On tiles and fake houses

Leinster Gardens text

This text conversation took place on a Friday night, just over a week ago. It caused great excitement, much to the consternation of my companion at the time. It took rather a lot of explaining to help her understand the cause of my glee, and to be honest, I don’t think she ever got it entirely.

You, my lovely readers, will have understood though, surely? Leinster Gardens is famous and has been previously featured on this blog at least twice. I first discovered its secret during the tube’s 150th anniversary celebrations, courtesy of the fabulous 150 Great Things About the Underground blog. Then, thanks to Sherlock, the rest of the world discovered it this time last year. [In case you don’t remember, the location was one of Sherlock’s bolt holes.]

Sunday dawned bright and chilly – perfect conditions for some geeky exploring. It got off to a great start before I’d even joined my fellow geeks for brunch. My destination was Baker Street, and as I emerged from the Jubilee Line platforms (something that until three and a half years ago I had done six days a week), things felt different. Cleaner. Lighter. I thought perhaps the walls had undergone a deep-clean. As I reached the top of the escalator I realised that it wasn’t a lack of dirt, it was entirely new tiles. Not a big deal, you might think, but this part of Baker Street station had previously featured tiles reminding passengers of its most famous (yet entirely fictional) resident. Surely they hadn’t got rid of the Sherlock Holmes tiles??

Well yes, and no…
The tiles had gone, and been replaced by some classy, antique style tiles very much in keeping with Baker Street’s status as one of the oldest stations on the underground. BUT, one patch had been preserved – so sense had prevailed!

Baker St Tiles

Brunch over, we set off towards Paddington in search of Leinster Gardens. Should you want to find them yourself, they’re only 10 minutes walk from Paddington, so it’s very easy to do. So easy, I’m bemused that it’s taken me this long to get there!

Still unaware of the terraces’ secret? Take a look for yourself. Spot anything?


How about from this angle?

Leinster Gardens

Got it? There’s something fishy about number 23. Did you spot the different roof in the first photo? The peculiar ‘glass’ of the windows in the second?

If you walk to the end of the road, turn right and then right again, you soon discover what’s behind the windows:

Behind Leinster Gardens

That would be nothing. Well, not exactly nothing – the District & Circle lines run along here (although originally it was the Metropolitan Line). The line’s first trains were steam powered and needed space to let off steam (don’t we all??), but residents apparently didn’t want their lovely white terrace to have a massive hole in the middle of it. And thus, the facades were erected and the residents were happy. Until, presumably, lots of geeks turned up to take photos of it…

Getting back to the fun

I’ve been very lax on the fun front of late. I still note the fun, it’s just that these posts are probably the most finickety to compile and take forever – it says something about my respect for my time that it’s taken a back seat recently! But, I feel remiss, and there is fun to be had…

First off, obviously, would be a little bit of London fun. I had my own, real-life transport fun last weekend (more on that anon), but there is also fun of a virtual nature. Namely, maps. Bearing in mind that I’ve haven’t Friday-Funned since way before Christmas, there’s some catching up to do. I assume we’ve now all seen Londonist’s Medieval Tube Map? [No fewer than 10 people sent that gem to me! It’s utterly genius!] What about a tube map from the 1920’s? i.e. a pre-Beck map

1920 Tube Map

Away from the fun of city living, some music based data analysis. (What do you mean, this doesn’t sound fun??) The most popular lyrics/words of the Billboard chart have been visualised so we can explore the way in which lyrics have changed over the decades. My favourite discovery? ‘Christmas’ was a top 5 word in the 40’s and 50’s – to be replaced by ‘U’ in the 90’s and 2000’s, and profanity in the 2010’s… Fascinating stuff!

Billboard Lyrics Visualisation

On a totally different topic, we’re now firmly into awards season. Hurrah for pointless red carpets and meaningless recognition! [Seriously, HOW is The Lego Movie not nominated for Best Animated Picture at the Oscars??] But most of all, hurrah for excellent awards hosts. Next month, Neil Patrick Harris takes on the Oscars, which, if his Tony Award hosting is anything to go by, should be full of hilarity. Last weekend saw Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s final outing as the hosts of the Golden Globes and were fabulous – their opening monologue deserves watching, should you have been living in Outer Mongolia for the last week and unaware of their extremely witty brilliance. 

Finally, for some fun of an utterly ridiculous (yet strangely captivating) nature, how about a compilation of ‘Jessica Fletcher’s many epiphanies from Murder, She Wrote’? Yes, it’s nearly an hour long, but the first 10 minutes (before I realised how long it was) scored at least 6 chuckles. Who doesn’t love Angela Lansbury??

