Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Farewell London, hello Oxford

On Sunday morning I packed my bag (with a bit of difficulty) and went around to St James, where Paul B sings in the choir. Bruce M also turned up for the service, which included the Byrd four-part mass. The service went on a bit longer that expected as, being Corpus Christi, we all processed around the church holding candles.

After the service Paul and I farewelled Bruce and headed off to Paddington station where we had lunch before I caught the train to Oxford. Julie and Emily were at the station to meet me and we went back to their house, not far from the flat they were in when I last visited.

On Monday Taffy, Julie and I took Emily (in the pusher) for a lovely long walk down to Iffley Lock to feed the ducks - there were supposed to be geese, but they must have been otherwise engaged.

Yesterday I walked into Oxford where, among other things, I did a walking tour of some of the colleges. Many are closed at the moment as it is exam time, but we did get to see New College, which is possibly the most impressive.

Emily is a very sweet, well-behaved toddler with a bright disposition - she sleeps through every night and cries very rarely. A delight to be around.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

More museums and fun

I spent a good part of yesterday at the fascinating Museum of London, near the Barbican. Starting with a pre-historic outline of the site it covers from the stone- and bronze-ages, through Roman occupation up to the present day. There are plenty of interactive displays and a huge amount of material covering all aspects of the history of London.

In the afternoon I dropped past TKTS again and got my self a cheap ticket to see Dominic West (McNulty from The Wire) playing the lead in Butley, written by Simon Gray in 1971. Despite its age the play really isn't as creaky as I expected and West and his supporting cast (including Withnail and I's I, Paul McGann) provided much food for thought in this story of a self-destructive lecturer.

This morning, acting on a Facebook comment from Tat, I went down to West India Wharf and visited the Museum of London's Docklands museum - a very well put together presentation of British mercantile shipping, slavery and the development and re- of the London docklands .

Then this evening I met up with KM, BM, and several of their friends for drinks and dinner at the Knights Templar, an ex-bank now a pub in Chancery Lane. As expected for a Friday night it was packed but we managed to find a quiet room. Much fun was had by all.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dirt and opera

Yesterday morning I went to the wonderful Wellcome Collection. As well as a splendid permanent collection (which includes a piece of Jeremy Bentham's skin - his whole body is just down the road at University College London) there was an excellent exhibition called Dirt which looks at our relationship with the multifarious things we refer to as dirt. Some of the art works in the show were made from dirt and house dust, and the scientific displays included some fascinating old films. The film about the Peckham health centre, made in 1948, is an interesting example of propaganda for the newly-created National Health Service.

In the afternoon I went into the TKTS office in Leicester Square to see what was available. As luck would have it they had £85 tickets for the ENO's Simon Boccanegra at the bargain price of £25. A superb seat in the middle of the stalls - perfect viewing was ensured by the three empty seats in front of me.

The production is ... interesting; and not helped by huge amounts of text explaining the back story (a complicated plot à la Trovatore) being typed across the front drop. The prolog setting is a William Hopper Nighthawks style scene with a town square on the right.

The transition between the prolog and the first act was one of the most amazing things I've seen in the theatre. The crowd scene at the end of the prolog froze and this image was projected onto the front drop; the first act then starts with two characters walking in front of this image, which then starts to shrink until it is the contents of a painting on the wall ...

Anyway, the work is very sombre: lots of low brass in the orchestration and only one woman's voice; all the men's roles are bass or baritone except for the lead tenor. The performance was excellent musically, including the small parts, but the work itself is mostly without many arias, the music being mostly declamatory.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Education, art and music

Brent left to go back to Utrecht yesterday afternoon - it was great having a house guest and nice being able to return the favour.

This morning I went out to see Bruce M at Harrow-on-the-Hill. He spends a couple of months there every year, accompanying for students' music exams. We went on a huge walk up the hill and around the various buildings that make up the school. The view from the top of the hill is wonderful - you can see all the major London buildings.

Afterwards we jumped on the train into London and went to the Royal Academy where, thanks to Bruce's membership, we lunched in the Members' Lounge before spending some time taking in the Academy's Summer Exhibition. There was an extraordinary range of works, ranging from prints, through paintings and prints to a fascinating collection of architectural models.

