Monday, 30 April 2012

Leaks, fridges and electric hob knobs

After dinner last night I was busy carrying out my husbandly duties when there was a large crash and a horrendous scream from behind. I had to quickly abandon the pot which I had been busy scrubbing with my bubble covered hands in the sink, and turned to see what the commotion was.
The fridge door had fallen off it's hinges. Unfortunately Ka had been trying to close the large, upper door over at the time. Something had been preventing Ka from closing the door over so she looked into the fridge to make sure everything was tidied away properly and just as she moved to take her head back out from the fridge's innards, the door, complete with the weight of all it's interior shelf innards, including the milk and my Branston Pickle, collapsed into her face, banging her across the forehead.
Just as I was about to start moaning at Ka’s volume I turned to find my wife crouched over in pain, holding the fridge door up on one bottom hinge. After shoving the door temporarily back into place I got a bag of ice together from the freezer and told Ka to put it to her head as I seen the red mark now throbbing on Ka's forehead grow into a potential lump.
The washing machine has been leaking. Two of the electric cooker’s hob’s knobs have broke off (and no, they don’t taste great with a cup of tea!). A bit of the front door’s frame even fell off when I closed the door the other night. I had to superglue it back on. What else is going to fall apart? The place is turning into The Money Pit! I’m half expecting Tom Hanks to crash through the front window one night while I’m turning the hobs on with my pliers.
As Ka sat and relaxed on the couch with the bag of ice pressed to her head, giving her brain freeze, I attempted to fix the fridge door with a blob of blu-tac before deciding that the Currys website would probably be a better idea.
A quick, unexpected, credit card payment later and there is now a brand new fridge being delivered on Wednesday morning. Mum will pop by after her pilates and sit in for the delivery which I paid £15 for the pleasure of having delivered between the hours of 1 and 5 for. The one good thing about buying anything on the Currys website is you’re not hounded for guarantees and insurances when you get to the checkout.
No other time would suit unless we waited until the weekend but on returning home tonight I nonchalantly swung the fridge door forgetting all about the worn out hinge and almost suffered the same lumpy head as Ka did.
Everybody seems to be settling in to the new office in Glasgow Central Quay for the time being. Sly Bailey, the Trinity Mirror Empress herself visited Central Quay last week, moving around the various floors accompanied by her entourage. As I have my back to the always open Studio door I missed the whole procession but was informed by the ever watchful Andrea, who sits opposite me, that she had a very nice pair of shoes on. Always one to spot the important details, she said that the pair of shoes in question would be enough to make Andrea’s family go without food for a week. If Andrea’s family are anything like her that what probably be doing them a favour as all she seems to eat are protein shakes, those disgusting looking mushy substances which, apparently, you simply must base your diet on if you intend to build muscle, losing weight or keep fit in anyway, shape or form. I’m not sure what’s wrong with a good healthy diet but maybe some people just like sitting in their office theatrically shaking plastic bottles and flasks around kidding on their working at the Copacabana.
The new colleagues in our office are Graeme, Andrew, Ewan and Yvonne.
Yvonne has a liking to karaoke, singing along to most of the ditties that are played on Radio 2 in the duration of the day. Graeme dances around the office, finds nothing a problem, and occasionally picks up the phone and pretends he’s an answering machine for Andrew, beeping and even singing whilst the caller waits. The Bette Midler classic, “The Wind Beneath my Wings” was the last song a caller enjoyed whilst waiting to be passed over to Andrew, who is forever shaking his head at his colleague, as he types away frantically on his mac. Ewan is the line manager of the three who spends all his time keeping sales people at bay and a lot of his money on Peanut M&M’s which Yvonne hands out willy nilly, without his permission.
I’m enjoying the new surroundings although I do occasionally miss the rest of the S&UN gang who are out in the open plan office with the rest of the production and sales staff. Some of the sales staff I’ve known for years over the phone and only just met face to face. Some people you meet for the first time not even realising you’ve been talking to them for five years. You go out and happily start talking to someone as if you’re only just meeting them for the first time only to realise afterwards that that was the woman that shouted at you over the phone a year or so ago for not understanding her copy instructions.
Mum managed to get a wee job in the town centre last week. Mum’s been looking for a job, on and off, (mostly off) for around four years now so this is quite big news. Kenny emailed me today from Oz, rejoicing the fact (“it’s about time too”, I believe were the words he used).
Mum arrived back from a holiday abroad on Friday. She’d been away for a week with my Auntie Tricia with Aunt Ann for her 60th birthday retreat along with a bunch of pals from both Scotland and London.
Unfortunately Adventure Ted never got an invite, but did send photos of her London trip along in Auntie Ann's card which she would have opened on her birthday on the Sunday.
