Starter for Seven

In the past few weeks, I’ve been nominated twice for the Stylish Blogger Award. Am I stylish, as a blogger? Is my blog stylish? Heck, I doubt it, but I’ll take what I get!

Thank you so much to Todd Pack over at Todd Pack’s Messy Desk for his generous nomination; Todd is one heck of a writer, whose commentary on popular culture and his beloved south is not only brilliantly written and insightful, but it’s also really funny. The second nomination came from workingtechmom over at her blog called Ouch, Fired! Workingtechmom writes about family life and work life, the balance required, as well as the challenges and the demands of working and not working. Thank you both for nominating me.

As with most blogging awards, there’s a task involved and that is to tell you seven things about myself that you might not know. Here goes:

  1. I am something of a global phenomenon. I am the current reigning world champion sleeper-in-front-of-the-television. I have slept through more movies and television programmes than anyone else I know, and my sleeping has absolutely nothing to do with how good the movie is, how much I’m enjoying it or how much I want to watch it. If I’m tired, I will sleep. And I hate that I do that. I once tried to watch Finding Forrester with my elder son, when he was a teenager. I fell asleep before the titles rolled, and my son kept calling me to wake me up:
    “Watch this cool part, Mom! It’s really funny!”
    Each time he rewound the movie to cue it to the part he wanted me to see, I would fall asleep. He tried about five times with one particular scene, without success, and then asked me if he could just pretend he was watching the movie alone. Oh dear.
  2. I hate washing up potato peelers.
  3. This one is a bit awkward: I keep checking my letter box and I have now come to the conclusion that *my Royal wedding invitation has got lost in the post*. Does anyone know the Royal protocol to pass on this kind of embarrassing piece of information? I know they’ll be waiting to get my RSVP. What to do, what to do?
  4. I have a ridiculous fear of heights. I have managed to do things like go up in the cable car to the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, travel in a small gondola up to the top of Mount Titlis in the Swiss Alps and go up in the London Eye. When I can look ahead and avoid looking down, I can do it. If I look down, my stomach churns, my palms drip with sweat and I have to back away. And tell everyone else I know and love to back away too.
  5. I have started writing my book. My friend, Renee, over at Life in the Boomer Lane – a hugely talented, published writer who never ceases to make me laugh – has recently very generously shared her experiences regarding the process of writing a book. Everything she said made sense, especially the bit about how you need “to find your sentence” and then the book will flow from there. You will be pleased to know, Renee, that I have found my sentence. It made me cry, but I’m writing.
  6. I once suffered a bruised hip, playing rugby. Picture this: Muizenberg beach, Cape Town, a slow Sunday afternoon a few years ago. Our family and my husband’s brother and his family were enjoying a walk along the beach. Given that there were seven boys and three girls in the family group, we did what any similar group would do: decided to play a game of touch rugby on the beach. It would be rude not to. We split up into two teams. My team was gaining ground; we were dominating in both territory and possession. We were playing, if I may say so myself, spectacularly. I needed to give my team my all, so when one of my team mates threw me something of a hospital pass, I grabbed the ball and tried to make the best of the situation. I ran down my opponents and headed speedily towards the try-line. My legs ran too fast for my body, unfortunately, and I threw myself down – somewhat involuntarily – a short distance ahead of the try-line. It would have been an outstanding try if the beach hadn’t come up to meet me so quickly and dramatically and so far shy of the try-line. But I landed on the ball and that is how I bruised my hip.
  7. I have a new job. I have been hired as the publications and communications manager for a charity in London, and I started there last week. I am thrilled at this appointment, it will be a challenging and busy job, full of variety and possibility, and I am thrilled to be working in a small and active charity that really makes a positive difference in its sector.

As with similar awards, there is an obligation to pass this award on to fellow bloggers. I can honestly say that all of the blogs that I read are stylish and wonderful; they all make me think or laugh or cry or reflect and all of them keep me inspired and keep me reading and wanting to write better. If any of you would like to take up the mantle, please be my guest and go ahead. Just be careful not to bruise your hip.

Sunshine signing off for today!

London In Perspective

I adore this city that I currently call home.  It is huge, terrifying, impersonal, beastly, cold, heaving and aloof. And I do battle with it for all the same reasons. But heck, London does historical and iconical (is there such a word?) in ways that take my breath away. Walk with me.

Feeling the way I did over the weekend, we decided to continue our “exploring London” adventure: St James’ Park was next on our list.  A ten minute tube ride took us into Westminster, and as we emerged from the tube station, we stared into the face of London. We see this face often, usually from the other (south) side of the Thames, but it was so exciting to feel so close to the beating heart of this compelling city.

