29 August 2011

Working in Cardiff

One of the aspects of working as a consultant is that you usually have to work where the client is.

Being based in London that is not usually an issue as working in one London office is much like working any other regarding commuting and lunching. But sometimes you have no choice but to work from home.

Two years ago I did a couple of months in Sheffield and now it looks as though I will be doing a few months in Cardiff.

The logistics are not too bad.

If all goes well I can leave home at 7am on Monday morning and be in the office in St Mellons (approximately half-way between Cardiff and Newport) at 10:30.

The big proviso here is that I manage to catch the 08:41 train from Reading to Cardiff. The Richmond to Reading train gets in at 08:40.

In Cardiff I stay at the Radisson Blu hotel, that's the tall white building on the left, and eat in Wagamama, which you can see in the bottom-right.

I'm still experimenting with the buses but there's an odd one that leaves opposite the hotel at 08:06 that goes close to the office arriving around 08:45. Other buses get within a mile or so which leaves me with a bit of walking to do.

And that's just as well as I'm not doing much walking otherwise.

I've been there three weeks so far and managed to go for some sort of walk just once. Things like bad weather, having other things to do and being dead tired keep getting in the way.

I did get out once and managed to find the castle. The front of the castle faces on to the nondescript shopping district but it also sits in the corner of a large park that follows the river Taff through the city.

So far I've only managed to explore the section of the park nearest the castle but have seen enough to tempt me back as soon as the time and the weather allow.

Following the river South past the main road, the appropriately named Castle Street, brings you immediately to the Millennium Stadium.

Access to the stadium from here is via a wooden walkway that weaves gently in and out providing enticing vistas of the river, the bank opposite and of itself.

The only flaw is that the walkway stops at the stadium and is not possible to follow the river all the way down to the bay, the spiritual heart of the new Cardiff, and of Torchwood, with its opera house, modern flats and trendy restaurants and bars.

I've made one fleeting visit to the Bay but that was late in the day and too dusky to take many interesting photos. I hope to rectify that soon.

28 August 2011

Savouring South Bank

Arriving early for a show at the National Theatre gave me some time to explore the South Bank Centre which is now part of the vibrant riverside from Waterloo to London Bridge.

This is an impressive change from the South Bank of old that, twenty years or so ago, pretended that the river was not there and refused to provide much for visitors outside of the concert halls.

Now the back of the centre opens to the riverside and the area is packed with cafes, restaurants and bars.

And all that brings the people in.

One of the other things bringing them in is a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain with a festival of British culture and creativity.

The beach features heavily with a row of individually decorated traditional beach huts and a long beach to go with them.

Each beach hut is a mini gallery or museum with something to explore inside and the beach has, well, lots of sand and lots of children.

More children can be found getting very wet at the Appearing Rooms Fountain where walls of water rise and fall and the trick is to try and move between the rooms without getting (too) wet.

One of the problems of the old South Bank remains.

It was not designed to be fluid and it can be difficult to move between the levels; I had to use the stairs inside the Royal Festival Hall at one point.

There are a few concrete stairwells but they have all the charm of fire escapes and are hard to find as they merge in to the rest of the concrete.

Now somebody has had the bright idea of using bold primary colours to both identify and soften the stairwells. The splashes of colour also act as useful landmarks connecting the levels.

Taking the yellow stairs takes you up to the newly opened roof garden above the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

This reminds me a lot of the Dalston Roof Garden but that is hardly remarkable as both are fiercely industrial landscapes transformed through the addition of a few tubs of plants to look at and a bar to let you have a drink while you do so.

The QEH roof garden scores over its competitor in that it is larger, relies more on real grass than the artificial stuff and offers views of the Thames.

Following the Emergency Exits signs away from the garden takes you further in to the concrete maze that is the roof space.

One almost expects to encounter Steerpike on his epic journey.

Instead it is a more surprising collection of photographs on the there of war that awaits.

There are also unusual views into the heart of the centre that exposes a bustling food market, a dry stone wall, more colourful stairwells and more paths that you would like to explore but have no idea how to get to.

So, instead I take the easy route down towards Waterloo Bridge and my real destination, the National Theatre just beyond it.

The South Bank Centre's parting shot is the Urban Fox, created out of straw bales and aims to bring the rural and urban together in a playful way.

