The Wild Wild West End

As I arrived in central London today, I realised I could have chosen a better day to go and have my hair done. I unwittingly booked an appointment at my Soho salon – just off Oxford Street – at the same time as about quarter of a million protesters walked along said street to deliver a powerful message about the government’s cuts in public spending.

The police got jumpy, the protests got messy and what the Guardian website described as a “generally good-mood” became “soured by violent and destructive attacks on symbols of wealth including the Ritz, banks and a luxury car dealer and an occupation of Fortnum & Mason”.

I couldn’t catch the bus from my area to Tottenham Court Road, as I would usually do, as all the roads around Oxford Street were closed. I caught the tube to Bond Street and emerged at the Oxford Street exit directly into a heaving mass of shoppers, onlookers, riot police and protesters.

I turned right out of the tube station and shuffled along in the midst of a mass of humanity for about ten minutes before I realised I was walking in the wrong direction. I turned around and shuffled back through those same relentless crowds, and walked towards the Soho salon.

There’s a kerfuffle in the crowds and I hear the faint chanting of “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” in the distance. As the singing gets louder, I realise that Boots (a health and beauty store) across the road has been closed; it is fronted by police in riot gear, and a bunch of protesters dressed as walking wounded, with “blood-stained” bandages around their heads, are singing the oddly bizarre Christmas song to the grim-faced police officers.

I discover most of the large stores are closed and fronted by riot police. Many smaller shops have boarded their shop fronts. It’s an odd afternoon of business as usual, shoppers out for a bargain, against a backdrop of one of the largest protests in the past ten years.

I walk a little further and faster, trying desperately to look discreet and remain under the radar. The growing crowds, mounting evidence of riot police and chanting protesters all around, are just plain menacing.

I think, “I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be here”. I soon hear police whistles, raised voices and, as the police storm a crowd of people in the middle of the road, a mass of humanity surges forward in my general direction. I see a sea of people, I see no space to go and I seek panicked shelter in the doorway of a nearby shop. A police officer tells a buggy-pushing dad that it’s not safe to be on the street with a buggy. The panic dissipates as the police presence recedes and the protesting crowd continues on its set path. I unclench my jaw and breathe again.

A little further along the road, I see a crowd gathered around an inordinately tall man. He is dressed in a fluorescent yellow worksuit and I assume that he is a side-tracked protester. People are taking photos of him; he is inviting one gentleman to feel his leg to see that he is not wearing stilts, and cameras click all around. He must be seven foot tall. What a bizarre diversion.

Eyes back on the road. I continue through crowds that ebb and flow. In the midst of an ominous flow I decide to step away from the main street. I walk down past the London Palladium, past Liberty and, with Carnaby Street in my sights, I turn into my chosen street in Soho. It’s quiet down that road, except for a protester walking towards me bearing a banner that reads: “Nick Clegg is a chopper”. I am so glad to enter that familiar doorway and find solace and shelter in my cosmopolitan hair haven.

I greet the multilingual receptionist, and, with a dramatic sigh, I tell her I could’ve found a better day for my hair appointment. She looks at me with a confused smile, until one of her colleagues says, “Oh, right. The protests.”

I am shown to my seat by a young Greek stylist, who settles me down, capes and covers me, and offers me coffee. I ask him if he’s seen what Oxford Street looks like. He tells me he went to the Apple store earlier (excuse me all you Apple-geeks for not knowing this, but apparently some new gadget was due for release today), and he was amazed to see such a crowd of people waiting to get into the store.

“Crazy, hey?” he says to me.

I realise we are speaking at cross purposes and, after acknowledging the stress of an Apple-storming crowd, I tell him about the protests and that they are becoming quite heated. He tells me he has no TV so had no idea what was happening, and asks me if I know why the protests were happening. We have a short discussion and then he says to me, with a sad and wry smile,

“No matter how bad things get here, they will never be like Greece.”

