29 August 2010

Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne

It has been a few years since I last saw a production of Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne, more years than this blog can remember anyway, but it's a great opera so there was no harm in going to see the new production this year.

I don't generally read reviews but I had picked up that there was something special about the set and the way it changes.

This is a recent trend at Glyndebourne, e.g. The Fairy Queen last year, and it's one I am unsure about. I fell in love of the simplicity of Glyndebourne that lets the singing and the music weave their magic without unnecessary distraction and I am not yet convinced that the new rich complex sets do more than distract.

The set makes an immediate bold statement as we see Don Giovanni climb out of the window of the bedroom of his latest conquest.

Following that it rotates a lot and slides a little to become various streets, rooms, gardens and, of course, a graveyard.

These transitions were slow and subtle which meant that they were less of a distraction than I feared but, on balance, I still prefer the simpler static sets like those used in Macbeth.

But let's get back to the music as that is what opera is all about and Mozart operas are rich with it, especially Don Giovanni.

Mozart's style is to have the characters singing to the audience as much as they do to each other as they enlighten us with their thoughts.

This means that the arias often have several people singing at the same time and all facing the audience. Magic.

All the singing was as good as you would expect from Glyndebourne and the opera is a joy throughout. The only slight disappointment for me was the character of Don Giovanni who while he sang very well was not that convincing as a Lothario and even less so as the unrepentant sinner bound for hell.

Perhaps the criticism is a little unfair but the previous time that I saw Don Giovanni he descended in to hell with a real swagger and bravado, bringing the opera to a truly dramatic ending, and I guess that few performances will match that level of emotion.

So, more a four star performance than a five but they are four very good stars and it would not take too much to tempt me to go to see that production again.

27 August 2010

Armstrong & Miller trying things out for fun

A chance tweet from Ben Miller (@bennylicious) led me to Little Venice to see Armstrong & Miller try a few things out for their forthcoming tour.

The venue was the extremely cosy Canal Cafe Theatre, conveniently situated above the Bridge House pub where I was able to start the evening well with a Kolsch and two types of humus.

The "try out" nature of the evening soon became apparent as we were fortunate witnesses to an hour of new material, a reasonable proportion of which seemed to have been written that day.

At one point Armstrong apologised to Miller and their pianist for making changes to a song that they did not yet know about!

The set list shows some of the characters that they are working with.

We had four skits with the familiar pilots (still very funny and very well received) and new scenarios based on World of Warcraft (that's Avatar 1 - 5) and a 70s couple at the theatre (Theatre Safety 1 - 4).

Some of the sketches were a little rough but none were ropey and there were genuine laughs throughout. Armstrong & Miller, and their female colleague, played to the audience well and the intimate setting helped build the atmosphere too, I was about 2m away from the action.

We also got some material presumably not intended for the tour. Ben opening by saying that it was 17 years to the day since they first met and he then played the first song they wrote together. And they ended with a song about their relationship which included the line, "Let's all have sex, but in a non sexual way". We were encourage, not that that was hard, to sing along and thus what was sold as an opportunity to see two artists practising metamorphosed into a real show with two BAFTA winning professionals on top form.

Another exceptional night out that demonstrates some of what London has to offer if you look hard enough.

23 August 2010

A fish out of water

Let's be clear here, the fish out of water was me, not Fish the legendary singer who was clearly in his element in a small pub venue packed to the gunnels with Fish fans.

Fish himself made a comment about everybody being fans and knowing the words to all the songs as well as he did but he failed to spot me in the middle of the crowd clearly clueless.

But cluelessness was not a problem. Fish was absorbing for two and a half hours (including two encores) spinning together a series of songs and stories accompanied by two long-standing friends and colleagues on guitar and piano.

The small venue, the small band and the interaction with the crowd made it more like an evening with Fish than a rock concert. I think many/most people were expecting the later but Fish's good humour and stagecraft soon won everybody over.

