Tag Archives: London

My first red carpet: is it the experience that counts?

There was an advert in cinemas with a Scots voice intoning – “Cinema, it’s the experience that counts”. Preaching to the converted, I thought, but it is the experience of seeing a film in a large room on a big screen with others which makes leaving the house (as opposed to ever easier home viewing) worthwhile.

So what about the experience of seeing a film in an extra special setting – that of film festival, or better still, a premiere?

This was not my first film festival or occasion when cast or crew took part in the programme, but it was my first red carpet at Britain’s biggest film festival in London’s Leicester Square, the traditional site of many of the nation’s first showings.

When I enquired at the box office what the procedure was for ticket holders to enter the screening, staff teased and said I had to use a secret tunnel! But I did reasonably wonder, with all the cattle railings and security and a wall of photographers, how I got in without disturbing the trail of stars. There’s nothing on the venue (Odeon) or BFI Film Festival’s websites. To others wondering: we came in behind the photographers between celebrity arrivals – and we did have to walk on the red carpet, albeit a shorter stretch than the special guests, and enter the same foyer and auditorium as they did, and show tickets MANY times.

Now I have to tell you how gutted I am: for as much as I was pleased to hear from director Alan Rickman, the biggest star in his new film A Little Chaos was in the continent furthest from the screening, and appeared only by a brief video, giving her filming location and newest child as her reason. I have followed Kate Winslet’s 20 year career for most of it, and made a special sacrifice (eating only bananas due to low budget and using sickness inducing buses) to attend – only to learn she wasn’t coming. Last year, I talked myself out of the £20-30 ticket because I didn’t expect her – only to see her on the carpet in a matching dress in the next day’s news. So this year, I felt it reasonable to assume her presence at the first gala screening of the LFF and British premiere, only to be gutted on arrival.

What then does a film festival atmosphere give to a film, beyond a brief chance to hold up a camera phone to a celebrity who is mostly hidden behind a screen (as any non ticket holder can do at the cinema entrance), and then hear them talk for up to half and hour? Is the introduction and Q&A alone enough: the chance for anyone to hold up a hand and ask a public question, the chance to interact with and see someone famous you likely admire in the same room?

This auditorium – Odeon West End 2 – was sold out, recalling the last Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet film I saw at the cinema, which was also sold out and on its opening weekend – Sense and Sensibility in 1996. And there is a comparison of a typically English period drama, with romance and sadness, but lots of distinctly national humour that will likely delight anglophiles around the world as well as British viewers.

Like my recent experience at Cambridge Film Festival, there were public laughs, but these came at sometimes inappropriate times. At a previous CFF, the explicit and disturbing scenes in Dog Days got a regular laugh until someone yelled back – it’s not funny. I thought it was, said the chastised guffawer. We should have the right to laugh as we are tickled, but it’s also exposing to reveal your humour, and can spoil a moment for others.

There were moments in A Little Chaos that I felt the audience expected to find funny, like the regularity of jokes in a sit com, rather than remembering that films often elicit many emotions and that pathos or shock can be just as possible. The gasps of the sudden throat cutting in Hidden/Cache, the squeals and jumps in The Woman in Black and then the young men in front apologising – that alone was worth the ticket price – are part of what makes cinema special. But often silence or a gesture – I covered my mouth with my hand during the scenes that Kate Winslet’s character is most troubled in A Little Chaos – is as powerful as the vocal response of amusement, which can feel canned and cued.

Of course, the experience can be negative because of talking, rustling, the stink of beer or smelly food, the late coming or re-entry of other customers, the use of phones. In this mostly respectful audience, still a couple of people left the auditorium – in the presence of the press and the film’s maker – and the couple beside me not only gave an unnecessary feature length commentary but talked through the Q&A and didn’t clap the various cast and crew asked to stand. That to me was utterly rude, as you’re here to appreciate their work, and it’s etiquette and respectful.