This is what we saw first:

The London Eye on the South Bank of the River Thames

The London Eye, now known as the EDF Energy London Eye (can you cope?), opened in March 2000 as a “metaphor for the end of the 20th century and time turning into the new millennium”.  It was designed by husband and wife architect team, David Marks and Julia Barfield, and took seven years to build. About 3.5 million visitors pay (around £18 per adult, £10 per child) to go up in the Eye each year, and it is said that from the 135 metre height of its revolution, you can see up to 40 kilometres in all directions. We went up it in July 2000, and it was pretty awesome, even from the safety of the bench in the middle of the pod (I have a thing about heights!).

And looking the other way, this is what we saw:

Big Ben, at the north end of the Palace of Westminster

Big Ben is the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world, with each dial being just less than 50 square metres.  There is a special light above the clock faces that, when illuminated, lets the public know that parliament is in session. The clock ticked for the first time in May 1859 and has rarely stopped. I was interested to hear in the media recently that Big Ben was losing time; it might conceivably have lost one second. I wonder how many people used that fact for being late for a meeting?

We walked down Birdcage Walk, and found ourselves in St James’ Park. We saw a few glimpses of spring, with some cherry blossom trees showing a hint of bloom. The London wildlife enjoyed the attention of Park visitors, and many posed obligingly for the camera (animals, that is, not visitors):

Our first view of St James' Park
Pelicans enjoying the attention
A local celebrity: Black Swan had its London premiere recently
This guy is used to the paparazzi
This guy was a show-off. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Pffffft.

This was another reminder that we were in London:

Signs of the times

At the far end of the Park, we caught a glimpse of an amazing crib: Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace: the official London residence of the British monarch

When the Queen is in residence, the Royal Standard flies on the flagpole on top of the Palace, otherwise the Union Flag flies in its place. The raising and lowering of the correct flag is the job of a flag serjeant. I’m not sure you can see in the photo, but the Union Flag is flapping the breeze; I think that’s why we weren’t invited for tea.

So, back towards the River, passing this en route:

Got to love London

We bought ourselves some sandwiches and sat on a bench next to the River, with this view, to have some lunch:

The view from our bench

We had fun after lunch taking photos of each other with the London Eye in the background. If we got the angle and the zoom just right, the London Eye looked like a perfect halo around our saintly heads. We giggled like children as we took the photos, and kept grabbing the camera from each other to try something new.

We walked back across the River, and had one last glimpse of this before we caught a bus home from Waterloo:

View from the Golden Jubilee Bridge over the River Thames

Ah, this day was good for my soul. It reminded me of why we chose to come here, and the awesome and scary adventure that is London. Perspective is a fine thing.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

I’ve never really thought of a red London bus as a chariot. But that’s exactly what we travelled in yesterday. Our bus driver told us so. Well, actually, he sang it so.

Travelling back from Greenwich to our home yesterday, our bus driver sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” at the top of his lungs, with all his heart and to the joy, horror and entertainment of his travelling charges. The cynical commuters wondered if he was p***ed drunk, some didn’t notice, some smiled coyly and two people alighted earlier than planned. The self-confessed “drunken bum” next to my niece and me was endlessly entertained. The proud owner of approximately two teeth, he chattered constantly and laughed like a drain. If he could stand up, he’d have been a stand-up. But his seated banter broadened our smiles all the way home, and the driver’s singing warmed my heart.

“He’s quite religious, I think. He’s trying to save you. Not me; I’m just a drunken bum. But he thinks he can save you. I don’t think he can, but that’s what he’s trying to do.”

Just another day in our joy-filled Christmas season. Here’s a short journey through our past week.

As we were due to leave London on Christmas Eve, we had to amend our tradition and see our Christmas movie a few days earlier. Burlesque proved to be a fun, lively and heart-warming introduction to the season – it totally fit the bill.

On Thursday evening, we went to the South Bank to visit the German market that appears next to the London Eye every Christmas. This is what we saw:

London Eye and the German Market at the South Bank, Christmas 2010
Stalls at the South Bank, Christmas 2010
Colourful carousel at the South Bank, Christmas 2010

It was VERY cold and we soon sought shelter and warmth within the hushed walls of the National Theatre, where a ragtime pianist was preparing for a free concert. We sat and listened to him for a while, before getting a call from a friend who was on her way to the Christmas Spectacular at the O2 Arena. She had a few spare tickets and invited us to join her.

What an amazing show – if we hadn’t been in the Christmas spirit already, that would have blasted us into it faster than the speed of light. What a special concert: an audience of 20,000, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Choral Society, the Capital Voices and four, world-class soloists who took us through Christmas song after Christmas song, some of which we were invited to sing along to. The last audience-included number was a rousing version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, complete with actions for each gift! Then the four singers ended the show with a medley of Christmas songs, punctuated with fireworks, exploding glitter balls and a shower of “snow”. What a special and unexpected Christmas gift the show turned out to be.

We left for south London on Christmas Eve to spend Christmas Day with dear friends from our university days. If we couldn’t be with our family, spending the day with wonderful friends that we’ve known pretty much forever was an excellent substitute. We ate well, laughed plenty, toasted our absent family and friends and listened to the Queen’s speech on television. We played games, did hideously badly at an Oxford-devised pub quiz and reminisced up a storm. What more could we ask for? A bit of snow, perhaps? Although we had no fresh snow, everything was covered in white and it felt for all the world that we had our first white Christmas. Close enough to make me happy.

