“And marbled clouds go scudding by The many-steepled London sky.” ― John Betjeman
London kicked off March (seriously, March already?!) in fine style with a gorgeous day. We were lazy getting up and about this morning but about lunchtime I turned to Jeff and told him I had a craving for a burger. Never a man to disoblige (or turn down beef), we headed to a perennial favorite BRGR CO and indulged.
The weather was a balmy 45 degrees, which is practically summer in our corner of Europe. In honor of the temperature, we wore t-shirts and ordered milkshakes. Then, one craving satisfied, we decided to soak in the Vitamin D and the city as well and went on an epic wander starting in Covent Garden and ending in Kensington. Jeff suggested Hyde Park and I wanted to show him where I lived when a student here.
Hyde Park was a glorious, green expanse.
Dogs were out everywhere and we crossed paths with many a kid atop their pony.
London has a bad weather reputation, some of it earned, but let me tell you when it gets it right, London gets it right!
Buds are shoving their way up and out of the soil and tips of trees, daffodils and crocuses are blooming turbulently, and the birds were singing. With respect, Game of Thrones, Spring is coming!
We passed Queen Victoria’s (in my opinion hideous) Neo-Gothic memorial to Prince Albert, and just down the path a ways and across the street, there it was:
My Kensington stomping grounds! Jeff stood still for a second with this mouth slightly ajar, glanced over his shoulder to where Hyde Park sat a mere 50ft away from the front door, and pronounced me an all my educational cohorts, “Spoiled.” Can’t say he’s wrong, though I will say I much prefer living in our flat south of the river. It might be less rarified than Kensington, but small as it is, it’s about a thousand times more comfortable and a hell of a lot less snobby an area.
We finished up with an amble up Exhibition Road, which turned into a short foray into the V&A (where I do not spend nearly enough time) before heading home.
“Though she be but little she is fierce.” – William Shakespeare
The other day Jeff was getting dressed and reached for a shirt of the drying rack, while still not too terribly awake. I know this because I came out from brushing my teeth in the bathroom when I heard him laughing to discover he had tried to put on a shirt of mine instead of his own, which apparently are awfully similar in color and pattern. (Personal note: must do something about this because one of the most odious things a couple can do in public is dress alike.)
That’s right. His forearm is the length of my entire arm.
Visuals like this often throw me because I don’t feel particularly short or small most of the the time, even though I know I am. Other recent height issues lately include me buying too much contact solution because I’d thought we’d run out when in fact Jeff had stored it on top of a cabinet out of my line of sight, and him walking into the kitchen and burst out laughing because he found me standing on a counter so as to rifle through items on the top shelf of a cupboard that I could not otherwise reach. Shortness, a never ending source of exasperation on my part and amusement on his.
A couple of weekends ago, Jeff and I went to see The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable, a production by Punchdrunk and the National Theatre. It was a very new sort of theatre experience for us but from scope to scale, one of the most ambitious productions I’ve ever seen. Walk with me, kittens. Literally.
First of all, it’s an immersion experience. It’s promenade style theatre so you’re walking around, on your feet the entire time (and performances can last up to three hours). Second of all, you’re supposed to go exploring. Wander through the set, which takes up four floors of an entire building, poke into closets, rifle through papers, open shut doors to see what character or secret passages lurk inside. And lastly, everyone wears masks giving you a sense of anonymity as part of the set, and also the feeling of being a ghoulish sort of voyeur into the scenes you witness.
The play itself is loosely inspired by Georg Büchner’s famously unfinished play Woyzeck, set in a faded Hollywood production studio and the dying town surrounding it where has-beens and wannabes mingle together either waiting for their second chance or big break. There are two main plotlines both involving infidelity and the descent into madness. But, and this is the most interesting part, there are other storylines that intersect and weave throughout the main ones. Wearing your mask, you must follow the characters you wish to throughout their plot to understand what’s going on. All the while, though, you’re crisscrossing other characters, other plotlines and getting hints of other stories. It’s possible to mix up the crowd of other witnesses you’re in and end up following a different character entirely from the one you started.
Like not a few of the minds they are portraying, it’s very fractal and disorienting. Much like most people’s everyday experiences, a lot of things are going on around you as a viewer, but you can only focus on one or two of them at a time and get the sense that you’re missing out on a lot of information.
Wisely the production cycles through itself a couple of times, allowing the audience more than one chance to grasp onto a tale and follow it to its conclusion. But it is impossible to follow every character and every plotline in the time allotted, which means you as the audience member have to decide. The feeling is very similar to those choose-your-own-adventure books for children, but all grown up, adult and darker.
