Pokemon Olympics


IMG_3328What do the Olympics and Pokemon have in common?  Well, not much really except that they’re both topical and highly competitive.  So, when my suggestion to join my ‘nephew’ and his Mum at the Olympic park to hunt Pokemon was met by a youthful ‘Yeah okay’ that was enough encouragement.

I did the downloading and arrived at the beautifully landscaped venue of so many inspiring memories from 2012.  Alliums and long tall grasses gently swayed in the breeze, a blazing sun bounced off the River Lea and cyclists rode slowly past curvaceous benches, enjoying the sense of freedom and space afforded.

IMG_3322J came running towards me: “You need a name! Have you got one yet?”
“No – any bright ideas?”
We stood by the aquatic centre looking up at curves side-framing a blue sky.
“I don’t know – Helexium?”
“Whatever you say, you’re the expert.”

I punched in my virtual self’s new name, added a few numbers and I was off.

My first Pokemon appeared floating in front of me, hovering just above the grass.  I tried to zap him with the ball but to no avail.
“Here let me do it for you” J said grabbing the phone. “Gotcha! You got a Staryu, I’ll power it up, it’s only CP 11 though..”

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A Hot Day For Cycling

P1070915I picked up my means of transport.  It was hot, a damned hot Ibiza day, but I was on a mission to discover all there was to discover on the Orbea Optima electric bicycle.

Oscar, at Kandani showed me its features one by one and handed me a helmet.  I asked him about the charging element. “I’m a bit worried, Oscar, what if I’m half way to Santa Inés and I run out of juice?”
He paused, midway through adjusting the seat, raised his head and looked at me incredulously: “Nobody empty the battery in one day. Nobody.”

Feeling chastised but comforted at the same time, I smiled, sat on the comfy padded seat and waved goodbye. “Are you sure I don’t need the off-road model?” I called out to him.
“No, this is enough for you. Make sure you start off on ‘Tour’ and then move up to Turbo as you go.  Don’t start on Turbo or you will take off very quickly and that could be dangerous!”

Heading towards San Carles I felt the joy of minimal peddling and maximum speed.  Despite the heat, the teeniest breeze generated by the motion felt cool on my face.  I smiled from sheer joy.  Past heat-baked fields of ripening tomatoes, sprinklers freshened them and me as I motored by. Further on the scent of pines cut through dusty air, and the faint aroma of fig as I passed a tree laden with this sumptuous fruit waiting for its moment to drop.

How far would I go?  How far did I want to go? Would I climb the Sierra De La Malacosta or would I simply go to the beach?

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Wondrous Stevie

IMG_2906As with the best holidays, the blues follow: They’re inescapable. And so it was for Stevie Wonder at Hyde Park.  Such was the sublime soulfulness of Stevie and his band’s performance of ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ that the only way from such an up was an inevitable down today. But tonight when I listened to some of my recordings I felt the magic again.

The day had started inconspicuously enough.  Meeting my cousin, we were excited at the prospect, but exhausted from a hard working week; keen for a catch up and a sit down.

With a mid forties average age audience, we remained seated during Corinne Bailey Rae and read the papers. Pharrell stirred us at 5.30pm and at 6.30pm we stood to attention to salut one of my all time favourite singers.

‘Songs in the Key of Life’ was the first (double) album I ever bought on cassette, and the first song I christened my first hi-fi with was ‘Isn’t She Lovely’.  That’s a lot of firsts.

Through the humour and charm of his performance, frequently spouting ‘cockney’ and admonishing the crowd when they came in too soon to sing a long, Stevie had us all in the palm of his hand.  And what a comforting and gentle hand it was too.  He reminded us of the importance of love over hate and how we can all play a part in turning things around. His rendition of ‘Pastime Paradise’ gave me goosebumps – a gospel choir coming in strong with a heart-rending  chorus of ‘We Shall Overcome’.

