Monday, 30 June 2008

Tourist Walk In London 1

Last week was pretty good weather-wise in London so I took the opportunity to carry out my own walking and sightseeing itinerary which included some of the most popular London tourist attractions.

For the time being, I won’t go into detail about the individual places I visited but will share with you my route and the things I saw. I had planned my path in advance and thoroughly enjoyed my typical tourist trail even though some of the attractions were not really my cup of tea!

I started off at Hyde Park Corner, one of the busiest traffic intersections in central London. I am still haunted by the memory of breaking down in my dad’s car here many years ago – I had borrowed the car with the promise that I wouldn’t drive it into London! I took some photos of the wonderfully ornate gates marking the entrance to Hyde Park and then walked around to Apsley House, home of the Duke of Wellington in the 19th Century. Then across the road to Wellington Arch - one of London’s most well known landmarks with its magnificent sculpture entitled “Peace descending on the Chariot of War” (below).

When planning my itinerary I had a choice of walking across Hyde Park to Kensington Palace or Green Park to Buckingham Palace. On this occasion, I chose the latter as, universally, it is probably more recognisable as the Queen’s London home. Diana’s home will be saved for another time.

Walking through Green Park I was amazed at the number of joggers and runners using the footpath but was disappointed not to see any horse riders using the special bridle paths. I think that most riders must exercise their horses in the early morning. Green Park lived up to its name that day and was looking positively glorious in its greenness! I strolled along at quite a sedate pace enjoying the intermittent sunshine on my way to Buckingham Palace.

Apsley House and Wellington Arch are open Wednesday to Sunday 11am-5pm.

Apsley House Adult Entry: £5.50

Wellington Arch Adult Entry: £3.30

London Pass holders get free entry to both attractions.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Bali Memorial, London

Following on from the Fiona Banner Full Stops outside City Hall, I discovered another spherical piece worth mentioning. I’m not sure that one should describe a memorial sculpture as an art work but it is difficult to label it otherwise.

The Bali Memorial is a few metres away from Horse Guards Parade at the bottom of Clive Steps and commemorates the victims of the 2002 bombings.

The marble globe is engraved with 202 doves representing the victims of the blast, The curved stone wall behind lists the names and ages of all those who lost their lives including 28 Britons.

It was officially opened on the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attack by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in a ceremony attended by survivors, relatives of the victims and representatives from the 21 nations who lost citizens.

The 1.5 metre memorial globe is the work of artists Garry Breeze and Martin Cook and took nine months to complete. The inscription surrounding the base of the globe reads “YOU WERE ROBBED OF LIFE YOUR SPIRIT ENRICHES OURS”.

If you are visiting the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms or are in the area of St James’s Park, take a few moments to visit this permanent memorial. It is a simple yet poignant reminder.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, London

A short walk away from the Houses of Parliament on the edge of St James’s Park, the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War rooms are hidden beneath Clive Steps. These underground rooms were the epicentre for the British war effort between 1939 and 1945. The War Cabinet, Winston Churchill (the British Prime Minister), and his most senior advisors plotted the war here and were protected from German bomb attacks on London throughout the Second World War.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the Cabinet War Rooms but assumed it would amount to little more than a few reconstructed offices decked out with wartime furnishings! How wrong I was! The bunker style entrance immediately provokes the notion that this is not just a homage to Churchill – it is the genuine and faithfully preserved British control centre of the Second World War.

Opened to the public in 1984 with additional rooms opened in 2003, the Cabinet War Rooms are run by the Imperial War Museum and the Churchill Museum followed in 2005. There is so much I could write about this underground complex as it is a fascinating labyrinth of offices, bedrooms, dining and conference rooms. The fact that the whole place was kept secret from the nation and, most importantly, Hitler, makes it all the more amazing.

The War Cabinet Room itself is exactly as it would have been during the war. (Unfortunately my photos are not great as the room is protected by a glass front but they can all be seen on my flickr page). Even further below ground in the sub-basement is the “dock” which can’t be accessed by the public but contained the sleeping quarters for junior staff. Cramped conditions, low ceilings, vermin, insects, noise and bright lighting hardly encouraged people to take advantage of the facilities. Many staff decided the blitz was worth the risk rather than staying in accommodation that did not even boast a flushing toilet!