Communing with film

One of the things in life I wish I did more of (of which there are several!), is watch films at the cinema. Going alone, in the middle of the day, preferably to the Curzon Soho [which deserves saving from Crossrail 2], with a sneaky G&T in a can in my handbag, is quite frankly my idea of an excellent afternoon off.

Yet, it’s something I managed just once in 2014 – for the exceptionally wonderful Boyhood. [It was available on the plane on my way home from Texas and I watched all 3 hours of it all over again; wanted tell everyone around me to watch it too; and applaud those I spotted watching it while waiting for the bathroom. It’s awesome – watch it!] Instead, I remain loyal to a steady stream of DVD rentals to my door – old school, but the best way of getting new releases without having to pay through the nose for London cinema tickets.

Being an introvert, solo film watching is the epitome of a re-vitalising activity, but even I have to admit that cinema benefits from being viewed within community. I’m lucky, in that I have a number of cine-literate friends who can be relied upon for a good discussion after the event, or for the odd group trip. For a little while, we even had a monthly film club going. Being a member of the Church of Wittertainment also helps – a weekly dose of film recommendations (or warnings); regular rants; plenty of opportunities for listener contributions; and enough knowledge to make it sound as though I have watched every film released since September 2010 (the day I first entered the church).

Ultimately, cinema works best in community. Everyone reacts differently to films (just like books) and the range of subjects covered by the cinema in a year is huge – but, it can be difficult to know where to start. That’s why I was rather pleased to discover an organisation that does the hard work for you – by which I mean they get the discussion going – you still have to watch the actual film!!

Damaris Logo

I discovered the work of the Damaris Trust thanks to a friend offering me her +1 for a screening they had organised for a preview of Unbroken a film chronicling the real-life WW2 experiences of Olympian Louis Zamperini. I love the Olympics and have a long-standing interest in Japanese POW and intern camps (I’d love to say this was a result of my modern history degree, but it’s actually thanks to Tenko), so I was definitely up for it. Also, free film? No brainer!

Damaris have two elements to their work:
(i) Film Clubs where communities can come together, watch a film, eat food that connects with its theme, then engage in discussion and activities that relate to the film too.
(ii) Providing stand-alone discussion and activity guides for many of the biggest films.

Having watched Unbroken, I had to wait a week or two before the resources came online (it wasn’t released till Boxing Day), and I have to say, I was impressed. Unbroken was a hard watch – as most WW2 films are – featuring Zamperini’s 47 days in a life raft after being shot down over the Pacific, followed by his brutal treatment in POW camps. It took me a while to process what I’d watched – its first 30 minutes is not dissimilar in its intensity to the opening of Saving Private Ryan.


It’s a story that deserves being committed to film, but as my friend and I reflected as the credits rolled, the film could almost be said to have told the wrong story. Having not been broken by the persecution he received at the hands of a Japanese camp commander [you can see where the title came from], after the war Zamperini’s life was transformed by a Billy Graham rally he attended in 1950. Having dedicated his life to God, he decided to set about forgiving all those who had persecuted him – an embodiment of “as we forgive those who trespass against us”. And that’s the story I would have liked to have seen on film!

Maybe the war could have been the first third, and the rest his transformation and subsequent journey through forgiveness? 2013’s The Railway Man is similar in theme (POW, mistreated, traumatised, goes in search of his persecutors…) but that real-life story went in different direction at the war’s end. It’s a shame that the film about a lack of forgiveness got made, and the one with it did not.

However, the story is there before the credits – albeit in subtitles – and it packs a punch. And this is where the Damaris resources come in. Forgiveness is something that it’s easy to talk about, but hard to enact. We mean well, but ultimately it’s one of the hardest things we mere mortals can do. Therefore, it makes for a great discussion starter. How would you have coped in his position? Who might we need to forgive? Although there is a Christian slant, it’s by no means the primary focus – forgiveness is a concept that’s relevant to everyone. (And if that fails, there’s also a sport section in the resource!)

To be honest, discovering Damaris is something of an answer to prayer. I’m always keen to legitimise fun activities as ‘work’ and in a church context, community film watching and discussion would be a valuable tool! In fact, come the first day back at college after Christmas, I found myself recommending Damaris to a friend, after they’d mentioned a trip to see Exodus. And, having spent a sizeable chunk of the last few months writing a mammoth resource full of activities, I appreciate it when someone else does it for me!

Universal Screening

NB: I was under no obligation to write this post – I got to see a film for free in Universal’s private screening room, with wine and popcorn, but a blogpost wasn’t required in return. As usual, I only write about stuff that I think is worthy of it! 