A shabby sort of town, a movie lot, a trailerpark, nightclubs for the beautiful people and honkytonks for the less so, a church, the woods, a cinema, doctors’ offices are all laid out in such a way that if you follow a character, the layout blends together and creates a plot. But if you don’t you’ll find yourself lost and turned around almost immediately. Watch the trailer below to get some idea of the set and creative. The whole thing is a labyrinth fearfully and wonderfully made, I cannot imagine the time it took to coordinate a dozen storylines simultaneous over multiple building stories, multiple sets, and interacting with one another.
For example, at one point one woman looks in a mirror and is clearly contemplating whether she should go through with her affair. The mirror fades to partial transparency and the audience can clearly see that the reflection is not her but her husband. Because there is no “offstage,” the husband’s storyline is proceeding with its own audience at the same time; he’s in a doctor’s office looking at those one-way mirrors, his mental state beginning to deteriorate and hallucinating his wife. Those sorts of integrations run throughout the production. And yet somehow, every audience member ends up at the finale in the same place at the same time. I seriously want to shake the hand of the person who blocked this thing because I have no idea how they did it.
As theatre goes there are times it stumbles – sometimes you can’t even hear the actors speaking because you’re too far away from them, and other technical concerns – but as an immersion experience goes it’s absolutely stellar. It’s intimate, closeup, and deeply personal. Audience members jockey for position to follow and get best views to the storylines, and in the end (as both the main plots end in murder) you’re left very aware of your own voyeurism.
After our excellent brunch, Jeff and I spent the morning wandering through Soho. He was inevitably hungry merely two hours after we ate and expressed a desire for that recent acquaintance of ours, a cronut.
We’ve become “those food trend” people, ugh.
Anyway, the internets informed us that cronuts were to be had at my new favorite coffee joint.
Wild and Wood is a fun little place, all the seating comes from churches, mostly in the form of old pews which I think is fantastic, and most of all it’s tiny! If you go to the last picture of the gallery on the site’s homepage, you are looking at basically the entire shop. In other words, it’s almost a dead ringer for what most coffee houses and small businesses have looked like throughout human history in general and British history in particular.
“And now leave me in peace for a bit! I don’t want to answer a string of questions while I am eating. I want to think!” “Good Heavens!” said Pippin. “At breakfast?” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Last week was busy for both of us. Between days in the magazine office and nights spent freelancing for me, and long hours for him as busy season gathers force – all of which interspersed with some truly heinous days of commuting due to strike action on the part of Tube workers (I spent 10 of a 48 hour period commuting by foot and only occasionally bus) – we needed some indulgence on the weekend. And since we were being terribly grown up with grown up problems like commuting, a grownup weekend indulgence like brunch seemed the very thing.
There is something very adult about having brunch, as opposed to breakfast. Anybody can stumble blearily to the cupboard of a morning and slosh some cereal and milk into a bowl. But brunch, at least brunch in the more fashionable areas of London, requires effort, kittens.
I’d been hearing mouthwatering things about Jackson and Rye in Soho so last week I made a reservation for the weekend and Jeff and I trotted off that morning to enjoy ourselves on an uncharacteristically bright winter day. My initial desire to dine there was due to a pretty delectable sounding description of their buttermilk friend chicken sandwich, but the only time I could get us in was 10am. Fried food might be okay in Jeff’s book at that our of the morning, but it’s definitely an abomination in mine. I got a delicious eggs, potato, and fancy vegetable breakfast while Jeff threw himself on the sword of the aforementioned chicken – a great hardship for him, I’m sure – so I could at least taste it in between munches of grilled sourdough toast smothered in avocado.
Lest you think I’m dwelling too much on this, I was incredibly smug because historically Jeff tends to always choose better food than me when we go out to eat. Almost inevitably the dishes he chooses are better presented and tastier than my selections, which irks me greatly. For once at least, I won brunch. It was delicious – Britain has converted me to slightly softer cooked eggs and I haven’t looked back.
We’ll be going back because we quite liked it; I still want to try the Avocado Eggs Benedict (I really love avocados but finding decent ones it’s nigh impossible thus far) and because it felt really nice to “do brunch,” eating nice food in a fun place, leisurely people watching, and chatting about our further weekend plans (spoiler, one of the most interesting theatre experiences I’ve had in a long time). Very responsible and far more put together than many of our usual weekend morning routines. I wouldn’t want to do it every weekend, cereal and milk is frankly sometimes just what I need, but as an occasional treat I think it sounds quite nice. Minions are welcome to join us.
“That thing is magical, and you are never taking it off, do you understand me? – C.
This is the tale of how a navy sports coat started a chain reaction that culminated in Tom Hiddleston being mere inches away from my face. And that’s not even the most amazing part.
