I love to laugh!

How often do you laugh? I mean, seriously laugh? It’s one of my favourite things in the whole world – and, as the song goes – “I love to laugh, long and loud and clear; the more I laugh, the more I fill with glee, and the more the glee, the more I’m a merrier me”!

My husband and I have never stopped being able to make each other laugh. The other day, we laughed till the tears rolled down our cheeks. And our stomachs ached. And our faces hurt. I have no idea what we were laughing at but boy, does that do my heart good! So I thought I’d share a few things with you that make me laugh. Or just smile.

A few days ago, I tried out a new gym class: chi ball. I’d heard – from the instructor – just how amazing it was, and he told me, as he flapped his hand forward, that I’d “simply love it! It’s divine.”

So I booked to do a chi ball class before my usual Pilates class. I arrived to a studio “filled” with three other people. We all got out our mats, sat on them and waited for the instructor, who is notoriously late for everything. The door flew open and in rushed the instructor, three limbs flapping at a rate of knots; the fourth one dragging behind in melodramatic tardiness.

He was already speaking – in broad Glaswegian – before he came in the door. To us, I mean. “Yes, you do see me limping I banged my knee on the fridge because they’re doing some work in our flat and everything in the kitchen is all over the flat and the fridge is in the passage so I walked into it because it’s just in the way and my knee’s so sore I can hardly move it and on the tube I was trying to avoid anyone bumping me and so I stood like this and I couldn’t bring the chi balls because they’re too heavy and they would weigh me down and put pressure on my knee because it’s so sore how are you?”

After the second word, two of the three other women in the room stopped listening and started giggling. They looked at each other, and giggled behind their hands, and slapped each other and giggled. I thought the performance was amusing, but not so giggle-worthy. When the words stopped, one of the women said to the instructor, “Ah, is this not yoga?” He told them yoga was in the studio next door, so they up and went next door, leaving the two of us to enjoy a chi ball class with no chi balls and an injured instructor. A chi ball class not.

Our instructor – who is a lovely man – then suggested we do a mixture of tai chi, chi gong, yoga and pilates, so the two of us set up shop next to each other and launched into a musical mystery tour of ancient truths and butterfly arms. A few minutes into the routine, we all looked hopefully across the room as two more people entered. Turned out they were just there to take the extra mats.

We touched the sun, we posed like warriors and we reached around the world. All the time with butterfly arms. It was a hilarious class when I reflect back on it – it was flipping hard work trying to change the world with butterfly arms. I’ll give it a bash again next week. Let’s hope the fridge has moved by then.

I’ve told you quite a lot about the fun I have commuting to central London by bus. I have discovered that the earlier I leave, the more likely I am to share the bus with a truckload, sorry a busload, of schoolchildren. They are an interesting breed. The boys and girls sit separately, totally separately, and they get off at separate stops even though they go to the same school. I guess early adolescence is the time to avoid the opposite sex, even though all they want to do, really, is spend time together.

One day last week, as the boys headed off down the stairs at their designated stop, one of them looked around at the top of the stairs and, surveying the mass of commuter heads in his view, shouted, “Bye bye all you funny bus people!” I guess he must have lost a bet.

We had a successful outing – thank the Lord! – to our favourite comedy club recently. Stephen Merchant, who co-wrote The Office and Extras with Ricky Gervais and who appeared in both series, headlined at our local comedy club. Stephen is off on a tour of the UK later this year, followed by one or two tester dates in the USA. He wanted to try out his new material, and what better place to do that than a small, intimate comedy club in south London?

We found seats just behind the band, who play between the acts. They were a great buffer until the acts came on stage, and then they all disappeared, leaving us, well, exposed. Thank goodness no-one picked on us!

Stephen Merchant is very very funny. His tour is called “Hello Ladies” as, he explained, he is looking for a “Mrs”. He’s on the search for someone who wants a little of “this”, he says, as he points up and down his body. He looked at a woman in the front row and said, “I know what you’re thinking. Six foot seven. That’s a lot of Stephen.”

His humour is delightfully self-deprecating, and he wove his stories around the sorry tale of his singleness and his inept attempts at romance. Despite the fact that he has two Baftas. He also talked – with many many hilarious diversions – of how he once came to being kicked out of a wedding reception. He told us how great it was to be on tour as a solo stand-up comedian: “Yes, best that way. Don’t have to pay any royalties to [air speech marks] you-know-who!”

Stephen Merchant is a delightful and very funny man. If you get the chance to see him perform, jump at it; you won’t be sorry you did. He is one half of The Office genius and he’s certainly a very talented half. I can imagine the energy that flowed between him and “you-know-who”, both when they worked at BBC Radio together and then when they worked on all their killer series together.

My blog will be silent for the next few weeks as we fly home to be with our family for a couple of major big birthday celebrations. To say that I’m sick with excitement would be a major understatement. I look forward to sharing the adventures with you on our return but, for now, I’m smiling and waving you all au revoir. With butterfly arms. Always with butterfly arms.

Sunshine signing off for today!

