28 February 2013

three Cs of london entertainment

My last few days--amongst the organising and sorting of my stuff--has been a time of entertainment.

After my day trip to Windsor on Monday I headed off to the Criterion Theatre at Piccadilly Circus.  I picked up my waiting ticket and went DOWN two levels to get to my first-balcony-seat!!  Turns out it's an underground theatre.  That was pretty cool.  My cheap seat was behind a thin pillar which really wasn't much a hindrance for viewing.  The guy in front of me was more in the way.  After intermission I moved along a seat (vacant of course) for a better view.  I went to see 39 Steps which was fabulous.  It was actually fun to see a comedy.  Most stage productions I've seen have turned out to be musicals so it was nice to see one that was just a drama.  And they made me laugh.  It was very entertaining.  It's a production of a spy story done by four actors covering 130 roles.  There was some amazing and clever role changes involved.  An excellent job done by all.

Tuesday night I went to the Coronet Theatre which is something I've been wanting to do for months and actually wish I would have done more.  Booking ahead means I got a £3.50 ticket for starters but the theatre itself was splendid.  I really liked the red velvet patterned wall paper.  Only problem was finding a seat.  Sold out (as typical) and no seat assignment.  Thankfully it's not too hard to find one lone seat and I got a good seat in the middle.  I watched Argo with the rest of the crowd.  I did find it a good story but found myself feeling tense and anxious for pretty much the entire movie.  Being based on a true story probably did that and I like happy endings and was hoping this one wouldn't be one of those weird movies that doesn't.  Quite a feat these people accomplished and it was nice to see photos of the real event and people involved as was re-enacted for the movie as the credits rolled.  They did a great job of getting look-alikes.

Wednesday afternoon I took a break from weaving in the ends (knitting terminology, he he)--things like closing my bank account, posting my niece's birthday present, donating a good chunk of UK accumulation and cleaning.  I caught the train to Covent Gardens and easily found the Cambridge Theatre. This theatre isn't so glamorous with old style but the stage set got the imagination stirred.  I had a cheap ticket up the top and the view down to the stage was quite steep.  Not that it hindered the view really.  Matilda was an amazing production just as I'd heard.  Wonderful!  The cast was fabulous and the guy who played Miss Trunchbull did an excellent, comical performance.  And there is some real talent amongst those kids too.  The songs were quite good too (musical).  I had a number of laughs and gave hearty applauses.  It's a show that's well worth seeing!

I think I really enjoy the theatre. There's something quite amazing about seeing a drama performed in front of you (as opposed to filmed and shown after editing).  The actors just roll on.  The choreography of roles, costumes, props and offstage/onstage.  And of course the sets themselves.  I enjoy seeing what they come up with.  39 Steps had simple props used really well and comically.  Matilda had cool technology with lazers and floor rising up and down to create different scenes and the performers wheeling in various pieces.  Amazing stuff.  I think I'll try and see more when I get home to Australia.

26 February 2013

wednesday walkabout--visiting the Windsors

Yes, again, my walkabout is not on Wednesday.  Neither is this really off my London-to-do list as I had to catch a bus out of town.  But it's one of those things I decided I simply had to do and today was the best day to go and visit...

So I got up early and caught the bus 1hr 20min out of London to the town of Windsor.  I strolled a little while drinking a hot chai latte on this freezing morning while I waited for the castle to open to visitors.  But I saw a quaint little street, a crooked house (not quite so obvious in my photo but compare it to the straight monument out the front) and cleverly painted phone booth the Duchess of Cambridge was using (not the baby carriage behind her).

When the time came, I collected my ticket and made my way in to visit the Windsors.  Ok so I didn't actually see them but the Royal Standard flag was flying overhead indicating HRH Queen Elizabeth II was home.  I was within 1000 metres probably and it was fun to look around and across to the royal quarters and know she was there somewhere.

 Windsor Castle is huge.  In fact, it's the largest inhabited castle in the world and the oldest consistently used castle in Europe.  That's pretty impressive in itself.  I quite liked this castle though you couldn't really take it in one view.  Not from where I roamed anyway.  Maybe from a neighbouring hill you could.  It's not really one massive monument of a building but more a series of buildings, all ancient and beautifully crafted.  I liked the main stone work though I was trying to figure out why.  Maybe the not quite clean cut stones with darker mortar.  It was quite impressive.  My ticket included an audio guide on which Wills welcomed me to the castle and the other voices fed me loads of information, most of which was interesting.  Above you can see the entrance gate into the main castle area and peaking through the gate, across the quadrangle to the state apartments.