So was my £20 worth it – plus the now illegal booking fee and an hour lurking round the carpet and my 7 hours on buses? Not quite, and mostly for a missing Winslet. Odeon West End is less large than its black towered sister across the square, and the auditorium itself, although with an 814 capacity, has no special architecture: the early 20th C picture palaces (of which London has several) or the BFI’s own 1960s screen one at Southbank have a sense of occasion that is not present in this fairly usual mainstream subdivided chain cinema. As for the film itself, reviews will appear nearer the film’s UK release date, which is early 2015. More on this and other venues at my sister blog

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City of Churches IV: Conclusion

What I’ve realised is something about myself…

Firstly – what are my favourites among the cities we’ve been to?

Thinking about other cities (and not just those I’ve been discussing), I realise that Norwich, Bristol and Ipswich all have several special medieval churches – but like London’s classical ones, I can take them for granted.

Bristol churches22 Bristol St Mary Redcliffe crossing

St Mary Redcliffe Bristol – my favourite parish church in Britain

I like St Mary Redcliffe best – perhaps that’s why I’m so dissatisfied elsewhere as I’ve got such a high precedent. I would have work to do to any Norwich church to put it on this level. It’s also 60ft longer than Norwich’s largest parish church and its spire is only 23ft shorter than Norwich cathedral’s. It has modern glass, a neo medieval crypt for meetings, and it has interesting historical associations (that’s a whole other aspect I’ve not touched on).

What makes SMR stand out is its vault and a satisfying tower/spire, and no-one’s got such an unusual porch

From Norwich’s churches, I’d pick:

St Peter M Norwich churches at night6

I would want to put tracery on the arches inside, and do something about that Victorian spirelet and parapet.

St Giles   for its tall tower and porch – but only the latter has the kind of detail I seek

St Stephen’s  though the ceiling could be more carved and coloured and the glass is heavy and murky. Does the tower need a parapet?

St Andrew’s Norwich churches at night4 as it’s big, airy, partly stone, and has tracery on the arcade, but it needs many more details

 St Miles for its flushwork, but I’d like it all over and with a big east window. The inside needs renovation and it’s hard to assess the church in the state I last saw it in.

That’s not to say that none of the other churches have anything good.

Norwich churches at night2 St Michael at Plea, Norwich – good porch, well lit

My wish list from elsewhere

I’d like Cambridge’s round church

a classical church  – St Stephen Walbrook I think being my favourite out of several

modern stained glass – Bristol would be best for that

an octagonal open tower from York – St Andrew’s Halls lost theirs

There really are some great churches in Suffolk and also in the East Midlands and Cotswolds area; Norwich/Norfolk as a city and county may have the most, but not necessarily the best. To make Norwich’s 31 churches superlative, I’d have to pinch heavily from the West Country and Lincs/E Yorks/Notts too.

By cutting out Catholics and nonconformists, I’ve undermined the full picture in many cases. I don’t like Victorian gothic, but two great Catholic churches of that era are to be found in Cambridge and Norwich. Nearly these towns have great Nonconformist chapels and that evens out the lack of classicism. In Norwich, there’s a 17th C red tower and a bank that resembles a Wren style church (and another huge former bank has Gibbs-like rhythms in its ceiling arches) so it sort of does have all the eras and styles, for the missing Early English is made up for in the Catholic cathedral. And the synagogue opposite has modern stained glass. Perhaps Pevsner was right when he said Norwich has everything. I was beginning to doubt him.

Perhaps Suffolk’s finest and the best parish churches of England are posts for another time…

What I realised about me:

I realised that what appeals to me in a church is about space and atmosphere; that my non conformist roots, for all my 20 years of Anglican church interests and wide faith journey, are still very strong. I often pick out the preaching box like churches. I don’t miss furnishings: I like the damaged churches who sweep out as much as they’re allowed and start with a fresh open space – not that I’m condoning bombings, arson etc – but their aftermath is actually an opportunity.

But I also asked myself why this church stuff mattered, for as much as this is focussed on buildings, human emotions creep in. What is my relationship to these cities and to these churches, whether as worshipper, employee, citizen, customer, passer by, or tourist? Many of these churches have strong emotive attachments for me. The stories about being near or in those churches…. that might be a creative writing idea….

