Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Nelson Mandela et al ...

Had to go to the American Embassy this morning. Website said "Do not bring cameras, mobile phones, iPods, blackberries etc ... to the Embassy", so we didn't. Turned out I had two dead batteries in my handbag that I had to hand in, then collect again at the end. And everyone else just handed their phones in there. Anyway. Got there early, the security people were all quite friendly, and when I caught up with H at the IRS section, the man was very friendly and helpful. We were only there for about 20 minutes or so. Would recommend it. Although they are digging up the whole front section looking out over Grosvenor Square. Hmmm.

Then went to H's agent to hand in some documents. The first time I've visited, so very interesting to see it. Realised that his agent (well, the boss) reminds me of the editor I worked for. Quite severe and serious, but with a more humorous side.

While there, we asked what time the Nelson Mandela statue unveiling was at. I had thought it was around 1pm, but I had obviously missed out a 1 there. Turns out it was 11am, the time it was when we asked the question. Far west of Westminster. We decided to head down anyway - it would be nice to see the statue on the day it was unveiled. Anyway, we didn't have our camera or phones, so wouldn't have been able to take photos. Took the bus.

When we arrived, we could hear a choir singing "O Happy Day". We looked over the heads of the crowds - and there was the man himself! We could just make out Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, in yellow. We moved round to another side, as Mandela left the stage to claps and cheers. Some people started going up to stand and have their photos taken next to the statue. Here are the people we saw during the time we watched:

Richard Attenborough; Naomi Campbell; David Lammy; David Miliband; Jesse Jackson; Tony Benn; Ben Okri; Benjamin Zephania; Kwame Kwei-Armah; Adam Boulton from Sky News; Brian May; Nicholas Glass from Channel 4 News.

I'm sure we saw other well known people but didn't recognise him, and H also saw Hilary Benn, but I haven't included him in the list because unfortunately I missed him. David Miliband was really working the crowd - talking to people, shaking hands, signing autographs, asking people how they were, smiling lots, that sort of thing. Kwame had a long golden-bronze gown on, and as he went along the line where we were, he stopped occasionally, smiled at the people taking photos, and gave a small bow. Brian May stuck his thumbs up a couple of times at those taking photos. Ben Okri spoke to a few people, he seemed very relaxed and chatty. His wife (?) stood quietly back to one side out the way.

We were quite excited to see Kwame Kwei-Armah, and a couple of people near us asked who he was. We got chatting to one - turns out she's a journalist, and she took our photo and sent it to us, which was good of her - we now have proof we were really there!

The police then moved us all along, so we decided to head to Covent Garden. Had fun wandering around the shops there. Eventually made it home. A nice day. Fun had by all!

Monday, August 27, 2007

The London Eye and other adventures

We've had a lovely Bank Holiday Weekend with a visit from a friend for a couple of days. Yesterday we set out to see the last day of the Tate Modern exhibition, Global Cities. She's a geographer, so it was particularly relevant and we both took lots of photos. Had a refreshing watermelon and ginger juice. Quite a hot day - nice, but I wish I had worn a dress!

On the way to the Tate we had visiting a very interesting to a small glass monument that we hadn't seen before. It was part of a Geocaching challenge. This was my introduction to geocaching, and although it was a virtual cache rather than an actual one with a box or something, it was great fun. Geocaching is a bit like a technical treasure hunt, where someone hides something then you have to find it. There are objects hidden all over the world. We were going to try and find some more but decided we didn't have time. Will look forward to doing more next time though!

As always, it was nice to walk along the south bank, past the street entertainers, hot dog vendors and a carousel tomake our way to our main destination - the London Eye. We got our tickets, and it did not take long to make our way along the queue to the pods. Stepping onto the moving pod was the first challenge, but we managed and them began our ascent. It was great! At first I mostly took pictures looking up into the sky at the other pods, but as we moved further up it was great to see the London skyline appearing and then the rooves of London. We took lots of photos, and wandered around the pod, simply loving being up in the air, taking photos of each other with clouds behind us, or looking down at the buildings beneath us. The sun began to set and I took some fuzzy photos of the sun. It was a lovely half an hour. (The only slightly annoying thing was when we were about to have our photo taken in the pod, a lady in a wheelchair spoke to me and I turned slightly, just when the photo was taken. However, it's a great photo of H, it looks like it's his photo, he is hosting us in his pod!)