Below are pictures I took as I followed the audio directions around the inside wall.  The smartly designed archers' windows with excellent manoeuvrability and maximum protection (Windsor Castle was originally designed as a fortress), the lovely 'moat' and a mix of the ancient and modern.  Around 500 people live and work in the castle.  I'm sure there's loads to do though all I saw working were the guides, shopkeepers and a couple guards that stand and do mostly nothing but an occasional march.

I followed on with viewing all the open areas beginning with Queen Mary's Doll House.  It's truly exquisite.  Built in the 1920s to a scale of 1:12 it is three feet tall and filled with contributions of the finest work from a variety of artists and craftsmen.  It has amazing detail and even has a lockhouse with miniature crown jewels.  With superb talent and to my amusement, it was also fitted with electricity and fully functioning plumbing.  Not ever used as a dolls house it's really more a miniature display. Fascinating to see; maids rooms, housekeeper's room, day nursery and all the regal rooms.

I then went through the Art Display which features the Queen in the current exhibition, "Portraits of a Monarch". There's some really great photography in there.  Then I went through the state apartments.  Every room was impressive.  The detail in these buildings is astonishing.  So intricate.  Everything was really grand in glorious rich colours and lots of gold.  The Hall of Guards, or whatever it's called, was decorated impressively with loads of weapons.  I think there was audio mention of it once being like that to make the weapons accessible in case of an attack.  There's also now grand showcase cupboards full of weapons and armour and crown from all over the world.  Some gifts, some taken, loads look like pieces of art!  Fascinating.  Also on display was a small banner presented to the queen for 2013.  You see, apparently the people who live at Blenheim Palace (or the associated houses or something) pay a rent of one banner for the year.  That's my kind of rent payment!  I took my time wandering through the visitor route.  Each room had so much to see.  I always look up when I enter rooms like these as I'm intrigued by how much detail and artistry goes into the ceilings.  And the fun part was that a lot of these rooms are still functioning.  Like the grand hall that is super long where the Queen hosts state dinners and many special guests have dined that fits one long table seating 140!  There's not a lot I can justifiably say about the staterooms and since there's a 'no photography' rule you'll simply have to visit yourself if you're in the neighbourhood.

I wandered back into the cold and down the hill to St George's Chapel.  Another extraordinarily detailed building that gives an immediate feeling of impressiveness and grandeur.  Still in regular use it's these kind of churches where you can more easily imagine and focus on the greatness and regal side of God.  A God who deserves respect and honour and worship.  My favourite part of this building, however, was the huge grates at the back of the main chapel area that blew hot air up into the spacious building.  I was surprised no one else joined me, walking around them without thinking.  Suckers.  I lingered quite a while thawing my toes and enjoying the bliss of warmth.  I took a quick look around the lower ward and the interesting horseshoe something-or-other which is a bunch of accommodation that was built in the 1400s and still lived in today.  I did actually see people moving about daily life and also noticed a few mailboxes about the castle.  It's like a village inside the walls.

 After my visit to Windsor Castle--which was well worth it--I ate lunch at Pizza Express enjoying my delicious dough balls starter I got free with a voucher plus my completely filling main dish which was like pizza toppings wrapped in a pizza base.  Delicious.  And now to finish my day I need to skidaddle off to the Criterion Theatre at Piccadilly Circus to see "39 Steps".  Bravo!

21 February 2013

wednesday walkabout--out for a cuppa (british style)

So this week my London-to-do was a pure treat!  

I was delighted when my previous work family expressed their desire, as a gesture of thanks and farewell, to take me out for...

Fortnum & Mason, on Piccadilly, is as glorious and grand as Liberty but with a different style.  Old and elegant just the same and easily imagined with ladies in frocks and bonnets and gentlemen in tails and top hats leisurely shopping or stopping for a spot of tea.  And it's one of THE places for the 'high tea' experience.

We were booked in at the Diamond Jubilee Tea Rooms on the fourth floor and I was to bring the boy and meet the parents, coming from work, there.  Unfortunately our train journey was a little more complicated than I'd assumed it would be and we got their late.  It would have been nice to relax and stay and chat more than we did.  It was a truly lovely afternoon that I wished could have stretched out a little longer.  We ordered shortly after I arrived and I only had a chance to skim the menu of tea choices.  I chose number four but it was a complicated name that I wasn't sure how to pronounce and couldn't remember.  I only remember that it was a malty tea but it was nice.

I gave the boy a farewell present of two Australian books (Wombat Stew and Possum Magic) that helped keep his tiredness and not-so-wellness from getting too out of control.  I also left them with another Australian book (Where is Green Sheep?) for the baby who didn't join us.  They gave me a farewell book too, a Fortnum and Mason tea book filled with an assortment of classic afternoon tea recipes and a really lovely handwritten message inside. High tea came with a splendid three tier platter EACH!  Indulgence!  It was quite an experience and I've surely not had an afternoon tea like it.  It made me feel really appreciated and special.  It was wonderful that I was treated to something I wanted to do and accompanied by such great people.  Sitting and talking and sharing this experience was so lovely.  I know I keep saying it but it was.  Lovely, lovely, lovely.  I'm going to miss not seeing them every now and then once I'm back in Australia.  They have been a wonderful part of my UK experience.