2014 Firsts

2014 Firsts

Had a wisdom tooth removed [Possibly the best way to begin a year, ever!]
Baked bread from scratch
Eaten at Five Guys
Visited Wendover
Watched Billy Elliot, the musical
Taken tea at Tea & Tattle
Visited the Twinings Tea Museum
Made skiers out of pipe cleaners
Appeared in an article in The Independent
Played Twilight Imperium
Worshipped at St James’s Piccadilly
Visited Postman’s Park
Received a review copy of a book from Bloomsbury Publishing
Watched The Commitments musical
Received a tweet from a West End actor
Visited Pickering, Lastingham, Old Bydale and Rievaulx, while on the least retreating retreat ever!
Met very newborn lambs
Owned a pink hard hat
Watched a service at St Paul’s on a big screen in Paternoster Square
Sung Sing
Watched The West Wing [still got two and a half series to go]
Explored the abandoned Aldwych tube station
Been in the studio audience for a recording of QI
Had a commissioned article published in The Church Times
Achieved a First in a degree. [In fact, if I can be allowed to wallow in this special ‘First’ for a moment, this is the first First in my immediate family. It made me very happy!]
Eaten Scoop gelato
Sat on Centre Court at Wimbledon
Set foot inside the Shard and drunk cocktails there
Visited the Cabinet War Rooms
Watched the Tour de France live
Hunted for book benches
Travelled to Paris on an overnight coach
Lived in Newham
Worshipped at St Peter’s Bethnal Green
Made my own Magnum (ice cream, not gun)
Watched Miss Saigon
Studied for a MA at St Mellitus
Attended an outdoor wedding
Participated in Big Cottage
Received a tweet from Zoe Williams
Led an undergraduate reading seminar (& assisted with a tutor group)
Visited the Texas State Capitol
Visited a Presidential Library
Explored the campuses of Baylor, SMU and UT Austin.
Eaten a Snowcone
Consumed breakfast tacos
Travelled to Dallas
Watched a High School football game
Travelled on the DART
Worked in an office next door to the Texas School Book Depository
Eaten Chick Fil-A
Used Dallas Fort Worth airport
Had a layover in Minneapolis
Hunted for Paddingtons
Lectured on the Beginning Theology course
Made soup from scratch
Attended an international rugby match
Owned a Fitbit
Watched Made in Dagenham, the musical
Watched tennis being played at the Royal Albert Hall (Staliol Masters)
Visited the Geffrye Museum
Attended a private screening at Universal Pictures
Been to a production at the Royal Opera House
Watched the Royal Ballet perform

2014 – Blogging: Could do better…

I don’t need to check my statistics to know that my blogging productivity has been low in 2014. I could provide you with lots of excuses, but I won’t. I’d like to improve on my frequency somewhat in 2015 [this is not a resolution – I do not do resolutions!], but have come to the conclusion that quality is better than quantity and that certain changes to my lifestyle could up my productivity a bit.

So, 2015 is two days old and the media is full of retrospectives. The handy thing with blogging is that it acts as a memory jogging device as to all the year held, so I don’t have to wrack my mind too hard. Here are some highlights that spring to mind…

2014 may not have included thrilling trips to new, exotic locations (unlike 2013), but it did see two returns to Chateau Duffy and a second trip to the great state of Texas.

On a bright July morning, I found myself wondering deserted Parisian streets and had possibly the best views of the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower a tourist has ever had. I was en route to Chateau Duffy #6, which included what may have been my best birthday for quite some years. Surrounded by good chums and new friends, all were willing to celebrate my birthday according to ‘Liz Birthday Rules’ [from 4pm on July 29th, through to the end of the 30th, owing to being born in the Pacific]. There was a banquet in a barn, a quiz and possibly too many hours in a hot tub. (Is midnight to 3am excessive?? I was rather pruney, but hey, birthday privilege!)

Paris in July

Texas was awesome in a whole range of ways, not least because a fortnight of temperatures in the high 20s is quite a novelty for a Brit at the end of October! I will never tire of experiencing new places and cultures, and Texas is a even more of a joy now than it was back in 2012, thanks to the vast number of Texans who have crossed my path in the interim. Love y’all!

In June, I left St George’s after nearly three years of being their ordinand. The memories are plentiful and I’m very grateful to have made several friends there who I’m sure will be in my life for a long time to come. It’s been strange not being ‘officially’ attached to a church, but Christmas has proved that this can be a good thing and will serve as great preparation for all that’s to come in the future.

Celebrating Women at St Paul's

The Church of England did good too. In May, the 20th anniversary of the ordination of female priests in the CofE was commemorated with a fabulous celebration at St Paul’s Cathedral. Talk was full of anticipation of a yes to women in the episcopacy at the summer’s General Synod – and we were not disappointed. By the end of the year, we had the first female bishop. It’s amazing what can happen in a comparatively short space of time! [Obviously, I mean the stretch from July to December, not the twenty years since the 1994 ordinations!!]

