(10 ‘Spill points & a drink of your choosing to the first person to ‘get’ the lyrical reference in that title.)
I pretty much missed Shane’s first proper RR Guru stint, much to my own annoyance. Did you notice? No? Oh well, as you were ….
Anyhoo, I’ve just about recovered from yet another weekend in DarceysSis’ favourite place in [her experience to-date of] the world – London.
For the second time in three years, she was performing at the Music For Youth Children’s Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. The first time in 2012, when she was a primary schoolgirl, we trusted the assurances that her music teachers knew what they were doing and could look after 650 kids perfectly well, thankyouverymuch. Well they were bloody wrong! At the end of that performance we had to recover our eldest daughter from massive heat exhaustion after 20hrs straight of indoor recycled air. DsMam had spotted her distress at a hundred paces as soon as Jess took to the RAH stage. By the time we picked her up, Jess was in such a state that she didn’t know where she was, or what she’d just performed, let alone where her bag, clothes and flute were. So bad was her overheating that we were north of Toddington Services on the M1 before I dare risk closing any of the car windows (poor Darcey was blue with cold by this point).
So this year, when Jess found herself in another production invited to perform at the MFY Proms, we flat refused to sign her up to another 24hr shift between getting out of, and back into, her bed. Her [now senior] school, bless ’em, did decide to throw a collective sickie; declared the performance Monday a Teacher Training Day, and locked the school gates. In addition, any pupils going to London were given LoA for the following schoolday due to start a mere four hours after the coach would get back to Calderdale.
That gave us the excuse to book a long weekend in London, with hotel rooms for both DsGran & DsNan as well as ourselves. Now because I’m a cash-strapped northerner who has obviously been in Yorkshire too long, I baulked at most of the hotel prices for three rooms, three nights, and so we found ourselves at the PremierInn nominally called Kew. At a mere 400 yds from Griffin Park, I’d call it Brentford meself, but hey-ho … DsGran was pleased; it’d been donkeys years since she’d had a chance to go to Kew Gardens.
We mostly have good things to say about PremierInns; they definitely get more things right than wrong on a budget. But this one – eeesh! On booking, I’d been assured about parking and that they would smoothly accommodate DsSis’ gluten-intolerance. On arrival? A full – and tiny: they MUST’VE known – car park, and no suitable bread/pizza-bases in the restaurant. Off to Morrisons I went, in pursuit of both of those things. I’m claiming that my simmering temper is the reason I repeatedly failed to hear my name being shouted across the bakery section – BLOODY HELL, it’s our ex-window cleaner! Eyup, Eian!! Thought you were retiring back to Dominica, no? Ten minutes chat later, cue my first bollocking of the weekend when DsMam rang me to ask how long it was taking me to find a quart of milk and a packet of Genius. Oops. Sorry, dear! On my way.
We pigged out on the hotel’s evening meal & breakfast offer, and all retired to bed without my even watching MotD. Aw, hell, I was recording it at home, and I don’t think I could’ve taken Jose’s smug face after the day I’d had. The last thing I saw on the TV was the news, including the latest on the humungous crowds trying to get past the closure of Tower Hill tube station to see the poppies at the Tower Of London. * gulp! * Guess where I’d got us due to go on Sunday morning ….
One of the reasons PremierInn Kew was cheap is its perceived inconvenient position for Tube travel. I knew that in advance. The popularity of the Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red installation was also obvious. But the opportunity to see it on Remembrance Sunday was too good to miss. So I’d booked us into the Tower Of London as visitors on Sunday 9th. I’d started to wonder whether this was a foolhardy plan when even the HRP themselves had sent us an email update offering to swap our tickets for a booking on a different day. The closure of Tower Hill, and the news stories of the congestion raised my stress levels further. So we made sure we were up, fed (DsSis again on toast from bread we’d brought with us, served up by hotel staff who at least had the good grace to look embarrassed), and out early on the Sunday morning to get ourselves into the city. But just how effin’ counter-intuitive and user-unfriendly is that travel ticketing system?!? We missed one train because the ticket office at Kew Bridge was unmanned, and EVERY machine was flashing “NO CHANGE GIVEN”. We found out 2 days later that we didn’t have to have paid for Darcey to travel at all. And even I, at 6ft tall, struggled to make the ridiculous step up from platform to train: the train floor was very nearly at Darcey’s waist height, and we had to give DsGran a most undignified bunk-up to get her into the carriage! Before we’d even got into Zone 2, I was already remuttering the “God, I hate this place” refrain which seems to be my capital mantra.
