On a bitterly cold February day a world class city like London comes into its own. A mind blowingly long list of attractions , exhibitions, events, talks , walks and sporting, cinematic and theatrical activities are ever present even on a dreary out of season February afternoon. So without anything planned we head into town with nothing more certain than wanting to see some Art. And there is a lot of that around too.
Before leaving we had found out that the Light Show at the Hayward Gallery and the Lichtenstein retrospective at Tate Modern were sold out but the Picasso exhibition at the Courtauld looked a possibility. We wandered through Bloomsbury and, partly to get a brief respite from the icy blasts coming from Siberia via Southend , found ourselves outside, then inside the October Gallery in Old Gloucester Street a narrow lane that runs south out of Queen’s Square.
This small free to enter gallery has an eclectic collection of modern art and sculptures in a couple of ground floor rooms. At the back, a pretty courtyard with plants and further exhibits, completely deserted today of course but definitely worth a further visit on a warmer day. A plaster of Paris head with radios quietly emitting programmes, a machine gun bedecked in jewels and ribbons and a huge ball of an exhibit made from pressed oil cans together with some paintings and a weird lumpy mirror all provided amusement and puzzlement in equal measures. A pretty Iranian girl confirmed that during the week an added attraction was the high quality Persian food served at lunchtime.
Time to move on through Lincolns Inn Fields and through the warren of streets that is the home of the LSE. At Somerset House, the home of the Courtauld Gallery a giant noisy marquee in the courtyard of this great 18th century house was hosting “The London Fashion Week”. The Gallery itself was packed out but with our pre booked timed tickets we made our way up the elegant staircase to rooms 14 and 15 where the Picasso exhibition was displayed.
The pictures on display were those of a brilliant and emerging talent. Pablo Picasso was a mere 19 years old when he exhibited at the famous Paris exhibition in 1901. He found himself in Paris at the height of the Belle Epoch when Paris was undoubtedly the capital of the Art world. It was the home of Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet and Degas. The Can Can was all the range and poets and intellectuals roamed the Latin Quarter and Montmartre. Yet clearly the critics were right to spot the genius of this prodigious artist.
These 40 or so pictures by the young Picasso showed the emerging talent and even in this one year the beginnings of his development and experimentation that later became famous as his Blue period. Two works dominated by a blue wash paid homage to a young poet friend who had shot himself that year. A self portrait of the young artist with bright orange crevette stared confidently back at you. Other oils demonstrated the artisits eye for the joy of Parisian nightlife as well as more random subjects such asthe Harlequin and the Companion. Picasso was working at a furious pace at this stage in his career as if the creativity within him needed to be instantly expressed on canvass. Sometimes this resulted in as many as three pictures a day! An interesting and stimulating look at the 20th century’s greatest artist. What also caught my eye was the global appeal of the artist as museums and galleries from Moscow, Paris, St. Louis, Barcelona and New York as well as many pictures from private collections had all lent works for the exhibition.
There was also time to have a quick look at some of the other Art in the other rooms and, as we both love the Impressionists, there are some great artists and paintings to see. One of Degas’ famous ballerina pictures, a number of pictures and sketches by Renoir and Provence scenes by Cezanne and Monets and Manets as well as some of those very distinguished and easily recognisable Tahitian ladies of Paul Gauguin. My favourites and possibly most people’s favourites the bandaged self-portrait by Van Gogh and the masterfall ” Bar at the Folies Bergere ” by Edauard Manet. The room reflected so brilliantly in the mirror at the back of the bar you think at first that the barmaid is looking at you the viewer when in fact the reflection from the mirror reveals that the barmaid herself is fully engaged with a customer at the bar. Magnifique!
By 5-30 we were both “Arted out” and after a cup of Rosy Lee we headed back to the frozen north of Southgate.
