Sunday, 30 October 2011

A Walk in the West and Other Musings

A couple of times now I have walked all the way into work from home. It's a journey of about 6 miles, and it's really quite interesting and varied, so I thought I'd talk you through some of the highlights.

1. Uxbridge Road
To begin, I leave my little area and head east up Uxbridge Road towards Shepherd's Bush. It's a busy throughfare, carrying a constant stream of people, cars, buses, bikes and taxis in and out of Central London. Follow it far enough west, and you can join up with the main roads which take you out of the capital towards the M25 and other main routes. East, and you're heading right into the heart of the city. It's a very multi-cultural area, with people of all races and religions to be found here. The shops match: a mix of halal kebab and fried chicken shops, cloths and materials, fruit and veg shops, newsagents, cafes and hardware stores. The further east you go, the more mainstream it becomes, so that by the time you've passed Shepherd's Bush market, you reach more westernised shops, such as Sainsburys, McDonalds and Starbucks.

2. Shepherd's Bush
This is taken to the extreme at the far end, by Shepherd's Bush station. Next to it is the huge commercial Westfield shopping centre, with its high street chain strores such as TopShop, Debenhams, H&M etc, as well as its high end 'Village' section, containing designer shops such as Dolce & Gabbana, Tiffanys and Versace. Plus, in the true spirit of Western consumerism, more restaurants and cafes than can possibly ever be visited, selling everything from what they call "Vietnamese Street food" to crepes to burgers.

3. Holland Park
After crossing a busy road, the route heads up Holland Park Avenue. Instantly, things are quieter and leafier, and you pass extremely rich side roads such as the Royal Crescent. A few shops are scattered at intervals along here, all with the same sense of exclusivity: restaurants, bohemian looking cafes and expensive hair dressers.

4. Notting Hill
On the first time I did the walk, I took a detour through Portobello Road (on the cupcake trail again, as it happened). Notting Hill has a reputation for being cool, artsy and hip, for pretty good reason. There is a lot of junk in stalls on Portobello Road Market, but there are a lot of interesting and unique shops there too, which (so long as you avoid going on a Saturday) are easy to waste time browsing in. My favourite bit of Portobello Road though is the pretty line of pastel-coloured houses which line the street before the market itself. The main road through Notting Hill is far less interesting: busy and packed with standard shops such as WHSmiths.

5. Hyde Park
Although not the most direct route, strolling through the Park is far nicer than carrying on along the traffic-clogged Bayswater Road. I love escaping into Hyde Park; I instantly feel much calmer and more peaceful once away from the fumes and noise. Even though hundreds of people do the same, the park is vast enough so that you can cut off down little paths and actually be alone. It's a varied space, with the lake taking up much of the centre (although the surrounding green is huge enough so that it is possible to walk from end to end and not actually see the Serpentine), trees providing welcome shade in the summer and a beautiful backdrop of orange in the autumn and open areas of grass. It is popular with dogwalkers and horse riders (I even found a manege the other day!)
^Hyde Park all autumny.

6. Mayfair
By exiting the Park at its eastern edge, you cross Park Lane and enter Mayfair. Well, what can I say? We're in the dark blue area of the Monopoly board here! Now the edges of the streets are lined with brand new, extremely posh sports cars and Chelsea tractors. It is quiet and residential at first, and then the shops start to appear. It puts Westfield's 'The Village' to shame! We are in the region now of Savile Row, Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, Claridges Hotel and Sotheby's auction house. I think one sight which best summarises this area is as follows: outside one tall townhouse between Park Lane and Grovesnor Square, someone had put out their recycling to be collected in a Selfridge's Food Hall bag. Ha! Enough said.

7 Regent Street
Dividing Mayfair and Soho is Regent Street. Beautifully designed, it really is a gorgeous road, and now everything is much busier again. Although it gives off the appearance of being upmarket and exclusive - and does contain some such shops - it is very much on the tourist trail and so the chainstores reappear here.