Mum and Tricia arrived home on Friday at the airport expecting Tommy, Tricia’s other half, to be there waiting to pick them up.
Tommy was indeed sitting waiting to pick them up. Unfortunately he was sitting in Glasgow Airport whilst Mum and Tricia had arrived home at Prestwick.
Grace and Dougie, Ka’s Mum and Dad, arrived home from their week in Turkey the same day. We popped round to see them on Saturday afternoon after seeing ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ in Glasgow.
A bunch of teenagers take a break to a holiday home beside, the river, in the middle of nowhere and unexpectedly enter a game of life and death, involving zombies, ghosts, werewolves and scarecrows. Ridiculous and crazy but surprisingly entertaining stuff if you like a good dose of the ridiculous and the crazy in your horror. By the way, this is the movie we’re talking about, not Grace and Dougie’s holiday.
No, they were living it up in 5 star accommodation, full board. All the sun, food, drink and entertainment they could possibly want. They brought us back a tea towel.
Only kidding, they also brought us back chocolates, socks and a large bag of suspicious looking white powder.
Yes, apple tea. To go with the tea towels, currently soaking up the water splashed over the floor by the misbehaving washing machine.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Go West

Colin waved up from Templeton Street, his tall, dark form looking a little bedraggled in the rain that was descending over Glasgow Green and it’s surroundings on Saturday afternoon. My Dad and I had arrived five minutes earlier, disembarking the number 18 bus round the corner on London Road just after the rain had started to pour and Colin had called to say he’d made it as far as Trongate.
It was the jolly boys outing and Colin, Dad and myself were attending a tour at the West Brewery in Glasgow’s Templeton building, a building that was formerly a carpet factory and designed by Scottish architect William Leiper, who apparently based his architectural designs on the Doges Palace on St. Mark’s Square over in Venice, a building Ka and myself visited whilst on our honeymoon in the spectacular city. Leiper apparently based his designs on the building following the Venetian design craze at the time being forced to keep in mind the City Council, and Mr Templeton himself, who had wanted the building to have an attractive exterior considering it was on the verge of one of Glasgow’s biggest parks. The whole building now houses many different companies ranging from crèches and dance studios to offices and breweries.
The brewery was the part we were interested in.
As we awaited Colin’s arrival, Dad ordered up the first pint, a crisp, cold, golden coloured mug of St. Mungo’s, the West Brewery’s only beer currently being brewed for the off-trade. Whilst the bartender served us, another, bearded, bartender introduced himself as our future tour guide. Taking my first taste of a St. Mungos pint, Dad confidently informed me that you didn’t get hangovers with this kind of beer. He’d visited only a few months back with friends and had woke up the next morning feeling unaffected by the previous night’s pint intake.
Definitely a good thing as the St. Mungos was delicious and we ordered up a second pint, this time of St. Mungo’s stronger brother, Hefeweizen. Unfortunately, as we did so, the tour guide started shouting from one end of the bar and the small gathered crowd ambled off to start the tour we had booked on.
We were still waiting on our Hefeweizen. As soon as we grabbed the tall glasses from the bar we strode off to find our tour party, finding the door at the back of the large bar that we’d spotted them crowd through and then a descending staircase in a echoing brick walled corridor on the other side. When we got to the bottom on the twisting stairs we discovered only one black door marked ‘Private’, locked.
“Er, hello?!” Colin knocked on the door and laughter was heard from the other side. We waited for an apologetic tour guide to open the door but instead found ourselves still standing waiting in the corridor. Colin knocked again. “Hello? Are you letting us in?” Colin knocked again and again, each knock echoing and being greeted with more laughter and a few indistinguishable comments for the other side.
“B*stards!” I thought to myself, before some bloke from the tour eventually opened the door for us, allowing us to join the party. The bearded tour guide himself sat perched on some silver barrels in the middle of the large fermenting room we now found ourselves in, talking away, waving his hands around enthusiastically.
So as we supped away at our hefeweizen, the tour guide took us through his well practised speeches, telling us all about the West Brewery and it’s produce. From the building’s humble beginnings as the carpet factory all the way up West’s inception within the building and the establishment of the Brewery itself. The first UK brewery to produce it’s beers in accordance with the German Beer Purity Law, or the Reinheitsgebot, which originated in Bavaria around 1516. A Bavarian Duke, of some description, decided to take it all upon himself to make an official proclamation of how beer should be made. Apparently people used to make beer out of all sorts of stuff, usually other ingredients to substitute hops. Nuts, berries, poisonous ivies, dandelions and bits of old oak. Basically anything that was lying about the garden after a good weeding session. Presumably it wasn’t until the Duke’s mates actually started falling over due to food poisoning, rather than drunkenness, that he decided to make a law.