I was not expecting to recognise anything, other than Kayleigh (Marillion's big hit from 1985) but the Fish fans were less familiar with his slow solo stuff too and it was the more raucous Marillion songs that closed the show that really got the crowd hopping.

I took bit of a gamble going to see Fish knowing so little of his music, and even less about his life that his stories were about, but it paid off and the long evening never dropped below interesting. That and a couple of beers were more than enough to brighten a dull August (!) evening.

20 August 2010

Kew Gardens in bloom

Making the most of my annual season ticket and the convenience of the 65 bus I headed back to Kew Gardens in early August.

The plan, such as it was, was to go on the tree top walkway again, this time to with the trees in full leaf.

I am (justifiably) uneasy with heights but for the third time this year I managed to steel myself to walk all the way round thus putting all my previous failures to do so far behind me.

This was despite the fact that in a few places the thin metal floor gives way noisily and there were hordes of small children toddling around carefree and oblivious to possibility that they could push somebody over the edge due to the very low rail (it's only at chest height).

After the courageous amble through the trees a coffee (and cake!) was required so I strolled to the Orangery. There I had the pleasant surprise of bumping in to a Czech lady that I know through the BCSA who was also taking advantage of a season ticket.

The next stage of the plan was then hatched and I headed towards the Palm House by Victoria Gate.

I took the main route which had unexpectedly been colonised by several flower beds that had clearly been planted with both visitors and wildlife in mind.

The planting was stunning with a glorious profusion of colours and shapes that proved irresistible to hordes of bees, flies and several other species of pollinators.

The Palm House did what the Palm House does and I took the usual dozens of pictures of dark green jungle stuff set off by the decorative (well, I love it) white metal of the greenhouse.

But, lovely though the Palm House was, it was the flowers that grabbed attention on this visit and there were more to come.

The final splash of colour was just by Victoria Gate where another large flower bed has been created to the obvious delight of even more bees and their friends.

I loved it too, particularly as the colour was such a contrast to the rest of the garden where the greens and browns rule all but unopposed.

It was bit of a risk getting an annual ticket to Kew Gardens as I had no real idea of how often I would want to, or be able to, go but it has already been a great success and there are still around six months to go.

19 August 2010

My new Cyberoptix bow tie is uniquely cool

I used to buy shed-loads of Liberty ties before they became too expensive even in the sales and I used to wear bow ties to work regularly too, but it has been quite a while since I've done either. That changed this week thanks to Warren Ellis.

His blog post pointed me to the Cyberoptix site where after some drooling I settled on the Crash tie. There were other contenders but the tiebreaker (sic) was the reference to JG Ballard's novel of the same name.

The tie has been ordered and is now being made for me. All being well it will arrive in time to make its d├ębut at Glyndebourne at the end of this month.

18 August 2010

Hansel und Gretel at Glyndebourne

Going to see Hansel and Gretel at Glyndebourne was a late decision spurred on by the availability of cheap (£30) seats for the under thirtys, making it five visits there this year.

Hansel and Gretel is, no surprised, very much based on the well-known fairy tale but is told using modern iconography.

This begins at the very start when we see that Hansel and Gretel live inside a large, and imaginatively designed, cardboard box.

The two leads soon impressed with convincing displays as children clearly some way below their actual ages as they squabble and tease each other.

The scene set, their parents come home and, finding that the children have not done any of their chores (no news there then), and send them in to the woods, and we all know what is coming next. Or rather we think we do but, sadly, the trail of breadcrumbs is missing and we get faeries to the rescue, not the woodland animals.

With these two changes to the familiar story the middle section lacks a sparkle.

The opera picks up when Hansel and Gretel reach the witch's cottage fashioned to look like a supermarket complete with tempting 100% off signs.

The cottage also transform like, er, Transformers, with the shelves moving around to create doors, steps and even a check-out.

The opera then sinks miserably never to recover.