It is also possible to exit Hyde Park through a more northerly route, by Marble Arch and walk down Oxford Street, which is similar in many ways to Regent Street. My main observation of both of these streets lately is how Christmassy they are already looking. The lights are up (but thankfully not on yet), but the department stores have already gone majorly festive. The window displays in Selfridges are absolutely stunning; John Lewis has bordered itself with blue lights and Liberty has decked its halls!

8. Soho
So, cross Regent Street, walk past Liberty and you are in Soho. Soho has, a little surprisingly, really grown on me. I know it quite well now and love its eclectic mix of eccentric shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. It has a reputation as being quite sleazy, and to be fair the area just behind my theatre IS full of 'adult' shops and I know for a fact there is more than one brothel around. But, that aside, it's a great area. It has such character, always has such a buzz about it and is the best place to find independent shops and cafes. There are several record shops, a large vintage clothing shop, a coffee shop which gives a 10% discount for those who work in theatre(!) and lots of quirky little cafes (many of which do amazing cakes, of course!!). There is little traffic in Soho as there are so many tiny roads, alleyways and dead ends, so it is only taxi drivers and other interprid motorists which make it around there. The outdoor market on Berwick Street produces amazing smells and adds a splash of colour. The mix of people is extraordinary and there is always something different to see (plus I spotted Mackenzie Crook again the other day, coming out of the stage door at the Apollo!). I still find it bizarre how the glitzy theatres of Shaftesbury Avenue back directly onto this neon-signed, dark-alleywayed, intriguing, pulsing area. But I like it.

Little bit of browsing in Harrods and Harvey Nics the other day was all kinds of nice, although I still cannot get over the fact that there are actually people in there who actually buy stuff. I watched, fascinated for a while, as a woman (and her husband, who was clutching his credit card) tried on £700 worth of Vivienne Westwood coat, and another girl not even flinch when told that the Jimmy Choos she was trying on were £600. Wow. I satisfied myself with a free sample of gorgeous cheese in Harrods and gorgeous chocolate in Harvey Nicholls.

So, 3 weeks left of this show, a week off and then the new one begins. We've been pretty busy lately as the show's being to come to its end. The actors - I think - are getting better! And I feel quite friendly with Simon Williams as he always waves to me when he's warming up and I'm checking the seats. Last week, the actors came into the audience at the end of every show to do a collection for charity, so it was our job to stand by them and take the buckets off them at the end. SW nearly got me in trouble by suggesting I gave one man a free programme when he donated generously to the pot. I couldn't. Tsk. It's funny watching people react to the actors - they really did show off with how much they were putting in the buckets. I'm sure if it had been us ushers holding them, we wouldn't have raised anywhere near as much. By the end of the week, our theatre alone raised £3700. And this was happening across the West End.

One more highlight to tell you of, and that was working at 'Mamma Mia!' on Tuesday! We were asked last week if we were interested in working a shift there, as they were putting on an extra matinee for half term week and needed more staff. Obviously I jumped at the chance. Absolutely loved it! Their staff area is backstage so the ushers' dressing room is right along the corridor from the actors'. I got to see most of the show and it was just amazing! It was so cool, getting paid to watch it, when I'd have happily paid to watch it! It's such a feel-good show: I came out with a huge smile on my face. And haven't stopped singing Abba in my head since. It was also lovely getting to work with a different type of audience - there were lots of families there, including young children, and the little girls had all dressed up in their party frocks to go to the theatre - so cute! I showed one very excitable pair of girls up to one of the boxes with their parents (who were almost as excited! ;) ) and sold 40 ice creams in the interval. 40! Lots of fun all round; I hope to do it again some time! Or perhaps somewhere else? What else haven't I seen? Les Mis?!?!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Random Recent Observations

1. One of the lights in the BBC Television Centre has broken so it now reads 'BBC Televiion Centre'.

2. I saw a very posh silver car driving out of the above mentioned place with the number plate 'W12 BBC'. Director General?! Or just a very proud worker?