He says that that was the worst time of his life, when the streets of Athens were a burning, destructive mass of economic protest. Every time he returns home, he tells me, more shops have closed down and more businesses are struggling. He is due to fly home again tonight, and he’s unsure what sights will greet him this time.

My Bulgarian hairstylist, bubbly and constantly smiling, glides across to take care of business. I drink my coffee and remind my shoulders to subside. I begin to relax.

Half an hour later, four siren-blaring police vehicles storm down the quiet Soho street in front of the salon. Hot on the wheels of the vehicles are about 20 sprinting youngsters, dressed in black and wearing face masks. The hairstylists who don’t currently have scissors in hand all rush the front door and watch the action. The seriously gorgeous Australian owner of the salon watches out of the shop window and shouts, “Go, ninjas”,  as his scissors fly this way and that.

It is with much trepidation that I emerge back on to the street, newly coiffed. I look up and down the street and decide which way to go. I turn right, and right again and eventually end up heading into the eye of the storm. I realise Piccadilly is not my desired destination and turn to go back to Bond Street. I walk through thick and thin crowds of people, some with banners, some with face masks, all animated, all looking exhausted and all, it would seem, heading towards Bond Street station. The air feels heavy with tension.

I get on to the tube and I stand all the way home. I see a young guy, tousle-haired and anxious, looking through photographs on his camera. I watch along with him for a few minutes and see a range of blurred, close-up and random photos of protesters. A few sight-seeing photos pop into view, showing token protesters in the foreground, and he seems to be searching for that right shot. I couldn’t work out if he was a paparazzo or a tourist. I conclude that he must be both: a tourazzo.

I get home, and I realise how relieved I am to feel safe. I turn on the television, and see that an element of the protesting public has gone ballistic in Piccadilly, smashing ATMs, hurling metal grates into bank and shop fronts, spraying graffiti on building walls, letting off fire crackers and, ultimately, starting fires in the streets of central London.

Right now, I have no idea where this will end. It’s been an afternoon full of cops and yobbos. I’m so glad to be home.

Sunshine signing off for today.

Afrikaans in English

There’s little that should surprise me in this heaving world city that is London. But hearing a Middle Eastern man testing out his Afrikaans on me in central London certainly made me smile.

I bought myself a new handbag last week. Carrying around a postage-stamp-sized bag just so I don’t have to take my Oyster card (London Transport travel card) out of my bag to ‘tap in’ every time I travel on the bus or the tube (the card reader can read my card through my bag), had long since lost its novelty. I needed to carry a bag that could hold more than my Oyster card, glasses, cell phone and one pound.

So I went to our local shopping centre and found a bag I wished to buy. The vendor told me the price and duly closed the sale. As he handed me my change (which I could now fit into the new handbag), he looked at me sideways and said, “South African?”

I assume he recognised my nationality from my accent. Not from the cheapness of my purchase. I smiled and nodded.

“Buy a donkey!” he said.

He then stepped back and beamed with pride like he’d just performed a magic trick.

I nodded and smiled my super impressed-ness to him, decided against saying something back to him in Afrikaans because that would have just been awkward, and walked away, smiling.

For my non-South African friends, baie dankie, which can, to an English ear, sound like buy a donkey means thank you very much. It was a very sweet interaction.

Travelling home on the bus the other day, I eavesdropped in Afrikaans. The guy sitting next to me had a long and detailed catch-up, in Afrikaans, with his friend on the other side of the aisle. I think I might have leaned over to listen more closely to what they were saying and I might have asked them to repeat a few words that I hadn’t heard properly. Apart from that I think they were oblivious to my nosiness.

One asked the other how his wife was and when his baby was due. (I’ve heard many a South African say the other one asked the other one, but that’s a story for another day.) He replied that the baby was due on Sunday, and his friend said,

“Ag, foeitog.”

It’s not the kind of expression you can translate easily. It could mean oh dear, how unfortunate or alas. In this context, I would say it means “Ah, shame” or “Ah, cute”. But you would never hear any men speak like that to each other in English. Some words just cannot be translated.

