Two Minutes Silence

At 12 noon the bus turning the corner in front us stopped and the driver turned the engine off, right across the junction.

Just before 12 noon today my colleagues and I walked onto the London street outside the Holborn office where we work. It was a bright, hot sunny day in Central London. The kind of day that has you sweating within moments of being on the street. When we reached street level we walked into a crowd of people that had come from the buildings all around. These were office workers whose desks are probably just metres from mine but I don’t see them. I probably walk past them most days as I approach the door to the office but I just don’t see them. Today, we stood crowded onto the street together.

At 12 noon the bus turning the corner in front us stopped and the driver turned the engine off, right across the junction. The taxi at the traffic lights opposite didn’t move when the light turned green and the cyclist near him didn’t try and jump the red light. Most of the pedestrians who were walking stopped.

A silence descended upon London. Not the silence usually associated with a city. A city’s silence is usually punctuated by horns and alarms, by mobile ‘phones ringing or engines passing. No, this silence was eerily silent but it was silent.

And we bowed our heads to remember.

It was a moment when this huge, diverse city that I call home, was united in thought. It’s a moment I don’t think anybody who was there will forget.

London, Monday

I feel incredibly lucky not to have been anywhere near but I wasn’t.

I am back from my Silverstone trip – of which more later – and in to work today. As I was not in town on Thursday I can’t really talk about what it was like in the aftermath of the bomb blasts. It was strange hearing the news emerge on the radio as I was sat in my house answering work-related emails. Of course, there were moments where I connected with the people I know in a bid to check they were all OK. I have, however, felt odd all weekend answering the text messages (and today the emails) from people asking if I am OK. I am very grateful that people thought to contact me – and so I hope I’ve replied to everybody – and happy to report I am safe.

Central London has an estimated population of 7 million people – with many more commuting to work here – so the real chances of being involved are minimal. I almost feel guilty that I don’t have anything to add for the people who contacted me. I was well away from anything and, if I had been in the office on Thursday, I would also have been well away. I am most definitely with Anna on this topic. I wasn’t there. It is unlikely I would have been there. I feel incredibly lucky not to have been anywhere near but I wasn’t.

There has been some excellent coverage across all media but one thing has really intrigued me. If you had been on an underground train and there was an explosion would you have got out your mobile ‘phone and taken pictures or video? I can say with certainty that I would not have done so because I forget to take mobile pictures at good times never mind in times of chaos. I’m not critical – I understand the police are appealing for people’s pictures – but I am amazed that people thought to do it.

The Mood Of London Changes

Of course the day has now changed totally.

Of course the day has now changed totally. For those friends of mine who have contacted me, thanks for your thoughts. We are both fine right now but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get me on the mobile as the services are deluged with people trying to contact people. BBC News has the latest.

For The Love Of London

London is a wonderful city as I keep discovering years after arriving here.

sity hall london january 2005I really should start a category on London’s South Bank because I mention it a great deal and it really is one of the most wonderful areas of London. If you’re a visitor to this great city you really must spend an afternoon walking the South Bank: start at Waterloo and the London Eye and head towards Tower Bridge (and beyond). when I first arrived here it was an area that had little to offer; it was dead and quiet but now it’s vibrant and alive.

Over the past few weeks PY and I have explored a little more of London on foot and I really do enjoy the place. On the Monday after New Year we wandered around High Holborn and Farringdon areas, near The Guardian’s central London base. It was a quiet Bank Holiday and yet it was – strangely – alive. We also crossed the bridge to the Tate Gallery which is probably the only gallery space I can truly say I enjoy. The Turbine Hall, which housed The Weather Project, is currently home to Bruce Nauman’s Raw Materials – which is a soundscape of 22 spoken texts. Some are clearly audible and some not so clear but as you walk through the hall you get this most amazing sense of sound. It works better if you keep moving (rather than stopping to listen) but you’d be wise to adjust to the sound first. It wasn’t as much of a communal event as The Weather Project but it was totally unexpected, thrilling and energizing. You can get a taste online at the Tate’s site.

insode london's city hall january 2005Last weekend we went to City Hall (which I have mentioned before) but this time we were able to get inside and head to the top. It’s a building of unexpected contrasts: the building looks wonderful and they have revitalised the whole area but the office space inside looks cramped and uncomfortable. Given the climbing spirals of the building I would have expected the view from the top to be better. Unfortunately, the main viewing area looks the wrong way: great views over the south but you want to see London’s landmarks. It was late in the day when we arrived which meant there were no crowds and we were able to find our house on the satellite pictures on the floor of the basement. Sadly, however, I don’t think the lighting scheme is brilliant at all – they could do so much more with it.

