Monday, 28 April 2008

Review Of King Lear At The Globe Theatre

As I approached the Globe Theatre for the second night of King Lear, the atmosphere around the theatre was positively buzzing.

There was a slight confusion when, bursting for the loo, I politely asked a steward where the “cloakroom” was. He told me there wasn’t one at the theatre which seemed utterly mad so I asked if I could use the one in the exhibition centre (I’d used those earlier in the week and they were rather plush!). He looked confused and asked his colleague if there was somewhere to leave coats. It was then that I realised my polite turn of phrase had just confused everybody! I re-phrased and asked if he could direct me to the toilets!

People stood outside the theatre, chatting, drinking and eating. Dotted around were various stalls selling drinks, sausage baps, cookies and nuts. There was also a stall renting cushions and back rests (I had brought my own cushion after being tipped off about the hard benches!). About 10 minutes before “curtain up” a drum began beating and people made their way into the theatre. Inside the atmosphere was nothing short of electric. Strolling minstrels wandered through the audience, playing Elizabethan instruments and percussion and were soon joined by actors with bell sticks who mingled and spoke to the audience. The musicians made their way up on stage and continued to play while the auditorium filled up. A speech was made in character requesting the audience not take photographs or disturb the actors with “anachronistic ringtones” (I took my photos before this announcement!)

The last time I saw this play was Kenneth Branagh’s 1990 production with Richard Briars in the lead role and Emma Thompson as the Fool. This new production would have a lot to live up to! King Lear is not the easiest of Shakespeare’s plays to follow if you are not familiar with the text. Fortunately for me, I studied this particular tragedy many many years ago and it all came flooding back when the actors appeared on stage. The opening scene was taken at such a fast pace that I would think some of the audience struggled to keep track. However, the lead characters were suitably established and it ran smoothly from there on in. The two older sisters, Goneril and Regan, were played by actresses Sally Bretton and Kellie Bright. Both are rather young but infinitely capable and believable as the cruel, bloodthirsty sisters. King Lear, played by David Calder was a proud, stubborn man who reaches total despair and deserves every inch of our sympathy towards the end.

The late Elizabethan costumes and a subtly adaptable set were appropriately dowdy in autumnal colours with splashes of red. Without getting too deep, this reflected the action well. The scene changes were seamless, often linked by snatches of live music, and most often I failed to notice the manoeuvre from one scene to the next.

By the very nature of a roofless theatre in central London, action is sometimes disturbed by an overhead aeroplane or helicopter but the cast were unfazed and, much to their credit, not a single line of dialogue was lost.

During the interval large glasses of Pimms were for sale as well as hot drinks and Elizabethan-style snacks. I wandered around looking at the names engraved on the paving stones, all generous contributors to the building of the Globe Theatre. In pride of place was the man whose vision enabled the Globe to be reconstructed, Sam Wanamaker. There was much chatter among the audience and most seemed positive (except one man who I overheard telling his companion that he had to go home for fear of snoring loudly during a poignant moment!). Once again the drums lead us back into the theatre and, in the second half, I witnessed some of the best choreography and acting I’ve seen in a long time.

The highlight of the whole play was, for me, the storm scene. Dirt covered, near naked actors appeared from nowhere, weaving through the yard, causing the audience to move and sway; the musicians provided incredible percussive sound effects and the audience, so wrapped up in this scene of chaos and tempest, began to put their coats and hats on to ward off the elements!

There was some superb acting, not least from David Calder as Lear and his Fool, played by Danny Lee Wynter, was a joy to behold. My one criticism of this production is that, in a play which is foremost a tragedy, the comic moments were perhaps hammed up too much. Some members of the audience laughed a little too hard for my liking and I can only concur that they were drawn away from the true depths of despair experienced by Lear and some of the other characters by the overplayed gags. There were moments of disturbing and realistic violence and bloodshed which, again, some laughed at. It is possible that this was nervous giggling borne from the discomfort of seeing such graphic brutality in close quarters. However, in the program is an article about the comic content of Lear so I am assuming the delivery was intentional even though it didn’t sit quite right with me.

