Friday, 27 July 2012

Absolutely fabulous...........

I have no interest in sport in general, the Olympics in particular. Other than to complain about the traffic/daily disruption/patheticness of our organisational skills etc. of course. However, I had been alerted to The Counter Café at Stour Space, a gallery out in Hackney Wick serving delicious food, which afforded fine views of the Olympic Stadium. As I wanted to go see David Bailey’s East End, a photography exhibition at Compressor House in the Docklands, I thought I might combine the two and have my own little Cultural Olympiad. The sun was out, my friend was in town, it seemed like an excellent way to spend the day. I planned ahead, printed Google maps, booked tickets for the Bailey show and we were off.
View from the train
First, we took the shiny new London Overground to Hackney Wick for Sunday brunch. It was hot and sunny as we made our way through the warehouses filled with artists’ studios. A casual market had been set up by some enterprising folk selling clothes, books, jewellery and bits of random tat; they played music, drank beer and danced in the street. It was reminiscent of a bit of Brooklyn I once knew. We walked along the towpath by the canal, Lilliputian statues lurked in the long grass by the water as we weaved past the cyclists and dog-walkers. 

View from the towpath
The café-gallery was at the end of the road, perched on the banks of the canal, set over two floors in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium. 

View from the pontoon
We ordered at the counter and sat outside on the pontoon which rocked gently every time the police speed boat cruised past. We ate potato pancakes, smoked salmon and orange-yoked, poached eggs with extra bacon on the side. And vodka tonics. All was excellent. My friend thought she saw a frog-man in the reeds.
View from the reeds

Then we took the Overground to Stratford and caught the DLR out to Royal Albert Dock, hurtling through London’s hinterland past Canary Warf and the O2. Finally we alighted in the middle of nowhere. Not sure which way to go and clutching our printed map, we made our way across a vast wasteland surrounded by a chain link fence. Two cruise ships….yes cruise ships …..were docked in the docks. Grey and white haired men and women in summer separates and comfortable shoes milled about smoking. Planes buzzed low overhead taking off from City Airport. Two large marquees were pitched in a sort of tarmacked bus terminal, young people were trundling towards a check point in the fence where a lot of men with foreign accents and high-vis jackets barred our way. Waving our map we stood our ground.

“David Bailey,” we shouted, “we’ve got tickets….we need to get over there…..”
They refused to let us pass. We seemed to have hit on some Guantanamo style, Olympic steward training ground. We returned to the station, confused. It was then we realised the exhibition was behind us; a large banner flapped in the breeze proclaiming: David Bailey. Hot and a little bothered we finally tumbled, like Edina and Patsy, through the doors of Compressor House, and were rewarded with a collection of exquisite photographs of London’s East End. 

Top tip: sit at the front of the DLR train for a great view and pretend to be the driver…….

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Satisfy my soul..........

A Jew, a Muslim and a Christian were standing outside the Tube …….. no it’s not a joke, it’s Brixton. Feeling ravenous and looking for redemption? Then try Brixton Village Market and feast on both. My mate Dave and I took a leaflet from each, and headed into the heart of this vibrant, iconic market, a warren of world cafes, to Senzala Brixton Creperie Bar & Café, housed in The Brick Box, deep amongst the African prints, vintage boutiques and pig’s heads. 
Mercifully the market is covered so we sat outside amongst the hip and the hungry. Spoilt for choice we chose to share, first a crispy galette stuffed with a classic combo of creamy goats cheese, caramelised red onion and rocket, then one brimming with crispy bacon, sticky with maple syrup. Both were good but best was The Godfather: bursting with jalapenos and melted cheese, spiked with lip-tingly pepperoni. Service was the slow side of relaxed but so were we after a pint of Normandy cider. Still desperate for a taste of summer, we couldn’t resist one plump with strawberries and melted dark and white Belgium chocolate, topped with vanilla ice-cream. Food of all the Gods, surely?
Top tip: The Hollow Crown, BBC2 Saturday night or iPlayer any night, Shakespeare in all it's historical bloody glory..... just bathe in the language and tip top acting.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

I can't stand the rain.....