After he performed ‘Joy Inside My Tears’ he wiped his from mirrored-shades protected eyes. He wasn’t the only one.

Before he sang ‘If it’s Magic’ he told us that his harpist had recently died from cancer, and that the last backing track she had recorded to accompany this tune would be played with him now.

Through it all – from his array of stupendously excellent singers’ and musicians’ solos contributing to the democratic perfection of a truly beautiful and uplifting whole, the occasion was tinged with a bittersweetness.  Bitter in that so many geniuses and legends of note have left us recently; a seeming rise in troubled times and uncertainty; sweet in that Stevie in all his magnificence continues to inspire – despite a debilitation that from birth must have challenged him in all aspects of his life.

His message was clear: If I can do it, you can:  ‘We can all make a difference when we choose love over hate’ he said.

Poignancy infused this three and a half hour set in the most soaring way: Despite feeling ill that day, he’d arrived to be here, and as darkness fell he called out to the crowd: ‘We’ve got 20 more minutes before they close the park: Let’s turn it out!’ He didn’t want to go home, and neither did we.

All Creatures Great and Small

P1080105It’s not what you might expect, but, as soon as I walked the dusty sunny path to Hampton Court Palace Flower Show from the station, entered the grounds and perused the catalogue, I knew what I wanted to see.

The show gardens are of course predominantly what it’s all about with prizes awarded to the most outstanding.  Then there’s the rose marquee, various celebrity talks, plants to be purchased and delectable food and drink to taste. However, this year the flower show encompassed so much more – from cooking to dogs and butterflies.  Yes, you heard me right.

‘If you head to the ‘DogsTrust: A Dog’s Life’ garden you should be able to see it complete with a few of its namesakes’ the press office told me.

I couldn’t get there fast enough.  Past people carrying trundling boxes full of garden delights I did my best to make haste.  But, the mood was relaxed, and I found myself slowing down: A couple stood looking over a show garden: ‘I think if we did something like that water feature dear – it could work – it’s just a small dribble’ one said.
‘We could give it a try love’ came the mellow response, made so by the warmth of sun shining and a precious day away from the norm.

Up ahead I spied a rectangular shallow pool overhung with various delicate plants and some sculptures of – were they dogs – wading through it? I had reached my destination and was soon chatting to Emily from DogsTrust.  ‘We just won Gold last night’ she told me excitedly proceeding to fill me in on the whys and wherefores of this sensitively planned garden.

‘It represents the journey of every DogsTrust dog – making sure they’re as happy as can be. It’s got herbaceous borders, sniffer tracks, a pavilion for shade, tubes for them to run through, water and places to dig. But, it’s also about people being able to enjoy their garden with their dog – showing that it’s possible to make it work for both.’

I stroked Evie’s head – a quiet and restrained greyhound visiting from their West London centre for the day.  ‘She’s been with us two weeks – often dogs come here when there’s a change in the family circumstances.  She used to race.’ In the cool and gently scented garden a photo session followed.

Time was flying by and there was yet a final highlight to attend: In the Butterfly Dome, I couldn’t stop myself smiling – thrilled by hundreds of these most colourful creatures flitting about my head, landing on plants and occasionally my bare arm.

Without a doubt it had been a day to delight not just one, but all of the senses.P1080159

Very many thanks to RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

Ms Georgia O’Keeffe

P1080066The last time I got tearful at an exhibition was The V&A’s Alexander McQueen show.  Today at the new Tate Modern’s sensitively and sublimely curated exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, it happened all over again.  And then some.

Rounding the corner of one of the first rooms I came face to face with ‘Music – Pink and Blue No. 1’.  This was the catalogue cover of my first, and until this day, only viewing of Ms O’Keeffe’s art in the flesh as it were.  That was in 1987, just a year after she died.

A flood of memories surfaced; living in New York and then Washington D.C. where the show had taken place at the National Gallery of Art. Tears pricked my eyes.  Her powerful and confident strokes of both paint and charcoal reveal a determined character:  Determined and dedicated to being true to herself.