I must mention Trystan Gravelle who played Edgar/Poor Tom. This actor shone brightly in a cast of quality and experience. His performance was physically exciting and full of vocal strength. With perfectly understated comic delivery and touches of emotive brilliance, this is surely a name to watch out for.

In keeping with Shakespearian tradition, each character (dead or alive) rose to his feet and joined in a company song and dance at the end. This is, without doubt, everso slightly strange but equally uplifting! I am pleased to say though that the singing (in Olde English) and dancing abilities of the cast were as impressive as the acting and in no way detracted from the fabulous production.

I sneakily took one or two photos during the curtain call and as people began to leave. The full selection can be seen on flickr along with my other photos of the Globe Theatre.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Banksy Strikes London Again

BanksyI was incredibly excited to see my first “live” Banksy in London yesterday and, what’s more, it is only 10 days old! The graffiti artist (I use this term loosely for he is soooo much more than that) has, once again, produced a piece of work on a gargantuan scale under a veil of secrecy. What is known about this latest work in Newman Street (just seconds away from bustling Oxford Street) is that on the weekend of April 12th/13th, three stories of scaffolding were erected within aBanksy secured Royal Mail yard and shrouded with tarpaulin. It is believed the actual art work was carried out under further cover of darkness. Ironically Banksy was surrounded by CCTV cameras but apparently none captured an image of the elusive artist!

So… Who is Banksy? Nobody knows for sure. There are one or two photos on the internet claiming to be Banksy but no sighting has ever been confirmed. Similarly, a few names have been bandied about in an attempt to reveal his identity but even his agent says she has never met the artist! (But I doubt he put that scaffoldinBanksyg up single handedly so someone, somewhere knows who he is!).

What is Banksy? Graffiti artist, street artist and guerrilla artist all describe Banksy as do satirist, social and political commentator and even urban or plain old vandal. It all depends on how you view his particular form of art.

Where is Banksy? Nobody knows where the artist lives but he is thought to originate from Bristol. His work can be seen all over London, Bristol, New York, Los Angeles, Palestine, Sydney and Melbourne.Banksy

I have long been an admirer of Banksy’s work and was thrilled to see such a new piece in situ - untouched by graffiti taggers or painted over by over zealous council workers (Last year one of his most iconic images, the Pulp Fiction banana parody, was painted over by Transport For London who claimed the “graffiti” produced an atmosphere of “social decay” and encouraged crime). I am not alone in my admiration though; famous celebrities and collectors have paid tens of thousands of pounds for Banksy originals reaching a whopping £288,000 for one piece (believed to be bought by Angelina Jolie!)

Love or hate Banksy’s work or the principle behind it, the sheer scale and speed at which he produces his stencil based works surely cannot fail to impress?

To download free images from the man himself visit the Banksy Online Shop.

To view all my Banksy photos visit flickr.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

So the “somewhere new that looks old” was the Globe Theatre on the south bank of the River Thames. This magnificent reproduction of the original 16th Century theatre is an absolute joy to look at and even better when you get inside.

With the London Pass you get the opportunity to visit the theatre, see the world’s largest exhibition devoted to William Shakespeare and take a guided tour of the semi-open air theatre.

My guide-storyteller, Emmiline, did a fantastic job of grabbing everybody’s attention and giving us all an informative and entertaining 40 minute tour. Even the children in the group stayed silent with wide eyed fascination while she spoke.

There was a rehearsal taking place on the stage and they still very kindly allowed us to access the theatre. What a bonus to actually see some wonderful actors rehearsing King Lear in front of our very eyes! On the downside, we weren’t allowed to take photographs while they rehearsed so I can only show you the outside of the building.

This is the 3rd Globe theatre to be built in the vicinity. The first one was built in Shakespeare’s time and many of his greatest works were written and performed there. Unfortunately the original Globe burnt down but was soon rebuilt. The second one was closed down by the Puritans who believed theatre bred bad behaviour- drunkenness, prostitution and theft. They were right to a certain degree!

The new Globe was constructed in the 1990s using traditional crafts and techniques to produce an authentic looking theatre with few modern additions. The auditorium and stage area are stunning. You get a real sense of how it would have been in Elizabethan times. In those days, one could stand in the pit for just 1 penny or sit for 2 pence and have a cushion for 3! Nowadays it is still pretty cheap. 700 tickets for every performance are sold for just £5 and the top price is £33 which for London theatre is incredibly cheap.