The witch, when she finally appears, is played by a man in the idiom of a pantomime dame. It's all rather silly and while it may have suited an audience of sticky-fingered children at a pantomime it is unusual fare for an opera audience freshly returned from their champagne picnics.

I was hoping for something dark and with real menace (like in Turn of the Screw) but instead I got frivolity and froth. This was even carried through to the applause at the end when the singer playing the witch received ritualistic boos.

The opera is slight musically with no memorable tunes and no memorable songs. It bumbles along pleasantly enough but never stirs the soul. With this scant base to work with the opera needed a powerful interpretation but it did not get this.

Only the two main sets, the cardboard house and the supermarket cottage, lifted the evening out of mediocrity, but not by very much.

14 August 2010

A brief foray in to Nuremberg

The journey home from Prague was not straightforward and took something like fifteen hours. Luckily most of those hours were spent in some comfort in first class sections of modern trains but that's not how the journey started.

For a major European city, Prague seems to be remarkably unconnected to other cities by train.

Which is why the journey home started with a four hour bus ride to Nuremberg.

By way of compensation I had about an hour and a half to explore the city before catching the train to Cologne. Luckily the railway station is right on the edge of the old town and so exploration was an easy option.

The classic Northern European architecture was quite a contrast after two weeks of Baroque but it is another style that I love so that was fine.

I followed the wide pedestrian route that the useful tourist maps, conveniently placed along the way, told me would lead to the centre. And along the way there were plenty of neat buildings to admire and cafes to sit in to admire them from.

The town centre has suffered some blight from the post-war rebuilding that has made almost every English town uniformly ugly but the out-of-place stores are a small minority and the newer buildings have reverted nicely to the traditional style, colour and construction. It's all very charming.

At the centre was a wide slow river flowing East/West that bisects the old town neatly in to two parts. Here the laziness of the river encourages you to linger a while and breathe in the tranquillity and history.

Sadly the call of the train broke the peace and it was time to make the rest of the journey home via Cologne and Brussels.

During the holiday I revisited three places (Bratislava, Zilina and Prague) and stayed in three new ones (Berlin, Brno and Banska Stiavnica). All are six worth revisiting one day and Nuremberg is too. I need more holiday time :-)

Masopust, a short film by Tereza Buskova

My exposure to art tends to be infrequent, intense and a little idiosyncratic, which is just how I like it. Tereza Buskova's new film, Masopust, meets the bill.

The location

The small private viewing was held on the top floor of a mixed office block in Wardour Street (never found out why).

Here Soho maintains a low profile thanks to entrenched and enlightened property laws and so the not-too-distant Centre Point stands out defiantly and proudly above the clutter of chimney pots and roof gardens.

This is a world unseen and unimagined by the workers and tourists thronging the narrow streets of Soho below in search of pleasures that the area is famous for - and in this modern world I mean the many pubs and restaurants, not the establishments light in red!

The artist

I first met Tereza (she tells) me back in 2005 when as a student she briefly occupied a small gallery in Wandsworth. I heard this through my Czechoslovak connections and as Wandsworth was more or less on my way home I popped in and a few wines later I bought a picture that now sits in my front room prominently above the telly.

Since then I have been to a few more of her exhibitions in various galleries across London. She has grown in stature as an artist and has been promoted by the likes of the Czech Centre.

Tereza has also got married and is now healthily pregnant.

The art

The film is inspired by a traditional ritual performed each Winter in a small village in Moravia.

As you might expect, this involves colourful costumes (like the flowered hats the men wear), dancing and references to marriage / fertility / sex.

Colour, hats and sex are also themes common in Tereza's work.

The film records Tereza's version of the ritual being performed by people from the village with two of her regular models, both of whom were at the screening.

The ritual itself made little sense to me, not being Czech or Moravian did not help here, and on a technical level (use of camera angles etc.) the film is pretty simplistic but that is not what it is about for me. I loved the colourful shapes that Tereza made, nicely offset by the snow white background.

