Discovering London's hidden beaches

So I've been in London for, say almost 3 years now, and I've always missed home most in the summer. I still do... the air especially - so fresh it catches in the throat. Or the kaleidoscopic landscapes, colours and shapes rolling by through the window of a car, framed by the sea or lavender mountains.

The beauty of West Cork and stunning wildness of Kerry are a plane journey away, but I've found a little haven just that bit closer to my London home. At Bankside and along Southbank, temporary shores appear at certain times of the day, where the Thames rolls back its dreary water to grant us with little beaches... complete with driftwood, sand, stones and seagulls.

As the sun is setting, usually around 9-ish these days, I find myself wandering down to my favourite spot. With my back to the Tate and St. Paul's directly opposite and to the right of my eyeline, I take all in and watch the sun set over Blackfriars bridge. I love the colours the sun dabbles with as it descends. Soft fluffs of pink, acquamarine and gold dust the sky and ripple the water with a silvery shimmer, reminding me of the silky winter light as it hits the sand and sea at Inch, Kerry.

Sitting out by the steps that lead down to the sand, I relish dangling my toes out over the edge of the high drop, watching miniature waves as they flop onto the sand. There's something universally soothing about the sound of water crashing, churning, washing back and forth and the faint smell of sea in the air. I sit and breathe and enjoy... Like a gentle rub or tender hug, sitting out here can help to still my emotions... calming... relaxing... Or sometimes, to heighten them, churning like the waves, with the residue of foam left to simmer on the shore.

There are other spots too, further up by Gabriel's Wharf, where an old stone and wood pier reaches into the water. I can't believe it's taken me 3 years to discover these hidden wonders of London, this amazing city which always has something to surprise, even when you think you've seen and done it all.
Here are some of my favourite shimmering, ethereal skylines....

Heston Blumenthal

A conversation held in the shadowy basement of a City pub last week was the first time I stumbled properly onto the subject of Heston Blumenthal. I had heard his name bandied about with the words 'science', 'nutter' and 'genius' before but never really engaged with any of his tv shows or recipes.

It was a friend telling the secondhand story of his friend's experience at The Fat Duck that made my ears perk up. I listened intently to tales of a recreated seashore and misty mossy log. It just so happens that the first episode of his 'Feasts' series aired on Channel 4 this evening and I was intrigued.

He is an alchemist indeed, bringing delight and amazement into in the art of cookery. Theatrical, avant garde and incredibly creative dishes inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland blew my breath away. The idea of the Drink Me potion was so inventive, those different layers of wacky flavours in one drink. My favourite is a toss up between the delicately stunning Mock Turtle Soup and the Edible Garden. The turtle soup with the gold-leaf pocketwatch teabag containing the stock of the soup.... insane! The edible garden looked like so much fun to explore, reminiscent of Willy Wonka's amazing garden.

I've since you-tubed some of his previous shows, including the In Search of Perfection: Peking Duck episode. It made me want to fly to Beijing just to sample the real thing. A night at The Fat Duck has also been added of the list of things to do before I die

Next week it's the Medieval Feast with blackbirds and edible cutlery. Can't wait....

Mozart at St. Martin's

Last night I went along to see a night of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert at St. Martin in the Fields, the gorgeous church on Trafalgar Square.

The church is intimate with a very light interior, not at all dreary or serious. In place of the usual stained glass, the window is a strikingly modern abstract cross-style design that melds gloriously with the atmosphere of the church. It was created earlier this year to replace the existing window of stained glass that shattered during WW2. It is a stunning fusion of contemporary art and classical architecture by
Shirazeh Houshiary
, a female Iranian artist, and was redesigned along with the rest of the main interior. In the evening, the center of the abstract cross glows opalescently, providing a gorgeous backdrop for the performance.