In her own words, quoted on the introduction to each room in this exhibition she comes across as a woman of single mind and focus.  I could say ‘person’ here, and many of the often cited quotes on her work refer to her as a great ‘woman’ painter which she famously railed against, saying ‘The men liked to put me down as the best woman painter. I think I’m one of the best painters’. However, only a female artist could say: ’Of course I was told it was an impossible idea – even the men hadn’t done that well with it’ on painting the New York landscape.

She knew she was up against it to be taken seriously as a woman who made art, and nothing less than 100% of herself would do.

Through showing such an extraordinary variety of her work in this exhibition, the Tate seeks primarily to champion O’Keeffe’s own insistence that her work was not overtly sexualised, that every flower and landscape she painted had little to do with sexuality and in particular the female body.

It’s largely succeeded in this mission, but there’s no getting away from the fact that there is an inherent sensuality and almost erotic like quality imbued within her paintings in particular – whether they be of New York skyscrapers or clouds floating beneath blue skies.  Nature was such a source of inspiration to her, and that in its most basic form is reproduction – in all that is created.

The final rooms hosting her paintings from New Mexico stirred up emotion again. The ruthless and unrelenting desire to demonstrate clarity and one’s own truth is particularly piercing in the Pelvis series and the paintings of her Abiquiú house. The sense imparted is of an infinite search for oneself, to strip back all that doesn’t matter and reach the core:  ‘I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only woman can explore’ she once said.

Her love of nature and the nature of love, in particular for oneself, is imbued in all Georgia O’Keeffe’s work. She just couldn’t help herself. P1070963
‘My Last Door’ Georgia O’Keeffe.  Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz.

Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Modern 6 July – 30 October 2016.

Serendipity Wins The Epsom Derby

P1070769“I had a dream” Clare Balding told me as I started to explain my win in the Epsom Derby.  Poor Clare.  I wanted to know, I really did but unfortunately with the overexcitement of the main race, I’d been reduced to a babbling mess.  I needed to tell her the story of my day, which in racing terms had a magical twist of fate.

It had all started gently enough.  Whilst waiting for my comrade in arms for Epsom at the train station a coffee truck pulled up and before you could say ‘Mine’s a cappucino’ I was chatting to the cab drivers, one of whom treated me to a latte: Things were looking good so far.

An hour later found us still struggling to find our carpark, but once inside the media tent all that was forgotten and the race was on.

A day at the track is like no other. Time flies but in the most surreal way.  No sooner have you watched one race than horses parade in the paddock for the next. Bets are placed, champagne or beer is ordered, a roar comes up from the grandstand as you realise you’ve missed the 2.35 and need to get your act together for the 3.10.

Then, there’s the arrival of the Queen, just a week before her official 90th birthday, and you have to guess what she might be wearing, in French, with a party of that country’s finest gentlemen as you all endeavour to get a photo of her.

What seemed like moments later, I leaned across the railings next to a handsome man in a top hat chatting to his friend. “Where are you from in Ireland?” I asked.
“The Curragh” came his response.
“I’m from Meath – just next door – near Trim.”
“Oh yes, I know it. I used to have to drive through Trim all the time to get to Navan.”
“To the races?”

I asked him what he was doing here today.  “We’ve got a horse in the Derby – Harzand” he told me. “My Father’s the trainer.”
“Aidan O’Brien?”
“No!  You don’t study the form do you?!” came the retort with a grin.

In fairness I hadn’t had time, but this was all I needed.  “We must get to the Tote!” I said to Chloe. I’d heard first hand Frankie Dettori’s tips for the Derby (‘The main challenge for Wings of Desire is US Army Ranger’), and John McCririck had also weighed in with his comments before he waved me off and told me to ‘Keep blogging’.  But this.  This was pure gold.