Judging how many photos I've seen of it from friends on Facebook and Twitter it has been noticed and that is what art wants to do.

The fox has also been colonised by birds attracted by the straw which makes it a stranger image still. The coloniser of our cities has itself been colonised.

The journey from beach hut to fox just just a couple of hundred metres but was packed with things to see and do and with people seeing them and doing them.

The South Bank Centre is now an attraction to rival Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden and it has more to offer than both of them.

27 August 2011

Kew Gardens in early August

There are lots of good reasons for visiting Kew Gardens regularly and one of them is the variety that is always on show.

A new attraction is the Times Eureka Garden built originally for Chelsea and now sitting comfortably just inside Victoria Gate.

I liked the garden when I saw it at Chelsea back in May but then I could only walk around the outside of it. Now that it is home in Kew you can walk through it and so appreciate it a lot more.

The strangely shaped wood and plastic structure defines the garden but not so much that you miss the exceptional planting.

It's a short step from there to the magnificent Palm House with its pretty parterre.

This is the formal heart of Kew Gardens and it is clear that a lot of care and attention is taken to ensure that it looks its very best all year round. I've walked through the part of the garden many times and it still has the capacity to surprise and delight.

From there Kew gets less formal, though no less planned. The long straight path that heads towards the Orangery Restaurant benefits from the flower beds that have been added to encourage the pollinators.

I always feel that the South-East corner is somewhat overlooked by visitors scared to wander too far away from the main attractions. It's one of my favourite parts.

There you will find the Duke's Garden.

A horse-shoe path follows a lawn round from one gate to the other with substantial flower borders on either side.

But the real gem is beyond that in a second garden next to the house that is enclosed by sumptuous high brick walls that create a discrete environment and also provide a warm backdrop to the colourful flowers.

The nearby Grass Garden is another favourite of mine showing that you do not need flowers and colour to make plants attractive.

The grasses are planted in small groups that let you compare and contrast them easily.

There are clear differences in their shapes, for example some are fluffy while others are spiky, and there are subtler variations within these, such as their height.

Grasses may not be everybody's cup of tea but, like the woodlands, they are very much part of the rich variety of Kew Gardens that makes it so wonderful.

Walls feature again as we head back towards Victoria Gate.

They hide the Order Beds and Rose Pergola from the casual visitor who mistakes them for the outer walls along Kew Road.

This is easy to do as the small delicate flowers and tumbling water in the Rock Garden conspire to grab your attention and to keep you away from southern boundary.

Along the wall more flowers take advantage of the protection offered to show off their colours.

Passing through the gate is like entering a new world as a new garden, unlike anything else in Kew, is revealed.

The Rose Pergola tries to dominate the garden with its solid construction but the plants in the beds are just too demanding for that to happen. No one plot wins their beauty contest, it's the eclectic mix of flowers, vegetables and trees that makes this area so interesting.

And so ends another trip to Kew Gardens. A relatively short trip and one confined to just one part of the gardens and still it was one packed with variety and interest. Kew is special.

26 August 2011

Three short operas in the Tete a Tete Opera Festival

The Tête à Tête Opera Festival 2011 had a lot going for it.

It had operas in it, they were on the quirky side of interesting and it was held at the Riverside Theatre in nearby Hammersmith. So I went.

The downside was that there were a lot of shows that I wanted to go to and most of them only had one or two performances. The Riverside is close, but not that close, and I have other calls on my time, like work, so in the end I only managed to get there for one Sunday afternoon but I did manage to see two shows in that time.

First up was the Glyndebourne Youth Opera with a double bill of On Off and When I Am Old.

On Off was a light-hearted look at the impact of the lights going out and the impact this has on a society reliant on electricity to power fridges, microwaves, phone networks, hair-dryers, hoovers and PCs etc.

We follow a group of around twenty people as they try to cope with their new situation.

It's a very busy opera, the story moves on quickly with one episode following quickly after another, there is lots of singing and the whole stage is a frenzy of activity as the cast keep on the move.

Some of this is almost intimidating to anybody sitting in the front row, as I was, as they sang directly to the audience several times. The flip-side of intimidation is the involvement that you felt.

There are some catchy tunes a long the way and a pleasant half and hour is soon over.

In stark contrast When I Am Old is framed by a video showing the human impact of a brutal invasion of Gazza by Israel. This is uncompromising stuff and is very pro-Palestine, which is fine with me but I can see some people objecting to that.

