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Friday, 11 April 2014

Passport to Pimlico

London is a pretty amazing place. It is easy to get swept up in the crowds, the street life, the sheer energy of the place.

Central London is not for the faint hearted, especially during school hols. The streets of suburbia might be silenced - school runs suspended - but Oxford Street and all points north, south, east and west heave with mums, dads and kids. Don't go to Covent Garden if you like quiet. Seven Dials, so hipsterish, is so cool you freeze. Don't go to the theatre unless you love milling with the masses.

Last week, a mate and I went to the National to see a revival of "A Taste of Honey". A Wednesday matinee - the place was packed. We sat in the first row surrounded by OAPs and students. The other week the missus and I saw "The Duck House" with Ben Miller. Packed out - midweek matinee.

I daren't shop at John Lewis in Oxford Street, I fear being crushed. The M&S Food Store on Piccadilly is overwhelmed at 5 pm. You can however find some quiet and space to breathe at Fortum and Mason, it's all extremely pleasant and not at all vulgar: unlike Harrod's.

Today, it was the turn of London Bridge to entertain me. It's extremely easy to get to from Walthamstow. On the Victoria Line to Green Park, change to the Jubilee Line and 4 stops you're there.

Like much of London there is so much to explore and enjoy. Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral,  Guy's hospital, ancient pubs and a history of church endorsed prostitution. Chaucer's pilgrims started they journey at Southwark, at the time full of brothels, ale houses and much nefarious deeds.

Until quite recently it used to be run down, dirty and cheap. No longer. The Shard has changed all that. London Bridge station has been transformed, although the Underground is still a mess, but hosting a 5 star hotel, 3 top rated restaurants the Shard casts an improving shadow over the whole area. And if you thought house prices in London had gone through the roof, just check out the prices at the Borough Market. Once cheap and cheerful - you'll happily pay £6 for a loaf or a fiver for a small bunch of asparagus.

Today, my mate and I went up the Shard - right to the top. Together we've been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Empire States Building, the World Trade Centre and the Golden Arch of St Louis - all, in their way thrilling. But the Shard knocks spots off them. It is tall, it is very tall, it is cloud scraping.

The trouble is from the top the view of London is almost exactly what you'd expect from Google Maps. There's telescopes which provide a virtual view of London, with descriptions of sights you're looking at virtually, through a lens - it's spooky. Using my phone I was able to tweet views from the Shard, and my phone gave me a detailed run down of all I was viewing. A mash up of heightened reality and the virtual. Quite unnerving.

London from that height is a mess, yet as you focus in on specific areas or buildings you appreciate its complexity and its organic nature. The Thames is reinforced as the vital thread running through the city. The Tower of London, Saint Paul's and the many Wren churches if anything are extenuated against the backdrop of post modern building riot. You see how thoughtful the old LCC planners were in laying out the inter war and post war estates and you fume at much that has been allowed to scar the face of London.

Two hours is all we could manage. The visual overload is physically painful. Down to ground level and then into the hotel housed in the Shard and up to the bar on the 31st floor for a drink. We felt we were just above street level.

As we left to go our separate ways I looked up at the building. Somehow the experience of standing on the top of the Shard and looking down changed how I saw it from the ground. Now from the ground I could experience its great height. It was not just a very tall building. It was a dynamic presence, changing forever the feel of London.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Zolton, Hound of Dracula

We don't have a dog as a companion. We have cats. So you can imagine my surprise on returning home late Sunday afternoon from hard graft at the allotment to find the missus entertaining what appeared to be a pup.

She had been clipping the front garden hedge. I could tell that from the mass of clippings on the pavement and the abandoned shears and step ladder. She was on the phone, and scampering all over the dining room was this brownish flash, with a wet black nose and waggily tail. I'm not sure what I thought at the time: I think it was to do with cats, safe and "What the F***".