This evening I took the train over to Shoreditch where I went to a concert by the Joyful Company of Singers. It consisted of various settings by Victoria interspersed with settings of the same texts by modern composers -  Pärt, Campkin, O'Regan and Jackson. The performances were very satisfying: nice tone, well tuned and intelligently performed; while not without a couple of shaky moments, in all it was a very satisfying night.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

A bit of a blur

The weekend past I spent running around London, dodging the rain, with BA. I've got into a habit of brunching when I can find a suitable place and luckily last week's edition of Time Out featured brunch places, including the London version of Melbourne's St Ali. We've been there a couple of times - great to get some real, proper coffee.

Yesterday we went to church around the corner at St James', Sussex Gardens, where Paul B. sings and afterwards the three of us headed off for lunch before walking all the way through Hyde Park to the Strand. He stayed around for drinks and some food at the local pub.

A most satisfactory, social weekend.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A house guest

On Tuesday night BA, who now lives and works in Utrecht, arrived to stay for a few days. It's nice to be able to return the favour, as he put me up in 2004. He arrived around 6pm and after we'd settled him in we went out for a meal at one of the local pubs.

Back at the flat I went into the bathroom and ended up nearly locking myself in: as I pulled the door to shut it (why shut the door when you're on your own?) the handle came off in my hand. Luckily the door didn't shut completely or I would have been stuck. I'm just grateful it didn't happen when I was on my own ...*

Yesterday B and I headed out for breakfast at St Ali - unfortunately the weather has turned again and we got a little damp, but the breakfast was worth it. We visited the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum; both were full of children but we managed to see most of what we wanted to, and had a late lunch in the Science Museum cafe. We made our way home via Waterstones and the Apple Shop as B was interested in looking at iPads.

Made contact with PB yesterday, and hope to have lunch with him today.

* Maintenance fixed the door while we were out.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

You put your left foot in ...

... you put your left foot out.

At the National Maritime Museum.

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The lovely Polly

Lots of chatting was done, over coffee.

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V&A treasures

Yesterday I made a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum. They had a large exhibition, The cult of beauty which was devoted to the Aesthetic movement of the late nineteenth century and included material by and about the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. There were some extraordinarily beautiful objects on display, and some not so. Gilbert and Sullivan were not forgotten with a couple of references to Patience and the Grosvenor Gallery, where much of the new art of the time was exhibited - thus Bunthorne sings: "a greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery, foot in the grave young man".

After the exhibition I had  lunch in the courtyard before exploring the rest of the museum. One high point was the theatrical exhibit on the top floor with some fascinating material, including film clips of various notable London theatrical production of the last couple of decades.

The weather is finally starting to warm again, no rain yesterday and none tipped for today, in fact today's predicted top is 23C.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Pictures and music

More rain today so I took myself in to the National Portrait Gallery - quite a few people there hiding out of the wet but not too bad. It's a great collection and I particularly liked the early 20th century portraits. There were also splendid portraits of Huxley and Darwin whose biography I have been recently reading.

After the gallery I looked for a brunch place mentioned in this week's Time Out, situated near Goodge St station. Alas, I wasn't the only person who'd read the review and there was a queue out the door, 3 Bags Full-style. I found an alternative.

Later in the afternoon I took the tube out to Hampstead where I attended a concert presented by the choir Voxcetera - the program included a few old favourites from the Tudor anthem book and the inevitable Tavener, Whitacre and Lauridsen. An enjoyable concert but Gloriana has nothing to worry about.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

An old friend and sore feet

Yesterday I re-acquainted myself with the British Museum, though was disappointed to see that you can no longer get in to see the Reading Room. But I had a nice wander around the Egyptian and other antiquities (not all of them in cases).

Afterwards I popped around the corner to Russell Square where I met up with Polly M, who I last saw in Brittany with P&B. It was lovely to see her and she took me to a very nice Anatolian restaurant where we had a very satisfying lunch and did lots of chatting. After lunch we went to a pretty good little place for (proper) coffee and more talk.

This morning I went down to Greenwich to visit the old Naval College and the National Maritime Museum. Lots of fascinating exhibits and also lots of work being done to prepare some of the surrounding land for next year's Olympic shindig.