What a great year 2012 turned out to be. No doubt the highlight-The Olympics and Paralympics which as Londonmanstan had always maintained was going to be brilliant. The Olympic Park will be remembered as being not only a site of great beauty and innovation but beyond the stadia , the gardens of wild flowers, Amish Kapoor’s orbit and a near perfect transport system was one of the world’s great construction infrastructure projects. And then there were the people-the vast crowds, the athletes, the creative genius of Robby Boyle, the determined leadership of Seb Coe and the 70,000 Games Makers who all had the greatest of times and put a permanent and infectious smile on everyone who stepped foot in the world’s greatest City.
Londonmanstan had its moments. On the first Sunday I stood in Tavistock Square waiting for eager tourists to join me and a few friends and family to walk Bloomsbury. My wife and daughters helped me scatter London Personally leaflets and chat up Concierge’s in more than 40 London hotels but as these wise old (and young) birds kept telling us…. “no one will come -everyone in our Hotel is press/has tickets for Excel to see the Boxing or Horse Guards to see the Beach Volleyball.” The same message was repeated like a mantra and it turned out to be spot on. No one showed. Zilch. Not one person. Instead the five of us wandered around only to be rewarded with something very special and something quite unique.
As rain clouds gathered we found ourselves outside the neo-classical structure of the Wilkins Building, that grand entrance to University College, London’s oldest university. A student waved at us to visit an art exhibition and it turned out to be the “Art of the Olympians” Inside a unique exhibition of photographs/ paintings and a few sculptures all created by some of the planets most talented human beings in quite another sphere-sport. Every artist is or was an Olympian. And there on a couch a tall black man in an immaculate suit, a chocolate brown dotted bow tie and shoes so shiny they lit up the room just by themselves.
One of the women at the entrance said to me, ‘you know Bob Beamon?’ looking towards this tall elegant man. My heart rate doubled as I had the opportunity to meet and talk with the Usain Bolt of the 1968 Mexico Olympics and charming he was too. For those younger readers Bob Beamon performed a miracle feat by jumping 8m 90cms in the long jump- a record that stood till 1991 and apart from that jump by Michael Powell no one ever has jumped further than Bob Beamon. To put it into context Greg Rutherford won gold for Team GB with a jump of 8m 32cms. Bob Beamon turned out to be charming and graceful He spoke to some young boys who had performed an Olympic inspired dance as elegantly as he dressed.
2012 saw the launch of our family walking company London Personally. After some tester walks for Metro Bank around Holborn, for Argent around Kings Cross and for Israeli charity Meir Panim around the Olympic Park and Bow London Personally successfully undertook a birthday walk around Clerkenwell and an “orientation” walk again around Holborn when accountants BRAL, part of Blick Rothenberg, moved from Marylebone to Holborn.
Our MEWS walking season began with cancellations as the weather caused one cancellation after another as London and the south east suffered its wettest year on record. Still there were some notable walks- The walk around the Ashridge Estate and Little Gaddesden, an all day walk in beautiful Constable country and a lovely walk in and around Thaxted in deepest Essex. Then to end the season; an all day Dickens walk when Londonmanstan donned a frock coat and top hat and celebrated Charles Dickens’ 200th anniversary of his birth following the novelists life in Somers Town, Bloomsbury and Covent garden and his extraordinary observations on the City and its characters. In all more than 50 people came on the Dickens walk on a crystal clear winters day.
And finally Londonmanstan managed a couple of lunchtime walks from Lynton House exploring Bloomsbury Holborn and Kings Cross. So despite the weather and the pressures of time a fair bit of walking in 2012. On to 2013…
We are 65 metres up in the air . Below, a patchwork of picnicers spread out in multicolour irregular blobs, all cheering and watching Screen 1 as the women’s pursuit team won GB’s third gold of the day in the Velodrome barely half a mile away on the other side of the River Lee. The view today is spectacular from the top of this giant ferris wheel. The whole of London stretches out. To the East and just beyond the boundary of Victoria Park the magnificent Olympic Park-the backdrop and setting of what turns out to be the most extraordinary night for the GB team and particularly for the track and field Athletes.