We then made our way to the Palace of Westminster (in order to find another cache, but, alas, we didn't make it), and enjoyed the views of the now lit up Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. Then we got on the tube to Angel, and visited Sedir, fast becoming one of our favourite London restaurants. I had taramasalata and bread - yum! - followed by Islim (marinated lamb wrapped in aubergine with tomatoes), which came with rice. Yum yum! Then baklava and ice cream for pudding! Mmmmmmm! H had chicken livers (delicious) followed by lamb cutlets, rice and salad, then chocolate cake (the only let down - probably because it's not traditionally Turkish! I think H had been bouyed up by that delicious hot choc fudge cake we'd had in Scotland ...). Our friend had prawns - huge in what she said was a tasty dressing - followed by grilled lamb, rice and salad, then baklava. She said she couldn't think of the last time she'd had a meal in which every course was good, with no let downs or complaints. She even had the Turkish coffee. The waiters were very friendly too, joking especially with H when he didn't finish his three huge lamb cutlets, that the dishwasher man was huge and wouldn't be too happy! He also read our friend's fortune in the sludge in the bottom of her coffee cup, and said that she will be rich with five husbands and twelve children!

All in all, a great day out.

Today we visited the Notting Hill Carnival. Unfortunately my friend and I had to leave a little early, but H stayed on and I'm looking forward to seeing his photos!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Prince - the Aftershow Party

H decided to get tickets for the Prince Aftershow Party. Although there was no guarantee that Prince would show up, we were also keen to see the inside of IndigO2, the nightclub at the O2, and thought it could be fun. Doors opened at 11:30pm, and there was still quite a queue around midnight, when we arrived. It didn't take long to get in, though, so we dropped off our coats and made our way to the bar. Everything is on one level, and very open, which is handy, but I overheard some guys talking about the decor and not being impressed, and I suppose it's not great, but it wasn't that bad either. There is actually an upstairs with tables and seats, but I'm not sure how you get there, and it didn't look as much fun anyway.

There was some fairly utilitarian music coming out over the system, but quite a crowd of people had gathered around the front of the dancefloor, where there was an empty stage with a purple curtain and lit up by purple lights. We decided to make our way to the dancefloor, wondering if anything would happen. Occasionally some smoke would come out of the machines, and there were occasional movements behind the curtain. There was a security guard at the front of the stage to stop people from getting up there, so we decided that at least there must be a band going to play, and we were still hopefully that Prince might make an appearance.

A man with a ponytail came out and played a few riffs on the guitar, presumably trying it out for sound, then disappeared again behind the curtain. The piped music was still coming out of the speakers ... and then came the sound of live music, the curtains opened, and a band were on stage! The first person I recognised was Prince's female drummer, so I realised that it was his band, which was great - but that still didn't mean that Prince would be there. However, the band are great so we knew it would be a good night, and the atmosphere had immediately become more electric.

A guy in a dark t-shirt and trousers with a flat cap walked on stage and started singing and rapping. H told me that it was Common, which was exciting, because he is the most played artist on our iTunes! He was great, and was around for a while during the evening. Then ... in the corner of the stage at first ... a more diminuitive artist, with a three quarters length jacket, slicked back black hair in a black bandana, the artist known as - Prince!

What an amazing night. For two hours, Prince, his band, his backing singers (sometimes fronting singers), his dancers, The Twinz, and Common entertained us, jamming, singing, dancing, as if this was the gig they had planned to play that night. You would never have guessed that they had just all performed for over two hours in the Arena, entertaining 20,000 people, some of whom would have been miles away - and here, we were standing about 6 yards away, watching the faces that Prince pulled as he played his guitar solos, watching him dance without inhibition as Common sang or his band played jazzy solos, watching him sit down, strumming his guitar as one or other of his singers took the lead, watching him on the electric piano synthesiser, standing quietly in the background, accompanying the others, watched him working the crowd, as we all whooped and roared and clapped and sang and danced ... A great evening.

