Much ado in July & August

The advent of the August Bank Holiday in the UK heralds many things. Holiday-makers return home sporting skin ranging from gently flushed to glowing bronze to fire-engine red. School starts again albeit in fits and starts depending on where you are and how much you pay. And the British Summer ends, folding its wings away to let September take flight.

I missed my July out and about update, overtaken as I was by my birthday-ing in Geneva at the start of August. As sharing July’s gadding about is well overdue, this post will bring you a double dose.

Let’s start with a Gidday First.

I had my first open air theatre experience at Morden Hall Park seeing a performance of Much Ado About Nothing. A beautiful summer day had segued into a lovely evening as we shared a picnic supper, made our way through a bottle of wine and watched a full male cast give their multiple roles and catchy ditties a hefty dose of ribald fun. It was full of hilarious moments and I felt that this was how Shakespeare was meant to be performed, to an appreciative audience in the open air without all the smoke and mirrors of modern theatre. I absolutely loved it.

Staying with the Bard, I also saw a live screening of Kenneth Branagh’s staging of Romeo and Juliet starring Lily James (you may remember her as Lady Rose from Downton Abbey). It was my first experience of the stage version versus reading the play/story or seeing it on film – interestingly Branagh’s interpretation had a black and white cinematic quality (nothing to do with being a live screening!) lending the story a 1950s feel. Lily James was an extraordinary Juliet and simply outshone the rest of the cast but for all that, I was reminded why the play, with all of its melodrama and outpourings of eternal love, was never my favourite.

Speaking of favourites, the return of the fabulous Paco Pena to Sadlers Wells with Patrias was quite different from the high energy flamenco shows I’d seen before. His tribute to the impact of the Civil War in Spain was reflective and haunting and I left the theatre incredibly moved by the beautiful music and poignant story-telling.

I returned to Sadlers Wells a few weeks later to see Vamos Cuba!  I was looking forward to being energised by sexy Cuban rhythms but instead of a slick high-octane show, it was bland and limp and actually felt a bit under-rehearsed. I was bored through most of it and struggled to stay engaged – unusual for me. It was very disappointing.

I had a musical foray of a completely different kind with the Sacconi Quartet, a chamber music group who manage to pierce my heart and capture my imagination every time they play. They were as brilliant as always, playing with their usual passion and intensity. However, they had a male soloist join them after intermission and I felt like that got in the way of the music. I experienced the same reaction earlier this year with another quartet I like so I suspect it’s more to do with my preference for ‘unaccompanied’ chamber music rather than the quality of the singing.

I do like a great female protagonist so I took myself off to see the movie Maggie’s Plan starring two fabulous women – newcomer Greta Gerwig and Oscar winner Julianne Moore – and the rather fabulous-looking Ethan Hawke (forgive my objectification peeps but really…*sigh*). Gerwig plays Maggie, the woman with the plan, as adorably gauche while some of the film’s most hilarious moments come from Moore’s world-weary Georgette. The movie wasn’t on wide (or long) release but it’s an absolute delight so if you get the chance, I’d recommend you see it.

I was also thrilled to snap up a Bank Holiday deal to see Sheridan Smith in the musical Funny Girl (see my reaction  here). It was extraordinary and wonderful and all of those great things.

And last but certainly not least, I discovered Divergent. After a run of average-to-good reads over last few months, I was overdue to be blown away and I fairly inhaled Veronica Roth‘s dystopian tale of rebellion and belonging. It follows a similar plot to The Hunger Games but I liked Divergent more, particularly the use of the factions – Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite – and the underlying thread that a little bit of each is the key to humanity. I’ve heard mixed reports about the movie but I’m much more interested in seeing if the second book, Insurgent, is as unputdownable as the first.

So that was July and August and as we leave the heady ‘hot’ days of British summertime behind, September beckons with promises of coloured leaves, cooler mornings and the hope of an Indian Summer. I’ve got a few interesting things booked but like always I’ll be working hard to make the most of whatever opportunities appear…and keeping my fingers crossed for a deal or two.

Have yourselves a fabulous September.