The Reinheitsgebot states that beer should only be made by it’s four key ingredients, hops, yeast, malt and water and the West Brewery follow these guidelines in their beer production mirroring the great breweries of Europe, and Germany in particular.
After the main fermenting room the small tour crowded into the large malt cupboards where we passed round plastic cups full of the various malts, giving each a good, hard sniff and tasting the various malt grains, like some alcoholic version of a Nescafe commercial. The bearded tour guide then took us up into another open roofed room, down below the actual bar area, to the giant copper chimneys in which the malts and waters are mixed.
Using the copper chimney’s one small porthole like window in the angular top section we where allowed to stick our head in and once again give it all a good sniff. According to Colin, the dormant, pasty looking mixture lying inside the copper vault had the stench not wholly unlike that of cannabis. Of course, being unaware of such smells I shrugged. My Dad would probably recognise it better than I would as he uses cannabis air fresheners in his car. For a good while he had felt cannabis leaves hanging from his rear view mirror. Everyone else has magic trees but Dad has magic leaves.
The tour ended with a long chat in which the tour guide, on more than one occasion, slagged off a popular Scottish lager, which he refused to name, but illustrated by use of forming his hands into a blatant T shape. All of West’s true German influenced lagers and beers are all given, at the very least, months to ferment. Apparently the Scottish lager, whose ingredients were also brought into question, only allow their lager to settle for a couple of hours, at most. Perhaps a reason why hangovers and more prolific with the ales we usually partake in. The bearded guide then started defending the price of The west brews and why it was dearer than the usual lagers on the street to which I decided to pipe up and argue that some of the ‘usual’ lagers were just as dear, or dearer, than that in some places, to which the tour guide replied by refusing me my beer samples at the end of the tour?! I was sticking up for his beer and he reprimanded me? What was all that about?
Colin then piped up to defend my comment to which the tour guide insisted that he wasn’t to get any tasters either?! The guy obviously misheard us or was still in a huff for us turning up late for his wonderful talk.
As it happened he was only joking, even if he had misheard, misunderstood or just hadn’t listened, and delivered all our beers to our reserved table where we spent the following hours, chatting drinking and eating whilst the rain continued to pour outside and Wedding guests started gathering outside in the main pub hall, where an evening reception was being set up in the crowded bar.
We tried the majority of the west’s beers including the Red Munich, the caramel flavoured malt beer, the West lager and another St.Mungo before heading off for homewards.
We strolled up the dark London Road to Trongate and then onwards to Glassford Street where we decided to go for a night cap before jumping on the bus home and Colin, the last train home.
We strolled up Glassford Street heading for the Blane Valley, a quiet wee pub on a corner Dad recommended where Mum and him have been known to go for bar lunches on shopping trips. Bacchus was the next bar along the street but as that is the warm up bar for the gay club further along we thought it would be safer to opt for the Blane. Shrugging we opened the Blane Valley door to find the place heaving, a bald, cheery looking karaoke singer roaring into his mike, almost directly before us as we pulled the door open. Deciding against the Blane we headed back down the street and ended up stepping through a set of ancient black, double doors into The Steps Bar.
A small, black window, between the clean, lunch friendly Blane Valley and the opulent Mansion House, we entered the The Steps Bar through the double black doorway into a small, dingy, dusty old dive that looked like the Phoenix Club after the fire.
The few occupants all turned and eyed us suspiciously as we entered, trying to look casual. In a corner two middle aged couples eyed us up and down, a flirting older couple looked round at us from a darker, grimmer looking, corner and various other elder folk glowered at us from the bar, including the barman who looked like an older version of Gregor Fisher’s Baldy Man character, without the smile and the cigar. He spilt our pints as he delivered them to us at the bar and claimed he was ‘just learnin’.
As we sat trying to enjoy our last drinks of the day, eighties music playing on the tv up on the heavily stained wall, the two middle aged couples to my right start waving papers around in my direction, laughing and guffawing in my general direction. Turning I asked what was wrong to which they all laughed even louder asking what I’d been eating. Outraged and insulted I insisted I had not farted, in anyway, shape or form, to which the two couples argued, and continued to insist, that I had. As Colin and my Dad joined in, waving beer mats around and laughing, I eventually gave up and turned back to my drink.
Around ten minutes later a definite stench started circulating the dark little pub from the couples’ corner and this time I think the culprit was found out. The wife sitting closest to me of the two couples was distinctly quieter as a similar carry on involving papers and beermats ensued and indeed that wife soon disappeared to the loo for a good fifteen minutes during which the three remaining drinkers had to admit that they no longer reckoned it had been me that had suffered the flatulence.
