I am spending Christmas and New Year in Miami, so as a change of venue, here are some pictures that I took on a walk around Little Haiti in Miami.
I finish with a frozen iguana that fell from a tree in our garden, it has been there the last three days. Apparently this is normal when the temperature goes below 8C, and it will defrost and walk away when the temperature goes back up!
The Other Palace started life as St James Theatre in 2012 when it was the first newly built theatre in Central London for over 30 years. It was bought by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, Really Useful Group, in 2017 and has been re-branded and it intended as a place to develop new musicals. Bill Kenwright bought it in 2021.
The first show was “The Wild Party” which was an auspicious start . This was my review of it. The Wild Party, The Other Palace, Victoria, London. Later in the year The National Youth Music Theatre did “Sunday in the Park with George”. Other notable shows include “La Strada”, the brilliant “Eugenius!” and the Bill Kenwright produced “Heathers” and “Be More Chill”.
The complex itself, is a space containing two theatres, a restaurant upstairs and a ground floor bar. The building is glass fronted on the ground and first floor making the entrance, bar and restaurant feel bright and airy. The main theatre is relatively small, with around 300 capacity, nicely laid out, with every seat giving a good view of the stage. The studio is quite intimate, capacity around 100, it was laid out as a cabaret bar, but seating arrangements could be flexible. The cabaret tables and chairs worked perfectly for Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”, the show I saw there.
The upstairs restaurant, is modern and light. The setting is lovely. It has been re-branded as The Other Naughty Piglet, run by the people who own Naughty Piglets, in Brixton. The food is good and the menu is quirky.
The bar is set slightly lower than ground level, it catches the light well and it is a comfortable place to chat. It’s not huge, though, and does get crowded during the interval, this is a bar where it is definitely worth pre-ordering your interval drinks. The house white and house rose were both dry and good quality. They have a wide selection of gins too, recently also having had a re-brand as the “The Other Gin Palace”.
Bill Kenwright may have bought this because of the success of his two shows here. I believe that he has made a shrewd buy in this handily located theatre. It is very close to Victoria Station and right across the road from Buckingham Palace.
I love the idea of it being a place to refine new work and I wish them every success in their endeavour.
I have to thank Tim Miller and his podcast “Human voices wake us” for bringing this great London poem to my attention.
Pressed with conflicting thoughts of love and fear I parted from thee, Friend, and took my way Through the great City, pacing with an eye Downcast, ear sleeping, and feet masterless That were sufficient guide unto themselves, And step by step went pensively. Now, mark! Not how my trouble was entirely hushed, (That might not be) but how, by sudden gift, Gift of Imagination’s holy power, My Soul in her uneasiness received An anchor of stability. — It chanced That while I thus was pacing, I raised up My heavy eyes and instantly beheld, Saw at a glance in that familiar spot A visionary scene—a length of street Laid open in its morning quietness, Deep, hollow, unobstructed, vacant, smooth, And white with winter’s purest white, as fair, As fresh and spotless as he ever sheds On field or mountain. Moving Form was none Save here and there a shadowy Passenger Slow, shadowy, silent, dusky, and beyond And high above this winding length of street, This moveless and unpeopled avenue, Pure, silent, solemn, beautiful, was seen The huge, majestic Temple of St Paul In awful sequestration, through a veil, Through its own sacred veil of falling snow.
An indoor skydive is an experience where you lean into a wind tunnel and the gushing wind lifts you up and keeps you aloft. Never having done a skydive from a plane, I cannot say how similar the feeling is to a parachute jump – but I can say that there is an initial moment of dread as you step off the ledge of the tunnel and allow the blast of wind to take your body airborne. This is followed by exhilaration as you realise that the wind is actually keeping you flying, and you can relax and enjoy the experience.
The flight lasted around a minute, and I had two goes. The first had the biggest rush, but by the second I was a little more relaxed and aware of my body shape, so I was able to enjoy the time more. I reckon it is a healthy thing to do, it is always good to get your heart pumping, and you don’t need any strength or skill to do it, just the willingness to release yourself to the experience and a little bravery to take that step off the ledge.
