Mind the gap

We spent the afternoon in Hyde Park today. We travelled there on the London Underground and were cautioned to ‘mind the gap between the train and the platform’ as we got off at our station.  At Hyde Park we could have done with a similar caution: ‘Mind the gap between the speaker and the heckler’.

We went to the Park especially to hang out for a while at Speakers’ Corner. We’ve often walked past the speakers and wished we could have listened for a while. It’s quite an education, I tell you. Speakers’ Corner is said to date back to 1855 when the government banned any form of buying or selling on a Sunday, the only day working people had off. Public riots broke out and Hyde Park was used as a location for free speech. According to Wikipedia, The riots and agitation for democratic reform encouraged some to force the issue of the “right to speak” in Hyde Park.”

At our first stop at Speakers’ Corner, the speaker was unable to present his case because hecklers were fighting among themselves. Heated exchanges – often reaching fever pitch – between a man from Pakistan and a man from Iraq drew a crowd of people around them. It got mean and it got angry. Somehow, although sounding personal, it seemed not to offend. “YOU’RE A TRAITOR!” followed by, “YOU’VE NEVER WORKED A DAY IN YOUR LIFE.” “ I DIDN’T HAVE TO. MY FATHER’S AN INDUSTRIALIST.” “AN INDUSTRIALIST? WELL, WHO’S HE BEEN STEALING FROM?”

At which point, someone in the crowd appealed for silence to allow ‘the Somalian pirate’ to have his say. And so began the case for Muslim/Israeli religion. Stood on a small soapbox, the gentleman from Somalia began to explain the origins of God and religion. Not long into his monologue, someone shouted to him, “ON A SCALE OF ONE TO TEN, JUST HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO LEARN TO SPEAK ENGLISH?”

This was followed by an interjection by the man from Pakistan, to which the Speaker said,”Don’t listen to this man. He’s high. He smokes hashish.”

“I buy it from you, my friend,” was the Pakistani’s defence.

We moved along.

We stood and listened to a woman who was being heckled by someone who told her she knew nothing and that she never had anything to say. With spittle flying from her mouth, the speaker berated the heckler’s arrogance, told him that despite the fact that she had stood and spoken there for 20 years and he had stood there and listened, that he was fooling himself if he thought they knew each other or even had any kind of relationship. After five minutes of bickering, someone cried out: “What is your message?”

She told us that politics was finished, religion was finished and the world was finished. We could never know anything, except what we had been fed by the government and what they wanted us to know. And this wasn’t even the truth, but what the government wanted you to believe. She implored us to challenge facts and arrive at our conclusions of what we might discover to be our own truth.

“It’s like if you went to court, and the judge looked at the prosecuted and declared that he didn’t like the look of the guy, so ordered him to be hanged, without hearing the cases for and against him. So it is with the truth – you can’t just make a decision without hearing pros and cons.”

One short-sighted heckler then entered the fray: “What kind of judge is that who makes a decision because of the way the guy looks? That’s a dictatorship.”

We jogged along.

Mr Conservative stood and addressed a small crowd about the myth of the New Society. I wasn’t quite sure of the point he was making, but he talked about the Occupy London protest being meaningless, because the protesters were doing nothing and offering nothing.

“It’s like the media. They go there and they interview the first person they see and they learn nothing. It’s like they get to Westminster, and they think, ‘What shall we do now? I know, let’s go to St Paul’s and do a story about Occupy London’. So they go there, interview the first person they see, post their story and go home to sleep. Job done. Why? Because they’re LAZY!”

After hearing some gratuitous pot shots at political parties, we moved on.

After a short stay listening to a quietly-spoken gentleman promoting the value of the Catholic Church, we stood in the midst of the Sunday afternoon joggers, cyclists, walkers, rollerbladers, buggy-pushers, speakers, hecklers, tourists, photographers, onlookers and students in the beautiful, chilly blue, thin sunshine of a Sunday afternoon in central London.

Two young men approached my son and asked if he’d like to share a few thoughts for a radio programme they were recording. He said to them, “Are you asking me because I’m the first person you saw? Were you in Hyde Park, knowing that you needed to do a programme and not sure what to talk about? So you came to ask me what I thought, so you could go home and go to sleep. Why? Because you’re LAZY!”

Actually, my son just politely declined. Mind the gap between the truth and my imagination.

Sunshine signing off for today!

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Randomness

Random thoughts. They tie together not at all and appear in “no random order” as I heard someone once say.

This morning on my walk to the bus, I watched a swan as it dipped its head deep into the water right in the corner of the local dock. I stood and watched for a while. Soon it came up, shook its head a little and its forehead was green with algae.

As I rushed home from work to get to my zumba class in time, I wondered if there would be any mail in our letter box. I imagined finding a letter there telling me I’d won a million pounds. You know what my first thought was? Would I still go to zumba?

On my way home from zumba, I saw three young professionals studying the plaque on a small heritage building in the area. One young man, dressed in a suit, hairstyle like a Beatle with long, pointy sideburns, was giggling as I walked by. He pointed at the plaque, and said, “I can’t believe it says erected.”

When we were at the open air concert in Hyde Park a few weeks ago, I discovered an amazing sense of community and the art of mime. I’d forgotten to take with me my note pad and pen, so I could make notes of the concert for my blog. I mimed “pen?” to my friend who was sitting behind us. She made a face as if to say she didn’t have one, and then motioned that she’d ask her friends. After a few minutes, she looked at me and made a disappointed face and showed me her out-turned hands, palms up. No pen. No worries. About two minutes later, the pink-haired lady with every finger nail painted a different colour, who was also sitting behind us, came over to me with a pencil. She’d borrowed it from her bovver-booted husband, and brought it to me. Who ever said mime doesn’t pay?