Shortly after, we finished our drinks and headed back out through the black double doors, back out into Glassford Street and within ten minutes my Dad and myself were on the last 21 home. Arriving at home 12 hours after leaving we were greeted by Ka who immediately went to the kitchen and produced us a nice cup of tea and a slice of toast. Dad jumped in a taxi quite happy and Ka and myself went to bed.
The next morning I awoke to the familiar pounding head of a hangover. It must have been that last pint in the Steps bar.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Juvenile and silly

The end of my first week in Central Quay has arrived. After a week’s holiday I had to travel to Glasgow for my first day in the Daily Record building on Monday morning, unsure or what was to greet me in my new place of work. Scottish & Universal Newspapers, the regional division of Trinity Mirror, has now been merged and united, with the other Scottish Trinity divisions under one roof, a roof that is apparently newspaper shaped from the birds’ eye view. I always did wonder why the building had that strange shape about it and it was Iain, our I.T. guy, that informed us of this fact on Monday after we finally managed to get the Property computer up and running and fully functional again, or as fully functional as it can get. The Auto run Property PC computer sometimes needs a bit of a kick to get started. I sometimes wonder whether we should employ the use of an old engine hand crank to get it going.
The folk making room in their office space for us S&UN lot all seem very pleasant though I doubt I’ll be able to remember all the various names fired at me in the first week.
I found my new desk in the middle of the Design studio complete with stickered name tags. One Michael, another Mike. It’s amazing how many people assume my name preference to be Mike. Ka gives people into trouble for calling me Mike. Even Adwatch, the advert booking, tracking and management system that we work from, calls me Mike. Since when did a computer system have the audacity to become this familiar without your permission. Yes, okay, I’ve got to know Adwatch a lot better over the past twelve months since it’s introduction, got used to it’s own way of working, it’s tricks, idiosyncrasies and characteristics but I can’t remember ever giving it permission to address me as Mike. Still I suppose there must be worse names that I could be called. It’s better than TARDIS drawers anyway.
I borrowed a plate from Christine on Wednesday for my lunch. As Christine carefully unwrapped the plates that had travelled over from Hamilton, Lorna, who sits alongside Christine, informed me that if I ever required anything it was pretty much guaranteed that Christine would have it in her drawers. Christine laughed in agreement calling them her TARDIS drawers, which I suggested could be her new nickname. Obviously this took on slightly different connotations and as the other surrounding woman in the large open plan office started berating me I ran for cover, before Christine could frisbee me with another of her plates.
It was almost as bad as a time I was passing another lady in the Gillard Welch publishing office, where I used to work down south, more than a few years ago. The nice lady in question was just about to dig into a rather large, almost mutant like, item of fruit, which I quite innocently commented on as I passed.
“Gawd, that’s a big pear!” I gasped, with comic disbelief as I walked. For some reason this stopped the lady in her tracks just as she was about to bite into her fruit. By the look of her face, I’m not sure she realised I was merely being silly about the size of her mutant fruit and not at all meaning to be rude.
I don’t think she spoke to me for a week after that.
Another innocent innuendo not unlike Colin McG running down a Brussels subway train urgently shouting and offering to help a lady passenger with her melons after we’d all been at the extra strong guinness. The passenger’s melons had escaped and were rolling about, all over the carriage floor which colin, being the ever helpful gent that he is, quickly rushed to retrieve for her. Being in Brussels she probably only spoke French or Dutch so she probably wouldn’t have understood why the rest of us were laughing at Colin’s shouting as he ran after the rolling fruit whilst the other Belgian passengers looked on with furrowed brows.
All juvenile and silly, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with being juvenile and silly on the odd occasion, especially when it’s your birthday and you’re yet another year older.
Ka has now officially hit the mid thirties as it was her birthday on Monday for which I took a few hours holiday and left the office early in the blistering sunshine to be part of her family birthday carry out meal in Uddingston, this time supplied from the 4 Seasons restaurant in Hamilton to which I drove in the pelting rain. Ah, the spring weather, don’t you just love it?
It was then my turn on as Thursday as I hit 34 (thanks for all the birthday wishes by the way!). As it was my usual day off, Ka took a holiday and we had a relaxing morning, during which we popped to the shops and Ka bought her very first scratch card with which she won a tenner. Not bad for a first time. In the afternoon we headed off to the cinema to see 21 Jump Street, a very stupid film about two cops that go back to school to ensnare some drug dealers, whilst working undercover, pretending to be school kids. Silly and juvenile but a good laugh.
