In no random order

I’m constantly curious. An observer of the absurd, the ordinary, the bizarre. Walk with me through the streets of London, and some other streets we’ve visited, and look at the world through my eyes. In no random order, as I once heard someone say.

I hope you’ll see what I see.

Last year, as we waited on the Embankment to buy tickets for a boat trip along the Thames, an off-duty mime walked past me speaking on his cell phone.

On the boat, we were invited by the captain to enjoy what the onboard bar had to offer: “Hot and cold drinks, and limited sandwiches.”

We enjoyed a delicious meal at a riverside pub. My fish curry was especially tasty and I thanked the waiter and asked her to pass on my compliments to the chef. She seemed pleased, and told me, “The curry was made by authentic Sri Lankans.”

A guy at my bus stop in central London asked me recently, “Does this train go to Borough High Street?” I said, “No.”

When in Belfast, I took a taxi to the ‘big house’ at Stormont. The grounds were beautiful, and the drive up to the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly was breathtaking. Once through the gate and past security, I noticed people walking their dogs and enjoying the surroundings on foot. I was surprised.

“Can anyone come here? I see people walking everywhere.”

The taxi driver said, “Oh yes. And you can even run.”

Across the pond, on our first trip to the US, we encountered a guy asking us for money at the Embarcadero Station in central San Francisco. When we didn’t respond, he smirked, “Whatever.”

One of his colleagues took a different approach. He sat on the sidewalk with a sign written on a square of cardboard: “Please help – I need more karate lessons.”

While on the bus in the city, two drivers swopped shifts. The new guy grabbed the mic, and said, “Passengers, just give me a minute. And then we’re going to rock ‘n roll.” The stoned guy in the far end of the bus yelled, “Take yer time, bra!”

As we walked past the Ferry Building in San Francisco, I overheard a young dad talking to his toddler daughter. They were surrounded by pigeons, so he was teaching her to say ‘pigeon’. She said, “Widgen.” He tried a few more times to get her to say ‘pigeon’, but she kept saying, “Widgen”. He threw in the towel. “Yeah, well we don’t even have pigeons in Wisconsin.”

On our visit to Berkeley – is it sometimes called Berserkeley? – we saw a hoarding on a building that read: ‘’.

When we visited Alcatraz Island, the guide pointed us in the direction of the island and said, “Alcatraz Island. Plenty of bars but nowhere to drink”.

I wonder if he ever gets tired of saying that?

Sunshine signing off for today!

Observations of a nosy commuter

There is a curmudgeonly cleaner who works in the train station I travel through in my daily commute. I think he really hates his job. Every single minute of it.

He reminds me of a landscape gardener I met a few years ago. She told me she absolutely loved working with plants every day.

“Plants are amazing. I mean, I quite like people, but I don’t think I could eat a whole one.”

I think the cleaner could do without commuters all together. He usually stands at the top of the stairs, leans on his broom and glares at us. Every single morning. Around Christmas time, he yelled a Christmas carol sarcastically at us:

“Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin’s f***ing gone away…”

I guess he wished we were all Robin.

Angry-singing-shouting in the mornings aside, my evening commutes during the festive season offered plenty of silly-season observations. I like to call the late trains the ‘smelly food trains’. It seems the more alcohol you consume, the smellier the food you have to eat. And it follows that the funnier you think you are, the louder you have to laugh.

On a late journey home, I got on a tube in the middle of an office Christmas party. I ended up standing between co-workers singing Christmas carols loudly and badly, testing out their stand-up comedy and cheering everyone who got on or off the tube.

When I got cheered off the tube, I saw a herd of people dressed as ‘Wally’, and looking desperate not to be asked yet again, “Where’s Wally?” A group of elves danced with a busker, while a couple sat on the platform, gripped in deep and intense conversation over a fun pack of fast food. Another guy sat on his own, chuckling away to himself.

I walked through the station behind a guy who had a length of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of his shoe, and passed a number of random sad Santas seated around the station. A red-cheeked guy clutched his polystyrene cup of coffee like it was the holy grail, and looked like he was about to weep.

I boarded my train and sat opposite a guy who had walked on to the train, chatting on his phone with his eyes completely shut. Another next to me had spilt curry all down the front of his shirt, and a young woman was marching down the platform looking for a good seat with ‘no riffraff’.

On a more recent late train, we watched a woman sitting near us try to rouse her partner from a deep, alcohol-induced sleep. Each time she spoke to him, he stirred and responded with, “Egngchchlgkljg.”

She pinched his nose, she tapped his face, she punched his leg. He continued to sleep and make no sense. Occasionally he’d stir enough to tell her to go away. Or words to that effect.

Eventually she succeeded in getting him to his feet. As he stood, he spotted us. He wobbled over to us and apologised for ‘being rude’, before being frog-marched off the train by his long-suffering partner.

I wonder if he works as a cleaner?

Sunshine signing off for today.

The piano man

It was a beautiful summer’s evening. I was sitting in the midst of hundreds of other students on a grassy mound in the middle of my university residences. It was Cape Town, it was the 80s and this was our natural amphitheatre for the annual inter-residence ‘concert on the mound’.

