Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A Week in Spring in London

Haven't done much this week, except clear out and think and talk to people and help with the babies. And actually it is so lovely to see the Spring that I would be happy to stay in London, specially if the weather was okay. However, I'm off to Greece soon (which I am sure will be fun) and have just confirmed a cycling trip in Karinthia, in Austria.   

Made me think of the last time I was in Karinthia, in deepest winter, hands-sticking-to-railings cold.   I took K, then 14, with me. She reminded me the other day of the genial old woman in a snowy chalet in the mountains who offered us both huge glasses of schnapps. I declined, and didn't notice that K had gulped hers down at top speed, just as the old dear showed her   Oh dear. Naughty old woman.  K confirmed that her memories of the rest of the visit were very hazy!

I've also been clearing out ancient files and found the tape and transcript of a day I spent at the home of writer Roald Dahl, creator of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."  My piece about him was published, he died not long after, and the transcript has been sitting there ever since. I'm sure students of children's literature will be interested, so I've asked his literary estate if I can publish it as a short and low priced e-book.  I'll let you know what they say. It seems I own the copyright of the interview, but not the right to use it anywhere - what a legalistic situation!

Here is Quentin Blake's wonderful image of Willy Wonka, from Dahl's book.

And here are a few pictures of things I've seen while out and about.  First, a weird jumble caught my eye as I walked past the slanted funnels of the warship HMS Belfast. (which by the way I recommend visiting). You will see behind it the weird, graceless "Walkie Talkie Building" which now ruins many an iconic London view. I can't imagine how they ever got permission to build it. ( And it sets things on fire with its "death rays"- see this.)

What a mess! I really loathe it.

Nearby this protest bike from People Against Profit was parked. They fight those who are being allowed to do whatever they like in London for profit, at the expense of local people (such as those who build hideous Walkie talkie buildings that melt cars).  Here's their website 

Saw these two odd vehicles at London Bridge.

Here is a close up of the green one.  Scary, eh?  :) 

And I also saw this very interesting and innovative child's wheelchair in the Design Museum's Designs of the Year 2014. (I hope to tell you more about that show in a later post).  It is so rare to find well designed mobility aids that I voted for it as my top design.   It's called the Chair4Life and it's made by Renfrew.

Back home,  I looked up and thought, "hmmmm. That helicopter's rather low. Anyone would think it was going to land in the back garden!"

And then it did.

There was unfortunately an accident nearby and our communal garden was the nearest landing spot identified by the air ambulance.  When the copter landed, deafeningly, it generated such a wind that it lifted up a huge iron wheelbarrow full of clippings and hurled it across the lawn. Obviously everyone in the garden had got well out of the way by then, so nobody was hurt. Which was just as well, otherwise they'd have had more casualties to deal with.

Everyone of course was very interested, including me. I suppose the air ambulance crew deal with gawpers all the time. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

The Un-Peaceful Life of Ally Pally

I wrote a little while ago about the Rex Whistler murals at Tate Britain. Today, I discovered some more murals. Well, not exactly "discovered" since I had been looking at them every year for ages!  But yesterday I REALLY looked at them.  

They are in the unlikely surroundings of Alexandra Palace, the gigantic and entirely unique building that sits atop a hill in North London. 

This is a photo of how it looked as I walked down the hill yesterday.  Sort of ruined. I think it IS semi ruined. "Ally Pally" as it is known, was originally built in 1873 as a  "People's Palace," to be used for all kinds of fun events.  In those days, it looked like this.....   

Nice, eh? But not for long. Ally Pally hasn't been what you'd call a lucky or calm building.   In fact it somehow reminds me of some large, eccentric aunt who is always getting into scrapes.   It burned down less than three weeks after it was built, had another major fire in 1980, shortly after it was refurbished, and in the meantime suffered various misfortunes, like being used as an internment camp and getting bombed in the war. It also became the home of the fledgling BBC television service (news was broadcast from there right up to the 1960s.) and somewhere along the way it acquired a nice ice rink. However, its magnificent theatre and Willis organ fell into disrepair - the story of the organ's ups and downs is here

The Palace is basically big and Victorian - look at those huge doors, below - and it has been painted up in magnificent Victorian style.  Needless to say, the job is far from finished. 

Anyway, let's continue with the brief history.  After the 1980 fire it was refurbished again.  There was huge trouble about that, and the restoration was eventually deemed unlawful. But hey, they'd already done it. So it stayed. And it's still there, a fine post modern revamp - now a bit shabby - including lots of fabulous and very under appreciated murals. 

