Monday, April 27, 2009
The London Marathon
I had to laugh at 'The Archers' attempt to recreate the start of the London Marathon. It's true that an announcer told participants to go to their correct zones before the start. But to marshal 10,000 participants on a large park, with friends and well-wishers shouting above the noisy helicopters you need better amplification than one last used at the Ambridge Flower and Produce show.
The real thing sounded like the main stage at Glastonbury.
It's comical, too, when the BBC uses a member of the existing cast with a lightly disguised voice when the plots call for a one-off extra character. Considering the £100 licence free , you'd think they could pay an actor for once. They make enough savings, after all, by mentioning characters never actually heard from week after week.
The real announcer's Geordie accent carried round the park and probably half across Blackheath. At I thought at first they'd got Ant or Dec, but he announced at one point he wasn't and that he wasn't Gazza either.
His job, apart from chivvying the runners to their zones, was to keep up a stream of banter as the runners massed slowly towards the park gates and the start line, which took about about twenty minutes for some, and to reassure them their ankle chips wouldn't activate before they crossed the line.They must be sure to wave at the Mayor 'wearing his bling' on the podium with his lady wife. That's where the cameras were positioned.
I'd walked around beforehand watching the runners doing stretching and limbering up, smelling the tang of liniment and asking could I take photos. As I pointed the camera towards a young man in a Batman costume his friend encouraged him to move about: 'You could be famous on YouTube, man'. So I switched to 'video', unfortunately, as you'll see, only towards the end of his display.
I heard the starting gun, but didn't see the serious contenders out on the heath. Instead I photographed the parade of people running for hundred of charities. Many were dressed as super heroes or animals, including a plastic rhino, and there was even a woman on stilts. The mood was cheerful but nervous, maybe because the jovial commentator kept reminding them they had 26.5 miles to go.
I'd got there by walking over the heath, but decided to take th DLR back to Lewisham. The Cutty Sark DLR station was completely cut off by the stream of runners, but it's only a ten minute walk down to the other one. I couldn't believe the scene.
I was going the other way, but the huge crowds wanting to travel to central London found they had to queue at the DLR ticket machines, or take their chances with the replacement buses, because Greenwich station was closed for weekend engineering works. I'd have thought the Mayor could have laid on proper transport arrangements for such a big event.
We don't know how the The Archers got back to Ambridge but I hope it wasn't via central London.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
No wonder I like the 'Carry On' films - Williams looking down, literally, on a cast of stereotypes including Charles Hawtrey as a sparrow-chested wimp and Kenneth Connor's snivelling coward. Joan Sims and Barbara Windsor provide the excuse for smutty innuedoes. The double-entendres come just as thick and fast, the jokes with time-honoured targets, but William's voice is a joy, either staccato or sliding through several octaves like some infinitely flexible stringed instrument, equally suited to playing gravelly uppercrusters, or self-important shop-assistants.
Kenneth Williams Diaries:http://www.johnsandoe.com/review_2414.htm
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Escape to Paradise
So there I was in the garden of delights: 'Grant & Cutler', off Regent Street. Now this is what I call a bookshop –stuffed with foreign language and literature as well as a fantastic collection of ‘World DVDs’.
I’m too weak willed for browsing there, so I don’t go very often, but I was desperate. I recently joined an Italian conversation group and my attempts to speak had met with sniggers. ‘She’s talking Spanish’, I heard someone whisper.
I only needed an oral ‘brush-up’, as I could read a book in Italian and understood most of what was being said. I did three years part-time at Goldsmiths a while back.
A little research and telephone call pointed to Grant &Cutlers. If I kept my head and practised self-discipline I’d be safe. Besides, the CDs cost £50, which was shocking enough . It was an advanced ‘audio only’ course, devised by a famous teacher called Michel Thomas. No books required.
I’ve been fascinated by foreign culture as long as I can remember. When I was thirteen my father shouted when he found out about my Japanese pen-friend. It wasn’t hard to spot the airmail envelope among the bills, not to mention a small box of carved figures. My parents had shown indifference to letters from France, but poor Akio’s photo was consigned to the back of the door of the outside loo. My father fumed about my ‘fraternising’, after he’d risked his life, etc. The correspondence ended, although I later had a boyfriend whose father was German.
Being born at the wrong end of the English class system probably gave me a positive attitude towards all things foreign, especially as it gradually dawned on me that revolution wasn’t on the cards. Whatever the reason, I remain fascinated by other ways of doing things. It was a kind of epiphany, the first time I saw a French film. A lot of people take to drink, I notice, but speaking foreign languages, eating foreign food, is my way for of pretending I’m not English.
It’s not so rare as you might think. Although most of my friends are foreigners, one, who’s definitely English, is convinced she has Chinese ancestry.
I managed to skirt round ‘end bins’ of discounted books, rows of audio tapes and carousels of DVDs. The Italian section has three parts, all with bookcase so large they require a kick-step to reach the top shelf – dictionaries, language courses and literature. I admit to looking at Korean language books, and fingering a Balzac recording, but I managed to leave with only the discs I came for. Mmm... if my will-power is that good, maybe I can risk another trip to Paradise.