Boudicca

Real-life female protagonist Boudicca overlooks the River Thames from her chariot (in the shadow of the tower of Big Ben).

January’s bucket list

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. My resolve tends to scatter across the year and is generally underpinned by my penchant for exploration and variety. However I do love moments, snatches of time when I am completely caught up – and sometimes out – by intense feeling, largely a mixture of delight, wonder, melancholy, outrage and curiosity. I carry this image of a bucket in my mind and I often imagine putting a particular moment into it. Somehow they all combine into a life that inspires me.

I was checking something in my calendar earlier and it occurred to me that while I share about particular experiences, I don’t often reflect on all of the things I’ve done. Fellow blogger, author and longtime Gidday follower Jack Scott commented recently “you do get about” so I thought that it would be interesting – for me anyway – to end each month this year by checking out what’s ended up ‘in the bucket’.

So here goes.

This month it all started with a new chapter in an old story and I absolutely loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I then moved into a Kenneth Brannagh double bill: All On Her Own, a maudlin 25 minute 3-stars-from-me soliloquy, and the hilarious 4-stars-from-me farce, Harlequinade.

A trip back in time with the Museum of London and a tour of an old Roman fort inspired my historic sensibilities so much that the Museum became a new Friend. Five days later I joined hundreds of women at the Central Methodist Hall in Westminster to listen to the Women’s Equality Party and left non-plussed and suprisingly uninspired: lots of valid and important messages but the whole thing was a bit ‘rah rah’ for me.

A decidedly French tone emerged in the second half of the month with the NY MET’s performance of Bizet’s opera The Pearl Fishers and the National Theatre’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) being live streamed at the Phoenix Cinema just a ten minute bus ride away. When I was raving about the latter in the office the next day, I was informed by a young French colleague that the book continues to be part of the literature curriculum in French schools and is considered “a classic”. By the way, both productions were ‘magnifique’.

I’ve also read six books this month and rated three of them a mighty 5-stars, an excellent 50% hit rate. March Violets by Philip Kerr and A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute were my first dip into these respective writers and my return to Stephen King (and introduction to his criminal mastermind Mr Mercedes) was the recommendation of another Gidday follower, author Charlie Wade. (Thanks Charlie!)

In between all of this I embarked on some new cooking adventures with a foray into pastry (albeit frozen) as well as ‘cooking with beetroot’ and I managed catch up dinners with three different friends, one long overdue.

I also inadvertently fell across London’s Lumiere Festival on the face of the Abbey…

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…and delighted in the lighter mornings on my walk to work.

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Speaking of commuting, this gem really lifted my tube ride home one night.

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It also snowed…

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…and I celebrated twelve years in London.

So Jack was right and January was full to the brim with moments that were both planned and completely surprising. (And that’s doesn’t include what happens in my job.)

In any case, I’ve quite enjoyed this retrospective approach to bucket list-ing and am curious to see what reflecting on February might bring.

What would a look back at your January moments yield?

My favourite things: Festive films

It is the last weekend before Christmas and having despatched most of my presents to their respective other sides of the world several weeks ago, all that remains is for me to do a few last minute things at home before the big day on Friday.

What it also means is that I’ve been at home all weekend and after immersing myself in the glitz and glamour of Strictly Come Dancing’s [very grand] Final and the last two episodes of the awesome Netflix series Bloodline last night, Sunday on the box is set to deliver a few more of my favourite things.

As I’ve been tap-tap-tapping away, Mr Wonka has led his five golden ticket winners and their ‘plus-ones’ along the red carpet and into the most fabulous factory in literary history. Gene Wilder is the quintessential Willy Wonka for me, combining playful joie de vivre with an other-worldliness that the later movie just did not capture. I’ve already welled up at Mrs Bucket’s “Cheer Up Charlie”, “Pure Imagination” is one of all-time musical favourites and I can feel a bit of “Oompa Loompa-ing” coming on in the not too distant future. Very little beats a bit of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

And then later on tonight, free-to-air channel ITV is running a live TV adaption of The Sound of Music from the soundstages at London’s Three Mills Studio. There are some well-known faces (to me anyway) in the cast from some of my favourite TV shows – Kara Tointon and Katherine Kelly from Mr Selfridge, Julien Ovenden from Downton Abbey, Alexander Armstrong from Pointless and Mel Giedroyc from The Great British Bake Off to name a few – so it promises to be a splendid night on the comfy couch at Gidday HQ.