Some other funny observations ... the way the security guards performed a three way pincer movement on anyone with mobiles out - the security guard at the front shone a bright torch at anyone illegally recording the gig, a guard upstairs shone a green laser at their head, picking them out, and a guard with a blue laser walked behind them, then assertively, quietly, without fuss or argument, escorted the offender off the dancefloor.

Some of the bizarre dance moves of a few people - well, one anyway who was standing right in front of us and who threatened to knock me over with almost every move - who were obviously enjoying themselves and giving it everything without much consideration of those around, but provided entertainment value!

The black sparkly floor with little silver and gold stars set in them that was around the dancefloor.

The palm tree at the back of the stage.

Eventually, some time after 2am, Prince and his band eventually finished, and, after one encore, officially left the building. Scores of people headed straight for the doors, keen to make a quick getaway after what may have been, for them, a long but wonderful night. That left a few of us who were still keen to dance (despite heels), who were finally able to get some space on the dancefloor to freak out, and dance the night away. There seemed to be only about twenty of us dancing, which was great - there was so much room, although we had to watch out for plastic pint glasses, straws, bits of lemon, and slippy patches where drink had been spilled. But we didn't mind, and H and I danced until the music stopped and the lights came up.

I think that was about 3:15am or so. We just managed to catch the bus home, and, only pausing to make the bed, were asleep by 5am. So I'm just up, sharing this with you at what should be lunch time! But what a night!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

England 1 v Germany 2

Went to Wembley last night. Enjoyed the evening (I'm not English, although I was supporting them, so wasn't too bothered about the result ...) Thought the German fans were great - very vocal, musical and showing a good sense of humour (singing England songs in an ironic sort of way ... You only sing when you're winning, Football's coming home, Arsenal etc). Thought the England fans were pretty rubbish. One smallish singing contingent - mostly about German bombers and the RAF from England shot them down - and the loudest noise seemed to be during the German national anthem. Seems very childish. When my pupils start dissing the other houses during sports day I tell them to support their own house louder. Makes more sense. Wish the England fans had been doing that. I was shouting a bit and wanted to sing, but I could hardly start off the singing, and I couldn't sing "I'm English till I die" because I'm not.

Other than that, a fun evening, but very wet!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Space Centre

For some (slightly worrying) reason, we're still on-line ... so I'm still waiting to be cut off ...

Anyway, in the meantime, yesterday I had a lovely day out in Leicester with a former colleague of mine and her little brother and sister at the Space Centre. We all really enjoyed it: the cinema experience ('Astronaut', narrated by Ewan McGregor) was excellent, lying back and feeling as if you were zooming through space and time, and the simulator was also great fun, where we felt as if we were landing on Europa - the 3D effects were good, and we were bumping all over the place!

Got home, where I discovered that my phone was still on silent, so I had missed the message from H saying he had gone to the cinema, and maybe I could join him - it started at 8:30pm. Well, it was at least 8:40pm by then, but the bus only takes about 10 minutes to get there, so if I was lucky I might not miss too much - so I ran downstairs, and waited for a but. I must have just missed one, because there was no sign for ages, and the next one was running late, so it didn't arrive until about 9:15pm. Anyway, I ran to the cinema and was only about an hour late in arriving. I sat at the front until the screen lit up a bit more, when I looked for H. He loves sitting right in the middle of the audience, normally not too near the back, so I looked around there - and found him! I thought there was a seat beside him, so began walking along the row, only to discover too late that there were people on either side of him. So I sat a couple of seats along. I think he was pleasantly surprised to see me! I hadn't missed too much (well, about 40 minutes of chases and fights, apparently) so managed to work out what was going on pretty quickly and quite enjoyed the relentless pace of the rest of the film.

Tonight we're going to watch England v Germany at Wembley, tomorrow I'll go in to school to collect the GCSE results (which hopefully will be miles better than the A Level ones), and on Friday H has booked us tickets for the Prince aftershow party at the O2. So a busy few days lined up!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

There may be some disruption to the service ...

We are changing internet providers over the next couple of weeks. There may be a disruption to the service ... Apparently we will lose (Virgin) internet access in about three or four days. It could then take another 2 to 15 days before we can access our new provider (Sky). Seems a bit excessive, but hopefully it will be at the quicker end. But just thought I'd let you all know in case you wondered why there were no updates! This is a shame, since it could coincide with my visit to the Space Centre, the England v Germany game and the GCSE results (which I hope will be loads better than the A Level results, which were appalling).

