Saturday, 19 May 2012

Size isn't everything...

It’s Saturday morning and after having had to set my alarm once more I am sat on my sofa, munching away at my porridge and typing as fast as my fingers, still hungover with sleep, can manage.  You see, today I am off on my jollies.  My flight to Alicante is not until this evening, but I have defuzzing to do, a suitcase to pack – and an exhibition to check out.
No, I don’t really have time to pop into London to enjoy a bit of art and yes, I am my own worst enemy, but when I heard that Ron Mueck of the Sensation exhibition of the late nineties fame was showing in town, I knew I had to take a look.  I popped along to the private gallery Hauser and Wirth on Monday but it was closed.  Being a stubborn type, I will not be beaten by that restrictive beast known as time.
Luckily my pilgrimage into town on Monday was not a complete washout, despite the wet weather.  I also went to Somerset House to catch an exhibition of paintings by Japanese tattoo artist Horiyoshi III and another small private gallery, Hayhill, to see Jamie McCartney’s Skin Deep or, more specifically, The Great Wall of Vagina.  Both exhibitions were real inspirations and I recommend that you try and catch them before they close.  But I’m no art critic, so I’m not going to go into the content of the work and the social commentary it offers. 
And here comes my confession.  This Monday was the first time in nearly eleven years of living in London that I have been to Somerset House.  Shocking, I know, especially when you take into account the art, gigs, films and world famous ice skating rink that it hosts.  It isn’t the only heavyweight venue that I have visited for the first time this year.  A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to go to the Royal Albert Hall for the first time.  Again I wasn’t disappointed and I can’t wait to go back with my folks later this year.
The flip-side to my confession is another one – I tend to avoid private galleries and usually gravitate towards lager public spaces to get my art fix.  Why?  Well, I think it is down to a preconception I have that when they clock my appearance (i.e. high street rather than Bond Street) they will decide that I am wasting their time and look down their noses at me as I enjoy their wares with absolutely no intention of buying.  Well, the receptionist at Hayhill blew that idea well and truly out of the water.  Despite my rain sodden jeans from Next and ancient scruffy black jacket, she took the time to ask me what I thought of the work and to explain how the artist had photographed the incredibly striking images.
Again, when it comes to gigs and theatre, I tend it forget about the smaller venues across town, but again, compared to the likes of the Albert Hall and Nottingham arena where I saw my girl-crush Florence Welsh on stage for the first time, they offer a more intimate experience – and, quite honestly, a better view.  I returned to Soho Theatre this year for the first time in ten years to see the Crick Crack Club and, despite being towards the back of the audience, I had a premier view.  Same goes for the comedy night I went to recently in a pub in Piccadilly and Seasick Steve’s gig at The Electric Ballroom last year – okay, so a bit bigger, but still small enough that I didn’t end up watching the entire thing on a big screen.
So, there you go.  When it comes to venues in London and elsewhere, size really isn’t everything.  Sadly the same doesn’t go for the suitcase I now have to pack. 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Wild Thing

For those of you who know me (or at least follow me on Twitter), the following two facts will not come as a surprise.  First, I like watching documentaries on Channel 4.  Second, I have a bit of a soft spot for furry animals – especially little baby ones.  Needless to say I’ve been keeping half en eye on the above channel’s investigation into the nation’s population of foxes for the last couple of weeks.  I know a lot of people who don’t like foxes, whether due to fear of attack, memories of childhood pets falling foul of their need to feed or those who just think they look a bit mangy.  I, on the other hand, find them fascinating. 
Living in London, you don’t see a lot of wildlife, and coming across it, for me, is a real treat – not just because I’m a big softie.  It fills me with hope to see wild animals adapting to the urban landscape.  Let’s face it, without this ability, they wouldn’t stand a chance of survival.  So, when I see a fox trot across the street on my way home from the pub, or a squirrel scamper up a tree on the commute to work, it makes me smile.
Yes, I have heard about the attacks on small children and indeed I am aware that grey squirrels have pushed their rusty-coloured cousins to the corners of the country.  But is this really their fault?  If the world wasn’t so over-populated and devoid of their natural diet, foxes would be much less likely to put themselves at risk by attacking their mortal enemy.  If people hadn’t released grey squirrels to the UK they would be thriving in their country of origin – and not playing a Darwinian version of tug-of war with their rivals.  What they are doing is surviving – and in what is more often than not a hostile environment.
Okay, so the summer before last my entire crop of salad leaves was destroyed by a healthy colony of caterpillars and I often blame a bad day on a solitary magpie.  But, along with the birds I can hear singing outside my bedroom window and the spiders who weave their webs between the plants on my terrace, they keep me in touch with the real world.  A wander around Hampstead Heath fills me with memories of childhood walks with my mum as I spot bluebells and violets.  The aroma of wild garlic adds to the atmosphere of Highgate Cemetery, and even though it’s giant trees are responsible for a lot of damage to the majestic tombs that watch over London, they add to – in fact, create – the Victorian site’s beauty.
So whilst some people might dismiss the city’s four legged inhabitants and bemoan trees that cause structural damage to their houses, I welcome them.  They act as a reminder that London wasn’t always the polluted concrete jungle that it is today.  
I think it’s about time we made the foxes and the flowers feel welcome again and show them a bit more respect.  At the end of the day, they were here first. 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Get Real