The event

As a tableau of separate images I found the film captivating and enthralling and I hope that I did a reasonable job of trying to explain why in the post screening discussion that followed where I was battling amongst people a lot more arty than me.

After the talk there was a second equally captivating showing followed by more talk eased by wine. I was able to exchange pleasantries with Tereza's mum, some other lovers of Glydebourne and with Martin who I met back at the first showing in Wandsworth.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening in ways that I expected and in ways that I did not. That's why I like living in London and being invited to these sort of events!

12 August 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

It has been a while since I’ve written anything about films, mainly because it has been a while since I’ve seen a film worth writing about.

I watch, and generally enjoy, several films a week but these are often described as “action” and feature the likes of Bruce Willis or Jason Statham and so are high on entertainment (and explosions) but low on artistic merit.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is different.

It is hard to escape the phenomena that Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy has become, not least because it is impossible to travel on the tube without seeing somebody read one of the books.

The success of the books has, rightly, spawned films. The original films, like the original books, are set in Sweden and are in Swedish. Remakes in English are already planned but as the DVD release of the first original shows, there are perfectly acceptable alternatives with English subtitles and an English voice-over available. I went for the Swedish voices with English subtitles which had the advantage of forcing me to pay attention to the screen. The laptop actually abandoned my lap for a while!

I had not read the book so had little idea of what to expect, except for the clues given by the 18 rating and the mention of torture in one of the reviews that I heard on Radio 4.

The plot is a complex whodunit (but less complex than the book, apparently) and it took me a while to work out who the goodies were, let alone the baddies, or even if there was a baddie at all!

For around two and a half hours the plot and the two main characters had me twister around their little fingers and I was powerless to do anything apart from sit and watch and try to understand.

I enjoyed it greatly, will watch it again and will get the next film as soon as it comes out. Think I’ll give the American remakes a miss though.

9 August 2010

secondSight and friends

I almost decided not to go to the Grey Horse on Friday night, but what a mistake that would have been!

The only reason for going that I had was the promise of some classic prog rock delivered by secondSight, a band unknown to me at the time. Against that were stacked the formidable attractions of a quiet night in after a difficult week.

In the end the call of the prog rock pulled through and I walked through some light rain to the pub just in time to grab a pint of Guinness (I asked for Youngs!) before their set.

secondSight did what they said they would do and and played a selection of Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes and King Crimson covers. Some were expected, e.g. Money, and others not so, e.g. Epitaph.

The balance of the sound was good with lead guitar and keyboards to provide the highlights and it would be a little churlish to say that a flute would have been good too.

It would be equally churlish to mention that the newish lead singer fluffed a few lyrics as that mattered little, we all knew them anyway.

Retired to the bar and was soon joined by Nick from the band and some other prog fans and the fun started.

This was helped in no small measure by the unexpected presence of three members of Hoaxwind. Even more conversions on music followed. The Cardicacs got a lot of mentions, not least because Adrian is writing a book about them, but I had to leave that debate alone as I've never managed to get in to the band. I did say that I would try again and must dig out their best-of CD that I bought the last time a fan of theirs said I must listen to them.

All too soon the bar closed and it was time to go home, or rather to head for the Willoughby for a night-cap. The pub was buzzing with familiar and friendly regulars and we were joined, unexpectedly for the second time that night, by some of Hoaxwind also looking for one for the road.

The last bus home made its journey just after 1am but it was too good an evening to leave early so I lingered and talked for about another hour before deciding that it really was time for bed.

So what could have been a quiet night in alone became a social night out with friends. Good call me.

6 August 2010

Images of Prague

Prague was the last resting place on my Summer tour of Central Europe. It was an obvious place to break the long journey home from Slovakia and was in keeping with my long established strategy of visiting Prague whenever I can.

Having done a lot of the main sight-seeing and revisiting of old haunts on my last two trips there, this time I was able to take it more slowly and savour the detail.

Prague wins the hearts of most tourists, mine included, because of its relentless beauty, especially in the Old and Lesser Towns.