A relentless eavesdropper, as you know me to be, it was difficult to overhear conversations at the concert, against the backdrop of never-ending music. It was interesting, however, to watch the goings-on all around us anyway. I watched a family of four enjoy a day out in Hyde Park. Endless trips to the bar saw them taking it in turns to bring back pints and Pimms and ciders and spirits. You name it; they knocked them back. They danced and as the day progressed, their dancing became more “uncle- like” and standing upright seemed to be a growing battle for each of them. As dusk darkened the sky, I noticed the husband and wife arguing. She said, “Fine, then.”  And with that, she turned tail and disappeared into the crowd. The daughter appealed to her dad, “She’s just gone. She’s just literally gone.” Dad appeared unperturbed. Oh well.

A few hours later, in the rainy evening, the mother appeared in front of me. I looked at her and smiled, and she said to me, “My whole family’s just fallen out. It’s an absolute nightmare.” I mimed sympathy, and smiled at her some more. She said, “I saw you look at me, so I thought I’d tell you. It’s a nightmare. We’ve all just fallen out.” I asked if they’d arranged to meet up somewhere, and she told me no-one knew where she was and reminded me that it was a “nightmare”. “Oh dear,” was all I could manage. At that point, her husband appeared to our right and said, “Oh, there you are! We’ve been looking for you everywhere!” To which she said, “Is that so?” and turned tail and disappeared back into the crowd. He looked at me, sighed and said, “It’s an absolute nightmare.” You think?

Sunshine signing off for today!

These are the good times

Having lived in London for two years, it was only last week that we experienced our first open-air concert in the rain. BBC Radio 2’s annual music festival in Hyde Park is a wonderful day’s entertainment. Add four seasons into that day, and I bid you welcome to British autumn.

Hyde Park’s summer season of open-air concerts ends with this one. It’s kind of ‘goodbye open air concerts; goodbye summer; hello any season you like, all at once’.

It was a huge line-up that we bought tickets to see. Billed by BBC Radio 2 as ‘a festival in a day’, the programme ran from 3.30pm to 10pm (‘any later and we’ll keep the Queen awake!’), packed in a whopping 12 artists in a row and 40,000 people into the park. The rain came and went, as did the sunshine and wind. The evening ended with a full-moon rising, blurred behind the clouds.

The likes of ’70s African American disco and R&B band, Chic, played numbers from our disco days:

Chic - who brought Le Freak to the world in 1978

Alabama-born duo, The Pierces, brought new American sounds into the mix, along with dazzlingly popular UK band Take That’s Gary Barlow. Add in some Will Young, James Blunt, Imelda May, Lenny Kravitz, Jonathan Jeremiah, Caro Emerald, Beverley Knight, Bellowhead and Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, Ruby Turner, Louise Marshall and a rare live performance from Sandy Shaw, and you have a spectacular afternoon of music and entertainment.

A number of the artists were new discoveries for us: Jonathan Jeremiah with his mesmerising ‘Lost’.

Jonathan Jeremiah - I just loved his 'Lost'. What a great find.

Imelda May’s contemporary rockabilly beat seriously rocked, and I was entranced with her playing of the bodhrán (Irish frame drum), not to mention her unique style and talent.

Imelda May - a great Irish rockabilly star

British talent is always popular in London. Will Young was ill and without much of a voice, disappointingly, but he did his best; he even tried miming to one of his songs. That wasn’t such a great idea. James Blunt rocked the park, much to my surprise, and I didn’t see his jumping-on-to-the-piano dramatics coming at all. Not at all.

Beverley Knight brought rocking soul to the stage, while Bellowhead – with their 11-piece band of piano accordion, banjo, mandolin, cello, fiddles, trombone, saxophone and tuba – brought a kind of medieval story-telling into the mix. I really loved them.

Caro Emerald, from Holland, was another new and lovely voice to hear, while Lenny Kravitz – in his trademark shades – was just incurably cool.

Lenny Kravitz is too smooth. And he does move

Ruby Turner filled the park with her big voice and rousing Infatuation and Moving out of the Cold, with sensational backing from Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. Backing singer, Louise Marshall, also grabbed the mic and the audience’s attention; she’s another one to watch.

Gary Barlow stood in for headline act, Lionel Ritchie, who was either ill or busy with a new album, or both. Gary is currently heading the judging panel on the new season of X Factor and, if the contestants represent a chunk of the UK population, a lot of women on this island are in love with Gary Barlow. He couldn’t have been better received.

Gary Barlow. Much-loved British artist

I have to say, though, that my favourite favourite of the whole day might not be what you’d expect. Contemporary music, new music, rockabilly, heart throbness, coolness, retro beat, story-telling and miming aside; this grand lady floated on to the stage in sparkly short pants, fringed top and shining black locks. With long beautiful legs that flowed all the way to the ground and into two bare feet, her two songs took me back to a childhood in dusty Zambia, where – despite being light years behind the rest of the world – we still knew iconic pop music when we heard it. Even if we were only six.

Here’s the original version of one of Sandy Shaw’s two songs:

Rain, sunshine, wind and many drunken revellers notwithstanding, our red box got richer by two more tickets. And, in the words of Sandy Shaw’s second number last Sunday, there’s Always something there to remind me.

Sandy Shaw - on the soundtrack of my childhood - performing here with crazy-talented Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra
If you look beyond the brollies, you can see Will Young

Sunshine signing off for today!