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).

sunny poole

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…

monopoly loos

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…

shoes (640x640)

…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.)

Has Our Luck Run Out?

The results are in and Australia has a new Prime Minister.

Yes, another one. Our third this year.

And I cannot believe this man has been chosen by ‘the people’ to represent them.

Or has he?

When I moved to the UK almost ten years ago, I added myself to the UK’s electoral roll (as an Australian, I can do that here). There are many places in the world where having your say is not an option so I appreciate the privilege of living in a society that allows me to do this, whatever the mechanism.

At the same time, I removed myself from the Australian electoral roll, figuring that if I make my home elsewhere, it is not for me to have a say in the lives of those who still live in Australia. That is their privilege – albeit a compulsory one. But I remain staunchly Australian, carrying my native twang, laconic style and direct approach with pride and  hoping to be a good ambassador for my homeland wherever I go.

The outcome of this weekend’s election Down Under has left me stunned. I can find absolutely nothing to recommend Tony Abbott and as far as I’m concerned, he is an incredibly poor representative of the Australian people. And unusually – I move in opinionated and voluble circles – I haven’t come across anyone with a different point of view. No-one.

Pundits talk about a long election campaign (seven months) riddled with ‘reality stunts’ as opposed to committed and thoughtful politics; a circus of name-calling and sniping that perhaps voters just wanted to be done with. And given the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd tug of war within the Labor Party, perhaps people voted for the leader with a semblance of alignment behind him.

So what did happen? Is it a result of apathy or is there really something worthwhile under all of the surface nastiness and sniping? I’d be genuinely interested to hear any views that explain Abbott and the coalition’s policies, if only to understand what the future looks like over the next four years for Australia.

 

Australia continues to hold the rest of the world in its ‘lucky country’ thrall and with a pretty buoyant economy (by global standards) and four cities in the world’s top ten most liveable cities, this perception seems warranted.

But after this weekend, I’m left wondering whether our luck’s about to run out.

The halls of power

Here I am on the last of my 5 day Easter staycation and today has been a committed pyjama day. I’ve lazed about with Audrey for a bit, been inspired by a couple of episodes of The Great British Bake Off Series 1 (the series I missed!) and am starting to prepare for a work trip tomorrow with a bit of feel-good Whoopi Goldberg (in Sister Act II) in the background.

Quite frankly, it’s a rather fab way to finish things.

But the long weekend has not been spent in a haze of nothing-ness and sloth. I’ve caught up with friends, been for a flotation tank session, and added a couple of newly discovered gems to my figurative album of London Love. I wrote about my dip into Camden Market in my last post and on Saturday I immersed myself in another cultural melting pot with a tour of the Houses of Parliament.

As I walked through security and emerged on the other side of those black iron gates, I felt a little frisson of excitement. I was soon to learn that entry to the Palace of Westminster is not restricted to those on tours but I felt the sense of history and importance enfold me in its gothic embrace all the same.

Taken from the entrance to Westminster Hall

The tour was absolutely amazing. Meeting our guide in the magnificent Westminster Hall, we headed up the stairs and along the corridors to start our story in the Norman Porch right at the top of the stairs where the Queen herself enters each year for the State Opening of Parliament. 75 minutes of anecdotes, architecture and atmosphere later we left the Commons Chamber and headed back to Westminster Hall to be surrounded by King William Rufus’ 6ft thick walls from 1097, the place where it all began.

Westminster Hall looking back towards the entrance.

For the first half of the tour, we scuttled along behind our tour guide in the footsteps of our sovereign, from the top of the stairs under the Norman Porch through the Queen’s Robing Room, down the Royal Gallery and into the Lords Chamber. We stopped to marvel at the copy of the Magna Carta and the death warrant of Charles II and gazed at the massive portraits of the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo in the Royal Gallery.

The Lords Chamber was quite spectacular. The throne is the piece d’resistance, covered with gold and filigree and is in stark contrast to the Woolpack in front of it, the seat of The Lord Speaker and a homage to the importance of wool in Britain’s economic past.

It was also under the Lords Chamber that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled. The plot was aimed at killing the Catholic sovereign King James I by blowing up the Palace during the Opening of Parliament in 1605. A ceremonial check is still carried out as part of the State Opening preparations to ensure that no gunpowder lies beneath the Palace and the plot’s failure is celebrated each year on November 5th with effigies of the captured traitor Guy Fawkes burnt on bonfires around the country.

Illustration by George Cruikshank in 1840 – source: Wikipedia

After an explanation on the ceremony surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and a tally of the roles of the various types of Lords, we were off again, down the Peers Corridor, towards the Central Lobby.

Did you know that the word ‘lobbying’ was first coined to reflect the activity in this space? It’s the place where any voter can enter and request to speak to their Member of Parliament via the Reception Desk located there – members who are present in the ‘House’ are obliged to come to the Central Lobby to meet their constituent who ‘lobbies’ them although it might pay to check that they are ‘in’ before traipsing down to Westminster and being subjected to security screening.

A hurried scamper down the Commons Corridor brought us to the Members’ Lobby, a working space for the parliamentarians complete with electronic message board and four rather formidable statues of Britain’s former Prime Ministers – Clement Atlee, Winston Churchill, David Lloyd-George and Margaret Thatcher. And this segues nicely into our next stop and the penultimate section of the tour – the Commons Chamber.

The House of Commons is comprised of our Members of Parliament (MPs) who are elected by voters in their respective constituencies. This is where David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Milliband and their ministers meet to debate the issues of the day, initiating and amending laws (called Bills) which pass to and from the Houses of Lords and Commons through quite a series of checks and balances before coming into legislation.