We then went out for dinner to the Torrance Hotel in the evening and had Mum, Dad and Lynsey Ann round to the flat for a wee glass of wine and a slice of birthday caterpillar cake afterwards. Unfortunately Ka managed to put her specially bought number candles on the caterpillar the wrong way round and I ended up being 43?!
As Dad happily clicked away with my camera I refused to blow the candles out until the numerics were sorted out and we now have a couple of pictures of me burning my hands with birthday wax as I hastily swapped the two numbers around.
Friday was busy once more in the office but I did make the time to take part in the grand National lucky dip, in which you pull a horse from a paper cup for a pound. Ka had been lucky with her scratchcard so I thought I’d give it a shot. I got two horses, both of which, Andrew, my new work colleague, told me I had no chance with after reading the Daily Record’s notes on each. The horses were Arbor Supreme and Neptune Collonges.
You never know.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Kitchen sinks and room service

Last Saturday morning we enjoyed The Shaftesbury Premier London Paddington Hotel’s breakfast once more, the only difference being that we were sitting listening to Sally Morgan on the next table the whole time. The woman at the next couple was with another lady and her voice just seemed to ring through the dining area, the same accent and tones as Fulham born Sally Morgan, or ‘Psychic Sally’ supposedly Britain’s best loved psychic. The only difference was this woman was not pretending to be talking to dead people, only the taller, glammed up woman sitting next to her and she talked on and on about how she was content with her life, how she felt that she was quite happy without a man and how her cat had died.
“Did you not know Jeffar had died?” she asked of her friend, shocked. If she had been Sally Morgan she may not have moaned so much about her cat dying as she’d still be able to talk to him.
The breakfasts in the hotel were great though. Full English breakfasts, all laid out in big silver trays, buffet style. Sausages, eggs, hash browns, you name it. Along with the healthier options of course of fruit yoghurts, fruit juices, toast and croissants you were each given a whole pot of the caffeine preference of your choice. All fantastic. And for us still free, due to the ‘inconvenience’ of the hotel moving us.
The whole stay was pretty damn close to being the best hotel stay I’ve ever had anywhere. The only complaint I’d have would be the single glazed windows which enabled us to hear the constant drone of traffic from the busy street outside. Not that you noticed it so much after a while as you lay on the bed on top of all the quilt layers, pillows and cushions, watching all the television programmes you’d never usually watch at home, whilst drinking all the tea and coffee sitting alongside the kettle, eating all the biscuits, eating all the fruit you’d picked up from the buffet table at breakfast time, using as much toilet paper as you liked and nonchalantly throwing towels about on the bathroom floor when you were finished with them, knowing full well that everything would be back to it’s neat and tidy state by the time you got back in the evening.
Saturday afternoon was cloudier but still dry as Ka and myself made our way to the Ambassadors Theatre to see Stomp.
Stomp is a popular theatre production of dance, rhythm, noise, a little more rhythm and a lot more noise. The production is not a story but a variety of different scenes with the performers and set design all dressed giving the impression of the setting being in some sort of junkyard. The scenes all involve the participation of eight dancers who perform with no, or very little speech, using only the noises and tunes they make to create music using only various everyday objects such as bins, tubes, tins, newspapers and even kitchen sinks. Such scenes involved the clacking of a wooden brush against the ground, for example, the thumping of a trash can, the banging of a giant rubber ring or the emptying of a kitchen sink full of water, (which is not particularly good if you’re now suffering the after effects of a couple of pints).
It was a great show, admittedly not one I would have rushed to see before, but Ka had always wanted to see it, probably because it was all based around people brushing up, using dustbins and tidying rubbish away whilst making as much noise as possible. If you were to sit and close your eyes whilst in the theatre it almost reminded me to waking up on a normal morning in Kenilworth listening to Ka rattling about the kitchen. Or those moments on the couch when you’re trying to watch an episode of Spooks and Ka decides it’s a great time to clean the kitchen cupboards out.
Before hand we’d went for an afternoon tipple in The Marquis of Granby, just across the road from the big, old Palace Theatre, currently adorned in colourful, open umbrellas for the running production of Singin’ in the Rain. A cackle of older ladies sat at the window table to the side of us, all downing the wine and gabbling like geese, prime suspects for the Singin’ in the Rain show. A couple in the other corner rowed quietly. Arguing over the menu with fierce eyes and the odd comment muttered through gritted teeth.
We had had to seek out the theatre early and managed to get lost in the West End streets in the effort, after Adventure Ted made another brief appearance in Trafalger Square under Nelson, we got momentarily sidetracked in Charing Cross Station and we spotted more Faberge Easter eggs.