Be aware that one needs to arrive for the skydive, forty-five minutes before takeoff, so that you can be kitted out and do training. During this time, you can watch other people, so you will have an idea what to expect when you go in. Also be aware that the video and photos taken of you doing the skydive will not be the most flattering, unless of course, you wish to be viewed as a fat Wallace and Gromit character!
However, having said that, if there is an element of thrill seeker in you, then you will surely enjoy it, and although you only spend two or three minutes in the air out of the hour that you are there, those airborne minutes are intense.
13. Maybe It’s because I’m an Irish Londoner – Biblecode Sundays
This is a great London song for those of us who grew up in London with Irish parents, or those who have moved from Ireland to London. It celebrates both London and Irish culture. This song was released in 2007 by the Celtic Rock band The BibleCode Sundays. They are still together today and still play live around London. If you get the chance, you should go see them or their lead singer from the time this was released, Ronan MacManus. They both do great sets of rock/folk/Irish songs in pubs and small clubs. In terms of local live gigs in London, it is hard to get better than Ronan or the Biblecodes.
The V&A calls itself “The world’s leading museum of Art and Design”, a bold claim. In a city that has many of the greatest museums in the world, the Victoria and Albert is among the best of them. It is certainly my favourite. The permanent collection is vast, with almost 3 million objects and the variety of displays is huge, in terms of time -from antiquity to the present day, geography – literally all over the world and, ideas – ancient Japanese art, through early 20th century arts and craft, to current video game design.
London is very lucky in that most of its museums and galleries are free. The V&A charge for some of their exhibitions but the permanent collection is always free. There are lunchtime lectures most Thursdays, which are free, and these are on a wide variety of topics, recent examples range from “The Christmas Story in Late Medieval and Renaissance Paintings” (I admit that sounded a bit dry, but it wasn’t!), to “Beatrix Potter” and “Hallyu” about popular culture in South Korea.
They have free music concerts – the last time I went, there was a pianist, Ivan Moshchuk, playing Schubert, in Gallery 87. There are also tours of different parts of the collection, varying in subject from Female Voices, through African Heritage, Fashion, and Theatre and Performance.
The collection is far too big to do in one day. So, you will probably need to choose the areas that you are most interested in and save the rest for another day. They have a really good theatre area, very hands on with costumes to dress up in, excellent if you bring children. Their gold and silver collection is remarkable, there is a solid gold door from a Kyiv cathedral, that had been given to them by Catherine the Great. I’m not sure how it managed to get to be in the collection of the V&A, but it is remarkable nonetheless.
There is a huge room dedicated to jewelry. The windows of one side of the second floor are covered inside with stained glass. There is a collection of ancient Chinese ceramics and of Philip Treacy hats. They are strong on fashion, from 16th century underwear to Alexander McQueen evening dresses. There is a display on the history of the mobile phone, it is surprising to see things that you have owned in a museum collection. It made me think “Have I still got one of those in a drawer somewhere?” There is a room of 1960s and 1970s futuristic furniture, which is truly amazing.
The cafe is fantastic, both in terms of the food it sells and its decor. The central seating area is the earliest ever museum cafe, decorated in the bright colorful style of a Parisian Cafe, but with English tin glazed majolica tiles. It is still in remarkably good condition. There are two slightly smaller seating rooms, one decorated by Edward John Poynter and one by William Morris off to either side. The food ordering area is late 20th Century with the sharp clean lines and muted colours of the time. Even if you are not intending to eat you should certainly walk through.
As you may have guessed, I really like this museum and if you are only going to visit one museum in London (but don’t only visit one – see The Wallace Collection, The Science Museum and Natural History Museum too, if you can) then this should be the one. I am certainly not going to dispute their claim to be “The world’s leading museum of art and design”. If you get the opportunity, you should definitely go.