And the music did not disappoint. The acoustics were incredible, prompting me to close my eyes and simply enjoy. The highlights of the evening, for me, were the Beethoven Romance and the main Mozart Symphony in G minor. Being a pianist means that I tend to be drawn to the more emotive, evocative pieces from the likes of Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Debussy but I have to say that I appreciated and enjoyed the Mozart symphony, more so than I have in the past, particularly the 1st and 3rd movements.

I hope to return to see either a choral concert or piano concerto in the future. I have a hankering to hear Rach's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in a live setting....

Lost in Austen - introducing the ultimate Darcy

I raced home this evening after a soulful ballet class to watch the final episode of the 4-part ITV miniseries Lost in Austen. It's a fab modern twist on one of my all-time favourite obsessions - Pride & Prejudice.
The show is frothy, funny and quirky with a lovely affectionate nod to the novel and the BBC version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I didn't expect to like it as much as I did, especially given the fact that, for me, watching P&P is part and parcel of any pyjama-wearing, duvet-on-couch comfort eating episode.

In this version, Jemima Rooper is Amanda Price who time travels back into the novel, switching places with Elizabeth and getting into all sorts of trouble trying to help the right people get together. Jemima was a breath of fresh air compared with so many supermodel-esque stick insects around these days. No annoyingly beautiful pouty Keira. No stunning skeletons like Thandie. Jemima was so likeable with her down-to-earth, sarky brilliance and unique beauty.

With Elizabeth replaced by the new character of Amanda, the pressure was on for the other main character of the novel. And this was the biggest revelation of all... Mr. Darcy has been reborn. Elliot Cowan is amazing in the role... I would even go so far as to feel - and I know this is practically blasphemy - that he is the ultimate Darcy. And that's taking the differences in script into account.
And while the picture above is as scrumptious as Gino's Death by Chocolate dessert, it's not just about how Mr. Darcy looks, it's the updated smouldering-ness of the character and the way he is more irritatingly arrogant, strong and sexy than all previous versions. 

The other characters we love so much are also brilliantly cast with Mr. Bennet played by the huggable Hugh Bonneville, Jane by the gorgeous Morven Christie, and a whole new Mrs. Bennet brought to life by Alex Kingston from ER.

So I'll be keeping an eye out for any theatre works with Jemima Rooper and Elliot Cowan. It's extremely annoying because both of them performed in the National Theatre only a couple of months ago! I wish I managed to see them - especially Henry V which got rave reviews. I'm also inspired to try some acting classes and workshops- we'll see how that one pans out.

Leaving you with another pic... I am going to be first in line to buy the DVD... pathetic I know.

Devil in a red sequined jumpsuit

Saturday the 13th... not unlucky like Friday the 13th but perhaps a little more weird and wacky. Collision 08 drew more visitors on their closing night then ever - cavernous warehouse space, mysterious little corners and rooms set the scene for an interactive music and art festival showcasing the work of artists, musicians, performers and filmakers. I went with Alex, Anna and Maya, Ranjan's daughter, a lovely girl too wise for her years.

It was a fantastically laid back, entertaining night. Guests were free to wander around the amazing space to find the little pieces of art, almost a treasure hunt. Every now and then a bugle-type of instrument sounded as an announcement and group of ushers in fancy-dress would draw attention to a particular event taking place, leading a pied-piper parade into different parts of the space. Small huts and tiki torches decorated the outside space, set in a former timber yard in Peckham. One hut held a lovely old chestnut brown upright piano, inviting people to play and become part of the exhibition. I was tempted, but it was very popular with everyone and the poor thing was subjected to bad renditions of The Entertainer and a brief clip from Rach's prelude in C sharp minor. Next door, a beautiful web of metal provided the frame for dangling empty oxygen canisters, becoming a musical instrument as bystanders made use of the wooden sticks provided. I gave it a lash - so theraputic!! Nothing better than taking swipes at inanimate metal objects.