So, come back in a couple of weeks and see what's going on then!

Tour of London

Yes, you read that correctly ... tour of London, not tower of London. Specifically, a tour of University College, London. We started in Bloomsbury, learnt a bit about the Bloomsbury Group, saw where TS Eliot worked for Faber and Faber (and heard about how he turned down George Orwell's Animal Farm, apparently with the comment that no one was really interesting in animal stories these days. (However, I've just done a search, and have found the following quote on The Antigonish Review:

With relevance, controversy and exceptional artistic merit, was it incomprehensible then that Animal Farm barely made it into print? Numerous British and American publishing houses rejected it. One, Dial Press, New York, returned the manuscript and, according to Orwell, told him that it was '...impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A."6

Faber and Faber, London, rejected the book despite it being termed a '...distinguished piece of writing', according to T.S. Eliot, one of the firm's directors and managing partners. 'The fable is very skilfully handled ... the narrative keeps one's interest on its own plane - and that is something very few authors have achieved since Gulliver.'

Eliot added: 'It is certainly the duty of any publishing firm which pretends to other interests and motives than mere commercial prosperity, to publish books which go against the current of the moment; but in each instance that demands that at least one member of the firm should have the conviction that this is the thing that needs saying at the moment. I can't see any reason of prudence or caution to prevent anybody from publishing this book - if he believed in what it stands for."

Another publisher to turn it down was Jonathan Cape ...

We then wandered through the streets and learnt a little more about the University of London, and saw SOAS then Birkbeck College, the evening school started by a professor from Edinburgh University.

One of the most interesting parts of the tour was when we visited one of UCL's collections, the Grant Museum of Zoology, a collection of skeletons arranged in taxonomical order. Highlights of the collection for me included the glass models of creatures such as slugs and anenome that cannot necessarily leave a skeleton. They are anatomically correct and are very beautiful (strange when you consider they are slugs and stuff! I was also impressed by the huge skull of an ancient ancestor of the giraffe, and the skeleton of an anaconda, wrapped around a branch.

We then went into the main UCL building, where I was delighted to finally see the stuffed body of Jeremy Bentham, the founder of Utilitarianism. (I think the UCL Bentham Project website is a very interesting and informative one, so have linked to it here.) There is also an interesting exhibition, Collecting the Dead, curated by the final year UCL Museum Curating students. It was a shame not to have longer to look at this exhibition, but perhaps we could visit it again later ...

After that, we visited the Petrie Museum of Egyptology, another fascinating place. I particularly liked (although "liked" is perhaps a strange word to use) the person buried in a pot, since it was quite unusual; I'm sure I haven't seen anything quite like it before. This tunic, possibly belonging to a 10 year old girl, was also very interesting - apparently it had been taken off inside out, and was found in a crumpled heap. As the tour guide (a friendly and professional teacher named Alison) said, some things don't change ... the archaeologists had to study the crease patterns at the elbow to figure out which way round the tunic would be worn, then they carefully used some sort of gauze in order to be able to display it. Quite a fashionable tunic - I'm sure I've got tops in a similar style!

Overall, it was a very interesting day. H said that if I'd told him we were visiting UCL he wouldn't have wanted to go - but he also really enjoyed it. A very interesting day!

In the evening we went to see Rush Hour 3 at the O2. A good laugh. So all in all, a busy day with lots packed in (including a lovely lunch near Russell Square tube station, which I would highly recommend but can't remember the name of - H said the Madras Chicken was the best Indian food he's had in London so far! I had a ham and mozzarella panini, which looked quite plain, but was delicious, and we both had milkshakes. All for £11. Which for London, seemed a particularly good deal! Must go back when we visit the Museum some time ...)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Nothing Compares 2U ...

Wow! I have been truly blown away. From the opening chords of 1999 as the Sign flashed up in reds and golds, to the final Nothing Compares 2U which we all sang to Prince as he came back for about his third encore, and the sitting in the stadium as it slowly, ever so slowly, eventually, finally, wistfully, regretfully emptied, until the security staff had to come to those of us remaining and sorrowfully tell us that, yes, Prince really had left the building (or at least the arena, since some lucky people would be enjoying his presence at the afterparty at Indigo2), we were amazed, entertained, Partying, Crazy, in the Purple Rain of His Purpleness's throne room.