Having finished the phone call to her sister, a rather breathless wife explained. She was clipping the hedge, up the ladder when this guy on a motor scooter drove up the road and stopped. He asked my wife if she wanted a puppy. She by now had clocked a large shopping bag in the well of the scooter which was wagging furiously. The helmeted person went on to explain that he had been kicked out of his digs and was homeless. He couldn't keep the dog.

My wife is the soul sister of St Francis of Assisi - any creature large or small is hers to care for, protect and feed. The guy got off the scooter, opened the shopping bag and out popped a very beautiful tan coloured young dog. The man handed the dog on the lead to the missus and drove off. The pup was called Rodney.

When I returned  'er in doors was on the phone to her sister. Her niece has a Rottweiller called Ruby. She is the most wonderful companion, a super family dog, affectionate and a gentle giant. All down to first class training and deep love. As a pup Ruby grew up with Clyde the mastiff, another gentle giant. Clyde moved away and Ruby pined.

The missus's sister had mused about getting a companion for Ruby, the phone call on Sunday afternoon was to suggest that the arrival of said pup might be the answer to Ruby's prayer. I was told to fire up the car as we were off to the sister's with pup. A match in heaven was in the making.

The wife, pup and I, after a short journey, arrived at sister's. All the family was there sister, husband, the two daughters and one of their boyfriends and Ruby the Rottweiller.  It was a slaughter. Pup had them drooling in no time. Ruby and Rodney hit it off straight away. First a get to know you bum sniff, then an ear inspection and they were best of chums.

I was suspicious of the supposed reason why the young man on the scooter had to get rid of the dog. In discussion with sister's family the breed of the pup was considered. The general consensus was that he was some sort of "Staffy". I suggested that Rodney might be a Rhodesian Ridgeback - a giant of a dog - and having discovered that the young man or more likely his parents decided they couldn't keep Rodders.

Rodney had a new home. With waggily tail and a yelp of joy he gamboled away with Ruby to join the pack of dog/humans.

Yesterday we expentantly waited on the call from sister. Rodders had finally settled down at 1 am, camping down on one of the daughter's bed. A trip to the vet and the little blighter received a clean bill of health and identification.

He's a Rhodesian Ridgeback/ Staffy cross.

Rodders has a loving home. Ruby a new companion and the family an amazing Mothering Sunday surprise.

'er in doors couldn't be happier.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Beauty and the Beast

I blame it on the Isley Brothers and their 1962 hit "Twist and Shout". Mind you matters had definitely taken a turn for the worse by then: what with Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.

I have to own up to liking in my salad days quite a lot  of the controlled screaming of James Brown, along with Mike Jagger at his most noisy. I wasn’t so keen on Screamin’Lord Sutch, although Arthur Brown’s “Fire” drove me into rapturous symphonic orgasms.

Maybe over the years, I lost the appreciation of that sweet soul music. Is it simply that age has mellowed my taste? It's now more soprano  than Solomon Burke.

However, on the evidence of this Saturday's knockout round of "The Voice", overly loud monotone appears to be judged as the acme of good singing and tunefulness.

Almost all the candidates couldn't  wait to expose their tonsils to the four, increasing tone deaf, judges. Variability, tonal contrast, melody and a sense of proportion was swamped by high octane banshee wailing.

Kylie increasing is getting on my nerves. She's in her forties for God's sake yet she acts like a pant wetting tennie bopper at a David Cassidy concert. Doesn't she care that she's giving grannies a bad name?

Tom Jones, I swear, spends most of his time nodding off. Every time the camera's on him he has the look of someone having just been nudged out of a deep sleep. Thank God he's given up on constantly reminding us how old he is by recounting all the old rockers he's outlived.

I can't be bothered to say anything about the other two judges: except that the time  spent on "The Voice" means less time in the recording studio. Which must be good news for music lovers.

I can't wait for the return of "Strictly". At least then we won't have to put up with those ridiculous  chairs. And there's the treat that is Darcy.

Now with her I could do "The Mashed Potato", "Ride Your Pony" and "The Hippy, Hippy, Shake." It makes me wanna Shout.