John Gabriel Borkman at the Bridge Theatre

This is Ibsen’s second to last play, written in 1896, but it felt as though it was a commentary on life, and public life, today. A pared back set and simple lighting allowed the words and the acting to do all the work. The writing is lovely, the characters are knowing, able to see others’ faults while managing to avoid seeing their own. It is quite a bleak play, in a bleak winter setting, but remarkable that they are all capable of finding hope in hopeless situations.

In the hands of a less talented director and actors, this could have been a tough watch, but Lia Williams, Simon Russell Beale and Claire Higgins make us care about the selfish, delusional, imperfect people in this play, and they can make us understand why they have made the poor life choices that they made.

It is a play about sibling rivalry, about self-delusion, and about how we use hindsight to justify past decisions. It is also about how difficult it is to learn from the mistakes of others – you can see the next generation heading exactly the same way as their parents. Yet, as throughout the play, there is the faintest sliver of hope at the end.

Don’t go if you are hoping for a light evening’s entertainment, although to be fair, there are many funny lines and light moments. Do go if you want an insight into our complex personalities and into the human condition. I am afraid that I have made this show sound difficult, but I left the theatre uplifted because, in every situation there is hope, and it is human nature to seek out that hope and grasp it. I felt that this play captured the beauty of a bright chink of light shining through the drawn curtains of a darkened room. Sorry about the hyperbole, but it is a great play and, I did really enjoy this production.

Great London Songs

4. Waterloo Sunset – Kinks

Released in 1967, based on memories of his time in St Thomas’ hospital when he was 13. It went to No.2 in the British charts and was their biggest hit. Rumors at the time that “Terry and Julie” were Terence Stamp and Julie London who were London’s hip celebrities at the time, but Ray Davies has denied this. It was never a hit in the US, but it is listed at No.14 in the Rolling Stone’s greatest songs of all time. There have been some great covers, including one by another brilliant London band, The Jam. Peter Gabriel also did a very good version.

The Capital Ring, Section 1

12.5km Station to Station

The official walk is from Woolwich foot tunnel to Falconwood bridge and is 11.7km. The nearest train stations are Woolwich Arsenal station and Falconwood station. This adds a little under a km to the walk and is well worth the extra because Woolwich Arsenal and Woolwich Market are both interesting in their own right. Also, Woolwich Arsenal is a station on the newly opened Elizabeth line.

Woolwich Market entry sign

The Woolwich Market sign is the first thing you will see on leaving the station and although it is possibly not as vibrant as it has been at times in the past, there has been a market in that square for over 400 years! Walk through the market, through Woolwich Arsenal, a mixture of ancient cannons and modern apartments and just before you arrive at the Thames you will come to a lovely piece of open-air art – “Assembly” by Peter Burke. When it was first installed, many people (including me) thought it was by Anthony Gormley, but although there is a similarity in their work (both brilliant), this is definitely more in Burke’s style.

Assembly by Peter Burke

Soon we arrive at the entrance to Woolwich Foot Tunnel which goes under the Thames. This is the official starting point and when we emerge from this in a few weeks’ time, it will signify the completion of the Capital Ring. It was built in 1912 and you are allowed to cycle through as well as walk. If you have a car or lorry there is the Woolwich Free Ferry, I guess this would also be an option if you were claustrophobic and did not wish to walk under the river. There has been a ferry at this point for possibly a thousand years, there is reference to it in the Doomsday book in 1086.

Woolwich Free Ferry

This part of the Thames was a Royal Naval Dockyard in the times of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Many of the most famous ship were built here including the Ark Royal, HMS Vanguard and HMS Beagle, made famous by Darwin’s voyage. The Thames Barrier has been here since 1984, built after the 1953 floods in which hundreds of people drowned.

This is where we leave the river and head south through a series of parks. Maryon Park and Maryon Wilson Park were both originally sandpits and Maryon Park was the setting for the 1966 film “Blow Up”. Next up is Charlton Park which holds Charlton House, which was the home of the aforementioned Maryon Wilson Family. It looks very imposing, a fine example of a Jacobean house, it was built in 1612.

Charlton House built 1612

Then we go through Hornfair Park, where the infamous Charlton Horn Fair used to happen until it was banned in the 19th Century because of continuous “unseemly behavior”. Tut, tut, those naughty Victorians! On to Woolwich Common where the Royal Military Academy was situated until it moved to Sandhurst in 1948. This is where Generals like Gordon, Kitchener and Wingate were trained. Off the Common we cross Shooters Hill, which could be named for the soldiers that used to train here or for the Highwaymen for which it was notorious. Dick Turpin plied his trade here.

Severndroog Castle

Next, we go through a series of woods. Castle Wood which holds the triangular, Severndroog Castle, which is named after a pirate fortress in 18th Century India. This is the highest point of the Capital ring, giving long views over south London. Jack Wood is an oak wood and has a beautiful carpet of leaves, if you manage to visit it in a season when it hasn’t been too wet.