Voting in the Houses is also very transparent with the positions of the Members shown by their physical movement out of the Chamber into two neighbouring passages known as the Yes and No Lobbies. (In the case of the Lords, these are the corridors of Content or Not Content).

Finally we found ourselves back in Westminster Hall. The hall has served many purposes in its 1000 year history including housing the Law Courts, hosting famous speakers like Nelson Mandela and Pope Benedict XVI, the first visit by a Pope since the Reformation in the 16th Century, and the laying in state of the Queen Mother following her death in August 2009.

Britain’s links to the rest of the world were laid bare in the entertaining story-telling of our guide, Isabel and with my head crammed full of fascinating facts and anecdotes, I was glad that I’d decided to invest in the official guidebook so that I could revisit our political past in far more detail and at my leisure.

With the tour over, it was time to brave the chill outside again and with my guidebook tucked firmly under my arm, I couldn’t wait to get on the tube and lose myself between the covers. Certainly when I next emerge from Westminster tube station – to be greeted by Big Ben and the gothic spires of the palace – it will hold a whole new meaning for me and getting in to Prime Minster’s Question Time might just be next on my To-Do List of London.


Notes:

  1. Unfortunately, there are no photos permitted once the tour leaves Westminster Hall but there is an official flickr site if you’d like to see more. 
  2. I’ve also reviewed the Tour on Weekend Notes so for a slightly different perspective (as well as information on costs and opening times), click here.

Australia’s New Head Girl…

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post so apologies to those of you who went blue whilst waiting with baited breath for my witterings.  It’s been an exhausting time with lots of the usual great highs and ensuing lows only a bit more extreme and I needed a little time out to be gentle with myself before crusading out into life again. 

But I’m still here with things to say and wonder about.…and the first thing that springs to mind is my complete surprise on waking up Thursday morning to learn that not only does Australia have a new Prime Minister (and a female one at that) in Julia Gillard but that I had no idea who she was or that a change of leadership was in the wind!  And upon posting this black hole in my knowledge on my Facebook status, I got 7 comments in return – opinions are divided with 5 slating Gillard as ruthless, calculating and cold and 2 being excited by her success and looking forward to the impact she will make. 

Admittedly I am without any fervent view as yet but am finding the strength of other people’s opinions on the matter completely fascinating from my less-engaged position on the other side of the world…so here’s some to read for yourself.

The Australian
The Sydney Morning Herald – smh.com
The Herald Sun
The Guardian
The Huffington Post
Antony Loewenstein

Although whatever your opinion, you’ve got to admit it’s a historic moment…Australia’s ultimate glass ceiling has been broken!

Leading By Example…

As the General Election looms closer and closer here in the UK, there has been a lot of talk about the impact (or not) of the ‘third’ political party, the Liberal Democrats (or Lib Dems) and whether a vote for this party is a wasted vote.

I live in an area where Labour have no chance of winning the seat so the choice is the incumbent Lib Dem, Susan Kramer or the Tory candidate, Zac Goldsmith.  I am a Lib Dems supporter and while the dust-up over Richmond Park Car Parking Charges really got on my nerves, I think we have good representation from someone who is committed to making a difference for her constituents. 

That aside however, I have found it fascinating to see the strategies employed by the Tories to win this seat, namely ‘you need to vote Conservative to oust Labour nationally’ and ‘this seat is important in the fight for change’ which kind of implies that a Lib Dem vote is a ‘wasted’ vote.

I don’t think that any vote is a wasted vote.  We are fortunate enough to live in a democratic society, giving us the right to be heard, freedom of speech and the opportunity to choose.  Voting is not compulsory in the UK as it is in other countries like Australia and I think anyone who gets to a polling station to cast their vote in the face of the current political apathy is to be commended.  But I also think that we make the bed we lie in – if we are ‘tactical’ rather than truthful in our vote, how does our message get heard?  And how do we build the case for new causes and new ideas to become viable options if we won’t throw our proverbial ‘hat’ in the ring when we are given the opportunity?

Many people around the world do not have this opportunity to have their say…shouldn’t we be teaching the next generation that they can make a difference rather than let them slide into apathy and disinterest?  And isn’t the best way to do this by example…by getting out and voting honestly – whatever that personal truth may be for each of us.

A Park About Politics….

So it was announced at the end of last week that car parking charges are to be introduced to Richmond Park.  All I can say is ‘thank God it’s over!’

The issue of car parking charges for Richmond Park has been used by politicians, most recently Zac Goldsmith, to wave the flag of ‘we are the voice of the community’ and general ‘defender of the everyman’ and I am heartily sick of it.
Sick of sensationalist flyers being pushed through my letterbox.
Sick of emails (trying to be inflammatory) requesting my signature on a petition.
Sick of unrelenting requests to attend rallys to demonstrate against this.
Not one party has delivered anything on this issue other than sensationalist rubbish.  Where was any understanding demonstrated about the massive cost of upkeep to Royal Parks which all of us are free to use?  What about the preservation of a wonderful, natural space for people to enjoy?

Don’t get me wrong.  I think there are a multitude of issues here and living near Kingston Gate, I do wonder whether we will have a return to careless (and sometimes ridiculous) parking exploits in the surrounding streets and whether any parking fine revenue raised (and there will be!) will be added to the coffers for the upkeep of the park itself.  But I am tired of the grand-standing and the lack of substantive information on this issue particularly given one MPs ‘soap-box’ stance on this following their move from Green to Tory party MP for the constituency.  

My hope is that MPs will now focus on issues for the community, ones that will make a real difference to people living in the borough rather than the ones who may (or may not) visit it.  We have just come through one of the most difficult economic periods in the last few decades and I would like to see a focus on responsible economics and community values…

Let’s see who delivers.