While we were there I rode the snow slide at The Tate (basically a silly slide that you descend almost buried in an inflatable tyre-like object). Silly but cheap and amusing. Then we crossed Tower Bridge (always a stunning experience) to go and have a look at the stunning Swiss Re tower and walk around The City – which is, of course, almost dead on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a rather unnerving contrast to London’s West End which is full of people on a Saturday.

Yesterday, we went to Marble Arch and had a go on the ice rink that has been placed there for the winter. I haven’t been on skates for years and I really liked it – although there’s no chance I could go round the rink without holding onto the side at some point. PY was not quite so in love with the experience which is a great shame and I am going to have to find ways to convince him to come again. I’ll work on it.

Once again I can honestly say I love London.

More Producing

I suspect I may be a lone voice in expressing a little (and just a little) disappointment.

Following up on my previous review of The Producers, I’ve had a little more time to think about it and earlier I posted this to Gay Boy Musicals Fans UK at Yahoo!

Having read the positive reader comments on the BBC’s story about The Producers I suspect I may be a lone voice in expressing a little (and just a little) disappointment. I hadn’t read many reviews but I did know about the reception it had received in the US and the praise heaped on Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

I haven’t seen the film which, judging by the number of people sitting around me who had, means I was possibly one of only a small number of people in the audience who hadn’t. I wonder if that made a difference?

I saw it a week or so ago and it was good but not as good as all the raving would imply. While Nathan Lane’s talent, comic timing and performance cannot be faulted I did find weaknesses in the show. I thought some of the musical numbers in the middle were slow and the Ulla character was not engaging at all – in fact she was positively irritating. James Dreyfuss was camp (which, I guess, is the intention) but in that 1970s OTT cringe worthy way. Humour is, of course, personal and subjective, but I found it only amusing and not
laugh-out-loud funny as many of the reviews suggest.

Still, I would take issue with the review of Lee Evans’ performance which says ‘he just about holds his own’. I would argue that he did far more than that. He too was excellent, believable & humorous and while I’ve never been a big fan of his stage antics he worked well in the role. In fact, for me, he worked so well I can’t imagine Broderick in the role.

I will, however, recommend the show because it stands out from much of the rest of the West End right now – it is good. It’s has some wonderful comedy and delightful musical moments. But the sum of those individual moments does not, in my opinion, add up to a great whole. I
even bought the soundtrack in the hope that familiarity with the songs will make me warm to more of them.

Maybe it’s just me.

Eleven Years In The Big Smoke

I’ve been in London eleven years now. Things have moved on a bit in that time.

Eleven years ago today I started my working life. It was my first post-university full-time job. I was a support engineer on a satellite audio network: the shifts seemed awful and the pay (at least in the first few years) not much better but I loved the job and the people. Many of those colleagues continue to be friends to this day although we haven’t worked together for seven and a half years. It also means that I have been living in London for eleven years, yesterday. I’ve been trying to locate things that have changed in that time. I live in a different place (but only the second place I’ve inhabited in London) and I’m on my 5th job. I don’t work the shifts anymore but, in many ways, miss them and the routine they gave you. I’m wi-fied, pda’d, multi-channeled and mobile (in the phone sense) where I wasn’t – which I guess means my money is being spent on more frivolous things.

London has changed that’s for sure. We have a Mayor and Congestion Charging. Docklands has grown beyond all recognition in the last eleven years; there are some new building on the skyline and the Southbank has been opened up considerably. Like Edinburgh, there are now branches of Starbucks (and every other coffee shop you can imagine) where once there were other retail outlets. The Gap no longer seems to be the height of fashion but then again I can no longer wander into a branch of C&A looking at all the clothes I don’t want. There’s still a good sandwich shop on every street but they’re now mixed in with branches of Tesco and Sainsburys who seem to have rediscovered town centres.

I know an eleven-year working life has allowed me to travel to places I, perhaps, would not have gone without work (and many I couldn’t have gone to with the cash from working). It certainly has allowed me to try more restaurants and cuisines of other countries than I ever though possible. I imagine I own more than I did back then but I can’t really quantify it (I may be a frying pan down and a dinner plate up but I’ve never really counted them).

I’m older, but fitter, than I was eleven years ago. I have a wider circle of friends in London than I could have thought possible eleven years ago. I’m always short of time now whereas I used to have to find things to fill the hours when I wasn’t working.