Carpet of Leaves

Oxleas Meadows lead into Oxleas wood. Oxleas Meadows has a lovely cafe which does tea, coffee, sandwiches and hot food. This also has lovely long views over the South of London. Oxleas Wood has many ring-necked parakeets. Bright green and noisy, you are likely to see them in many places on the Capital Ring, but they are in abundance here.

View from Oxleas Wood

Finally, a walk through Eltham Park North to Falconwood footbridge and then left to Falconwood station to catch the train back to London Bridge. A lovely 12.5k walk through leafy south London and I would guess that less than 1k of it was on city streets. If you have a morning or afternoon to spare in London this is a great way to spend it!

Jazz Brunch at Ronnie Scott’s

Ronnie Scott’s has been at the heart of the London Jazz scene for over 60 years. It opened in 1959 and has hosted many of the world’s most famous musicians in that time and continues to do so now. During the week they host shows in the late afternoon and evening, staying open until 3am. However, on Sundays they have and afternoon session between noon and 4pm, they serve brunch, and they have a live band playing between 1pm and 3pm.

This session is usually relaxed swing, and they serve a lunch menu – what better way to spend a chilled Sunday afternoon. If you wish to eat there is an extra charge, but the food is good quality, and the service was fast and unobtrusive on the day we were there. Once you have bought your seat ticket there is no pressure to buy either food or alcohol, the waiters refill your glasses with still water through the show.

On the Sunday I went, the music was of the highest quality, a set of Wayne Shorter songs, from his time with the Miles Davis band. Every seat in the intimate venue has a good view of the stage and the sound quality is what you would expect from one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world. The décor is dark, and the lights are low, the whole place is geared to showing off the band on stage to their best effect.

The sunshine is a shock when you leave at 4pm but it is a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Great London Songs

3 London Calling – The Clash

Released in Dec 1979. With a title from a BBC radio WWII phrase, London Calling is like a wartime radio broadcast from a dystopian future London. It chimed well with the punk popularity of the time, because of the angry delivery of the lyrics and the staccato guitar riffs. London and the UK, in the late 1970’s, felt like their best times were behind them and this song is an enraged rant about this. Cleverly written and well produced, albeit with punk ethic, I remember being annoyed when radio DJs would cut the morse code ending – which spelled out SOS.

A classic 21st century T-Shirt

Despite never making the top 10 when it was released, it came in at 15 in the Rolling Stone magazine’s best all-time songs (2004), and at 42 in VH1’s 100 greatest songs of the 1980s (sic). Ukraine band, Beton, released a cover version called “Kyiv Calling” in March 2022, following the Russian invasion of their country.

I have created a playlist on Spotify and I will add the songs included in the “Great London Songs” as I go along. It’s called “The London Playlist” – if you think of any songs that I should include please let me know.

Great London Walks – The Capital Ring

The Capital Ring is a 125km walk around London, mostly through parks and greenways, split into 15 parts – each starting and finishing near a bus, train or tube station. It is one of seven strategic London Walks that was part of a plan to make London the walking capital of Europe in the early 2000s. I don’t know what became of that plan, but the walks are still there. Leaflets were printed for each section of the Capital Ring and the London Loop at the time, which I still use, although London has much changed in the meantime, so I also use an updated downloadable map from Walk London as a backup these days.

Thames Barrier and London city skyline 2022
Thames Barrier and London city skyline 2010

I particularly like the Capital Ring series of walks as each section is manageable without taking up the whole day and it still brings you to interesting parts of London that you are unlikely to visit for another reason. It is quite well signposted, the signs have Big Ben in blue with a green ring, made up of arrows, around it.

Moorhens on the Union Canal

I first walked the Capital Ring in 2010 and again in 2017. I also walked it in 2020 when it was very quiet due to Covid, so this will be my fourth time round. It is interesting to see the things that have changed …. and the things that have remained the same. It has some lovely views, some stunning buildings and it always surprises me how green London is, for such a large city. Many of London’s parks have cafes in them and I enjoy their variety too.

Rookery Cafe community notice board

The Capital Ring is an iconic London walk, taking in many technological, architectural and historic locations during the course of its circumnavigation of the city. It starts and finishes at the Woolwich foot tunnel south side to the east of London and crosses Richmond Bridge to the west, it goes as far north as Finchley and visits Croydon and Crystal Palace to the south. It gives a lovely insight into the history and workings of London, and I am looking forward to walking the 15 sections. Hopefully I will get some unusual views of London and some photos of nature and architecture from London’s suburbia.

Hampstead Garden Suburb

Flight Simulator by Virtual Aerospace

The Flight Simulator with Virtual Aerospace allows you to take off, fly and land a virtual airplane under very realistic conditions. It is the same machine that is used in pilot training. They have a huge choice of airports from which to take off and land. Because I am a complete novice, I chose to fly from Gatwick to Birmingham, a less challenging route. You can also choose the conditions under which you fly, I’m told that Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong, at night is a good one to pick, this is apparently very challenging and visually spectacular.

