Soundwave music competition at the O2 Academy, Newcastle

I went home for the weekend,  just for a flying visit so that I could see my brother’s band Public Secret perform in the final of the Soundwave music competition at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Sadly they didn’t win but they performed brilliantly. I was a very proud sister that night.

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Public Secret performing on the O2 Academy stage

I made sure to get right to the front when Public Secret were on. My parents were there too, along with our next-door neighbours, my auntie and uncle who’d driven across from Cumbria, my other auntie, my cousin and her husband who’d driven up from Sutton Coldfield despite a ridiculous amount of snow, and a couple of my friends.

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My brother rocking out during one of his solos

I had a great night and drank waay to much wine… unusually for such a venue, the rose wine was actually really nice, and I went to the bar an awful lot.

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Slightly blurred picture of a poster: Rita Ora, Funeral For a Friend, Train… and Public Secret!

This was the biggest crowd the band had played to, and I thought they did a brilliant job. Hopefully this will bring them some new fans and lead to bigger and better things.

Steam returns to the London Underground for the 150th anniversary

I make no secret of the fact that I have a bit of an obsession with the Tube. So, it seems, do plenty of other people, given the popularity of the heritage train trips that have taken place over the last couple of weekends. I entered the ballot and was lucky enough to be allocated a ticket for Sunday night’s run from Kensington Olympia to Moorgate. I was sent the details in the post, including this beautiful purple celebratory ticket.

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This train was comprised of the Metropolitan Railway’s ‘Jubilee’ carriage no. 353 (built in 1892) and the Chesham set of coaches loaned from the Bluebell Railway. At one end of the train was the newly-restored Met Locomotive No. 1; at the other was the Metropolitan Railway electric locomotive ‘Sarah Siddons’.

This journey involved being pulled by the steam locomotive for the first few minutes, after which the train moved in the other direction towards Moorgate, pulled by the electric locomotive. I chose this journey because of the price – £50 as opposed to £150. This way I was able to experience a steam journey as well as an electric one.

I spent Sunday exploring some tube stations in the north before heading to Kensington Olympia station about an hour before I needed to – I was so paranoid in case I was late. I had time to get a coffee  and sit down for a bit, which was just as well seeing as I was going to be spending a lot of time in the cold!

I got back to the station at 5.20 on the dot as the letter had instructed. There were several people milling around already. I had been worried in case the trip was cancelled due to the snow, but this didn’t happen. We had to register at the table corresponding to our carriage (mine was D), and received a wristband, the kind you get when you go to a gig.

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Clearly this makes the trip so much cooler

After that, it was a matter of waiting for the train to arrive. A couple of District Line shuttle trains from Earl’s Court arrived first and the passengers seemed rather puzzled to find so many people lined up on the platform. It was pretty cold, and it was snowing, but there wasn’t much shelter, so everyone was a bit squashed huddling under the canopy.

Eventually the train arrived and I clambered into my carriage. I was pleased to get a window seat. The train began to move and whistled loudly. Several people armed with cameras waved us off from the road.

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The journey was brilliant. I imagined myself as a nineteenth-century passenger travelling on the Underground. The smoke flew past our carriage, clouding our view of the tunnel walls. I can imagine that this experience would have been none too pleasant one hundred and fifty years ago, with open windows and even more smoke.

I recorded a video showing the train on its way through Earl’s Court station:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7ZE9zbc8mI]

At every station along the route, from this one to West Kensington where we changed direction, right through to Moorgate via Bayswater, Paddington, Farringdon and Barbican, there were crowds watching and taking photographs. Some people had obviously come prepared with cameras, others appeared bewildered at the sudden appearance of this historical relic. They waved, and I waved back, feeling rather like royalty!

All too soon, it seemed, the train reached Moorgate. Here, we had the chance to take pictures of the train before it set off on its next journey. I took full advantage of this opportunity. I was pleased that one of the brand new Hammersmith & City Line trains was standing alongside the heritage train: an impressive juxtaposition of the old and the new.

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I had a brief look round the London Transport Museum pop-up shop; I didn’t buy anything but I made a mental note of several items to purchase later.

I know spending £50 on an Underground journey sounds crazy, especially since I could use my Travelcard to travel along this stretch of track whenever I like. However I don’t regret it at all: it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a journey back into the Underground’s past.

Forty Hall and Estate

Forty Hall

Forty Hall is an estate in Enfield, north London, a Grade I listed Jacobean mansion set in a Grade II listed estate. The hall and estate was fully restored in 2012 so I thought it would be the perfect time to make a visit.

It was slightly tricky to reach the house, as the journey involved a bit of walking. However it was worth it as it really is beautiful. Outside, the mansion is situated in some gorgeous parkland, while on the inside, the restoration has been carefully done with an engaging exhibition telling the story of Sir Nicholas Rainton, the 17th century owner of Forty Hall.