All the doors in the network of rooms are numbered and it is room 63 which contained the biggest secret of all. From the outside, it appears to be a toilet and most staff believed it was the only flushing toilet in the basement and not available for their use. But Room 63 was, in fact, the transatlantic telephone “hot-line” room where Churchill was able to speak to the US President without fear of phone tapping from the enemy.

Although there is little evidence of luxury, the sleeping facilities for senior staff were surprisingly homely. Mrs Churchill had her own bedroom (right) close to the Prime Minister’s detectives and military advisor. The Prime Minister’s bedroom-cum-office (below right) contained a large desk, a single bed and a supply of his trademark cigars (how did he get these during the war?). There was also a private dining room (left) which was serviced by a specially installed kitchen. Despite all these living facilities, it is believed that Churchill only spent 3 nights sleeping here and preferred to sleep in his Downing Street quarters or watch the bombings from the roof of the building (nobody could accuse that man of cowardice!).

Among the offices, typing pools and map rooms is the BBC radio broadcasting room from where Churchill addressed the nation periodically. A network of colour coded telephones can be seen in all the offices and original maps plotting the war effort are on practically every wall. The main map room (among others) became defunct when war ended in 1945 and was not touched or seen again until the 1970s. Everything is now exactly as it was left more than sixty years ago down to the very last drawing pin! When the map room was uncovered, an envelope was found hidden in a desk drawer with a name on the front and some sugar lumps inside - with rationing in place, this was clearly one item that was particularly precious to its owner!

To walk around the Cabinet War Rooms, knowing that one of the greatest Britons of the 20th Century had walked along those same corridors is surprisingly emotive. Knowing that the majority of what you see is original and has remained in situ, untouched, for all these years makes the experience an even better one. Whatever your nationality, age or sex this is one London landmark that should be seen and appreciated by every visitor to London. Sir Winston Churchill once said “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best”; so GO SEE IT!

The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms are open daily from 9.30am-6pm
Adult entry fee: £12
Senior Citizens/Students: £9.50
London Pass holders can enter without further payment and receive a free audio guide.
Sound guides are available in eight languages.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Picture Perfect Park

The weather in London is still somewhat changeable at the moment but, generally, this is a lovely time of year to visit the city. There are many more green areas than you would imagine in London with tree lined roads and beautiful, vast stretches of parkland.

When I lived in London I was fortunate to be only a short walk away from Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. I didn’t make the most of the Royal Parks but on a sunny weekend it was a lovely place to escape to. Even surrounded by groups playing ball games and families enjoying the open space with relish, Hyde Park had a serenity which belied its location in central London. For a while I also worked close to Buckingham Palace and would, occasionally, take a stroll through St James’s Park on my way home.

Last week, I revisited St James’s Park briefly and joined the clusters of tourists and workers eating their lunch in the sunshine. It was a lovely half hour sitting near the lake, only disturbed by a couple of squirrels (pictured right) who fancied sharing my lunch! Birdkeepers Cottage (also known as Duck Island Cottage) is a quaint feature of the area with a wonderful garden of wild flowers. Having been home to a number of bird keepers at St. James’s Park since the early 19th Century, this picturesque cottage is now the office of the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust.

The lake is famed for its wide range of birdlife. Strangely, when I looked around I did not see anything as mundane as a duck (!) but I got dangerously close to a swan who was, thankfully, preoccupied with his/her cleaning regime! Across the other side of the lake I caught sight of the exotic pelicans that are fed fresh fish at 2.30pm every day.

London is an incredibly bustling city which never appears to stand still but, after a fleeting pit stop in St James’s Park, I felt refreshed and ready to fight through the crowds surrounding the Houses of Parliament! Making my way towards the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, I came face to face with a couple of army tanks heading to Horse Guards Parade. Ordinarily, I would have been too flustered to take a photo but the calming effect of lunch in the park turned me into Miss Methodical and I managed a couple of snaps to contrast with the tranquil wildlife shots.