Sense of place is hugely important to me and churches are a part of that, both as my environment and as a spiritual person looking for a community. Why is perfection important? Perhaps it is about feeling I have chosen as my home a city that I feel really proud of and one that meets my needs; whose boasts I can believe first hand rather than accept those of others, and sense of belonging and having the same perspective as other citizens. Perhaps this reflects my own disillusions and doubts about where I live now and should live, rather than on bricks and plasterwork…

Perhaps this comes down to issues nothing to do with actual churches and things too personal to reflect on here.

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City of Churches III Norwich vs London

London, I think, is the most remarkable of British cities for its church collection. On one level, it’s like Norwich – a large group of much the same, in this case, Stuart churches. There’s little medieval here and nothing externally of that era to please.

St Andrew Undershaft has an interior like an inferior version of Bristol’s St Stephen’s and Lord Mayor’s Chapel. St Helen’s has potential, but both St Helen’s and Undershaft are diminutive outside. The great Norman priory at St Bartholomew’s is not only shorn in half or less, but insensitively and anachronistically restored externally – and mean enough to enforce an entrance fee. I like round 12/13 C Temple church which doesn’t count under parish churches – I like it less now that it too imposes an entrance charge. Out of the classical ones, it’s hard to choose as I have not spent the time with them that I have in other cities. For the interiors, domed St Stephen Walbrook is supreme, but overall I think St Mary le Bow is my favourite; and I’ve just discovered St Mary at Hill near Monument.

St Stephen Walbrook St Stephen Walbrook London

Above: St Stephen Walbrook – the photo on the right captures the City.

Perhaps we take London’s churches for granted – would they would seem more special in other cities where there are none or few of these? If you visit several in one day, they can run into each other.

St Mary Abchurch By analysing them, you come to see the brilliance of Wren and his office. He used gothic as well as classical; and not all the same type of classical. There are white stone and red brick ones (St Mary le Bow being both), and some of more beigy stone (St Dunstan in the West), whereas the pre-Fire ones are of flinty rubble or whitish ragstone. Some have traditional spires (St Margaret Pattens), some have cupolas (St Magnus), some have little hats (St Benet) and some have tiered wedding cake toppings (St Bride). St Mary Aldermary has long parapets. Three have round ceilings (St Mary Abchurch left, St Mary at Hill and St Stephen Walbrook) as did the wonderfully named Barton [Bat] Fink (now gone). Bombs from the war and the 1990s have meant there’s several modern windows and other fittings.

Wren did not build all the City’s churches; some are pre Fire survivors, some by other 18th or 19th C architects; and some like bat eared St Sepulchre are mishmashes of several centuries, Classic and Gothic.

London churches

The rest of London has many more ecclesiastical treasures, but most are fairly central.

In the West End, there’s rightly famous St Martin in the Fields with its delectable plastered ceiling, but there’s other special classical churches around there – St James Piccadilly, St John Smith Square, St Clement Dane…

Hawksmoor’s 6 1/2 highly original churches are also quite central (one in the City). There’s one of these top left:St George in the East, in the Shadwell area.

London perhaps is the most remarkable city for breadth, but it lacks what Norwich and Bristol have by way of gothic and I don’t think that even Westminster Abbey really makes up for that, though the Lady/Henry VII Chapel is a supreme example of gothic.

Final thoughts in the next piece…

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Cities of churches – intro

** UPATED WITH NEW EVIDENCE JUNE 2015**

Is it true that Norwich has more medieval parish churches in its walls than any other English city?

It even says it’s got more than most of Europe, in some daft marketing phrase that is so beloved of Norwich’s promoters. I can personally only account for the former, so that is what I’m sticking to – places I know and have actually counted myself in England.

Norwich also likes to boast it has as many churches as York, London and Bristol – England’s three other greatest medieval cities – put together. That claim has never felt right. It is also misleadingly phrased. The claim can only be to have more medieval churches in the centre – that’s medieval fabric today, not medieval foundation. There will follow some lovely tables to put this matter to rest.