My love affair with the greatest city in the world continued throughout 2014. There has been London Transport geekery aplenty, including the achievement of a long-held ambition to visit Aldwych Station. My last few months of central London living were punctuated with trying to complete local(ish) Hidden London walks (which I nearly succeeded in, except for the shortest walk that was closest to my flat, ironically).

Lovely London

East London has now replaced Central London as my local neighbourhood, which at times has been a tough adjustment. (Especially when going home after a night out in town, or on my way back from a long journey. Living so close to several mainline stations for three years spoiled me for life!) But, it’s had a lot of plus points – its proximity to the Olympic Park and Stratfield being two of them; the fact that bits of Epping Forest are just at the end of the street (ideal for running and muddy walks); living with friends who have an insanely cute three year old; and the fact that aforementioned friends finally have their home sauna finished!

I didn’t need Timehop to remind me yesterday that it was a year since series three of Sherlock premiered – and it still ranks as one of my TV highlights of the year. Of course, this is in part thanks to that first episode’s glorious tribute to the secrets of the London Underground, and largely owing to Mr Cheekbones Cumberbatch. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m doing fine since THAT notice appeared in The Times. My smallest housemate’s request to watch “apples and oranges” (his name for Cumberbatch counting on Sesame Street) the following day was, however, a little too soon…

Sherlock’s disappearance for another year or two was slightly mollified by the fact that the following week, the BBC aired a week of celebrity Bake Off. This short series is something of a bright spark in the dark winter of time between competitive baking series, when GBBO fans are counting down until late summer and a new cohort. 2014 did not disappoint, and like many a review of the last 12 months, the Baked Alaska cannot be forgotten. I still feel for Iain.

I wouldn’t have survived this year without my friends! Thanks to Matryoshka Haus, I found a new place to live and people to help me move. We had fun together in France and Texas, and continue to build community life in the unfriendly city. My Vicar School pals helped keep me sane during a very hard first half of the year, and I miss them terribly now I’m at college as a unique 4th year.

Two definite highlights of 2014 involved the same group of friends, a group that have now been a constant for over half my life. I think the Orchestra & Singers/OneSound reunion weekend brought home to us just how lucky we are to have had that organisation in our lives, and how much it’s impacted us. Four months later, we cemented a new tradition amongst our group, going away for a weekend on which the men amongst us were allowed to participate! Big Cottage 2014 was a roaring success, and the 2015 date is already in the diary.

Big Cottage 2014

Just like last year, the act of reflecting upon the year past has made me think about Firsts. No matter how hard I try, I can’t completely escape the pull of my 2010 decision to track all the things I’ve done for the first time, so another post on that topic will be imminent. After that, we’ll see what 2015 has in store!

This Christmas…

After years and years – in fact, pretty much a lifetime – of being heavily involved in the madness that is Christmas in the church, this year was the first time I really wasn’t that involved. In this year of being a ‘punter’ rather than a pulpit user, Christmas was always going to be a different experience…

On the one hand, I’ve missed the hustle and bustle of Christmas spent in the heart of a parish church, as the previous three years have been. The carol services prepared for; the Christmas sermons written; the community teas served at; and, most missed of all, Christmas dinner in my flat with the students. Marking the birth of Christ in seemingly every way possible.

But instead, I’ve had the gift of time. Time to celebrate Christmas in different ways and with different people. Like two consecutive Sundays late-lunching at the Giraffe in Spitalfields market – once with friends from Texas & Iceland, and the next week with Matryoshka Haus pals before we scattered for the holidays. Or a Thursday night with 30 Americans experiencing the joys of mince pies for the first time. (Note to self: next time, explain at the start that they don’t actually contain meat when I make them!)

And time to visit other churches too. Sundays have been the most different to previous years. When I’m free on a Sunday morning (which, this past term has been a terrifyingly rare occurrence thanks to globe-trotting; guest preaching; weekends away; & potential future church visiting) I’ve been worshipping at St Peter’s Bethnal Green. After a gap of some weeks, I felt thoroughly at home on my first Sunday back at their annual Christingle service – the first one I’ve been in the pew for since my very first experience at Westminster Abbey, when in year 7. Standing in a circle around the church, each of us holding a lit Christingle, in the dull light of a dark December morning, was very special.

Christingle at St Peter'sChristingle fruit & Dolly Mixtures – the Sunday breakfast of champions! 

A couple of Sundays later, on the final Sunday in Advent – when many London churches begin to suffer from what is known as the Mass Exodus – St Peter’s deviated from the traditional church carol service, and instead took its carols to the people. 10.30am found a throng of carollers, flasks of hot chocolate and trays of cake, accompanied by a piano rolled through the streets from the church, at the top of Columbia Road – which on a Sunday is home to the famous flower market. I was late, and followed the sound of singing from across Jesus Green (an appropriate location for an outdoor service, no?), and discovered that several residents along the Green had opened their doors and were joining in. It was a fabulous example of getting church out of the church building, and of the things clergy will do spontaneously – in this case, standing atop of a piano to read poetry. Impressive!