London is a wonderfully diverse city and the Royal Parks are significant contributors to the multiplicity. If you are visiting London, live or work there, then take a little time to enjoy one of the parks and put the calm back into your day.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Free Gardening Advice In London

My free London event suggestion this week is slightly unusual. The Imperial War Museum, The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms and The Royal Parks of London have all joined forces to recreate a wartime campaign.

The original Dig For Victory campaign encouraged ordinary people during the Second World War to grow their own vegetables to help combat fresh food shortages.
Concerns about eating healthily and getting exercise are still relevant today and so, with this in mind, Second World War and modern day allotments have been developed side by side in St James’s Park. The project explores the ideas of healthy eating, gardening and growing vegetables both in wartime and today.

Tomorrow is the third and final “Sustainability Sunday” being held at the allotment with this week’s subject being “How does your garden grow?”. There will be a variety of experts from the Royal Parks on hand to answer all your horticultural questions between 11am and 4pm. This activity is free and suitable for all the family.

The allotment can also be visited every day between 10am and 5pm and the project is accompanied by a special display at the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms.

To find the St James’s Park Dig For Victory allotment, follow the signs from the Churchill Museum in King Charles Street, SW1.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Southwark Cathedral

Unlike its more famous counterpart (St.Paul’s) across the river, Southwark Cathedral has often been overlooked by visitors to London. However, with the recent regeneration of the Southbank and the Cathedral’s cleaning and renovation in 2000 it has, quite rightly, become a significant religious landmark as well as a popular tourist destination.

Southwark Cathedral is London’s oldest Gothic building, dating from 1220-1420. However, religious buildings have stood on the same site possibly since the 7th century. In an archaeological dig in 1999, Saxon foundations were found so this is, without doubt, an ancient religious site of great importance. Southwark was awarded Cathedral status in 1905.

The building itself is a positive mish-mash of styles and materials. I don’t know a lot about architecture but somehow this fusion adds to the splendour and it is an incredibly attractive Cathedral. It is worth walking the full perimeter of the Cathedral and admiring its turrets, towers, spires and steeples.

There are several entrances to Southwark Cathedral but, whichever door you use, volunteers are on hand to answer questions and lead you in the right direction. There are also helpful signposts throughout the Cathedral which is a little strange but necessary in such a sprawling building.

I admit that my first reaction on entering the Cathedral was one of disappointment. It is such a shame that in a beautiful building with stunning stained glass windows and striking stone work, ones eyes are first drawn to the ugly, incongruous chairs where, I assume, wooden pews once stood. I know modern seating is quite normal in many churches and cathedrals across the country and appreciate that the ancient pews cannot last forever, but surely more fitting chairs could be found?

I went straight to the Cathedral Shop to claim my free souvenir guidebook and audio guide. Unfortunately they had run out of audio guides but, rather than wait for one to be returned, I was happy to find my own way round and use the guidebook for information.

Southwark Cathedral has so many interesting links to famous people through the ages and memorials, plaques, windows and even chapels are dedicated to a wide range of luminaries. The Harvard Chapel is named after the university benefactor, John Harvard, who was born in Southwark, baptized in the church in 1607 and educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge before setting off for a new but short life in America. He died prematurely in 1638 leaving part of his fortune to a college for the “education of English and Indian youth in knowledge and godliness”. That college eventually became known as Harvard University.

Other highlights of Southwark Cathedral are the 20th Century Shakespeare Memorial in the east end of the south aisle, depicting the playwright in a relaxed pose in front of the Globe and Rose Theatres. Next to this is a memorial tablet to American actor/director Sam Wanamaker who was responsible for the recreated Globe Theatre that I visited recently. Shakespeare’s actor brother, Edmond, is also commemorated in a floor tablet near the Great Screen of the Chancel along with two dramatists of the same era.

Among the many memorials is a tablet shaped like a ship’s wheel, dedicated to the victims of the Marchioness disaster on the River Thames in 1989. Geoffrey Chaucer is also remembered in a stained glass window depicting his Canterbury pilgrims leaving Southwark.

In 2001, Nelson Mandela officially opened the newest part of the Cathedral which houses the Refectory Restaurant, a shop, library, conference facilities and also a museum. It is also where you can find the toilet facilities, below the Refectory, which I awarded 7/10 in my London Ding Dong’s Loo of 2008 contest!

