Tag Archives: London

Hamilton, a Load of Rap

It seems that the lead times from ticket purchase to actually going to the event are getting longer and longer. We waited the best part of six months from booking to seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Yesterday, some 13 months after we booked the tickets, we got to see the musical that everyone is talking about! Yes, we finally got to see Hamilton.

Now those of you that know me will probably assume that this is a musical about the life of Stevenage’s best known export, F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton. However, you’d be wrong, this was about the rather lesser known (to me and, one suspects most others) Alexander Hamilton one of the American founding fathers. The musical has had rave reviews on Broadway and I was interested to see just how well it played in front of a UK audience.

The show is written by Lin-Manuel Miranda someone I knew only from his small role in the TV show House. In that he does some rapping and the style and feel was very similar to that used in Hamilton. I’m no great rap fan and I must admit that there were times when I wished that there were subtitles. That said there are other musical styles too such as the appearances by King George III which were probably my favourite bits.

Like every West End musical there was a terrific cast (who knew George Washington was black?), a superb set and I came away having learnt a lot more about the America founding fathers and Hamilton in particular. He didn’t strike me as a particularly likable person and get his comeuppance in the end.

What I found most particular was the audience though who I came to suspect must have been predominantly American. They let out a huge cheer when Washington was introduced and laughed heartily at the jokes about New Jersey which went over my head. But most weird was the cheering after every song as if it was the end of the show, along with the obligatory whooping and a hollerin. I started to wonder just how would they top this at the end? With an instant standing ovation of course! I’m not suggesting that the show wasn’t worth a standing ovation but it all felt a bit contrived to me.

So, to sum up, Hamilton is a superb musical with a great back story and the right balance between humour and history but it needs a better audience!

USA ’17 – Day 1 – In for the Long Haul

We’re off again and this time it’s a big one – the west coast of America. This is a trip that we had planned to take to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Given that this year was our 27th anniversary you can see we slipped a little. Over the next three weeks we will be visiting LA, San Francisco, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, San Diego and more. See the map below for the full route – all 1,624 miles of it.

I’m writing this from our B&B in Hollywood and we have been on the go now for just over 22 hours. In that time we have managed to fit in four meals starting with breakfast in Heathrow and ending with dinner just off the Hollywood Boulevard. As an aside I made a rookie error at dinner when I ordered chips to go with my sandwich and, of course, got crisps. I now know why the Americans don’t call them crisps as that would be a misnomer.

Unsurprisingly I’m beginning to flag a bit now. Despite this  it is almost guaranteed that my body clock will ensure I am wide awake at 07:00 BST – just two hours from now.

Saying that we are in Hollywood makes it all sound very glamorous when, in fact, this area of town is pretty run down and there are what seem to be a large number of people sleeping rough.  It will be interesting to see what it is like in the more touristy areas tomorrow as our big adventure properly begins.

I say there is no darkness but ignorance

Some reading this may well conclude that I am either a heathen or, perhaps, a philistine – maybe even both. (My use of both heathen and philistine should count in my favour though).

However, let’s get it out of the way early. I don’t rate Shakespeare at all. So you can imagine my level of enthusiasm when it was suggested that we go with friends to see Twelfth Night at The Globe in London. I’m a firm believer that experiences are a great way to happiness and so I classed this visit in the same bucket, although I went along with more hope than expectation.

I nearly had a last minute reprieve when the friends we were going with, who also had the tickets, were delayed on the train into Waterloo. This last glimmer of hope was dashed as they ran from the station to the theatre arriving just as the bell was sounding for us to take our seats. Well, when I say “seats” I mean hard wooden benches. There are, no doubt, prisons in Siberia with more conformable seating arrangements. Nevertheless even this was preferable to the standing area at the front given the continual rain that fell on them during the play.