Joe Allen has been in London since 1977. I first went there in about 1979 and it has been, on and off, one of my favourite restaurants in town ever since then. When I heard that the building it was in, had been bought and that it would be moving, I was disappointed and worried. They found new premises very close to the old venue, and they reopened in 2018. COVID restrictions hit London soon after and last week was the first time that I had managed to go since the move.
The new Joe Allen is almost the same as the old Joe Allen and that is a very good thing. The atmosphere is still intimate, they turn the lack of natural light into a positive. White tablecloths and theatre posters offset the darker decoration. The music is showtunes and old songs but at a low level so as not to interrupt conversation. The service is really good, attentive without being intrusive, I have to say that is one thing that has improved since the 1980s.
The menu has changed a little, while I was sad to see that the black bean soup is no longer on, there are equally interesting things on there to replace it. The type of food that it does remains the same – unpretentious, comfort food done with style. The menu is short but varied, classic dishes done well. The restaurant caters to people attending the nearby theatres and gets busy both before the shows and after the curtains fall, so if you want to eat late, you should book to ensure you get a table. The cocktails are good, and the wine list has a reasonable selection. It is also pretty good value for its position right between the Strand and Covent Garden. We had a lovely meal, and I fully intend to return.
This was originally a track on the 1968 album “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake”. The song was released as a single in April that year without the band’s knowledge and reached No.2 in the UK singles chart. They weren’t happy with its’ release, because they felt that many other tracks on the album better represented their musical direction, they were trying to ditch their pop image. The success of the song eventually led to Marriott leaving the band. He formed the rockier sounding Humble Pie with Peter Frampton. Frampton was another ’60s pop star looking to present a “heavier” sound in the 1970s, having had hits with “The Herd” and voted “The face of 1968” by the teen magazine “Rave. The band thought “Afterglow” would be the lead single, but although it is a good song in its own right, you can’t imagine that it would have been the big hit that Lazy Sunday was.
“Gor Blimey, ‘ello Mrs. Jones – How’s yer Bert’s lumbago” Steve Marriott sings in a cod cockney accent. In 1960 he played the Artful Dodger in Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!” and this east end music hall delivery harks back to that. The song was recorded as a jokey album track, but it has clever lyrics, a unique delivery, and it remains a London psychedelic era pop classic.
Cover versions include the Toy Dolls (remember the punk “Nellie the Elephant”?) on their cleverly titled CD “Orcastrated”. The Libertines used to include a version in their live set. I feel like I can hear echoes of this son in Blur’s “Parklife” too.
This section is different to the last as it has suburban roads as well as parks and some beautiful and interesting building along the route. We leave Streatham Common at the Northwest corner and walk down residential streets until we get to the railway line near Streatham Common station. We pass under the tracks, through a couple of colorful alleyways, probably less intimidating during the day than at night to be fair.
Soon we come to Conyer Road, a street of smart late Victorian detached houses and the surprisingly attractive Streatham Pumping Station.
This was built in 1894. It is on the site of an earlier well that was covered by tin shed, which was apparently and eyesore, so it was a planning condition that the new building have an ornamental aspect in its design. This resulted in the Grade II* listed building with a Moorish design. Originally it was accompanied by a tall tower to the side, but this was taken down during WWII, because of the fear of aerial bombing. In 1903 it contained two steam driven engines that could each deliver 1,500,000 gallons of water a day to South London. I’m told that it is equally spectacular inside, but it is only open to the public on special occasions like Open House weekend.
More smart residential streets lead us to Tooting Common and we enter the Common by the Tooting Bec Lido. This is another interesting piece of London lore. It is the largest freshwater swimming pool in the UK, it holds a million gallons of water. It was built in 1906 as a project to provide work for local unemployed men. It is open all year round, although only to the general public from late May until late September. You have to be a member (with a strong constitution!) to swim in this open-air, unheated pool during the rest of the year.
