May: Between the bookends

The month of May has the dubious privilege of being book-ended by bank holiday weekends here in the UK and it has to be said that the weather on both occasions was worthy of a patio session or two. But true to form, the temperatures in between have dipped considerably so this month I have found myself veering between layering up from my Spring wardrobe and delving back into some light woollens.

But the flowers (and other green things) were out and about…

…and so was I, starting with two contemporary dance shows at Sadlers Wells.

The first was from one of my favourites, Rambert, and their triple bill – the moody seamlessness of Terra Incognito, a dichotomous look into the mind of Macbeth in Tomorrow and the exuberant joy of the Brazilian Carnival in A Linha Curva – left me breathless and thrilled. Then I went to my first Nederlands Dans Theatre show. Actually it was Nederlands Dans Theatre 2, the 2 referring to the company’s troupe of ‘up-and-comers’ – if their extraordinary programme was anything to go by, the main company might just blow my mind. They were awesome.

Staying with the stage, a friend and I went to see Kit Harington (yes he of Game of Thrones fame) in Doctor Faustus. It’s a story I know, having seen the play for the first time on a school trip to the Adelaide Festival in my teens and it also provides the overarching serial killer narrative in the movie Seven. This was edgy, swinging between being absolutely hilarious and intensely shocking. There was even a nod or two to modern times woven into Christopher Marlowe’s 1604 script. It’s received quite polarised reviews but I really enjoyed it. It probably helped that Mr Harington spent quite a long time on stage in his underpants. After all, I’m only human.

I also heard Chris Anderson speak at the Institute of Directors last month. Who is Chris Anderson? He’s the CEO and curator of TED and has been doing the rounds promoting his book, TEDtalks: The official TED guide to public speaking (as opposed to the Talk like TED tome that has been doing the rounds since 2014). In any case, spending an hour listening to him speak and handle some Q&A before I started my work day definitely gave me a bit of pep in my step.

On the food front, I cooked my first BBQ – ever…

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…I went to a masterclass on being good to your gut with Eve Kalinik

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The goodie bag

…and then topped the month off with a visit to a free chocolate museum in Brixton which, being underneath a chocolate cafe, meant that Aussie-K and I were inspired to indulge after our visit – the gingerbread hot chocolate was absolutely delicious.

In literary news, the best of the five books I read this month was Ferney, a ‘time-slip’ novel by James Long. It may have been published in 1998 but right here in 2016, it earned itself a big fat five-star rating from yours truly. An inspired recommendation that I’m glad I took on…and there’s a sequel. *squeals with joy*

And speaking of time-slip, I managed to find some time to slip across the road from work to enjoy a bit of sunshine…

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The view from the grass in Victoria Tower Gardens

…and sculpture.

It’s really just as well that the month ended with a long weekend – June is beckoning.

Old places, new faces

I spent a couple of weeks in Melbourne with family over the Christmas/New Year period and one of the things that I love to do (and miss) is hang out with my sister. There are the things we girls traditionally do – shopping, manipedis and generally hanging out over coffee (and I was reminded once again that Melbourne has the best coffee in the world) – and then there are the moments of ‘inspiration’ subject to how we are feeling at the time.

We were off to partake in a musical favourite of mine, Grease. I know every word and every song (having played Frenchie in our high school production) so I was looking forward to an afternoon of energetic A-Wop-Boppa-Looma-A-Wop-Bam-Boom-ing. And it was on the way to the theatre that I stumbled across a distinctly different face of Melbourne.

Hosier Lane is a cut through between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane alongside the Forum Theatre. It is an unexpected riot of vibrant colour and expression in the midst of the area’s architectural melting pot of gothic (St Paul’s Cathedral), Moorish Revival (Forum theatre), French Renaissance (Flinders Street Station) and contemporary (Federation Square) styles. I could not stop myself from whipping out my phone in an attempt – let’s face it, these things are never as good ‘on film’ – to capture its brilliance.

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We made our way along the alley, the air littered with ‘ooohs’, ‘aaahs’ and the subtle snap of selfies. My head swivelled touristically from side to side to admire each urban canvas and as I meandered along the cobbles with the other Sunday strollers, what struck me most was the how vividly the character of each of Hosier’s painted residents had been brought to life.

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Are any of you old enough to remember this young lady from The Wacky Races

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…or youthful enough to know this ‘lovable’ pair from Monsters Inc.?

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I have been told that shoes hanging from a light indicates where one can score a fix…or is this just an urban myth?

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I would not like to meet this dude in a darkened alley, alone or otherwise…

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…although the location nearby of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, could be considered fortuitous.

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And last but certainly not least, a look skyward evoked the spirit of Australia’s indigenous past.

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Street art continues its emergence as the next ‘big thing’ and a quick google on the way home from the theatre yielded both a list of sites to visit and the hows and wherefores of getting your particular expression of self into Melbourne’s urban spaces.

Unfortunately, we did not get to any of the others during my sojourn Down Under but it has inspired me to look for even more of this in London having browsed Brixton’s backstreets last year. And it would appear – according to a range of stuff-to-do sources that drop into my Inbox on a fairly regular basis – that East London is the current jewel in this city’s urban art crown.

So stay tuned…Shoreditch, here I come!