Norwich has been a little sneaky with its boast because lots of other important medieval towns spread its walls but Norwich was neatly contained by them till medieval church building was done. And “medieval” is vague, as most central parish churches were founded in medieval times, but have often been rebuilt, whereas Norwich’s are all the same style of Gothic, built in the 14-16th centuries: remarkable, or dull?

I’ll come to that question in another post. This one is about numbers. Here are my definitions:just outside the wall = allowed; but not ones in the suburbs, nor who have been moved, nor utter ruins; and I count only Anglican parish churches, not cathedrals, friaries or private chapels.

I’ve enjoyed comparing the English cities with multiple medieval parish churches – mainly the 10+ group of Bristol, York, Cambridge, Ipswich, Norwich and London. Multichurches does seem to be an English phenomenon – Scottish or Welsh cities seem to have had one of two original parish churches. It’s interesting that several important medieval towns (Edinburgh, Hull, Coventry, King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth) had only 1-3, opting for few large churches, which makes me wonder something for my next article… I’m aware of larger former numbers in Lincoln, Winchester and Exeter but I don’t know those cities well enough to personally vouch. Here is my table:

City # churches now medieval now prewar reformation
London 39 7 c48 c100
Norwich 31 31 34 c60
York 19 19 19 47
Bristol 10 6 15 21
Cambridge 13 c5? 13 U/K
Ipswich 12 12 12 12?
Canterbury 9 8? 11 14+

Colchester has 6 (+1 further out) and Worcester 6 (with 2 just outside the walls); Chester 6 including St John’s (had 9), Nottingham 3, Newcastle 4, Northampton 4…. this is sounding like football results!

But what’s more interesting – the greatest number or the greatest collection? There are going to be four more on this subject.

I made a full list of the churches in the 10+ cities but it won’t fit on these pages!

Reeling it off makes me feel like that character in a Count Duckula episode whose party trick is to recite the digits of pi – suffice to say the list is available to the curious and I do know the names and locations/look of all the churches in my chart. I have seen and visited many of them and made an effort to count personally, not copy figures from other sources.

I am being generous with “medieval now”  as Norwich claims that title for churches that have been bombed who have been substantially renewed and rebuilt by the Victorians, and whose furnishings nearly all come from other eras – the can also include glass. Nearly all its churches, whilst appearing medieval, actually have some fabric that isn’t. There is a blatantly C17th tower, also counted among its 31. So I am offering the same spirit of generosity in my definition of medieval to other cities. St Martin le Grand of York counts as it has a roof, windows and is used for worship..

Does Norwich really have as many medieval churches as Bristol, York and London?

Norwich  31/31 Bristol, London, York
1 All Saints All Saints                 B 6/10
2 St Andrew St James
3 St Augustine St John on the Wall
4 St Clement St Mary Redcliffe
5 St Edward SS Philip and Jacob
6 St Etheldreda St Stephen
7 St George Colegate All Hallows by the Tower    L 7/39
8 St George Tombland St Andrew Undershaft
9 St Giles on the Hill St Bartholomew the Great
10 St Gregory St Ethelburga
11 St Helen Bishopgate St Helen Bishopgate
12 St James St Olave Hart Street
13 St John Maddermarket All Saints North Street      Y 19/19
14 St John de Sepulchre All Saints Pavement
15 St John Timberhill Holy Trinity Goodramgate
16 St Julian Holy Trinity Micklegate
17 St Laurence St Andrew, Andrewgate
18 St Margaret St Cuthbert
19 St Martin at Oak St Denys
20 St Martin at Palace St Helen Stonegate
21 St Mary Coslany St John the Evangelist, Micklegate
22 St Mary the Less St Margaret
23 St Michael at Plea St Martin le Grand
24 St Michael Coslany/Miles St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate
25 St Peter Hungate St Mary Bishophill
26 St Peter Mancroft St Mary Castlegate
27 St Peter Parmentergate St Michael le Belfrey
28 St Saviour St Michael Spurriergate
29 SS Simon and Jude St Olave
30 St Stephen St Sampson
31 St Swithin St Saviour

No – it’s the same. It has AS MANY medieval churches NOW as those three cities.