Shame is a word that is used in an interesting way in southern Africa. I could look at your new baby and say, “Ah, shame.”

Before you rush off to the paediatrician for a full assessment, you would need to know that what I’m really saying is, “Your baby is really cute/gorgeous/pretty/bonny/handsome/so small/so chubby/looks just like you/clearly the child of the milkman”. You can choose. But know that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your little one.

The appropriate response would be for you to smile and say, “Buy a donkey”.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Shimmying Backwards

It’s been a funny old week in London. On Monday, the 2012 Olympic machinery launched the official Olympic countdown clock in Trafalgar Square in London. I’m not a huge fan of the London Olympic logo myself, and I find the shiny, angular, steel construction of the countdown clock to be quite jarring. Especially in a setting such as Trafalgar Square.

(via sports.yahoo.com) The clock was working when they took this photo.

 

The clock was unveiled with much fanfare, to herald 500 days until the opening of the London 2012 Olympics. Last night our news bulletins told us that the clock had had to have some running repairs done to it. The visual they showed was the clock presenting 533 days to go until the opening of the Olympics. The clock had started ticking and running backwards. In the words of the Telegraph reporter, “If only this were a wind up.”

Let’s hope that isn’t any reflection of how the Games will go, although if the clock is anything to go by, I think we might have already missed them.

And, after a really busy day at work today, I blasted my mind into refreshment with a fabulous Zumba class. I haven’t been for a few weeks, so it was great to enjoy the dance and movement again. I tell you what, though: Shakira’s hips might not lie, but mine? I wouldn’t trust them for a minute.

Sunshine signing off for today!

 

Sights and Sports

I couldn’t have imagined it happening, but just over a week into my new job and I have another memory to throw into our red box. I’ve also seen a few sights I’ve not seen before, and overheard a conversation that enlightened me about the expressions of young love. As far as first weeks at work go, this one’s been pretty good, thank you.

A tiger in a tree in south east London

I can’t get enough of the fact that I work so close to the River Thames. Any opportunity I get, I take myself down to the water and walk and walk and watch and enthuse. Last Monday lunchtime we launched our walking club from the office: we walked down to the river, walked over the London Millennium Footbridge towards St Paul’s Cathedral, and then walked along the far side of the river as far as Blackfriars Bridge and back to our office.

Bright blue sky and weak sunshine provided a perfect backdrop for the walk. I couldn’t stop looking all around me, soaking in everything that makes London such an amazing place to be. City workers in dark suits sat dotted on benches all along the edge of the river; some eating sandwiches, some reading newspapers, some just sitting and thinking. Runners paced past us in both directions, and tourists were everywhere with cameras in hand capturing the London-ness of the day.

Seated on one of the benches was a musician playing a didgeridoo. I so wished I’d had my camera with me to document such a unique sight – I’ve seen a didgeridoo player in a tube station before, but never out in the waterside sunshine. I was riveted.

Another day I walked the other way along the river, and sat in front of The Globe (Shakespeare theatre) to eat my lunch. I was surrounded by tourists, office workers and schoolchildren all out to enjoy an outing in the chilly sunshine. I walked past a group of primary schoolchildren seated on the riverside wall, with pencils and sketch pads in hand, and they were all drawing pictures of the Globe Theatre. I then walked past a headless statue that was attracting much photographic attention, and many foreign students gathering together to visit the Tate Modern art gallery.

I wrote last week about the conversation I overheard on the bus, and I continue to hear funny things said on the buses almost every day. I enjoy the commute as I have not only a stunning walk to my bus stop, but the ride gives me an opportunity to read, although when I hear something that fascinates me I find it hard to concentrate on my literature. I have just finished Bridget Jones’ Diary, so my eavesdropping has occasionally taken a back seat!