I got so carried away with the magic of the Globe that, after the tour, I found myself queuing up at the box office! The season only started last night and tonight I’m going back to the Globe to see “King Lear” in its entirety. I will, of course, write a review.

It’s hard to explain how special Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is so I highly recommend that you include it in your sightseeing itinerary and discover for yourself. The theatre season runs until October but the exhibition and tours are available all year round.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

London Pass Day

Yesterday I spent another great day in our Capital City doing some sightseeing with the London Pass. When I left home it wasn’t particularly warm but by the time I arrived in London the sun was shining and it was a glorious April day without the rain showers.

So, where did I go this time? Well, I visited somewhere new, somewhere old, somewhere blue (well, grey really but that doesn't work!) and somewhere new that looks old! I crossed water by foot; I went underground by tube and overground by bus. I mixed the Arts with Religion and a little architecture in between and discovered that people in London can be genuinely helpful, friendly and considerate.

I even had a sight of inner-city wildlife in the form of a squirrel (left) that had become very tame in his pursuit of food. The other tourists weren’t so sure about it though and treated it with some disdain!

I walked along the South Bank of the River Thames past pavement eateries and people enjoying the warm spring weather. Ice cream vans were surrounded by school kids and, at lunchtime, the city workers took their jackets off, rolled up their sleeves and hovered outside the riverside pubs in the splendid sunshine.

On my way home on the train I played my new found game – The Bluetooth Game! Basically you activate the Bluetooth function on your mobile phone and search for new devices. Your phone then displays a list of other Bluetooth devices in your vicinity. Sometimes people don’t set a nickname so their mobile will just be the name of their model (e.g. NOKIA_6300), but most of the results are personalised. Then you look around and try to work out which name belongs to which person! I can’t share some of the names I found as they were far too rude but I rather liked “Big Bold Greek Bird” (I think that was a woman sitting about three rows behind me with fantastically big hair!), “Golden Guru” (the bespectacled gentleman with blonde hair to my right?), “Suzy Smooth” (I couldn’t work that one out) and “Guess Who?” (I wonder if he/she was playing the same game as me?). My favourite was “Naughty Nigel”. Those two words just don’t fit together somehow (are Nigel’s ever naughty?!). I couldn’t see anyone that looked like a Nigel, let alone a naughty one! It’s all very silly but a great way to kill time on a train journey.

Anyway, back to my London tourist trip… actually I think I’ll leave you in suspense. All (or some) will be revealed soon!

Monday, 21 April 2008

And The Winner Is...

So the excitement is over for another year (or at least until the next awards ceremony) and the winners will no doubt have hangovers this morning and, quite likely, so will the losers!

The BAFTA Television awards were, as expected, a glamorous affair with the cream of British and international talent in attendance. Probably the biggest shock of the night was Dame Judi Dench losing out in the Best Actress category to her Cranford co-star Eileen Atkins. Despite predictions, the BBC drama failed to pick up any other awards but BBC3 comedy Gavin and Stacey won two – the Audience Award for Programme of The Year and Best Comedy Performance for creator and actor James Corden (above with co-star and fellow writer Ruth Jones). Last Christmas Eve I was waiting to meet a friend in a large computer store with a fruity name in Regent Street (eat one a day and it keeps the doctor away!) and for a good 10 minutes stood next to a man I thought I knew. I turned and smiled at him a couple of times and he smiled back with no recognition so I didn’t risk speaking to him in case it was mistaken identity! It was only when I started to watch Gavin and Stacey a couple of months ago that I realised he was James Corden who I have never worked with or even met! Thank goodness I didn’t embarrass myself totally!

Some guest presenters last night included Patrick Duffy (of Dallas fame) who, in my opinion, gets more handsome with age; Alan Dale, currently starring in West End show Spamalot but known to TV viewers from Neighbours and Ugly Betty; British Olympic hopeful, 13 year old diving champion Tom Daley, joined Denise Lewis to present the sports coverage award and Paul Merton gave a tribute to the big winner of the night, new Academy Fellow, Bruce Forsyth.

