Saturday, 24 March 2012

Open Day...Opening Minds...

I'm just back from The Guardian newspaper's inaugural Open Day. I hadn't really heard much about it until this week but was drawn in by an email inviting me (as a subscriber to all things Guardian Book Club) to an interview with Robert Harris to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his first novel, Fatherland.

I've not read Fatherland but I have read Imperium and Pompeii (see number 41. in 2011's Book Nook exploits). So based on these two and a successful first Guardian Book Club outing late last year, I bought myself a ticket.

The premise of Fatherland is this: What would happen if Hitler had won the war?  It's an interesting idea. What sort of world might we live in now had just one or two things fallen Hitler's way?

There is actually a genre for this sort of book - Alternate History - where facts are extruded into the what if scenarios of the author's imagination and with Harris' CV including time as political editor at The Observer, I was looking forward to an interesting discussion.

And what a thought provoking hour it turned out to be. Harris admitted that he had not read this novel since it was published in 1992 but spoke of his love for finding out the facts and then exploring the possibilities around them. Not for him the realms of pure fantasy: he actually likened his lack of appreciation to garlic and vampires. But his passion for his genre was evident as he spoke about the extraordinary lifecycle of power and politics, proposing views of his own and discussing the opinions of others. 

His own exploration of political power both as a political journalist/editor and as a writer suggests to him that the horror of the Holocaust is not so far away from you and I: the persuasive nature of power nurtures behaviours which promote survival and he talked about the Nazi Party as simply a bunch of lawyers and administrators who, as the majority of humankind would do, protected their own interests - families, friends, life itself -  and found themselves embroiled in a new, albeit inconceivable, staus quo.

Harris also spoke of books he's loved and Kingsley Amis and Martin Cruz-Smith rated a mention as writers of particular brilliance. (Although upon racing home, I was disappointed to find no mention of Gorky Park on Amazon's list of e-books for Audrey - boo! I say).

Much to my relief the discussion was so varied and interesting that interviewer John Mullan did not have the opportunity to quiz Harris about the ending of Fatherland (which a book club interview usually does) so it is with unexpected curiosity that I can look forward to tucking into Fatherland sans spoilers.

Harris' eloquence and his knowledge of and passion for his subject made the hour go very quickly and I'm glad I ignored the delights of my sunny back patio this afternoon for this opportunity to explore some new ideas. And as I wandered back to Kings Cross station in the sunshine, I found myself smitten all over again with this fabulous city I've come to call home. 

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Afternoon Delight...

Today, I was all set to post about other things. Not Mother's Day mind, as 'mine' happens in May (but am wishing all Mums celebrating today a fab day just the same). But I had a few ideas from the week and following on from my two part 'danger mouse' thriller, I was keen to change the rhythm and tone again to keep things fresh and interesting for all of you lovely Gidday-ers.

But I've had the most delicious couple of hours and I just HAD to tell you about it.

I've been to the cinema.

So what? I hear you say.

No I've been to THE cinema, the delightful Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley.

It's what I call a proper cinema with old fashioned, theatre style seats, lots of leg room  and a shiny, swishy gold curtain at the front.

Purpose built in 1910, it's a single screen cinema, and was actually saved from the wrecking ball in 1985 by the formation of The Phoenix Cinema Trust, a charitable organisation that runs the theatre for the community, reinvesting its profits both in education and maintaining this wonderful tribute to cinematic history. 

I used to live close by a similar independent cinema in Melbourne (The Classic in Elsternwick for any Melburnites reading this). My old home-town has quite a few thriving independent cinemas and it's something I had missed a little while living in South West London. On a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, I used to love wandering down and submitting myself to a screening of something I'd choose simply by standing at the Box Office and seeing what was about to start.

Anyhow, The Phoenix is not far from the new Gidday HQ and this afternoon there was a 'From the Archives' screening of Imitation of Life, a 'legendary Hollywood melodrama' (which I'd never heard of) about racial identity. I thought it seemed a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The story centres firstly on Lora, a young widow chasing her dreams to be an actress who is supported by her black housekeeper, Annie in the raising of her daughter Susie  alongside Annie's own  'light-skinned' daughter Sarah Jane. Lana Turner plays the ambitious and glamorous Lora and, along with the marvellously good-looking John Gavin as her love interest and a perky Sandra Dee as Susie, provides much of the froth and bubble as well as a little wry humour throughout the film. But as things unfold, it is the relationship between Annie and Sarah Jane which gives this story its real potency.

This film was made in 1959. It would have been quite a daring affront to the 'seen and not heard' issue of black and white America but more importantly, the film shows that there's more to the world than merely a black versus white view and Susan Kohner's rebellious and then bittersweet performance of Sarah Jane captures this better than any words I could write here. And the industry obviously thought so too with Kohner winning a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress as well as an Oscar nomination (along with Juanita Moore for her portrayal of Annie).

Two and a half hours flew by and before I knew it, I was sitting contentedly on the bus coming home filled with absolute delight at my new discovery. 