This gorgeous building is fairly typical, so much so that I cannot recall precisely where it is so if you want to see it for yourself you will just have to wander aimlessly around Prague like I did.

The building is already pretty with its neat arched windows, the carvings between them and the hint of a balcony but it is made even more so by the painted flowers and scrolls.

No prizes for guessing that this is Charles Bridge.

The extensive restoration and refurbishment that clouded it in scaffolding last time I was there has now all but disappeared making the bridge once again the one place that every visitor should go to.

But for reasons that escape me, the vast majority of visitors who are wise enough to go to the Bridge unwisely avoid climbing either of the two towers at either end. From there you get the best view of the Bridge and of the neighbouring area.

This (almost) secret passage is another old haunt providing an attractive short-cut to one of the main pedestrian streets, Na Prikope.

Eighteen years ago it was home to a model railway shop that has been sadly washed away in the tide of Westernisation and so-called Modernisation.

Being undercover means that it was also a welcome path this time when the heavens opened with unreasonable ferocity making me wish for the dryness of a drowned rat.

It is hard to ignore Prague Castle, so I won't.

The green walls peppered with windows stretch across the horizon and peer down on the lesser buildings in the Lesser Town. But while the lower buildings lose out on grandeur they have their own charm, notably in the tiled roofs that spread out across the Lesser Town like a patchwork quilt or terracotta.

The windows in the roof make a brave attempt at decoration but the building cannot deny its plainness when compared to its cousins in the Old Town.

Prague would not be the same place without its trams, the best was to explore the city. I discovered some new places this time simply by getting on the wrong tram (several times).

And trams mean tramlines. These squeeze trams through narrow arched streets to and from Malostranske Namesti (Lesser Town Square).

Something seems to have scared the tourists away too and I've somehow managed to take a picture without any in it. These things are worth waiting for.

I have no plans to go back to Prague at the moment but it is pretty safe to say that I will be going back and that I'll be taking lots more photos and writing about it when I do.


Lamborghinis are always going to turn heads so when I saw 4 ERN parked near Richmond Bridge I naturally reached for my ever present camera.

I did not know anything about the driver at the time, though the personalised numberplate could have been taken as a clue.

Anyway, much merriment was had a few minutes later in the long queues for Richmond's various late night bars when the lambo drove past without its lights on.

A minor misdemeanour to be sure but that sort of embarrassment that is never forgotten by those who witnessed it. The coolness of the car was swept away in the stupidity of the moment.

4 August 2010

Alan Moore's Unearthing

Witnessing Alan Moore's Unearthing is one of the oddest things that I have ever done, but not the oddest thing that I've done this week! It was an exhilarating mix of charm and strangeness that I hope to understand better through the cathartic act of writing about it. Here goes.

I should come as no surprise that I love bricks, industrial architecture and exploring and the venue scored highly on all three counts.

The Old Vic Tunnels are beneath Waterloo Station and the performance space has been created with minimal change and effort.

There is little outside to indicate that you are anywhere near a theatre, only the presence of a lone security guard gives the game away. And even then questions have to be asked to confirm the assumption.

The route in from the inauspicious entrance is dark, mysterious and confusing. Guides stand at appropriate places to direct the lost (all of us) to the next chamber on the path to the inner sanctum. Voices and footsteps echo with trepidation.

The path ends in a bar made warm and welcoming by dark reds, familiar household furniture and a few wall ornaments.

The beer helped too, even if all the beer they had was small bottles of Stella.

The good company also helped. I'd been in electronic contact with David for some years but this is the first time that we had actually met. And having got married recently, David also brought his wife April (or she brought him; I didn't ask).

The good company and beer were needed as the pre-event drink got extended by around twenty minutes due to technical difficulties.

Then the doors was opened and we were allowed in to the performance area which revealed itself to be another tunnel with a low stage and old cinema seats sliding up towards the arched ceiling.