The programme that night offered the usual variety concert fare: a sweet-singing choral group, a cool, curly-haired singer/songwriter, an outrageous physical comedy sketch, some toilet humour, some church-camp skits, and a light-bulb-muncher.  Nothing prepared us for the unassuming, moustached young man with shoulder-length hair who was about to take a seat at the piano.

He started to play, and he started to sing, and we mound-dwellers were entranced. When he sang Billy Joel’s Piano Man, he got us singing and swaying and screaming for more. It immediately became one of my favourite songs, now on the soundtrack of my student days.

I had no idea, all those years ago on that mound, that one day I’d be sitting in a baseball stadium in San Francisco on a beautiful late summer’s evening, watching a Billy Joel concert. It was on our first visit to America, and Billy’s first concert in San Francisco in four decades. When he played Piano Man, I cried. Of course I did.

DSC00479It was September 2015, and we joined 36,000 fans in the AT&T Stadium – home of the San Francisco Giants – for an evening of Joel magic. Supported by Gavin de Graw, Billy opened his songbook with a thunderous Big Shot, followed by My Life.

“Hello San Francisco,” he yelled. “I haven’t played here in 40 years!”

He apologised that he was not, in fact, Billy Joel. “Yes, I’m Billy’s dad,” he joked.

He laughed about his advancing years, his lack of hair and several references to just plain missing the mark. I loved that between his huge and not-as-huge-as-he’d-hoped-they’d-be songs, he paid homage to his host city by playing snippets of songs about San Francisco, or by artists from San Francisco. It was authentic, and courteous. I felt it was a generous touch.

“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair … Hmmm, no can do.”

A beautiful Vienna was followed by Zanzibar, a breathtaking arrangement around Carl Fisher’s insane trumpet solo. Billy told us how, as he grew older, he was finding it more difficult to sing the high notes. After giving himself a few squirts of throat spray, he promised us he’d do his best in the next number.

When he hit those high notes in Innocent Man, the audience screamed and whooped and whistled. It felt intimate and triumphant – we knew he could do it; we were right there with him.

DSC00484Say Goodbye to Hollywood was followed by a brief taste of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit before moving on to his cynical The Entertainer. After the haunting Doneaster Alexa, Billy told us about his uneasy relationship with music videos.

“We made a video here in San Francisco. I hated making those things. I didn’t sign up to be a f***in’ movie star, you know what I mean?”

Tommy Burns’ guitar solo lit up Allentown, before two more brief nods to the talent from the city of gold. He played a few bars of the theme from The Magnificent Seven and told us he’d always wanted to write a soundtrack to a Western.

“I wrote this next song with that in mind, although it is completely historically inaccurate,” he said, as he chuckled through the fail-facts of The Ballad of Billy the Kid.

After a few notes of I left my heart in San Francisco, Billy brought us his beautiful tribute to home: New York State of Mind. He followed with No Man’s Land, which he told us “wasn’t a hit, and it’s going to die a death tonight!”

Moving Out, Sometimes a Fantasy, Don’t Ask Me Why got us dancing, and Always a Woman to Me got us singing and swaying. We Didn’t Start the Fire and River of Dreams kept us on our feet, before the poignant and romantic ‘bottle of red, bottle of white’ Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.

DSC00488Brief interludes of The Mammas and the Pappas’ California Dreamin’, Janis Joplin’s Piece of My Heart and Santana’s Black Magic Woman kept San Francisco in the musical conversation, before he ended his concert and finished me completely with the extraordinary Piano Man.

I knew and I sang every word. I was transported. I was on the stage, I was on the mound, I was in my teens, I was in my strength, I was nostalgic, I was present, I was everywhere, I was right there in that moment.

We screamed and we wouldn’t let him leave the stage. Billy’s encore brought rousing versions of Uptown Girl, Still Rock ‘n Roll to me, and You May Be Right.

Billy may have joked about his age, however his musical talent and the energy in his live performance increasingly impress. If he has to wait 40 years to do another concert in San Francisco, I can only imagine how awesome that will be. I hope we can get tickets.

Sunshine signing off for today.


Ola from the other side

It’s been a good old while since I wrote any blog posts. So I’m thrilled to be back after such a long break, and freshly inspired by a number of things – a lovely trip to Barcelona at the top of the list. My goal is to be here weekly – on the blog, not Barcelona, although that would be fun!

I won’t try and catch up in one single go; I will try to do so over the coming months. So much has happened over the past few years, and I have so much to write out of myself. I plan to do that here and in my ever-brewing “book”. I’ve also chosen not to wait until I’m good enough to do so. That’ll only happen on the eleventieth of Javembuary.

Mr Sunshine and I have fallen a little bit in love with Spain. Last New Year we visited Valencia, our first adventure in Spain, and this New Year – last week – we soaked in the extravagance of beauty, history and sunshine that fills every corner of Barcelona. We walked our feet raw, and got ourselves lost more than once. We watched street flamenco and under the perfect ceiling of the Palau de la Musica Catalana. We ran out of words in the shadow of Gaudi’s extraordinary La Sagrada Familia, and we learned to laugh in Spanish and Catalan.

We flew out of a rainy, grey London and into a balmy and sunny Barcelona. We took the bus that stopped right outside our hotel in Castelldefels, a small village outside of the city. The bus ride cost us about two euros each – a refreshing difference from the high costs of public transport in the UK. After a long walk to the local beach, we sat down for a typically delicious and social meal as the sun set over the Mediterranean.

