Tuesday 10 October 2017

My lovely neighbour has finally gone

That seems a bit repetitive I know – ‘gone’ is pretty final, but let me explain.

Number One Husband and I grew up in South Africa, lived for some years in London, returned to Johannesburg and then came back to live in London about forty years ago and moved into our house.

There are a number of houses, all built at the end of the 1950s and we were the first new arrivals.  Our lovely neighbour was the first person we met, her youngest son was our first baby-sitter and we remained friends.

She was a kind, sensible and encouraging presence, with a wry sense of humour and I knew that if there were any problems for me, or my children, she would be there.  We were always invited for New Year’s Eve – a comfortable evening chatting to local friends, no driving or forced hilarity, and a few steps back home.

We started to lose her a few years ago when she began the cruel descent into Alzheimers.  I remember one of her carers saying to me that she became upset that she had to have carers – “I am the one who is supposed to take care of everyone” because that is what she had always done. She remained at home with carers until the end but the first loss, the loss of her company, was several years ago.  

She died a few months ago and we were at the funeral and then at prayers with her family which felt very final then.

The house has now been sold and the new owners are refurbishing as the house was quite old-fashioned. I sit at my computer overlooking the driveway and when I saw the carpets and curtains that were so familiar to me being taken out – there was a sense of finality then that I hadn’t experienced before.   

Thursday 14 September 2017

Escapism is OK – Leighton House is the perfect place

Catastrophic weather, famines, political chaos, war and other violent conflicts are nothing new and I don’t know if it is the power of 24 hour TV news, the speed with which the news is transmitted, often in real time or the overwhelming effect of bad news coming through every medium.  But right now it feels like the beginning of the end time.  And most of us are powerless to do anything.

I voted to remain in the European Union in the UK referendum and stand back and watch the chaos resulting from the vote that went the other way.  Even more corruption in South Africa than existed already, an increase in anti-Semitism here and in Europe, people fleeing terror across borders – and so it goes on.

I have already reduced the time I spend watching or reading the news.  I try to be pleasant to people I encounter and help where I can, support my local food bank etc.  But sometimes escape is the only answer.

London is blessed with a huge variety of (mostly FREE) art galleries and museums.  Last Sunday we went to the “Alma-Tadema at home in Antiquity” exhibition at Leighton House and the world stayed firmly outside the door.  I have visited the house before and it is worth it for that alone, but this exhibition traces Alma-Tadema’s career from his childhood in the North Netherlands to domestic life in St Johns Wood. 

The exhibition is superbly curated with a rare opportunity to see works from around the world – from the Netherlands to Mexico, from the USA, various British galleries and private collections. The antiquity part of the exhibition describes and illustrates his fascination with Pompeii and the ancient world.  Languid ladies in white robes looking out to sea were certainly my view of his work but there is so much more. 

The scope of the exhibition is wide including some of his work for theatre productions and some examples of how his work has influenced film makers from the original Quo Vadis in 1013 to the Cecil B deMille production of The Ten Commandments which I saw as a child (Charlton Heston as Moses with an American accent!) up to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.

A real treat and the world stays firmly outside the door!

The exhibition is on until the end of October


Wednesday 2 August 2017

Kingston-upon-Hull, City of Culture

Liverpool was the European City of Culture in 2008 and, following the significant social and economic benefits for the area, the Government decided to institute a UK City of Culture Programme. (Just as well as we seem to be destined to depart the European Union so this is our only shot.)

The choice of Hull for 2017 was unanimous because it apparently put forward "the most compelling case based on its theme as 'a city coming out of the shadows'".

We spent a couple of days there with friends and I can recommend it.  We had a great time but having never been to Hull before I can’t comment on the changes, which apparently are significant. Very importantly it is mostly walkable but if you don’t feel like walking between attractions you can take the Hull Land Train. For £2.50 it will take you between attractions, you can get off and on again with cheesy music and hilarious patter. I am not sure how understandable it is if English isn’t your first language but the Japanese students seemed to be having a whale of a time.  Not sure they were as pleased with our sing-a-long though. 

We loved the exhibitions at the Ferens Gallery including the blue nudes by Spencer Tunick – “Sea of Hull”, where he photographed over 3,000 naked people painted blue in various places in Hull – you can visit the settings for the photographs (minus the nudes). The Turner Prize will be held there this year.

The Maritime Museum was fascinating as was the Streetlife Museum of transport and we spent some time in the house of William Wilberforce with an exhibition about the slave trade and his part in its abolition.  Much to my surprise I also loved the aquarium The Deep.

Here are some random things that I didn’t know

Hull was the most bombed city after London during WW2 – the bombers dropped any excess bombs they had on the way home to lighten the load.  Over 90% of homes were affected 

Amy Johnson the famous aviator came from Hull

Over 2.2 million emigrants from Northern Europe passed through Hull from the middle of the 18th century to about 1914, en route to the USA, Canada and South Africa.