3. Press night at next door theatre last night. Red carpet and a queue round the corner and up the road. Our next press night will be mental!

4. Boss said that if we up our programme sales to 20% of the audience, she'll get us all an ice cream. If you're good, I'll buy you an ice cream OK?!

5. 18 people left during the interval yesterday with one group complaining so much they wanted their money back. Apparently they were shocked and offended. By the play's plot, not our ice cream/programme selling, I hasten to add.

6. Spotted Mark Rylance again. He's cool.

7. It's cold now. Definitely. This means new coat (yay!) and scarf and boots and tights and all things nice.

8. I went swimming the other day. Yes, me! Leisure centre just up the road. I did 55 lengths and for the last 5 minutes was the only person in the pool. I got out partly so the lifeguard could go on his break.

9. The Comic Strip Presents: The Hunt for Tony Blair. Nuff said.

10. And for the essential cupcake update. I sent Viv and Jo a picture a while back of a display of cupcakes in a shop window. Finally got round to going in and trying one. OMG - so so gorgeous! Great range of choices, plus they had some very cute Halloween ones in. The disadvantage was that there was hardly any seating in the cafe so I got a takeaway. The advantage of this was it came in a cute box.

It was more expensive than the secret cupcake but probably slightly nicer even. There are more than one of these bakeries in London so I'm going to do some further scouting to see if any of the other branches have more seating. I shall of course keep you posted! ;)

Friday, 14 October 2011

Home again, home again.

OK so I won't dwell on the holiday as this is a blog about London. Suffice to say that Dubrovnik was beautiful, weather lovely at first, and we had a great time until the 2nd day when I got violently ill, spent the rest of the time in bed and am still no longer able to look at garlic. Moving on...

I got back to London on Monday having landed in Derby on Sunday. Still a bit wobbly and washed out, I took the night off work sick Monday night, which was a good move as by Tuesday I felt better. Think the initial novelty of living here must be starting to wear off, as I actually allowed myself a day at home without getting itchy feet thinking I should be off out exploring somewhere.

Work this week has been fine - quite quiet with only the mild drama of some works going on outside causing the stalls bar to flood, leaving us with a very squelchy carpet and a lot of customers having to traipse upstairs to get their interval fuel elsewhere.

Bit of a weird moment yesterday in the interval. A American man walked back into the theatre having taken some air outside and I said "Enjoy the second half". He paused and looked at me and said, matter-of-factly: "You have a funny accent." I told him, in a surprised tone, that I was from Kent, near London. He once again informed me "It's funny," and just walked off! Slightly offended.

The other change this week is that big boss is back and has told us we have to start actively selling the programmes and other merchandise. So I had to stand on the front doors last night as everyone was leaving yelling 'Programmes! Merchandise!" and feeling like a complete tit. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work. Only did it because she was watching - I don't expect I'll put myself out quite so much when she's not around!

After work last night we all went out for a birthday. About 20 of us descended on La Tasca at about 10.45pm which I'm sure they loved (it's alright - they were warned in advance). Had a great night though and a good meal. Afterwards, the plan was to go to a salsa club for dancing, but the place was closed! Instead, those among us in the know took us to a theatre bar - ie a 'club' exclusively for people who work in theatre. I have become a lovvie. Apparently it used to be a place where theatre crews and the stars working on the West End came to escape for a quiet drink where they knew they wouldn't be disturbed by autograph hunters. Not quite like that any more - it's a little cheesy and self-important - but still quiet enough to be able to get a seat and have a they played lots of cheesy show tunes which was a hit with our lot!

Weather truly autumnal enough now (finally) to be able to get out the boots and scarf and tights and coat. Hurrah! Went for a wander before work yesterday and sat in Berkely Square feeling satisyingly chilly. Noticed too that some of the Christmas lights have been erected on Oxford Street in preparation... eek!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Secret Cupcakes

Major update on the cupcake search. A friend at work yesterday told me about a secret cafe hidden above a ***** in ***** (I think if I tell you, they have to kill me, so I shall keep schtum because I want to be allowed back!)