When I Am Old is less urgent, as befits the subject matter, and also uses the full cast to good effect.

I found it less convincing as a story, if it was even meant to be a story, and while it had a few reasonable moments it never quite lived up to the promise of the video that was far more memorable and moving than the opera.

The Sleeper by Welsh National Youth Opera was something else again.

It is set in a future where people can no longer sleep and they suffer the obvious problems because of this. One person can sleep, The Sleeper, and they are on the run from the police and other people. A small group travellers with The Sleeper and tries to protect him/her (the identity of The Sleeper is part of the plot).

The apocalyptic scenario and the pursuit make this a very tense drama that is emphasised by the music, the singing and the acting. This is real drama.

The opera suffers from being an extract from a greater whole and while the addition of a narrator helps to fill in some of the gaps the story is still incomplete and a little incomprehensible. But that's opera for you.

And, actually, none of that really matters as the tension is gripping and the performance spell-binding. The Welsh prove that they can sing and that they can act too. It was powerful stuff and a real treat.

With operas as good as these I will be paying more attention to the Tête à Tête Opera Festival next year, and I won't let work get in the way next time.

24 August 2011

Back to Isabella Plantation

Having skilfully voided Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park for a few years I then get tricked in to going there twice in a few months.

In May it was the bluebells that caught the eye but as Summer starts to fade it is the heathers that have their turn to shine.

The sun chose not to shine though and they greyness did me a favour by keeping the usual hordes away.

The gravel path here should be guiding them through the gardens but it stands empty and lonely.

And that's just how I like it.

The thick flower beds cling tightly to the central path as it slips gently down from the top of the garden to the duck pond at the bottom.

And in those beds large clumps of flowers jockey for position, each eager for light, water and space to grow, like any family.

Each family has its own distinctive shape, style and colour but when they all come together the effect is a surprisingly harmonious blend rather than the discord that might have been expected.

It's as warm and welcoming as a patchwork quilt.

But the heathers do not get it all their own way.

The smallest of rivers trickles through the garden and the lush broad-leafed plants in triumphant British Racing Green guard it jealously.

Their strength overpowers the thin wispy plants who wisely keep their distance. Millennia of competing for survival has taught them when to fight and when to leave be.

Lifting you eyes slowly from the watery domain you first see the tall bushy flowers and then, looking higher still, the trees that give the plantation its name.

The variety and harmony of Isabella Plantation combined with its tranquillity are what call people to it and what makes them keep coming back.

20 August 2011

Busy Bremen

Bremen, like Malmo before it, was chosen as a convenient resting point on the leisurely train journey back from Oslo and then turned-out to be a fantastic place to spend a day exploring.

Let's start with the Town Square.

Many European cities have town squares much like this and while Bremen's is not exceptional it is rather lovely. It has the usual grand buildings, secular and sacred, street cafes, statues and fountains, and it has a tram running through it too.

Smaller squares and other interesting spaces cluster around it and many lanes compete for the right to lead you gently away from it.

For reasons that I'll come to later, the square is still in the centre of the town, unlike, say, Prague, so you find yourself passing through it several times a day as you explore other parts of the town. Each passage through reveals something new or something old from a new angle.

One of the statues in the town square is this one of the Town Musicians of Bremen taken from the Brothers Grimm tale of the same name.

The story is short, inconsequential and has very little to do with Bremen (the animals were headed that way but never got there) but the city has taken the tale to its heart and celebrates the connection with unrestrained fervour.

The town is litter with images of the four animals, usually in this pose forming a pyramid to scare the robbers away.

The front hooves of the donkey are made shiny by the consistent touching by visitors happy to believe for a moment that doing so will bring good luck.

The old town contains within it a still older quarter.

This consists of just a few narrow lanes in the southern tip of the town squeezed in between the river Weser and the outer defences.

I am sure that these buildings have an honourable history housing craftsmen and worthy labourers but now they have all conceded to commercial temptation and have become gift shops, cafes and bars all eager to tempt money out of your pocket.

And it worked. I sat in one of the cafes to enjoy a slow latte and to savour the age and stillness of the area.

The old town is bound by water.

The river Weser curls slowly on one side and on the other a jagged moat once defended the town but now it is at the heart of a garden that wraps itself around the town.