Our first trip into Barcelona brought us from the train station up on to Passeig de Gracia, where we were met by the awesome sight of Gaudi’s Casa Batllo.

The Block of Discord with Gaudi’s Casa Batllo (behind the tree) and Joseph Puig i Cadafalch’s Casa Amatller  to the left

We later discovered this to be the Block of Discord, in which  Gaudi’s house was just one of three architectural masterpieces to vie for the coveted town council Arts Building Annual Award (Concurso anual de edificios artisticos). The very beautiful example of modernism that is Casa Lleo Morera, designed by Lluis Domenech i Montaner (he of the equally exquisite Palau de la Musica Catalana fame) won the award in 1906.

Palau de la Musica Catalana

We remained in awe for the week. To my amateur eye, Barcelona’s architecture oozed with opulence, detail, beauty, flamboyance, indulgence, bravery.

Not only are the buildings striking in their styles but also in their structure. Each noted architect was supported by teams of artists and artisans – 150, in the case of Casa Lleo Morera (pictured below) – to realise the vision of the master architect. Mosaic ceilings, the art of trencadis (mosaics created using shards of broken tiles), remarkable marquetry, hand-painted and stencilled tiles – no detail was overlooked. We were quite overwhelmed.

And then there was Gaudi’s unfinished La Sagrada Familia. There are no words – I was quite overcome by the depth, breadth and generosity of imagination, innovation and genius.

Moving away from the beauty and historic importance of the city, we had loads of other fun. We visited Barcelona’s home of football – Camp Nou – to watch FC Barcelona play Real Betis in a La Liga match. We joined 99,998 over-excited football fans to witness a trouncing by the home team. The fans screamed passionately for their beloved Barca again to do them proud, and they obliged in style. We watched the world’s best footballer – Messi – score a goal right in front of our eyes. When he did, the crowd screamed, jumped to their feet and chanted ‘Messi! Messi! Messi!’ as they waved their arms in adulation.

Two of Barcelona’s favourite things – football, and Messi

When the referee made an unpopular decision, the crowd again jumped to their feet and yelled their displeasure, waving their fists and hands at the ref. In between, there was singing and chanting in praise of the beloved home side, ‘Barca, Barca, Barca’.

Back near our hotel, we visited a small, local eatery in the village of Castelldefels. We sat at one of the very few tables, and one of the other tables was filled with a group of locals who had one tooth and a dozen beers between them. Together they laughed and screeched at the game show playing on the TV above them, momentarily distracted by a local pooch wearing a pretty pink ribbon. As they petted and hugged the dog, the TV show was replaced by a succession of music videos – James Brown, Bob Marley and, ironically, Whitney Houston.

We ordered a glass of rioja each and they were brought with a plate of cheese for us to nibble on. We ordered a selection of tapas, and soon ordered a second glass of wine. The waiter raised his eyebrows and said, “For her too?” Haha! The bill came to 18 euros; while that was exceptionally inexpensive, we found eating out in Barcelona generally very reasonable.

Language was a challenge. Although we speak neither Spanish nor Catalan, we managed to communicate enough by sign language and pointing, to order the food we wanted (mostly) and get to where we wanted to be (mostly). Someone asked me at the train station if I spoke Catalan, and I just shook my head. I thought she’d asked if I spoke Latin, which seemed a bit odd to me at the time.

A young guy at a bus stop asked us something in Spanish, so we shrugged and apologised, “English?” He pointed at his wrist, so we showed him our watches, and he nodded and said, “Merci.” On another occasion, a woman said something to me in Spanish and, in a bizarre twist, I answered in Xhosa.  I still don’t know why I thought that would be useful.

When we celebrated New Year in Valencia, we discovered a fun Spanish tradition. We joined thousands of locals in the town square, in the shadow of a clock tower and, as the clock struck midnight, we ate 12 grapes. The idea is to eat the grapes in time with the chimes and, tradition suggests that if you do so, you’ll have a year of prosperity.

We noticed the locals’ grapes were small, seedless ones. We had large, seeded grapes so only managed about three in the allotted time. We also looked like feasting chipmunks as the locals all around hugged and began their year of prosperity.

This year, we bought the smallest grapes we could find and, although we couldn’t find a local gathering, we successfully finished our dozen grapes as we watched the clock chime midnight in Barcelona on our hotel TV.

After our final hotel breakfast in the company of a touring basketball team from Lithuania, we boarded our bus for the airport and flew back into grey, rainy London. You know, with 12 grapes under our belt, it feels like 2016 is going to be a good year.  Hasta la vista, baby.

Sunshine signing off for today.




Act like no-one’s watching

A few weeks ago, I dreamt I’d lost my enthusiasm. It was a nightmare – I just couldn’t find it anywhere. It was such a relief to wake up and realise it was just a dream. Just as well – I needed it in buckets for my upcoming red box experience: a comedy improv workshop.

It was with a mixture of excitement and terror that I’d booked my place on a comedy improv workshop in central London. It represented everything I love and fear – spontaneity and showmanship – and it would mean taking a huge step out of my comfort zone. Love overcame fear, and I decided to go for it. I’m so glad I did; an afternoon in a chilly venue under the arches in central London, with a bunch of like-minded and hilarious people, has to rank among the most outstanding experiences I’ve ever had. It’s difficult to capture just how much fun it was, but let me try.