Of course the biggest change in those years has been social use of the internet: email, usenet and the web were not commonplace when I started working. It was that first job that introduced me to more than academic networks. When I first got an email address I only knew one person outside of my company who I could give it to. Now, it’s given me a career, a whole new way to express and organise myself and – probably – hours of entertainment.

All in all, I think I am a wiser, happier and more contented individual (perhaps I little more stressed). So, happy anniversary to me.

The Producers

The fact that it is one of the better shows on the West End right now possibly says more about the other shows.

I went to see a preview of the London version of The Producers today and was, like last night, a little taken by surprise. This time, however, it’s with disappointment and not pleasure. I’ve been talking to PY and trying to explain my disappointment but he doesn’t get it: he loved the show. I did not know the plot nor had I seen the film so I wasn’t let down by the story but I had read that Nathan Lane had taken Broadway by storm.

You can’t fault Nathan Lane: he’s superb and his comic timing is excellent. Lee Evans seems born for his role as the sidekick Leo Bloom and some of the songs are great. Others, however, seem weak and parts of the story are just not engaging. James Dreyfus camps it up John Inman style while Ulla, the Swedish blond bombshell, is so lost in the stereotype that any humour is lost.

Don’t get me wong, it is a good show. I can’t imagine Richard Dreyfuss in it and I imagine it will be hard to replace Nathan Lane in January. If you’re going to see it I would suggest trying to get tickets now because without Lane’s superb performance I am not sure where this show will go. The fact that it is one of the better shows on the West End right now possibly says more about the other shows.

Sadly, The Producers disappointed.

UPDATE: Well, the reviews are out and I may be a lone voice expressing disappointment. I wrote an updated review for the Yahoo Group: Gay Boy Musicals Fans UK (which you can read here if you’re not a member of the group).

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum

You feel yourself pulled along by the way the cast at The National seem to be enjoying themselves.

a funny thing happened on the way to the forum
a funny thing happened on the way to the forum

I went to see A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum tonight and it took me a little by surprise. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I was thoroughly entertained. From the opening, A Comedy Tonight, you feel yourself pulled along by the way the cast at The National seem to be enjoying themselves. It’s a high camp farce set in Roman times featuring double entendres and mistaken identity by the bucket load (you almost expect a vicar to appear from a cupboard) but it’s joyful and not at all cringe-worthy as many farces are. Sondheim’s music isn’t the best you will ever hear (in fact, much of it isn’t memorable) but during the performance it’s entertaining. Such a shame it is coming to the end of it’s run. I discovered a US version of the soundtrack featuring Nathan Lane which ties in nicely with tomorrow – more then.

The Day F1 Came To London

More pictures from the Formula One event in Regent Street, London

and the crowds arrived at piccadilly cicrusthe big screen on piccadilly

One thing is certain: the crowds arrived. There were thousands of people lining Lower Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street. People were on the roof, balcony or hanging our of a window. People were climbing lamp posts and traffic lights. People perched on almost any structure that didn’t move and on top of many that were plainly unsafe. We waited until almost seven o’clock until the great roar of the F1 race cars was to be heard. Mansell, Button, Montoya, Coulthard and Brundle – to name but a few. The noise, the smell: it was fantastic F1. To be honest I eventually moved to the big screen on Piccadilly as they passed so quickly that you missed a great deal and I wasn’t at the front of a crowd. The atmosphere was pretty good humoured – apart from some lunatics climbing on top of a newspaper sellers wagon – and everybody seemed to enjoy it. After an hour it was, more-or-less, finished but the crowds seemed to hang around central London for a good while. Perhaps, one day, a race really will take place in London.

See also: Formula One Comes To Regent Street
BBC Sport: What price a London GP?
This is London:Eddie supports London Grand Prix

Please Don’t Shout On Late Trains

Jakob Nielsen reports that researchers from the University of York have performed a study to assess why it’s so annoying when other people have cellphone conversations in public.

Earlier in the week, my fifteen-minute train journey was delayed due to over-running engineering works. Any regular traveller on the South West Trains suburban lines into London Waterloo station will be used to these delays after weekends or bank holidays. I know it to be so likely that I even plan for it and force myself out of bed and to the station a little earlier if I know there have been engineering works nearby.

As always some people are caught off guard by this or, perhaps, they use it as a cover for the fact they are running late. It’s amazing how many mobile ‘phone conversations announce that the caller will be late for the office/appointment/meeting due to how late the trains are when, in fact, there is no more than a ten minute delay (which when using London’s transport infrastructure you should be accounting for anyway).