Using the flawed logic that Tower Hill must be open because there was no announcement that it wasn’t, we arrived. Jeez! Apart from outside of Anfield an hour before kick-off, I haven’t seen crowds like that in years. And temporary barriers up to funnel us into a one-way walking system going round the ‘long’ way. Fortunately, a steward took pity on us (me & DsGran already limping from the stairs, and ‘ickle Darce looking worried), and let us cut across the exclusion zone straight to the Tower Of London ticket office, with me waving our booking form, Chamberlain-style, no doubt looking a complete chump. In a second surprising act of charity, the bloke in the ticket office told me NOT to get in the big queue, but to go see the Yeoman on the Exit gate. I did, and going for the full hat-trick of helpfulness, he told us to call ourselves a “group booking” and go in the Traitor’s Gate entrance:
“By the time they realise there’s only five of you, not fifteen, they won’t bother kicking you out again!”
So that’s where we went, and at the two-minute silence on Remembrance Sunday, just before we went into the Tower, we stood on the walls right in front of The Wave section of the poppies. I do understand sonofwebcore‘s aversion to the symbol after his comment on RR, but let me tell you, it was a powerful moment.
I hadn’t particularly wanted to go into the Tower Of London, but the others did, and buying tickets for entry had seemed to me to be a decent insurance policy; a way to get us to the poppies in the event that the police decided the area was just too crowded, and started to turn people away. In the event, it worked brilliantly, getting us straight past the crowd and over the poppy-filled moat.
How many of you have been into the ToL? When I think about it, I’m not sure I ever had previously. I prodded no memory or sense of deja-vu in what I saw on Sunday. But what a strange place! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a mish-mash of historical architecture in such a small enclosure.
It was certainly an intriguing tour. Yes, we went in to see the Crown Jewels – which impressed and disgusted me in almost equal measure. My inner Roundhead just won out! But what on earth do people see in gold? Such a gaudy, crass metal; I just don’t get it. Exactly what purpose does a solid gold, 140-bottle capacity, punch bowl serve, except to prove that those responsible for its manufacture should never have been allowed control of the wealth required to commission it? Or a clone gold&bejewelled crown made for precisely one occasion of wear on a tour of India, because someone had decreed that the original wasn’t allowed to leave these shores! WHAT? Weren’t those dashed natives going to recognise King George at the port if he wasn’t wearing it as he wandered out of the duty-free? And he had the gall to complain that the weight of its’ 6000+ jewels made his head hurt!!!! Pffft! I almost found myself growling “Vive la revolution!”, until I remembered where I was, and thought about just what had happened to so many in this place for giving voice to exactly that phrase!
So I went back out into the fresh air, and fortunately smack into a little performance of a Great War Army Recruitment scene.
That refocused my thoughts on what was being commemorated that day, and so I went back for another look at that display of almost one million ceramic poppies.
For anyone who hasn’t been this autumn, you really did ought to have seen it. The aerial picture of the Tower surrounded by a red sea is undoubtedly a striking image, butbutbut … it misses the point.
When you stand close enough to concentrate on the form of one steel-stemmed flower, project onto it the image of a serviceman you knew, then step back and raise your gaze to take in the whole length of the moat, reminding yourself that it’s one destroyed family for every flower, one young man who never raised a family like the two girls whose hands I held, then and only then does the true horrific scale hit you.