Adding up Bristol, London and York’s full set would mean 10+39+19 =58 – somewhat higher than Norwich’s 31!

So Norwich, your boast is wrong! I will never get a job at Norwich’s HEART now.

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Stop stop and search

My spaceship this week (I am trying to be vague about where I actually live and do not want assumptions based on previous articles) landed in London, during the Olympics.

Transport for London (TfL) scared residents and visitors from coming into the centre if not for the games and that transport, the tube especially, would be dreadful. I sat in Sloane Square watching empty buses go past as passengers were confused by all the changes for the various road stopping exercises – torch parades, cycle races. London seemed if anything slightly quieter and it’s been irritating to leave early and find oneself hovering around often at either end of the day unnecessarily.  I even witnessed an Olympic venue and its nearby tube. After having the threat of waiting for an hour to get a train at a peak time, it all went very smoothly.

I did alot of walking, in 30 degrees (or 90 Fahrenheit, which sounds worse) and a big bag to lug, believing it would be (as TfL) advertised quicker and easier than using transport.

Having one’s road networks commandeered by official vehicles for a month, even being unable to cross on foot whilst cycles whizz past and horns honk as a gold perforated torch passes, having cattle market railings everywhere makes London hard especially for those who live and work there.

The custom needed by shops (and surely part of the point of hosting the Olympics) is being denied as Olympic watchers are herded from their sports venues to tubes ala apres football matches and not able to buy wares from nearby outlets.

Worst was the army led security, not just in Olympic venues but in major museums. No I do not take the attitude, it’s got to be done and good they’ll catch terrorists. This is making the terrorists win whilst intruding on regular people, and taking up more of our time. You can’t just wander into the National Gallery at present, there’s a queue round Trafalgar Square. The signs are pretty blunt – “We will search you and you belongings”  – no “Please bear with us, sorry but we feel we have to”. I am not sure if Olympic ticket holders were warned about this airport style of security which stipulates what you can have in your bags and how big they can be. Checking on the venue’s websites, none of this was obvious. Clearly a terrorist would be thinking round these rules, whilst making it inconvenient for travellers to lose their toiletry items. It’s inciting fear and suspicion and conformity. With the security being administered by the army (who have rocket launchers dotted round the city) it all feels rather frightening and an odd mix with the festivities and more genial atmosphere created by helpful Olympic Ambassadors (who I mostly consulted to find out how to avoid inconveniences and carry on with my day).

I don’t think it is right to be expected to accept this and all the money spent on making fences, security signs and paying staff to deal it means money that most of us are paying but not seeing back in a positive way. Fear and violence are not the way to overcome it. Our search rules and procedures need to be changed and so does our attitude so that we don’t create another cold war type society when  we suspect everyone and it becomes a military state.

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Battersea Park Road vs Georgy Girl

I’ve read about two modern women living in this area last week – divided by 40 years. Georgy Parkin is the creation of Margaret Forster who co wrote the screenplay of the film with the famously catchy theme tune, though with rather negative words and a view of life. Isabel Losada is a contemporary  presenter and actress whose two books on the Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment and Paradise were published ten years apart – the last coming out in 2011. Isabel was also (like Georgy) perhaps in a rut, but taking various courses and retreats became not only a book to help her career but an inspiration to others. I can see why some reviewers likened her to Bridget Jones. Sometimes, like Dawn French’s autobiography, I feel Isabel was playing to hard for laughs when wisdom and pathos should be allowed to stand on their own. Isabel’s book has the potential to inspire and enlighten, and the frankness is about herself – unlike Forster’s character where an omniscient third person critiques some other hapless person’s life, leaving her with little hope. “At least you’re rich, Georgy Girl” sing the Seekers at the end of the film. You got to be a mother, you got your stability, you’re not on the shelf. But you don’t love your husband and his paternal perversion and obsession are not healthy for either of you. There’s  a little more hope in the book: Georgy’s parents are forced to move out of their sycophantic dependency on their employer, but no more love or respect has grown for their daughter. Jos has left, unchanged and rejected for his own baby. The theme tune’s lyrics suggest – ironically I cannot tell – that confidence and conformity to what is nice and alluring are the ways to get along in life, and there’s the notion of being left behind, of having a sell by date, and that worthwhile goods are already taken.