After the NMM I trudged up the hill to the Royal Observatory and had a good look through there, enjoying the view across the top of the glorious Wren buildings below to the less-than-glorious splendours of Canary Wharf and the Jubilee Dome.

On the way back to the station I dropped in at the Greenwich Market where amongst a staggering range of food stalls I found myself some lunch; I had a rather nice cheese and spinach pie.

I fell as if I've earned a nap today ... that's a very steep hill up to the Observatory.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Art and coffee

Yesterday I had an early breakfast at one of the many local eateries after which I set off for the Tate Modern. They had an interesting retrospective exhibition of works by Joan Miró - of particular interest was a pair of huge triptychs which I found extraordinarily beautiful.

After walking back across Hungerford Bridge I dropped in at the National Gallery, but didn't stay long before heading back to the flat.

Had a slight problem in the morning with the plug in the bathroom basin getting stuck; the shower doors are pretty useless too, so I called the main office. They said they'd send someone to fix it. Of course when I got home, there was no sign of anyone being there.

This morning I headed off to the British Library to see a quite interesting history of science fiction, mostly illustrated with copies of books discussed in the accompanying texts, some of which were quite fascinating. After having a look at some of the other highlights of the BL collection I wandered down Farringdon Road to Clerkenwell where I had lunch at St Ali, the London branch of the South Melbourne-based coffee merchants. The food was good and the coffee was the best I've had since home. A brief visit to Covent Garden and then home.

When I got back to the flat the maintenance man still hadn't been so I sauntered round to the main office. The nice woman on the desk, who looked as if she was having an awful day, rang to discover that there was someone there working on it. So I thanked her and quietly headed off to Bayswater to buy a bottle of wine to take to AL/AG's tonight, where I am going for dinner. How long it's going to take to get to Lewisham I have no idea, but it'll be a visit to somewhere I've never been before.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Back in London again

The flat is mostly good, with a few odd and annoying aspects. It's in Paddington, an area full of hotels of all kinds from the Paddington Hilton down to very basic ones. It's essentially a bedsit and has obviously been done up within the last five years or so, with everything in pretty good condition. There's a large double bed (which will be interesting when guests come to stay) taking up most of one end of the room, a kitchen along one side and a small table with two chairs at the other end. Plenty of cupboard space; also plenty of power points for a change.

In the kitchen there are a fridge, kettle, toaster, cooktop and oven and two of everything - glasses, small and large plate - but there is no cutlery. Four kitchen knives in a proper block but no knives, forks or spoons. Luckily I brought my trusty all-in-one. And for a big plus there is a washing machine, though with no dryer it will mean the place will be festooned by damp clothes most of the time.

There is a large window by the bed, but the venetians seem to be stuck in one position ... down; and the rod for changing the angle of the blinds is broken half-way up.

The bathroom is small, the shower tiny. One of the curved shower doors constantly sticks in its track and consequently, as you have to turn the shower on before getting in (to avoid a freezing blast), by the time you're under and have managed to shut the doors, the floor of the bathroom is awash. Luckily the place is warm and it all dries out fairly quickly.

That brings me to another aspect: the place is a bit too warm for my liking. In front of the kitchen unit the floor is marble-type tiles. When I arrived it was warm - I located a switch at the back of the bench which looked a likely culprit and turned it off which seems to have worked, although there is one patch which is always a bit warmer than the rest. Perhaps there's a dragon living beneath.

There are a number of electrical switches in the room the purpose of which is not immediately ovbious; in fact I haven't worked out what a couple of them do yet.

When I booked in the pleasant young woman who did the processing told me there was wifi in the room - well, yes, my netbook can see a number of networks, some of which are unsecured, but as far as I can see the management don't provide any of it. While I could connect to a couple of them, the signal strength was useless. This and the fact that my phone doesn't seem to like my British SIM card (which worked perfectly in 2009 in my previous phone) has decided me to buy a PAYG phone and a mobile wifi dongle. In the long run it will make life much easier.

Oh, and the TV only seems to pick up four channels.

But all this is nothing as I don't expect to be spending very much time here, and there is a nice range of cafes and restaurants (some with free wifi) just around the corner. And at least the place will be cleaned every three days, with a change of bed-linen and towels every week.

I managed to get a good sleep last night, waking at 4am but managing to get back to sleep until around six.

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