Adam on the piano(My favourite thing about this activity was that I found myself adjacent to two other descant singers, which made the carol singing even more fun. When you know you’ve got back up, you can really go to town.) 

Time also gifted me an experience I’d expected never to have again: a carol service at my church of seven years, St Mary’s Bryanston Square. My first ever service there was its carol service in 2004, and it resulted seven happy years worshipping there; becoming an Anglican; and ending up at theological college. Carol services are a big deal at St Mary’s – I sang in six of them and loved every single second of it – when I participated in my last one four years ago, I knew it would be one of the things I’d really miss about the church. Sitting in the congregation of the morning Christingle Service, tingles went up my back the moment the singing began (helped by the fact that the first number was my favourite Christmas song this season – Do You Hear What I Hear?) It was all so familiar. The children sang the same song I’d helped teach the under 6’s sing year after year (the gorgeous Love Shone Down); I caught up with friends I’d not seen in ages; children I remembered as infants had grown up; and all in all it was a fabulous treat. Nowhere does Christmas like St Mary’s, and it was a joy to get another chance at it.

St Mary's Christingle The singers in action at St Mary’s.

I’ve ‘done’ Christmas at a few different churches – there was also a more traditional carol service at Christchurch Spitalfields, supporting my singing flatmate, and a Christmas Eve making a first-ever visit to St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. Quite a change from only going to one, possibly two churches over the season.

Most of all, this Christmas of non-parish commitments meant that I was free to spend Christmas itself wherever I wanted. I had the option of either a curry Christmas in Tewkesbury (my sister and brother-in-law have long held a desire to go to a curry house for Christmas dinner), or a traditional-ish Christmas in Belfast. I opted for the latter, knowing that Christmas Day in Belfast will be impossible in future years. The siblings arrived on Boxing Day (although bro-in-law has had the lurgy for most of his visit) and a good time was had by all. Tomorrow, we return to England, leaving emptier cake tins and much wine bottle recycling behind.

Clutterbuck Christmas beach selfie #1

Clutterbuck Christmas beach selfie #3The family resemblance is uncanny…

At the ballet…

This week marked four years since I made my first ever venture into the world of ballet watchingCinderella at Sadler’s Wells. It was an experience that had been on my list of ‘first’ things I wanted to achieve in 2010, and I managed it with 10 days to spare. However, it was subsequently pointed out to me that while the work of Matthew Bourne is certainly excellent, it falls more into the ‘modern dance’ category rather than ‘ballet’. (I’d never seen a Bourne production live either, so it was still a first!)

Days before the anniversary of this auspicious event, I finally realised my First properly. Surely no one could argue that the Royal Ballet performing at the Royal Opera House doesn’t count as ballet??

As with my Bourne experience, the initiator was my balletomane friend Jules. In the heady days of summer, shocked that I’d never entered the hallowed ROH, she bagged some bargain tickets for a Christmas performance of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. [Top ROH tip: our tickets were £10 and in the heights of the Upper Amphitheatre slips, where the seats are actually cushioned benches. Being row CC and numbers 15 & 16 meant that we actually got a pretty good view. Any higher a number or row DD and things would’ve been tricky. Only one small part of the stage was obscured, and for £10, I’m willing to make that sacrifice!!]

alice & White Rabbit

Premiered in 2011, Alice is the Royal Ballet’s first full length ballet for two decades, choreographed by the rather fabulous Christopher Wheeldon. My biggest fear with watching dance is that I won’t understand what’s going on without words, but this made Alice a safe choice, given my familiarity with the source material.

Actually, even without the book and film versions, I think I would have understood the plot in this production. The beginning deviated from the source in that it featured a Lewis Carroll-esque photographer; and a handsome gardener chased away by Alice’s mother after discovering the pair kissing – but I picked up on this without the aid of the programme notes. The characters in the prologue went on to ‘play’ the Wonderland characters, Alice’s mother being the Queen of Hearts chasing the gardener’s Knave.


The production was just as bonkers and colourful as any version of Alice deserves to be. The Mad Hatter, resplendent in green and pink, tap-danced through his scenes; the caterpillar was a reincarnation of an Indian maharajah, whose Bollywood style moves perfectly captured the larvae’s undulating movement; and the Queen coasted in a giant acrylic heart for all of act 1! The set was reminiscent of Tori Amos’ The Light Princess, with animated shadow puppet style backdrops at points where extra narration was needed. Once released from her heart on wheels, the queen was the campest and most demanding prima ballerina the ROH’s stage can ever have hosted!