And then it began and the biggest shock was that Shakespeare seemed to have written a camp musical set in Scotland. Lots of jolly sailors with flags dancing to 70’s disco and some bloke with an impressive chest dressed up in a glittery dress and huge wig. I don’t mind a camp musical at all, I’ve seen a few in my time, but add the Bard’s impenetrable prose on top of that and you have an almighty mess.

Now, to be fair, everyone else seemed to be having a good time and laughing away so it could just be me but I don’t think so. Everyone else had simply been brainwashed into believing the “Shakespeare is the greatest playwright” schtick.

Our next trip to the theatre is to see Young Marx, the next play by Richard Bean – now there’s a playwright!

Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Like many people I have a bucket list of things that I want to do and this week I managed to tick another one off the list with a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show.

I’m sure that if I could go back to my younger self and tell me that one day I’d have a hankering to go to a flower show I would have laughed so hard it would have hurt. However, tastes change and as you mature you appreciate different things – is the line I’m now taking to explain this volte-face! And so it was that last Thursday we found ourselves setting off early to join the crowds of other horticulture aficionados at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

It’s a curious thing, holding a flower show in the grounds of an old people’s home, but that is what the Royal Hospital Chelsea is and there were plenty of Chelsea Pensioners enjoying the displays in their back gardens.

While the hospital grounds are a large area for a few hundred pensioners it isn’t really large enough to accommodate all those that wish to attend the flower show. When we arrived it was comfortably busy and with a little patience and a little light elbowing you could get to the front of the displays. By midday, however, it was heaving and it became necessary to employ more devious tactics. The numbers weren’t helped I suspect by the great weather we had with the sun pouring down making the displays look magnificent, as you can see in this short video.

There is an amazing amount of work goes into all the displays and there is plenty on display that is flowering at what must be the wrong time of year. Having never been before I can’t be sure but I am pretty certain that there must be some sort of floral arms race going on with people trying to out do what others (and themselves) have done in previous years.

There is a good reason to put on a good show as there are prizes but the whole thing did seem to have the feel of a junior school sports day where everyone wins a prize just for turning up. Every stand seemed to have received a certificate or gong of some description.

One worthy winner, however, was this unassuming grey box looking a bit like the Pandorica in Dr Who. There was a queue wrapped twice around the box to get to see what it contained and being typically British we joined the end.

When you reached the head of the line and to the box itself there were three holes drilled at different heights on two sides through which you could look in and see the miniature garden within. It was, like so much else at Chelsea, incredibly well done. You can see some pictures of the inside of the box and many of the other features on display below.

Helped by glorious weather we had a great day and we will certainly go again.

Sky Garden, London

A year ago I arranged as a present for my dad for us to go up the Shard. This didn’t work out that well as we were thwarted first by the London Fire Brigade and then by Thor. So it was with some trepidation that I booked to take my in-laws up to Sky Garden this Christmas Eve.

The auspices weren’t good as I got soaked just walking from where I had parked the car and the station. Fortunately it was only myself that suffered this having dropped everybody else off in the dry first.

Continuing the Thompson tradition of arriving way too early we got to 20 Fenchurch Street an hour before our booked time but at least it had stopped raining by this point and we were allowed in early, which was fortunate. Getting to be top is akin to boarding a flight as you go through similar security checks before taking the lift to the 35th floor.

Somewhat ironically the first thing you see when exiting the lift is the Shard. However, the top of 20 Fenchurch Street is as different as it possibly can be. Firstly, as the Sky Garden name suggests, there is greenery and quite a lot of it too. It is also a lot larger space being square and on two open levels reached by steps down either side. While it isn’t as high up as the Shard the views were still great, it’s a view of London after all.

We were lucky that the weather cleared and the sun had come out which allowed us to see all across London. It’s a view similar to that from the top of Monument but without the breeze.

It was an amazing experience made even more amazing by it being free! All you need to do is book in advance and I would highly recommend going.

