Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic Opening Ceremony

We are not a sports oriented family and rarely watch sport on TV, but I have always loved watching the Olympics. When the 2012 Olympics were first awarded to London I hoped to get tickets, but decided against due to a combination of price and the high demand for tickets here in the UK that left pretty much every event massively oversubscribed. Even without the prospect of being able to watch live, anyone living in the UK over the past few weeks would have to live under a rock - and a pretty big rock at that - not to get caught up in anticipation of the London games, and on Friday night all five of us settled down to watch the Olympic opening ceremony.

We had no idea what to expect. Britain is superb at the big royal events - think William and Kate's wedding and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee - but has a decidedly patchy track record when it comes to other public celebrations. The uninspiring "River of Fire" on the Thames to mark the Millenium barely even lived up to the billing of damp squib, for example. So who knew what we might get for the Olympic opening! It was also hard to see what might work. A Beijing style ceremony was never on the cards, both because the cost would be unacceptable in the current financial climate and because the British simply don't do massed ranks of identical performers. Neither was a Hollywood style extravaganza likely - again, too expensive, and that sort of razzmatazz would be likely to leave the British public cringing at the sheer un-Britishness of the spectacle (we might enjoy watching other countries do this type of show, but just can't take it seriously in ourselves). We also tend to be uncomfortable with overt displays of patriotism ... so what was left?

What we got was an opening night romp through aspects of British history and culture which reflected our peculiar national character - quirky, eccentric, diverse and humorous. We are a nation of individuals, yet still value popular institutions (we LOVE our NHS!). We are four countries tangled together into one. All that came through in Danny Boyle's show. The ceremony zoomed from Jerusalem and Abide With Me (which I understand NBC cut from its coverage in the US) to the Beatles and the Sex Pistols, by way of Shakespeare, James Bond, the Queen, the invention of the world wide web*, Mr Bean, and the defeat of Voldemort by a fleet of flying Mary Poppinses. It was weird, crazy, moving, and entertaining, sometimes all at the same time. Tevye and I started watching with a slight feeling of pessimism (see River of Fire above), but by the time the show reached James Bond and the Queen we were shouting "genius!" at the TV set. With all the financial doom and gloom of the last years as a nation we really needed the morale boost of a party we could enjoy, and we got it. We did wonder what viewers around the world wouAkersake of the whole thing, but I did a bit of googling of reviews and they seemed to be mostly positive, if occasionally baffled.

So now we move on to two weeks of indulging in the great British sport of gallantly failing (mostly) to win medals.

Oh, I nearly forgot ... I thought the cauldron was amazing! So different to anything that had been done before, and so effective.

*Did you realise that when Sir Tim Berners-Lee typed "This is for everyone" on the computer in the stadium it was live tweeted. How cool is that!

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Tevye is a true Cockney - born in Whitechapel, within the sound of Bow bells. Before meeting friends for lunch last weekend we had time to take a walk around the area where he lived as a child. Very different now in some ways, most obviously in that the Jewish community that dominated Whitechapel has since moved out to the suburbs and replaced by more recent immigrants, mainly Bangladeshi. In other ways not so different - much of the area is still poor and run-down, sandwiched between the brash, glitzy City (the City is the financial centre of London, think Wall Street) and the up-market renovated areas of Docklands.

We started with Petticoat Lane market, but the road layout at the Whitechapel end had changed so much that Tevye no longer recognised it. The market gets its name from the garments once made there. The Victorians changed the road name to Middlesex Street to avoid public mention of undergarments but the original name stuck to the market.

Next we walked down Whitechapel Road.

The main claim to fame of the area is that it was the stalking ground of the infamous Jack the Ripper, a mass murderer of the 1890s who was never caught and has been the subject of interest and speculation ever since. Posters and memorabilia in this shop window advertised "Jack the Ripper" walking tours.

Running between Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road is the street where Tevye lived. The buildings are divided into units of six flats (apartments), in three storey pairs of two flanking a single entrance. In his day they were owned by the nearby London Hospital and were very basic, without bathrooms and with a single toilet shared between each pair of flats. Since then they have been renovated and bathrooms installed. This end of the road is now social housing run by a housing association. Someone living in Tevye's old block was none too tidy, with bags of rubbish scattered around the entrance. Bizarrely the other end of the street is Georgan terraced houses which sell for a fortune (I googled and found one for sale for £795,000!).

Tevye's flat was on the middle floor. The "No Ball Games" sign was written in English and (I presume) Bengali. In Tevye's day that rule either was not there or was routinely ignored, as he remembers spending a lot of time hitting a tennis ball against the wall!

Heading down to St Katherine's Dock for lunch we passed Tevye's old primary school, a fairly grim Victorian building brightened by a centenary mosaic at the entrance.

More photos from our day out to come later.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Old and New

Last Sunday Tevye and I spent the day together in London. Quite why it has taken me a week to get round to posting pictures I'm not sure! More to come, but as a taster here are two photographs taken from the Thames River path when I realised that from the same spot I had two views separated by a thousand years. I love London!

On the south bank, the Shard, 21st century

And on the north bank, the Tower of London, 11th century

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Job Done!

Phew! All assignments completed and in the post (or mail, if you are in the US!). I feel as though I now have some breathing space ... to read, blog, play with Rose, maybe even begin to get the house under control. The clutter levels have risen and I need to start getting rid of stuff again.

A quick update on things that are going on round here:

  • The girls are coming to the end of their school year - they finish next Friday, then have six and a half weeks break.

  • Helen has her driving test booked for mid-August. She is desperately hoping she will pass, not just so that she can drive solo, but as she pointed out to me yesterday, "if I fail, I'm going to be SO broke!" The deal is that we are paying to insure our little car for her to drive, but she is paying for her driving lessons. She is coming to the end of the money she saved working as a Christmas temp in a department store last winter, so if she fails and has to pay for more lessons, not to mention the repeat test fee, she is going to be scraping the barrel financially. 

  • Rose has decided to come to the beginner's sessions at the brass band and is learning to play the cornet. She can just about manage to hold it in her small hands! She tried out Helen's old trumpet but I had to hold the end up for her as it was too big and heavy. 

  • Summer is a misnomer. This is what we have had for the last four months, with very little break. Today looks like continuing the soggy, miserable theme. I will be out there, playing the trombone in the rain - under some sort of tent or gazebo, but it isn't likely to be entirely dry.