Southwark Cathedral is a beautiful place to visit. Despite its Cathedral status and size it still feels very much like a community church and I would imagine the worshippers of Southwark feel very fortunate to have this incredible Cathedral as their local place of worship.

Admission to Southwark Cathedral is free but a minimum donation of £4.00 is requested. Photographs may only be taken inside the Cathedral with permission and a £2 fee must be paid (£5 for video cameras).

£2.50 is charged for an audio tour wand and the authorised guide book is also £2.50.

London Pass holders receive a free audio guide and glossy souvenir guide book and are offered 10% discount at the Refectory restaurant.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

London Loos 3

The featured loo this week is at Southwark Cathedral. It is not the easiest toilet to find. You have to locate the Refectory Restaurant, make your way passed people eating and drinking and, just when you think you have reached the right place, you have to make your way down a flight of spiral stone stairs! This is not something one would relish if you were in a hurry to get to the loo!

Thankfully, I was not in any great rush and even took time to take a photo of the entrance (pictured left) which promised great things from the luxurious wooden door and modern brass engraved plaque. Inside was slightly disappointing. It was not as modern as I had anticipated and, whilst perfectly clean, it had a slightly grubby and worn appearance.

The soap provided was unmemorable in terms of aroma but it served its purpose! Hand drying facilities were in the form of an electric warm air blower which looked fairly new and was also powerful enough to dry my top quickly after a little water accident.

All in all, Southwark Cathedral provides adequate toilet facilities which are clean and well serviced.

However, the location in the depths of the building mean that accessibility would be an issue for some visitors, particularly those with mobility problems and young children.

With this in mind, I am awarding the toilet at Southwark Cathedral 7/10 which puts it in 2nd place for London Ding Dong's Loo of 2008.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Researching A London Visit

Gosh, how pleased am I that I didn’t need to go to London by train last week? The various rail disruptions were all on the line that I use into Liverpool Street Station and I’m not sure how I would have made it into town! Those poor Essex commuters who have no option!
Over the weekend I planned my next day of London sightseeing and discovery and had hoped to do my tourist bit yesterday. With the continuing overhead train problems and President Bush visiting from the USA, it seemed sensible to wait until later in the week when normal order will hopefully be restored!

Thankfully, the London Pass isn’t date specific so it is activated when it is swiped at the first place you visit. But if you have a multiday pass it does have to be used on consecutive days so, if you use it for the first time at 4pm on Monday, that will count as day 1. (In other words, if you want to make the most of the London Pass then start using it as early in the day as possible!)

My London Pass guidebook has become something of a sightseeing Bible for me. I use the maps and information provided to decide which attractions I’m going to visit and, generally, plan geographically. I don’t really want to be chasing across London to different places in one day so, as you know, I have been concentrating on places of interest near the Tower Bridge end of the River Thames and along the Southbank.

Last time, I didn’t plan my day until I was sitting on the train to London and, as a result, I hit a problem. When I arrived at the Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee I was told they no longer accepted the London Pass and that the museum wasn’t really open anymore! The rather flustered chap in the tea shop let me have a look around the museum in exchange for buying a cup of tea (which I would have bought anyway) but it was clear that the incredible collection of tea and coffee memorabilia was somewhat neglected. It seemed such a shame so while I waited for my cup of Earl Grey I asked a few pertinent questions! Apparently, Edward Bramah passed away in January and the landlord of the building decided to keep the tea shop open but was unable to run the museum too. However, there are plans to relocate the museum to a neighbouring building in the future. The chap doing his best to keep things going was, in fact, the odd-job man (his words, not mine) who had been drafted in to make the tea! A lovely cup of tea it was too! (pictured right)

When I got home, I went on to the London Pass website ready to register my complaint but, when I clicked on the Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee page, I found this message:
“Due to unforeseen circumstances the Bramah Museum will be closed from 01 April 2008 until further notice.”
Hmmm…I should have double checked with the website before leaving home! So I think the lesson here is not to use the guidebook or website exclusively. In addition, it is worth checking the main websites of the attractions in case opening hours have changed or there are unforeseen closures. This is a particularly good idea if you are visiting places outside of central London or away from the main sightseeing areas. Also, certain attractions and tours may require booking in advance even with your London Pass so make sure you check to avoid disappointment!