Caterpillar Alice

The ballet was magical and I highly recommend catching it at some point. (I’m pretty sure the entire run is now sold out, but it’ll be back…) But, almost more impressive was the sheer act of watching something in the Opera House. Fortunately, the 3 act ballet provided us with two intervals in which t take it all in – one spent admiring the auditorium space, and the other the sparkle and charm of the bars and corridors. Man, I love a good chandelier!

Looking up at the amphitheatre barObserving the observers in the amphitheatre bar.

It was an epic night out, one that might only have been improved had I still been living at my previous address, a mere 20 minutes walk from the ROH’s steps. Emerging to discover freezing rain would have been much easier to deal with knowing I’d be warm and dry in half an hour, instead of at the end of a 1 hour bus journey! [Three years in WC1 has spoiled me.]

Thinking back to that visit to Sadler’s Wells four years ago [incidentally, gosh what a lot has happened in those four years!], I’m pretty confident that a trip to the Royal Ballet would have been too much for a ‘first’. I simply didn’t know enough about the ballet world to have appreciated it.

What’s changed? Well, inadvertently, I’ve been on a crash course in ballet history, courtesy of a couple of BBC documentaries and a YouTube black hole. I knew a certain amount already, thanks to assiduous re-reading of the Drina books (last re-read in August!) and a certain fondness for stage/ballet school tv shows. The discovery of Dance Academy on Netflix early this year would partly explain my descent into ballet exploration. Set in a fictional Australian ballet school adjacent to the Sydney Opera House, it’s three seasons were a brilliant mix of ballet and Neighbours! Then there was the not fictional at all First Position – an award winning documentary about the Prix de Lausanne ballet competition. Mesmerising!

The above would probably be what I’d call an introduction to the world of ballet – they’re easy watches and in the case of Dance Academy, positively addictive. If you want to take things a little further, here are some links to gems that offered me some solace while finishing off my degree earlier in the year:

Royal Ballet School documentary (From the 90’s, featuring some famous names when they were young, and epic 90’s hair.)
Strictly Bolshoi (Christopher Wheeldon choreographs at the Bolshoi)
Ballet in Birmingham (Welsh pupils at Elmhurst School)
‘Agony & Ecstasy – a year with the English National Ballet’


Next year, I may have to set my sights higher – a classic ballet. Swan Lake perhaps, or Giselle? At least my childhood love of dancing books means I have an idea of their plots too! Jules, what do you reckon? Same place next year?

Busy Women

November 17th 2014 is a date that will be recorded in the history of the Church of England. It was the day when, after years of wrangling and discussion, the legislation enabling women to become bishops was finally signed and sealed.

I will remember the day, not because I whooped for joy and drank champagne (I’d done that in July when Synod passed the legislation), but because that evening I went to see Made in Dagenham the musical – a recent addition to the West End, and a story that has unnerving similarities with the women bishops campaign.

It was a free ticket courtesy of a friend who occasionally passes such things my way. Her greeting, as she joined me in our amazing, middle of the second row seats, was along the lines of: “isn’t this a good day!!” – and I, in my idiotic way, thought she was just talking about the imminent musical watching! But no, she was celebrating the demise of the stained glass ceiling!

Made in Dagenham backdrop

The musical is excellent – let’s get that out of the way first of all. I highly recommend it to all those of a feminist, musical loving persuasion. I’m often dubious about great films making the progression to the stage, but this one is up there with Billy Elliot – just replace tutu wearing Geordies, with overall wearing Essex girls. It’s the only musical I’ve ever come across to include a number on the subject of quantitive easing. A number featuring a toe-tapping Harold Wilson no less! It does the politics brilliantly – poking a lot of fun at the PM, but letting Barbara Castle be effortlessly wonderful.

Its final number probably would have had me standing up and cheering (appropriately, it’s called ‘Stand Up’) on any day, but on this day when the women of the Church of England had secured their own gender-based victory, it was all I could to stay in my seat and in control of my faculties! I wanted to shout to the entire theatre that I knew how these women represented on stage felt – we’d done it!! Nearly all my decorum vanished in that moment.

Made in Dagenham tweet

Even the star of the show appreciated the occasion! 

The events of Made in Dagenham occurred in 1968. Here I was FORTY-FOUR years later celebrating a victory of similar proportions! How did it take so long?? What on earth has the Church of England been doing all this time?? And, most importantly, when will this struggle get its own musical?!?

