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?!?!

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