An audience with Miss Chatelaine

It must be about 20 years ago that I first saw this floppy-fringed Canadian singer. I didn’t really like her look and paid little attention. Until I heard her sing. Miss Chatelaine blew my mind, not to mention my assumptions. Seeing her perform that song live last night felt like a musical dream for me.

Just a smile,  just a smile, hold me captive for a while
I can’t explain why I’ve become Miss Chatelaine
Every time your eyes meet mine,
Clouds of qualm burst into sunshine

kd lang live at the Royal Festival Hall. Yesterday’s date stared out at me from our calendar for a few months, our tickets stared out at me from their shelf in our cabinet, and I grew more and more excited as the day neared. Yesterday was a beautiful warm and sunshiney day in London; temperatures hovered around 26 degrees for most of the day. After work I walked along the edge of the Thames from my London Bridge office towards the South Bank, where I’d arranged to meet my husband at the Nelson Mandela bust. It seemed fitting.

Much of London was out enjoying the sun and the summer construction of a “beach” along the South Bank. Street dancers performed, families strolled along licking ice lollies, pubs overflowed with chirpy office workers, benches and patches of grass were filled with cheery people enjoying the welcome London sunshine. In lengthening shadows and royal blue sunshine, the balmy evening was simply sublime.

Because we booked early for last night’s show, we managed to get great seats in the fifth row from the stage. Little Miss Higgins and Floyd Taylor opened the show with infectiously bouncy old time country music, inspired by her rural home in the Great Northern Plains of Western Canada. After a short interval, kd lang and the Siss Boom Bang Band took the stage and wove musical magic around us for the next hour and a half.

Opening with I Confess from her recently-released and beautifully crafted Sing it Loud album, she moved on to The Water’s Edge before sending the audience into raptures with her crazy-fabulous arrangement of Miss Chatelaine. Mixing old and new songs, she sang and she danced and with every word, she reached out from her soul to an adoring audience.

When she shouted, “London!” we screamed and we whooped and we whistled, before her rousing delivery of Sing it Loud, her album’s title song and anthem to being who you are. She then began a set of spiritual songs starting, as she said, “at the top and working my way down”. She tore through Talking Head’s Heaven before moving on to probably the most sincere and emotional offering of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah I have ever heard. She brought me to tears and all of us spontaneously to our feet. After a poignant A Sleep with No Dreaming, she ended the set by giving her guitar pick to a little girl in the front row. Much applause followed and then kd said, “What? She wants my guitar too? Right. Everyone wants Josephine; she’s that kinda gal.”

She then introduced us to the immensely talented band from lead guitarist, to bass player, drummer, keyboard/piano wizard and then ended with the man who “changed my life”. She met Joe Pisapia at the Ryman Auditorium at the Grand Ole Opry and what we experienced last night is what resulted from “that union”. I’d heard her talk before about the name of the band – Siss Boom Bang is what happens when they play together. They sizzle and they just work. Beautifully.

A clearly well-loved woman, kd batted audience chirps away with grace and gentle wit. One audience member shouted out a whole bunch of song titles. This seemed to confuse ms lang, who said, “So many titles, so few mine.”

What followed was The Perfect Word, Habit of Mind, Reminiscing (what an adorable love song), Sorrow Nevermore (where kd ditched Josephine to play the banjo) and ended with a powerful rendition of Constant Craving. The audience went ballistic and she and the band left the stage. We wouldn’t let her go, so she returned sans shoes and jacket for the beautiful Inglewood, before her final and delightfully frenetic Sugar Buzz.

We still didn’t want her to go. And nor did she. She and the band returned for a third and final encore. She gathered her band closely around her on the stage to perform a song “for all the businessmen here tonight”. A fun and bouncy Pay Dirt  was followed by the achingly delicate Hungry Bird.

kd lang and the Siss Boom Bang Band then left the stage. They left us screaming for more but knowing we’d just experienced an evening of musical genius. I loved it. k daddy – you have the voice of an angel and I’m a fan. A big fan.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Songs from the soul

Riding in buses with people

I commute to work by bus every day. I take a ten-minute walk to my stop, hop on my favoured ride, and sit among the good and the great, the quiet and the noisy. Usually I catch up on texting my friends or family, or I read my book. Sometimes I sit and listen. Other times I just sit.

Last week, the American President paid an official state visit to these shores. Barack and Michelle Obama were welcomed by both Queen Elizabeth II and British Prime Minister, David Cameron. In the midst of the pomp and ceremony and formality, David and Barack went to visit a south London school to play table tennis. And to meet the schoolchildren. Apparently the area was a no-go zone for most of the day, as security measures ensured the safety of the two highly competitive table tennis players.

The day after this school visit, which was splashed across all national and international media, I travelled on the bus with a bunch of schoolchildren who were clearly part-time political commentators.

“You know they went to that school, yeah? They chose that school, right, because them kids, yeah, they’s well bad, right? So they went to that school to make them good, innit?”

I hope they were successful.

