Friday, January 13, 2006

Lie back and think of England

A couple of months ago I promised readers I would post the second half of my travels to Europe, specifically London. So as the memories are already beginning to fade here are some bon mots that rise to the surface...err it is a bit long, sorry about that.

After coming out of the Tunnel from (relatively sunny and fair weathered) France into Britain, the first thing I noticed was that the sky was darker and it was already starting to spit rain.
The incredibly pretty French girl sitting next to me woke up and sighed as she saw the gloom that was starting to descend. I felt like going back to Belgium.

By the time I staggered out into Victoria Station to meet the lovely Caroline Barker it was pissing down. Jumping into her little red car we beetled off to her place in Clapham Common. Stopping briefly to illegally park at a Sainsburys. "If someone comes just jump across and move it"... Looking around I could only think about the film 28 Days and how it looked all to real. Thankfully I wasn't attacked by any zombies but I did have to get out of the way of a prick in a sports car.

Clapham Common was a great suburb and house I was staying in belonged to a fabulous actress who was off filming and/or swanning her way across Africa or L.A. I wasn't sure which or where. Original art and knick knacks were festooned around the terraced house but the highlight for me was the sheer volume of books that she had collected and were out on display. Hundreds and hundreds of titles covered the walls - shelved without rhyme or reason I found WW2 Flying Greats wedged between "Sappho was a Right On Woman" and a biography of Samuel Goldwyn. The other highlight was when I found out that Kelly Reilly was living in the flat below me.

I performed that night with Deb, Tom, Mel, Chris, Jim and Alex (and another lady who I can't remember the name of) from the Spontaneity Shop who had graciously invited me to come and play with them at the Latchmere Pub in Battersea. They seemed a little hesitant at first but to be fair, I was a stranger and I didn't know what the hell we were doing...but such is the beauty of improvisation that we created a fairly decent show that night. They are a great group and I got to have a natter with them after I dropped in on a workshop they were having at RADA with Patti Stiles - They appear to be one of only a handful of improvisation companies in London. I would have thought that it being the birthplace of Theatresports and Whose Line it would have been teeming with groups....go figure huh?

Caroline was lovely friend and host and took me on a tour of the BBC where she works. As we meandered through the canteens, endless hallways and TV studios I marveled at just how freakin huge the place was, I kept thinking of my time working on the Micallef Program at the ABC studios at Ripponlea and just how small and old they felt now. We stopped by Studio 9's "observation deck" in time to watch Banarama go through some rehearsals for a "Greatest Party Hits" Top O' The Pops special to be filmed that night. They looked bored, annoyed and just a wee bit older than how I remembered them in the '80s. Fantastic stuff.

That night as Bananrama rocked the house we were sitting in on The Late Edition with Marcus Brigstocke - a man who has an incredibly quick wit and an impressively large head (both in size and brain capacity). It was a very good show and I was singled out by the warm up man/writer as having "a dirty laugh". Too true - and it's very loud, as anyone who has sat next to me can attest. Actually I have the proof as Caroline sent me a tape of the show as went to air...sure enough you can hear my guffaw ricocheting off the walls and out through the door only to land in Bananrama's lycra one piece...much to their boredom and annoyance.

While at the BBC Shop I took the opportunity to buy the complete set of "The Comic Strip Presents" DVDs. What joy, what rapture..."blah blah blah, atomic bomb, blah blah blah....etc".
It's just a pity that I couldn't get any of the Q.I. series as I'm busting to see it.

London itself was incredible and I spent the week going up and down the banks of the Thames, poking through stalls at Camden market and generally just doing really daggy Touristy stuff:

The Globe Theatre - home to Shakespeare, his plays and thousands of little old ladies and primary school students. Sadly I kept just missing the tour and so I missed out on seeing the inside...but boy did that gift shop get a thorough going over. Strangely no Globe Globes?

The Tate Modern - saw a great Rousseau exhibition which took me back to my childhood (I would spend hours poring over an old Rousseau book Dad had) and saw a whole bunch of cutting edge, modern/post modern/neo modern/mod modern/ mo' modernery crap that wouldn't look out of place at the last VCA Art school exhibition I saw (there's hope for you yet kids!)
Sad, bitter jibes aside, I did see some fantastic art. Rachel Whiteread's Embankment was incredible to see from the balcony but the slapstick in me wanted to see someone pull out one of the bottom cubes and watch the hilarious results - Ulp!

The National Portrait Gallery was an incredible place. I saw two new exhibitions 'Shooting Stars' Camera Portraits by Cornel Lucas and SELF PORTRAIT: Renaissance to Contemporary.

The Tower of London. After recently seeing the Goodies episode - how could I not?

The West End - I couldn't keep out of this area. I loved it. I went and saw Ewan McGregor in Guys and Dolls a week before he was to leave and the cast would change over. I love Frank Loesser's music and lyrics - it was a good show with some great performers. The best scene in it was the night in the Havana club. Good god - if Ewan can pull off a singing career then I can surely start to get over my stumbling blocks with the tra la la-ing.

I went to a taping for BBC 4 radio of the legendary American comic Shelley Berman. One of the original Compass improvisers and an early experimenter of stand up (as well as playing Larry David's dad on Curb) he was still great, really, really old - but still great. Paul Merton and Barry Cryer were in the audience as well that night along with a strange, eccentric little English couple who sat in the front row and spooked the comic. Oh and (here's my dopey fan bit) he touched my shoulder as he walked through the audience...that means I'm only one degree separated from Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Paul Sills, Viola Spolin and shit load of others...heh heh...

Let's see this is getting a bit long and boring now so I'll speed things up:

Sherlock Holmes Walking Tour - The Game was a foot Watson and me foots were hurting by the end of it. Featured a wonderfully nutty guide who was once a actress in the West end and insisted on singing occasionally. Also bumped into an Australian mate Chris Zwar purely by chance, we had a beer at the Holmes pub afterwards and caught up which was a treat.

The National Gallery - did a mini tour in an hour, basically just whizzed past hundreds of religious pics and picked out the best ones...Velasquez of course...

Theatre Museum - impressive displays of emphmera, costumes and videos but I wanted more from this place...

Hampton Court Palace - Whod've thought red brick could look so darn impressive. A lovely trip to the land of Blackadder - I half expected to hear Brian Blessed's thundering voice roaring down the passages calling out after Dame Diana Rigg (private joke).

Buckingham palace - I was there at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month...ohhh the crowds...and then it started to rain. all I could think of was Raymond Brigg's Father Christmas landing on the roof...

Piccadilly Circus. For some strange reason I could've sworn I saw a young Twiggy and Michael Caine running through the circus...then again maybe I bloody didn't.

Sigh. That'll do Pig, that'll do...


Kevin Yank said...

Great fun to read! Makes me want to go back. Don't worry about length, Lliam; the most important reader of this blog is you.

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