I had checked out ahead of time exactly where to go, and got to the venue nervous and early. I arrived at the same time as Sophie, who looked as tentative and nervous as I felt. Turned out she was a professionally-trained actor and singer, who was using this experience to get her confidence back to give acting another go. No, that didn’t intimidate me at all. We stepped into the interesting theatrical space – in the foyer of which was a caravan, of course – and met the delightful and uber-friendly workshop facilitator, Fiona. She noted our names and encouraged us to relax and have fun. My nerves must have been visible.

By 1pm there were 12 of us of different ages, ethnicities, accents and backgrounds, standing in a circle ready to begin our afternoon of improv. We were invited to introduce ourselves by saying what our names were and whether or not we’d done improv before. We offered no surnames, no job titles, no home towns, no qualifications; this stood us all on equal ground (kind of – Sophie and I were the only improv rookies) – and there was no place for assumptions, judgments or expectations. Equipped only with enthusiasm, it was easy to imagine leaving my inhibitions at the door. I had to act like no-one was watching, and I was amped.

Fiona introduced our afternoon of character-focused improv, and started us off with a warm-up exercise, which involved several bunny-related gesticulations, pointing at others, and dancing a kind of reggae move around our neighbours. A drinking game for the sober, if you will. It required co-ordination and offered bags of laughter.

Round two – a zombie-style game of ‘catch’ – saw my being the first asked to play a zombie. I had to lumber around the room in my ‘flavour of zombie’ in an attempt to catch someone. Once someone had been caught, we all had to dance around the captive and stage-whisper, ‘Watcher, watcher, watcher’, and the captive would have to nominate the next zombie. Fun! Spooky, but fun!

Back in the circle, we took it in turns to say something for everyone else to mimic. That was hilarious, and everybody had a good go at it. We then had a time of walking around the room adopting, in turn, unusual ways of walking, different ways of engaging with each other, ignoring each other, nodding at each other, leading with a body part such as a chin, or a bent knee or whatever took our fancy. It was really funny. Just when I’d adopted a walk that involved my right arm hanging over my head, Fiona told us all to freeze so she could interview one of us. In a version of musical statues, this continued – we walked around until told to freeze, and Fiona interviewed all of us one by one. My favourite characters included a guy walking around holding on to his trouser legs, shaking his trousers incessantly and moving from foot to foot. Turns out he had mice in his trousers, and he was on his way to the pet shop to sell them. Why were they in his trousers? He didn’t have a bag to put them in. As he spoke, some mice travelled from one leg to the other, and he became increasingly on edge. So funny!

Rhemy was another favourite. She was walking through a park in the posh part of town and, with her big teeth and bigger smile, she talked of how busy she was and how amazing her job was and how crazy her life was. She told of speaking loads of languages; when she was pressed to say which languages, she said, “All of them.” She said ‘yah’ a lot; she was fully the posh girl. Sue was walking completely bent over – her interview revealed she was a contortionist who’d put her back out trying out new moves in her bedroom.

Back in the circle, we took it in turns to hold ‘the gracious goat’ with a sense of whatever emotion we fancied. As one person held ‘the gracious goat’ and announced it, the people on either side had to announce this with some reverence, and the people on either side of those had to go down on one knee and, with a flourish, say, “Isn’t it exciting/confusing/boring/disgusting that s/he has the gracious goat?”

After a comfort break, we re-convened in an area of the room set out theatre-style with four chairs on the ‘stage’.  Cue the ‘creature comforts’ segment, Aardman-style. We all sat in the audience section, and four of us at a time had to sit in the chairs on the stage. Once on the front seats, we had to sit with our heads bent over our knees and pull funny faces. Fiona would say, “Pull a funny face. And another. And another.” After doing this several times, Fiona would say, “Now, sit up.” We had to sit up with the face we’d just pulled and hold that face for the duration of a series of interviews. She interviewed each of us in turn, and we each had to be that person with that face. This was brilliant and so so funny.

Stu sat up with a taut face and eyes stuck, staring heavenward. He talked of his failures at finding a suitable date, and about his forthcoming date with someone he’d met online. He was worried about how he’d ever manage eye contact. Jim sat up with mouth downturned and proceeded to talk as one without teeth about his grandson’s upcoming wedding, and how attracted he was to his young, Polish carer. “If I was 30 years younger, I’d have a go at Anastasia.”

Our final exercise of the day followed with groups of four, again, sitting on the chairs at the front. We had to adopt a common way of sitting, by copying each other and finally settling on a style. We then had to have a conversation among ourselves that we felt fitted with that way of sitting. Our group settled into a relaxed style, slouching and leaning far back on our chairs. Jim began to talk as a member of a London working-man’s club, smoking his rolled cigarette and discussing the merits of Tarantino as a film director. The conversation that ensued was hilarious, outrageous and incredibly great fun to be part of.

Fiona thanked us all for taking part in the workshop and invited us to come back again any time. We all said goodbye to each other; I picked up my bag and my inhibitions and stepped back into the chilly London afternoon, once again myself. After the amazing freedom of playing, pretending, acting out loud, laughing hysterically and showing off for a whole afternoon with a bunch of strangers, I’m not sure I’ll ever be quite the same again.  I had peeped at another version of me, and I quite liked it.

