Friday, 26 August 2011

A trip to the Smoke


I've just returned from a visit to London. It was our 15th anniversary, so we decided we'd push the boat out and go and see a play in the West End.

A while ago, there was a programme on TV about the making of the play "Warhorse" , from a book written by Michael Morpurgo. The TV programme showed how the play was enacted, not using real horses, but full-sized puppets, each of which was operated by  3 people, 2 inside it and one holding the head. It was obvious that the operators had really spent some time studying horses to get all the movements right, and I was fascinated by it.

The story is about the life of a horse that raised from a colt, and was then sold to be used as a cavalry horse in the First World War, and his young owner's search to find the horse out in the battlefields of France and Belgium.

The play was brilliantly done, with good acting, and the puppetry, if that is how you would describe it, was fantastic. The horses movements were incredibly lifelike, and there were quite a few extra surprises in the play it self.
The theatre - the New London Theatre was also an excellent venue, with suberb vision from all seats

If  there were any downsides to it, I found the passages spoken in German a bit tedious, and not altogether self explanatory, and some of the West Country accents were a bit over the top, but otherwise, the standing ovation at the final curtain was very well deserved.

The show was almost stolen by a goose puppet which appeared now and then, and was extremely life-like in it's activity, caused great hilarity, and was superbly operated by one man. Any one who has kept geese, as I have, would know exactly how good this was.

While we were in London, we took the opportunity to have a look around and visit some of the tourist attractions. It was good for me to see them again, as I've not been a tourist in London for 30 something years.
The National gallery was a treat, as ever. The London Eye was interesting to see, although we decided it wasn't worth queueing for, as it was raining hard, and visibility was severely resticted.

The River Thames was also a pleasant surprise. I remember it being a black, oily, dirty, foul-smelling stretch of water, but it is now clean and green, and We saw a chap taking a fair sized eel from it at The Embankment

The Tate Modern, which was a gallery I'd set my heart on seeing, was totally underwhelming. Of course there were some good pieces in there, particularly of Pollock, and Giacommetti, 2 of my favourites,  but there was very little there, other than the space itself,  that inspired me at all. As Julie so rightly said, there was more art in the brickwork that the place was built from than there was inside, and I'm inclined to agree with her.
In my humble opinion, art is not only about the perception of the artist, but has to include the perception of the viewer, or it has failed.

There was an exhibition of work by Joan MirĂ³, but we decided that it wasn't for us. I have seen some of his work, and it does little for me.

Chinatown was different, as I remember that area being very seedy in the 60's, all sex shops and sleazy dives. Now it is a huge Emporium of all things Chinese.

Carnaby street and Oxford street were a waste of time - could have been anywhere in any town in Britain, but was glad to see that Piccadilly still had kept its class.

Covent Garden, and Spitalfields market were very much as I expected them to be, with some nice gear being sold alongside some tourist tat.

 One excellent find we made was a chain of shops called Patisserie Valerie  who sold the most gorgeous cakes and pastries I've ever seen, or tasted. it was difficult not to visit every branch we happened upon.

There were also some good things happening on the streets, such as this lovely water feature which was on Connaught street, near Grosvenor Square, I believe. It was put together so well that the water poured over the edge all round it, with no breaks in the fall. the chap who was working on it also said that each of the circles lit up as well, so i expect it was really magnificent at night.

The Royal Parks were lovely, and we spent quite a bit of time walking in them. The Tree-rats (squirrels) were so tame that they came when you squeaked them up, thinkng they'd get fed.

I'm afraid I went to London with the expectation of not enjoying it very much, but on the whole I really did enjoy it. It was cleaner than I remember, there was far less traffic, and many more cycles than I remember too. This really struck a chord with me, as I used to cycle into the City regularly in the late 60s, and it was dangerous to say the least, but not so now, although a cabby that I spoke to said many cyclists had neither road sense nor manners, and having observed for myself, I believe him to be right.

There was a significant change in the people too. I remember Londoners being rather reserved - even surly on the whole, but everybody that I spoke to returned my conversation quite cheerily, which made me feel more at home, as if I was still in Norwich. Of course, there were far more foreigners than I remember too, but I think their attitude is very welcoming.
Some things seemed shockingly expensive - eg Left luggage at the station, which was £8.50 per item, and entrance to St Pauls being £14 per person, which I refused to pay; whereas a cab ride cost little more than, and was much more convenient than the equivalent tube ride.
It was also good for me to stay in a cheap Hotel in Bloomsbury, the area I worked in when I was an Electrician working on the building of the new Imperial Hotel, Russel Square. It brought back some nice memories of 40+ years ago.

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