On Thursday, I volunteered at a big fundraising event organised by the charity I work for. They run a calendar full of such fundraising events, and this was their inaugural Sports Quiz evening held at world-famous cricket ground, Lord’s. It was a black tie event, and the draw card for the evening was the presence of a number of British sports celebrities, including cricketers, rugby players, athletes, swimmers, a famous sports broadcaster and a certain Scottish manager of one of the most successful premier league football sides in Europe.

My colleagues were surprised that I had volunteered to help at an event in my first week! Perhaps they don’t know that I suffer from a hereditary condition known as FOMO (fear of missing out) and I am mad about sports. Put those two together, and you literally couldn’t keep me away from Thursday night’s event!

It was such fun and it so didn’t feel like work; the hardest part was running around in a little black dress and high heels. The former England rugby player who hosted the evening and ran the auction was brilliant – so funny and entertaining, it was like being at a comedy show; his banter with fellow sportsmen was fabulous and so well received.

I listened and laughed and watched and took in as much as I could as I ran in and out of the function room and did what I was told to do. I loved every minute of the evening, and was glad to share a cab ride home just after midnight. My aching feet were relieved of another walk to the tube station.

So, seeing a tiger in a tree on our walk to church this morning was nothing too out of the ordinary. We’ve come to expect the unexpected in London; it’s constantly filled with surprises and as for this week, it was good. Really good.

Sunshine signing off for today!

TMI and the Art of Eavesdropping

(via shoeboxblog.com) Sometimes I hear and sometimes I listen.

There’s much you can overhear on a daily commute in London. It’s rare that you learn anything much, other than what someone is planning to have for supper, or how trashed they are planning to get at the pub tonight, or how much they hate their snooty colleague. Today, however, I learned something about how relationships develop. When you’re 11.

On the bus home this evening, I sat behind a bunch of primary school children, all dressed in their uniforms, and aged about 11. They sat and giggled at fellow commuters, exchanged insults with each other and kept a commentary running until they alighted at their stops. As much as I wanted to ignore what they were saying, I couldn’t help hearing and then I began to listen.

(Hello, everyone, my name is Sunshine and I’m an eavesdropper.)

The lone boy in the group said to one of his friends:
“So, bruv, did you see me kiss her, yeah?”

“Yeah, like I was so surprised, yeah? I thought, he’s doing it near a window and, like, everyone’s going to see, innit?”

“Yeah, but you know there’s like a trampoline next to the building, with a wall next to it, yeah? Well, like, that’s where I done it.”

“Yeah.”

“So, you know the longest it’s taken me to kiss a girl, bruv?”

“Yeah? How long?”

“Well, this girl who was, like, my first girlfriend, yeah? Well, you know how long it took me, right? Two years.”

“Whoa. That’s insane. I’m so bad because it takes me, like, two days, yeah?”

“Whoa. But that girl, yeah, I just hate her now. I hate her, bruv. You know I like kissed her and all, and then she’s like telling everyone, yeah, that I’m such a *****, innit.”

“Yeah, that happens sometimes.”

“So, you know what I normally do, right? I go, like, kiss kiss and then I, like, snog snog snog. Yeah?”

Doing a Beyoncé move of the neck from side to side, and waggling an index finger in his general direction, his friend said,
“Too. Much. Information. Yeah?”

And so ended the conversation. You’re probably thinking this post is too much information (TMI), yeah, but I thought you might, like, learn something from it. Innit? No, I didn’t either. Yeah?

Sunshine signing off for today!

A New Viewpoint

So until I have the chance to write a decent post about this new chapter in my life, I’d like to show you the view I had as I feasted on my lunchtime sandwich next to the River Thames today. I do love London.

St Paul's Cathedral, with a glimpse of the London Millennium Footbridge in the foreground, a steel suspension bridge across the River Thames

Sunshine signing off for today!

The Fun of the Commute

(This is a re-post of the second post that I wrote, and one of the main reasons I started blogging!)

If all the world’s a stage, then London public transport is scriptwriter’s paradise. And absolute bliss for a new blogger like me.