So these are the things I observe as I ride in buses with people:

1. Some people bash everyone’s heads with their bags as they walk up or down the aisle of the bus. It looks like they have either a small washing machine, or an old-fashioned television set in the bags they carry on their shoulders and, systematically, they will bash the head of each person sitting on an aisle seat on their route. I am not sure how many points you get for a whole row of commuters, but there must be some high-fiving happening somewhere.

2. Some people like to take up two seats on the their own. They will sit on one seat and their bag on the other. (See above.)

3. Some people who travel with their friends or partners or spouses, love to speak loudly and sometimes to argue. I sat on the bus once listening to a young couple argue for forty minutes about the same subject. When eventually I got to my stop, I was tempted to say, “For goodness sake, do the freaking exam tomorrow. He has a point – you’ve got nothing to lose.”

4. Some commuters are very British. And others aren’t. One morning, as I walked up the stairs to the upper deck of the bus, I heard a young man seated at the back of the bus having a conversation on his cell phone. Clearly, he didn’t need a phone; I think his friend would have heard him from Edinburgh. He finished his conversation, and then began to strike up a conversation with the guy who had sat down beside him. I thought it was an entirely one-way conversation because all I heard was the young guy, at the same number of decibels as his phone conversation, tell his neighbour about what had happened on the bus the night before. After a polite pause, his new friend said to him, “Would you mind calming down, please?”

5. Some people don’t mind having inappropriate conversations that everyone on the bus can hear. One evening, I was joined by a chubby and jovial young man who came to sit next to me. He was already having a conversation on his cell phone, which he continued at full voice for the entire journey. As hard as I tried to concentrate on reading my book, I couldn’t focus for the incessant yabbering from my neighbour. My book was much more interesting than the fact that he argued with his partner for three hours on Monday night because, as he was ironing, he forgot to tell her when Glee came on television.

6. Some people are fruit murderers. The other day, I sat near a guy who wasn’t so much eating an apple, as beating it to death between his tongue and the roof of his mouth. Loudly.

Despite how it may sound, I do love travelling to work by bus. I have a scenic walk along the docks, the river and then a treed walkway to my bus stop. And it is fun getting to know some familiar faces who catch the bus at the same time as I do. Once I’m on the bus, I make sure I don’t forget to look up at the regular sights that we pass, like the occasional uninterrupted view of the River Thames, and the view of Tower Bridge. Mostly I sit there and feel thankful for my job and for this opportunity to live in London.

On the odd occasion – and thankfully this doesn’t happen too often – the journey can be quite different. Once, I planned an entire tantrum in my mind. I had no intention of acting on it, but the process of imagining turned out to be just what I needed. Let me explain …

One day a few weeks ago, I’d had a really full and busy day at work, and I got on the bus feeling quite tired and wearing the hair-shirt of grumpiness. I was trying, unsuccessfully, to send a text message to my husband; traffic was bad; our bus sat in one of the railway tunnels for ages; a young couple was arguing non-stop and a Spanish couple were shouting at each other (I don’t think they were arguing, just trying to get themselves heard above the arguers). In my mind, I imagined the following: flinging my head dramatically into my lap, grabbing my hair with both hands and doing a screen-worthy “aaaargghhhhh!” Once that had got everyone’s attention, I imagined myself storming down the aisle – telling the young couple to “sort this out, one way or the other, for the love of London!”. (I actually thought that.) As I stormed down the aisle, I would also be bashing everyone’s heads with my bag – not on purpose, but just because I had a big bag over my shoulder – and swearing like a pirate at the bus driver for the traffic, before demanding he let me off the bus.

It felt quite satisfying to imagine that drama in my mind, until I remembered that that very morning, I had prayed that God would use me to extend His kingdom in whatever I did that day. Major fail. That made me smile and it loosened the grumpy shirt that I’d been wearing. I breathed deeply, I tried to remember the true meaning of tolerance and chuckled as I stepped off the bus, quietly, at the next stop. I didn’t even touch my hair.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Sevens heaven

Two more tickets landed in our red box last night when we returned from a full day at Twickenham, the home of British rugby in London. We left in bright London sunshine and returned in balmy dusk, having had an amazing new experience in this city.

We were two of the world record crowd of over 54,000 at the first day of an international 7s rugby tournament, one in which our Saffa team – the Springboks – feature in the top four in the current standings, having being world champions in the 2008/09 season. It was too exciting to see our boys in green running on to the pitch to take on a series of rivals throughout the day: sixteen teams from around the world take part, namely New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Samoa, Argentina, USA, Canada, Russia, Argentina, South Africa, Kenya, Spain, Portugal, Scotland, England and Wales. South Africa was ranked fourth at the beginning of this, the penultimate match of the series.