The week that stretches in front of me holds just three days in the office before a welcome two week break.

I’m not heading Down Under this year but will instead spend a few days with my very good friends and their family in South East London. There’ll be plenty of good food and wine and a bit of spirited board game-ing on the big day plus the promise of A Muppet Christmas Carol – an annual tradition on Christmas Eve afternoon for them – to get us all into a festive mood.

(My version of this is the 2004 musical version of A Christmas Carol starring Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge and Geraldine Chaplin as the ghost of Christmas yet to be – it’s tearfully, wonderfully fabulous.)

A Christmas Carol DVD

And then it will be on with the rest of my London staycation. I’ve got a couple of theatre forays planned as well as some potential gallery and museum excursions in my sights. Then there’s shopping, reading and catching up on a few things to ready myself for next year. Perhaps there’ll even be time for a pyjama day or two.

In any case, with just five sleeps to go until Santa sleighs his merry way across the world, I’m all set for a huge helping of festive nostalgia.

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

Around The Globe…

You know I love London. And you know I love a walking tour. So you may not be surprised that last Sunday I was up and out early-ish to join one. 

This is my third walking tour with Blue Badge guide Paula Cooze, the first being a wander through the City in Shardlake’s Shoes last September and the second exploring the City’s architecture from the Barbican to Bishopsgate in January this year. This time there was a wander around the globe to look forward to…Shakespeare’s Globe that is…so I trundled tube-style down to London Bridge Station and ambled over to our meeting point at the theatre. This is what followed…

You are right. This is not the Globe theatre but it’s right outside The Anchor pub on the river bank. As I was waiting for the appointed start time to approach, I found myself quite taken by this quaint, quasi-seaside scene with The Shard looming in the background.

This is the Globe theatre built in 1997 after the first was destroyed by fire in 1613 and the second pulled down in 1644 (after being shut down by the Puritans in 1642). 


It is said to be a faithful reproduction of the original – while no plans were ever available to study, local archaeological sites have revealed clues which have been used to make this version as authentic as possible.  

This is the original site of the theatre: Old Theatre Court in Park Street, about 230m away from the current replica. You can pay close to £2,000/month to live in a 71 square metre, one bedroom apartment here.


Speaking of money, the rebuilding of Shakespeare’s Globe would not have been possible without Sam Wanamaker, an American actor and director who set up the Shakespeare Globe Trust in 1970 to rebuild the theatre. The contributions of those who made this possible are celebrated in the paving stones in the theatre courtyard whilst the candlelit theatre that opened next door last year – the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – honours the man himself.

Clockwise from top left:  Prunella Scales (Sybil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers); Nigel Hawthorne (Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister); Zoe Wanamaker (My Family, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Agatha Christie Poirot series as Ariadne Oliver)

Our next stop was the former site of the Anchor Brewery further along Park Street.


Built in 1616 by James Monger, the brewery grew to be the largest in the world in the early nineteenth century. After a succession of owners and a merge with Courage in 1955, the brewery itself was pulled down in 1981 to be be replaced by council estate housing (top right). 

The Anchor Tavern (bottom right) still stands in its Bankside location nearby and history marks this site as having had a public house on it for 800 years. Aside from some reputedly excellent fish and chips, it has played host to Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames in the closing scenes of the movie, Mission Impossible.  And if you turn around and look across the river, you’ll see just why Samuel Pepys wrote of sitting at ‘this alehouse’ watching the great fire of London…

The golden orb of the Monument stands amidst the geometry of the modern city. Laying the column down brings the tip to the site of the bakery in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire of London began in 1666.

Around the corner and though the arch we walked to stop outside The Clink.

Left – Clink Prison Museum;
Right – a Dickensian view from the corner of Redcross Way and Park St.