The big winners at the glitzy London ceremony were:

Actor: Andrew Garfield - Boy A

Actress: Dame Eileen Atkins - Cranford

Entertainment Performance: Harry Hill - Harry Hill's TV Burp

Comedy Performance: James Corden - Gavin and Stacey

Drama Series: The Street

Drama Serial: Britz

Continuing Drama: Holby City

International Series: Heroes

Feature: Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares

Current Affairs: China's Stolen Children - A Dispatches Special

News Coverage: Glasgow Airport Attack

Sport: ITV F1- Canadian Grand Prix Live

Entertainment Programme: Harry Hill's TV Burp

Comedy Programme: Fonejacker

Sitcom: Peep Show

Audience Award for Programme of the Year: Gavin and Stacey

Holby City was an unexpected winner of what is, essentially, the soap opera award. Harry Hill (pictured right) was a double winner with his TV Burp and (surprisingly?) beat Britain’s Got Talent and Strictly Come Dancing to Best Entertainment Programme.

The process of deciding the award winners has always been a little controversial but I think, for the second year in a row, there may have been more than a few eyebrows raised. I watch my fair share of television (verging on unhealthy!) and there were some nominees and winners that I had never heard of. Still, for those of us not invited to turn up in evening dress or black tie on a Sunday evening in London, this wonderfully sparkly event was a welcome diversion to normal life.

The British do these occasions with such elegance and, with Graham Norton at the helm, a good dose of humour too.

Congratulations to all the winners and to the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for a superb evening.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Star Spotting in London

There are people in this world who travel hundreds of miles for the chance of seeing their favourite celebrity. Today, if you happen to be in London, you only have to make your way to the London Palladium Theatre in Argyll Street. This most famous of theatres, just off Oxford Circus, is currently home to the hit West End musical “The Sound of Music” but, tonight, it is holding the prestigious BAFTA Television awards.

Hosted by comedian Graham Norton, the Academy Fellowship will be presented to veteran entertainer Bruce Forsyth who this year celebrates his 80th birthday and continues to present prime time TV show “Strictly Come Dancing” after 50 years on television.

Other stars hotly tipped to win awards are Dame Judi Dench for the costume drama “Cranford” which is nominated for four awards; Harry Hill for his madder than mad “TV Burp” show; Stephen Merchant - finally out of Ricky Gervais’s shadow - is up for Best Comedy Performance in “Extras”.

If you join the throng of expectant and adoring fans expect to see the stars of your favourite soaps (which are quaintly called Continuing Dramas by BAFTA!) but not Coronation Street which was controversially passed over for nomination this year. You may also catch sight of one or two international stars and homegrown talents such as Joanna Lumley, Rob Brydon, Patsy Palmer, Sid Owen, Alesha Dixon and Piers Morgan (I’m pushing the “talent” label at the end there!). Presenters, sports stars and a few musicians may be spotted among the actors, producers and directors.

Expect plenty of glamour on the red carpet for the most glittering television awards ceremony of 2008.

For those of you who would rather watch the stars arrive, win or lose and leave in the comfort of your own home, you can catch it on BBC1 at 8pm (not quite live in case somebody swears during their acceptance speech!)

p.s.the good people at the London Pass are currently offering a 30% discount on tickets for the Sound of Music. To find out more and to book your tickets click on the following link while the offer still lasts.

London Pass Theatre Offers

Friday, 18 April 2008

Coming Soon In London

There is plenty to keep London visitors busy at this time of year. The weather may not be great and the economy may be in decline but the Arts continue to flourish in London.

Opening next week at the Coliseum is a new English National Opera production of The Merry Widow. The cast includes ENO regulars Amanda Roocroft and John Graham-Hall and Britain’s “favourite” tenor, Alfie Boe. With just 12 performances starting on Saturday 26th April, this is sure to be one of the hottest shows of 2008.

If you are coming to London in May, you might be interested to know that the legendary Liza Minnelli will be appearing in concert at the Coliseum from May 25th-27th. I understand there are some tickets still available but expect to dig deep as this rare opportunity to see Liza does not come cheap!