Our boys in green - Springboks, otherwise known as blitzbokke

The day was much like a festival of rugby, with a wonderful, colourful atmosphere for the entire day. A beach party theme encouraged more than half of the fans to arrive at Twickenham dressed for a day at the beach … some sharing a little more than they should, others – like the guy in a Speedo and mankini – causing more than a little trauma for fellow spectators. Grass skirts and paper flower garlands around necks and heads predominated the fancy dress, while there were a number of pirates (?), lobsters, sombrero-and-poncho-wearers, ice-cream cones, sailors, mermaids, many silly hats, painted faces, men in tutus and one guy dressed as a London bobby sans trousers. I guess some people just have fancy dress that they will wear regardless of the theme! There was way too much flesh on display, although the weather was just magical. One fan took that to the extreme by running on to the field, dropping his kit entirely and running around the field in his birthday suit. I did feel sorry for the security team who had to stop him…

Colourful fans abound at Twickenham

The rugby, which was brilliant and hugely entertaining, continued relentlessly through the day. South Africa won two of its three matches of the day, which means it went through to the quarter final of the cup event today, and we wait to see what happens next. The home crowd went ballistic when the England squad appeared in front of our stand to warm up – grown men stood and applauded spontaneously, some almost wept with pride as their team ran up and down the width of the rugby field to prepare for their first pool game.

When England did appear for their first match, they were welcomed onfield by a swathe of red-and-white-clad young dancers, bearing St George flags. The crowd, to a man, jumped to their feet, screamed and applauded with excitement as the home side made their first appearance. The young men in front of us who, like many of their contemporaries, viewed the day as an excuse to go “on the p***” as they say here, actually paid attention to the game and jumped up every time England scored. Much lager was spilled underfoot, but who cares when your team is on the field?

The red-and-white girls provided much entertainment throughout the day and, for the most part, not in the way they intended. A group of them lined themselves along the stepped aisle in our [north] section and within seconds, there were comments flying about relating to one of the young women who, some said, “clearly has her head on facing the wrong way”.

I couldn’t work out who they were talking about, until my eyes fell on a beautiful young blonde woman who was standing, with her hands on her hips and her elbows pointing forwards at an angle that would make your eyes water. Oblivious to the comments about her strange joints, the young woman smiled and carried on regardless. Every time the dancing girls appeared thereafter, the guys behind us would say, “Look! There’s funny elbow lady!” or “Miss Bingo Wings again!”

As the day progressed, and the lager flowed, everything seemed to be that much funnier. And louder. A tartan tam’o’shanter-wearing supporter seated behind us, came staggering back up the steps towards his mates. As he approached, one of his friends shouted, “Oi, ‘ow you gettin’ on, McBain?” The young hat-wearer stopped in his tracks, put his hands on his hips (luckily his elbows faced the right way), and melodramatically said, “Ye can tek ma land, but ye can neverrrrr tek ma fridom!”

His would-be Scottish accent was horrible, a fact not overlooked by one of his mates who said, “Yeah, especially given that you’re Jamaican!”

We noticed an interesting quirk in the way Twickenham supporters responded to the different teams and matches played throughout the day. Generally, with the exception of national fans from the other countries, the crowd favoured any team that was the underdog in any match. Or any team playing France.

England came on to play France in what could best be described – historically – as a grudge match. Throughout the match, fans sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” – the song that has become an anthem for English rugby – and hearing that, in the midst of a 54,000 strong crowd, really gave me goosebumps. My sentimentality was interrupted by desperate pleas from a guy behind us, who yelled “DO something!” as France gained ground throughout the match. France narrowly defeated the home side, much to the horror of one English fan behind us who shouted, “Let’s not forget what happened at Agincourt!”

Patriotic welcome for the England team and its opponents

It was a wonderfully fun and entertaining day, and one I’d definitely love to repeat next year. Witnessing how teams warmed up together and left the field together was quite moving. Many teams held on to each other as they withdrew to the dressing room between warm-up and match.

The New Zealand 7s team walk back to the dressing room, holding on to each other - I loved this spirit of team

We travelled to Twickenham crammed in a train full of colourfully-dressed fans, walked to the stadium in the midst of equally colourful and chirpy fans. Our return journey was slightly less crammed, but with fellow travelling fans in sentimental, almost maudlin, mood. I think today will dawn with many throbbing heads, but I’m pretty sure Twickenham will be equally full and do an equally brisk trade in sales of alcohol. I hope our Saffa team continues to do us proud. Go blitzbokke!

Sunshine signing off for today!

Twickenham in the dusk

Said the spider to the fly

So, I’m pretty gullible really. Easily flattered, I’m something of a pushover at times. Say a few kind words and the blinkers emerge to block out any sensible thought. Let me explain.

I went to a big expo at a large exhibition hall in London a few weeks ago. As I left, I was walking in determined fashion, thinking about getting back to the office and all that awaited me there. A young guy with a clipboard approached me. Survey radar failed me, and I stopped in my tracks.

He greeted me with a smile, asked me if I’d been at the expo and I duly answered him.

“Where does that accent come from … South Africa?” he lamely ventured.

I nodded and he proceeded with his spiel, everything moving ahead like clockwork for him.

“I love your accent, it’s just amazing. It’s one of my favourite accents … I could listen to you talking forever,” he gushed.

In the midst of my “Oh really?” responses, he continued to tell me just how wonderful my accent was. I was totally oblivious to the “reeling-me-in” motion he must have been gesturing in his mind.