Buckingham Palace & Gardens

As someone who thinks that the best place for royalty is on a stamp or coin it was strange to find myself on a tour around Buckingham Palace and gardens but the place isn’t open that often and I wanted to see just exactly where my 56p pence was going.

I’m sure you will be surprised to hear that rather than welcoming someone who subsidises her each year not only was Liz not there to greet me but she also charged me 30 quid for the privilege of looking at stuff I think should belong to the state anyway. She also had the effrontery to insist that no photos could be taken inside or out. I took that as a challenge and ended up with the picture above.

The tour itself was arranged a little bit like a trip to IKEA in that it was all one way and you were corralled to where they wanted you to go. Also like IKEA it was packed the difference being that we had paid to go round the palace. This felt a little bit greedy on the part of the Royal Collection as in some areas it was almost impossible to move and it certainly wasn’t possible to see anything.

What was it like inside? Well pretty much as you would expect. Lots of old furniture and paintings. In fact it could do with some modernisation and so I would recommend a trip to IKEA, certainly might being down that £150M renovation price tag

Following our visit inside we had booked a tour round the gardens which at least was a little more selective as about 30 of use were given a guided view of the 50-odd acres. It was not anything like I expected in that it was a landscape originally conceived by Capability Brown and he was not big on flower beds so there wasn’t much colour (other than green and browns). That might also have something to do with the fact that a lot of the plants have been gifted to the Queen over the years and nobody seems to have thought of giving her a simple potted plant.

Would I recommend it? Probably not but then I’m no great royalist.

Hidden London – Camden to Paddington

I like London. It’s a great city. I wouldn’t want to live there and nor would I want to have to commute up there everyday to work but it is a beautiful and richly varied city.

A great example of this is the almost jarring contrast between Camden Market, with it’s brash high street and shops with large footwear adorning the frontages, and the canal-side walk from the lock to Paddington. This weekend we did the walk for the first time and is a beautiful 2.5 mile stretch of path.

At one end lies Camden Town with it’s market selling mainly tee shirts with humorous slogans, mobile phone covers and other tacky souvenirs. A number of the shops had 3D objects attached to the outside signifying what they sold: shoes, clothing etc. In a way it reminded me of the touristy shops along the 192 in Florida and those selling buckets & spades at the seaside.

At the far end is Camden Lock on the Grand Union canal. It’s a pretty spot, teeming with tourists and noisy but walk just a very short distance along the tow path and suddenly it is quiet as few bother to make the trip, which is their loss.

The tow-path is very quiet and, for the most part anyway, lined with trees. At one point you pass through London Zoo and you can see a bird enclosure on your right. A little further up on the left hand side are several large buildings. It is not clear if they are houses still but there is no doubt that they are worth a bob or two.

Eventually you reach a point where the canal passes through a tunnel which you cannot walk along and have to make your way through over the top. Once the water emerges you can see a number of boats moored where people are living permanently. While this seems great when the weather is fine like it was the day we passed I do wonder what it would be like in the winter.

Then you reach Little Venice where once again there are a number of private boats that are residences – it’s a lovely area.

Finally you reach Paddington station and there is an entrance that takes you right to the ticket barriers of the underground.

If you have the time I would definitely recommend the trip – you won’t believe that you are in London.

Planting Poppies at The Tower of London

Back in August I managed to get up to London to see the Poppies in the Moat installation at the Tower of London and thought that it was incredible. Then Helen came home from work saying that others had volunteered to plant the poppies and that we should too, so we applied.

Our first choice date in early September was already full and so we were allocated the morning of 31st October. October 31st! So we got out our waterproofs in readiness for what was obviously going to be a cold and wet morning in the moat of the Tower. They day before the forecast was for 21 degrees and even then I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe it and so took a coat and sweatshirt. As it turned out it reached 24 degrees (October 31st!) and it was definitely tee shirt weather.

After a orientation video our “team” was taken to the spot where we were going to be planting. It was a long way as you can see from this video, in fact it was as far away as you could get from the entry point. It did give us an opportunity to see the whole installation at very close range.