So Sparkly Songbird’s advice for a successful trip to London is to research and plan your time carefully and utilise the information available on the internet. Do your preparation in advance and you should have a stress-free and enjoyable time in London. It’s probably a good idea to check the weather forecast too!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Free Films In London

Happy Friday 13th! Instead of watching out for black cats, ladders and cracks in the pavement, why not watch a film for free today?

Tonight’s free film at the Scoop amphitheatre in front of City Hall (on the Southbank near Tower Bridge) is the classic true-life “Dam Busters” starring Michael Redgrave. In close proximity to the World War Two warship, HMS Belfast, the location is unique and rather poignant for this particular film. You cannot book seats in advance so arrive early for the screening at 9.30pm. Seats must be taken by 9.15pm but barbeque food and a bar will be open from earlier in the evening.

Next Wednesday (18th June), the Scoop promises quite a spectacle. If you are in the area it may well be worth passing by, if only to see audience members who are encouraged to dress up for the “Rocky Horror Picture Show”. If you fancy going to see this cult film and haven’t seen a public viewing before then expect the unexpected: diehard fans will undoubtedly dress up in an assortment of costumes with an emphasis on corsets, stockings and high heels (that’s just the men!). Audience participation is a tradition at Rocky Horror and don’t be surprised if you get sprayed with water guns, have rice and confetti thrown at you and even toast during one scene!
It’s not the sort of film for a romantic night out but it is guaranteed to be a lot of fun, especially if you go with a crowd (suits, sandals and socks are not recommended attire unless you want to stand out as a Rocky Horror Virgin!).

If you are in possession of the London Pass over the weekend then take advantage of a free film at one of two cinemas famed for their art-house and independent viewings. You can see a film for free before 5pm Friday-Sunday (anytime Monday-Thursday) at the Curzon cinemas in Mayfair and Soho.
Films showing this weekend include:

Mongol: The Rise To Power of Genghis Khan (15)
Priceless (12A)
Persepolis (12A)
In Search Of A Midnight Kiss (15)
Let’s Get Lost (15)

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Big Black Blobs

In front of City Hall on the south bank of the River Thames, dotted around the amphitheatre, are some mysterious big black blobs. Too big to sit on, too big to jump over and too big to hug, I wondered if they had a purpose. Maybe they represented something significant in this newly regenerated area? Or maybe somebody just thought they were pretty (they’re not!).

I inspected a little more closely, curious to find out more about these “things” and what they were doing at the More London site. Surprisingly, a lot of tourists were taking photos of the big black blobs and I began to wonder if these were, in fact, significant works of art by a famous artist which I ignorantly knew nothing about. I found a small plaque (right) but was none the wiser.

So I have done my research. There was not any “further information” on the website as promised on the plaque so it took me a while to find out more about the Full Stops by Fiona Banner.
These giant full stops are sculptured in bronze and each represents a full stop from different font types. The following explanation makes basic sense:
“For More London, the forms selected are chosen to mirror the surrounding architecture of the development, the new GLA building and Tower Bridge. The sculptures cause one to pause, stop, carry on.”
I’m afraid the artist lost me with this next quote though!
“The sculptures create an abstract encounter with language. The Full Stops function as abstract sculptures with or without their reference to language and punctuation.”

They may not be colourful or self-explanatory but the Full Stops add a little texture to the area and are a talking point among visitors. I prefer my name for them though!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Britain At War

Of all the attractions and sights I’ve visited so far on my London Ding Dong rediscovery project, Winston Churchill’s Britain At War Experience is by far my favourite. This enchanting museum is a living, breathing testament to World War Two and really gives you a sense of what life was like for Londoners during the war.