Earlier this week, however, there was a well-spoken gentleman in my carriage who insisted in calling – what appeared to be – most of his mobile ‘phone contact book to let them know just how late he was. He also said that Justin would have to take the meeting (if Justin ever reads this, the gentleman in question claimed to have confidence that you wouldn’t screw it up which I thought sounded good for you). All very well but I didn’t want to know it.

The conversation was irritaing and irritation is always enhanced when a train is later (even if you have planned for it because other’s have planned for it and civilised behaviour goes out the window). The conversation, however, was loud but each one was brief and to the point and without any pointless small-talk. The gentleman was efficient in his conversations and factual. He was, however, still irritaing.

So I started looking for items on irritation factors caused by mobile telephony only to find that Jakob Nielsen has a some research on ‘Why Mobile Phones are Annoying‘ which implies that, upon testing, conversations face-to-face at the same volume are less irritaing that the equivalent mobile conversation. The research suggests,

Designing phones that encourage users to speak softly will reduce their impact on other people. For example, more sensitive microphones and improved quality on incoming audio will make most users less inclined to shout. [source]

Let’s hope Nokia et al. are listening.

Dawn Traders

At 5am there was queues at bus stops that must have had ten or more people in some of them. There were many more twenty-four hour shops than I had imagined (why isn’t there one near me?) and plenty of road sweepers and street cleaners – people generally keeping the city going for the rest of us that usually awake later in the morning.

Yesterday, I rose at 4am and took a taxi to London’s Heathrow Airport. This is not an uncommon thing for me to have to do. However, I imagine that I must have been a little more awake than usual as I started to pay attention to a great deal more than normal as I was driven out to the airport.

At 5am London’s streets are far from deserted. In Shrewsbury, one of the places where I grew up, I am pretty certain it would have passed for a busy morning but for London it was quiet. People were walking all around the place. At 5am there was queues at bus stops that must have had ten or more people in some of them. There were many more twenty-four hour shops than I had imagined (why isn’t there one near me?) and plenty of road sweepers and street cleaners – people generally keeping the city going for the rest of us that usually awake later in the morning.

I worked a milk round when I was younger. I am used to people being up and around in the still hours before most people awake. This, however, was different. It was busy and, in places, bustling. It was not remarkable to see a few people in the streets but it was very startling to see so many people around.

When you walk home late at night and the buildings remain lit you imagine that, just like you are about to do, they will soon be settled in a dark sleep. Yet, as we sped through West London, I was struck by the number of buildings that contained offices or shops with all their lights blazing. Many of these were shut but were fully lit as though some invisible nocturnal customers were going about their shopping. Offices were lit as though an army of night-time workers were sat, invisibly, at terminals turning the wheels of trade. When you walk home late at night this seems normal yet, in the early hours of the morning before dawn, it seems eerie.

Most unusually there was a market stall selling, I think, fruit and vegetables. It was open and lit on one of the main roads heading westwards. I can not imagine there was sufficient trade but the stall was stocked, well lit and ready for the odd customer that would pass. Who is the strange stall-holder who works the dark hours sat by the street waiting for customers to buy his fruits? Shouldn’t he have been at New Covent Garden collecting his goods at that time, not sat on a cold A-road with no passing trade?

Then there was the man who pastes the new advertising billboards. At 5.15am he was on top of his ladder with a bucket of sticky stuff gluing a new poster for the morning commuters to see on their way into the City. I had always imagined these were changed in the mid-afternoon not in the middle of the night. It must have been far too cold to be doing that job.

There is a whole world that I am not familiar with. It’s really quite strange to come face-to-face with a city you do not recognise.

Weather Project

I visited one of my favourite areas of London earlier today, the Thames’ South Bank where I went to see Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project at The Tate Modern

image of the whole sunpeople in front of the weathe rproject exhibitionI visited one of my favourite areas of London earlier today, the Thames’ South Bank where I went to see Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project at The Tate Modern. There’s half circle of the Sun made up of mono-frequency lamps – the kind which provide the orange glow to our streets at night. Running along the ceiling of the vast turbine hall is a mirror which gives the whole image the look of a whole circle, the sun. You can watch yourself in the mirror on the ceiling and many people do, indeed, lie on the floor looking up at themselves and the other ant-sized people. The lamps really restrict the amount of colour that you can see and that makes the whole atmosphere and experience quite eerie indeed. In fact, despite the orange glow it’s very grey.

picture of the turbine hall sign at the tate modernlong shot of the weather project exhibition, tate modern, londonI am not in a great one for museums and galleries but I really do like the Tate Modern and The Turbine Hall in particular. If you don’t know it, it’s a vast gallery space that once housed the turbines of the bankside power station. It’s huge and always seems to house interesting works – which is what attracts me back on a regular basis to see them.