It built all its wealth on whaling, then fishing (with a dreadful human toll – it was very dangerous). Now it has modernised and is the UK's first fully-enclosed cargo-handling facility providing all-weather working for various types of weather-sensitive cargoes including steel and bagged products. It handles 10 million tonnes a year.

Go by rail, in London from Kings Cross, and you have to travel on Hull Trains.  It was voted Rail Operator of the Year for good reason – clean, comfortable, the best loo's ever seen on a train and brilliant staff and unlike the rest of the industry they have 50:50 gender parity.  Read Hull Trains flying the flag for females!  Our crew were efficient (female) and hilarious.  The train was delayed for a few minutes at Doncaster and they apologised for the delay as an unruly passenger had to be removed. We saw him speaking to a policeman. I commented to the crew member that they didn’t seem to have any trouble with him – she said “I’ve got a five year old – it was a piece of cake!” 

Sunday 23 July 2017

It wasn’t that long ago.....

My grandchildren accept modern technology as if it has always been with us.  Why shouldn’t they, it is what they have always known.  They are bemused by stories of life without television, computers and mobile phones.  Television came late to South Africa – in 1976 - so not only did I grow up without it but our children started off without it too. 

Somehow the leap from no television to more channels than one can count isn’t as extraordinary as what has happened to personal communication.

Living in Johannesburg we had direct dialling – no going through an operator as you had to in the country.  Direct dialling was however only within the city – to call another city we had to go through the long-distance operator.

When we first lived in London, calls between our family and us were rare.  Not only did you have to book them 48 hours in advance but the cost was prohibitive. Around 1967/8 I was earning £15.00 a week (before tax) and the cost of a telephone call was £1.00 a minute for a maximum of three minutes. That was a pretty good salary then. To put that into context, on a salary today of £300 a week (pretty much minimum wage) the relative cost would be £20 a minute. In emergencies you could get a call through in two hours as I found out when my mother called me to say that my father had died. 

Being able to call someone and see them “through the phone” was science fiction and for some reason we made the assumption that you would have to answer the phone even if you were in a state of undress.   Leap forwards to the present and I can speak to anyone anywhere for free through FaceTime, Skype etc and can see them as well and I don’t have to answer if I don’t want to and they can’t see me unless I do. Sophisticated conference calls take this to a new level which I can’t quite grasp.

I take for granted that I can call friends and family far afield instantly and if it is the middle of the night for them, can send an email to be responded to when they wake up. 

I remember in the 1980s when the tech industry was first working on voice recognition, it was slow and inaccurate and you wondered if they would ever get it to work.  Now I can ask “Alexa” to convert ounces into millilitres, tell me what is on my shopping list, switch to any radio station, give me a news update, the weather forecast for anywhere in the world and “read” a book to me.  No effort no thought, now normal. 

Friday 2 June 2017

I love it when a day comes together *

I am very fortunate and generally life treats me well, sometimes very well as in yesterday.  First thing in the morning I saw the first peony in bloom in my garden – favourite flower and the season is all too short.  First happy

Met a school friend of my sister’s – I am in London, my sister in California and said friend visiting from Johannesburg. We haven’t seen each other in many decades and had a lovely lunch catching up on all the concerts, operas, ballets and plays we have seen over the years – such similar tastes and the great performers of the past including Fonteyn and Nureyev, Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland and of the present – Terfel, Kaufmann, Hvorostovsky etc.  Second happy ✔

We went on to the Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum – the exhibition was busy and the museum even busier – loads of children which is really encouraging. I recommend the exhibition, which covers the last 30 years of his life, 70 – 90.  He said that he had never done anything worthwhile until he was 70.  We all know the ‘wave’ but the flowers are stunning and the figures so expressive. Third happy ✔

The West End is jammed most of the time and particularly at the moment but I managed to avoid it. Walked a bit and took a bus to near the Barbican.  If I hadn’t I would have missed the Polish family with father and young son with matching half shaved haircuts and the son falling asleep on his father’s lap; the woman who pushed her push chair onto the bus, undid the straps from behind and said to her toddler – “Right we are going up!” and lifted him to her shoulder – he laughed, she laughed and we all laughed! Fourth happy ✔

Met Number One Husband for early dinner and then onto the Barbican to hear Dame Mitsuko Uchida play Beethoven’s Concerto No 3 to rapturous applause (these immigrants, they come over here and bring all their talent!) followed by Bruckner Symphony No 9 Sir Bernard Haitink conducting – another immigrant! Fifth happy ✔

Hokusai did some of his best work after the age of 70 – Haitink is now 88 – where great talent exists age is irrelevant.

I know this is really trivial – but we walked to the Underground Station and the first train to arrive was ours, we found seats and when we left the station car park the traffic light turned green as we approached it.  I love it when a day comes together.

* With (not really) apologies to The “A” team