Spring shoots

Today is the May Day Bank Holiday in the UK and after a basking in some long overdue Spring sunshine yesterday, it’s time for me to keep my word and share my last two months of gadding about (which, with Mum’s 3-week visit smack-bang in the middle, pretty much disappeared before I knew it).

There have been a few highlights of the stage-and-screen variety since February starting with a ‘goosebumps all-over’ moment as Glenn Close filled the London Coliseum with her performance of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. The BBC ran a gripping six-part adaption of John le Carre’s The Night Manager that starred Hugh Laurie – in fine and menacing form – and Tom Hiddleston which had me transfixed on Sunday nights. (For those of you who don’t know Hugh, think House and Black Adder.)

And I saw a couple of really great movies – Spotlight and Eye in the Sky, the latter being a charity screening at my local cinema, The Phoenix. In his pre-film talk, director Gavin Hood explained that the technology featured in Eye in the Sky is real and out there as we speak. Mind-blowing stuff.

There were also some things I expected to love more than I did. The Maids at Trafalgar Studios was edgy and well-acted but a little too crazy for me and Immortal Tango contained patches of thrilling Argentine Tango but was brought low by too much tinkering with the quintessential drama and passion of the dance. Based on how much I loved The Night Manager, I had another stab at reading le Carre’s novel only to remember how convoluted and unwieldy I find his writing. And reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was spoiled by knowing ‘who dunnit’, having seen it on TV earlier this year (another brilliant adaption from the Beeb).

There have been some firsts as well.

I attended my first political debate on the EU referendum at the London Palladium. It was chockers with people and points of view and while it didn’t really help me to make a more informed decision, I did leave with my view of politics and politicians intact – grandstanding and emotive argument just don’t do it for me.

However what did do it for me was Painting the Modern Garden, an exhibition featuring artists from Monet to Matisse (and many in between) on my first sortie to the Royal Academy.

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I also visited Poole, site of the second largest natural deep-water harbour in the world (after Sydney).

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Dorset Quay, Poole

Last but not least, April alone has meant birthdays galore. It started with my two favourite little dudes turning 3 with Mum, Seattle-A celebrating a week later. And on the 30th, my good friend of more than 15 years, Swiss-S, finally turned 40 on the same day that high school friend, Aussie-J, marked her slightly more advanced passage through life (although she’s still younger than yours truly).

And the great Bard himself, Shakespeare celebrated his birthday on April 23rd, the same day as he popped his clogs 52 years later. There’s been much ado about this and for my part, this Bard-themed week has been book-ended by  Shakespeare Live! last weekend and a Shakespeare’s London walking tour on Saturday just gone with the Museum of London.

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Memorial to John Heminge and Henry Condell, the two actors who published Shakespeare’s First Folio in 1623 in St Mary Aldermanbury’s Garden.

In other news, I was very excited by the Monopoly-themed loos at Marylebone Station…

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I had to wait for everyone to leave the loos before taking these pics so no-one thought I was being weird or creepy (she says, posting them for all the world to see.)

…my fabulous new shoes…

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…and that fact that Spring finally ‘sprang’…

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Delicate Spring flowers  lined my street for about two weeks before they dropped to leave leafy green boughs behind them.

And I think that’ll do. Just as well that the month ended with a 3-day weekend…but the batteries are recharged and I’m ready to go again…

…come what May.

(Geddit? I just couldn’t resist a play on words.)

How does one become a butterfly?

Yesterday I went to see the movie Selma. It’s about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement’s defining march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital, Montgomery in 1965. It was hard to watch in places – the barbarity of humankind is a confronting thing to see – but at the same time, I also learned a thing or two and was particularly inspired by LBJ‘s involvement in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1968 through Congress. I had no idea that he actually did this thing that made such an enormous difference in his time as President of the United States (1963 to 1969).

Earlier this year, my boss confirmed that I had been selected to participate in our Leadership Development Programme and this week, I received a couple of books to read on Go MAD thinking (MAD stands for Making A Difference) as part of the preparation. Having arrived home from the cinema feeling somewhat sober and reflective, reading something called Go MAD: the art of making a difference really hit the right note.

So I’m reading Principle One: Have a strong reason why you want to go MAD, and on page 38 I read this:

How does one become a butterfly?

You must want to fly so much,

that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.

It pulled me up short. I let my gaze hover over the words and felt my heart swell. It made me think of another quote I read years ago (attributed controversially to Guillaume Apollinaire) that over the years, I have scrawled on the inside covers of notebooks and scraps of paper at speaker events and conferences. It goes like this:

 Come to the edge, he said.

They said, we are afraid.

Come to the edge, he said.

They came.

He pushed them…and they flew.

There’s something about ‘flying’ that provokes feelings of being free for me. I jumped out of a perfectly good plane once – albeit attached to the front of someone more expert at it than myself – and during the exhilaration of the free fall, experienced an overwhelming sense of freedom and peace that I never wanted to end.