The Clink was a notorious prison in London and operated from twelfth century through to 1780. It was part of the estate of the Bishop of Winchester (you can see the remains of his palace a little further down the lane) and originally housed prisoners who held views opposing those of the clergy. Profiteering was rife amongst the wardens who sold food and ‘better’ lodgings to those who would pay and to facilitate this industry, prisoners were released to beg during the day and earn ‘their keep’ at night. It later became a debtors prison – thus the reference to Dickens’ tale of Little Dorrit above. It is now the site of The Clink Prison Museum so you can still pay for the privilege of a visit.

At the end of Clink Street, past the remains of Winchester Palace, stands the replica of Frances Drake’s Golden Hinde.


I have blogged about both the palace and the ship before so if you’d like some Gidday witterings on these, you can click here. What I really want to share with you is the legend of Mary Overie (Mary over the river).

Long before there were any bridges to get you across the Thames, ferryman John Overs made his fortune by monopolising the shipment of cargo and people from river bank to river bank. Being incredibly tight-fisted, he had refused to pay the dowry for his daughter Mary to be married to the man she loved. In fact he decided that if he pretended to be dead for the day, his family and servants would mourn and their fasting would save him the cost of food. Wrapped in a burial shroud and lying silently in a coffin, he was dismayed to find that instead of going to plan, his servants were delighted by his demise and celebrated by unlocking and helping themselves to the pantry. Finally he could lie still no more and arose ready to admonish his staff – but one such servant, thinking him to be a ghost, struck him over the head with an oar and killed him.

Mary wrote to her beloved that they were free to marry but tragedy struck when his horse stumbled and threw him en route to her, killing him. Mary refused all other offers and instead formed the priory of St Mary Overie where she lived until her death. 

Always something new for me to learn on Paula’s tours.

Anyway, on to the next stop just around the corner – Southwark Cathedral.


Some have placed the foundations of the building as far back as 606 but the more commonly held view is that it has been in existence since the conversion of Wessex in 886. The site has undergone many iterations over the centuries with the photo to the right showing the different levels of pavements and thoroughfares (as well as a coffin). Southwark Cathedral was even named in the Domesday Book of 1086. 

We dived into Borough market next, ghostly quiet without the hustle and bustle of its Wednesday-to-Saturday trading. 

As we emerged from the labyrinth of empty stalls, we came across yet another famous Globe but from the modern era.

This is, in fact, the window of Bridget Jones, (yes she of the diary) from which she peers out into the snowy night in the final scenes of the film to see Mark Darcy striding away. Yes it’s true. The movie was on a few days after this walk so I checked it out for myself.

Leaving the market behind us, we walked down Southwark Street past the Hops Exchange…


…and crossed into Redcross Way to our next stop, the Crossbones Graveyard.

This site started out as a medieval burial ground for the area’s prostitutes and by the 18th century had become a paupers’ graveyard which was then closed in 1853. There were excavations on this site during the 1990s, carried out as part of the extensions to the Jubilee Underground line which unearthed the bones of the dead in 148 graves. The local community in campaigning to create a permanent memorial garden, continues to add to the poignant memorial created along the fence and holds a memorial vigil at the gates at dusk on the 23rd of each month.

Turning back we crossed back over Southwark Street and rejoined Park Street, coming to our penultimate stop…


This plaque shows two draymen beating Julius Jacob von Haynau, an Austrian general who was well-known for his brutality in suppressing insurrection. This particular incident happened following several narrow escapes of mob violence when von Haynau was High Command of Hungary, with the two men setting upon him during his visit to the Barclay and Perkins Brewery (previously the Anchor brewery). Let’s just say that the protagonists were very much lauded for their ‘chivalric’ pursuit of justice in the realm.

And then we wandered around the corner to find ourselves back at The Anchor and the end of our tour. It was such an interesting two hours, full of fun stories and historical titbits that, despite having explored this area before, I did not know about – and you know how I like discovering London like this. The really amazing thing is that when I look back on where we walked, it wasn’t a large area and I was left in awe of how historically rich this city is. 


So if this inspires you and you’d like to know more, visit Paula’s website –www.crossingthecity.co.uk – and find out where next she might take us.