On the stage were some electronics for the musicians to play with and a small desk and chair at the front for Alan Moore to deliver his script from.

At that point I had almost no idea what to expect and I'm not sure that I got much wiser over the next three hours.

The simple explanation is to say that it is the story of Steve Moore, a sometimes colleague of Alan's but never a relation.

Unearthing was clearly written to be read out loud and probably by Alan. The structure and rhythm reminded me a little of Under Milk Wood but I offer that as a comparison only because I can think of nothing else that it is remotely like.

Obviously a few others there did not know what to make of it either and there were a few departures in the first interval. But only a few.

The story reasonably traditional being chronological and biographically but this may be a subterfuge to trap the unwary as some mysteries seep in to the tale and it gradually changes and ends in a frenzied paradox where Steve Moore follows what the story says he will do in the future.

The three hours leading to that are mesmerising and compelling. The story, the rhythm of the reading, the richness of the language, the music amplifying the mood and the projected pictures all combined to make an experience that assaults the senses and the imagination on many levels.

The talk finished almost exactly at the bewitching hour. Alan quickly left the stage leaving the musicians to receive the genuine and deserved applause. Then there was just time for a final beer before catching the 00:42 to Kingston.

I would like to hear Unearthing again to try and understand it better and, therefore, to enjoy it more but the boxed set is on Amazon for a very unappealing £100. I can wait.

I am not sure that I am any the wiser about the event having corralled my thoughts on it into this post but I can settle on the certainty that it was a thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating evening and one that I would gladly repeat.

2 August 2010

In and around Zilina

After Banska Stiavnica it was time to start heading home to England, stopping first in Zilina in the north-west of Slovakia.

Zilina was a convenient place to stop just not because of its location but I had been there before and knew that it was worth stopping in. I also know somebody there and was hoping to meet up with them.

The town centre has two distinct and contrasting areas.

The old town is in the centre and has the expected square ringed by old buildings that house many cafes and a few shops.

A new square sits below the old one and is very different in character. It has a less well-defined border and a less regular shape. It is more an absence of buildings than a think in its own right.

The one defining feature is rather special, particularly if you are a small child. A large water feature dominates one corner with sweeping layers to paddle through and jets of water to splash siblings with.

The Church of the Holy Trinity, which has seen stranger things in its six hundred years, sits imperiously above it all with perhaps just a tinge of jealousy for the joy that the water easily brings.

Leading away from the square, and following the Tesco department store as it does so, is a long narrow park that has some welcome shelter and some seating where you can linger to savour it.

At the end of the park are a fountain and statue that both fizz with unexpected energy that comes as bit of a shock after the sedate walk there. This is the liveliest spot in Zilina!

Elsewhere Zilina is cute but not that special, which probably says more about Slovakia in general than it does about Zilina in particular. There are quiet lanes revealing the shape of the old town that are surrounded by busy shopping streets built to accommodate the town's growth and, beyond these, residential areas built around attractive communal spaces.

Zilina is set on the edge of three ranges of hills and a short journey in any direction takes you out of the river valley and in to a different land.

Here there are villages like Cicmany famous for it's decorated wooden huts. The tale I was told was they arose from the application of some sort of wood preservative but that lacks the ring of truth. It seems more likely to me that it was done for purely artistic reasons and, besides, that's a better story.

Another village in the area, Rajecka Lesna, boasts both a small Calvary and an elaborate animated carving (called Bethlehem because it includes a nativity scene). Sadly the Calvary is not really worth a photograph and while the carving most certainly is an attendant patrols menacingly to ensure that none are taken.

The final stop on the tour was the spa at Rajecka Teplice.

The waters attracts visitors looking for health treatments and relaxation. There is a large open-air water centre with an Olympic size pool for the serious swimmers and some smaller pools for everybody else.

Between the town and the pools is a sumptuous garden laid out around a lake that is large enough to make it an interesting walk round but too small to be much of a adventure in a boat. One for small children only.