At the venue or the film? I hear you ask.

I can't decide.

Visit The Phoenix. See Imitation of Life.

I'd recommend both.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

An Urban Thriller...The End

It's quiet.
Not a sound.
I'm pleased to report
Has found
The bait I laid down.

With patience I waited,
With pellets of green
In a little white tray
Four times baited.
(A poisonous hue
As ever I'd seen.)

And now my abode
Is quiet and still.
The scrabbling has ceased
And it would appear
My guest ate his fill

And ventures no more.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

An Urban Thriller Part 1....

There's a mouse in my house.
An unwelcome guest,
A worry, a pain,
An unsightly pest.
For my pragmatic mettle, a test.

I thought I heard something
From my sofa this week
And when I looked up
My eyes caught a streak.
With a scurry, a squeak

It vanished so fast,
I thought it a dream.
No sign 'round the fridge
Where I thought I had seen
A tail most obscene

But last night there were noises
A few rustling sounds
So I tip-toed straight in
Stood my stockinged-feet ground
And waited.

And guess what I found.

With a flick of the switch
The room was alight
And against the white floor tiles
I took in the sight
Of a furry black critter
In flight.

So I turned off the light
And closed off the room.
And this morning I searched,
A harbinger of doom,
For something to rid that pest
From my room.

Now the trap has been set
And I patiently wait
'Til my unwelcome guest
Tempts its unwitting fate
By taking the bait....

Source: Andrea Borges on pinterest be continued

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Passage of Time...

One of my most inspiring moments during my recent trip to Dublin occurred at Newgrange in the Boyne Valley. Mum had been disappointed to miss this last time she visited, so this was on the 'must do' list for our soujourn in the Emerald Isle. It was awesome - and I mean that in the original sense of the word.

Newgrange is a 45 minute drive north of Dublin and is part of a complex of 40 passage tombs located in the Boyne Valley. It was built approximately 5,000 years ago, pre-dating the Great Pyramids of Giza and, along with neighbouring passage tombs Knowth and Dowth, has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Most famously, Newgrange is recognised for its importance in relation to the Winter Solstice. On the 21st December each year, the rising sun sends shafts of light through the roofbox above the main entrance, the light creeping forward in a point shaped by the walls of the passage to illuminate the sacred chamber at the end before receding for another year. Even more fascinating is that this ritual is mirrored at Dowth at sunset on the same day.

The illuminated passage at Newgrange. Source:
It is difficult to imagine just how these were built. Much like the more famous temples of ancient Egypt and Britain's own Stonehenge, there is continued fascination surrounding their positioning and enduring construction methods as well as the role that these monuments played in the life of Stone Age communities.

Evidence has been found of farming in the area as early as 3800 BC but it appears that the main construction of Newgrange commenced in 3300 BC. It is suggested that Newgrange was built to the shape of the ridge and the original ground plan laid out first with both the entrance stone and back stone placed along with the stone at the back of the main chamber as markers.
From about 3000 BC, Newgrange took its final shape. This model shows 4 smaller passage tombs built, some before and some afterwards, in line with Newgrange.
After the final blocking stone was placed, the focus moved to external monuments from 2800 BC for a period of 600 years.
Access to Newgrange is a 4 minute trip by bus from the Visitor Centre and only available with a guide so we booked our places and spent an hour completely amazed....
Newgrange from the Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre
Newgrange is surrounded by stone markers, the significance of which remains a mystery.
Going inside the tomb was completely amazing and included a short 're-enactment' of the Solstice experience. To think that we stood under a 5,000 year old corbelled stone ceiling that no light or water has ever penetrated. Awe-inspring stuff.

There are a number of highly decorated stones at Newgrange both inside and outside the monument. Many show the triple spiral which has featured in carvings as far back as those of the Australian Aborigines 40,000 years ago.
The views from the entrance of Newgrange across the Boyne Valley are spectacular. Most of our visit was beneath sunny blue skies but this moment of cloud gave it something of a portentous feel.
These photos do not come close to doing it justice but how do you capture a sense of history and atmosphere like that? All I can say is that this was my trip highlight, my enchanted moment so to speak. In fact I was so inspired that I entered the lottery to attend this year's Winter Solstice at Newgrange so keep your fingers crossed for me! 

Oh and I get to take 'a friend'....any takers?

Interested in finding out more about Newgrange and the passage tombs of the Boyne Valley? Check out

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Colour And Character...

So this is the first Dublin post. But it's probably not what you expected. There's no Guinness, no leprechauns, no national heros, no river dancing.

To be honest, I wondered what to post about. While I enjoyed Dublin, I didn't really have that moment of enchantment, that second that, as I round some corner and go wow, makes me want to return. But as I went through my photos, I realised that I'd managed to capture an unexpected aspect of Dublin's colour and eyes up people, here we go...

The post boxes are green... are the doors.

But the doors are also pink...

...and red...

...and even orange!