From the moment you step through the door in Tooley Street, you are transported to wartime London with the sounds of popular songs of the era. My London Pass was accepted with a smile and I was handed a ticket. I then exchanged the ticket to take the lift to the underground air raid shelter. This was a recreation of a London Underground station platform where, during the war, literally thousands of Londoners took shelter from the bombings. This fact was nothing new but the way it was presented was so realistic, to the point of being upsetting. Tiny bunk beds with grubby pillows and blankets, a WVS lending library, a very basic canteen and first aid facilities – all set up to keep people safe and as comfortable as possible in these horrendous times.

Sitting in the darkened Underground platform, watching news reels from the period (updated in colour), I was quite overwhelmed by the hardship people suffered and what they endured in order to simply survive. About 25 people sat with me in quiet reflection including several children who appeared quite pensive. This first part of Britain At War is not depressing or overly solemn but the significant disparity between London above ground in 2008 and London under ground in the 1940s is a huge shock. To see how people coped with adversity during the war makes some of the following, more positive, representations all the more incredible.

Moving out of the underground shelter, more displays showed every side of war torn London: the BBC radio studio where war news was streamed across the world; a pub with watered down beer; the dressing room of the Drury Lane theatre; an American GIs club; children being evacuated; women at work in traditionally men-only jobs; clothes and fashion; food rationing… every aspect of life in WW2 is here, presented in an educational yet exciting way. Unfortunately the most effective displays could not be captured by my inferior camera due to the darkness.

A standard survival structure during the war was the Anderson Shelter - constructed in most gardens as a safe haven during air raids. The Britain At War reconstruction is pitch black, accompanied by sound effects so loud and realistic that you can’t help but appreciate how terrified those families huddled in an Anderson Shelter for protection must have felt.

The climax of Britain At War is a recreation of the Blitz in full flow. I admit to feeling fairly panicky as I felt my way through the darkness, taking one careful step after another. The sound, smoke and light effects make this a frighteningly realistic experience and I left, through the gift shop, with a considerably more sympathetic understanding of life during WW2.

The Britain At War Experience is not just a museum. It really does portray the lives of Britons during the most testing of times. Most of us learnt the facts of WW2 at school but now I have a much greater sense of how it affected ordinary people. I wonder, if (heaven forbid) we found ourselves in a similar situation today, whether we would have the same endurance and mettle. I doubt it somehow.

Winston Churchill’s Britain At War Experience is open 7 days a week from 10am to 4.30pm. Adult entry is £10.45 although free entry is included if you are using the London Pass. The entrance is in Tooley Street SE1, located behind the Hays Galleria shopping centre.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Travelling To Work In London

Last week I was working in London. After seven years of singing for a living in the Spanish sun, I returned to working as a voiceover artist in the UK at the end of last year. Recording in studios is not quite as glamorous as putting on my glad rags for a gig but the adrenaline still pumps and I still get a real sense of fulfilment. I guess I am one of life’s lucky people – I thoroughly enjoy the work I do.

The studios I’m sent to can be just about anywhere but recently I have had a string of bookings in London which is much easier for me to get to than somewhere like Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. Going to London for work is a totally different experience to a pleasure trip. More often than not, I am driven to the studio but, last week, luxury travel was replaced by regular train travel. When I’m going to work I worry that the train will be delayed and I’ll be late as, invariably, I leave home later than I plan. Often I don’t know what will be expected of me until I arrive at the studio so I am usually quite uptight during the journey. Silly things wind me up on a train journey to work; people talking noisily on mobile phones; people playing music too loudly on their iPods; people who stare; people who eat; people who share my carriage! Yes, I am Miss Grumpy Train Traveller 2008! Actually, I am most easily riled in the morning and the later I travel, the less irritated I seem to be. A direct correlation between early mornings and grumpiness methinks!

My slightly strange tube phobia is an extra drawback when I’m working in London. If I’m in town for some sightseeing and fun then I prefer to take my time and take the bus. I have grown to love these bus rides and wish it was a practical option every time. If I’m going to work then I have to face the tube head on as, time-wise, it is usually more predictable. But, of course, my stress levels rise when I’m down in the underground (actually, it starts as soon as I reach the ticket queues - pictured right). I try hard to keep calm but perpetually fail and resort to a shot of Rescue Remedy to settle my nerves. I dearly wish I could overcome this inexplicable tube phobia.