OK, I'm exaggerating. You do have to know it's there to notice it, but it's also advertised outside the PUB which is in SOHO ;)

So I went along. Oh. Em. Gee. It's beautiful. It's all done in 1940s style, with little chairs and tables laid with floral tablecloths and cakestands. When I arrived noone else was there, but shortly after me two other parties turned up. In the corner there was a proper old record player playing typical songs from the '40s.

I sat at a table near the open window (weather finally broken - ish - it was cloudy today and breezy, but still not cold) and browsed the menu. Oh heavens. So much amazing looking choice. When the waitress (wearing a little white pinny) came to take my order I chose a tea and asked about cupcakes. I was given a choice of four flavours and chose the lemon curd. The tea came first, and I was provided with a set of china crockery, a tea strainer (excellent sign as I was so disappointed that the cafes I've tried so far served tea in teabags!) and a little egg timer. She told me that the tea would be brewed and ready when the sand ran out. Exciting!

The cupcake was beautiful, light and crumbly with a gorgeous and generous swirl of lemony icing on top, which was not too sickly; there was also lemon curd in the centre of the cake. The tea was also very nice. It wasn't cheap, but not too expensive either - my bill came to around £5. Worth it I think for the escape into such a quaint little place, free from the crowds of tourists.

Shall I become a food critic? I could so do this full time...

Last night at work this evening for a while - I'm off to Croatia on Thursday morning! Via Derby tomorrow. So this will be my last update for a little while. Have a good week, lovely readers :)

Monday, 3 October 2011

Autumn Daze?

A welcome breeze today, but still completely gorgeous. Managed to chill out a bit at home this morning and didn't head out til after lunch. I got the tube to Belsize Park and wandered in the sunshine down the hill through Chalk Farm and to Primrose Hill. There I found a little cafe where I could sit outside to have tea and cake. The cake was still warm - delicious! Oh so terribly civilised.

From there I walked into the park itself and lolled about in the sun looking down over London.

It was great as it was quite quiet being as it was a Monday. Yesterday I spent part of the afternoon in the park in Holland Park. It was incredibly beautiful but every available space was packed with people. Mostly incredible posh people too, seeing as it's such an affluent area (the houses are unbeLIEVable). I settled in a spot next to a mother and grandmother who had taken 2 children to the park for a picnic. The little boy was called Dylan and as soon as he ran off more than two metres in any direction there were cries of "Careful, Diddy! Oh Dilly, come back to mummy now! Watch him, darling!" Hahahahahaha. The grandmother also looked the utter stereotype of aristocracy - all coiffed and elegant with her blonde hair pulled back in a headband and chin raised to the heavens.

So anyway. Primrose Hill was much less civilised, happily. I decided I may as well go the whole hog and walk to work from there as I really didn't fancy getting on a tube when it was so beautiful outside. So I continued down the hill, past London Zoo and through Regent's Park. I can't remember the last time I felt so peaceful and happy and content. There was a little buzz of people about, just sauntering through the park without the normal sense of London rush. The sun was warm still but beginning to get low in the sky, and so gave everything a slightly yellowish glow. The air smelt of the fallen autumn leaves which covered the pathway: one of my favourite smells, I think.

At the bottom of the park I found Portland Place which took me past BBC Broadcasting House (such a cool building! More BBC employees, hm) and to Oxford Street!  Quite a walk in the end, but still ended up in Soho at just after 5, so grabbed a curry in the sushi place opposite work before going into work.

Another quiet night at the theatre in all. It's all getting so natural now. At the end of the night my boss annouced they were holding a competition this week with a prize for whoever sells the most programmes. Typical I'm only here for 2 days! And wasn't on programme selling duty tonight, so unless I can sell a truckload tomorrow I think I shall concede defeat on that one. Bah.