17 February 2013

wednesday walkabout--spitalfield and humming

So this weeks walkabout was actually on Saturday.  Another non-Wednesday I know but on Wednesday my shipping boxes arrived so I was distracted with starting to get my stuff organised.

I headed out late Saturday morning, swinging by McDonald's to try their sausage and egg mcmuffin.  Before I went in I noted to myself that it probably wouldn't be as good as our Australian ones.  Being that the English make their sausages primarily from pork.  It wasn't too bad I suppose but it didn't quite taste right.  I'm looking forward to ordering one when I get home again though.

I took the train to Liverpool Station and went and found Old Spitalfields Market.  It's one of the places my boss has practical told me off for not visiting yet so I thought I'd go.  It was suppose to be the Makers Market this time featuring those who design, make and sell their own stuff.  I'll say straight up I was far from impressed.  I mean, I didn't even bother taking any photos at all.  Whether it was the hype from my boss or my own expectations it didn't come close to meeting my expectations.  They were just your average stalls with the typical stuff found in markets all round London.  There was one stall with twisted cutlery jewellry.  I always love that.  So weird and funky but it was fairly expensive.  It seemed smaller than I was expecting overall too.  Maybe I went too early in the day as some were still setting up but I was expecting more of a buzz.  There wasn't too many people there.  I did however buy a yummy smoothie from an adjoining restaurant.  I didn't stay long.  With a bit of a mobile search I found there was a humming bird bakery nearby which was also on my list. I've heard they have delicious cakes.  So I bought a couple of cupcakes--red velvet and carrot--and took them home. They were delicious too.  Not enough however to justify the price in my opinion.  At least not often.  Still they went down very easily and satisfied my tastebuds. 

Next week's walkabout--which is booked on Wednesday--is bound to be a plus!

12 February 2013

no ordinary work day

I went to work today expecting an ordinary day but little did I know that was not going to be the case.  

As soon as I arrived the mum took off for the doctor's.  I relaxed with the almost 12mo boy and we began playing.  Ten minutes later I heard an almighty crash and immediately went investigating.  As I began to wander through the rooms I did think it could have been something falling down in the flat above.  That idea was short lived when I saw a cloud of dust down stairs.  

This was something serious.  When I went down I discovered that about 50% of the ceiling in the parents' bedroom had collapsed.  It was thick plaster too.  Thank goodness no one was in the room, nor in bed.  

I shut the boy in the upstairs lounge and called the dad at work.  I put the boy to sleep upstairs and then went downstairs to air out the dust filled space and thoroughly clean the boy's bedroom.  Dust had settled everywhere downstairs and the mum's pet hate is dust.  I managed to get the boys room, the entrance hall and the stairs all clean and respectable before the mum got home.  Thankfully she'd come home with a friend.  She's had a lot of hard stuff to deal with lately and is struggling and she'd hoped to come home and get some much needed sleep.  She was overwhelmed when she found out she couldn't.  Her friend stayed all day and helped the mum work on clearing out the parents' room. I stayed an extra five hours cleaning and organizing in the boy's room and the kitchen and taking care of the boy.  

Tomorrow is set to be round two as I take up the challenge of an indefinite finishing time to help the down and stressed mum with childcare and more cleaning no doubt.  Hopefully she gets a good sleep one way or another so she feels better able to cope.  And hopefully a good sleep for me too so I can cope with her.  God give me wisdom.

11 February 2013

'wednesday' walkabout--transported to the past

This week I switched my Wednesday walkabout for a weekend day.  So today I decided to spend the afternoon at the...

Took me two or three times as long to get there via public transport and walking.  It's sad to have to change your planned route when the train your on stops indefinitely at a station because the line ahead has seized due to "person under train".  It's not the first time I've heard of it sadly but the first time my journey has been affected by it.  A horrible reason to change plans.  I decided to leave the underground and try my luck with a bus.  I wandered along in the general direction of my destination and ended up walking past the next tube station where there was a kerfuffle of a whole assortment of emergency vehicles.  I walked past a little sombrely.

After some more walking, my umbrella keeping the rain off my head but my falling-apart-boots letting my socks soak it up, I stopped to check the map at a bus stop and saw an approaching bus that was destined to take me somewhat near the museum.  So I climbed on board and took shelter in the warmth which inadvertently slowed down my progression.  There was some Chinese New Year celebration going on at Trafalgar Square which had buses on altered routes meaning the roads we needed to use were jammed with extra traffic.  Eventually, map in hand as I figured out where we were, I went down stairs and asked the bus driver to let me off when next he could.  Though it took a long time to get not so far I ended up closer than the normal route would have taken me.  Just a short walk further and I got inside the museum.