Sunshine signing off for today!


It’s been a weird winter in London. The highest rainfall since records began has added yet another reason why public transport hasn’t been running on time. Any day now, London commuters will be revolting. Well, perhaps even more so than they are right now.

A tube strike earlier last month threw London into chaos for 48 hours. Commuting commotion aside, the sight of the city’s mayor’s bad haircut and the union boss’ embarrassing sunburn, along with their public spat, were enough to send Londoners scuttling up North. Lengthy talks averted a second planned strike, which I fear will happen sometime soon anyway.

I commute by train into central London every week day. My journey, which should take 25 minutes from the edge of Greater London, usually takes at least 40 minutes. I have now heard – I think – every reason under the chilly British sun why the trains run late. My trainline announcer is always polite and apologetic that the ‘Oh. Eight. Oh. Seven.  Service. To. London.’ is running late, and offers an excuse which can range from signal failure to overhead line problems, late running engineering works, planned engineering works, the train behind us has broken down, lightning strikes, tube strikes, trees on the tracks, snow, flooding, a person taken ill, no staff available at the station, the doors won’t close, the train ahead has broken down, the train ahead has been delayed, a person was taken ill, trains are being regulated, the wrong kind of snow has fallen, leaves on the tracks, it’s too hot so the trains have to run slowly, an animal on the track, a trespasser on the track, and, my personal favourite ‘an earlier disruptive passenger’. To that last excuse, I always wonder ‘earlier than whom’?

So, while the train runs slowly into or out of my working day, I’ll often while away the time eavesdropping. Sometimes I’ll read my book but it’s often far more entertaining to listen to what’s going on around me. The other evening I sat near two loud young guys in suits who had had one fizzy drink too many before boarding the train. Not only had the alcohol loosened their tongues and their ties, but it also caused their gelled hair to droop ever so slightly. They seemed not to hear each other so yelled their conversation. After some screamed banter, they decided to compare the quality of sound of their respective earphones and that meant they had to yell even louder.

“Try these noise cancellation earphones!”


“These are ****in’ amazin’, bruv. They block out all the noise!”

“Wha’? I can’t hear you cos a’ these noise cancellation earphones.”

Listening to ‘awesome choons’, they then ran through the specs of each set of earphones – seemingly for the benefit of commuters on all eight coaches chugging eastwards. They left the train a few stations before mine, still shouting “Wha’?” at each other after every sentence.

The other evening I got on the train and sat near a tattooed and multiply-pierced young man who was engaged in conversation with anyone who would listen. A young guy and his girlfriend sat opposite him, and he noted the guy’s footwear.

“Nice trainers, bruv. You just been for a run, yeah? No? You look like you just been for a run, wearing them clothes and then them trainers, yeah?”

“I haven’t been for a run, mate. I work in a trainers store.”

“Wha’? You work in a trainers store. I bet them ones was expensive. You there with your daughter, ‘n all.”

“She’s not my daughter, she’s my girlfriend.”

“Yeah right.”


“So where do you and your daughter come from, bruv?”


“Wha’ – Windsor on Thames?”


“Yeah? Or as we like to call it these days, Windsor in Thames. Yeah?”

He then proceeded to talk about all the places across London that could conceivably have drowned under the current rainfall and give them the suffix ‘in Thames’. He then looked at the guy to his left and asked, “So where do you live, ‘n all?”

“Chadwell Heath,” he said.

“Chadwell Heath, yeah?”

After thinking for a bit, he said, “Well, you can’t really make no joke about Chadwell Heath, now canya?”

He then looked to me and nodded, “Y’all right, young lady? Yeah?”

I nodded, and passed the baton on to my neighbour who said, “Yeah, I’m all right. And I don’t have no name.”

Mr Chatty-man moved on to the subject of supper.

“Yeah, gonna get me some chicken nuggets with chips and curry sauce. Me, I like me chips like I like me women: spi-cy. I bet you like spicy food, till you can’t feel your lips no more, yeah?” he asked the Asian guy opposite him, who politely begged to differ.

This was a good time to change tack.

“Heard about the guy who bought twelve tubs of Tippex? Big mistake.”

He delved further into his repertoire of jokes before asking his giggling neighbour what the time was, as he realised, “I should’ve taken me antibiotics hours ago.”

When the train pulled into his station, he stood up to leave and said fond goodbyes to anyone who would offer him eye contact. Most of us were cringeing and squirming in our seats, some of us were giggling and all of us were just plain looking elsewhere.

“Heard about the earlier disruptive passenger, bruv?”


Sunshine signing off for today!

Days like this

Brighton is incurably cool and quirky. In the matter of half an hour on Tuesday we saw a unicyclist, a banjo-playing busker, a sulking angel, a blue-mohicaned Doc Martens-booted guy taking out the trash from a coffee shop called Lucky beach, and a pug called Gertie. In the weak winter sunlight, against a dramatically beautiful sunset, we soaked in the sea air and the cheery atmosphere that this unique seaside town offers for free. When we saw Van Morrison in concert at the Brighton Dome later that evening, it seemed he had done the same.