This would clash with the tomes such as The Soulmate Secret, and Calling in the One. These wisely see to find a partner, one needs sorting of yourself first; and that is is unnecessary and unhelpful to cling to an unhealthy unhappy compromised relationship. By letting go of the need to find someone and by being happy alone, one creates the right place for a healthy and special love to grow. So the authors say and have testimonies – including their own – to show how they manifested their dream love using the law of attraction. I rejected that idea some years ago and have written about it elsewhere www.associatedcontent.com/article/1149172/the_secret_reexamined.html but the principle of what they say other than the visualising and cosmic ordering part does make sense.

Isabel never mentions the law of attraction – I might ask her what she thinks of it – and it was pleasant to read a modern spiritual writer who didn’t. I admire her willingness to grow, to try new things and her honesty about herself which includes some quite stark realisations and feedback that I wouldn’t have printed about me – unless in the guise of fiction. Isabel is firmly for narrative non fiction and using real people and situations. The fact she endeavours to answer all personal correspondence is also impressive and I shall be glad to hear and read more from her.

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V for Vendetta

I watched this film as a political act at the weekend, not realising that Occupy protesters worldwide were wearing masks from the film.

I have always admired this film, not for its action sequences or because it’s cool, but because it has an important message of solidarity and hope to the people, and reminds governments that they are here to serve us, and that they will not last if they subjugate us and terrify us. The tag line is:
People should not be afraid of their governments
Governments should be afraid of their people

Believing that, I ironically felt fear to post this – hence the delay after Guy Fawkes night – because I do not feel free to express my views without reprisal. But that is not what this country is about or should be about.

Like the Occupy movement, I don’t believe in violence, at all (read my next post on poppies and war). Unlike V, I don’t want to harm even the people who have caused harm and who are the leaders (not that we in this country have any equivalent to Sutler et al anyway). Yet I hear that in America, police are searching homes for V masks; and that in London they forced a protester to demask. And I hate how the internet is at once a voice and also an easier way to have that voice traced and silenced.

My favourite moment of the film is when, having no response from their leaders, the army makes its own choice and decides to stand down. Note that the crowd does not prise the weapons from the military and use them, but peacefully walks past.

I was gutted to see the Houses of Parliament explode when I first watched this film as they are my favourite buildings in the world, and I love all they stand for about my country’s history. A corrupt inhabitant does not mean the building has to go. Since first seeing this, I have visited Scotland’s parliament (see http://hubpages.com/hub/Scottish-Parliament) and been very inspired by the ethos behind this national symbol.

It’s made me think what Westminster’s says: built in a style of a bombastic, violent war hungry king who treated women badly, at a time of colonising other countries, of imperialism, of business men becoming rich, of classism, whilst prisons, asylums and workhouses controlled and institutionalised the poor.
Or I can see that Tudor gothic as a symbol of times when women ruled: Anne Boleyn who I with others see as the woman behind England’s reformation, a step away from corruption and the courage to stand alone; Elizabeth I, who is credited with greater tolerance; and the next woman on the throne, Victoria, another popular and famous monarch, times of great achievement and moving forward, heralding new ages.

As those who believe that 2012 is a special year – other than the Olympics – count down to the dawning of the next new age, what symbol our parliament is for becomes important. I was pleased that V for Vendetta was shown on BBC2 on Saturday, [Britain’s oldest and official TV provider] although I noted one TV guide downplay it as ‘futuristic action fantasy’. My hope is that leaders will watch the film and think where they are taking their country, and before it reaches a V for Vendetta type dictator state, stop and change direction. When I first saw this film, I feared for the leadership and direction of my nation – and now with a new government, I still do. Recent world wide riots and overthrows make this film feel more relevant than ever.

Revolution begins in the heart: what did Wonder Woman do to change the world? (see my summer entry from the TV theme tune). And for that matter, Jesus.

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