I’ll shut up on that subject now, after this last show of support. I applaud both the vision and particularly the words of artist Paul Cummins, who has resisted the calls for the display to be retained. “The whole idea was it will only be there for a finite time, like we are. The installation is transient … like those who lost their lives during World War 1.” Hear, hear. I’m impressed.
Oh, one further thing: how lucky were we with the weather on Sunday? I’d driven into London on the Saturday evening in a monsoon, negotiating my way around some scarily deep puddles between Apex Corner & Kew Bridge, but we had blue skies and sun all day on Sunday. 8)
So when we eventually – via The Cenotaph (obvious) and Threadneedle Street (don’t ask!) – made our way back to the Tube, we were all ready for a sit down and something to eat. Finding ourselves on the District line, in too CBA a mood to bother changing trains, we rode all the way out to Kew Gardens because (a) it’s allegedly the closest Tube stop to our hotel, and (b) there was a Pizza Express (one of the few places we can all eat together without Jess feeling left out) right by the station. And that was a pleasant surprise too. Station Approach is a lovely little picture postcard corner of café culture, a bit of boho relief from all that city grime. Chilled bottle of dry white Italian, shared starters, attentive staff: marvellous! A shame they had to redo Jess’ pizza, but even she was in a forgiving mood. So we were all happily warm’n’fuzzy when we left the restaurant. Good job really; it turned out to be a near two mile hike back to the hotel, a bit crap when you’ve got my mashed leg, DsGran’s knackered knees and an eight-year-old who’ve all done miles of walking and hundreds of stairs already that day. Needless to say, we all slept well.
A rude awakening early start unfortunately. Because I hadn’t managed to get a spot in the hotel’s car park, I had to get up and move my car before Monday morning’s draconian parking restrictions kicked in. I got lucky and saw a guest I recognised from the hotel walking into the car park dragging a suitcase. The poor woman must’ve been terrified by me stalking her in my dark car into an underground car park at walking pace, but I didn’t think about that until afterwards. Sorry! Anyway, car successfully stashed, it was time for us to split up. DsNan & I were taking Jess to the Royal Albert Hall to meet her schoolmates; DsMam & DsGran were taking Darcey to Kew Gardens for the day.
“Dad, what’s at Kew Gardens?” asked my younger daughter. When I explained about their collection of plants, her face started to fall, so I threw her a curve ball.
“They claim to have some of every plant there is, so whatever you do, stay away from the triffids!” She fell for it.
“What’s a triffid?”
“It’s a man-eating plant, and you’re just a nice size for a meal.”
She’s a bright kid. I waited. She caught on, and gave me that look.
“Dad, did you make the triffids up?”
I explained that they were John Wyndham’s creation, not mine, but bless her fertile little brain: again she got where I wanted her to go. Her face suddenly lit up.
“If they have every plant, does that mean they’ll have Venus Flytraps?”
Bullseye. Her favourites. Off she bounded to get dressed, suddenly keen to go, despite the fact that she’d have to redo most of last night’s walk.
We, on the other hand, were heading north to South Ealing Tube station. Looked like it might be closer than Kew Gardens, was Zone 3 (KG’s out into z4) and was on the same Piccadilly line as South Kensington, close to the RAH. They were the good points. The bad were that it was only just a shorter journey, one that involved a life-threatening dash over the A4, and the station entrance was unmanned, giving me another excuse to swear loudly at the stupid ticket screen navigation. Just how Machiavellian is a system that in order to buy a single child one-way ticket, you have to go through the ADULT ‘Buy Multiple Tickets’ menu, then select ‘0’ against ‘No. Of Adults’, before it then pops an extra box on screen that says ‘Buy Child Tickets Only’? GGGRRRR!!! And then I got a raised eyebrow laser-glare from a TFL ticket-checker who looked at DsSis’ 11-15yo ticket, then at my 5’7”, rapidly-maturing 13yo daughter. I decided not to say anything: he was going to have to make his own decision whether to let us through, or challenge me and risk getting a mouthful from the big, angry-looking, skinhead northerner in front of him. He let us through. A good decision for both of our days, I reckon.
By the time we got to the RAH, it was nearly 1pm, and Jess was turning into Kevin The Teenager. Our supposed pre-agreed meeting time with the school party coming down by coach was noon. We were late. Jess feared getting into trouble. Me? I’m in Logistics & Transport. I KNEW we’d beat them there. The coach wasn’t scheduled to depart from school until 0830. It’s a 210 miles journey. Do the simple maths. 0830hrs-1200hrs = 210 minutes. A coach full of fifty kids is gonna AVERAGE 60mph from a suburban start point, do the full length of the M1, and negotiate its way into central London? Yeah right.
Whilst we were waiting, we went over to the Albert Memorial, where the pupils from Jess’ Ensemble who HAD arrived were giving an impromptu outdoor performance as a rehearsal.
This ensemble was over six HUNDRED singers, dancers and musicians in total. Of those rehearsing, Jess could see only her school’s orchestra, who’d travelled on their own. Jess could see none of her classmates, so their coach definitely wasn’t here. My guess was 1315 for them to arrive; they actually got there at 1350. I’m slipping! Oh, what’s that, Mr. coach driver? Didn’t leave until after 0840, huh? 15 minute minimum driver changeover and kids toilet break at Leicester Forest East too. And an accident on the southern M1 requiring a diversion via the A43 and the M40, you say? Dang. You did well to arrive when you did, mate. OK, I’m still as good as I thought I was! 😉
So, having left Jess at the RAH, I decided to kill an hour by popping into work! The Head Offices of my sometime employer are in Central London, and I’ve never been there, so I called in to see them. Odd bunch: I was offered cake, cookies, chocolate, more biscuits and more cake, but not a single person asked if I wanted a brew! Anyway, apart from putting faces to some voices I only ever deal with by phone or email, there wasn’t a lot to see or do there, so I decided to set off back to the hotel. I got a picture message from Darcey of a Venus Flytrap at Kew Gardens, which told me they were still there, so I got the Richmond tube, and caught up with them as they again trudged the near 2-mile walk back to the Premier Inn. Turned out the Flytrap Darcey had photographed was the one she’d bought!! How do you feed a Venus Flytrap that is going to live indoors for the winter where there won’t be any flies?
Soon it was time to leave for the show. Call me foolhardy, but as far as I was concerned, driving 6 miles each way and paying a tenner to park at Imperial College seemed to be a better bet than buying three more Day Travelcards at nine quid each and then still having to walk a quarter of the way anyway. Had it worked out correctly, I’d have been happy. But thanks to roadworks, a stubborn sat-nav that was determined to send me in on the A4, an even more stubborn DsD who had decided that the A315 was a better bet, and a carpark gate that was locked when it shouldn’t have been, I think I’ve got a demand for money with menaces from Boris coming sometime soon for traffic violations that will undoubtedly leave me out of pocket. Bastards! I got to Exhibition Road by the temporary ice-rink, went to turn left and found it was no longer allowed. No later options to turn left followed either, and all of a sudden I’m coming up fast on Harrods and the start of the Congestion Zone. I threw a U-ee that I hoped was keeping me out of the zone, but think I’d already passed a camera. How does the charging zone work: can anyone tell me? Then of course I found I wasn’t allowed to turn right into Exhibition Road either, although there was traffic going straight up it from directly across the lights. By now I’m growling, so when I realised there was actually nothing coming towards me on the other side of Cromwell Road, I threw another U-ee. Two things happened simultaneously: –
- Darcey burst into tears. She wasn’t expecting the turn, smacked her head off her window, and the seatbelt tensioner dug into her shoulder.
- There was the unmistakeable double flash of a traffic camera visible in my passenger wing-mirror. WHAT THE F….? Taxis do it all soddin’ day!