The doors opened at 6pm - we left the house about fifteen minutes before this, not sure when the concert would actually begin. Took about less than 15 minutes to get there - the O2 is my local!!! Then queued for 15 mins for the toilets. Tip - ignore the first toilet - there are plenty more in the arena! Arrived, to a real sense of occasion, then was a bit disappointed not to be able to go straight in to our seat - the actual arena doors did not open until about 7.15pm. But lots of nice places to eat and drink. We got pepperoni pizza and cod and chips. Not bad. Wine, beer, water, and other things to choose from, including healthier options.

Our seat was right up at the very top, in the very back row. It's a lot steeper than Wembley, and there's not as much leg room. But since we were dancing most of the night, that didn't matter much, and the great thing about Row U is that you can stand behind the row and dance. Fantastic!

H informed me that our support act was Beverley Knight. She was very good, very energetic; it was a shame the arena was still mostly empty and people were wandering around rather than giving her their full attention. She kept on saying Thank You and exclaiming how great it was that we were there to see Prince. After she left, we had fun sending Mexican Waves around the arena. Everyone joined in, and I think we went all the way around about three times.

There was another short break, and around 8.45pm ish, the lights dimmed, the roars started, the music began - and we watched a ten minute or so long video of people talking about how great Prince is. All eyes fixed on the dark stage ... steam billowing ... strum roar ... then all lights blazing, everyone immediately on their feet, a huge grin plastered across my face, which lasted the whole night, and we were partying like it was 1999!

It was a great evening. Prince is a consummate performer. Listening to his guitar solos was awesome. The roar reverberated through the seats and floor so my whole body was shaking with the noise. Mesmerising. The drummer (in a black and white striped dress). saxophinist, trombonist, pianist - all were excellent. The singers and dancers gave it everything. (The dancers in particular had the most amazing energy, throwing themselves around the place in good rhythm and time. When Prince disappeared, in a cloud of smoke, through a trapdoor in the middle of the stage (which was shaped like his Sign), we all clapped, cheered, whistled, as the band continued to play, until he came back. Crazy. Then he went away - but we wouldn't. The lights came up but still we cheered, no one daring to leave. And eventually he came back.

Overall, a fantastic night. Great performance, a party that made us dance and sing the whole night through. The visual light effects were excellent. The sound was great. I could hardly take my eyes off Prince, tiny on stage so far away from me.

A wonderful night. Nothing Compares 2U ...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I'm back!

I hadn't realised it had been so long since I had last blogged! In fact, it hadn't really dawned on me that I hadn't blogged once since I had been on holiday!

We've had a lovely holiday, and I especially enjoyed yesterday when we had a large family party at home, and I got to meet my (third?) cousin for the first time. She is lovely - four and a half months old, very sweet, curious and strong - she is keen to start dancing and exploring, I think!

I am also delighted to say that I managed to write 1200 words or so of my literature review, so I'm about one fifth of the way through it. Another highlight was the day my sister and I visited our Gran and had a girly day out. Not something that we do very often! Also came across an old story "what I wrote" when I was young ... lots of exclamation marks. Has anything changed?!

Now have to tidy the house, finish that literature review, write the methods and methodology review, write ICT and Asssessment policies, finish the SoWs (at least the first three ...) and plan my AfL and Literacy displays. Still, I think I have just under three weeks to do all that. Oh, and we are going to see Prince tomorrow night, so watch out for my report on that!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Enjoying London in the sun

I do enjoy London in the sun. Yesterday we went to Islington to meet up with a friend in Islington and went to the organic pub I mentioned a few days ago. Very nice. Then went to Sedir for another Turkish meal. Very nice - and I managed not to have a dessert this time!

Today we went for a walk, and ended up visiting a nearby bird sanctuary that I didn't know existed - it's very close to Canary Wharf, and is in the middle of lots of buildings. Very peaceful. We then wandered along to the Thames, enjoying the sight of the O2 and some cormorants, then kept walking until we reached South Quays.

Other than that, I've been spending quite a lot of time on Facebook. Very moreish and addictive. So that's probably why I haven't blogged much recently ...