The highlight of the night was heralded by some provocative and enthralling movements from a stunning red devil on stilts holding a flaming torch. She sinuously twisted and turned in the air, moving with grace, poise and flexibility. Her stilts were extensions of her legs which ended very appropriately in hoofed feet for a devil. I wanted to be her. After a few unsuccessful attempts to part the crowd with hand gestures she suddenly cried out 'Move! Get out of the WAY!'. We didn't know what was going on until hooded men ran straight for us pulling a double decker bus, spray-painted black as midnight. It stopped right in the middle of the crowd where helpful hands lit tiki torches. An acrobatic dancer performed on the top and sides of the bus, using fireballs on chains at one point to enthrall us. The she-devil walked around the bus holding up a flaming torch to help light the dancer. 

We were then invited in small groups to climb the stairs and enter the dark, claustrophic top deck of the bus. Everything was pitch black and very creepy with people pushing and rubbing against me while strange hooded characters added to the oppressive atmosphere. I almost did a runner.
Right at the back of the bus was a performance installation that made me wish I was back outside sipping on my acidic wine. A headless body was sat on a chair, with bloody hands twisting and tightening on what looked like intenstines. Creepy stuff.... very impressive but not quite my cup of tea. Anna saw it, and then just shouted out 'Mary, I'm going'. I legged it down the stairs after her.

The rest of the night continued on and got better and better - eclectic bands and music, poetry, dancing, drinking, even a little smoking... fantastic experience.

First Amnesty CHRN E-Zine

In the middle of July, I replied to Amnesty's CHRN (Children's Human Rights Network) e-zine where they asked for volunteers to help with web updates. I replied and went to the Amnesty UK headquarters in Islington to meet with other volunteers to see who was most suited to the different jobs in the committee.

Myself and Helle ended up being the main two people, with Helle responsible for gathering the information and writing most of the articles. I write the odd article or two, especially if there are a lot of items coming though and send everything to the web development team to upload.

It's been challenging but really enjoyable. It's nice to spend some time doing things I feel are really worthwhile. It was difficult at the beginning without Internet access in Royal Victoria. I only managed it by doing stuff at work and sending from there. Now that I've moved it's a lot easier - although I still do some writing and editing from work if there are time pressures. 

The hardest part is editing the stories that are to appear on the website. How do you choose between the multitude of death penalty cases to ensure a balance on the website? Or which articles and actions should be showcased on the e-zine? I think we've done a really good job with the time and resource that we had. I'll have to do a bit more work in the future and clean up the website a little, but for now I'm very proud of what a few people have managed to achieve. Every small thing is a little victory in itself.

So here I present the first e-zine that I have helped to put together. This is the result of a lot of hard work from Helle, Indy and myself. 

Fresh pasta with garlic butter and Serrano ham

For my first proper shop at Borough Market, I allowed myself to wander around and buy the things I always had wanted to before but never could because of having to lug the stuff home on the tube.

As I didn't really have specific recipes in mind I ended up with a jumbled mish-mash of ingredients that went surprisingly well together. Today I had a lovely light lunch of fresh egg tagliatelle, topped with a few corners of divine garlic and chive butter (bought from a stall specialising in butter and yoghurt - only in Borough), which melted slowly into the pasta. Topping it all off were a few small slices of Serrano ham from Brindisa. Light, tasty and satisfyingly savoury without being too naughty.

- 2.50 for fresh egg tagliatelle (used 1/2)
- 2.00 for big slice of garlic & chive butter (used 2 corners)
- 5 small slices of Serrano ham (3.50 for 50 grams)

Losing my blog virginity

So here is my first blog entry... officially.

This is where I will write about my escapades, pottering, working, dancing and general life in Bankside, London - or Bankend to be precise. I'm around and down the lane from Borough Market and settling into this wonderful little corner of the world.

This is the start of a new chapter of my life... actually living in a nice area instead of a really shiny nice new area plopped in Tower Hamlets. New place, new flattie, new job and hopefully a fresher outlook. With the drummer moved back to Cork for the time being, this move came at the right time.