Still loving the randomness of the theatre world. Tonight 2 of my work mates were arguing about how nice the girl who plays Tracy Beaker is. ('She's lovely!' 'No, she's so stuck up!' 'Well I know someone who lived with her for two years who says she's nice and every time I've met she's been nice.' 'Well to be fair, every time I've seen her she's been drunk.'... etc etc) One of them has a call-back to audition as her love interest in a spin off show apparently. Hope he gets it, that would be too cool. Although it is the one who doesn't like her, which could be awkward.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Sunshine and Celeb Spotting

I write from my bed next to the open window. Outside the sun is still blazing down, as it has been all week, and the air smells of barbeques. All this at the beginning of October. It's a strange sensation, walking about in a sundress in 29 degree heat, crunching through autumn leaves and fallen conkers. Am certainly not complaining though!

Had a fantastic time with Ellen. She arrived in the blistering heat and so we began by having a little picnic in a park near the river. Ruby's show was excellent. Truly brilliant: at times very funny and then immediately shocking or poignant, mixed with beautiful music sung by the very talented Judith Owen. Really glad we went before it closes.

The rest of our time was really marked by a variety of celebrity spots (just as I was complaining they'd all gone into hiding!) On the way to work we nearly got run over by Helen Lederer, hurrah! :D Then I met up with some workmates and we saw Mackenzie Crook buried under a baseball cap in McDonalds and Mark Rylance eating sushi in the window of the restaurant opposite the theatre. Friend Mark, who is a massive fan, spontaneously grinned and waved at him and Mark R returned the favour.

Wee bit of drama at work as when we arrived there was no power backstage so there was some doubt as to whether the show could go ahead. As we were standing at the stage door talking about it, Chris Larkin, who acts in the show turned up on his bike, signed an autograph and stood around chatting for a while.

Anyway, they (unfortuntely) fixed the power and we did the show. Afterwards, there was a bit of a work night out happening, so after finding Ellen again we hit Soho with everyone else. It really is another world, this theatreland: so many people casually chatting about their 'friend' who acts in such and such a show, or what Matt Lucas was like backstage when in Les Miserables (apparently joking around to the point of driving the crew crazy!) Visited a slightly dubious yet cheap club after which Ellen and I departed for the bus (whereon we met a very interesting tea selling guy, to whom Ellen informed she preferred drinking coffee), home and flop.

The following day we breakfasted in Patisserie Valerie because we could. We then paid a swift visit to the National Portrait Gallery (no sign of French painters) before heading back west to the BBC. Last time I did a BBC tour it was a Saturday and thus very quiet. Quite the opposite on a Friday! To start with, we had to walk past the huge line of people queuing to get into the Strictly Come Dancing audience (this was at 2pm; the show didn't start til 9). Whilst we were waiting in the lobby, Ellen spotted Fiona Bruce coming into work. In the doughnut there were some of the Strictly dancers practising (showing off) and we were taken to a viewing gallery of a studio where Chris Moyles was practising hitting somebody over the head repeatedly with a frying pan ('Bottom' tribute? Not sure - it also seemed to involve a live bird of prey which was flying around the studio; bit odd). I was busy puzzling why I hadn't done a tour on the previous Friday...

Took Ellen back to Euston then headed off for work. My feet were killing me (again) and it was a manically busy shift - the busiest since open night and over 50 people came in late and had to be dealt with (by which I meant organised to be taken in at the scene change, not punished...). Saturday's shifts were mainly defined by the unbearable heat. Between shifts we picknicked in Soho Square which was lovely, but returning to the stuffy theatre was mildy painful. The managers did bring in edible treats for us though as a 'well done' for making it 2 weeks and for how well we 'dealt with' the late comers the night before. I met Ollie after the show, who had decided to come down again. We went for a wander so I could show him around and then bussed it back home. Today we went for a stroll through Hyde Park, had coffee by the Serpentine and continued to walk through Green Park before he went home. I'm off up there on Wednesday in preparation for us jetting off to Croatia! Exciting!!!! And, happily, the weather here is meant to have turned by then, so hopefully we'll be chasing the sunshine.

Busy Piccadilly Circus on a Saturday night: