Tag Archives: London

Is the Met. Office facing relegation ?

Snow at Heathrow

Is it possible that everything we do is dwarfed by the moods of the star that gives life to the world?  The Sun is incomparably vaster and more powerful than any work of man.

Well, folks, it’s tea-time on Sunday and for anyone involved in keeping people moving it has been a hell of a weekend.  Thousands have had their journeys wrecked, tens of thousands have been delayed getting away for Christmas; and for those Londoners who feel aggrieved by the performance of any part of our transport services, I can only say that we are doing our level best.

Almost the entire Tube system was running yesterday and we would have done even better if it had not been for a suicide on the Northern Line, and the temporary stoppage that these tragedies entail.  Of London’s 700 bus services, only 50 were on diversion, mainly in the hillier areas.  On Saturday, we managed to keep the West End plentifully supplied with customers, and retailers reported excellent takings on what is one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

We have kept the Transport for London road network open throughout all this.  We have about 90,000 tons of grit in stock, and the gritters were out all night to deal with this morning’s rush.  And yet we have to face the reality of the position across the country.

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Summer in the City

Yes, it’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk (but don’t – the gum is bad enough) but summer is also time when we are spoiled for choice when it comes things to do, enjoy and experience.

gotham girlIf one more person says, “It’s not the heat – it’s the humidity,” I may have to hurt someone. Why? Because it’s the heat and the humidity. Trust me. ‘Gotham Girl’ I may be but I was raised on the Gulf Coast. I know of what I speak. Lest anyone think I am becoming Gotham Grouch however, rest assured that I actually love this time of year – despite grumbling about the weather. Sure, summer in the city can be frustrating and annoying but can also be great fun and amazing.

The good: Ice cream, tennis tournaments, music festivals, Shakespeare alfresco, dining alfresco, movies alfresco – everything alfresco. The less good: The heat that presses down on you, radiates up off the sidewalks and bouncing back at you from reflective building surfaces. The crowds that flock in to see the same top ten attractions as last year’s crowd flocked in to see. The resigned look of those heading underground who know stifling platforms await them.

Whether I am referring to London or New York is completely up to you. All of the above apply to either or both. Of course, you can’t help but notice how distinctly different all those similarities can be.

Ice cream always tastes good but there is something about strolling down the street on a warm summer evening – perhaps indulging in a bit of window shopping – that makes it taste even better. I can’t pick just one ‘best ice cream in NYC’ at the moment – I have too many choices and each is a slightly different experience. The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory makes amazing ice cream and it is right near the Brooklyn Promenade. If there is a more perfect place for an ice cream cone stroll than that, I have yet to find it. Looking for something a bit more out of the ordinary on a sultry summer night in Gotham? Try Ciao Bella Café – known for unusual flavors – maker of my favorite mango sorbet. I don’t have wide experience of ice cream in London but I’ve indulged myself at The Parlour at Fortnum and Mason (their raspberry ripple is calling my name even now) and enjoyed some of the best café affogato I’ve ever had at Scoop. It was so good, my friend and I sent back for more. What is your favorite London ice cream stop?

I could talk about ice cream all day but there’s more to summer in the city than that.

One of the most summer-defining events in London is the Proms. It has a heavy Broadway element to it this year with events celebrating both Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Is it just me or does it seem like Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday has been going on for years now? Also this year there will be two ‘Last Night of the Proms’ – the actual Last Night and the recreation of the initial Last Night. Check out the Proms schedule to see what’s on and where. NYC also has a summer classical music festival – Lincoln Center’s annual Mostly Mozart Festival. It’s a bit shorter than the Proms (only running a month), but like the Proms was founded to offer a more informal ambiance and relatively inexpensive tickets to attract new audiences who wouldn’t normally attend such events as well as more regular classical music lovers. Mostly Mozart will be especially interesting since so many of the venues have recently undergone massive refurbishment. Lincoln Center was always a dramatic place – indoors and out – but now the whole complex is being transformed into an even more dramatic, greener and more inviting place.

Feeling more sporty than musical? Then summer in the city is your time of year. I’d talk about baseball but wouldn’t be equipped to compare and contrast it to what may or may not be its nearest British equivalent – cricket. This is largely due to my ongoing failure to understand cricket. And I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried. I just don’t get it. There. I’ve said it. Can we move on, now? What about something we all understand, like tennis.

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The plague of gum on our streets and pavements

the chewing gum scourge is costing us all – as taxpayers – millions of pounds a year

My message to the gum-chewers of Britain is if you chew, then swallow, too. And if you can’t swallow it, then find a bin or face a fine

 

I was standing outside the new Tube station at Shepherd’s Bush last week, and marvelling at the regeneration that can be achieved by sensible investment in transport. The proprietor of a local coffee-cum-ice-cream bar was telling me how much better things were going, and how many new customers he was getting from the nearby Westfield shopping centre, when another man seized me by the elbow.