If Latin music is more your thing then you’ll be pleased to hear that the Buena Vista Social Club return to the Hammersmith Apollo on May 3rd and 4th. The surviving members of the band will bring some Cuban magic to the city for two nights only so don’t miss your chance to see these celebrated musicians live in London.

Visiting opera houses and big concert venues doesn’t quite fit into my London budget but if I do make it to any of these events I will, of course, report back!

I am having another day of London Pass sightseeing this week so expect some more tourist tips and hopefully some Ding Dongs if I discover anything extra special. In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

London Pass Specials

I think it is time that I once again drew attention to the London Pass. For those of you who have not been with me from the beginning of my London Ding Dong project and who have not heard of the London Pass then here is a little recap.

The London Pass is a fantastic little smart card which I discovered when I decided I was going to do some sightseeing as part of my rediscovery project. Basically, you pay for the London Pass and then get free entry in to more than 55 London tourist attractions. Obviously you can’t visit 55 sights in one day but the London Pass is available for 1, 2, 3 or 6 days so if you are on holiday in or around the capital city it’s worth getting a multi-day pass.

Everybody knows that London is one of the most expensive cities in the world and if you plan to visit the most famous sightseeing attractions you need to reserve a large chunk of your budget for entry fees. The London Pass definitely gets around this problem by offering pre-paid access to some of the most popular sights. Depending on how many days you opt for, the London Pass can work out as cheaply as £13 per day which is quite unbelievable.

As well as tourist attractions and famous sights, the London Pass comes with a load of special offers and freebies which are worth taking advantage of. There are various dinner and theatre deals (including combos) but today I thought I’d mention some of the non-food related extras on offer.

There are offers for sightseeing tours on open-top buses with the Big Bus Company and on foot with the Original London Walks.

Guide books and audio guides are discounted or free at many attractions, museums and galleries when you show your London Pass.

Be pampered at Cucumba with free top up treatments and a half price massage at Walk-in BackRub will provide you with some well-earned TLC after all that sightseeing.

Waterford Wedgwood are offering London Pass holders a 10% discount at their Regent Street and Piccadilly stores and if you pop into one of the Crest of London souvenir shops you’ll receive a free commemorative teddy.

If you are visiting London from another country and wish to exchange your local currency for pounds sterling then the Bureau de Change agreement with London Pass is a definite boon. It includes commission free currency, preferential exchange rates and a buy-back offer if you have too much sterling left at the end of your holiday.

My favourite offer and the one most worthy of mentioning for those of you coming to the UK from another country is the Vodafone International Mobile Phone Rental. This is an absolutely brilliant idea for holidaymakers or even business visitors. If you have purchased the London Pass then you are entitled to 5 free days rental of a Vodafone UK mobile. Avoid those expensive roaming rates and give your friends and family your temporary UK number as it’s free to receive calls and you only have to pay for the calls you make. Vodafone will even ship the phone to you before you travel so that’s another good reason for buying the London Pass online before you leave home!

For more information about these offers you can click on the links or for a full list of London sightseeing attractions and offers included on the London Pass, go to

The more I look at the London Pass website and its guidebook, the more I think that it’s a good idea to purchase this sightseeing card in advance. I’m only doing single days of sightseeing so I have plenty of time to decide what I’m going to visit and when. Most tourists don’t have this luxury so if you know you’re coming to London in the next few months, go ahead and buy your London Pass now. Use it wisely and you will get your money back several times over!

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

London Blue Plaques at Handel House Museum

Keep your eyes fixed firmly ahead when walking around the streets of London and you miss some of its most beautiful buildings and also its history.

Lift your eyes up slightly and you may just spot one of the hundreds of blue plaques dotted around the city to commemorate the lives of famous people.

Just a few minutes walk away from the bustling shops of Oxford Street are two such plaques right next door to each other. 23 and 25 Brook Street in the heart of Mayfair were once the homes of Jimi Hendrix and G F Handel. Obviously these two great musicians were never actually next door neighbours but despite the 200 year gap in their residencies, the two blue plaques commemorate their time in London.

25 Brook Street is now home to the Handel House Museum. This charming Georgian townhouse has been restored to reflect how it looked in Handel’s lifetime.