Tooting Common is surprisingly large at over 200 acres. It has a couple of pretty lakes with waterfowl, and it is a site of metropolitan importance because it holds some rare areas of “acid grassland”. I don’t think I saw them, although I guess it’s possible that I did and just didn’t recognize them. There is also a pretty cafe, sheltered by old trees. It was busy on the day I went in, with many chatting Mums and pushchairs inside and walkers on the outdoor benches. The coffee was good.
After leaving the common we arrive in Balham and another remarkable building. Du Cane Court was built in 1937. It is a huge Art Deco block of flats that was very modern when it was first built, every apartment came with its own built-in radio. It contains 676 units which makes it, still today, the largest privately owned block of flats in Europe. It survived the bombing of WWII and this was supposedly because Adolph Hitler wanted it as the Nazi Headquarters in London on completion of the British invasion. I can’t find where any evidence for this might have come from, but there are articles in The Times and The Mail, among others about it.
Soon after we arrive in Wandsworth Common, another huge South London Park – 170 acres. This is a posher part of London and the houses on west side are large Victorian and detached, with many notable previous residents including prime ministers and authors. The cafe in this park is smart too, called “The Skylark”. It is in pretty surroundings, near the duck pond with tennis courts to one side. It is also licensed and does more substantial meals as well as coffee and cakes.
Just after leaving the common, we come to Wandsworth Prison. It was built in 1851 and the outside of the building has a kind of austere, stolid attraction. It is one of Britain’s largest prisons and has held many notorious prisoners. It was also the site of 135 executions, right up to the 1960s and its gallows was kept in full working order until 1993 and even tested every six months. It is the prison form which Ronnie Biggs, of Great Train Robbery notoriety, escaped before absconding to Brazil. The exterior was used in “A Clockwork Orange” and the gates are those shown on the titles to the TV series Porridge.
After passing the prison we head downhill on Magdalen Road and the path goes through Wandsworth cemetery which runs alongside it. This is large and well kept, it contains the remains of 592 servicemen and women, who died in WWI and WWII. They are buried in different place through the cemetery, and their names are listed on a screen wall of a military plot. Leaving the ground, we cross Earlsfield High Street and follow the river Wandle, a tributary of the Thames, through residential streets until we reach Wimbledon Park tube station which marks the end of section 5.
Section 5 consists of park and residential streets, and the walk contains a good mixture of nature, architecture and history.
This is a story about a suburban sex party, set in a middle-class house in Islington. The play is set in the kitchen, all the libidinous stuff takes place off stage, in the lounge and we see the cast as they arrive and when they are taking a break from the action (as it were). I probably went with the wrong frame of mind; I was expecting a comedy or a farce. It does have some jokes (not enough) and some of the characters are mildly funny, but it certainly not a comedy.
The first act has a different tone to the second half. The first is lighter and I guess this is to introduce the characters, but just before curtains falls for the interval, a woman arrives and as soon as she heads off to the bathroom, there is hushed discussion as to whether or not she is trans. The second act is about whether she is, and how everyone feels about it.
The mood is darker, the dialogue is deeper, and suddenly we are in more confrontational territory. Now it is not a play about sex, but about gender, identity, misogyny and even racism. The concept is current, it is surely an issue of our time, but I felt the author wasn’t clear enough in his own head where he stood on the matter, to give his characters well-formed opinions. I think the time is right for a play that covers the boundaries between all these subjects, but this play’s characters did not present a broad enough spectrum of views to provide a good balance. I don’t wish to be unfair to the show, it is a good idea and I enjoyed it up to a point, but for my taste, the comedy parts weren’t quite funny enough and the debates were more shouting matches than cohesive arguments.
Having said that, the cast is strong, it is not often that you get an Oscar winner in a fringe play. Timothy Hutton was good, given his underwritten part. Molly Osborne was wry and likeable as Hetty, John Hopkins and Will Barton delivered their funny self-deprecating lines well. All the actors were good, and the set was done with a great deal of attention to detail. I really like the Menier Chocolate Factory as a theatre and it’s good to have it back presenting plays again.