SAM_2513 SAM_2522

It’s no secret that I adore the musical genius that is Van. I have a list as long as the phone directory of my favourite Van songs and, to be honest, he could sing the phone directory and I’d be clapping and whooping along with the rest of them. Having seen him three times in concert so far, I’ll declare it’s not his stage presence that keeps me buying tickets. But honestly, on Tuesday night at Brighton Dome, Van not only interacted with the audience, but he actually cracked a joke. I kid you not. Let me tell you: an all-singing and slightly-talking Van in action was a sight to behold.

His daughter, Shana Morrison, opened the show with three numbers. Apologising after her first number No more Mrs Nice Girl that she wasn’t going to take up any of our ‘Van time’, she told us she was ‘just  singing while [we] all got seated’. After Ten Thousand Things and Rainy Day, she stepped aside as “Mr Van Morrison!” took to the stage.

In trademark brown fedora, cool shades, a dark grey suit and playing the sax, he walked on to the stage to joyful applause, bringing with him the sounds of Celtic swing. With appreciative shouts of ‘yeah!’ to his lead guitarist, he took us through Close enough for jazz, followed by Higher than the world. As Rough god goes riding’s lyrics faded (Riding on in, riding on in, riding on in, riding on in) so began the first of his interactions. ‘Vanter’, if you will.

“Just like Jesse James. Just like John Wayne, just like Billy the Kid!”

Shana joined in, “Just like Van Morrison!”

Van replied, “No! Just like Clint Eastwood; he just mosies along. He looks extremely bored and he says, ‘Howdy ma’am! Go ahead and have a nice day!’”

Picking up a mouth organ, Van led us through Back on top. As the audience responded to the opening bars of So quiet in here, he said “Thank you” and took us through a cracking version of this hauntingly beautiful number.

As he sat down and strapped on his ukulele for Keep it simple, he told us a story. Deadpan and actively  unsmiling, he said:

“Apparently I’m a comedian. A friend of mine who knows Billy Connolly said Billy Connolly had said ‘Van Morrison is very, very, very funny.’ So this is a platform now.”

The jokes didn’t follow, but the music that did was outstanding: Queen of the slipstream, Keep mediocrity at bay (with Van at the piano), and Benediction, which he introduced by acknowledging it was written by his friend Mose Allison.

Shana joined him for Whenever God shines His light, and then he introduced his friend Chris Farlowe who joined him on stage to ensure we had ‘rhythm and blues’. Together, like two great buddies, they took us through the rocking sounds of Early in the morning/Rock me, in which Van got the audience clapping and he thanked us for that afterwards, Hoochie coochie man and a crazy bluesy Stormy Monday, and Born to sing. Van and Chris had so much fun!

To enthusiastic and appreciative applause, Chris left the stage and Van, at the keyboard, took us through a beautiful alternative version of Have I told you lately (joined ably by Shana), followed by Old black magic and Brown-eyed girl.

A few times through the evening, Van implored us to “give it up for the band”. They were outrageously talented: keyboard/Hammond organ/trumpet player, trombonist, trumpet/sax player, drummer, percussionist, bass guitar/double bass player and lead guitarist. They reacted to Van’s twirling fingers and swinging arms and fashioned and fine-tuned the music to mandatory Van-perfection.

Chris joined him again for Stand by me before a predictably rousing, rocking and crazy loud drum-soloed finale in the form of Gloria. Joking, chirping and ‘vanter’ aside, there was still not going to be an encore. The lights went up and Van left the building.

Brighton had delivered, and I’d put money on it: we weren’t the only ones who’d seriously enjoyed the gig.

Sunshine signing off for today.

Sulking and singing

This evening, I boarded a London bus whose driver was deeply sombre and morose. I thought back to this delightful soul whom we encountered a few years back, and thought I’d share the story with you again:

“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. Some 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 comedian. 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,” our toothless neighbour offered.

Thank you, Mr Bus Driver, for keeping my 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.

Queue, The Musical

As Great Britain holds its breath in hopeful anticipation that This Year, This Afternoon, a British player will win Wimbledon, I thought I’d share with you my own little experience of Wimbledon.

Having lived in London for almost four years, one thing I’ve been longing to do is go to Wimbledon, or SW19, as it’s affectionately known in London. That changed for me this week.

It’s really difficult to get tickets for Wimbledon if you’re an ordinary punter like I am. As I understand it, the options are few: if you belong to a tennis club, you might be able to get a ticket through the club; if you own a debenture – price tag of around £25k for five years – you have access to events (I would want to own at least one court at Wimbledon too, for that price), or you can enter The Ballot, (Wimbledon loves titles) which I have entered in the past and been Unsuccessful. The final option is to join The Queue.

After watching (live and in person) The Qualifiers at the Bank of England Sports Club in Roehampton the week before Wimbledon, and after seeing some of those qualifiers go on to do incredible things at Wimbledon, I just had to go and see some of it for myself. I took an afternoon off from work, grit my teeth and, after doing some research and gathering some encouragement and tips from colleagues, I travelled to Wimbledon to join The Queue. You can join The Queue for ground admission tickets either before 7.30am for when the gates open at 10.30am, or you can join in the early afternoon for when people start leaving the grounds after the first few matches. Be prepared for four or five hours of queuing. Just saying.