From overhearing an animated conversation among a group of priests – yes, as you guessed, they were talking at length and with passion about “Alice in Wonderland in 3D” – to watching a group of overweight, under-talented and slightly less than sober commuters pole dance on the Jubilee line, I’ve observed enough dramas, soap operas, musicals and scary movies on the tubes, trains and buses, to write a library-full of books. And I’m still watching.

A while back I was sat on the tube, waiting to go home at the end of a busy work day (yes, I did have a job then!), when the crowded carriage of Friday commuters was interrupted by the arrival of a young, fresh-faced woman, who ran on the tube in a fashion reminiscent of Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”.

She literally ran into the tube, her face filled with awe and wonder and amazement; she ran this way, she ran that way, she looked up, she looked down, and then, when all foreign eyes were upon her (local commuters generally don’t look up), she slinked over to the end of the carriage and stood at the window, facing the next compartment.

She opened the window, put her iPod earphones in place, and began to sing at full volume. I thought she was serenading a friend in the next door carriage, but it seemed she was singing for whoever would listen. Occasionally she sounded like someone singing through headphones, at other times like someone auditioning for a reality TV show, but mostly she was singing for the amusement of the commuters in both carriages.

The tube stopped at the next station, and who should walk into our carriage but a busker! Complete with guitar, and skirt made from a Union Jack flag … which wouldn’t be so bad if the busker were female. However, he introduced himself and said he wanted to entertain the evening commuters, asking for 10p per song, and promising he wouldn’t use the money for drink or drugs,
“Although,” he added, “it is Friday, so who knows?”

As he began to sing “Satisfaction”, a song he told us he wrote with Mick Jagger, the giggles of my fellow commuters could no longer be stifled. One person asked where the cameras were, and if the guitarist and “Julie Andrews” were taking the mick. Our in-carriage drama queen said,
“Oh, no. He’s a professional singer. I’m just annoying.”
No kidding?

The busker sang a few songs, walked down the carriage and, while he attracted very little funding to feed his habit, he did attract much mobile phone video attention. He walked down the carriage, singing enthusiastically and occasionally in tune. Miss Sound of Music watched in melodramatic anticipation of his next song, as he jumped off the tube at the next stop.

As the tube moved on, Miss Musical discovered, to her hair-grabbing horror, that she was travelling in the “wrong direction”. Thinking and agonizing out loud, she walked this way and that as she decided what to do about this increasingly tragic situation. After many dramatic utterances of  “OMG!” she alighted at the next tube station, amid flutters of giggles and chatter on the tube, and cynical echoes of her words. It was the first time I saw unity among commuters, albeit at the expense of a would-be dramatic actress and a drug-fuelled singer/songwriter.

And then there was the time I was waiting for my tube at my local station, when I noticed a fairly mousy, innocuous-looking middle-aged woman a little way down the platform from me. When the crammed tube arrived, the doors opened in front of her, and there was not one centimetre to spare; there was literally no way she could possibly consider climbing into that tube. Not even a hardened London commuter would have braved it.

But she was different. She launched herself headfirst on to the tube, only – after some jostling by the heaving mass of in-train commuters – to be spat out on to the platform like a mango pip. Undeterred, she gathered herself on the platform, turned around and forced her way backwards into the tube. She leant back at an acute angle to ensure the doors wouldn’t close on her, and off she went, leaving commuters on the platform open-mouthed, amazed and perplexed at her dogged and surprising determination.

Another time, I noticed on my crowded tube that one of the commuters was travelling on a different tube from everyone else. His tube was much bouncier than the one the rest of us were travelling on, and every so often his went over a particularly bumpy patch. No-one around him noticed, especially not the city suit next to him, who was moving and swaying to the rhythm of his personal entertainment centre, nor the chap nearby launching battle in a deadly game of snooker on his mobile phone.

It’s all there, folks – and I’ll keep telling you about it!

Sunshine signing off for today!