He then went in for the clincher.

“We’re doing this amazing giveaway. We just need your mobile number; we don’t need your email address because we won’t email you, but if you give me your number you can win a makeover in a photographic studio, worth hundreds of pounds and it’ll cost you absolutely nothing. Your mobile number is?”

And I proceeded to give him my mobile number. Like a lamb to the slaughter. He wrote down my number, gave me my “winning” ticket and wished me everything of the best.

I walked away, wondering to myself why on earth I just entered a competition in which I had zero interest, why I gave him my number and why was I so stupid. Why didn’t I switch a few of the digits around on my mobile number, or better still, just say I wasn’t interested in being part of their promotion. What was I thinking? I did get the call a few weeks later, and managed to say that I was not at all interested in a studio makeover, thank you very much, but I am sure I haven’t heard the last of them yet.

It reminded me of a plot my older son hatched when he was about four years old. It was the foolproof method to catch a robber. He told us that we needed to get a banana, tie it to a piece of string and then hang the string from the curtain rail in our lounge. We then needed to write a note that read, “Robber, eat this banana” and clip the note to the curtain next to the banana. We would then hide behind the curtain and wait for the robber to come and eat the banana, and then we could jump out from behind the curtain and catch him.

It was such a sweet and simple, yet – as I thought – flawed plan. My experience of a few weeks ago makes me realise we could just have caught Mr Robber in that fashion. If only I didn’t like bananas so much …

Sunshine signing off for today!

Let’s not forget to remember

The more I get to know London, the less I realise I know of this city heaving and overcrowded with history. And the more I get to know the city, the more I love living here for now.

My New York blogging buddy, jacquelin, told me about Postman’s Park, just behind St Paul’s. I met up with my husband one sunshine-filled lunch time last week, and we walked across the London Millennium Footbridge over the Thames, towards St Paul’s Cathedral – a sight that still takes my breath away – and we walked around the massive and awe-inspiring church to this little spot:

Postman's Park, in the City of London

This little spot is interestingly one of the biggest parks in the City of London. It was built in 1880 on the site of a churchyard and burial ground of St Botolph’s Aldergate. Named as it is because it stands on the former site of the General Post Office where postmen often sat to eat their lunch, Postmans Park is also home to a sheltered wall commemorating, as something of a protest against the upper class, ordinary people who lost their lives heroically trying to save others. G F Watts, the painter (1817 – 1904), came up with the idea and he commissioned Doulton to create the hand-lettered tiles to honour the otherwise unheralded and unnamed heroes.

So quaint and so special

In a similar vein, one of my colleagues showed me this little site just down the road from our office. Known as Cross Bones, this is an unconsecrated burial site, going back to medieval times, for “single women” and paupers. (“Single women” was a euphemism for prostitutes, known in the area as “Winchester Geese” because they were licenced by the Bishop of Winchester to work within the Southwark area known as the Liberty of the Clink.)

According to Wikipedia, the Liberty of the Clink lay outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, and as a result became known for its brothels and theatres, bull and bear-baiting. The age of the graveyard is not known: John Stow (1525 – 1605) wrote about it in A Survey of London in 1598, and by 1769 it had become a paupers’ cemetery for the poor of St Saviour’s parish. It is believed that about 15,000 people are buried there.

Cross Bones, with the Shard - Europe's tallest building-to-be - in the background

When the London Underground planned the construction of its Jubilee Line through the area, between 1991 and 1998, archaeologists found this overcrowded graveyard with bodies piled on top of one another. Test showed the deaths to have been caused by anything from smallpox to TB, Paget’s disease, osteoarthritis and Vitamin D deficiency.

The find captured the attention of local community members who created an informal group – Friends of Cross Bones – to campaign for a permanent memorial garden on the site, which has also become the site of annual Halloween festivals – held every year since 1998 – marked by processions, songs and candles.

A permanent, living memorial marked by ribbons and flowers and poems

My, how the times have changed. Or have they?

Sunshine signing off for today!

The royal wee ‘uns

I know I don’t often write about fashion, but I thought I would share with you what we found on a recent outing to Greenwich. It’s what every trendy baby will be wearing today. Only.

Add a strawberry fascinator and voila! A future queen

Onesie is totally amused.

Sunshine signing off today!

My world in random order

Today is officially Squirrels-Gone-Mad Day. I know you might have been expecting a Royal Wedding post from this heaving city because nothing much else seems to be happening here at the moment. People are camping outside Westminster as we speak to get a glimpse of the family-that-is-not-boring and the couple-who-are-also-not-boring as they get set to tie the royal knot on Friday. But squirrels captured my attention today; they just did.

As I walked to my bus this morning, I decided that the squirrels in our ‘hood had gone nuts. Firstly, I saw a squirrel scurrying towards the water as I crossed the dock. There was no tree in sight and, I know it’s been a bit warmer here, but I didn’t realise squirrels liked the water. Although I saw no towel or swimming cap (health and safety considerations, of course), I think my squirrel friend was going for a squim.