So yesterday,  T and I took young S to the model railway exhibition, where we go most years.  And, like we usually do, we went downstairs to the restaurant for some pie and chips.  We sat down at the table and for the first time I looked properly at the wonderful murals on the walls.  They are Italian and fantastical in style, of classical buildings populated mostly by huge birds, larger than the picture below suggests.    (The people eating pie and chips in the foreground in the shot below are NOT part of the painting.) 

I've tried to get rid of the yellow tint, but that was the artificial light. As with other dining room murals, it's not easy to get photos - but I will do my best.  These murals are really wide,  and well lit, and are, I think, wonderfully dreamlike.

like a glimpse into another world. You might notice the packets of salt, pepper, mayonnaise, etc. in the foreground of the picture below.     I suppose we should be glad they haven't had the money to put in a sleek new cafe with all the latest stuff, otherwise they'd have covered over the mural years ago, I guess.  Would you like to live in that half-hidden red-roofed house overlooking the lake, with its arches and temple in the garden?  I would.

On another bit of mural, an easel contains the name of the artist on a scroll - Christopher R. Boulter.  He was a master of the Art Worker's Guild, not not a well known muralist, although I think he could have been.

The staff at Ally Pally always seem nice and hardworking, and people do love the building, so it is as well cared for as can be.  But the years have taken their toll. The specially woven carpets are worn, and some of the murals have rough patches. Look at the damage here.

After admiring the restaurant murals, I then sent T and S up to the model trains and started exploring further behind the scenes. I realised that this massively expensive 1980s refit had resulted in a fantastic post-modernist interior, entirely unique and full of craftsmanship.   These huge murals (by a different artist) were half way up  one of the staircases

These large paintings show golden scenes of strange places

This was one of many alcoves in the bar, each one with a different, strange monument painted within. And look at those delightful post modern curved seats. 

A very long, wide corridor leading into the main hall is lined with murals set within its yellow brick arches. Here's just one, showing Ally Pally's television past.  These are by Gary Drostle (website here).

 As well as the murals, the public areas outside the halls are fitted out with columns, pyramids and geometric, vaguely art-deco shapes, mostly in shades of brown. The floors are marble, there is shiny brass everywhere, all absolutely the latest thing in the late 80s, (I liked these quirky columns  framing the elevators below)

This 1988 restoration is big, bold and insanely expensive  and even included a palm court with sphinxes, a delightful place to hang out

and a there is gigantic rose window in the main hall, of geometric glass. 

In fact, it's all quite FANTASTIC!   

Ally Pally has never been a moneyspinner. One of its biggest problems is transport links.  There is car parking but most of it is a long way away and down a steep hill.  There's one useless bus called the "W3" which I've never heard of and goodness knows where it goes. The tube station's miles away.  Originally, the Palace had its own railway station, and even its own railway line - the Muswell Hill & Palace Railway. Both are now long closed, though the station remains, hidden behind a fence.

 And many years ago, during one of the regular "Oh, what shall we do with this building?" panics about Ally Pally, I visited the station with the Victorian Society, and it still had some of the ancient railway and holiday poster ads up on its walls.  A "Marie Celeste"  moment.   

The financial mess was so great that Ally Pally was almost sold off to commercial developers a few years ago, but people do love it, despite its problems.  So, after a public fight and fund to save it, it got given a load of lottery money instead, and now the plan is to finish off repairing the organ, and restore the stunning Victorian theatre and the historic television studios. 

I have looked in the plans to see if they want to restore the unique post-modern interior and its murals, but I can't find out anything. But there are so few lavish 1980s interiors left that I feel they are worth fighting for. I'm going to write to them, and I'll let you know what they say. I'll also go on one of the regular tours of the palace which have now begun.  I wonder if they include the station.

Outside, there are huge grounds sloping down to Highgate and you can walk around the terrace, lean on the  Victorian railings and admire the view of the City in the distance  Yes, Ally Pally really is a good place to be.

PS. The babies are doing well. Somehow reminds me of when my daughters used to play with their dolls

 And what about this, spotted in South London?  It's really called "Allen Gardens" but with a few scribbles of a pen,  it becomes something much more interesting! 

Monday, 17 March 2014

New Things - and one Old Thing

I'm feeling discombobulated ... love the word but hate the feeling.   I've had a big work setback, but also, if you look at it another way, an exciting opportunity. (Well, how else can you look at it?!)