“Mr Boris,” he said, in tones of despair and an accent that suggested he was not native to London, “what are you going to do about all this?” As I followed the sweep of his arm, I saw the gleaming London Underground signs, and the capacious concourses, and the happy crowds of shoppers and commuters milling in ergonomically efficient patterns over the spanking piazzas; and then – beneath our very feet – I saw what he was driving at.

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Sartorial Streets of NYC & London

Style isn’t about wearing exactly the right thing in just exactly the right way at just precisely the right time. If it were, Boris wouldn’t be the style icon he has seemingly (and to many – bizarrely) become.

gotham girlIt is confession time, my friends. Gotham Girl is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fashionista. If I were, I’d be dismayed – even pained – by Boris’s perpetually rumpled state. As it is, I find it adorkable. Besides, I’m hardly in a position to throw sartorial stones. I’m lucky to get out the door in matching socks.  Despite these sock issues and a preference for tousled rather than tidy blondes, I am not uninterested in fashion. I enjoy experimenting with different outfits, am thrilled by vintage clothing stores and love seeing how different people use their personal style to express themselves.

Luckily for me, both London and New York have rich and inspiring style scenes. Oh, I don’t mean the fashion establishment. Sure both cities host their own media frenzied fashion week and are home to the biggest names in the biz. I’m aware that as an industry, fashion contributes directly and indirectly to the bottom line in London as much as it does here. It’s just that I find that part of fashion rather dull at best and bizarre at worst. It’s all trends (that come and go so fast that you feel you might have imagined them) and wildly impractical designs (intended to be weird for weird sake rather than to be worn). As for fashion magazines – the only thing the giant annual fall issue of Vogue inspires me to do is use it as a door stop.

To me, the inspiration comes from the people rushing past on the street, lounging on museum steps, crowded onto buses or wandering the aisles of the flea markets. There’s something compelling and inspiring about people watching in London and New York. Both cities are teeming with people who have a strong sense of personal style, a will to wear it and the ability to wear it well.

Of course, it would be hard to beat London as the historical street style capital of the world. Even if we just look at the last 50 or 60 years, London is way out in front – giving rise to the Edwardian-inspired teddy boys, the mods and rockers, punk, glam rock, goth, the New Romantics, etc. London has produced the richest source of “trickle up” fashion in the world. New York is practically a style infant in comparison – and is less an incubator for youth culture than sort of style laboratory for trends born elsewhere. New York may have given rise to the Greasers of the 50s and the hip-hop styles of the 80s-90s but the beat generation and counter-culture movements, valley girls and grunge styles all came out of the west coast. New York youth culture certainly put their stamp on them and other styles through the years but we must give credit where credit is due.

Of course, fashion trends that begin or bloom on the streets of London and New York almost always end up adopted, refined and commercialized by the fashion establishment. They know a good thing when they see it. And so do I. So what’s happening on the streets of my two favorite cities right now?

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Harry Potter Theme Park

 

I deeply and bitterly resent that Orlando is about to become the official place of pilgrimage for every Harry Potter fan on earth

 

You know, sometimes I don’t understand what’s wrong with us. This is just about the most creative and imaginative country on earth – and yet sometimes we just don’t seem to have the gumption to exploit our intellectual property. We split the atom, and now we have to get French or Korean scientists to help us build nuclear power stations. We perfected the finest cars on earth – and now Rolls-Royce is in the hands of the Germans. Whatever we invent, from the jet engine to the internet, we find that someone else carts it off and makes a killing from it elsewhere. And now, in the crowning insult, I am being told by a 12-year-old that I have to start making preparations to take everyone to Orlando, Florida.

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Limo-Loving Politicians

We will push up the age of retirement, and I believe it should go to 70

I just don’t see why the taxpayer should be coughing up for state-sponsored cars, so that some people can feel superior about the way they get around

It must have been about six months ago that I was treated to a symbol of everything that was wrong with the wasteful and incompetent Labour government that has just been ejected from office. Indeed, it was a symbol of everything that has been wrong with British politics over the past decade. I came across this object in Derby Gate, Westminster, round about lunchtime – and I can still see it in my mind’s eye, stationed in the gloom not far from the Red Lion pub.

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Festival Season is Upon Us

“I would give anything – anything at all – to see Boris participate in the Big World Dance and would be eternally grateful to whoever would film him doing it”

gotham girlMy friends, my friends – Gotham Girl is back and how I have missed you! Everyone’s winter went well? Wasn’t too snowy or bone-chillingly cold?   I must say it went rather smoothly here in Gotham. Oh, sure we had lots of snow but the city is efficiency itself when it comes to clearing the streets. The snow is simply plowed into the nearest river – and Manhattan being a narrowish strip of land, the nearest river is never more than a few blocks away.