I visited the Handel House Museum using the London Pass which gave me free entry on a day of London sightseeing. The German composer of great works such as the Messiah and Zadok The Priest lived here from 1723 until his death in 1759.

Not only did he write some of his greatest works here but he also held rehearsals for his operas and oratorios in the Performance room. These rehearsals were sometimes held in front of small audiences consisting of friends and patrons who often witnessed Handel impatiently swearing at the singers in several different languages!

On the day I visited I was pleasantly surprised to find a lady rehearsing on the stunning reproduction harpsichord. Thankfully for her (and me) there was no swearing composer in attendance so I was able to sit on the window seat and enjoy her beautiful playing undisturbed.

Apparently musicians are encouraged to use this unique space to rehearse so a free concert is not an unusual occurrence.

Although the furniture in the house is not original, they have gone to great pains to display either good reproductions or similar pieces from Handel’s lifetime. Despite this, the museum is well worth visiting for its historic value and for a sense of how this great composer lived.

There is currently a special Messiah exhibition being held at the museum which includes the earliest attempt to make a copy of the Messiah score. This 1868 manuscript is a pretty impressive sight! There are also headphones playing a recording of the Messiah which is a rather nice touch for the uninitiated and lovers of Handel’s music alike.

The exhibition continues in 23 Brook Street which was briefly the home of legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s. Here, there is one room dedicated to Handel’s manuscripts and his music (again, played through headphones for visitors to enjoy). The second room is labelled the “Activity Area” and contains a dressing up area with historical and opera costumes. A computer and keyboard are supplied to encourage kids to try their hand at composing. It would have been easy to dismiss this room as meant purely for children if I had not noticed the nod to Hendrix on one wall.

The Handel House Museum have acknowledged the fact that Jimi Hendrix once lived in this part of the museum by displaying some beautiful black and white photographs taken of the musician in January 1969 inside the Upper Flat of 23 Brook Street.

It may seem that these two iconic music figures have little in common but, other than living in neighbouring properties, I discovered another mutual achievement held by Handel and Hendrix. While many think of huge crowds of music lovers being the domain of rock stars such as Hendrix (think Woodstock), one would not envisage similar crowds in Handel’s time. Well think again. On 21st April 1749 Handel held a public rehearsal of “Music for the Royal Fireworks” at 11 o’clock in the morning which drew a crowd of 12,000 people and literally stopped traffic for three hours! Ever the businessman, Handel charged each attendee 2s 6d (12.5 pence) to hear his new work rehearsed in Vauxhall Gardens. It is hardly a surprise to know that Handel was rarely short of money and, on his death in 1759, left many thousands of pounds to his favoured charities.

The Handel House Museum may not be your typical tourist attraction but for an insight into the world of an 18th century composer and well known London social figure, it is a great way to spend a couple of hours. For those with more contemporary music interests it is an added bonus to tread the same floorboards once walked on by Jimi Hendrix.

Monday, 14 April 2008

East London Sightseeing

Last night I was fortunate to visit one of London’s iconic music venues – Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. Since 1965 the Frith Street club has seen some of the top names in international music grace its stage. Last night was the turn of a homegrown talent from a British reality TV show in the form of Mr Will Young. This is not a name one usually associates with jazz but as special guest of the Vanguard Big Band, Will certainly held his own. If he hasn’t already done so, Will Young showed once and for all that the British public do know what they are doing when it comes to talent show voting!

Living outside of London can make travelling home late at night a little difficult. My good friend who gave me the ticket as a birthday gift lives in London so I decided I would drive rather than incur the late night trains alone. Ordinarily I wouldn’t consider doing this as parking is expensive and, during the week, the congestion charge is effective in persuading me to leave my car in the driveway! So, despite my warning to you all not to drive in London on Sunday, I set off in my little car with my little Sally-Sat-Nav for company.

I don’t entirely understand how this satellite navigation system works but I am assuming it knows the best route to take, the places to avoid and the roads that are closed for maintenance or any other reason. If this is the case then I fully understand why my 45 minute journey took 2 hours and 5 minutes! But if it is not that clever then why on earth did I drive through parts of London I never knew existed? Why did it tell me to turn left three times and, each time, need to recalculate the route when I had done as it told me? When I waited at traffic lights with the brightly lit boards of Piccadilly Circus on my left and Eros straight ahead, why did Sally-Sat-Nav suddenly decide she didn’t know where we were, leaving me to guess my next move?