Protruding in to the lake is a classy restaurant that is an ideal place to have a leisurely lunch and/or drink. Which is what I did.

Zilina was asked to keep me entertained for a day and a half and it did that with consummate ease and some aplomb as if to say that it knew that I had been there before and would be tempted back again.

1 August 2010

LIKE 16 - City of London Walk

Instead of taking a Summer break, LIKE (London Information and Knowledge Exchange) took the inspired decision to run special events on the usual meeting nights.

The first of these was a guided walk of the City of London that pleasingly mixed history, architecture, memories and exercise.

A large part of the evening was spent walking along alleyways like this one.

To the untrained eye they looked like private routes leading to nothing more interesting than a corporate back door but our guide knew better, and that is why you need a guide. I have worked in the city a few times over the years and had done a fair share of exploring but not along these routes or to these places.

St Dunstan in the East was the biggest and best surprise of the evening.

Like many of Wren's churches, it was a victim of the German bombardment during WWII but while the inside was destroyed the outer walls and tower remain.

The church now plays host to a congregation of plants arranged around a central fountain with seating so that the city workers can leave their sterile terminals and go there to reconnect with the sights and smells of the real world.

The city buzzes outside of the walls and tries to break in to the courtyard but inside tranquillity reigns supreme.

One of the places that I've worked at in the City is the Natwest Tower. It was called that when I was there and I refuse to use the bland Tower 42 that is its new label.

Sadly, the 42 comes not from the answer to life, the universe and everything but, mundanely, to the number of floors that it has. In the Natwest days these were called levels and the top one was, unsurprisingly, Level 42.

One of the distinguishing features of the tower is that it has floor to ceiling windows throughout and the office space extends right up to the glass. I am not brilliant at heights and working on Level 32 took some getting used to!

I have many memories of my few months there including the day we had a fire alarm test. I'll leave you to imagine what it is like to walk down 32 deep flights of concrete stairs and how long this takes!

The cranes in the foreground remind you that the City is a permanent construction site as former grand buildings are demolished to make way for even grander ones. Sadly missed in this scramble for growth is the former Barclays head office in Leadenhall Street where a magnificent banking hall has been lost to make way for modern shops and offices in Barclays' flight to Canary Wharf.

A building I would like to work in but have not yet had the opportunity to do so is the City's most iconic modern building, Lloyd's of London.

The building is over twenty years old now but still retains the ability to shock, delight and disgust. It's a love-it-or-hate-it building in a Marmite sort of way but while I cannot stand Marmite I absolutely love the Lloyd's building.

I know that the building was carefully and deliberately architected but what appeals to me is the way that it looks as though it has been thrown together in a haphazard way with pipes and lifts added as afterthoughts.

The uniform greyness gives no favour to any one part of the construction and so allows the various shapes to fight for attention on equal grounds.

I took many photos of the building on the night (and on other days before) and it was a real challenge to find the one that best encapsulates what I like about the building and, in the end, I've gone for the vertical repetition as it climbs high, like a new flower, to peak above its neighbours and announce its presence to the whole city.

Almost just across the road from Lloyd's is another well knonw symbol of the City, the Gherkin.

The Gherkin stands a little away from its neighbours which makes it a more obvious landmark. It's simple shape can be seen from across London, I used to be able to see it from my office in Brixton, whereas Lloyd's can only be seen properly when you are standing next to it.

In front of the Gherkin is one of the oldest churches in the City, one that pre-dates Wren's rebuilding after the Great Fire of 1666.

This contrast not only flatters the Gherkin but also sums up the whole of the City where a Medieval street pattern has set the blueprint for generations of buildings to grow and die to meet the evolving needs of merchants and bankers.

After two hours of exhilarating history we decamped to the Jamaica Wine House for food, drink and conversations. There we reflected on the wonderful experience we had just shared.

The London walk was an inspired choice and I am deeply grateful to the person who had that inspiration.