Jeff had been on the hunt for a jacket for a while and since January kicked off sale season, we headed down to Seven Dials for a look around a few shops that intrigued us. He found what he was looking for and on the way back to Leicester Square tube station, we literally stumbled upon a poster for a production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, starring Tom Hiddleston at the Donmar Warehouse.
Donmar is a small, not for profit that has a really strong reputation as a producing theatre, and can boast nearly bursting at the seams with some of the highest acclaimed actors in Britain on any given performing night. We hadn’t heard of this performance prior to coming face to face with the poster, but naturally we both were wild to go see it. In addition to Hiddleston, whom we both really like, it had Mark Gatiss (of Sherlock fame amongst a great many other things), Deborah Findlay, and the list just goes on. Seriously, read the cast bios. Everything’s represented from Restoration comedy to Game of Thrones.
We also figured we had about a snowball’s chance in hell at getting tickets (most were sold out weeks in advance), but decided to try our luck anyway. On Monday morning we doubled teamed it; Jeff stationed himself at the computer in order to try and get a couple of the few that they release online, while I got in the queue at the theatre itself in the morning to try and snag some in person.
Even arriving quite early I was at the end of the line. My hopes sank a bit, but I decided to wait it out. At one point the queue divided into those hoping for day-of tickets and those chancing their luck with the handful of tickets provided by the main sponsor, leaving me with fewer rivals but still at the end. I watched people ahead of me walking away from the booth, clearly not willing to purchase what was available, but I’d already guessed we’d be getting the “standing room only” type. By the time I trotted up to the box office window and chirruped, “What’s left?” that was indeed all that remained, and only a handful at that. I was just thrilled to get it, I actually skipped back towards the tube station texting Jeff the good news.
We worked all day and then headed out to our evening at the theatre excited to see the show. The Donmar has only 250 seats, and a significant portion of those are standing room, which actually makes it feel not unlike going to see a traditional Shakespeare performance at the Globe, except that the locations are reversed. The privileged get seating on the ground floor with the stage and first level, while the cheap seaters line the narrow balconies and looked on.
It was mere seconds to show time when an usher tapped me on the shoulder and asked if Jeff and I were there together. I answered in the affirmative, wondering if we’d done something reprehensible without being aware of it. I actually was in the process of pulling out our tickets to prove we were there legally when she continued, “We have a pair of unclaimed seats on the main floor, would you like them?”
What sort of a question is that?! Feeling a bit dazed she led us down to the main floor and seated us on the third row corner, with a completely unimpeded view of the stage that (I later discovered) also put Tom Hiddleston’s cheekbones within touching distance. His cheekbones rank right up there in my book with Vegemite’s Bandersnatch’s and Jeff’s, so you can imagine the thrill this caused, to say nothing of having a truly marvelous vantage point of the whole play.
We sat down just as they started the whole, “Please silence your mobile phones now,” spiel when I happened to glance to my left. And saw Rufus Sewell, one of our very favorite actors, sitting ten feet away from us.
And that, kittens, is how I died.
The production itself was excellent, really one of the top Shakespeare performances I’ve ever seen. The set was minimal and used to superb effect, while the performances were absolutely spot on. The themes of power, populism, and politics intertwined cleverly with the creative, and the degree and type of special effects were exactly correct. Coriolanus is ruthless, dangerous, compelling, and persuasive, and you find yourself at times siding with nearly all of the characters at one point only to question your own judgement five minutes later.
An absolutely banner night that, as far as I can tell, defied every single law of probability.
“…Their old, familiar carols play, And wild and sweet The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Christmas day was an adventure!
We nearly got stuck in an elevator. We live on the top floor of our building and have access to two stairwells/elevators, one of which is slightly more convenient but is the one (naturally!) that has the most problems. Lately the door has been sticking a bit on the ground floor. One morning, feeling particularly grumpy, I made Jeff burst out laughing when the door only semi opened before it got stuck and I yanked it open the rest of the way with a curse.
Christmas morning we needed to get a move on since all public transportation was closed for the day, which meant we had to walk four miles and cross the river to get to Westminster Abbey, where we had reserved places for the morning service. We made a calculated decision to take the slightly sketch elevator because it put us closer to the tube station without having to circumnavigate the building. Which of course meant that this was the morning that the door slid open a crack on the ground floor… and refused to budge further. With a combined sigh, “Of course,” Jeff set his shoulder to it and I got on my knees to pull from the bottom. It took several minutes and many attempts, but eventually we freed ourselves. Teamwork.