As the Southwest train pulled into Wimbledon station, the guy standing next to me at the train door asked me if I was going to the tennis. I flung my arms in the air with a dramatic flourish and jazz hands, threw my head back and shouted ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ (I might have been doing that only in my mind.) He asked if I wanted to share a cab, so I said ‘Sure’.

As we walked out of the station, he asked which court I had tickets for, as he had Court One tickets. I told him I didn’t have a ticket but was going to chance The Queue. He looked at me a bit askance, and then broke the awkwardness to tell me about all the fabulous tennis he’d ever seen at Wimbledon. Live. Fortunately, green is Wimbledon’s official colour so my undisguised envy was fully on-brand.

We got outside the station to discover a ‘gaartjie’ (they don’t call them that here, but in South Africa each minibus taxi has a ‘gaartjie’ to help him/her fill the taxi – a wingman, if you will) was organising all the taxis heading for Wimbledon and filling each, neatly, with five people. So my new taxi mate turned into four new taxi mates and the ride cost us each a wonderful £2.50. The conversation in the taxi inevitably turned to, ‘So who are you going to see?’ One couple had tickets to CENTRE COURT (capitals my own – CENTRE COURT already – sheesh!)

Another had a grounds admission ticket but was going to meet with parents-in-law to swop their tickets for CENTRE COURT tickets, and then there was my new-found train friend with his Court One tickets. After gushing about how amazing their day of tennis was going to be, and just before anyone got to ask me The Question, my new-found friend said, ‘And this lady doesn’t have a ticket at all, and is taking her chances in The Queue.’ They all looked down their noses at me (the taxi driver didn’t, thankfully, although I don’t think he was listening) and then one of them said, ‘Oh! Do people actually queue?’ I wished I’d got into a taxi with Ordinary People.

My new-found friend broke the awkwardness again with a little conversation about his outfit. He said, ‘I know I’m all summery [he was wearing a straw hat, a cream suit and pale blue shirt – summery? Where I come from, summery would mean a T-shirt and shorts], but I am prepared for all weather,’ and went on to describe the contents of his leather travel bag.

The taxi driver asked us to sort out the money between us, dropped us off near the main gates and we all parted company. I said, ‘Enjoy the tennis!’ They all said, ‘Good luck!’ And so I began my 20-minute walk to join The Queue, prompted by regular reminders of which way ‘Non-ticket holders’ needed to go. The walk felt interminable, and as I got nearer to my destination, I caught glimpses of people already in The Queue. My heart sank a little.

I got to the field where The Queue begins and was handed my Queue Card. It was numbered 09840 and dated Day 7, Monday 1st July.

In the first of my 240 minutes in The Queue, not one single person was behind me. That changed within a few minutes, and then as time progressed, people were envious that my Queue Card was numbered a mere 09840.

The Queue moved in fits and starts. Sometimes we would shuffle forward two steps, sometimes ten. People picnicked, talked, played hand-clapping games, whinged, moaned, checked the tennis results or played games on their phones, argued, drank water, read books, sang and occasionally chatted to strangers. I had seasoned Queuers standing behind me, who were super-friendly and told me what to expect of the afternoon’s line-standing. They also said The Queue wasn’t a bad one.

After about half an hour, we moved through an archway and this sign welcomed and encouraged us.

Wimbledon awaits

I also found this sign amusing. As if.


I joined The Queue just after 1pm and between 3.30pm and 4.30pm, The Queue stood still. Many people went to sit in the sunshine next to The Queue area. The three hooray henrys in front of me, who had whinged, moaned, argued and panicked non-stop since they arrived, went to sit somewhere and never came back. Ever. As 5pm loomed, a steward encouraged us that things would change at 5pm, and invited everyone back into The Queue. He was right – we soon moved forward at a great pace. As we approached the security check area, foreboding signs warned us that ‘No thermos flasks’ were allowed in the hallowed tennis grounds. Ooh. Scary. We went through a security check like you would go through at an airport, walked over a bridge and along a kind of cattle walk towards The Grounds and only then, once we went through all of that, did I get to buy a ticket. I bought a ‘Grounds Only’ ticket for £14, which means you are free to go and watch tennis anywhere apart from the show courts (Centre Court, Court One and Court Two), enjoy the restaurants, shops and picnic areas anywhere. There is a booth that re-sells show court tickets, but you need to queue for those …

I was a bit star-struck. I’ve grown up with tennis. My mother was a brilliant tennis-player and we grew up spending weekends at sports clubs and alongside tennis courts at weird and wonderful places around southern Africa. I’ve grown up watching and loving Wimbledon tennis on television; the men’s final has always fallen on or around my birthday, and has always held a special place in my heart. To be standing in the hallowed grounds of SW19 was at times a little overwhelming for me.

I wandered around a bit lost and spoilt for choice. I found my way to Court 18 and watched this amazingly exciting match:


The duo who won this five-setter, Dodig and Melo (they beat Mirnyi and Tecau), went right through to the final yesterday where they were halted by the outrageously talented, chest-bumping twins from the US. Fair enough. The match I watched was ridiculously fast and impressive. I couldn’t quite believe I was sitting in the third row on Court 18 watching a match that I would have been glued to watching on TV. When a front-rower was struck on the forehead by a wayward, faster-than-the-speed-of-light return of serve, I do think the cameras moved our way as the umpire asked the gentleman if he was all right. With a bright-red, throbbing bump on his forehead, he graciously waved the umpire away with an embarrassed ‘Yes’.