This must be one of the most exciting times in history to be creative, with so many chances to connect that didn't exist even a few years ago. The problem now is not in expressing yourself so much as finding the money and the people to watch what you do. And that's where we've had a slap in the face.  Sigh. Just as well I am philosophical by nature.  In the big picture of life, this comes low down after loved ones, home, and having enough money to get by.

So despite the work problems, it's been a good week, lovely weather, and the best part of a day looking after the babies, pure pleasure

whoops, sorry, wrong picture  - try this one!

He looks as if he is punching her in the head, but luckily he missed.  Both of them are working hard on stretching their arms and legs at the moment, and will soon, I think, be smiling.

Little A has put his first movie on Youtube, a runthrough of a Minecraft session. It's called Miners in the Tardis, reflecting his love of both Minecraft and Dr. Who.   Youtube movies are so popular with kids who like to entertain other children with what they have been doing. The models they copy are usually made by teenagers or young men - here are some on Yogscast.

This stuff isn't taught at school and thousands of kids are doing it, not just the geeks.   Some of the films are really remarkable, often made with Lego, and they express what the children like and think.   Just check out this selection of Lego Mothers Day movies here for instance.  Many mums will have been delighted to get them, I bet.

 Little A is 9 and has got 17 Minecraft movies ready to post.  He saved up all his birthday and pocket money for a year to buy a computer capable of doing what he wants (thank you Cash Converters) , and now he's aiming to take coding lessons so he can do more elaborate stuff.  I'm feeling VERY left behind and making some efforts to understand Minecraft at least, so I can keep up with, um,  let's say the six year olds...

Thought you might like some sights from a day we spent following the course of the hidden river Walbrook, another of Tom Bolton's Hidden Rivers of London walks (the book (here's the Amazon link) is highly recommended if you want to amble through some of London's hidden corners and learn all about them)

These photos were mostly taken in London, EC2.   The tube trains on top of the buildings are now artists studios. How cool is that?

Cats eyes indeed in this wal painting.  Surreal.

And this was very eye catching in an almost deserted street

And this unofficial notice board below

where as you see The Thinker has his back to some unexpected information - I've enlarged the bit in the bottom left of the image below so you can read it more easily.  I wondered why the street was called Curtain Street. and now I know it was named after Shakespeare's theatre. I believe that when the expenses and taxes got too much for Shakespeare's company in Curtain Street they did a moonlight flit and set up at the Globe in Southwark, which was far less regulated, and they left their debts behind them. 

I think the photo below had a kind of Edward* Hopper feel, something about the yellow reflection from the treated glass in the door and the large blank areas. 

This little old house is sandwiched between Starbucks and a modern office. You can only imagine how different this bit of London was in the days when it was built. Can't you imagine people in knee breeches going up the steps to that front door?

The area has been revitalised over the last few years, and in renovated areas I always like to look out for works of art. This one is inside a building, very tall, and here's what it's like looking up, up and upwards inside a tunnel of Spanish tiles that seem to reflect skies and water and dreams.

I just heard from Maria, whose blog Penelope Puddlisms from BC is always one that I enjoy.  She won the prize for her response to the story of the lacemaker,  Little Red Shoes which was on here a while back.  It was a lace collar which belonged to my great-aunt Mab and Maria has done a beautiful job framing it and also written a very interesting post about it here. 

PS *Thank you Meike, for the correction. 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Nothing Much

Sorry for the silence. I've been visiting people's blogs when I can, but my old computer died of extreme old age, and I've now got a new one, which I'm getting to grips with.    

I've done a certain amount on the travel front (see below) but largely I've spent time with the babies, and we're doing a third printing of my book Lewis Carroll In His Own Account.   The first and second editions were done using a conventional printer, and involved loads of money upfront for hundred of copies. From now on, I'll print just a few copies at a time. I should be doing more on other Lewis Carroll projects but really I have just been enjoying the Spring. 

The blossoms are out now

These are in Regent's Park

It's a good year for violets - there's a great carpet of these in the back garden

And on Sunday we went with V & N and had a picnic on Lincoln's Inn Fields 
which is in the middle of London's legal area.

Down a side street we saw this - weird dummies in unflattering legal wigs

They are in the window of a pub which several people have recommended to us, called The Seven Stars. I'll go soon, and let you know what it's like. 