Then, when I walked past a row of weeping willow trees, a couple of squirrels rushed past me and scurried up a tree. I heard a crinkling sound and then saw that one of the squirrels was carrying a large, crumpled-up piece of paper in its mouth. I watched it as it ran to the top of the tree, towards a nest. (Do squirrels have nests?) I thought maybe the squirrels just wanted to do anything to take their minds off this royal madness all around them; it was their equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and going “la-la-la-la-la-la”! I know the feeling.

My version of doing that is to share a few more of the things that I love about life in London and, in so doing, to keep the attention away from the you-know-whats.

1. Sir John Soane’s Museum

A glimpse inside Sir John Soane's museum (via culture24.org.uk)

Friends of ours told us about this little hidden gem in the heart of London. Sir John Soane was the Royal Architect (sorry for using the “r” word) in 1806 and, according to his website, began “to arrange the Books, casts and models in order that the students might have the benefit of easy access to them and proposed opening his house for the use of the Royal Academy students the day before and the day after each of his lectures. By 1827, when John Britton published the first description of the Museum, Soane’s collection was being referred to as an ‘Academy of Architecture’”.

We visited this Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Field near Holborn in central London a few weekends ago. We stood and waited our turn to enter the hushed and hallowed halls of this building that was home and house to both a family and an exorbitantly large collection of stuff. The number of visitors to the house at any one time is limited to about 20, as space to move is at a premium. I had to put my handbag into a plastic bag and hold it in my hand, to avoid the risk of knocking over artefacts that are stood and stored everywhere; all cameras and laptops were surrendered at the front door and no photography permitted. No washing machines either.

When we got the nod, we stepped into a surreal world of compulsive collections of artwork, furniture, paintings, statues, stained glass, casts, architects’ models and history. Our eyes stood out on stalks, our senses were overloaded and the abundance of assembled heritage from every corner and age of the world just about blew my mind. The house itself is a fascination of levels and sunroofs and alcoves and cellars and nooks and crannies. Every available surface and space is filled with another piece of art.

The “monk’s cellar” at the bottom of the house is home to a collection of Egyptian art, including a sarcophagus, complete with hieroglyphic engravings as well as a wooden mummy case. A cellar-level courtyard hosts the final resting place of “Poor Fanny” whose inscription on a massive headstone tells of a greatly revered personality, laid to rest in pride of place. I asked one of the staff members who “poor Fanny” was and was surprised to learn that “she was, madam, Mrs Soane’s dog”.

We were ushered into a high-ceilinged room whose walls were lined, from floor to ceiling, with paintings. The door was closed behind us and a white-gloved curator proceeded to talk us through the profusion of artworks that covered the walls. He talked with perfect comedic timing through a series of William Hogarth paintings, A Rake’s Progress, and then described the provenance of each other gem hanging from the walls, or should I say, cupboard doors, as they opened to reveal a further collection of artworks lining the inside of the doors and the real wall behind the doors. The opposite “wall” was also so composed, with one difference: the doors opened to reveal another set of doors which then opened on to an open space above the monk’s cellar, where Soane’s model of the Bank of England stood proudly for all to see. We all gasped and applauded.

The rest of the house brought with it equal numbers of surprises and sensory treats; it certainly requires a second and third visit and you can be sure that we’ll be back to discover more.

2. Charity in London

I work for a small charity that does remarkably big work in London. I never cease to be amazed at the level of dedication to our work that I see all around me every day, and the pace of change that results from passionate and focused campaigning.

Ten days ago, we stood on Tower Bridge and cheered on the 100 or so runners who joined the 36,500 others to run the London Marathon 2011 in our charity’s colours towards a goal of raising some quarter of a million pounds for us. It’s far and away our biggest fundraising event of the year, which makes sense: the London Marathon is, I am told, the “biggest fundraising event on the PLANET”.

The elite women. The green-vested speedster on the right ran in what was her second marathon and won in just over two hours.
From the sublime to the ridiculous: these ladies stopped their running and took photos of each other on Tower Bridge.

Each person running for us had a reason to run for us: to raise funds for world-class research that might change the course of his four-year-old son’s life; to run in memory of her nephew who died 15 years ago, aged 16; three university students who ran because their mate is in a wheelchair and he’s an awesome guy; brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, friends – all honouring someone close to them and supporting them in this amazingly tangible way. There are no more words.

3. Endless eavesdropping opportunities

Last week, a woman sat behind me in the bus on the way to work. She arrived at her seat mid-conversation on her cell phone. She had a slight accent, and from what I could overhear, she was whingeing about someone; female I think.

The conversation continued in a monotone and then I heard her say, “But you know what? I’m really worried about the herpes.” I then began to wonder what kind of a weekend she’d had, exactly, and began to understand why she was so irate with this other person.

“Everything else is okay, the shoes and everything, it’s just the herpes. And I’m really worried. I don’t know what to do about it.”

I was about to move seats, when I realised I was heading off down the wrong track.

“You see, the thing about the herpes is that … well, it’s more like a veil than a herpes. You see?”