We eventually found the small theatre on the corner of a block in the middle of West Street just across from the Club of the Ivy, which we recognised as the restaurant that week’s winners of The Apprentice had just dined in a couple of nights before. After finding the theatre we wandered off for a stroll and got lost once more and ended up milling around the town looking for somewhere to get an afternoon drink when we eventually found the Marquis of Granby. As I ordered our drink I asked the barmaid if she had any idea where the Ambassadors Theatre was.
“Go out there and turn left” she frowned slightly at me over the taps. I quickly went back out into the narrow street outside and looked down to see the familiar white fronted theatre not sixty meters away. That was handy, I thought, considering our circular route around the West End.
If you don’t know the West End well it would be easy to get lost in, going round in circles, through the streets filled with their shops, boutiques, small galleries, coffee shops, theatres and pubs.
After the show, and a quick walk around Covent Garden, at which we seen the largest paella known to man, an abundance of silk scarves and some artwork by Bob Dylan and Billy Connelly, we enjoyed a meal in Spaghetti House, served by Sacha Baron Cohen. The tall, dark waiter with the large eyes and high forehead serving our meals grinned from ear to ear at Ka all the while gesticulating with his hands whilst shouting in his thick, almost exaggerated Italian pronunciation. He looked very much like Baron Cohen in yet another cartoon like extremist character. Ka and myself had to have a quick look around for other actors and hidden cameras but seen only the other far more stressed looking staff members, all running around the restaurant floor in the Saturday night rush all putting on the same, overly pleasant but less enthusiastic or actorly performances on for their own tables.
The next day we were back at Euston, jumping on the train back to Glasgow Central, our weekend trip coming to an end but with a whole other week off lying ahead. Unfortunately there’d be no more Shaftesbury breakfasts or room service but as I awoke on Monday morning to the sound of Ka in the kitchen and a glass of orange juice on the bedside table waiting for me I thought, there’s no place like home.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Aunt Ann, Adventure Ted and Big Ben

Friday morning and the sun was still burning in the London sky as Ka and myself made our way to Piccadilly Circus, or Pilladicky, as I mistakenly named it for some reason on more than one occasion, to head to the Royal Academy. The Royal Academy of Arts is an privately funded, independent institution, situated in Burlington House in the middle of Piccadilly, governed and led by a whole committee of painters, designers and artists from many different fields known as Academicians.
King Geogre III founded the Academy way back in 1768 with the help of the portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and Scottish architect Sir William Chambers, who became the Academy’s first President. The membership club, known as the Friends of the Royal Academy, was set up back in 1977 to provide the museum with financial support whilst giving all it’s member unlimited access to the exhibitions housed within. My Auntie Ann is one of those friends and with her membership managed to get us some tickets for the current David Hockney exhibition, ending on the 9th April.
After arriving in Burlington House’s courtyard, Ka and myself stood in the sunshine, alongside the massive queue for tickets that had formed outside the building to await Ann’s arrival by bus.
Needless to say Adventure Ted got her photo taken outside the exhibition, again no one really batting an eyelid at the sight of a Scottish couple holding a small, colourfully dressed bear, high up into the air to get it’s photo taken alongside the large banner, which depicted Hockney hard at work on one of the colourful landscape paintings featured in his show.
Ann eventually turned up looking around quizzically under the large archway for her visiting relations after Ka almost surprised and cuddled a complete stranger who was innocently making her way up to the exhibition entrance, and who only had a passing resemblance to my Aunt. After a quick cuddle, (with Ann, not the passing resemblance), we quickly got the introductions over with, introducing Ann to Adventure Ted. Ann obligingly met Ted with a big smile before giving us our tickets for the exhibition pointing out she’d already seen it twice and was quite happy to sit in the sunny courtyard and read her book for an hour.
So Ka and myself battled our way through the crowds into Burlington House to view Hockey’s landscapes. The exhibition wasn’t what I had been expecting as Hockney is famous for being one of Britain’s first big celebrity artists, a bit of a rebel, famous for painting scenes of LA, splashes in swimming pools, portraits and creating photo collages of streets, highways, buildings and people.
With this exhibition Hockney shows a more traditional side, concentrating his painting on the landscapes of Yorkshire, collections of paintings depicting the same location over and over but in various seasons and months of the year. There are brief glances at works from different parts of the world, the giant ‘A Bigger Grand Canyon’ being the biggest, brightest, and boldest of the lot but most of the exhibition is taken up by the trees, blossoms, fields and hills of Yorkshire, some mad, brilliant, lurid, luminous and surreal and others, such as some of the smaller sketches, not quite as impressive. Not all of it worthy to be under the name of one of Britain’s most influential artists anyway.
The crowds were unbelievable. The Hockney exhibition had already been on since mid January but yet the halls were still heaving with people. A lot of rude old folk in suits and scarves made up a good portion of the crowd, seemingly believing they had a right to elbow, stop directly infront of you or ignore the few people in wheelchairs politely asking to get by from down below.