Of course, many of us know what the church has been doing over the decades. It’s been making progress – but slowly, so as not to cause alienation, division or schism. It’s been pondering theologically the question of whether women could hold this position. Its bureaucratic cogs have been turning slowly, first approving women priests twenty years ago, then battling over the episcopacy. Then, this week…

This week we’re celebrating again. On Wednesday, it was announced that Libby Lane will be the very first female bishop in the Church of England. When I started writing this post last week, speculation was rife as to who and where this would happen. [I’d hoped for Gloucester – purely because of my bias towards its cathedral!] The story isn’t over with the signing of the legislation or the first appointment – in fact, a new one is just beginning…

Why I ♥ London Transport

Two weeks ago, I was in a job interview type scenario [incidentally, no news on that front – this particular exploration didn’t work out] where I was asked what I liked doing for fun. Via a mutual friend, the interviewer had discovered my love of all things London Transport and so when I mentioned TfL geekery in response to this question, he wanted to know why. Given the context, I was keen to make the point that I wasn’t an anorak wearing, notebook toting geek – but what could I say?

I’m not sure I’d ever had to answer the question before. Possibly because in London, most people share the enthusiasm – it’s to do with being so utterly reliant upon a service, even though it drives us all nuts at times – life in London without public transport would be impossible. And that’s definitely where my passion began…

Bus GinBus AND gin! [Incidentally, the LT Museum now has a limited edition gin!!]

I was 11, had just started secondary school and had acquired a commute that involved a bus journey from the wilds of North London all the way to my school in Marylebone. In case of detours, terrorist action, rain or simply the eccentricities of London Transport, my mother suggested I get to know a few bus routes that might be useful. By the time we left London three years later, this had turned into a somewhat encyclopaedic knowledge of North London bus routes.

Westminster Station at Twilight

While the practicalities might begin a fondness for London Transport, they’re not enough to fuel full-on geek-dom. For me, the number one factor is the aesthetic – the font, the artwork, the style. Paris might come close, but honestly (and semi-unbiasedly) London wins in a contest of global public transit systems. It’s the simple things, like the Johnston font that became universal across the tube when it unified in 1933, and is now found wherever TfL rules the roost. And the roundel, introduced in 1933, which isn’t just a logo or an indication of a station, but a design classic.

Bethnal Green Roundel ClockThis clock is just one example of London Transport’s commitment to its house-style.

Cities like Paris and New York might keep their stations almost entirely underground, but not London. Possibly thanks to the evolution of the network over time, combined with the aesthetic passions of those in charge, the underground has a network of stations that are nearly entirely architectural icons. The earliest stations, with their platform canopies and painted columns, remain classic a century and a half on. Line extensions and renovations enabled some of the country’s best architects to leave the city with a lasting legacy.

Temple Station platform

Take Charles Holden – architect of Senate House and 55 Broadway (still, but not for much longer, TfL HQ) – he’s responsible for the northern end of the Piccadilly Line’s style. Arnos Grove, Bounds Green, Cockfosters – all slightly different, suited to their context and location. Oh, and he did the southern end of the Northern Line too, and would have done the north too, had the war not interfered with getting his plans completed. What I love too, is that time hasn’t changed London Transport’s design values either. The architecture of the Jubilee Line extension is just as impressive, but in a completely different way. All of the stations on the network seem to reflect the age in which they were created.

Charles Holden Piccadilly LineFound here.

Then there’s the inside of the stations. Every single one is different. True, there might be a particular colour palette for a certain line, or a particular style – like the red tile accents along parts of the Central Line – but each one has its own motif. The Bakerloo at Baker Street has Sherlock Holmes tiles. Finsbury Park’s Piccadilly Line platforms has the ascending hot air balloon mosaics. Charing Cross on the Northern Line is the home of Chaucer-like characters. You could spend days exploring the art gallery that is the London Underground. (And that’s before visiting the regular art exhibits at Gloucester Road!)

To the trainsI’m pretty sure this is Russell Square – it’s certainly the colour & style of that part of the Piccadilly Line.

But, the fire that helps this passion burn is the history. Seriously, if I’d thought about it sooner I’m sure there are many PhDs to be had out of TfL geekery! The art, design and architecture all contributes to its history, but the very simple fact that it’s been around for over a century and a half gives it huge status for a history nerd!

It’s the contribution it makes to London’s social history – how transport has been used, by whom and where. The fact that changing populations and two world wars impacted the way the network worked, and where its stations were. It’s charted the progress of technology and engineering, from horses, to tramlines, to driverless trains and hydrogen buses. Within all of this, obviously, are the fascinating worlds of disused stations and maps…

Embankment 1980's MapEmbankment’s 1980’s map.

Ah, the psycho-geography of London Transport!

I love walking down a street and knowing that there’s an abandoned station along it. That once upon a time, this was a place deemed worthy of a station. But that once upon a time, a few years later, it wasn’t. [Or, in the case of Aldwych, was never really worthy of a station in the first place!] Perhaps the building’s still there; perhaps it’s been converted into something else, but still bears the tell-tale brickwork or signage; or perhaps it’s just a memory and a chapter in the nerdy book station of the London Transport museum.