But winter is behind us now – which means festival season is upon us. Obviously festivals can happen at any time of year – I don’t say they can’t. Winter festivals are quite rightly scheduled in winter and pumpkin festivals during any season other than autumn would just be wrong.  But there is a density of festivals when the weather warms — festivals celebrating everything from music, sport, history, or holidays and which draw crowds from near and far, bringing people and their enthusiasms together.

Since there’s no way to cover all upcoming festivals in a single post, consider it a teaser of what awaits you when you check out the local “what’s happening” calendar online or in your local paper.

Both London and New York cities host major film festivals such as Lincoln Center’s New York Film Festival or the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival but both are also home to film festivals that celebrate specific genres such as NYC’s Horror Film Festival or its London counterpart, Frightfest Film Festival) or gatherings that focus on particular neighborhoods – East End Film Festival in London and the Queens International Film Festival in NYC).

One of my favorite NYC film festivals is the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival. I have already set aside my Monday evenings from late June to the end of August for these free outdoor movies. Think of it as a cross between a drive-in movie and a picnic. This year’s lineup is fantastic and every year, the musical selection – this year it is the 1956 hit Carousel – sees a park full of people singing in unison with enough enthusiasm to make up for any lack of skill (well, almost). I’m sure the crowd at last year’s screening of Sound of Music wouldn’t have won any awards but we had a great time.

I am told that there is a similar film series held at Somerset House each summer called the Film4 Summer Screen. Now, I don’t know what this year’s line up of titles is but if previous year’s selections are anything to go by, there is quite an entertaining range of films to choose from – everything from classic sci-fi to films fresh from their debut at Cannes.

Another thing that London and NYC share is a multi-layered, very robust food scene so it’s not surprising that food festivals are heavily featured in the event schedules for both cities. If food is your thing – all kinds, a certain kind, talking about it, eating it, cooking it, looking at it – there are more and more festivals every year aimed at food lovers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Taste of London (June 17-20) offers live demonstrations so you can watch chefs in action, champagne master classes and tasting menus. If all that talk of food has made you thirsty, never fear – beer is here. Or rather it will be at the Great British Beer Festival (Aug 3-7).

One of the great food festivals in NYC is the San Gennero Festival (Sept 16-26) down in Little Italy. I’m not sure how to do the colors, food and people justice. What I can tell you is that after consuming all the food you were unable to resist – and why would you want to? – you may feel more like rolling than walking. Of course, there’s more than food – there are live bands, shopping and book signings as well. But you know the real reason to go is the annual Cannoli Eating Competition, right?

Travel to foreign lands is great not to mention educational but let’s face it – it takes time and money, two things none of us seem to have going spare these days. Not to worry! There is a way to immerse yourself in other cultures with much less travel time, significantly less money and in a way that does not involve dodging clouds of volcanic ash. In both New York and London, you’ll find festivals featuring the sights, sounds and tastes of almost any culture you can imagine (and some that might never have occurred to you).

Thinking Thai? For one day, the food and fashion, the music and sport and regional variations that make up Thai culture will be in one place at one time – the place is the Thailand@Trafalgar and the time is June 5. Want something with a more Latin vibe? Try Carnaval del Pueblo (August 1), the largest Latin American outdoor festival in Europe. Activities include salsa competitions (warm up those hips and get twirling), food (you don’t realize how diverse Latin American cuisine is until you see it stretched out before you region by region) because you can’t have Carnaval without it – a Carnaval Parade. Looking for more scope? Toast Festival 2010 (September 24-26) celebrates not a single culture but the whole Southern hemisphere! Maori performers will perform, Gumboot dancers will dance, African drummers will drum and festival attendees can enjoy all of it while sampling regional delicacies and drinking regional wines.

Over here in NYC, Caribbean Week is on my must do list this year – “Rum & Rhythm” event in particular. There’s something really exciting about Caribbean culture – that mix of Dutch, French and Spanish that comes through in the food and the music in so many ways. While Sweden Day promises less spice than Caribbean Week, it sounds no less interesting and I’m always up for a good maypole raising.

There are so many ways to celebrate the arts in both New York and London, visitors and residents of each are spoilt for choice. But one of the great things about going the “festival” route to get your artistic fix is that so many of the events are free!

One event I look forward to every year in NYC is the Museum Mile Festival. Museum Mile is a 20 block-stretch of Fifth Avenue that is home to some of the greatest Museums in the world (the Cooper-Hewitt, Guggenheim & the Metropolitan Museum of Art to name just a few) and on Festival day, those blocks become a pedestrian plaza featuring live musical performances in front of each museum and special programs (indoors and out).

Feeling bookish? Try the London Literature Festival (July 1-15). This is more than just literary types deconstructing Derrida (do they even do that anymore? Have I dated myself?). There may well be a few people discussing Derrida (and dating themselves much as I have here) but there will also be debates on democracy, writing workshops, author talks, outdoor performances of great works – and yes, reading.