Another inexplicable thing is that, when I’m walking from the tube station to the studio, I rush. Last week I had no reason to rush. I had plenty of time to amble slowly along the street and enjoy the leafy London suburb. When I’m in London for pleasure I stroll from A to B - I certainly don’t rush - and am even learning to look around! Maybe when I’m on my way to work I feel the need to appear as though I’m in a hurry, that I mustn’t be stopped or delayed because I am on my way to somewhere or something important. I’m no psychologist, but it does make me wonder if I subconsciously induce this officious demeanour and cause myself to get all hot and bothered unnecessarily.

Anyway, I shall not dwell on these strange anomalies as, with any luck, I will be able to relax in a car again next time I have a voiceover job. Last weeks work was the conclusion of six months post-production on Dr Who and, whilst I cannot reveal what is left to come in this current series, I will say that the final few episodes are positively explosive! Come to think of it, I may have the answer to my travel tribulations… does anyone know where I can buy a Tardis?!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

The Telectroscope

Yesterday I tried to explain to my Mum what the Telectroscope is all about. She had been away when it hit the headlines but I assumed she had seen something about it in a newspaper or on the news. The conversation went something like this:
Mum - “What did you do in London last week?”
Me – “Oh, I saw that Telectroscope thing”
Mum – “That Telec what?”
Me – “You know, that Victorian thing where you can wave to people in New York”
Mum – “I have no idea what you are talking about… do you want a drink?”

And that was that! A couple of martinis later and I attempted a full explanation of how the Telectroscope works. As I explained about the tunnel that had finally been completed between London and New York and how, with the help of many mirrors and a little bit of magic, we were able to silently communicate with our friends across the pond my Mum did not look impressed. I told her how a Victorian inventor had started it but had gone mad and never finished so his great grandson had re-started the tunnel project and finished it more or less single handed. At this point she started nodding slowly – just as she has done when I was telling wild stories as a kid. She wasn’t convinced.

Frankly, I was pitching my story to the wrong audience. Had I told one of my young nephews about the Telectroscope they would have been enthralled by the tale of extraordinary engineering feats resulting in a huge tunnel going all the way from here to there. They would have loved the idea of such a wacky invention and insisted on going straight to London to make faces and do silly dances for their American counterparts! Unfortunately for me, none of the said nephews were on hand to impress and enchant so I spoke no more about the Telectroscope.

However, this morning I spoke to my 13 year old nephew on the phone. He has just started shaving. He is at that awkward stage – he is cocky but still wants a cuddle; he knows it all but has it all to learn. I decided to tell him about the Telectroscope and ask if he wanted to go and visit it next weekend before it disappeared as quickly as it arrived. He listened silently while I described the contraption and explained about the tunnel. He started laughing. Then he responded very slowly and deliberately as though I was some kind of idiot: “There… isn’t… a… tunnel. There…are…no…mirrors. It…is…a…webcam…”
“You don’t want to see it then” I replied. “No thanks” he said. What does he know? He’s only a kid!

But if you want to see it and wave or write notes to visitors at the Brooklyn Bridge then get yourself along to the Scoop, by City Hall. If your children haven’t reached the cynical (or knowledgeable) stage, they will love this magic tunnel with its madcap machine. In London we are charged just £1 for a few minutes of silent interaction (though annoyingly, in New York they get their fun for free).
If your kids ask who Tiscali is then tell them he helped dig the long tunnel under the Atlantic!

The Telectroscope will be there until next Sunday (15th) and is open 24 hours a day.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Glitch Now Fixed

What started as a Blogger glitch soon became a Mozilla problem which, in turn, became a laptop breakdown and put me out of action last week. I have no idea if any of these things were related or not as I am frustratingly ignorant when it comes to techy stuff! I had to wait until this morning for a friend to come and sort me out and admit that I glazed over when he tried to explain what had gone wrong! Anyway, he has done his stuff (thank you) and the gremlins have now been put back in their place. Am not sure if I’ve “lost” anything (I am a nightmare for not backing up files) but hopefully I can, at least, get back to sharing my London discoveries with you all and catch up on last weeks planned posts asap. Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The Other Side Of London

I found news reports of “revellers” on the underground at the weekend really quite disturbing. It all seemed so senseless with echoes of the bad old days of football hooliganism. It looked like many at the “last tube booze-up” were only there to cause trouble and the organisers clearly hadn’t thought through the consequences of their suggestions. Unfortunately, it puts London in such a bad light across the world. London is a great place to live, work and visit and it is a shame that more of the good is not reported across world media.