She was talking about a “hairpiece”.

4. Riding along the Thames

I am quite proud of myself because I can still ride a bicycle. Well, ride might be too generous a word. I can stay upright on a bicycle and not fall off. Just.

Easter Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day with a light breeze. My husband and I set off on our newly-sorted bikes to enjoy a little ride along the edge of the Thames. I haven’t been on a bike for about 30 years but, as they say, it’s just like riding a bike. I managed to stay pretty much balanced and didn’t wobble myself to a complete standstill.

Thank goodness we didn’t ride in traffic, just along the Thames footpath, and I mostly managed to avoid hitting any pedestrians. For a short distance we rode on a road with traffic and I discovered a have a unique instinct: instead of fight or flight, I have my own response: act like a complete idiot. Fearing being knocked over by a car, I do the sensible thing when I hear it approaching: I ride towards it.

I don’t think that approach will lengthen my life, but I’ll stay off the busy roads just in case. It is also a bit of a challenge riding a boy’s bike that is slightly too big for me, but I’ll get over it. In fact, I did! And the uncomfortable saddle. And the handlebars that seem designed for gorilla-length arms. But you know what? The freedom of riding along in a gentle breeze, alongside my best friend and along the edge of a raging river that’s been churning and flowing since time immemorial, made me feel alive and unbeatable.

Until I hit a cobbled path and riding over it was like being aboard a jackhammer at full throttle. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

This post has felt a bit like Sir John Soane’s museum – nothing really makes too much sense; it’s filled with bits of this and bits of that and peppered with randomness and collections of thoughts and observations, with nothing really to hold them all together except that they all come from me. I don’t think there’ll be people queuing for a viewing of my thoughts but you never know; this is London, man, and people here are crazy.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Tall, dark and interesting

There’s a really cool guy who comes to clean our offices in the evenings. He listens to music through earphones as he works, and, quite frankly, he fascinates me. He looks so trendy and interesting, and the other day I found myself wondering what his story was. And that reminded me …

A few years ago, back in Cape Town, I went to night school to study. I had two young sons, I worked full-time and I studied part-time with a bunch of mainly youngsters who had just completed their undergraduate studies, and had continued straight on to this course. Most of them still lived at home, most had nothing else to do except the course. I thought about that as I juggled supper, washing, helping my sons with their homework and trying to study for a test the following evening.

I also thought about that the one evening when our lecturer told us to “cast your minds back to 1978”. I got totally in the zone … where I was, what music I listened to, who my friends were, the level of insecure that I felt as an awkward teenager in her second last year of high school … when I was shaken out of my reverie by a fellow student who said, “Bob! Most of us were only born in 1978!” Was I ever glad I didn’t open my mouth?

One evening, our first lecture in research methodology was about to begin. Students had gathered and seated themselves and were chattering noisily throughout the lecture theatre. The lecturer arrived and put his books on the podium, and we all settled down in silent anticipation of the riveting lecture ahead. He greeted us, welcomed us and began to introduce his topic for the evening.

The doors – which were near the front of the lecture theatre – opened dramatically. A tall, gorgeous, James Dean-esque vision in denim stood in the doorway. Perfectly coiffed and beautifully sculpted, he surveyed the theatre to see where he was going to sit for the evening. A million of us wished we could raise our hands and invite him to sit next to us, but we all just stared, open-mouthed, fascinated and speechless.

He took a pew and we all – males and females alike – repositioned our jaws and turned our gazes, reluctantly, back to the lecturer.

A few weeks into the course, we were invited to form ourselves into groups – where we were sitting – to discuss a possible research topic. We were encouraged to think about topics relevant to our work, if we worked.

A delightful and infectiously smiley fellow student sat in front of me. He knew everything and everyone. And what he didn’t know he would find out. Lecturers loved him, he made everyone laugh and he became everyone’s best friend. He joined with the students on either side of him to form a group with the four students sitting in the row in front of them. The Eastern European James Dean was sitting in the row in front, and joined that group.

We began to discuss the topic in our group, as did others all around the lecture theatre. My smiley friend in front of me suddenly sat up tall and swivelled his head around at me, like an owl. He stared at me, wide-eyed and open-mouthed like he was yawning, but he was sharply inhaling, not yawning the air out. Then he wrinkled his nose into a full concertina and, when he could breathe properly again, he whisper-shouted to me, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT HE DOES FOR A LIVING?”

I kind of wrinkled my nose too. I had to; the situation called for it. Then I whisper-shouted back at him, “NO. WHAT?”

“HESONLYAMALESTRIPPER!”

At this stage, the smiley guy was swivelling his head backwards and forwards, not wanting to miss out on any conversation in his group and wanting to report it as quickly as he could to me and my group.

From that moment onwards, we all took a renewed interest in that tall, handsome Eastern European guy in our research methodology course. We wanted to ask our lecturer to arrange a special “show and tell” evening in the course, so everyone could share a little about their work. But I know the internal auditor guy in the grey suit would have totally hogged the limelight. He really loved his job.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Shockingly surprising

I’m a bit of a sucker for surprises. So when I got my weekly email from the comedy club in Greenwich last week, announcing that the Sunday Special had a “top secret megastar” for top billing last Sunday, I couldn’t resist. They even went on to say “we can’t reveal who it is, but you won’t want to miss this”!