I know it is several years since I have driven to or through London and I know that some roads may have changed. I also know it was not the best day of the year to drive in the capital on account of thousands of stray runners still attempting to complete the London Marathon. BUT… 2 hours 5 minutes for a 45 minute journey?! In future I will do it the old fashioned way and plan my route using a map before I leave home!

On the bright side, if anyone wants a rundown on the sights of East London - including every type of takeaway food outlet you can imagine - then drop me a line!

Friday, 11 April 2008

London Marathon Madness

This morning I woke to beautiful sunshine. I am now looking out of the window while hailstones rain down. I dressed in jeans and a t-shirt but have now added a fleece and turned the central heating on! What is going on with this weather?

This weekend will see thousands of amateur runners wearing fancy dress costumes jogging, walking and hobbling the London Marathon. Of course, there are a small percentage of serious runners who compete in this annual event but the London Marathon is largely associated with charity fundraisers. Last year the weather was so hot that people were passing out along the course. This year it seems that drowning in puddles or slipping on ice may be a higher risk than heat stroke! Personally, I find the prospect of running 26 miles for fun (or charity) to be rather mad but good luck to those of you who are attempting it.

For non-runners, tourists, sightseers and holidaymakers, this Sunday will be a little chaotic in London so plan your day carefully.

30,000 competitors (plus their supporters) ascending on London en masse is bound to take its toll on the transport system so don’t be surprised if you discover long queues at tube stations and bus stops. All the roads along the route are closed to normal traffic so don’t even think about driving around London on Sunday! If the weather is fine, consider walking from one attraction to another or avoid the marathon route and visit the sights in other parts of London. If you want to avoid the runners in animal costumes, why not see the real thing at London Zoo? This is one place that I'm ashamed I've never visited... I blame my parents of course! I may just have to enrol my nephews as an excuse to visit sometime soon. Mind you, why should I need an excuse to go to the zoo?! Hampton Court Palace is also a safe distance away from the marathon course and I've been told it's well worth a visit. Of course, you may wish to be part of the marathon excitement and combine some sightseeing at the same time. If this is the case then some of the major places of interest along or near the course are the Tower of London, the Cutty Sark exhibition, St Paul's Cathedral, the Jewel Tower at Westminster and the Royal Mews stables. All of these tourist hot spots can be visited using the London Pass so if you do want to join the marathon madness and still see some sights then don't forget to buy that all important smart card!

If you are in London on Sunday you should be aware that mobile phone reception may be poor due to volumes so if you are planning to meet people, make sure you organise it beforehand in case you can’t make a phone call.

Whatever the weather and whatever you decide to do this weekend, I hope you have a good one!

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Happy Birthday Big Ben

Big BenThe Big Ben bell is 150 years old today! Ding Dong!

Whilst Big Ben did not actually chime in the Clock Tower until 31st May 1859, it was on this day in 1858 that the giant bell was cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. The most famous bell in the world was the largest ever to be cast there and cost a mere £572!

The giant hour bell weighs a staggering 13 tons and stands 7 feet and 6 inches high with a diameter of 9 feet.

Coincidentally, Big Ben (the most commonly used name for the Clock Tower which houses the bell) was named Britain’s favourite landmark in poll results announced yesterday.

Congratulations Big Ben!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Snowseeing in London

A few days ago I mentioned the ever changing weather in London. It seems that today is more Winter than Spring with snowfalls in London and throughout the UK!

I hope those of you visiting or staying in London this weekend were prepared for this rather unusual event!

Sparkly Songbird is currently taking a break in Italy but my spies in London tell me that the snow has settled and is causing much excitement throughout the Capital.

I hate to miss out on anything so, earlier today, I took an utterly horrendous cable car ride (yes, I kept my eyes fixed firmly ahead) to the top of an Italian mountain to experience a little snow-filled fun for myself! I had some companions with me in the form of my four young nephews who, dressed in shorts and t-shirts, had a great time snowballing and running riot on the white powdery slopes. Who says that kids today aren’t tough?!

