Soho, Peacock Theatre, London, 2017

 

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Soho is a great adrenalin rush of a show, packed full with good dance routines, brilliant tumbling, thrilling trapeze work and gravity defying aerobatics. One can’t help but be amazed at the body strength and vigour of the performers. This show is an entertaining mixture of dance show and circus skills. There are aerial silk works, hand balancing, pole climbing, and martial arts all the while telling a story in dance. There is a great dance routine, of everyone getting ready to go out; set in the bathroom of a posh hotel.

The soundtrack is fabulous, it has a real London feel, it varies from Daft Punk, through Mozart, to Bowie, Donovan and Peggy Lee. The sets are simple but clever and it all takes place against a moving backdrop of videos of Soho and its environs. If you are from London, you will enjoy seeing places and characters that you recognise from your time here. There are all the landmarks that you know and love, with scenes set in Brewer Street, Chinatown, and Madam Jojo’s. There are punks, Big Issue sellers, orange clad Hare Krishna followers, loved up ravers, drunken hen parties, lots of London life is here somewhere.

From the moment the curtain opens, there is so much happening on the stage, that you will have difficulty taking it all in. It is a maelstrom of movement, colour and humour right until the final the final bows. Often there are three or four scenes going on simultaneously. Soho is funny, sexy, knowing and, clever, but above all it is exciting.

This show is only here for two weeks, so if you want to see it – get your skates on!

Royal Dragon Restaurant, Gerrard Street, London, W1

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Royal Dragon is in the heart of Chinatown on Gerrard Street. Decorated in browns and creams; when you step in, it is calm, away from the bustle just outside the door.

We had dim sum to start, Prawn dumplings and pork dumplings served in stacked bamboo servers. These were very flavorful and they were accompanied by a small dish of sweet chilli sauce and a dish of hot chilli sauce.

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This was followed by crispy duck with pancakes and a plum sauce. The duck was deliciously crispy, the pancakes were hot and fresh. We finally had lobster with ginger and spring onion. I am a bit of a lobster novice, but this was amazing. It was a huge portion of lobster served on a platter of noodles in a succulent ginger sauce. It even came with its own implement, a lobster fork, the first time I have seen one.

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To be honest, I forgot to check the wine list, I don’t often drink wine with Chinese food. There were three brands of beer on offer, Asahi and Carlsberg were the names I recognised. The service was excellent.

It is a relatively small restaurant, for Chinatown, we were there in the early evening and the place was busy without being packed. It is open late and it does Karaoke between 11pm and 3am. The waiter said that this happens in private rooms, so it should not disturb your meal. While we ate, there was background music; it was quiet and unobtrusive.

If you are looking for somewhere quiet and smart, and you want to stay in the centre of Chinatown, the Royal Dragon fits the bill.

Bar Americain, Sherwood Street, London

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This is a bar hidden beneath Piccadilly Circus. It is through a quite unassuming entrance in Sherwood Street. There is a café with some tables outside called Zedel, if you go through this café, down two flights of stairs, you will come to a surprising bright French looking foyer with a cloakroom,  a French restaurant called Brasserie Zedel and Bar Americain.

It is a beautiful, low lit, late art deco decorated room. It has lots of dark wood, the marquetry columns are particularly attractive. It has light jazz playing in the background, just audible but not intrusive. The atmosphere is that of a set of a 1940s film noir. The waiters are in suits or formal white jackets.

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The cocktails are very good, the list is classic. The martini was perfect and the whiskey sour was both tart and had a nice kick. They have a good wine list and also a nice selection served by the glass. The tariffs aren’t low, but the price is around what you would expect for somewhere this attractive so central and it is good value for the experience that you receive.

Its the perfect place to meet if you are eating in Brasserie Zedel as the waiters will come to fetch you and carry your drinks when your table is ready. It is also very handy to meet if you are attending the theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue or Haymarket as it within a three minute walk from either.

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A beautiful quiet cocktail bar in a very central position, a lovely place to meet for a quiet catch up or for a quick drink before or after an evening out.

