Wednesday, 23 March 2016

A Weekend in the Metrolops (no apologies for the spelling) Part II

"Oh my God, we're back again"... in the words of the Back Street Boys which hardly makes the best opening for what is about to be billed 'the cultural weekend' as opposed to 'the sporty weekend' which was last week. However, Friday saw us on the train back to London for our second weekend on the bounce in the Metrolops (no apologies) with transport and accommodation organised by my beloved and cultural activity by moi!

Now because there was a good deal of theatre-going involved (well, twice anyway) my beloved had opted for my parents' hotel-of-choice in the 1970s, the Waldorf, which is conveniently situated in Theatre Land. Hilton bought it a couple of years ago and reportedly spent zillions on it and certainly the bedrooms lived up to their billing. The front of house staff however did not. Two suitcases took 3 hours and multiple phone calls to appear eventually in the bedroom and the request for a second bath robe (in a double bedroom with only one) was met with bemusement. How can you work on reception at a top London hotel and not understand that request? No second bath robe appeared for the duration of the stay so the one we had was extensively occupied by the birthday boy. Did I mention that? Yes, it was my beloved's birthday which I so nearly forgot on Sunday morning having run a bath and made tea and was wondering why his phone was buzzing with texts like a dingbat. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Our first gig was tea with my brother in law. He is absolutely lovely and has two gorgeous sons and ... whatever you think is the least likely thing for him to have done/be planning to do, you can bet that's what he's up to. Without giving his game away - for it is his news to impart - he has come up with a new game-changer and things are taking a surprising turn. And that's all I'm saying.

On to the evening event...If you were a teenager in the 1970s, Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds must be somewhere in your musical heritage. Singles from the original album made a significant impact on the pop charts of the late 70s and the typestyle of the album is ingrained on my musical memories. So when I saw that a new production was coming to the West End, I decided it was not to be missed - a bit of a bucket list one for me.

Did my beloved enjoy it? Well, I think so but really I know it was a selfish choice. But it was grand - a stellar cast with David Essex (looking rather like a benign grandpa these days but he still has the voice I heard when I saw him in Godspell in 1971), Jimmy Nail and her-off-the-Sugarbabes but most importantly, the Yoda-like figure conducting the amazing rock orchestra was none other than the man himself, Jeff Wayne. And he rightly got the biggest ovation at the end. And we had some delicious tapas on the way back at a proper Catalonian tapas bar, complete with seats at the bar and hooks underneath for coats and bags. (Did I tell you how much I love Barcelona?)

Down to breakfast next morning in the magnificent retro-chic dining room we were greeted by yet another member of staff for whom English was not the first language. Although the dining room was three quarters empty she offered us a table squashed in next to the cutlery trolley. Did we want to sit there? No - thank you! My beloved was looking at me like I'm Attila the Hun but really! did I want to read the papers and eat my breakfast to the sound of crashing metal?

The first outing of the day was my beloved's choice - an exhibition by New York photographer, Saul Leiter whose glimpses of everyday city life through the steamy windows of cafes are inspirational. Then on, and this was the only time we went on the tube rather than walking, to the Imperial War Museum.

Now that we've been, I can't believe we've never been before. It is rammed full of extraordinary exhibitions and whether you have a fondness for Spitfires or tanks, or you want to get to grips with life in the trenches during the First World War, it's all there. My planned views were of the Holocaust exhibition which traces the horrors of genocide from the mismanagement of the Treaty of Versailles right through to the liberation of the concentration camps at the end of the war, and then the Lee Miller exhibition. Lee Miller was a fashion photographer from Vogue who went on to become one of only four female war photographers from Britain during the Second World War. This second treat was for my beloved whose photographic artistry grows year on year.

By the time we'd done these two, the birthday boy had aching feet and retired to the cafe whilst I went into the First World War exhibition which is perhaps the most moving of the three we saw (there was much more to see if we had had the energy). How such a huge loss of life over such a prolonged period could have happened is still something I can't come to terms with. But there was so much to learn about the why and wherefore of it all. Definitely highly recommended for anyone who hasn't been.

Then back to the hotel for the main event of the weekend, preceded by number 1 daughter calling in for tea and a bath between her matinee and evening performances. The evening performance was her last night at the National in Jack Thorne's The Solid Life of Sugar Water. I won't bore you with how brilliant it was - again - but let me just say, she hit it out of the park!

We were there with old friends collectively known as the Salcombe crew. For years when the children were little we holidayed with a group of friends on the beaches of East Portlemouth and Salcombe, messing about in boats and indulging in a great deal of drunken high jinx once the children had gone to bed... eventually. So the Salcombe crew came to support one of those children who had played rounders on the beach and frozen in the sea despite wet suits and enjoyed the idyllic British summer holiday. And after the play, there was a celebratory drink or two and a standing ovation for the two stars - Genevieve and Arthur - when they arrived. We wouldn't have missed it for the world.