Grant & Cutler http://www.grantandcutler.com/ourshop.html
Michel Thomas Italian Course :http://www.michelthomas.co.uk/italian.htm
Friday, April 17, 2009
You have to hand it to these two, spotted on the way to the station yesterday. I mean the white-haired pair, not the front-runners.
They looked more like mountaineers than pensioners, and certainly weren't going to let age get in the way of making a sartorial statement.
They turned out to be Chinese!
For: 'Growing old together, hand in hand' , substitute: 'Celebrating Longevity with a Freedom Pass'.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
'Anyone want the Anita Brookner? Don’t all shout at once.’
My audience of three were less than ecstatic. One glanced momentarily from a Colin Forbes, one cleared her throat and flipped the pages of ‘Jamaica Inn’, the third laid aside ‘Great Expectations’ to reach for a glass of water. Much as I’d expected.
For me, though, she's the perfect holiday read.
In 'Leaving Home' Emma Roberts, in her late twenties lives with her widowed mother in the familiar Brookner ambience: a sombre West London flat not too far from Harrods.
When Emma, the perpetual student, is 27 and shows no signs of getting married or a job, her uncle suggests she gives up researching garden design and stay home to tend her mother. Emma feels a sudden urge to research in a Parisian library, an excuse to break loose. We’re told quite early on her studies are a metaphor:
‘I have tried to live my life according to the classical idea, that of order and control and self-mastery. That was the principle that imposed itself on the unruliness of nature in the shape of paths, parterres, rigorous right angles. Now I saw that such symmetry was only temporary, and that at some point nature would resume the upper hand.'
She’s glimpsed a semi-naked Adonis, in the shape of her elderly suitor's sleeping son. What happens next is nothing much, because it's not that kind of book. It's not one to be read in snatches on London trains and buses, but to savour, on a Cornish terrace overlooking the sea.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Monday, April 06, 2009
So I see Val McDermid is to appear with other celebrity guests in a series of TV programmes about Bridge. Tony Hill’s psychological profile of a Bridge club killer could make chilling reading, a worthy addition to McDermid’s oeuvre of grisly crime thrillers.
I remember the first time I sat down to play Bridge, at County Hall c.1973. It promised a cheap and harmless evening’s entertainment.
My seat was directly opposite the window, so I was half-blinded by light from a low sun bouncing off the Thames. By some stroke of misfortune I was declarer, and fumbled across the table towards the dummy hand.
‘You touch the card, you play the card!’ a voice shouted into my left ear. It was my introduction to the cut-throat world of competitive Bridge.
Since then I’ve witness some vicious altercations and even fisticuffs. Bridge history includes a case of a woman who shot her partner for poor play. That was in America, but it’s definitely not a game that brings out the best in people. In fact, I’ve included a Bridge group in my novel-in-progress, called ‘Murder on Course’.
I expect the TV series will point up the enjoyable aspects of the game and the players will be on their best behaviour for the camera. Just so long as viewers don’t come away with the idea that club play is all nicely-nicely. On the contrary, it’s not for the squeamish and McDermid can’t fail to be inspired - I know I was.
Bridge on TV: http://www.skyarts.co.uk/skyarts/bridge-celebrity-grand-slam/
Friday, April 03, 2009
The ostentatious churches of Italy, France and Spain were lavishly funded by the state, as well as the poor. The theory was that sensory appeal would induce a mood of spirituality. C of E churches relied more on sermons and hymns, although as my local, Emanuel, was quite ‘high’ there was a fair amount of stained glass and embroidered hassocks.
This huge exhibition shows how the Baroque style spread out from Italy and France in the mid-seventeenth century, to the rest of the world. There's a thin dividing line between the flamboyant and the downright grotesque and it’s often overstepped.
So-called ‘sun king’ Louis X1V is at the secular centre of the show at the V&A. There's a big portrait of him in his finery, and a film of the Palace of Versailles.
The exhibition divides into genres: furniture and decorative artefacts, including some weirdly fantastic cabinets inlaid with pietra dura, marble and gilt decoration; architecture on projected slides ; paintings and models of opera, theatre and public celebrations; church decoration and ritual artefacts. Overhearing the video soundtrack of a mass being celebrated at the London Oratory, R mistook the mass bell for the signal to vacate the museum. I reminded him it was a Friday late session.
Paintings include a fine Rubens, with curly drapery trailing from plump angels, but my favourite is Tiepolo’s 'The Triumph of the Immaculate Conception’ which depicts the Virgin Mary in the clouds, surrounded by cherubs, her foot on a globe and a serpent with an apple in its mouth. The colours are ethereal - a rosy beige for the sky, blue and white for the virgin's cloak contrasting with the dark scaly dragon.The smoothly blended brushwork recalls John Singer Sargent, who has a couple of portraits in the Van Dyck exhibition at the Tate Britain.
There are some fascinating small 'curios' made from rare materials: an amber coffee-pot, a pair of ivory-handled pistols, and a cup made from an octrich egg. Among the bigger items are a massive silver chandelier and a font enclosed in carved screens.