The view across to the other outer courts, Court One to the left and Centre Court ahead of me, in the early evening light, was just glorious. I still couldn’t quite believe I was there.

View from Court 18

I wasn’t the only one watching.

Bobbies on the Wimbledon beat

I wandered around the grounds and watched a few glimpses of brilliant junior matches, sat on Henman Hill (a large mound of grass behind Court One where you can sit and watch the main matches on a big screen) for a while to watch some of the Berdych v Tomic match, and the start of Djokovic’s annihilation of Tommy Haas. I then found my way to Court 17 and a front row seat to watch a personal favourite player – James Blake – in this mixed doubles match, which he and Vekic went on to lose to Srebotnik and Zimonjic.

Blake in action

A little before 9pm, I left Wimbledon, climbed into a taxi with four other Queuers, and made my way home, exhilarated, exhausted and quietly, magically, entranced by the much written-about atmosphere of SW19. It was everything that I had hoped it would be, and even more beautiful. I will definitely go back.

Today, in 30 degree sunshine, I have no doubt that The Queue will be the longest it’s been in the past fortnight. People have camped overnight to join The Queue, hopeful along with the rest of Britain that Andy Murray will break the 77-year dearth of a British winner in the men’s singles at Wimbledon. The rest of the world will be quietly confident that Novak Djokovic will continue to play unstoppable tennis. Whatever happens, we can be sure of watching an outstandingly brilliant display of tennis in this afternoon’s men’s final. For hardened tennis fans, the long wait in The Queue will definitely be worth it. And the newly-renamed Murray Mound (formerly Henman Hill) will be Heaving.

Sunshine signing off for today!

A shining star from the east end

She warmed up a chilly Southend evening like a golden shimmery ray of sunshine. Her soulful sounds mixed with her charming east London banter made for a fabulous evening out. Thank you, Paloma Faith; we’re big fans.


The beautiful young red-haired woman from Hackney came on to the stage in theatrical style. Wearing a glittery golden dress and carrying two oversized fans, Paloma opened her show with a surprisingly understated Let your love walk in. Singing alongside her three extraordinarily talented backing singers, with lead guitarist and grand pianist, she drew the song to a quiet close. As she sang Beauty of the end, the stage curtains opened to reveal a dramatic set of palm fronds and mirrored glass, and the rest of her outstanding band, all tuxedoed in black and white: keyboard player/bass guitarist, drummer and keyboard player/percussionist.

The haunting  When you’re gone showcased more of Paloma’s theatrical instincts, each wave of her arms creating another beautiful silhouette. The rousing cover version of Inxs’ Never tear us apart  brought the audience to their feet, and the lead guitarist to his knees. Paloma then greeted the audience with an enthusiastically east end, “Hello Saafend!”


With a hint of an apology for her Hackney accent, she quickly added, “Saafend, I fink you lot are even worse!”

She then went on to say, “It’s very arty; and then she talks. But you can still be clever and talk like this!”

At this point, she said we ‘clever clogs’ should be cheering her on. She reminded us she’d been nominated for two Brit Awards and then went on to say, “Who would have thought? Not me; coming from Hackney.”

Paloma told us the rules for the evening:  ”Sing along, if you know the words. Otherwise, you might as well be listening to the album at home, and listening in a lonely way.”

The audience needed little encouragement to join in with the fabulous Thirty minute love affair followed by a dazzlingly dance version of Blood, sweat and tears. She then introduced her first album Do you want the truth or something beautiful and then suggested that anyone who’d not bought that album, might want to go and have a cigarette break.

Before starting her first album set, she said she didn’t know how Tina Turner does it, singing Simply the best over and over. “I’ve only been in the game since 2009, and already I’m sick to the teeth of Stone, cold sober!”

With no hint of ennui , she belted out the number to screams and whistles from the packed house. She followed with Do you want the truth or something beautiful? and then introduced her band members as each soloed their way through the delightfully Parisian-sounding Upside down.  As she sang her wildly popular New York she got down off the stage to walk and among her fans in the mosh pit.

Back to the stage and to her second album, Fall to grace, she sat on the grand piano for the sublimely harmonised Just be. As the audience sang along gently with her, she curled up on the piano, before moving on to the appropriate Let me down easy. Streets of glory followed, and then the dramatic Agony, and a demonstration of Paloma’s contemporary dance training. For Freedom she stood on the piano, before inviting the audience to visit her merchandise store (‘even though my mum said it’s probably closed by now, but I’ll promote it anyway’) and avail themselves of ‘Topshop-worthy clobber. You’ll find no sticky transfers – our  T-shirts have the image embedded in the thread’.

Introducing her second last number, she said, “If you don’t know the next song, you’re definitely here as someone’s guest.” A fabulously stirring  Picking up the pieces followed, before she closed the show with a golden confetti shower over Black and blue.


A final mention of her band members, our leading light closed the show with, “And I’m Paloma Faith” before bowing, blowing a kiss and waving us goodbye. What a great show, and what a sparkling star; Hackney, Paloma’s done you well proud.

Sunshine signing off for today!