After an hour and a half we made it back out into the sunlight and after a brief stop at the local Pret a Manger made our way to Green Park for a picnic.
Looking out over the bottom half of Green Park, Buckingham Palace obscured by trees to the south, we sat in the grass, surrounded by fellow picnickers, Adventure Ted sitting in the daffodils behind.
We discussed what to do with the rest of our day. Ka and myself had planned to take Ann to a theatre show or dinner, a treat for her big birthday coming up. Ann, however, had a better idea.
“I think we should get Adventure Ted to Buckingham Palace!”
So off we went to get the kids of ELU their photograph of Adventure Ted outside the Queen’s house, passing two large colourfully decorated Easter eggs on the way through Green Park.
London is hosting an event over Easter named the Faberge Big Egg Hunt in which over 200 large easter eggs, each decorated, painted or designed by famous artists and designers have been positioned at various points over and across Central London. Following the opportunity for an eggciting (gawd!) egg hunt the eggs were to be gathered in Covent Garden where they were all to be auctioned for charity. Ann, Ka, Adventure Ted and myself came across around ten or so on our walk on Friday. If we’d known about it we could have attempted the whole 200 and got Adventure Ted’s picture taken with all of them. Fortunately, we hadn’t known about it.
After a few shots at the gate we approached a policeman guarding one of the barrier gateways. Chancing her arm, Ka started explaining Adventure Ted and her quest for the ELU. The poor guy was obviously the unlucky one on tourist duty at the time as two of his buddies pottered around behind him, further back in the palace’s front grounds.
Before Ka could finish her explanation as to why she was offering the guy a polka dot teddy bear, the policeman quickly interrupted with a quick “I ain’t holding the teddy!”
The rather bemused but cheerful bobby did agree to pose with Adventure Ted though, obviously used to similar requests, and smiled for the camera.
After the pics at the gates Ka talked me into climbing up one of the statues surrounding the Victoria Monument for a picture. A task I accepted with a shrug until half way around the groping of the bronze lion on the Statue of Justice, I nearly slipped back into the fountain of water four feet below my behind which I had thought to be pavement not dissimilar to the side I had started climbing from. I felt like Doc Brown shuffling along the front of the clock tower.
After Ka took the snap and I made it back on to paved ground in a rather undignified landing, Ann insisted that Adventure Ted see Big Ben next. Ka and myself looked at one another wondering who was the more excited about this whole trip. Adventure Ted or Ann?
So I led the way through St James’ Park, through the willow and blossom trees up into Westminster, avoiding some brawling ducks and scary looking geese, and passing more Faberge eggs, which were attracting mild interest from similar tourists passing through the park. The only difference with other tourists was that they didn’t excitedly produce a polka dot clad teddy bear to get it’s picture taken next to the giant oval.
After a few pictures in and around the red telephone boxes on our approach to Westminster square (Ted waving from inside whilst on the phone. Perhaps to the male Adventure Ted? There is a bloke version too, he just wasn’t lucky enough to get to go to London. He was probably in the pub, enjoying himself while the Mrs was away) and a few shots of Adventure Ted with Big Ben we crossed Westminster Bridge, heading for the South bank where we would grab a coffee under the shade of the London Eye before heading back over to hit Westminster Abbey as Ann suspected that Adventure Ted would really like to see where William and Kate got hitched.
Back over the bridge we went, stopping briefly outside the gates of the Houses of Parliament where a couple of coppers were guarding the barrier in a small, sparse huddle of Japanese tourists. Ka reached in to get Adventure Ted back out for another pic but stopped when the two coppers gave some rather blunt, bored and almost angry responses to some little Japanese ladies requesting photos alongside them with Big Ben in the background. These coppers obviously were not as tourist friendly at the Buckingham Palace lot. The Parliament coppers simply shook their heads gruffly and grumbled “We’re busy”.
So, leaving the Parliament coppers milling around at the gate twiddling their thumbs, Ann led us onwards to Westminster Abbey, our final stop before we jumped on a busy tube back to Fulham where we made a pit stop at Ann’s place to see a rather grumpy Bandit the dog and discover how red and burnt my balding head was. Within an hour we were walking again, now along to Putney and Ann’s favourite Tapas restaurant.
Our last and best stop of the day. Well, before Ka, Adventure Ted and myself headed back to Paddington, of course. And no, I don’t mean the bear.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Going Underground with Adventure Ted

5 minutes to midday late on a Thursday morning and I’m standing at the bar ordering a pint. Possibly the earliest pint for a long while.
