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Monday, 19 February 2018

Orinoco Flow

 It's now less than two weeks to our trip to the Antarctic Peninsular, less than 2 weeks to kayaking in the Southern Ocean. Yesterday I had a "dry run" on the Thames by way of preparation. I had been nervous a couple of days before. I needn't have been.

The London Kayak Company operates a series of excursions. Mine ran from Poplar opposite Greenwich to HMS Belfast just past Tower Bridge and back. You're flowing with the current both ways so it's not as strenuous as it could be.

A group of us waited at the slipway opposite The Great Eastern pub on Saunderness Road. The trip started at 2 pm. On the dot two men dressed in appropriately aquatic clothing came paddling up the river with 5 kayaks in tow. They grounded the boats and clambered up the slip way with two huge waterproof bags - they contained the gear we needed. Clown like waterproofs, water proof top and a life jacket. I found getting into the clobber itself an adventure. I remember thinking that I'd better get used to this as I'll be doing it a lot down South! Our two guides gave use basic instructions and reassured us that the kayaks were as stable as the Swiss franc. We signed a waiver, wrote down our names, addresses, next of kin and contact number - just in case any of was fished out down stream at the Beckton outflow.

The kayaks were two seaters, steered by a rudder operated by the person in the rear seat with his feet. Once we were in the kayaks and correctly positioned, sitting up, with knees wedged into the sides and feet securely pressing on wooden blocks - they gave you thrust as you pushed the paddle through the water - we were "locked in" with a waterproof covering. We were told how to release ourselves from said prison should we roll over -  again being assured that we'd be incredibly stable once on the water.

And then we were off. Pushed out into the inlet we attempted to paddle and steer as we hit first one wall than the next before heading out into the Thames. It was magical. Across the river was Greenwich hospital and the Cutty Sark and on the Poplar side all the new high rise developments. Interspersed between  post modernist London were gems of 16th, 17th and 18th domestic architect - human size - so unlike the brutish stuff now crowding out the sky.

There was considerable traffic on the Thames - especially the big tourist boats that zoomed up and down. They created a substantial wake, but being buffeted by waves was exhilarating rather than scary. The police patrolled the river and we were over taken by a large rowing boat with 10 oarsmen. I felt far superior to them! We passed many famous pubs. The Narrow with its Gormley standing man in the Thames; on the other side the Prospect of Whitby, Gordan Ramsey's fish pub at St Katherine's dock. And an aquatic police station with a white and blue police sign!

Reaching Tower Bridge we passed a load of old sail boats before we went under the bridge and waved at the crowds on the embankment by the new Bridge Theatre. Then around HMS Belfast for a photo session with the Tower of London as a backdrop before starting our return journey.

The tide was on the turn flowing out into the Thames Estuary. That carried us along: so glad it did. A short way from Tower Bridge I realised how tired I was getting. I and my companion, talkative all the way up stream, fell silent as we concentrated on getting back. It was turning dark and the waters were choppier so it made paddling more difficult. We kept looking out for familiar sights on the way back - passing Canary Wharf meant we were nearly home - except it was another twenty minutes before we ran the kayaks up the slip way. It took an age to get out of both the kayak and the clothing.

It was a brilliant experience. A real sense of achievement, great guides and just the right amount of hard physical exercise to make it feel really worthwhile.

Best of all, I now have banished my worries about kayaking in the Antarctic. How good is that!

Sunday, 11 February 2018

"Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look"

It's had rave reviews this modern dress "Julius Caesar" at the Bridge Theatre. The theatre is on the South Bank, just up from Tower Bridge and is the brain child of the National's recent executive and artistic directors. It possibly fanciful to suggest that it's there to rival the National but so far it is looking like a brilliant addition to London theatre.

With Ben Whishaw, Michelle Fairley,David Calder and David Morrisey in the principal parts you expect a knock out show. That is what we got this Saturday afternoon. The theatre was packed, which highlighted how badly designed was the theatre foyer. It was almost impossible to navigate your way around it. Ordering food and drink, or going to the loo or cloakroom was a chore, but this is uncompromisingly a theatre - a performance space. Minor inconveniences like the aforementioned poorly thought out foyer and the seating which is pretty poor - although compared to most West End theatres quite spacious - is to be tolerated.

It was a shock to find that the stage and stalls were missing. A  part of the audience (the groundlings) were the Roman plebs, packed around a small stage listening to a pretty effective three piece band before the play began -this entertainment being part of Caesar's triumphant parade.  Mingling with the crowd were stall holders selling drinks, tee-shirts and hats, as well as stage hands and the actors. In no time you forgot you were in a theatre.

David Calder was suitably imperious as Caesar, Michelle Fairley good as Cassius whose love and admiration for Brutus allowed her to fatally demure to his miscalculations and ill judgement. As Brutus, Ben Whishaw was a man with far too good an opinion of himself, despite his amazing misreadings of the political scene in late republican Rome. David Morrisey's Mark Anthony had the right mix of physicality and cunning to ensure you believed the conspirators were doomed.

The battle scenes were incredibly noisy and realistic, and great credit to the stage crew who reset so many scenes, navigating the audience on the stage, and who themselves were a fascinating part of the action.

I've seen "Young Marx" at the Bridge and now this.  If it keeps up this standard of production it may well be known as the "second National."

If you can do see this play.  

Thursday, 8 February 2018

"And in the End....."

I will not write about Brexit, or about Trump, or about the state of our NHS, or the housing stock or social care or the frightening short termism of our financial investors, or the lack of investment in our infrastructure or how America is held up as the model we should follow with its huge economic inequalities, its fractured politics, its failing private health care and why it's going down the pan fast.

I will not write about any of the above because to think about them makes me mad and dispairing. Instead I will go to the theatre, go to the cinema, read classic novels, write poetry and hope that we're lucky enough to survive the next one hundred years and have the sense to rehabilitate ourselves and our planet.

I want to spend more time with my wife and our pets, my allotment and my friends and hopefully enjoy a few more years of learning how to live without fear, envy, malice or hate.

Quite a bucket list.....