But I have first ‘dibs’ okay?

Lemmon Drops…

I have only recently become acquainted with the work of Jack Lemmon. Oh I’d heard about some of his movies like The Odd Couple and Grumpy Old Men but I’d never seen them. (My association with The Odd Couple being the 1970s TV series starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.)

My first viewing was The Apartment at a gorgeous art deco cinema, The Rex in Berkhamsted. Similar to my beloved local, The Phoenix, the grandeur of the auditorium fitted the same sense of occasion as when movies began by telling you right up front who was in it and what it was called. But I digress.

The Apartment stars Lemmon with youthful Shirley MacLaine. Lemmon is the employee put-upon by the powers that be at work in return for a boost up the corporate ladder. Things get complex when MacLaine becomes an ‘apartment’ girl and falls off the pedestal that Lemmon has adoringly placed her on. It turns out in the end but not before some pretty grim soul-searching.

In mentioning my lack of Lemmon to my movie friend, she immediately loaned me Some Like It Hot, starring Lemmon alongside Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. This is a lighter affair, full of naughtiness and high jinx and Lemmon’s turn as Daphne gets him into all sorts of trouble. It all works out at the end again (as most Marilyn Monroe movies do).

By then I’d found myself completely under Lemmon’s spell. You see I’d become rather partial to that cheeky grin, the twinkling eyes, the earnestness. Although he does look a little too good as a woman for my liking! There’s obviously a few more movies to see and I’m wondering whether Lemmon was always cast as the hapless but endearing charmer. I guess I will have to find out.

Not that I’m complaining.

Lemmon may just have become my new favourite flavour.

And you can never have too much of a good thing.

Stuck For Words…

Last week I went on holiday to Rome.

It was amazing.

I’d been before – 12 years ago – and we were bussed in and around the sights in the space of 2 days before travelling onto Florence. This time I stayed centrally for 4 whole days, took my guidebook and let myself wander and discover. To absorb Rome’s piazzas, its pizza, its history and its espresso. Its exuberant and irrepressible spirit.

It was fabulous.

I came back Saturday night filled to the brim with vivid memories, and a squillion photos, to share.

And I really don’t know where to start.

I’m stuck. Lost in so many experienes I can barely create any semblance of structure to transfer them (or at least some of them) from my mind’s eye to yours.

This is really strange – I feel the urge to write about it all but can’t seem get past the block. So while I’m working through this dilemma, I thought I’d share a titbit about my inspiration for the trip.

Roman Holiday is one of those wonderful, wonderful movies that makes me feel good all over and I curled up happily a few days before my departure to watch it all over again. Audrey Hepburn captures perfectly Rome’s exuberant spirit and Gregory Peck’s dashingly handsome Joe provides the perfect foil for her wide-eyed charm.

In reality Peck, so convinced by Hepburn’s Oscar-winning performance, insisted that her name appear with his prior to the movie title and the two of them remained good friends until Hepburn’s death in 1993.

There is a scene in the movie where Peck and Hepburn visit the Bocca della Veritas – the Mouth of Truth. You know the scene…where they play at truth-telling while putting their hand inside the mouth. (If you don’t know this scene, shame on you!) Anyway, Peck convinced the director to let him play a prank on Hepburn by pretending that something grabbed his hand.

Neither told her.

So the young princess’ squeal of terror and feisty yet delightful response was Hepburn’s actual reaction to Peck’s prank – and that marvellous scene, captured for all eternity, was filmed in one take.

And that, I think, sums up my Roman holiday…captured for all eternity.

Word of Mouth…

I receive a lot of innovation-type newsletters in my inbox. I love being inspired by new ideas and clever things that other people are doing.  And this week ended with a real corker – Living Books.

A new public library in Surrey, Canada has come up with the brilliant idea of offering people ‘on loan’ – so you can book in for a coffee and a chat with a volunteer expert to bring your reading experiences to life.

Apparently this idea was born in Europe. Google, unusually, is being a little obtuse and I can’t find out exactly where but there’s a bit of talk about some ideas in the UK here and here. It has already been implemented in a couple of other libraries in Canada but I thought it was a great way of bringing interaction, connection and community spirit back to life in this overtly digital age.