Robots, The Science Museum, South Kensington, London

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Robots is an exhibition within the Science Museum. The Science Museum itself is wonderful. The building is beautiful, it has lots of fascinating things on display, and general admission is free. So it is certainly worth a visit even if are not considering a chargeable exhibition.DSC_2241

Robots begins with a brief history. It counts clocks, orreries and anatomical models as robots, which may not be in tune with how we would define a robot today.  It soon moves on to items we are more likely to think of as robots, with famous examples from old film and TV; it has the one from the 1920s film metropolis. This section was surprisingly nostalgic and it was nice to see the development of the idea of a robot from the early 20th Century.Asimo

Finally we come to the newest, most interesting, and sometimes creepiest part of the show – the current, cutting edge, design in robots. The variation in looks, ability and use is amazing. There are robots here whose purpose is to play music, to act, to do repetitive tasks, to calm, to teach, and to learn.  Some of these are quite cute, but there are others that are downright strange, and prove the point that there can be something particularly sinister about machines made in the human image. There are about a dozen of these new innovative robots on display and all are compelling in their own way. Some are interesting because the way that they interact and others because of the cleverness of their design.realistic robot

Tickets are £13.50 for an adult and £40.50 for a family of four. This is without donation, I think it is cheeky to add a donation on automatically when charging for entry, either add it onto the price or leave the donation to our conscience. I enjoyed this exhibition, it took me about an hour to go through.  Any longer than an hour and my attention begins to wander, so it was the perfect length.

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Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World, Design Museum, London

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Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World is the opening exhibit to the new Design Museum in High Street Kensington. It is actually 11 different installations exploring issues that define our world in the 21st Century. As you would imagine, with so many totally unconnected exhibits, some work better than others and some are more interesting than others.

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I like the curious robot that comes and stares at you when you look at it. It feels quite aggressive and two separate parents who thought their child would love it, had to deal with them running away in tears after it came right up to their face.

The installation about Grindr and how it changed lives in the 21st Century is worthy, but it is also a bit dry and dull, which is not something I would have expected to report on an exhibit on that subject.

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The Mongolian Yurt is nice, one can sit inside and watch a video about how the city of Ulaan Baator is growing very quickly.  There is an installation about Death Masks. These death masks are pretty and quite creepy.  They are made in plastic with a 3D printer. There are 5 different fictional people with 3 masks each, depicting different states, I don’t know why they have done it, but they are interesting to look at.

The video about dolphins and go seems plain weird, half of it is pictures of sea and boats from a dolphins point of view, and half is of a computer playing the game go. I may have got that wrong, I found it hard to understand, possibly because the point of it just went right over my head.  The exhibit of videos playing in a corrugated shack about the Bolivian ghettos are thought provoking.

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I like the 2 very different ones about recycling clothing. One was about recycling clothing in rural China and the other about a machine that sorts discarded clothes by colour.

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My favourite is the living room furnished with an item from every country in the EU, the view from the “window” is quite chilling.

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The price of entry to Fear and Love is £14, quite high considering the mixed standard of installations, but there is a free permanent exhibition on the third floor, which is excellent and certainly worth a visit.  So, although there are things here that will make you stare and think Why?, there is also a wide variety of subjects on display and everyone is likely to have at least something that will delight them.

The Design Museum, Kensington High Street, London

 

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1970s Olivetti Advertisement at the Design Museum

 

The Design Museum has a new building on Kensington High Street. The setting is lovely, right on the edge of Holland Park. The building itself is, as you would expect, beautifully designed. The interior is bright and spacious, filled with indirect light, the curves of the roof are attractive, the stairs and levels of the building are cleverly arranged to describe a pleasing combination of form and function, the atrium widening as it rises, with built in seating among the stairs on the lower levels and along the walls, further up.

I like the way, that even now, when it is open and in use, it still has the look and feel of the architect design drawings that would have been put on show at its conception. It will be very interesting to see how the building ages, I have great hopes that the clean lines of the wood, marble and glass will hold the elegance that it has now.