The walk to the Abbey was gorgeous. There were almost no people about…except that I crossed paths with a history heroine. Dr. Lucy Worsley, the Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces was walking along the Thames with her husband. I nearly tripped over my own boots! On another day I might have accosted her, but since she’s written publicly about not liking being approached by strangers and fans – and in the spirit of the day, namely not being a jerk – I restrained myself to a bright smile and fangirling to Jeff in private.
Neither of us are High Anglican (Jeff rather cheekily rephrased the Nicene Creed to himself during its recitation), but I still really enjoyed the service and the setting – Westminster Abbey being one of the coolest places for a British History nerd to be. Do you know how many interesting dead people hang out there?!
When we emerged, the bells were ringing. We walked the four miles home again, made our traditional Christmas morning breakfast (at nearly two in the afternoon), talked to family via Skype, and watched holiday movie favorites. Not a bad Christmas on our own, I think!
“In fact, my heart would break should you not take me to the fair.” – Camelot
Last weekend my stir-crazy-ness caused me to pester Jeff nearly to distraction. I needed a reason, any reason, to get out of the house. But he was exhausted and my brain was broken from freelancing, so it took us an absurdly long time to come up with the most basic of date ideas: the movies. And thus is was that we saw Catching Fire, which we both liked.
But thus it also was that we got to take in an additional holiday feast for the eyes.
Jeff’s a Western boy, fairs in his mind are strictly warm weather affairs, but I remember seasonal festivities from my childhood in Germany fondly and was pretty thrilled to drag him through it – even though he mumbled a bit about the natural order being overthrown, etc.
“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.” — Douglas Adams
Holy mother of pain, kittens!
Yesterday’s post was drafted in advance of a Series of Events, when all was well and the washing machine and I were having a delightful domestic fling. Quite suddenly and without warning all went spectacularly upside down. Like all great tragic love affairs, ours did a lot of damage on the way out.
But first let me go back!
Over the weekend it became clear that our washing machine would need to be replaced. It had had a few funny spells where its various lights would flash or the whole thing would turn on (or alternatively refuse to turn off) without instruction, but these had all be cured with a period of rest from duties. But as of Sunday we knew it was no good. It had given up the ghost and refused to work any more. We had to walk the whole thing out of its niche to inspect it, avoiding scraping up the linoleum to the best of our ability – revealing of course a degree of filth that had to be cleaned up. Several reviews online and investigations into the make and model confirmed that the behavior it was displaying meant it had gone the way of all the earth. With our landlady’s permission we ordered a new one, to be delivered on Tuesday.
Monday morning started out just fine. Jeff went to the office and I was just getting up and about when suddenly my phone rang and it was Jeff, sounding irritated and out of breath.
“Apparently I’m supposed to be in Gloucester right now and they didn’t tell me. Can you start packing?”
That’s a bit of a way to kick off the week. Being of profound packing experience I began rounding up necessities and waited for him to get home to tell me the story. As it turns out, multiple of his colleagues had been assigned to various spots around the country over the weekend without being told or told incorrectly, so come that morning a number of people were not where they were officially supposed to be. By the time he got home he had been told to sit tight and await further instructions – which of course meant that after an hour or so he was asked to come straight back into the London office to work there for the day.
I remained suspicious and refused to unpack. A good thing it turned out, since that night he was assigned to go to Peterborough for three days. He headed out early Tuesday morning.
That same morning, our brand shiny new machine arrived and was installed by two very helpful workmen, and it appeared that all was well in test runs. The first time I attempted to use it, however, the sink (through which it connects) filled straight up…and refused to drain. Which is to say, of course, it overfilled. Emphatically. Luckily I was in the kitchen for the rinse cycle because water began pouring down the sides of the cupboard and onto the floor – I was afraid that a hose hadn’t been connected properly at first, though latter evidence revealed this was not the case.
Necessity being the mother of invention, I grabbed a couple of pots and began frantically ferrying the sink water to the bathroom (slipping and sliding all over the now wet and slick floor) until the cycle finished which luckily put a stop to the flood. After which I spent a couple hours mopping up the mess (more filth discovered) before marching grimly to the nearest bodega for drain cleaner, and the bakery for a fortifying pain au chocolat.
Both the trip-to-Gloucester-that-wasn’t and this adventure have put me pretty badly behind this week. I’m doubly grateful for a nice night out on Monday because everything since then has been a bit dire. The manageable side of dire, but dire nonetheless.
On the other hand, we have successfully proved that in extremis, I’m capable of feats of strength that are pretty impressive. Such as dragging a machine across the kitchen floor in mere seconds sans injury.
Pray the drain un-clogger works permanently, ducklings, the next step is professional help. Which I may or may not currently stand in need of myself.