Tag Archives: London

Cult status at last!

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Now this is just a little bit circular, but how could I possibly not mention the fact that those nice people at The Ballet Bag has listed my Kristen McNally review as Cult Blog Post of The Week?

What a week it’s been. Not just cult blog post of the week status today, but on Tuesday I celebrated what my dear half-Slovenian friend informs me the Slovenians call an ‘Abraham’, and on the same day, won first prize in a competition  run by the Slovenian Tourist Board (see earlier post), which was a 5-day all-expenses paid trip to South Africa to sightsee a bit and see the England-Slovenia match. Sadly, I couldn’t take it up for family reasons, but the Slovenes still consider me the winner so are sending me something nice as a consolation. I hope the lucky other winner has a wonderful time.

Kristen McNally rocks

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Picture of Horseguards Parade

On my way to the Linbury. You never see this by tube or bus.

And I mean rocks, because if ever there was a choreographer who could make dance the new rock n’ roll for me, it’s her. The last piece of hers I saw at the Linbury Yes we did… choreographed to Obama’s ‘Yes we can’ speech blew me away. The Telegraph called it a ‘tribute to Obama’, but it was more than that. It was a dance that revealed the music of Obama’s rhetoric so artfully, that it could be either adulation or satire. It was funny, sensuous, musical, political and top-drawer choreography and dancing all in one. I was in awe.

So when I went to see the Royal Ballet new works at the Linbury last night, I was excited to see what was next. To describe Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game in words is to insult its brilliance, because what she does in choreography is to say through music and movement what is unsayable in words.

Her send up of clichés of gender, music and movement is so funny, I thought I was going to be sent out for laughing too loudly. Towards the middle, there was a harmonica in the music that began to annoy me. Really annoy me. It whined on and on, and I began to hate what the harmonica stood for as a sound. Just when I thought ‘please stop this’, Tom Whitehead had a real harmonica shoved in his gob by a passing ballerina, and was left to continue his next solo with with it stuck there. It was a moment of such multifaceted comedy, you couldn’t quite work out what had happened. It was as if McNally was saying ‘Ha! You thought I didn’t notice!’ There’s no suitable phrase for the concept of being hoist by your own harmonica, but she just did it in dance.

But just because I refer to her sending stuff up doesn’t mean that this is just an amuse-gueule, it’s humour that withers like a glance, and cuts like a scalpel. Another favourite moment was when three sirens appeared, the equivalent of watching an entire rack of ‘Men’s interests’ magazines in W H Smith come alive like a poisonous figment of the male imagination, a self-induced triple homunculus. Backs to audience in Loaded style, they unleashed their hair with brilliantly choreographed timing to a syrupy, kitsch climax in the music. Once you’ve seen this, you’ll never be able to take such music seriously again, because you know now that despite taking itself seriously, it has all the gravitas of a L’Oréal advert. It was like watching Adorno’s entire critique of mass culture in a movement, and much more successful. I could go on, and on, and on. But you really have to see it.

It was a fabulous evening, and I haven’t got time to do all of it justice, but I have to mention my three favourite other moments.

  • Robert Clarke’s performance of the Shostakovich prelude & fugues for Samodurov’s piece was so brilliant and beautiful, I’m afraid he ruined it. For however beautifully people moved on stage, there was a body and sensuality in his playing so perfect, I kept having to look over to see how on earth a human being could keep it up so relentlessly. Every phrase in the slower movements suggested shapes and bodies that were bigger and more visible than the dance. It wasn’t the dancers’ fault, or Samodurov’s – but next time, hire someone fallible at the keyboard if you want people to look at the choreography.
  • Alastair Marriott’s duet for Gary Avis & Mara Galeazzi Lieder sent shivers down my spine. I’m no great fan of Brahms, or Lieder, but I could be after this. But only because while Brahms unsettles you and makes you swim through dark, troubled waters, Gary Avis seemed to have all the emotional strength you need to carry you through. There was one moment when you could sense a terrible climax coming up in the music, and – how can you explain it? – Avis took his partner with such assurance and strength, you felt like someone had saved you from falling out of an open window without batting an eyelid. It’s because that moment is so indescribable that it gave a whole justification for dancing at all in the first place. The final position that the couple assume is the nearest thing I have seen in the physical universe to a chord. Beautiful.
  • Erico Montes’ Hallelujah Junction had me wanting to scream hallelujah. I swear if someone had told me to give my life to Jesus or the Royal Ballet in the middle of that piece, I would have done it. It’s probably the best extended dancing I’ve ever seen in my life. I loved the music, which fizzed and popped and bounced like corporeal space dust, and the four main dancers (Bennet Gartside, Kenta Kura, Sergei Polunin, Jonathan Watkins) did the same. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and ears. They were joyfully bang on top of that music for every single one of its kaleidoscopically shifting beats. It had a rhythmic security, verve, stamina, flow and assurance that was as stunning as it was inexorable and I am still wondering how on earth they managed it.

Kristen McNally weblog at Ballet.co

So you think that’s funny, Mr Clarkson?

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Middle class thuggery in print, an advert for Clarkson’s latest drivel

I guess it’s only cyclists that understand just how idiotic and dangerous most drivers are. The reason I’m not dead yet after years of cycling in London is only because I assume that everyone in a car is applying make-up, looking the other way when they turn into a main road, texting, phoning, getting something off the back seat, drunk or drugged, racing to get their kids to school, or racing to get to work after the school run. That’s just the normal ones.