All Things Bright and New to Me

As I stood in the shower this morning, I thought about the fact that I just pressed a button and a torrent of hot water jetted instantly out of the shower rose. “Power showers”, as they are known here in the UK, were such a novelty for us when we first got to London.

I then thought about everything else in our day-to-day lives that fascinated me when I first arrived here. Two months after we arrived here, I emailed my family a list of things that were different from what I knew. I had another look at the list today, and thought I would post it here.

Please note that this is my perspective and my opinion; some of these things might be familiar to those who live in South Africa, and perhaps not everything I have seen is typical of London. These are purely my observations of things that I found different.

Interesting, as I read through it, I realised how inured I have become to most of the items on the list. I found myself thinking, “Oh, right – that was new to us back then”.

We call this guy "Neil". Long story
  1. We saw a fox in our car park the other evening.
  2. We have heaters in both of our bathrooms, and even in our kitchen. (And in the lounge and bedrooms, of course.)
  3. We have power showers in our bathrooms: you turn on a power switch on the bathroom wall, and then press the “on” button on the shower, and out comes hot water, instantly.
  4. At Tesco (supermarket) you pack your own groceries into bags. And you get “green points” (like extra loyalty points) on your Tesco card if you bring and re-use your own bags.
  5. The shopping trolleys at our local Tesco have a sign on them that reads: “These trolleys are programmed to stop automatically when pushed beyond the red zone.” The perimeter of the shopping centre (i.e. the car park) is colour-coded, with the red zone being the outermost zone. If you push a trolley over that line, it will literally stop. We discovered through experience, and wondered why the trolley stopped suddenly, jarringly, and would not budge a further inch.
  6. [I did see a shopping trolley on top of the bus stop a few months ago – not sure how it got beyond not only the “red zone” but how it was lifted to such a height. I think drunkenness might give you extra powers and imagination.]
  7. Despite commonly held beliefs, Londoners can be pretty friendly and helpful.
  8. It seems to be OK to swear on television (not on the news though).
  9. It’s a crime to beg. [The crime is “Begging and summoning alms.”]
  10. You can get arrested, or at least a warning, for peeing in public.
  11. Some buses won’t stop at the bus stop you’re standing at unless you flag them down.
  12. If you’re travelling on the bus, you need to ring the bell for it to stop at the next bus stop. Unless someone flags it down from the bus stop or a passenger rings the bell, it will not stop.
  13. Some bus drivers will wait for you if they see you running for the bus.
  14. At some shops you can scan and pay for your purchases yourself – i.e. no cashier involved.
  15. Sometimes it costs you 30p to spend a penny [go to a public rest room].
  16. You can buy booze on Sundays and you can buy wine and beer and spirits in the supermarkets. [In South Africa you cannot buy alcohol in a supermarket on a Sunday.]
  17. Wherever you go in London, you will encounter people from a huge variety of nationalities. It is truly a multicultural society, quite remarkable. I thought we lived and worked in a multi-cultural world in Cape Town, but honestly – we know nothing compared to a city like London.
  18. You can’t buy green (Sunlight-type) soap, and the local mayonnaise generally tastes junk. You can’t buy margarine in the UK – it is an illegal product. And you can’t buy cane spirit in the UK because it destroys your memory.
  19. What was I saying?
  20. You can get about 80 channels on Freeview television. But a TV licence costs about ZAR1,500 a year [£145.50].
  21. On weather reports on TV and the radio, they use terms like “bright”, “breezy” and “dull”.
  22. You can get free daily newspapers (Metro and the London Evening Standard) at the tube stations – with the result that most commuters are up on the latest news, like “has Simon Cowell shaved his hands?”
  23. We have mobile phones, from which we send texts. (Not cell phones, nor sms’s.)

I continue to notice new things, as you know, and I usually blog about them. I’ll never be a Londoner, but I can now make my way around a city that initially felt so wildly “forrin” to me.

Sunshine signing off for today!