I think I've gone straight into winter mode so this week......
I watched TV:
The lovely June Brown, octogenarian thespian Dot Cotton of Eastenders fame and budding national treasure, explored the prospects open to her when she gets old, in 'Respect Your Elders', on BBC1. She is 85. What she reckoned was, young kids should hang out with old people because they like each other quite a lot; if you get them early enough the kids grow up valuing their knowledge, humour, patience and the old folk get to have some fun. Her theory is the children would then learn respect for their elders. All elders. Not a bad idea. She thought a rent-a-grandparent scheme might be good. She also came to the conclusion that she wanted to die in her own bed in her own home. And to that end she had a dog-tag engraved with 'Do Not Resuscitate' in case she collapsed elsewhere. Except the engraver spelt it wrong, allowing the show to end on a humorous note. I like June a lot. She is much older than she appears. Her still slender frame hangs from her sharp cheek bones, her hair is cut into a chic bob she can artfully disguise for any roll. She dresses with flair, is lipsticked and nail-polished, lives in her own home and works. Is lucid and active. And still smokes. Is it the portion control she clearly adheres too that keeps her fit and alert? Or the fact that she has a large family of children and grandchildren with whom she regularly interacts, she is obviously a huge part of their lives? Or is it because she still works, goes out into the world, brings home the bacon, has a job to do?

I went to Margate: 
I saw the Tracey Emin show: She Lay Down Beneath The Sea, at the Turner Contemporary. Her work juxtaposed with Turner’s and Rodin’s drawings of nudes is alarmingly effective. I felt transported from the grey world outside as I walked through the high ceilinged rooms, letting the sun into my soul. We had lunch in the gallery’s restaurant. I had a delicious seafood chowder and through the huge picture window, the clouds scudded the sea making Turner’s view our view. It was quite electrifying.

I took the bus:
I saw Eric Clapton on the bus .... well I say Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton if he worked in IT........

Top tip: what to do if it rains..... go to Margate to see the Tracey Emin show: She Lay Down Beneath The Sea, or any gallery near you and make your own sunny day.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Voices voices beckoning sea .......

I’ve been away. On a road trip. I went to Wales. And then I went to Bath. To see Patti Smith. As a fan of the godmother of punk we devotees have to be beady-eyed and quick off the mark should she announce a tour. Bath was duly booked as there were no dates for London (there are now and we have more tickets.....). And then we discovered she was playing the Congregational Church in Laugharne. Well who could resist? Patti? In a church? In Wales? So, channelling my inner Dylan Thomas, I packed a selection of fetching all-weather-but-mainly-wet gig-garments and off we set. I love a road trip…. any road…. and we took it in turns to drive my mate Mick’s big, comfy, speedy motor. I took the Severn Bridge as the sun came out ….. and soon we were spinning gravel in the car park of our B&B, Keepers Cottage, run by Rose and Marge …. don’t ask just go, they are brilliant: big breakfasts, a big view and even bigger hearts. A swift pre-gig pint of Guinness with other Patti revellers soon alerted us to the fact that the Queen of Punk, a keen participant of the Laugharne Festival in prior years, had that afternoon actually sat amongst 20 of her followers, the chosen few, in the shrine to Dylan Thomas that is The Boathouse, chatted, read and led a Because-The-Night-sing-along…… I was a bit gutted, how long before I let it go? Yeah ….. any day now. Still, she and Tony Shanahan performed a perfectly formed, intimate acoustic gig, that was nothing short of biblical, and we danced home bare-foot and happy. Before leaving Laugharne we explored through the murky mist and rain, the place that was part of the inspiration for Under Milk Wood and I was inspired to write a poem. 
The next night in Bath, Patti with the full band was …..well to use common gig parlance … blinding. The woman must be injecting monkey glands, cavorting about the stage, belting out Gloria and Pissing In  A River with the vim and vigour of a 20 year old, she’s 65 for godssake. And the audience, mainly old it has to be said, took to their feet and rocked through their ages.

When Patti Came To Laugharne…..
Wake walk the winding street
Past high church high
On the hill
Filled before with Patti the song.
Sea below where coracle
Hammered hard in mud rushes
Under gull dived walls of castle ramparts
Flowering overhead.
Men and women work-weave their
New boats
Made ready to dip-bob the running stream.
Pissing in a river we hum to ourselves
And sing think the songs
Patti sang to us
The congregation.
We dance barefoot to the boathouse
Press-nosed glass
To view the view Dylan Thomas viewed
As he wrote
Where he wrote
When he wrote
And we sing the words Patti sang
Under the southern cross.
Then turn grave thoughts to the graveyard
And let the last trumpet sound
It’s call
To see where he
Lay down his head
On mossy bed
‘neath bleach boned white sky
Under milky wood.

Top tip: go to a gig and dance with abandon. Live music turned up to 11 is good for the heart, soul ...... and hips.