But then there’s a class of driver who actually hate cyclists. They don’t think they deserve to have space on the road. Rather like the person who  said travelling by bus was a sign of failure, cyclist-haters are usually those who are inexplicably proud of owning an expensive car, as if that changed anything about them as a person. They beep at you, overtake you with no room to spare, and act like bullies. They endanger you for no other reason than they don’t think you should be there in the first place.

Cyclist haters are largely made, cultivated by the media. You can almost tell when some drive-time radio talkshow host is having a go at cyclists, because you seem to meet more unforgiving, reckless and aggressive drivers on your way to work. I wish I had complained about the presenter I heard inciting hatred of cyclists. If cyclists were an ethnic group, he would have been jailed.

On that occasion, I didn’t do anything about it. But this advert for Clarkson’s latest book infuriates me. There is absolutely nothing funny about developing a dislike of any group of people, particularly when this dislike might lead them to be treated even more recklessly than they are now. I am going to complain to Penguin about this advert, and if you’re a cyclist, I urge you to do the same.  It’s only because Clarkson is middle class that he gets away with it – listen to what he says as if he had an Estuary accent, and he’s just another thug.

Update: I’ve just complained to Penguin, Boris Johnson & the Advertising Standards Authority about it. I mentioned to Boris that it’s a bit odd that TfL should be advertising a dislike of cyclists below the ground, while the mayor is trying to develop cycle routes above it.

Update on May 21st 2013: My local MP Sadiq Khan was the only person who took my complaint as seriously as I did back in 2010 and referred it immediately to the Mayor of London. Responses from the others could be summarized as ‘lighten up, it was only a joke’. Now a driver has admitted on Twitter to knocking over a cyclist, adding #bloodycyclists as a hashtag. Not so funny now, eh? 

Places that are still there #2: The Cosmoba, Bloomsbury

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Picture of the Cosmoba

The Cosmoba, restaurant in Bloomsbury off Southampton Row

I can’t walk anywhere in Bloomsbury without being wistfully rushed back in time to when I was a student at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies back in 1978-81. And nowhere holds more potent memories for me of that time than the Cosmoba in Cosmo place just off Southampton Row.  God rot the internet, however much I may love it: when I try to think what was so special about the Cosmoba, it’s not just that it was in a tiny corner of London that feels like a wonderful guilty secret, it was the warmth of friends, conversation and being out and about after dark.

So last year when, after about 28 years of losing contact, I met up with my  friend  Jackie from college, we decided to see if by any remote chance the Cosmoba was still there. Well, would you believe it, there it was, and it seemed much the same in so many ways, even down to the red wine, chicken kiev and zabaglione that was about the only thing I would ever order, once I’d found out how good it was.

We’re going again soon, so since I was cycling past Cosmo place on my way back from the IoE on Monday, I thought I’d double check that it’s still still there. And yes, it is.

Tooting swimming times again

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Update on 29th July 2012 – DCL leisure at last have a really good online timetable for all their pools, including Tooting. You can filter the timetable for lane swimming, and view one day at a time. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all the spare time I have now I don’t have to work it out from the incomprehensible grid that used to be the timetable.  For that reason, ignore the original post below…

One of the commonest searches on my site is for Tooting swimming times: when DCL at last published them online, I did a page about it, but the link is dead, and the brochures available either are out of date, or they don’t include the pool times. So here you are, fellow Tooting swimmers, I’ve scanned the sheet and posted it here. Don’t blame me if it’s wrong, but it’s better than not publishing it at all.

Click here to get the latest Tooting-swimming times

The Tooting heron

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Heron in Tooting

This wonderful heron visits our end of Tooting now and again. It’s a wonderful sight. The only one I’d ever seen before moving here was a concrete one in the back garden of our house in Dorset. Funnily enough, I’m going to Heron Quays just now…

Prêt à tuer

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I was in Prêt à manger the other day, and the counter assistant (as she had been bidden by management, no doubt) started asking me with fake enthusiasm what I was doing in the area etc.

‘Oh research,’ she beamed, ‘how interesting! What subject? Ah! Education, how interesting. Just education generally, or some special subject in education?

‘Music education’, I replied. She might have replied ‘Oh cool’, and carried on. But instead, her face fell, and suddenly, her training and happy smile deserted her.

‘Eurgh’, she said, ‘I always hated music at school. I always think of music teachers as being, like, forty, and living alone with a cat.’

‘Really?’ I said, ‘that doesn’t fit any of my fellow students. Most of them look pretty cool, actually’

‘Yes, but if you think back to what your teachers were like when you were young.’

When I was young. She made it sound as if it must be so far back I could hardly remember. I was on the point of saying ‘Oh, yes, actually now you mention it’, but then remembered that wasn’t true. There were a few teachers who were mad or depressed or best left alone, but mostly my teachers were a pretty impressive lot. If we’d used the word then, I would even have said some of them were cool.

When I thought of that, this spinster-phobic waitress suddenly seemed very uncool. It was definitely not a good look, to be uncooled by your own coolness.

Ah well, that’s customer service for you.