A Troubled Bridge Over Waters

The studio we visited on Friday evening (Applaud … Now!) was in Hammersmith, an area of London we’d not visited before. We had a short time to walk along the edge of the River Thames before going into the studio and we discovered what an amazing area it was. Walk with me …

The Hammersmith Bridge across the Thames is an outstanding, imposing and quite formidable piece of engineering work. My friend who used to live in Hammersmith told me it had a fascinating history,  so I checked it out. Thanks Wikipedia!

The original Hammersmith Bridge was built in 1825, as the first suspension bridge over the Thames.  By the 1870s, the bridge was struggling under the weight of the traffic that passed over it, particularly the 11,000 or so who crowded on to the bridge to watch the University Boat Race in 1870. A temporary bridge was constructed, while a replacement bridge was built.

The replacement bridge, built on the original pier supports, was designed by well-known civil engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette (he also designed the Cathedral of Sewage in London’s east end – I’ll write about that in a future post) and it was opened in 1887.

Several times, the IRA have attempted to bomb it – once unsuccessfully in 1939 when an alert member of the public noticed a smoking, sparking suitcase on the bridge and went over to open it and throw the suitcase in the river. It exploded in the river, a few moments ahead of a second bomb that went off further down the bridge. In 2000, an IRA bomb exploded on it and put the bridge out of commission for two years.

Here are a few views of the bridge, which spans the River Thames between Hammersmith and Barnes (my husband took these amazing photographs):

Hammersmith Bridge in the late afternoon sun
Such a magnificent bridge

I had a quick stop to take a phone call:

Quick on the draw - I can answer the phone at ten paces
A view of the bridge as we walked north along the River

We walked further along the River and came across another boat suburb:

Fabulous house boats on the Thames

And some webbed residents:

These ducks don't often use the boat
I hope the big guy isn't a bully

We loved this walkway to a pub, called The Dove:

I love the low doorways in old buildings

We walked past amazing old houses along the edge of the river. I was fascinated to walk past a house with the sign “William Morris Society” outside it. My friend, Wendy, over at Herding Cats in Hammond River updated her blog theme last week, using a William Morris design as her background. I’d never heard of him (blush) so it was such a coincidence to discover Kelmscott House which was his residence from 1878 to 1896. This is the only photo we took of the house:

The William Morris Society house

We saw a hopeful glimpse of spring against the dusk sky:

Yay for the sight of cherry blossom!

Our walk came to an end and we headed back to the studio to become part of the TV audience. There are so many sights to see in London and each new one overwhelms me. I can’t imagine ever tiring of that feeling.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Applaud … Now!

We have a red box where we keep tickets and reminders of our London adventure. We opened the box this morning and threw another ticket into it. A ticket that reflected another first for us: being part of the studio audience for a television chat show. What fun!

The show, ITV’s That Sunday Night Show – described as a “round up of the week, casting a wry eye over the past seven day’s events and the week ahead” – is filmed in the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.

We got there ridiculously early. Too early. We went away and came back to discover that a queue had begun to form outside the studio, so we joined it. It was VERY cold. After about half an hour, a young woman with a clipboard checked our tickets and gave us two entry stickers and told us to come back to the holding area in about an hour. We came back and queued in the holding area, as instructed and shuffled forwards like a herd of slothful cows, until we came to a stop outside the nether regions of the ITV Studio.

Guys wearing “crew” T-shirts handed out beers to everyone in the holding area. One way to keep a bunch of impatient punters happy, I guess, but maybe it was designed to make the audience loose or, at least, to find the show banter funny! We continued to freeze and stand and freeze and stand.

Eventually we started to shuffle forwards and through a storage area. Any air of superiority I might have been feeling was whiffed away by the sights and smells around us: a calamity of plywood in different lengths and shapes; metal cages filled with boxes and stuff; a forklift; several brooms; more boxes and stuff and wires and bins and buckets and clay models and stuff. We shuffled alongside a huge floaty white curtain and then tadah! There was the studio!