Being tired and/or lazy (delete as appropriate), I didn’t explore in detail the 273-acre 18th century landscaped estate, which boasts an ornamental lake, medieval fishing ponds and streams, and a walled garden. I think this would be a lovely venue to return to for a picnic. Events for all ages, including children, take place all year round and the residents of Enfield are pretty lucky to have such a gorgeous estate on their doorstep.

FACTS

Address: Forty Hill, Enfield, EN2 9HA

Website: fortyhallestate.co.uk

Opening Hours: Tues-Fri 11am-5pm, Sat-Sun 12pm-5pm. Closes at 4pm in winter.

Prices: Free

The end of the line

The New Year only began a fortnight ago but already I’ve been keeping up with my exploration of the Tube. Last week I travelled on the eastbound Piccadilly Line and ticked off a few stations. I didn’t quite make it to the end as I had to go back into central London to meet a friend*, but I did manage about four stations and also took a detour to take a look at the window of George Moore Menswear at 99 Myddleton Road, near Bounds Green station. I read about the store in this blog post by Peter Berthoud: this is no ordinary window display. Established during World War II, the business was run first by George and then by his son Brian. When Brian retired, he left the window display as it was on the last day of trading. The items in the window – from shirts and jumpers to underpants and socks – are slowly decaying. I took some pictures, but sadly the window was rather dirty so they didn’t come out very well.

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On Saturday, I set off to finish what I’d started, sitting on the train all the way to where it terminated at Cockfosters.

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The end of the line: Cockfosters station

Out here, it hardly seems as though you’re in London at all. There is a nice park close by, which I walked around for a little bit. I then rode one stop to Oakwood, from where I took the bus to Enfield town centre and from there to Forty Hall. This recently restored seventeenth-century house was home to Sir Nicholas Rainton, a former Mayor of London, and is free to visit. I wandered round for a little while and spent some time looking out onto the lake.

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After taking the bus back to Enfield, I spent some time looking round the shops. There are several decent shops here and I was particularly impressed with the Waitrose, which had a huge alcohol display right across the glass wall.

Afterwards I got on another bus, which took me to Turnpike Lane – another station crossed off the list.

* We went to see Great Expectations at the new Leicester Square Odeon Studio, as we had free cinema tickets thanks to O2. I’m not a huge fan of Charles Dickens, but I enjoyed the film, which was well-acted particularly by Helena Bonham-Carter and Ralph Fiennes.

Philip Pullman at the National Theatre

A couple of months ago I was due to attend a talk on fairy tales involving Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman. Sadly Philip Pullman couldn’t attend due to illness, so I was happy to discover that the National Theatre was hosting a talk by him on the same subject, to take place on the 2nd of January. I couldn’t think of a better way to start the New Year, so I bought a ticket straight away.

Pullman has recently released Grimm Tales for Young and Old, a selection of the fairy tales originally collected by the Grimms in the nineteenth century. I have the book and I enjoyed reading it: I think Pullman succeeded in his aim to make the tales “as clear as water”, to write them as simply and as straightforwardly as possible. Some of the tales, such as ‘Snow White’ and ‘Rapunzel’, are well-known while others, such as ‘The Three Snake-Leaves’, are not. Even the well-known tales, however, are often different to the current popular versions. For instance, in ‘The Frog Prince’, the princess doesn’t kiss the frog to turn him into a prince; she throws him against a wall! Out of around two hundred tales, fifty were selected for the book (I have the special Waterstone’s edition, which includes an extra three stories).

I enjoyed the talk (facilitated by journalist Nicolette Jones). It was interesting to hear Pullman’s views on the tales, such as the simplicity of the stories, the straightforward sense of justice in them, and the ‘cardboard’ characters who are timeless in their universality. He remarked on the importance of telling stories – not from a book, but from your own mind – for anyone with responsibility for children. At this point I became glad that I do not have any such responsibility. I am sure Pullman is right, but the thought of sitting in front of a bunch of expectant children and making up a story as I go along frankly terrifies me!

I also enjoyed hearing Pullman’s answers to the questions and remarks of the audience. In response to his (understandable) statement that he didn’t like one of the stories – where a father cuts off his daughter’s hands – and is not punished – an audience member said that she found the courage and resilience of the daughter inspiring: a different way of looking at things. Another wondered if teaching children the kind of black and white morality and justice found in the tales was appropriate, given the complexity of real life. Pullman said yes and I’m inclined to agree with him: I think you need to start somewhere, and you can begin with simplicity and go on to more complex ways of thinking later. After all, they teach you when you are small that minus numbers don’t exist, to avoid confusing you, and introduce them later when you are bigger and (hopefully) cleverer.

It turns out that Pullman is a big fan of Neighbours – after writing in the morning he takes a break for lunch and sits down to watch the lunchtime edition. He clearly has good taste in soaps!