One of my favourite movies is You’ve Got Mail. The Shop Around The Corner is just wonderful and I love the magic that Kathleen Kelly creates there in her enduring passion for books and reading.

Libraries are suffering as we, in this age of cheap consumerism, buy books and dispose of them at will, or even worse cannot maintain levels of concentration beyond a snippet in a newspaper or a piece of celebrity gossip in a magazine. On the other hand, I went to my local library about six months ago and was disappointed with the whole experience of both browsing and the reading ‘ambience’, which did not really encourage me to sit and read anything.

I think it’s inspiring to find public services that seek to create relevant experiences for current and future generations to engage in. I just hope the word spreads to encourage other libraries to think a little differently before public libraries are consigned to the realms of nostalgic rememberings.

Staycation…The First Day

Today is the first ‘real’ day of my little stay-at-home holiday (yesterday was a Bank Holiday here in the UK so everyone else had a day off too – which makes it feel a little less like it’s my holiday.)  I had not specifically planned to post about it but I’ve had such a brilliant afternoon, I just had to brag about it share it with you all.

It started with a routine dentist appointment. I got the usual tut-tutting around my general lack of flossing, a bit of a clean and polish and that was it for another year.  I grant you, nothing really exciting to report.  But wait, it gets better.

Next it was a visit to the Oxfam bookshop, one of my favourite things to do.  I cannot believe that I lived here for over 6 years and only discovered this little gem about 6 months ago. I have not bought a new book since and my new-found attachment to this trove of glorious treasures has merely fuelled the little voice in my head that suggests that I would never get the same unabashed joy from a KindleToday the cunning plan was to drop off a bag of books that I’d read (I am a big fan of recycling the literary love) and have just a quick fossick before grabbing a spot of lunch and seeing a movie. 

Well, it was a longer fossick than anticipated and I came out with another half a dozen to add to my bookshelf.  But the best bit was a couple that have been on my ‘list to read’ for quite a while. First there’s Leaving the World by Douglas Kennedy – I loved my first read of his, The Big Picture, so much so that I resolved to read more of his stuff (see Book 5. in my 50 Book Challenge). And there was also Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell, highly recommended by several literary-ily addicted friends and a Man Booker Prize Winner. I left Oxfam feeling like I had discovered the Universe (or at least a small planet).

The rest of my afternoon was spent with teenage babe-in-the-woods, Hanna.  I cannot remember the last time I went to the movies on my own (probably over six years ago which was the last time I was single) but it’s such a joyfully selfish and indulgent thing to do.  I loved the movie and the girl who plays the lead is just brilliant/stunning. 

I emerged from the darkened cinema to a day turned all bright and sunshine-y so I polished off a fab afternoon with a spot of reading at home in the sunshine.

So that was my perfect, perfect Day 1 and I can’t wait to see what Day 2 will bring!

Date Night: Alice & El Peyote…

Being free of any commitments this weekend (beyond chores that is…ugh!), J and I decided that it was time to have a Date Night and what could be a more traditional choice than a movie followed by dinner…

So we hit the cinema for a 3D journey down the rabbit hole with Alice to Wonderland.  All the elements from the original story I remember were there but Tim Burton did amazing things to twist the story and make it more ‘grown up’ and relevant.  It was a darker Wonderland for sure but the cast was brilliant and the 3D-ness really worked with this flick (unlike Avatar in 3D which left me distinctly under-whelmed).  It always was a slightly ‘trippy’ story anyway but it does seem that this particular trip is a match made in Tim Burton’s style-heaven…go see it on the big screen just for the experience!

And then it was off to a new (Mexi-terranean) restaurant in Kingston, El Peyote.  We found out it had only been open 6 weeks but let’s hope it’s open a whole lot longer than that because we had the best burritos…ever!  (And my prawn kebab starter – marinated in chilli and lime juice with a mango puree – was pretty scrumptious too.)  Fab food, quirky decor and great service – Long live El Peyote I say!

So that was date night…and now it’s Sunday and chores still await. So until next time…

Adios Amigos!