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The free exhibition on the third floor is good too, larger and more interactive than it was in the old museum. It is still packed with examples of outstanding design and has many of the pieces that were on display in its old home on the South Bank. The exhibits include the design development of many common household items, for example clocks, phones and headphones from their earliest designs to current iterations.

It will also hold paid for exhibits, currently these are Love and Fear, and Imagine Moscow. However, the permanent exhibition is worth the trip even if you choose not to visit the chargeable offering.  If you go on a fine day, Holland Park is a very pretty park to walk through too, it is well maintained and has nice ordered gardens.

The new Design Museum with regard to its building, setting and free exhibits has to be regarded as a complete success.

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An Afternoon on the Bentota River, Bentota, Sri Lanka

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Seneka, our driver, said “I have a cousin who has a boat, for US$10 he will take you out on the river. For another US$10 his brother will show you everything and act as a guide. His English is very good. There is lots to see.” So, we agreed to go.

 

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Our boat arriving to pick us up

 

We had hardly left the shore when we saw a water monitor, at least two metres long, sunning herself in the garden of a riverside house. I was impressed. Our guide was less so “Water monitors, there are many, look in the trees” I looked up, indeed in the branches almost directly above our heads, there they were – just as big. I was less impressed and more nervous now. “Don’t worry” he said “They have no interest in people. Oh look! A chameleon.”

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And there it was, showing off, changing colour as we watched, becoming less green and more stick coloured as it moved away from the leaves. Dotted along the banks of the river were jetties, some with boats some without. One had a man sitting on it, with a baby crocodile beside him. “Is that a crocodile?” Michael asked. “Oh yes, it’s his pet”. We pulled up. “Would you like to hold him? It’s quite safe” The baby crocodile was thrust into Michael’s hands before he could refuse. I was secretly very pleased my hands were full with the camera at that point.

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“Will they keep him as a pet?” I asked. “Oh no, he will go away before he gets big, we will see very big ones soon” The river is wide but we stayed close to the edge because crocodiles like to be submerged in the shallow water and the shade, away from the afternoon sun. Michael had the camera again and was on the water side of the boat watching out for the crocodiles. I was on the side near the bank. I noticed the boat driver gesticulating at me. “Duck your head down low, now!” Michael said, in an ominously calm, yet urgent, tone of voice. I complied immediately. I looked back as I did so and I was confronted with a Green Vine Snake less than a foot away from my face.

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I paled, but I did not scream or jump out of the boat. I’m proud of that. Michael leant in  to take a photo. Our guide announced “It’s a Green Vine Snake; very pretty, but it is poisonous.” Michael leant away again. “It’s not interested in us, it mostly eats frogs and lizards.”  I obviously appeared horrified. “Oh look, Bee Catcher Birds” he said pointing upward.

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There were a pair in the tree above our head. They do actually eat bees, they pull out the sting and then eat the rest whole. These larger Blue Tailed Bee Catchers also eat wasps. The wasps in Sri Lanka can be very large and dangerous. His distraction worked. The snake was forgotten.

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The next strange thing was the shop, on stilts, in the middle of the river. Nothing near it, and no customers, but it was definitely a shop. It appeared to sell coconuts, fruit, soft drinks and boxed groceries. It seemed rude to question why it was there, so I didn’t ask. Soon after this we began to see the crocodiles. We saw four or five, but they were hard to photograph, partly because we didn’t want to go too near and partly because they stayed mostly submerged in the cool water – out of the warm sun.

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On the way back we saw Giant Fruit Bats. They really do look like the batman motif when they fly and they are surprisingly big.

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We took a shortcut through the mangrove forest on the way back, which was pretty but eerie. It made us very happy that we had remembered to use our mosquito repellent before we set off.

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We saw egrets, ducks and herons. We also saw a mongoose that was too quick for us to photograph. In total we spent about two hours on the water, we had a fantastic time. It was a great introduction to Sri Lanka, after all this was still our first day there.

Photos courtesy of Michael Jolly.