Ka and myself were in the Arrol Bar in Glasgow Central awaiting our train, due to leave at 12.40. It was the start of our holiday weekend in London so we thought we’d while away the half hour awaiting the arrival of our Virgin train with a pint and a glass of wine. Adventure Ted came out of the handbag for a tipple too. She came out for a sip of Ka’s wine as we sat in the pub’s front window watching the early afternoon world go by.
Yep, I did say ‘she’ as Adventure Ted is a girl. Her usual abode is, of course, the ELU Nursery, Ka’s work, but as one of the current projects for the kids involves London, the Queen and all things Jubilee, Adventure Ted thought she’d make the trip to London with us, her weekend goal to get her picture taken outside the gates of Buckingham Palace.
We perched Adventure Ted on the stool at the side of the table, moving Ka’s glass of wine to within her grasp, and snapped a photo of her with the phone, texting it to Vicki, who was hard at work back in dreary old Hamilton in the Early Learning Unit. There were a few fellow early drinkers in the bar around us but none seemed to even bat an eyelid at the appearance of a medium sized teddy in an all in one red polka dot outfit and sunhat perched, smiling on the barstool close by. Then again, perhaps the appearance of a bear in polka dots drinking at the next table is not a particularly strange sight for some of the folks that drink around midday in the middle of town.
As the announcement was made over the Central Station tannoy, we made out way out and up to Platform 1 where Adventure Ted obediently posed with our luggage, sitting before another of Richard Branson’s wonderful machines, one of the 390 Pendolino’s, which would deliver us successfully, in around 4 and a half hours, to our destination of the country’s capital.
Once we arrived in London Euston it was around half 4 and by the time we got down into the Underground to make our way to our hotel in Notting Hill it was the height of rush hour as we shuffled our way through the London crowds with our two cases.
Tuts, sighs, conversations, murmurings, all in various different languages, circled us as we made our way through the claustrophobic tunnels and trains of the London Underground, all with their own fantastic fashions, faces and furrowed brows. Singing and guitars echoed along a few of the more acoustic tunnels with the occasional announcements from the tannoys overhead as escalators struggled to ascend to the various different warm station levels carrying the massive crowds piled on top.
It always takes a few wee trips to get back into the London Underground mode when you visit the capital but nothing much has changed.
Spinning adverts and movie trailers on digital screens have now replaced some of the Underground’s escalator posters which follow your ascending or descending to the next level which I thought was quite a cool change though a pretty pricey one, I would have thought.
Never mind the aged track and train replacement, let’s get some 50 odd flashy digital display screens installed on this one escalator.
That can’t be very cost effective surely?
Anyway, after finally arriving at the Shaftesbury Premier Notting Hill Hotel we were helped up into the reception with our cases by a concierge and greeted by a friendly receptionist who got us to fill out our accommodation form and then informed us that we could not stay.
Ka and myself had been ready for a spanner in the works. We had been gearing up for it. Something had to go wrong.
Apparently there was a problem with the air conditioning in our room and, as a result, we would have to be moved to a sister hotel. The receptionist swiftly called a taxi.
A large merc soon pulled up and swept us along to the Shaftesbury Premier Paddingstion Hotel and after a short ten minute drive, in which we seen a biker get his moped trashed after braking too heavily at a corner infront of a car following it from the rear, we were dropped off in the middle of the far busier Westbourne Terrace, five minutes walk from the Paddington Underground station and it’s surrounding shops and restaurants.
The room, and hotel in general, was very nice and we had been promoted to a higher bedroom and would now be welcomed to breakfast on the three mornings of our stay, for our inconvenience.
After quickly unpacking and getting ourselves settled, we hit the streets of Paddington for dinner, ending our walk in the Villa Rosa restaurant on Craven Road, greeted by a pair of stinking armpits and salads with no lettuce. The cannelloni was good though. Ka, however, was put off by the mince being a suspicious grey colour. In retrospect, perhaps not one of our best choices of restaurants.
After our wonderfully average meal we jumped on the tube and headed into town, aiming for Covent Garden. Unfortunately I mistook the Victoria line for the Piccadilly line and we ended up disembarking at Oxford Circus surrounded by shoppers heading home. Moving onwards we ended up in Carnaby Street eventually finding a small bar and a couple of seats for an after dinner beverage.
Another short walk later, we ended up in the bustling Piccadilly Circus where we were to return on our first stop the next morning on our trip to the Royal Academy where we would meet Ann in the sunshine filled courtyard, see some David Hockney, whilst battling pensioners, go out on a tourist quest to see as many sights as possible with Adventure Ted, annoy many a policeman, watch battling ducks, argue over whether it was a pelican or a stork, stand in red telephone boxes and come across more than a few Easter eggs on our way.