The Tunisian trip was postponed due to flight availability problems.  I was re-invited on it today, but I'd literally just confirmed the trip to Athens and Kythera for almost exactly the same dates. Bah! I am disappointed to miss Tunisia, but grateful also to be going again to one of my favourite countries, Greece.

I've also got invited to a week in Tobago but the trip's entirely based in one resort, which can sometimes not be ideal.   But I've asked for more details, in case I'm wrong. Looks like a lovely resort anyway.  So we'll see.

Tomorrow I'm going on a first aid course with St. Johns Ambulance, something I've meant to do for years, how great I'm finally getting around to it, though I hope I never need it. 

So that's been my pleasant but uneventful week.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Ballad of the Burning Star at Battersea

Okay, so what's happened this week?   Most of it has been about the children's book (see pic above). that is Lazy Linda, fast asleep with her four flea-arms wrapped around her.   Met up with some of T's long lost relatives who are in the country, and I'm further on with planning the Greece trip. I was also offered an interesting trip to Tunisia, which hasn't been too easy to place because there's a state of emergency in the country, even though it doesn't apply to the bit around Tunis.  I think I've done it, though, and hope to be off there soon.  

The good vibes about my shoulder helped, and it's now on the mend!  And I've gone back on the statins, because going to the gym helped much more than cutting out the pills. Awww, what a shame, but it's true. So twice a week to the gym now. 

The sweet babies continue to play a huge part in my life. 

I love staring into their eyes. They never mind staring right back, and it's such a touching experience somehow.  There are little human beings inside there, working as hard as they can to learn about the big wide world.

We have been getting out and about, the latest trip to Battersea. Battersea was always the downtrodden little brother of posh Chelsea, just across the river. But now Chelsea's choking to death on its own poshness, turning into a sterile ghost town owned by absentee billlionaires, and Battersea is really quite cool. Part of that's due to the quirky, lively Battersea Arts Centre, (BAC). 

BAC has been in the redundant Old Town Hall for years, and I believe helped save it from demolition when the Borough of Battersea was swallowed up into Wandsworth.  They started small and raised the money to create performance spaces, a cafe, a bar, workshops, studios.... all kinds of things.  They now aim to restore the  unusual organ installed in 1901, designed by the man whose ideas led to the Mighty Wurlitzer.  (You'll see it in the background of McFly's "Love is Easy")

It's a great place to hang out and play board games, chat, drink, eat.  The main entrance hall's a triumph of marble and mosaic with a grand staircase leading to the upper floors decorated by a great big frieze.

It's definitely quirky.  There is a blanket box from which you can borrow a fashionable looking blanket in case you are cold.  Saves on the heating bills, anyway!  There's a little parlour with a coal fire like an old fashioned railway station.

And bees (B for Battersea) everywhere - these were built into the original Victorian mosaic floors, so the idea originally came from Battersea Council.

I spotted that someone had made a chess set out of  a cardboard box. 

 Halfway up the stairs a long carpet are benches and little tables. The pictures on the walls are 3-D collages telling of the history of the centre, and the "books" you see there actually tell the story of the centre's progress and development.  

Here's a close up of BAC's early days when the town hall was being rescued from redevelopment.  The pictures are beautifully constructed using card and photos. 

And what did we see?  It was a performance called "Ballad of the Burning Star" and here is the author and chief performer, Nir Paldi, who is Israeli.

"Balllad of the Burning Star" is a production by Theatre Ad Infinitum, looking at the psychological state of Israel.. It's a full on cacophony of energy and noise and emotion.  For me it highlighted the basic psychological truth that if you victimise anyone - a person, a whole race - you thereby teach them to frame the world in terms of that abuse, and their own torture does not suddenly stop when life improves.  Deeply compassionate, tragic, angry, sympathetic, funny at times, too, actually. Humour and spectacle are cleverly used to defuse the violence, horror and pain that makes up so much of Jewish history. The performance was in a small auditorium (and packed out), but might still work even better as cabaret, but perhaps it would have been overwhelming as cabaret because I felt shattered by the end of the evening!

The show has won lots of awards and is currently halfway through a UK tour - click the website link to see if it will be coming near you.      Here are a snap review and audience reaction for it, and here's the trailer, below,  but it doesn't really (in my opinion) give you any idea of the passion, style and life of the show.  Even if you turn the sound up to maximum.

It was great going to Battersea Arts Centre. Even though Battersea is a total nightmare to reach from where we live (public transport, car, bike, none of them are an easy journey) I'll be going again. 

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