We were ushered into seats and sat in the fourth row, which was the first stepped-up row. I usually end up behind the overly-tall guy with huge curly hair, so I’m glad to report my view of the set was uninterrupted. Curly-haired tall guy was in the row below ours.

A “warm-up guy” came and introduced himself to the studio audience. His job of making us laugh was made easy by what he called a “self-pleasing” audience. Banter flew this way and that from audience members or, as I like to call them, part-time comedians. The lights went down and in walked show host, Adrian Chiles.

He introduced his interesting blend of guest panellists: Russell Kane, comedian; Janet Street-Porter, journalist and broadcaster; and Lord Alan Sugar, multi-millionaire and UK host of The Apprentice.

And so began the filming of the 30 minute-long chat show. It took two hours, with a short break after an hour, and we were impressed with how slick the filming process was. There were a few times when Adrian stumbled over his words, but he just repeated them and the show went on. At the end of the two hours, he did re-takes of about four intros to film clips and it was a wrap. Heavy editing will leave around 20 minutes to be aired between the commercial breaks.

Adrian looks at big and small news items from the past week, comments on them and invites comment from his panellists. It was interesting to see the dynamics between the three guests; Russell Kane is ever the cheeky-chappy naughty comedian, who made faces at the audience and chipped in with funny observations and jokes all the time. I loved that! Janet Street Porter elbowed her opinion in at every opportunity and I found her to be not only heavy-handed but grumpy and negative. Perhaps that’s her brand. Lord Alan Sugar added his no-nonsense opinion with flat, slicing hands. When he speaks, people listen. He said he loves visiting America because at least no-one says to him, “You’re fired.” Clearly he is accosted at every turn by British fans proffering that original line to him.

Russell Kane talked about the immediate feedback he gets as a stand-up comedian and the constant fear that if he doesn’t make his audience laugh, he’s fired. Adrian Chiles said to Lord Sugar,
“You’re funny, Lord Sugar, you know how to make people laugh. Did you ever consider being a comedian?”

His reply made me laugh:
“When I was small, I was walking with my mum. She said to me, ‘You know you’re really funny. I’ve heard that you make your friends laugh at school. Why don’t you become a comedian?’ I said to her, ‘Mum, do you mean going to the working men’s clubs where they throw beer and crisps at you and heckle you?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Mum, if you don’t mind, I think I’d rather become a multi-millionaire.’”

We were interested to notice a “Lord Sugar lookalike” in the audience. He queued just ahead of us and, unlike the rest of us punters, was dressed formally in a suit. I thought there might be some interest in the fact that Lord Sugar’s doppelganger sat among the rowdy rabble. Not a peep. It made me think of that song, “I took my harp to the party and nobody asked me to play. So I took the damned thing away.”

The show was packed. Adrian had three studio guests who ran the gauntlet of the panel’s comments and questions and unimpressed-ness. The guests included Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies), Terry Green, the voice of the UK Post Office queuing system (I felt sorry for him as the panellists ate him up, comment by comment) and Heston Blumenthal (celebrity chef and owner of The Fat Duck restaurant in London).

Heston has recently opened another restaurant in London known as Dinner by Heston, where he serves medieval food and focuses on the history of English food. He served Adrian and the panellists each a wooden platter adorned with what looked like a mandarin and two slices of toasted ciabatta. The mandarin was in fact a perfectly disguised chicken parfait, which all of the panellists – bar Lord Sugar – partook of and enjoyed. Lord Sugar ungraciously, I thought, declined to eat it as he said he was unimpressed by fancy food and preferred the fare he grew up with. Clearly that footage will land on the cutting room floor.

So, two hours, two “warm-up guy” sessions, a bunch of Russell guffaws and delightful Adrianisms later, we shuffled out of the studio and once more into the freezing London night. We’ll watch the programme tomorrow night for sure – maybe we’ll just hear ourselves laugh. Another first and another ticket in our red box.

Sunshine signing off for today!