There were elephants (no trip is complete without a nod to the original blog of The Displaced Nation's ML Awanohara - Seen The Elephant)...

...plenty of watering holes...

...and a little bit of culture.

These Dubliners do like to paint stuff all over their walls whether it's a telling a story...

...a nod to generations past...

...or a promise to clean up their act.

Sometimes it gets a little abstract...

...or like pieces of a puzzle.

But as we were on the go for four whole days... was great to find a spot to rest at last...

...under the swaying palm.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The Beginning Of Time...

As regular readers of Gidday From The UK will know, I have just played host to my lovely Mum at Gidday HQ. Having visitors of the family kind stay in 'your space', I've always felt that it's important to sprinkle the intensity of trying to cram 18 months apart into 10 days with a jaunty outing or two. Which brings me to Greenwich.

After stuffing ourselves severely the day before (see the Departures post for a snippet of our High Tea exploits), what was called for was an outing full of fresh air, fascinating facts and fab photo opportunities. So we headed out into a clear, crisp Sunday to explore the delights of South East London. Having never been there before, I seriously underestimated how much there is to actually see and do in Greenwich. There's the Royal Naval College, the Maritime Museum and Greenwich Village just to name a few. But Greenwich is most famous for its status as the beginning (and end come to think of it) of time and so, like good little tourists, it was to the Royal Observatory we went.

Yep, there is it. On the top of the hill. A meander through Greenwich Park followed by a steep, short yet concentrated walk upwards.
The Royal Observatory was founded by Charles II in 1675 who decided to build an observatory in Greenwich Park, his own royal back yard so to speak. The ability for early sailors to safely navigate the high seas once out of sight of land was extremely limited and while a comprehensive understanding of the skies was seen to offer a solution, the conundrum of time was inextricably linked. And in defining one's position east or west, the important question of 'from where?' has left us with the Prime Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time.

John Flamsteed was appointed Astronomer Royal and every night for 40 years he used a telescope and clock to record the movement and altitude of stars across the meridian line. After a disaster at sea in 1707, more reliable means of finding longitude at sea were sought and it was Yorkshire carpenter turned clockmaker John Harrison who solved the problem almost 60 years later. (His four timekeepers are on display and in full working order!) On his 1768-71 voyage to explore the South Pacific, then Lt. James Cook (yes, the dude that came a cropper on the reef off the coast of what is now Far North Queensland Australia in 1770) became the first to successfully test this new method of finding longitude at sea and he continued to test emerging methods on two further voyages until 1779.

The meridian line shifted four times (across the now Prime Meridian Courtyard) as each new Astronomer Royal took advantage of the increasing accuracy available. And finally in 1884, the Greenwich Meridian was awarded the prize of Longitude 0º by 41 delegates from 25 countries, making it the Prime Meridian of the World. Makes it sound like a super-hero doesn't it?

The Prime Meridian Marker at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
I had to be quick to get this before the next in the very long line positioned themselves for a happy snap.

So that's enough of the history stuff for now. Suffice to say we spent all afternoon wandering around the Observatory and finished with a stint at The Peter Harrison Planetarium to see 'Secrets of the Stars' before some coffee and cake overlooking the park. Here's how it went...

There's a spectacular view of Canary Wharf (L) and the O2 (R) from the Observatory hill.
This is just one part of the 40ft long telescope that William Herschel, famous for the discovery of Uranus in 1781, had built but rarely used. Boys and their toys eh?
Flamsteed House was built by Christopher Wren for the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed. The red ball was known as the Time Ball and every day at 1pm, the ball would fall, allowing all around to set their timepieces. Those who may have been partaking of a few too many and missed this daily 'missive' were deemed to be 'not on the ball'. 
Told with great enthusiasm in the Prime Meridian Courtyard, we learnt about the beginning of 'time' itself.
Mum though she should check out the Prime Meridian laser, just be sure.
And here it is. The beginning and end of time. It lights up at night but it's a little underwhelming for something so renowned isn't it?
We wandered around the galleries for a while and there's some amazing stuff - like John Harrison's 4 timekeepers - but it's really difficult to get a good photo. So you get this quirky display of telecommunication through 'the ages'. I probably shouldn't admit that I remember them all!
The Peter Harrison Planetarium, home to the winners' gallery for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year and our tryst with Patrick Stewart, he of Star Trek fame and narrator of 'Secrets of the Stars'. This is also home to the oldest thing from my Departures post - a piece of Gibeon meteorite some 4.5 billion - yes that's with a 'b' - years old.
Finally it's time for coffee and cake but boy it was chilly!
As closing time approached, we reluctantly shifted from our glorious vantage point...

...headed back down the hill and across the park to the bus stop. I must admit that, in the face of the trek back to North London after so long on my feet, the little voice in my head was groaning a little with each step I took. A little 'beam me up Scotty!' would not have gone astray.

So that was Greenwich peeps. The beginning and end of time immemorial. And definitely worth a visit with so much more to do than we managed in an afternoon.