My backyard…B is for Brixton

Having returned from playing away in Abu Dhabi for a week, it was time to play a little closer to home again so this morning I was up and on the way to Brixton for another ‘backyard’ walking tour. 

Brixton is in South London and being most notable for the Brixton Riots in 1981, it’s an area of London that it’s fair to say has been somewhat tainted by its turbulent past. But the area is also one of those ‘up-and-coming’ parts of London as home buyers seeking lower property prices move outwards from the city while still remaining in commuting range. In fact it’s one of the things that surprised me today – how near Brixton is to central London. (I thought it was much further out!) 

Anyway our small group met at the Ritzy Cinema at 11am and headed down Coldharbour Lane to the frontline of the 1981 Riots at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue.


After a bit of background on the Riots from our guide Angela, we continued down Coldharbour Lane a little further to see Nuclear DawnThis extraordinary mural was painted by Brian Barnes and finished in 1981. It features a large skeleton swathed in the flags of nations who had nuclear weapons at the time and paints a grimly powerful portrait of politics and the Cold War during the late 70s/early 80s. 


Turning away from the mural, we faced Southwyck House – also known as Brixton’s Barrier Block – an unusual building featuring the Brutalist architectural style common of the period in which it was built. 


The Barrier Block has played a controversial role in Brixton’s history. The other side of the building features large windows and balconies and has been home to one of the world’s most famous artists, Damien Hirst. Ex Prime Minister John Major lived briefly in Brixton and his support for the demolition of the block later in his career was more than a little undermined by the fact his Planning Committee had approved its construction. Oops!

Our next stop was Brixton Village, a series of markets accessed through an entrance across Coldharbour Lane from the Nuclear Dawn mural. Fascinatingly enough, our short dash across the road was peppered with more art from the locals…

French street artist Space Invader leaves his mark at the corner of Coldharbour Lane and Atlantic Avenue.
Bee (top left) can be found at the intersection of Coldharbour Lane and Atlantic Avenue as can the image bottom right. The image top right was right near Nuclear Dawn and ‘B Our Guest’ adorns the railway bridge over Brixton Hill.
Lucy’ Casson’s Foxes and Cherries sculpture (top left) adorns the roof on the corner of Electric Lane and Electric Avenue; bottom left – collaborative mural near the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Coldharbour Lane; right – an homage to Brixton-born David Bowie (or David Robert Jones as he was christened) painted by Australian street artist James Cochrane.

Brixton Village was traditionally a food market where the local Caribbean community would buy fresh produce, particularly specialities like ackee, plantain, yams and salt fish.

On our little tour, I got a bit of an education about Caribbean cuisine, also finding flying fish (top left) – which I saw flying several years ago on a trip to Tobago – and breadfruit (bottom left). The biggest surprise came when I was introduced to chow chow, which I knew as choko growing up in Australia! We also laughed at the ubiquity of Milo (a malted chocolate powder that we add to big glasses of milk) in both the Caribbean and Australia – how strange that such similarities exist between islands so far away from each other.

The produce stalls are far fewer and the markets have been taken over by restaurants and cafes. It was fairly quiet as we walked through but you could just imagine the little lanes buzzing with the energy and chatter of lunchtime or after work crowds.

Clockwise from top left: Traditional Caribbean fare from Fish, Wings and Tings; enjoy a tipple and nibble at Champagne and Fromage; tuck in to morsels from the sea at Etta’s Seafood Kitchen; beat the crowds for a cuppa at Federation Cafe, graced in the past by none other than Hollywood star, Will Smith.

Emerging from the markets it was a short walk down to Electric Avenue – yes the one made famous by the Eddy Grant song.

Electric Avenue, so named as it was the first market street to receive electric lighting. Bottom left: Healthy Eaters’ delivery vehicles feature the names of prominent locals.

Further down Electric Avenue, we found Brixton Speaks an installation on the wall of the Iceland store. Created by author Will Self, Brixton Speaks pays homage to the unique Caribbean patois of the area. Click here for a much better photo! This was also the site where a nail-bomb exploded in 1999 injuring 39 people.

Turning right onto Brixton Hill we walked under the railway bridges to visit our next point of interest, the Ricky Bishop Memorial TreeRicky Bishop was taken into police custody in 2001 and was later admitted to hospital with unexplained injuries. The tree serves as a poignant reminder of the still-fractious relationship between the community and the local police.

We crossed over Brixton Hill and spent about 20 minutes away from the cacophony of the high street.

Left: emergiing from Stockwell Avenue between the twin buildings of Bon Marche, London’s first purpose built department store; top right: the Grade II listed Brixton Academy which started life as the Astoria Theatre in 1929; bottom right: Trinity House on Acre Lane, Georgian architecture preserved since 1822.
Life in a leafy Brixton Square: a two bedroom (top right) will set you back at least £750,000 but you can always drown your sorrows at the Trinity Arms (bottom right).

With that we headed out onto Acre Lane and wandered back to the Ritzy Cinema. 

Nursing my hot chocolate on the tube ride home, I felt like I’d barely scratched the surface of this colourful neighbourhood, so different from my own yet discovering so many unexpected similarities in our cultures. And I mused once again at how utterly fascinating this big backyard of mine called London truly is.