We were split into two “teams” – one planting and the others putting together the stems (“small washer, larger washer, spacer, cap”). There wasn’t anything taxing about the planting but the poppies aren’t all at the same level so we had to make sure the changes in height were smooth but apart from that it was a doddle. Assembling the stems was another matter however. The washers were a complete sod to put on and the spacers were drilled with ever so different sized holes and I quickly became able to spot those with a larger hole.

It was while we were assembling stems that others on our table started looking over into the distance and whispering. “Isn’t that Nicholas Witchell?”, “Who’s he?”, “You know, off Radio 4”. A look over quickly established that it was in fact John Humphreys from the Today programme. He came over and interviewed a couple of others in our “team” before having a go at assembling a stem and planting. When he struggled with assembling the stem our team leader showed him a quick way which he had neglected to show us…

Here is Humphreys including a picture I took but not attributed as the BBC said they would.

If you have been wondering why I have referred to our team as “team” that’s because it became obvious that some weren’t happy to act as a team. Poppy planting is what everyone had come to do. It was fun and not terribly hard work. Making stems was not what we had signed up for and was hard work (comparatively speaking) and so some chose not to come and swap at the allotted times and there was some dissension in the ranks at this. Notwithstanding this we raced through our allotted poppies and were able to leave an hour earlier than we had expected which was a bit of a relief.

Poppies in the moat is a fantastic piece of art and incredibly popular: there were crowds of people above us watching while we planted, the volunteering was over subscribed and every single one of the poppies has been sold. A tremendous success all round.

Of course it is there to mark the death of British and colonial soldiers in the first world war, one poppy for each death. With it being a time of relative peace now and with modern warfare not based on the deployment of so many ground troops we are unlikely to see so many combat deaths again. At least I hope that’s the case.

Beautiful Plumage

I have to admit that I wasn’t old enough to see Monty Python when they were first shown on TV (Not the Nine o’Clock News was more my era) but I have watched them repeatedly since then along with the films.

When it was announced that the five remaining members where reuniting for a series of shows in London I knew that I wanted to get tickets. Unfortunately so did many, many others and the first round were gone in 43 seconds but to to me. So when the next tranche were released I tried again and could have got tickets but they were too expensive for my pocket and I passed.

Sometimes though things work out and I was lucky enough to be invited along with Helen by a colleague who was going with his brother and had a couple of spare tickets. Actually this was better than a couple of tickets as it was also in a corporate box!


I hadn’t been to the Dome for 14 years so it was interesting to be back and what a transformation! It’s a really great space – pity it is the wrong side of London for us.

The five remaining members (Cleese, Idle, Gilliam, Jones and Palin) stepped out to much applause at 19:30 and over the next couple of hours went through all their favourites including the Cheese Shop, Australian Philosophy Department, Gumby Flower Arranging and, of course, the Dead Parrot. Between each sketch to give time for costume changes and the members to get their breath back there was a music number sometimes with Eric Idle singing his heart out and other times by a dance troupe.

On several giant screen between sketches we were treated to the best of Terry Gilliam’s work which looks as fresh and inventive today as it did when it first came out. I would buy a DVD of his animation should anyone be thinking of producing one.

Given that they are all in their seventies there was inevitably going to be some forgotten lines but the only one who seems to have any issues was Jones who during one sketch had to be prompted several times and loudly by Cleese, much to the latter’s amusement. All the other seemed pretty spritely.

No matter what they did the Pythons weren’t going to go wrong with such a partisan audience and I came away having throughly enjoyed the event as did all the others we were with.

The following night, the last night of the run, was televised and we watched the first ten minutes but it just wasn’t the same and some of the show was just too risqué  for TV (Penis Song (the Not Noel Coward Song) – for example!). I’m really glad that we got the opportunity to go and see them live. Thanks Andy!