Add to that list of offences that I then turned my usual – but now apparently banned – left turn into Exhibition Road anyway, and I’ve probably racked up enough in fines that I’ll have to sell the car I’m supposed to have offended in. Oh I am SO NOT a happy bunny.
But let’s try not to concentrate on the ranting, on with the show.
These Children’s Proms don’t do things by halves. For us northeners to be temporarily allowed past the M25 Border Controls [nice one, Tim & Shane!], we have to have something fairly spectacular to get in the show. So amongst the skinny-jeaned indie guitar kids, new generation Celtic traditionals (one featuring a girl singer with an absolutely STUNNING voice who goes by the coincidental name of Annie Lennox!), school orchestras, brass bands (if you’re into that sort of thing, I can tell you the Beaumaris band from Anglesey were fantastically tight), and obligatory cute primary choir, here was a Qawwali-style, six-hundred-strong collective interpretation of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Tumhein Dil lagi, a piece set in 13th century India, telling the story of Razia Sultan and Malik Al-Tunia at battle for the throne of Dehli. The Calderdale Massed Ensemble consisted of actors, tabla players, a brass band, dancers, and a crowd-invading pair of warring ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ choirs – Jess was on the side of evil: insert your own punchline here ….
I’d love to be able to show you more, but as photo and video recording were banned, I’ll just have to redirect you to [sponsor] ClassicFM’s webpage for the event: http://www.classicfm.com/concerts-events/schools-prom/monday-10-november-2014/ If you can stand the inane interview technique at the beginning of each clip, there are some rehearsal performances worth watching via that webpage. And if anyone can be bothered, Jess is the tallest dot, eight-in, on the very back row of photo 46 of 94 in the performance photo gallery.
That was the second performance of Tumhein Dil lagi that we’d seen. Unfortunately, during the first occasion at Halifax Victoria Theatre, one of the singers they send into the audience had been right next to Darcey, and had scared the living daylights out of her by being convincingly threatening. So despite the logic of knowing it was a performance, and that we were locked in a box two floors up from the performers, Darcey missed Jess singing as she was hiding under the drinks table at the back of our box. Bless!
Unlike two years ago, Jess was both happy and fit when we collected her after the show, and apart from that making six of us to go back to Brentford in a five-seater car, requiring two return trips by me as driver, the evening finished much more smoothly than it had begun. Still no bloomin’ car parking spaces at the PremierInn though, so with a sigh, I set my alarm to get up early and move the car down the road to Morrisons again before 8am. I also took the opportunity to let Reception know what I thought of that, and tell them that there had better be some gluten-free bread for Jess in the morning, as we had now run out. They assured me it was in the hotel log. Hmmm ….
Up to move the car, still full in the PremierInn car park, but found a Pay&Display for £3 that would see us through to checking out. Breakfast time: we’re all starving as tea on Monday had been a bit rushed all round. Hey, guess what? Yup. No bread for Jess. I didn’t need to get mad; the staff that were on all knew they’d f***ed up. The Duty Manager shot off down to Morrisons himself (I should’ve nipped into his parking space whilst he was out, shouldn’t I?), and one of the staff quickly put together an apology bag with some odd bits’n’pieces in it, including – JEEZUZ AITCH – a dozen mini-muffins … that Jess can’t eat! Talk about adding insult to injury!! In their defence, they also waived any thought of charging us for the few hours of Monday that my car had made it into one of their spaces in the car park.
So bags packed, car loaded, DsNan delivered to a tube station to get her back to Euston, the rest of us waved goodbye to our nation’s capital again. None of us were that sad to leave, though we had enjoyed the various things we’d come down to do. Even Jess, the London fan, knew she had to get home: she had another gig on that evening. Monday, the Royal Albert Hall. Tuesday, Keighley Shared Church for a Remembrance Day Service with the Bradford Youth Wind Orchestra. The highs and lows in the life of a musician, eh?