The day before the boozy tube disruptions, I visited London as part of my Ding Dong rediscovery and saw the other side, the much more pleasant side, of London. Over the last few months I have walked along the south bank of the River Thames a couple of times but only as a means to get from one place to another. I have been guilty of ignoring my surroundings whilst concentrating on getting from A to B, so missing some of the new and rather exciting features on that side of the river.

Being half-term holiday, there were a lot of people milling around, enjoying the sunshine and the sights. I sat down on the steps near City Hall among tourists, workers and families and the atmosphere was reminiscent of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Admittedly there were only two steps to choose from here but the air of excitement was palpable. It was truly refreshing!

Walking passed City Hall towards London’s latest temporary attraction, The Telectroscope, I noticed a sunken amphitheatre. I cannot believe I didn’t notice this before! The Scoop (great name!) is an open air performance space offering FREE events throughout the summer months (hmmm… it is raining again as I write this!). A poster advertised free performances of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” over the weekend which I can imagine does not go down well with the Globe Theatre a few minutes walk away but how wonderful for everyone else!

A little research has revealed that the Scoop really does provide a wide variety of free events for anyone and everyone.
Until the end of September, fitness classes will be held at the Scoop every Wednesday from 7.30am-8.30am. Promising to get you going for the day, classes are suitable for all abilities and fitness levels. Arrive early as numbers are limited and will be run on a first come first served basis.
June is the month of free films at the Scoop starting with “Chicago” tomorrow and then a different movie every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 9.30pm until the end of the month.
July is free music month with a fabulous line up of famous and up and coming artists to entertain you at lunch time and in the early evening.
August and the beginning of September is free theatre time with two contrasting shows being performed 5 nights a week.

The Scoop seating capacity is 800 and seats are allocated on a first come first serve basis. Barbeque food and a bar will be available so it is worth getting there early to guarantee a seat and enjoy the unique atmosphere.

I will definitely take advantage of some of these free events from More London and will invest in an extra comfy cushion to sit on!
As an example of a community project on a grand scale, you don’t get much better than this. The Scoop proves that London has much to offer its people and its visitors without expecting something in return! I shall see what the reality is like but I think the Scoop is well on the way to getting a Ding Dong award from me. Don’t you just love a freebie?!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Ship Ahoy In London

Last week, I braved the hordes of school children on half-term holiday and set off for another day of Ding Dong discovery in London. I am becoming rather familiar with the major sights along the River Thames but familiarity does not always breed contempt; I am actually growing incredibly fond of this area. It was a slightly overcast day when I arrived but the sun soon broke through the clouds and summer was most definitely in the air.

I left the bus outside the Tower of London with the express intention of taking photos of the latest temporary London sight; the Azamara Journey luxury cruise liner. I had read a couple of newspaper reports on Thursday stating that the World’s largest cruise ship would be moored by Tower Bridge for two nights and thought it could make quite an interesting blog post. Cruise liners are not a particularly common sight along the River Thames so armed with my camera I was quite excited at the prospect of seeing this new (launched last year) and huge ship.

Well, here are my pictures. Are you disappointed? Yes, I was too! I have been lucky enough to go on a few cruise ships in my life time and, to me, this looked no better than a cross-Channel ferry! It certainly didn’t look brand spanking new and, although one can’t always tell size from a distance, I couldn’t imagine it was the largest cruise liner in the world.

So last night, when I uploaded my pictures I did a little cross referencing with photos of the Azamara Journey ship and I am now 99% certain that I did not photograph the World’s largest cruise liner! I don’t know what it is or why it is there- for all I know it could be a giant fishing boat! I can only assume that the Azamara Journey continued its journey onto France early on Friday morning! Hey ho!

Unfortunately this wasn’t the only disappointment I incurred on Friday but there are some good things to report too! As usual, all will be revealed eventually!