I did notice that London will be getting its groove thing on this summer with The Big Dance 2010 from July 3-11. Apparently it all comes to a toe-tapping, hip-swiveling, hand-waving climax on July 10 with the Big World Dance – 10,000 people dancing their way to Trafalgar Square on Saturday 10 July 2010. I would give anything – anything at all – to see Boris participate in the Big World Dance and would be eternally grateful to whoever manages to film him doing it.

Some festivals strive to be all things to all people. And some – like River to River here in NYC and the City of London Festival – are big enough to accomplish it. These mega-festivals bring events of all kinds to spaces across the cities. They might be musical concerts, dance performances, film screenings, lectures and walking tours – and – again – the majority of events are free.

Those pianos scattered randomly around London last summer? That was part of the City of London Festival and they are coming back by popular demand. This year, the City of London festival has an interesting triptych of themes including: 1) culture and arts from the Portuguese-speaking world, 2) the 200th birthday of Chopin and finally 3) most intriguing to me a program of events featuring bees and beehives. Yes, I said bees. There will be bee-related poetry and bee seminars. The Festival will also be ‘commissioning’ new honey. And by commissioning, they appear to mean through the installation of beehives throughout the City.

I didn’t seen anything bee-related on the schedule for the River to River Festival, the mother of all NYC festivals, but there was quite a lot that did catch my eye – like the Swedish Midsummer Festival, the World Financial Center Restaurant Showcase and the New Amsterdam Walking Tour.

So, go on and get festive! Try the food, dance the dance, watch the film, “travel the world” in your own backyard. There are so many festivals I didn’t have room to include – the Mayor’s Thames Festival for one but he knows what deadlines are like so I hope he will forgive me. Here are some online resources for finding upcoming London festivals:

Liberal Conservatism and The Plight of the Lonely

there are so many people who never have a sense of communal exhilaration

according to a recent survey a sense of social isolation is the number one problem of our lives

we need to start actively re-knitting the coalition of British society

Dear oh dear, it’s just as well I never said anything rude about the Lib Dems, eh? What? Did I say that? You mean I once accused them of being a bunch of euro-loving road-hump-fetishists who changed their opinions in mid-stream like so many hermaphroditic parrotfish? And are you telling me that senior Lib Dem sources are accusing me of being a Eurosceptic classics crank? Dear oh dear.

Well, I am sure we can put it all behind us, because there was something about the amazing events of last week that has filled the nation – me included – with a giddy helium-lunged feeling of hope. We looked at that scene in the Downing Street garden – the dappled sunlight, the blossom floating past – and we saw an extraordinary partnership being forged. They were David and Jonathan. They were Achilles and Patroclus. They were Gilbert and George. They were Wallace and Gromit. And you know what, I truly believe it can work, must work, will work.

Of course, there will be strains, and the media will try to pull it apart, but over the next few weeks and months the two parties will discover that there is real content to the idea of liberal conservatism, wherever you put the capital letters, and that there is much more that unites them than they ever dreamt possible.

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Boris promotes Scotland’s interests

A healthy, wealthy London is the best medicine for Scotland’s ills
The capital is the powerhouse for the rest of the United Kingdom. It deserves better, says Boris Johnson

You know, I think we are reaching the limits of Jock-bashing. It is time that we called a halt to this casual anti-Scottish prejudice, before it gets out of control.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard someone joke that the Scots subsist on a diet of smack and deep-fried Mars Bars. I have heard it said in London that we send them our taxes, and they send us their prime ministers – and chancellors, and the whole stream of gabbling Edinburgh lawyer MPs who make up the Tartan mafia.

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The 50p Tax is driving people away

 
We should worry that Tracey Emin, Hugh Osmond and Michael Caine are fleeing the 50p tax rate
The 50p tax rate will be a disaster for the economy – taking us back to the dark days of the 1970s, says Boris Johnson.

Not everyone will miss her as much as I will. Not everyone can relied upon to mourn the departure of Tracey Emin and her duvet. You may have seen that the gorgeous Britart supremo is off to France. She has had it with Britain, says the woman who famously embroidered a tent with the names of everyone she had ever slept with, and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize.

Some readers may feel that the country can rub along without her. Take up thy tent and walk, they may say, in the words of the gospel. And then there may be people who don’t give a monkey’s that Michael Caine is thinking of vamoosing, or that we are about to lose Eddie Jordan, the former Formula One chief, or the milk tycoon Lord Haskins. Some of you may not care a tinker’s cuss if the former bookshop king Tim Waterstone deserts these shores, and as for the impending absence of Hugh Osmond, an entrepreneur who has had a role in everything from pizza to insurance, you may feel that we just have to dry our eyes and get a grip on our feelings.

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