I’m not sure that anywhere in London will look quite like this but the snow all comes from the same sky doesn’t it!

If all this wintery weather has got you in the mood for some winter sports then why not visit the Queen’s Ice and Bowl for a little ice skating? This is London’s only ice rink and ten pin bowling venue under one roof so it is the place to go if you are a budding Torvill or Dean (Britain’s most famous ice dancing champions).

If you are using the London Pass for some serious sightseeing then get the most from it and claim your free session of ice skating too. The London Pass is supposed to put a little fun into your whole London experience so once you’ve seen Kensington Palace, head across the park, get your skates on, let your hair down and start slip-sliding around that ice rink!

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Final Views From The Cruise

First of all, huge apologies for the quality and quantity of pictures in this post. This is due entirely to the steamed up windows on the City Cruise boat! It had started to rain so I took a couple of pics from inside the boat and then realised it was pretty pointless!

As we moved steadily along the river, I was quite struck by the variety of architectural styles and ages represented on the banks of the Thames. Many of the once industrial buildings have been sympathetically converted into residential apartments; there are modern glass constructions; there are Victorian buildings aplenty including one built in the Italian Renaissance style and there is even a replica Tudor warship!

But none of the buildings you pass, modern or old, sum up the history of the River Thames better than Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. This recreation of the 16th Century Globe Theatre was opened in 1997 and was the first building with a thatched roof to be built in London since the Great Fire of 1666. As well as being the venue for an extensive exhibition about Shakespeare and the theatre of his time, the Globe also has an annual theatre season with performances of Shakespeare’s work and those of modern playwrights’.

The Globe theatre tour and exhibition is on the list of London Pass attractions and, having seen it from the outside, I am now keen to go inside and see this outstanding reconstruction properly.

All in all, the City Cruise boat trip was a good experience despite the weather. The bonus of doing this with the London Pass is that you get a Red Rover ticket which enables you to use the boats like buses- getting on and off where and when you want throughout the day. If you get your timings right it is quicker than taking the bus or tube from the Tower of London to Westminster. Although I didn’t do it on this occasion, you can also take the boat all the way up to Greenwich Pier where you can see the Cutty Sark exhibition and visit the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum (another London Pass attraction).

The Thames River cruise is a pleasant way to see some of the important sights of London and perfect if you haven’t got a lot of time to spend exploring London in detail.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Views From The Cruise Part 2

If you board the City Cruise boat from the Tower of London it takes you down the River Thames to Westminster Pier, where you get a fabulous view of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. This iconic London sight is, in fact, called The Clock Tower. Big Ben is the name of the largest bell inside the tower which famously chimes each hour. I must have looked at Big Ben hundreds of times in my life but the intricate golden details never fail to astound me.

As I’d decided to go straight back to Tower Pier without disembarking, there was a short wait at Westminster before the boat turned around and picked up passengers from the Westminster Millennium Pier underneath the London Eye. I admit, I didn’t enjoy these minutes beneath the huge Ferris wheel - Sparkly Songbird has a slight problem with heights and that includes looking at things that move slowly round and round with the express intention of taking you up high in the sky to look at the view! My fear extends to things getting stuck or falling down… not wishing to put you off a visit to the London Eye but it could happen!

Just as the boat started on its journey back up the river, the heavens opened and the rain came down. This was really the excuse I needed to go downstairs for the remainder of the journey as it was getting pretty cold on that upper deck! I bought a cup of coffee from the bar and slowly started to defrost!

With huge panoramic windows, the City Cruise boats provide great views wherever you sit and I was able to see pretty well until the windows got steamed up! County Hall (right), which houses the London Aquarium, is a magnificent looking building and, in my opinion, is a lot more impressive than the modern City Hall. The Royal Festival Hall (left) is one of London’s premier performance venues but has to be one of the ugliest constructions along the River Thames – it’s a shame as it is quite attractive inside.

Just so you can see how changeable British weather can be I am re-posting a picture you have already seen and another one which, according to my camera, was taken just 30 seconds later! Let this be a warning to you if you are planning some London sightseeing - be prepared for every eventuality; from heat waves to snow storms... anything can happen weather-wise in London!