As our capsule reached the top of its circuit we could look west to this magnificent city and a skyline that might not match Manhattan’s for sheer size but now contains landmark after landmark seemingly lined up alongside each other for maximum effect. From the left the newest and tallest landmark, The Shard, begins the line-up. Followed then by the City skyscrapers of the Gherkin, the Cheese Grater and Tower 42, the still distinctive dome of St. Pauls, the London Eye and the BT Tower. You can see the Arch of Wembley Stadium on the horizon, where guess what, our footballers lost to South Korea on penalties, and to the right the hills of Hampstead, Highgate and Alexander Park. Finally, as we looked towards the river the O2 Centre and the towers of Canary Wharf sit. Wow!! What a place.
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The Olympic Torch is coming to Southgate. To be more precise it is literally coming to within 200 yards of my house so there’s no excuse other than I should be at work at 3-15 this afternoon when the torchbearer and the cavalcade of corporate sponsors passes Southgate Green. But hey one of the benefits of being self-employed is that I can escape and having decided that the ambient air temperature of 30 degrees C on Euston Road was not enough I plunge into the 40 degrees C air temperature of the Piccadilly line.
Emerging from the Art Deco masterpiece of Charles Holden’s Southgate Station the crowds of locals are waving their flags in anticipation of what I already knew is a brief glimpse of the flaming torch itself. Not going wild yet, but then the Torch was not due to arrive from neighbouring Barnet until about 3-30. Groups of people lined the High Street but there was plenty of room once you left the immediate vicinity of the station. Half a dozen people from a care home allowed me to take their picture as they sat in wicker chairs with their carers behind them.
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A recent opinion poll placed the Queen’s personal approval rating at 80%. Judging by how many people turned out for the riverside Pageant yesterday in typical February weather, when the calendar indicated it was actually June 3rd, there seems to be good grounds for thinking that Royalty and especially the Queen have a special place in people’s hearts.
And it’s not only the toffs and that tiny proportion of our population who we elect to rule over us both commercially and politically that love the monarchy. It is also the overwhelming view of the rest of the country, many of whom flocked to the Thames yesterday, from London’s suburbs and from further afield, to camp out along the Embankment and the South Bank, much as they had done on that equally cold and wet day in June 1953 when the Queen was crowned. Call it patriotism and the bulldog spirit if you like, but no sports or pop celebrity and no other national treasure has the pull of the Royal Family and particularly of the Queen.
Not long to go now. Less than 96 hours to the Opening Ceremony and Londonmanstan and his family are as excited about the Olympics coming to London.
6th July 2005 seems a long time ago. The Lee Valley was derelict, Stratford was a pretty run down shopping centre based around a market in East London and virtually entirely unknown outside those East Londoners who lived near it or passed through it on the Central Line. The East London and North London lines were unreliable and rarely used and the boroughs on either side of the River Lee-Waltham Forest, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham were parts of forgotten and ignored poverty stricken East London.
Then along came the utter surprise of winning. The plans, the arguments, the money, and surely one of this City’s greatest achievements – transforming hundreds of desolate and contaminated acres into the Olympic Park. The statistics are always mind blowing. 800,000 tons of earth was removed from the main site. 46,000 people worked on the sites. Beautiful new buildings in the Swimming complex and the Velodrome arose from the dust. An Olympic stadium with seating for 80,000 whilst not sensational in design like the Birds Nest in Beijing, contains only one fifth of the amount of steel that the Chinese version used.
OK we also have to put up with the overwhelming demands of the multinational corporates including bizarrely the world’s biggest MacDonalds serving the world’s least healthy food in the world’s greatest sporting event. And, with apologies to those of you who love shopping we now have Europe’s biggest shopping centre in Westfield Stratford City. Stratford Station has been transformed into one of the best transport hubs in London.
You can get trains to Paris, Faversham, Southend, Clapham Junction and to St. Pancras – the latter in under 7 minutes! Last night at the penultimate rehearsal of the Opening ceremony TFL obliged by making sure both the London Overground and the Central Line-two of the three most vital links were up the spout. Londonmanstan predicts that it will be all right on the night.