Piccadilly Circus, March 2003

I acquired a new mobile ‘phone earlier in the week and it has a tiny camera in it which I used to take a picture of Piccadilly Circus at night

Piccadilly Circus At Night
From A Mobile Phone

I acquired a new mobile ‘phone earlier in the week. I didn’t actually choose the model because I was sent it. It’s bigger and heavier than my previous mobile and it doesn’t have a radio – which I really liked when I was walking to work. It does, however, have a calendar function which I am finding quite useful and it does have one of those built-in cameras that people rave about.

It’s not the greatest camera in the world but it is quite cool having a camera that you carry with you all the time. For no real reason, on Tuesday night I decided that I wanted to take a shot of Piccadilly Circus (I work just round the corner). I have just pulled the image off the ‘phone. It’s not a great photo (in fact it’s a pretty poor one) but I am really quite happy with it. There is something about the colour and the light that suggest the real buzz you get from walking across Piccadilly Circus at night. Now, let’s see how many more photos I post.

Obviously, I am not the only person in the world to have a camera in a ‘phone, I am not the only person to get excited about it and I am not the only one to blog it. Guess there’s very little unique about me!

A Quieter Life

It’s time for my friends to give me a quick injection of reality.

Thank goodness that tonight I am going out with a group of friends. They are some of my oldest friends in London (by that I mean I have known them longest and not that they are all ancient). I’ve just decided that I am quite relived as I am having one of my “why do I stay here” days?

I love London. There is no doubt that it is one of the most vibrant and wonderful cities around. I love the dirt, the pollution and the travel chaos. I love the way the British put up with congestion with some quiet mutterings. There would be riots in some counties.

I don’t use London as much as I should. I work and I travel home to my little zone three house. Sometimes I go out with friends and visit a much larger range of bars than I ever would in a smaller town. I see films before they hit the screens in the rest of the UK and, even, get to see films and theatre that never make it outside the West End. Occasionally, I will visit a gallery or museum or wander the historic sites. I adore the view from The London Eye, think St Paul’s is a great place for quiet contemplation, the South Bank is a wonderful place to relax and believe the Thames Barrier is one of the finest structures around. Oxford Street, Covent Garden and surrounding areas have every shop you could ever dream of – and many you couldn’t (or wouldn’t). If I lived here for the rest of my life I probably wouldn’t have time to see and do everything I would like to.

Yet today I am having a “get me away from here” day. Take me somewhere were the pace is slower, people are friendlier (but not as pushy), where I can see the sky and not commute an hour each way on an over-crowded train. I think it started last night when I watched one of those programmes about people who give it all up and set up home in France or Italy or Spain. They seem to live off the land and suddenly develop gardening talents that would make Alan Titchmarsh proud. They rebuild old barns and turn them into holiday accommodation that pays for their entire existence. They spend all their days on the land with the one they love and are at peace. Wouldn’t it be idyllic?

I imagine I would be bored. It’s not really a life for me – yet. I would miss Theatreland and Soho but today I feel I want that stillness and peace and that de-stressing lifestyle. I know it’s a lie but I want the dream. And that’s why I am glad I am off to the bars of Soho tonight. It’s time for my friends to give me a quick injection of reality.

The Grand Old Duke

I decided to go on the backstage tour at The Duke of York’s Theatre. It is a fascinating tour of the old London theatre that was built when the area was underdeveloped and helped transform that side of Charing Cross Road into the entertainment area it is today.

It is often said that those of us who call London home do not benefit from the great advantages that the capital city brings. People have been heard to suggest that Londoners do not use London. Well, glancing through a copy of this week’s Time Out I came across the backstage tour of The Duke of York’s Theatre on St. Martin’s Lane and decided to go. The tour wasn’t very expensive and lasted almost two hours and I reckon it must be one of the best value guided events around.

It is a fascinating tour of the old London theatre that was built when the area was underdeveloped and helped transform that side of Charing Cross Road into the entertainment area it is today. It’s the theatre that first staged Peter Pan, the theatre that first saw actors agree to the forming of UK Equity and it has seen many greats play its stage since.

I can now say that I have appeared on the West End Stage, and standing on the stage looking into the auditorium I was surprised at how close theatergoers would appear to the actors. I was also struck by how small the stage area really was and by how big the under stage area is. Also intriguing to know that Capital Radio once owned it.

A lesson leant, that’s for sure. I will be spending more time each week with the what’s on listings and try to take advantage of some of the things this city has to offer.