So, in this build up to the end of 2010, may I wish you all much joy, beautiful relationships, happy work, fulfilling spiritual journeys, and may you dream, find or fulfil your dreams in 2011. I feel completely out of touch with my blogging buddies and the cyber world that I inhabit most week days. Please forgive me for not visiting blogs or commenting on all your posts; know that I love you all, my special readers and friends, and I will, like Arnie, be back.

Thank you, Mr Bus Driver, for keeping my Christmas joy alive yesterday with your delight-filled noise and for carrying us home in style. Keep singing and may your musical dreams find their chance to break out of that dreary uniform; you never know who may be listening.

Sunshine signing off for today.

Come and walk along the South Bank with me

There is nothing quite like a walk along the South Bank on a lazy afternoon. After watching the buskers and street artists at work, take a few moments to browse through the books at the outdoor book market. Round it off with a free concert at the National Theatre, and you have another reason to love London.

We’ve spent a few afternoons, usually with visitors to London, wandering along the South Bank, a walkway next to the Thames. We have watched jugglers and street dancers, street artists and musicians, statue artists (or whatever they are called) and a London bobby in a tutu. It is so vibrant along there. There is true talent on show and some talent just along for the ride, and it is all wonderful entertainment.

A bobby in a tutu. I think he's off duty.
A street dancer in action

Recently we stood and watched a busker blowing giant soap bubbles into the air. They were massive bubbles, boasting rainbow reflections as they floated into the air before being stabbed to death by pimply adolescents. We noticed a family standing across the way from us and soon became transfixed by their little, curly-haired, blue-eyed toddler in a buggy. He was so excited by the bubbles; his legs went rigid, then he screamed and laughed and kicked his legs in a frenzy. It was so sweet to witness pure, unadulterated joy and excitement. A precious moment.

The soap bubble blower

You cannot walk along the South Bank without stopping to check out the book market. It nestles under Waterloo Bridge and I understand is the only established second-hand/antique/vintage book market in southern England. It stays open till 7pm daily and is well worth a good browse; I saw some old Billy Bunter books there, something I haven’t seen since my childhood. Many of the traders are book specialists who can help you if you are looking for something in particular.

A book market with a river view

The South Bank is lined with restaurants and culturally populated with theatres and galleries: the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery, the National Theatre, BFI Southbank, Shakespeare’s Globe and Tate Modern. The London Eye is also there; a relatively recent addition to London’s skyline.

The London Eye on the South Bank

The National Theatre quite regularly hosts free concerts in the foyer, and we have been privileged to see some up-and-coming and established artists performing there. One Sunday, after a long walk over a number of the London bridges (material for another day), we stopped at the National Theatre and were lucky enough to see a young singer/songwriter, Callaghan,  performing in the foyer. Her musical idol is Shawn Mullins, so you can imagine that her style is acoustic country, folk music.

Callaghan plays guitar and piano, and shifted between the two as she shared her wares of beautiful, lyrical songs of joy, triumph, love and longing. She chats between songs and is refreshingly open and honest, self-effacing even. We went to a second, free concert of hers there just before Christmas last year, and walked along the frozen South Bank, decorated with a brightly-lit German market, to get there. Beautiful, magical, colourful Christmas on the South Bank.

We went to a third concert of Callaghan’s in July. It was a farewell concert of sorts, as she and her husband were about to leave for the USA, for her to fulfil her dream of making an album with Shawn Mullins. As we speak, she is touring with him in the US; check out the tour, you might want to go if you’re nearby.

Her farewell concert was at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, central London. Described as the oldest live music venue in London, the club opened in 1942 as a jazz club. During World War II it saw the likes of Glen Miller perform there and, because it is situated in a basement, it was promoted as a bomb shelter of sorts. You could listen to great jazz music while the bombs rained down all around London. “Forget the Doodle bug – come and Jitterbug” was its payoff line in those days.

Callaghan performed her set of beautiful songs, shared her story of coming to London and trying to make it in the music business while working as an admin assistant in an accounting firm. Moving to the USA was to be her plunge, full-time, into the business, and she was thrilled and excited. And she was beside herself to have Shawn Mullins agree to produce her album.

She was accompanied in a couple of songs by the most outrageously talented jazz pianist, Joe Thompson. A pianist, artist and arranger, he is the musical director at London’s The Ivy Club. I am out of words to describe his talent. I was mesmerised.

I feel so privileged to witness the birth, the breath and the expression of talent in this city. Artists clamour to perform here, to ‘make it’ here and to launch their careers here. Some never want to leave. I cherish the opportunity I have to watch and listen, to whistle and scream, and always to walk alongside the river.

Sunshine signing off for today.