You could argue that I did this – flew that is – at least once more when I left my comfortable life in Australia and built this one here in London that I love so much. Strange accent aside, some might not see so many changes but deep down I know myself very differently from the 34-year-old who left Melbourne in 2004.

So how does one become a butterfly?

The butterfly doesn’t know exactly how the world outside its chrysalis will be. It just knows it needs to spread its wings to survive and thrive in whatever lies ahead. Over the last 6 months, I have also had a sense of a change coming. I haven’t known quite what this might be – a bit like the butterfly – but my gut is telling me to be ready. And by ready I really mean being open – to new ideas, ambitions and possibilities.

I’m calling this the Butterfly Principle – this preparing to take flight despite an unknown, uncertain future. It is fluttering gently around my thoughts and making me wonder what path I will carve out next. Will it be a continuation of the current one with a change just around the corner? Or will there be a fork in the road?

So I’m off to explore how I want to spread my wings and take flight. Who knows what’s going to be next? All I know is that I’m looking forward to finding out. And I’d love to hear what inspires you to fly.

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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?

Our Strength Is In Our Roots

Our strength is in our roots and what we cling to.


It’s a quote from a book I received from Mum at Christmas – a photographic panorama of Melbourne by Ken Duncan. The quote sits next to a picture of the cottage of James Cook‘s parents in Fitzroy Gardens, dismantled and transported – much like many of Australia’s forefathers – from Yorkshire in 1933 to be reassembled as a testament to this English explorer who first made landfall in Botany Bay on 29th April 1766. In any case, the pictures are wonderful and remind me of the unique character of this city on the other side of the world that I used to call home.

I’ve just returned from the Phoenix Cinema where, on this wet grey afternoon I watched The Butler, the story of one man’s life throughout the enormous changes of the 20th and 21st centuries. Having seen 12 Years A Slave a couple of weeks ago, I was interested in this alternative take on the slave movement and the role of black people in society over the past 100 years. And while ’12 Years’ was a great (and brutal) movie, I loved how The Butler spanned generations in time, crossing the eras of the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’s Black Panthers, the Vietnam War, apartheid and the election of Obama as America’s first black president in 2008.

 

Well today is Australia Day and I have found myself quite reflective about my feelings towards my native country. Australia Day actually pays tribute to the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove, eleven ships filled with convicts and a small contingent of freemen and soldiers who would settle the harsh and distant land. There remains much controversy about this, particularly around the role of the indigenous people in this pioneering ‘tale’ but while there might be parallels with the American tale, it’s only meant as the starting point rather than the purpose of this post.

It was an interesting thing to do on my national day, go to the cinema and watch the history of another child of The Empire unfold. And it took me back to last Wednesday night when I saw Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap (The Book Nook #40 – 2011), interviewed by The Guardian’s John Mullan. This controversial novel, set in suburban Melbourne, for me lays bare the legend of the lucky country. 

When I read the book back in 2011, I felt both shocked and vindicated by its truthfulness – that beneath the laconic veneer of suburban life might lie a sense of seething resignation and resentment. I was also unprepared for Tsiolkas, a thoughtful and perceptive Greek Australian who talked openly about wanting to write about modern Australia as it truly was (and is). We are close(ish) in age so grew up in parallel Melbournes, chasing teenage dreams across the 80s, traversing (even if only figuratively) the realities of adulthood in the 90s and finding our respective ways into the new millennium so despite not being Greek, so I could relate to his reference points.

Tsiolkas talked about a grasping and selfish society and lamented a pervading sense of unkindness (although I would say that is not something that is limited to Australia’s sandy shores). He also mentioned that multiculturalism has become less overt Down Under, the veritable babel of past playgrounds full of ethnic variety a distant memory. I remember a conversation with a visiting Irishman in Young & Jackson’s (pub) in 2003 and how indignant I was that he would even suggest that Australia was a nation of racists.

Little did I know how the rest of world ‘out there’ looked and how it would all appear now I look from the outside in.

But there are many wonderful things about being Australian to cling to. Our willingness to chip in and lend a hand, our ironic sense of humour, our ‘everyman’ classless-ness. The sense of exploration and willingness to play beyond our current backyard – after all there are almost half a million Australians living in the UK alone. Our laid-back optimism and our sporting obsessions. Our outdoor lifestyle and our foodie culture. Our coffee – great, great coffee. And our vast open spaces. Sharp blue skies, stark landscapes, sparkling coasts and ‘architectural’ landscapes – wonder after wonder shaped by Mother Nature herself.

So as Australia Day in this part of the world draws to a close, it’s a big Aussie cheers from this Australian abroad who, despite finding food for her soul under the grey skies of London, still finds her heart – and her roots – Down Under.

Image Source: www.kenduncan.com

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.

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!