Tonight, I am grateful.  I’m grateful it’s nearly the weekend.  I’m grateful that, for the first time in far too long, I feel like I’m getting on top of my workload again.  And I am grateful to have a night in, at home – and a bit of peace and quiet.
Despite my moaning and groaning about central London, on two occasions so far this week – as in 50% of my precious evenings – I have ended up in the West End.  Monday was a particularly horrific experience.  Having arrived back in London after a weekend ooop north I headed to Covent Garden for a spot of shopping before meeting my chums.  My shopping list was short but precise – two birthday cards, some face wash from Lush and a hip flask from the Monday market.  First I headed to M&S to pick up a bottle of cloudy lemonade and my greetings cards.  By the time I got to the self check-out I wished I had bought something stronger to quench my thirst.  The place was heaving with tourists and, like a swarm of midges, they were really starting to irritate me.  And I hadn’t even got to the Plaza.  This was not good.
With gritted teeth I fought my way through the throngs gathered around a variety of street theatre and found my stall – sans the perfect present I was looking for.  I asked the stall holder if he had any more and he promised to order some in.  As I thanked him, my heart sank with the realisation that this meant I would have to return soon.  With a sigh, I walked over to Lush – to find it closed for renovation.  Things were not going well.
I'd managed to claw my way through the crowds and was well on my way to my Holborn rendezvous when I realised I had forgotten my cashback.  Luckily when I got back to M&S they were able to sort it out for me, but by the time I got to Starbucks I was well and truly strung out, stressed - and sick of being back in London already.
The fact that my evening was in sharp contrast to my weekend probably didn’t help.  Friday afternoon had been spent with my folks at Thoresby Hall in Nottinghamshire, walking in the countryside, mooching around a handful of craft shops and warming up with a cuppa and cake.  Saturday was spent wandering around York with my beau, window shopping, lunching at Betty’s and catching up over a pint.  And then Sunday?  A day at a spa, swimming, steaming, sauna-ing and indulging in a face and body "ritual" which left me in a blissful haze for about six hours.  Monday morning ended my weekend away perfectly, sitting in my parent’s sundrenched garden with my laptop as dad did his Sudoku.
On Wednesday I found myself mounting the escalator at Leicester Square and pushing through the crowds once more.  After a particularly arduous day at work, it wasn’t a great start to my evening.  However, after meeting my friends in the suitably civilised Foyles', we decided to head up to Goodge Street for burritos at Benitos Hat.  Once we had a passed the hordes at Tottenham Court Road, I started to feel calmer. Yes, it was still busy, but we had escaped that central hub of tourist activity – and found London again.  So Goodge Street isn’t the most exciting of locations – but it is London for Londoners.  People visiting the capital don’t tend to venture into the area nestled safely between Oxford Street and Camden, and for the locals it is a bit of a haven. 
Okay, I know, tourism brings a lot of money into the capital – and provides many of its inhabitants with jobs that are few and far between.  But I can’t help but wish that it was a little bit more true to itself.  Let me try to explain - in recent months I have visited two other European cities, Prague and Budapest.  Prague, I’m sorry to say, was a bit disappointment.  Yes, it is a beautiful place, but it felt like it had sold itself to the visitor and forgotten it’s true self.  Budapest, on the other hand, hit the spot.  The capital of Hungary is, to me, just as beautiful with its own intriguing history – but the emphasis on tourism seemed absent.  Whilst welcoming to the traveller, it was also there for its inhabitants, giving it a sense of authenticity that can so easily be lost.
Over the Bank Holiday weekend I am in danger of a similar crash.  On Saturday I am heading out to bonny Buckinghamshire – which will be followed by a May Day outing with another mate somewhere between my North London flat and her home in Dulwich.  And, although the mid-point seems like the obvious choice, I shall be suggesting somewhere a little more off the beaten track.  Somewhere a little bit more... real.