels exhibition. It was once allowed. I took a whole bunch of snaps when I last visited in 2005. The new policy makes it even more irking that I lost all of those photos. Still, aside from the Crown Jewels, I did grab loads of photos. Many on Instagram but a few on Flickr too.

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British Design 1948-2012

Britain was rarely a leading light, from a purely creative sense, in European history. Constable was no Leonardo Da Vinci. St Christopher Wren built a mighty impressive cathedral at St Pauls, but you can clearly see the inspiration he drew from across the other side of the channel. Going back further still, our magnificent Norman, and Norman inspired, cathedrals came from ideas and traditions that were created on the continent. Mozart did live in London for a while, but it’s a stretch to claim any part of him as ours.

Functionality was our speciality. Design for purposes of use was our strong point. Weaponry, tools and tooling. Especially from 1800 onwards. But post war, everything changed. Musically, artistically, architecturally. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why, but the British suddenly developed a massive, all conquering creative industry that has, at times, dominated the world.

There’s an exhibition on at the Victoria and Albert museum at the moment, British Design 1948-2012. It’s a slightly pricy £12 – the most I think that I’ve ever paid to see an exhibition. But it was, perhaps the most enjoyable exhibition I’ve ever been to. That’s probably because I can relate to or grew up with so much of the contents of the displays.

I’ve also found a use for Pinterest. Photography isn’t allowed at the exhibition, so for a taster of what’s inside, I put together a gallery of images that I’ve filched across the web. I was quite fun putting it together. It’s nice to know I can add stuff. Have I missed any wonders of British design that I should have added? Let me know. Till then, enjoy the show – courtesy of your friendly local British designer. There’s Concorde, a Jaguar E-Type, some David Bowie pants, and a couple of pieces of design that many of you will have near to hand as we speak – your iPhone.

As I mentioned, photography wasn’t allowed. But I hate to post a post without a photo of mine at the bottom. Here’s a snap I took of a work by Damien Hirst that is currently sitting outside the Tate Modern, where he has his own exhibition going on. He also has works in the British Design exhibition, of course.

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Londoneer Photo Competition

I won! Woo hoo! And my prize is two books which look really very interesting. Winning something, anything, is always nice. Getting a prize you actually want is the icing on the cake. I thought I’d show off my winning snap here, as well as there. Mrs P isn’t fond of it. I really liked it though. I caught her unawares. A natural laugh is worth a thousand posed pouts. And the excellent Londoneer blog is, of course, well worth a plug.

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Black and White London

For all the troubles, the strife and the stress, London remains the most incredible city to visit. It’s even better if you can afford to live there. I’m still buying my weekly lottery tickets, and living in hope! Till then, I have just these few black and white snaps from our most recent trip. For Flickr click here, and for Google click here.

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Paola’s London IV

From the continuing series of photo albums, named Paola’s London, I bring you Episode IV. Shot in black and white this time. Just for a change. And also because on a cloudy winters day, London is pretty colourless. Paola can return to Mexico one day able to pronounce that she has met the Queen. Click here to see the photos in Flickr and here for Google.

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