So that's the end of the run of the play, and number 1 will make her own decisions about where life takes her next. But in the meantime, there's three weeks in Thailand and a hen weekend to be getting on with (for her!) whilst anything not actually moving at home has been cleaned, painted, weeded, dry-stone-walled, resurfaced and hopefully mown. And random delivery men appear to be arriving daily with gin and bacardi for the big, bonkers wedding at the end of April.

Monday, 14 March 2016

A Weekend in the Metrolops! Part 1

My relationship with London is a diffident one. When I am going to London I am both a little excited and a little nervous. There are parts of London I know quite well but fitting the jigsaw of those parts together and filling the pieces in between is beyond my country mouse skills and I remain dully attached to the familiar and not brave enough to go beyond.  But that doesn't factor in the presence of my far more streetwise beloved who can find his way round as if remotely guided by food and drink radar - or perhaps a Michelin Guide! 

Bath hats on display in Fortnum's - where else! 

This weekend was the first of two in London on the bounce and this is numero uno - aka the sporty one. The purpose of our foray south was to attend, and entertain guests, at The Rugby. Obviously we've been to the Temple of English Rugby before but never to see England play Wales - that most bloody and embittered encounter - the latter even more so since Wales' last minute despatch of our boys in white at the Rugby World Cup. But first we have some proud parent moments to relish.

On Friday evening, replete from moules and frites at one of our favourite haunts, the Wolseley (this choice from my beloved after he had berated me for always going to the same places in London and not being braver) we set off to the National, not to see number one child perform but to meet her afterwards for a drink - and as it turned out, collect a bridesmaid dress for number two. We got to the South Bank and there's a great buzz there - restaurants, roller disco, bars, the Festival Hall and, most importantly, the National Theatre. 

Oh may (or may not) remember l did some flyering for The Solid Life of Sugar Water in Edinburgh during its run at the Fringe, going up to groups of complete strangers and saying: "You must see this. Five stars in the Guardian and my daughter is in it!" whilst the aforementioned daughter slunk away in embarrassment. So inside the National, whilst number one is doing her thing in one of its theatres I want to rush up to the people who have come out of the Lyttelton for the interval and do the same thing!!! I didn't, you'll be pleased to hear but, boy, was I tempted! Next weekend, when we return I can't promise to be so controlled! 

The main gig for the weekend was, of course, Twickenham. And you can't start preparing too early for a clash like that so the first stop on Saturday morning was the Champagne Bar at St Pancras. We walked there from our hotel in Piccadilly, with a little light breakfast on the way and I had no idea that the two places were relatively near so at least one piece of the jigsaw filled. En route, I owned up that I had thought until recently that St Pancras was actually St Pancreas which amused my beloved no end. I merely commented that even his nearly perfect wife had some tiny flaws. 

At St Pancras we met our two guests for the day - the lovely Mark and my very old friend and godfather to my niece, Adrian. It was a joy to see him and catch up and indulge in some good natured banter about my brother who generally takes himself way too seriously. Then on to the ground in a packed train where everyone had just one thing in mind - the score.

We were being treated to hospitality so we made our way into an enormous marquee for a very good sit-down lunch and rugby banter from Tim Stimpson, Paul Grayson, Mark Regan and Tim Payne - and a couple of Welsh legends who were equally warmly welcomed as there were nearly as many Welsh in the tent as English - if the shouting was anything to go by. Was I excited?, Tim Stimpson asked me. Beyond excited, I replied, at which point he looked a little alarmed but then we chatted about Newcastle Falcons and I think he thought I was OK by the end. 

My only complaint about Twickenham is that it is so far out of London that there isn't any buzz on international day in the city itself. But once near the ground it's there in spades. Plenty of England white shirts and a goodly number of dragons, daffodils and leeks. It was always going to be a tight one. Not that it felt like that in the first half when Wales looked sleepy and England calm and unflustered and uncharacteristically sticking to the plan. But of course, in commentator's parlance, it's a game of two halves and the second half was a very different story. However, before we get to that, we had just one song at half time, sung by the 82,000 strong crowd - and it's mine! As Sweet Caroline echoed round the ground, I felt the need (after a Guinness or two) to conduct the entire North Stand. I know, I'm sixty and it's time to grow up... or it will be one day! 
Did I mention there was Guinness?! 

So all was going well until the last 20 minutes when Wales played like they can and England went walkabout. But we squeaked it though it was very tight and English hearts were pounding right to the last second. Phew!

Then it was back to the big tent for more hospitality (that came up as hostility on my spell check and I suspect one or two of the Welsh contingent felt like that!). And then we elbowed our way onto the train back to our hotel to bask in the rare joy of an England win over Wales. 

So that's round one of our double header in London and on Friday we're back to indulge in two nights at the theatre, some out of control proud-parenting and a massive catch up with the Salcombe team. And perhaps a glass of something... or two!