Michael was my trainer/co-pilot and I have to say that he really added to the enjoyment of the experience. He patiently described what all the dials did and explained their optimum positions for a smooth flight. He was calm and encouraging throughout the trip, gently reminding me what the array of lights meant and pointing out which ones needed attention at any time. He also made the flight realistic, calling cabin crew to prepare for landing and speaking to air traffic control as I descended.

You won’t need any knowledge to get enjoyment from this experience, I had never even seen the inside of a cockpit before. I imagine it could be even more of a thrill for those with a previous interest in aeronautics. If a friend comes with you, they can also sit in the cockpit, enjoy your flight and applaud on a successful landing.

Virtual Aerospace is in Shoreham-by-Sea which around an hour and a half from London. The airport is about a mile from the station and there is a taxi rank right outside. I chose to walk and it took about 15 minutes. Shoreham is a pretty seaside town and has plenty of bars and restaurants if you fancy turning the experience into a day out.

Great London Songs

2 West End Girls – Pet Shop Boys

The West End is how London’s Central and nightlife area is known. The East End is traditionally the working class part of the city to the east of town. This was more true in the 1980s, when this song was released than it is now, certain parts of the East End are quite upmarket these days. It was released first in 1984 and then a remixed version went to number 1 in the UK and US the following year. It is a great song that captures the tension in the growing gap between rich and poor that was happening in urban centers at the time. To me it always brings back memories of living in the South London (also less affluent) and working in the West End during the 1980s. It was voted the UK’s best No.1 single by the Guardian in 2004 and it was used as the closing song of the 2012 London Olympics.

The video for the single is very London too, it has images of a deserted Petticoat Lane Market, Waterloo Station, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and the No. 42 bus among other iconic London views. E17 (East End boys) had a hit with a cover of this and Flight of the Conchords did a brilliant parody with “Inner City Pressure”

Great London Songs

As I intend this blog to be a celebration of all things London. This is the first in a series of songs that I associate with London. There are many, if you have suggestions for ones that you would like included, leave a comment and I will give them a listen and look up their links to London!

1 The Lambeth Walk – originally Lupino Lane

The Lambeth Walk is a song from the 1937 musical “Me and My Girl”, a musical about a working class London boy discovering that he is in line to inherit an earldom in Hampshire. Originally sung by Lupino Lane, a popular pre-war comedian, the song became a dance craze and was popular around the world, leading to covers by many of the big bands popular at the time, including Duke Ellington’s and Russ Mogan.

In 1940 The Ministry of Information made a short film of Nazi goose-stepping set to the tune of the Lambeth walk. This was shown in many cinemas, before the main feature, in Allied countries and was hugely popular at the time.

The stage musical was made into a film called The Lambeth Walk in 1939 and this was big hit too. The song was a genuine dance craze in Europe and America, through the Second World War. I recently found a YouTube video demonstrating how to do it. Lambeth Walk is an actual street just south of the Thames, in Lambeth near Vauxhall. It used to host a street market during the week and there used to be a pub on the corner of the street called The Lambeth Walk, but this is now closed. There are still council houses around the area and a small park called Doorstep Green, although it would be regarded as a very posh place to live now. It is where Charlie Chaplin lived as a child. Ian Dury also mentions this street in one of his songs “This is what we find”.

Gin Tasting and Distillery tour at the City of London Distillery

The makers of Whitley Neil Gins are The City of London Distillery, and on many evenings they host distillery tours and gin tasting evenings. These are held with groups of 10 people or less. When we arrived we were given a welcome drink, ours was dry gin and prosecco, while we awaited the arrival of the other attendees. Once they arrived we were taken to an alcove to the side of the main bar where tables were set up with four gin flights, botanicals and an information sheet.

To start we had a brief rundown of the history of gin and the difference between different types of gin. Then we tasted the first two and chatted about their taste. They will bring tonic or any other mixer you have with your gin. After a few minutes discussion we were brought to the still room where we got to meet the stills. Yes, they all have names and they are spoken about as though they are people. The tour was interesting and lively, because Stephen, who was our guide, was obviously interested in his subject with regard to both history and taste.

We heard how the gin is made and how it is flavoured, then we went back to taste the last two gins. Perhaps I was lucky with the crowd on this occasion, but by the time we were tasting the final gin, our conversation had moved on to more general discussions – about holidays, museums and London life. The atmosphere was relaxed and convivial. There was an amount of background noise, enough that you would notice it, but certainly not at a level that would disturb your evening. The tour and tasting event lasted a little over on hour, and a few of us stayed for an extra half an hour while we finished our tasting flights.

A real bonus was the discovery of the Whitley Neil/London Distillery Bar in Bride Street. There are not many bars that are not rammed on a summer evening in central London. The bar itself is lovely, and it is relatively quiet given its position just off Fleet Street, about a three minute walk from St Paul’s Cathedral. It is underground and down a small alleyway, so not many people will know it is there – however despite this, it is very easy to get to, less than a 5-minute walk from either London Blackfriars or City Thameslink stations. There are also many bus routes that go up Fleet Street. I will remember it for when I am next meeting a gin drinker in the City.