 I stepped inside the elevator with a couple of others and it took us a moment to work out what to do.  There was no level buttons.  Just one 'go' type button.  When someone pushed it the doors closed and we began to move upwards but the elevator numbers were fast counting down YEARS!  We kept going back in time until we stopped at 1800.  That tickled my funny bone.  Transport in London in the 1800s would have been something amazing to time travel back to.  So different from what you see now.  I can't imagine horse drawn carriages all over the streets.  Horse drawn bus (the Omnibus adopting the term from France and it meaning "for all" which I guess we just shortened to 'bus'), horse drawn trams and horse drawn 'cabs'.  Walking through and reading about people problem solving (or attempting to) the various transport needs of a fast growing city was interesting.  One sign said they used 12 horses (6 pairs) in one day for one two horse carriage for it to be able to be consistently available for use.  That's a whole lot of horses over all to be caring for and feeding and pooing on the streets.  Yeah, progress was needed.

Eventually they went underground and London was the first in the world to have an underground train.  They are celebrating 150 years.  The underground steam trains were a bit of a torture ride apparently though.  Lots of heat and smoke and even those up on ground level would get frights as special vents released to clear some of the smoke-filled tunnels.  At first the underground was built with the cut and  cover method which was very messy construction as you can see displayed in the model.  Disrupted the streets and commonly kicked the poor out of their homes with no legal obligation to rehouse them.  And as they wanted more train systems and needed to go deeper, someone came up with the tube system and a better way of digging it out.  Electricity was available now too which meant the invention of electric trains.  And so London has 'the tube' which you can now ride all over the vast city.  I liked the train driver's cabin with simulated work.  Too many kids today to have a go myself though.  Oh well.  There was also some buses and other things down stairs but I didn't look around much there.

After leaving the museum, I went walkabout to stumble across a tube station as it's not too hard to do in the city centre.  The first one I came to though was access to the Piccadilly line which was still closed so I just kept walking.  Then I had to pull out my map, found out I'd gone the other direction than I thought but had still managed to be somewhat in the area I had aimed for.  I started heading toward a Circle line tube station when I walked past a bus stop that caught my attention.  A number 9 bus had just pulled up and that's one that goes right near my house.  And I was thrilled to be able to tick off TWO things on my London-to-do list.

I climbed on the back of one of the active old buses, paid the conductor and rode home!  A fun and appropriate way to end a trip to the London Transport Museum.

01 February 2013

wednesday walkabout--green space

Last week I had to start work a few hours earlier than normal, plus I had a bunch of things to organise so I skipped doing a 'walkabout'.  This week there was a little sun predicted for the afternoon and with the weather not being quite as cold as it has been I took the opportunity to do one of my outdoor London-to-do's.  

For a big city, London has a lot of green spaces which makes living here much more manageable for those who are country-people at heart.  It may even be one of the top cities in the world for the amount of green space it has.  Gratefully I am blessed with living between two.  One being the Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens chunk.  One of the green spaces I wanted to visit while here was...

And now I have.  It's one of the largest green spaces covering 320 hectares (790 acres) and is located in the north of London.  I basically just wandered around the south end of the Heath for a couple of hours and purposefully took my camera for a photographic walkabout.  Although it was sunny, it was also gusty sporadically and the ground really was quite mucky.  I didn't veer off the paths much and squelched along carefully when I did.  Hampstead Heath has a variety of nature features with bush...er...forest for the non-Aussie, open fields, playgrounds and recreational spaces, ponds (and each are labelled as to what kind of pond they are, some of which are swimming) as well as some estate houses and gardens.  It's really a very nice area and one of those places you stand in and look all around and comment to yourself, "You'd hardly think I was in London."  Not all the paths were tarred.  Some were more like beaten paths or mudtrails in the winter season.  I wandered around snapping away and fiddling with functions on my camera; miniature (which blurrs top and bottom), colour accent (black and white except one colour I choose), black and white, sepia, vivid and manual.  It was fun exploring and looking for artistic compositions.  Makes you notice the beauty more.  I took loads and got some shots I really like.  I'll let the photos speak for themselves. (Click on the photo to view them larger.)

As pre-planned, I stopped for dinner just as the afternoon was wrapping up.  I had the most delicious pizza which arrived and was consumed much faster than I'd anticipated leaving me with a whole hour to fill.  It's hard to drag out eating in a restaurant when you are dining by yourself so I decided to go window shopping.  Er, made it to the next block where I found a Cass Art shop and one hour and £50 later scurried off to catch the overground to work.