Aldwych StationThe side entrance of the now unused Aldwych.

And that’s the final thing. I love London Transport because it loves itself! As we approach the end of the Year of the Bus (and the inevitable museum shop new year sale in which I think I will be very happy), a year that followed the tube’s 150th birthday, it’s clear that its history really is worth celebrating. I think knowing and understanding the history helps Londoners to appreciate what they have. We still use the same stations built 151 years ago. I regularly stand on a platform at the start of a tunnel that Brunel built in the 19th Century. The tube’s map still has a huge amount it owes to Beck, despite regular changes and updates.

Year of the BusYear of the Bus celebrated on Regent’s Street.

Honestly, where would we be without you London Transport??

1950s Map1950’s Map

The legacy of November 22nd

If you were alive at the time, it’s accepted convention that you know exactly where you were on this date 51 years ago, when news broke that JFK had been assassinated. I was not alive, but I do remember exactly where I was on 21 years ago, on the 30th anniversary of the event – in bed, with the flu, listening to a Radio 4 documentary about the assassination. [I was 12, I’m pretty sure Radio 4 wasn’t my choice.]

It stuck in my mind for a few of reasons:
1. I was 12, and I’m pretty sure this would have almost been the first time that I was properly aware of the events of 1963.
2. In the same documentary, I discovered that C.S. Lewis had died the same day – a death that was completely overshadowed by events in Dallas. To my 12 year old, Narnia-loving mind, this was a travesty.
3. Being ill had meant that I missed out on my best friend’s 13th birthday party. [12 year old priorities…]

Over the years, obviously, I heard more and more about the disputed and theorised events of November 22nd, 1963. It became pretty much the only thing I knew about Dallas. In fact, in 2008 when my Dad visited the city, he sent me a postcard with this famous photograph on it, and a note on the back that “this is still the only thing that Dallas is famous for…”.


To be honest, he was right! I’m too young to remember Dallas and quite honestly, didn’t know the city for any other reason than the terrible events on Dealey Plaza. When the trip to Dallas appeared on the horizon, I figured I’d make a pilgrimage to the spot at some point – because I like my history and US Politics – I did not expect to be looking out upon it for day after day…

I was in Dallas because it’s recently become the US hub for Matryoshka Haus (the missional community/social enterprise incubator I’m a part of). An element of that ‘hub’ is a desk at The Grove, a collaborative co-working space in downtown Dallas that’s situated on the corner of Elm and North Houston, just across the street from Dealey Plaza. About a month before I visited, a fellow Matryoshka Hausien was among the first to visit the desk, and tweeted about the view from its window:

Rachel & the grassy knoll

And the view?

Dealey Plaza

I really was not expecting to come face-to-face with a site of history – or at least, not quite so frequently. For several days I sat either at our desk or one near by, overlooking a site that many would argue changed the course of world history. [What would the world look like if Kennedy had lived? Would he have won a second term? What would have happened in Vietnam? In Cuba? To civil rights in the US? To his brother? Endless questions…] On my final day at the office, this was my view:

Texas School Book Depository

This is what used to be the Texas School Book Depository Building. The window on the far left, second floor down, is the corner in which Lee Harvey Oswald stood (or did he??), with the gun pointed out of the window looking out of the front of the building. The 6th floor is now a museum dedicated to the events of 51 years ago, complete with a large quantity of conspiracy theorising. You can’t get away from the theories…

Heritage sign, Texas School Book DepositoryThe heritage sign outside the museum – note the underlining of ‘allegedly’.

To be honest, I’m not a great one for theorising. The fact remains that JFK was killed and the world had to find a way to move on from that point. But, it turns out that pretty much everyone you talk to has a different theory on why he was killed  – and these range from possibly illogical, to virtually insane. No one will ever know the reasons behind the assassination, but that doesn’t mean that people will stop trying to find out! The museum is worth a visit – I was surprised at how anxious I became as the chronology moved towards the shooting. But I got bored with the long section at the end about the various Commissions and rehashing of evidence. It’s also very protective of the windows in question, you’re not allowed to take photos at all on the 6th floor, which of course only fuels speculation further. I had a much better view from over the road!

X Marks the SpotX marks the spot on the route of the motorcade.

I’ve returned home with a pile of fridge magnets and postcards, all showing the same view of the Texas School Book Depository building, and the plaza:

TSBD & GroveNot because I feel the need to be reminded of the events of 22nd November 1963 every day – but because in the photo, you can see the window that the Matroyshka Haus desk is next to. The building across the street from the book depository is unchanged, save for the loss of a fire escape, and if you count four floors up (where ground = 1) on the side adjacent to the depository, you find ‘our’ window.