I absolutely love surprises. Not really surprises like when someone jumps out from behind a door to give you a fright and then laughs their head off because you’ve just jumped out of your skin. That would be a shock more than a surprise. Fun surprises are more my thing.

Like the time a few years ago when I had a few surprises rolled into one: firstly, I was given two tickets to a Women’s Day concert at one of Cape Town’s most popular theatres. I invited a friend to go along with me, and we enjoyed a few hours of the most unbelievable talent that I didn’t even know existed in Cape Town. Poets, rappers, rock bands, jazz singers, story tellers, soul singers and opera singers appeared on the stage and wowed us in the most amazing way. Audience members had no access to a programme; the show just unfolded, one beautiful surprise after another.

As the show neared its end, the compere came out on to the stage and thanked everyone for being there. She thanked the artists for performing, invited people to come and meet them after the show, and thanked everyone once again. As she was about to leave the stage, she said,
“Oh, and I have one more surprise for you. She’s in South Africa doing some work with a charity that she supports, and we managed to convince her to come along and entertain you tonight. She’s all the way from Manchester, England, where her group MPeople had massive success. Ladies – put your hands together for Heather Small!”

And on to the stage walked one of my favourite singers; a tiny, pint-sized dynamo, blasting forth “Moving on Up”. She sang “Search for the Hero” and “Proud” and many of her new hits, and I was literally beside myself. After an embarrassment of talent, the evening closed with this final, perfect surprise.

If you’re a regular follower of my blog, or indeed if you know me, you will know that I digress. Easily. So back to the start of this post…

We went to the comedy club in Greenwich last Sunday night to enjoy not only the line-up of up-and-coming young comedians, but to wait – in delicious anticipation – to see who the headline act would be. We imagined Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Michael McIntyre …. just who would this megastar be?

There’s nothing quite like live comedy, and it makes for such a fun evening. The opening acts were a delight. They are always young, up-and-coming comedians cutting their teeth on a smallish, London audience. A young guy in a “jumper” opened the show with a really charming set of observational humour. He talked about everyday things like chairs and jumping castles, and how, when you get to that certain point in your relationship, one of you always has to pretend to be dead just to get a reaction.

Another young stand-up came on to the stage next, and, although he was nervous and didn’t seem too sure of himself, he kept us amused – even if it was just because we were waiting for him to be really funny. The third act was (and there always has to be one in any line-up) a manic singer/comedian. He was pretty funny, though – and his closing song about panda bears just being polar bears in bad relationships was bizarrely amusing – and he continued the work of warming the crowd up. (Some audience members were doing that perfectly well by themselves, as they devoured jug after massive jug of lager.)

The wait then began for the “top secret megastar”. Our 15 minute wait became half an hour, then 45 minutes (“traffic” was the excuse for the superstar’s tardiness) and then the MC returned to the stage to hold the crowd while we waited for Mr Man-of-the-Moment. He said it was an MC’s nightmare to hold the floor when the headline act’s eta is as yet unknown. He did well, though, and his time was made easier by – long story – downing three pints of lager on the trot, to the audience’s chanting. The moment then arrived that Mr Megastar was about to arrive and we were told to “put your hands together for Mr MEGASTAR”!

First up, we’d never heard of him. (Sorry, east London.) Secondly, he was a megastar? Thirdly, he was really not funny… he was trying out new material for a tour he’s embarking on later in the year, so he read from his notes, scribbled notes on the paper and seemed a tad distracted. It must have been the “traffic”.

He picked on audience members and insulted them. He said pretty tacky stuff to a bunch of young girls near the front, made a comment about the weight of a young guy near us and then he spotted my husband. He asked him his age, and when he heard my husband’s age to be a year on the far side of a half-century, he proceeded to made “old” jokes at my husband’s expense. They would have been funny if my husband had been 100, or even 75, but for a healthy, bright, professional, it was just plain rude.

He said, “Have you heard of BBC Three, sir? It’s a radio station for YOUNG people. It’s really good – but maybe you guys should have your own station called, I don’t know, BBC Seventy Three. Where they play all the stuff for young people, just loud. With reminders to pay your gas bills. I don’t know, would that appeal to you, sir?”

We thought he had written a set of jokes for an “old person” and saw my silver-haired husband and tried to make the old jokes fit.  However, he lost us as he waded his way through heavy-handed comedy and we bided our time until the show finished and we could wend our way back home to a safe, insult-free place.

You know I mentioned the difference between a surprise and a fright? Mr Megastar was more fright than surprise, and he wasn’t even funny. Not even for a minute. From now on we’ll be wary of surprise megastars – I’ll just have to hide behind the door when I see the word “surprise” – and focus on the new up-and-coming young comedians. At least you can be sure of a good laugh.

Sunshine signing off for today!