Cakes and coffee by the winning post preceded an inspiring victory by Harzand with one of my each way bets coming in second.

On the train home I conversed with yet another fellow Irishman.  We high fived our Derby success.  “I won big” he told me.
“I broke even, and a bit more” I replied.
A bit of magic more in fact.

Very many thanks to Epsom Derby, JSC Communications and Chloe Haywood for a magnificent day.

Highlights and a Chelsea Blow Dry

IMG_1997Pinter. Harold Pinter. The name says tension to me and a play fraught with awkwardness, strain, characters stretched to breaking point.  I wasn’t sure I could handle a second one in as many months, but theatre invitations are rather lovely and it would be a hard woman that could say ‘no’.

I gasped as I entered The Old Vic to take my seat – grand and imposing and absolutely packed to the rafters. V’s programme lay on my lap with no time to read as the final bell sounded and this evening’s performance of The Caretaker was off.

As the curtain raised, like a projected image, the set moved towards us and we were there; back in some dingy Pinteresque bedroom with peeling wallpaper, junk everywhere, joy buried under neglect, the purpose of survival laying comfort to rest.

So far, so expected.

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One of the boys

IMG_1854I was here again.  Years have elapsed since the last time I sat in the backseat of my parents’ car en route somewhere while my brothers played ‘I spy the flash automobile.’  Actually, I lie, the automobiles didn’t have to be flash – it was the identifying of them that was key.  Whenever I spotted one and called out the name, I was generally ignored.

Fast forward to now: Regent Street on May 2 and the arrival of the Gumball 3000.  To the uninitiated that’s a kind of race where, to quote a stranger I met on the day, ‘Rich guys drive from one place in the world to another showing off their souped-up motors’.  The reason I’m aware of it is that one of my favourite entertainment acts of all time quite often compere the arrival of these gas guzzling beasts to whatever destination may be on the agenda.  I’m talking about Los Hermanos Cubanos of course.

‘Oh yeah, they’re on at about 7pm’ an official told me early on in the morning. I texted to get some insider info.  ‘No, we’re actually in bonnie Scotland’ came the reply.  Never mind.  Given I’d yet to experience these cars roll into town in all their revved up glory, I decided I’d go along, see what all the fuss was about.

Wedged in the crush between various fans hours later, one of them let me in front to take photos. ‘Oh, I think that’s a Hummer coming – that gold one, is it?’ I asked of my new friends.  No answer.

‘Ohhhhhh mate, can you hear that – what is it?’
‘I think it’s a Lambo, mate.’

I forget sometimes, I am a mere girl.

IMG_1837‘Oh, mate, I think this is Mr Gumball comin’.’
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The One and Only

IMG_1705“Whaddya mean you’re having another double espresso?! What’s the matter with you Al?!”
“I dunno, something’s gotten into me, and the coffee is pretty good here.”

It was all my fault as usual.  Having left a rather brilliant but harrowing movie – Victoria – we needed something to take the edge off.  The cinema bar told us it was closing: “Well, we are in London after all and it’s almost midnight, so that makes sense” said my droll companion.

We walked out onto the festival type crowded streets of Soho wondering where to go, when it occurred to me.  There really is only one place for such a moment. “Bar Italia” I said, “Let’s go there.”

Like a homing pigeon I found my way easily.  Perhaps 20 years have elapsed since I last visited but on walking past the jovial heat-lamp-lit tables outside, I was relieved to see absolutely nothing had changed. The large screen at the back relayed football; even the waiters looked the same.

Miraculously two stools appeared free at the counter top. I quickly commandeered them whilst Al did the honours in the queue. Reaching for one seat nestled up close to another on which sat an elderly gent in animated conversation with a distinguished looking waiter, my hand was seized. “You’re trying to touch his ass?” Roxano, the latter, asked.
“No! No!  I just need to grab the stool next to him!”  I said laughing.
“You will see, it is as hard as a rock.”

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