And then there are the Olympic lanes put in especially to give our lovely taxi drivers something to moan about. Canning Town, two miles south of the stadium has been cleaned up and giant concrete bowls placed in the streets brimming with flowers. New wide pavements and even a fairly swanky block of flats have been erected.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson wanted “an explanation mark” (!) to mark the event. His wish has been granted with a 311 foot construct of twirling red steel called the Orbit by Anish Kapoor the internationally acclaimed artist. Controversial and in the opinion of many at £27m, a waste of money it has already proved to be a source of polarised views. Londonmanstan loves it. Mrs. Londonmanstan hates it. On Saturday we will be amongst the first of many thousands of visitors to get the views and climb the structure. We will let you know how we get on.
Everywhere the Olympic banners hang from lampposts. Gaily painted Olympic buses and cars and thousands of volunteer helpers in their distinctive brown and purple uniforms are becoming a familiar site. And to cap it all, after cold wet and windy weather for more than three months, the clouds disappeared and the temperature raced up to 30 degrees c. Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour De France and predictions of gold cascading down on Team GB are anticipated!
You might not be able to turn right into Tavistock Square or get anything to eat around Russell Square for the next 3 weeks as 20,000 sports writers from around the world descend on the central London press centre but the excitement in town is palpable. Add to that Daniel Barenboim conducting his mixed Arab/Israeli musicians playing Beethoven at the BBC Proms and street theatre, dance, music and events of an endless nature and we can safely say the Olympics have arrived in the world’s greatest city.
So fellow Londoners lets smile and make this a games to remember. London 2012 is ready to take off and be the best games ever. Let us confound all those critics and cynics. Let the worlds greatest sporting event takes its place for the third time in 104 years in the world’s greatest city. Let the Olympic Games begin.
The latest retail Bank appearing on London streets is Metro Bank. It has a different feel from most other Banks with its bright spacious entrance areas and bold red and blue colours. Derek, the local Director of the Holborn store (as they call them) is as friendly and as welcoming as the Bank, so when he asked London Personally to undertake a walk starting and finishing at the Bank’s Southampton Row premises, lasting an hour and a bit so we were back for drinks and nibbles before it was too late, I happily agreed.
So, with a mixture of Derek’s colleagues and a number of Metro Bank’s customers in tow we began in Bloomsbury Square… where in fact Bloomsbury’s modern developement began. In 1657 the 4th Earl of Southampton began building in effect his own private suburb and London’s first named development with the name “Square”. We traced the Square’s sometime violent history in the 18th century, through to the demolition of the Earl’s house (which became Bedford House once the Southampton’s and the Bedford’s got together) to the current Regency houses and the rather stern statue of Charles Fox looking north to Russell Square. If they had had trains in the 1660s maybe this union of two great aristocratic families may have been called “the Bedhampton line”!
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There is great excitement in the Harris household this weekend, as after six months of planning, meetings and drafting with a few heated discussions on the way, and the very hard work of daughter Claudine who has endured her father ‘s impatience stoically ,our new company London Personally has been launched and we now have a live website www.londonpersonally.co.uk
London Personally will provide tailor made walks around London for both private clients and for businesses looking for new ways of marketing. It is entirely focused on what the client wants from their walk. No meeting at a pre arranged tube station for a walk of a defined length and without knowing whether you are in a group of 30 or 50. You choose the date and time and where the walk starts and ends. You decide whether the walk is themed or needs to incorporate buildings or districts that relate to your own personal story or your business.
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Very few people have known London as well as Charles Dickens. Apart from the fact that he lived at more than twenty different locations around the capital he regularly walked ten, fifteen and sometimes more miles, observing Londoners, speaking to Londoners and viewing the city and its buildings and districts storing the smells, the accents and the noise in his astonishingly accurate memory for his novels and writings.
If you want proof, grab any half decent history book on London or many of the thousands of books with some celebrity’s take on the capital and look in the index. Almost guaranteed that under the entry Dickens there will be many lines of references as there might be for Pepys , Doctor Johnson and Christopher Wren. No other commentator spoke to Londoners in the way Dickens did. A workaholic, an insomniac , a man who knew his talents and destiny from a very early age Dickens was in every sence a man of his time and possibly the first great celebrity of our modern era.
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