A narrow and sometimes wet path follows the moat as it zig-zags its way around the town providing a reasonable walk for the explore despite the point to point distance being quite short, around 1.5 km.

Most of the walk is shrouded in lush greenery but there are a few splashes of vibrant colour and even a windmill.

Heading back in to the town we find the musicians again.

This particular statue has been mass produced and there are several versions across the town, including a vivid red one outside the Tourist Information office in the central station.

The four musicians are having a good time reading a book. That book is, of course, the Town Musicians of Bremen.

The heady mix of decorative buildings, cobbled lanes, unusual statues and abundant water was exactly what I hope to find in Bremen and what a cursory look at the map had led me to expect.

A busy day's exploring had proved unusually varied and rewarding but there was still more to come.

Refusing a rest back at the hotel I headed out of the city passing through the central station and on to the central park.

This was jaw-dropping amazing.

It was much much larger than I expected with vast open spaces, broad waters and inviting copses.

But it was all the other things that made it so special; the many well-equipped playgrounds for children of all ages (and their parents), the formal gardens, the open-air theatre filling a corner of the park with Shakespeare and the many mysterious paths that guide you from one delight to another.

I only wish that I had had more time to explore it all but I was only there for a day and the old town had to take priority.

If Bremen is reasonably typical for North Germany then I've got a lot more exploring to do in future years.

New suits

I have three classes of suit; a best for special events like weddings, a couple of good business suits for sales calls and demanding clients and a couple of cheap business suits for everyday wear when the client environment does not demand any more.

I rarely suffer the drop down to smart casual at work and find it a real pain when I have to do so. Suits are just so much easier. I mostly wear white shirts and the only semi-decision to make is the tie to go with it and I have a rough schedule that cycles through my Liberty ties.

My two lower end suits both got binned at the end of my last project so it was back to Next to get some more. I usually buy these suits from Next as they are just a little bit more modern than, say M&S, without being overly so. They also fit me in just the same way that Jaegar suits never do.

The colour is easy too. Black.

Black suits me, again in a way that Navy and Grey do not, and it also allows me to wear ties with any colour that I like. As I do.

While the choosing is easy the shopping is less so. I used to work in the City and there the branches of Next carry a large stock of suits but out in the sticks, e.g. Kingston upon Thames, the range is limited and the stock more so.

The half hour or so that I spent in the shop and the hour or more getting there and back was a complete waste of time.

So I did what I should have done in the first place and headed for the internet instead. Their the Next website showed me their range of suits, allowed me to pick exactly the sizes I wanted and promised next day delivery. And next day it was.

I do like it when simple things like buying a new black suit turn out to be simple after all.

17 August 2011

Rinaldo at Glyndebourne

I've been taking Dad to Glyndebourne as his birthday treat for some years, having long ago run out of things to buy him, and this year he chose to see Rinaldo and we managed to time it for his 80th birthday.

The weather was good so we arrived promptly, almost spot-on the official opening time of 3pm, which meant that we were able to grab one of the picnic tables next to the opera house. The garden is nicer but further to walk.

The pre-opera period past more than pleasantly enough with refreshing afternoon tea, a short walk through the warm garden and a traditional mug of Pimms.

All to easily 3pm became 5pm and it was time to take our seats in the centre of the front row of the Circle. Excellent seats.

Rinaldo is a knight in the Crusades who fights against the Saracens and for his love, Almirena.

This production brings the story to modern times cleverly. A school boy learning about the Crusades falls asleep in class and his dream mix the history with the present. The story is the same but the settings and dress are from his school.

Here we see the good nights coming to the rescue in the school hall dressed as girls ready for hockey.

The baddies, Armida and her gang, are also dressed as school girls but they take on the more provocative style of the Sixth Form at St Trinians.

Bringing the Crusades to school works well as an artistic and storytelling device but it does mean that the bad girl is far sexier than the good girl.

Despite the temptation to cheer for the wrong side, the story moves along briskly and the sur titles are kept busy. This is not an opera where a one simple line is repeated several times. And that's good.

As always the success or otherwise of the opera comes down to the singing and this was exceptional. There are several main roles and a chorus all of which were excellent.

The day was perfect in every respect, not least because Dad loved it so much. Here's hoping somebody does that for me if I reach 80. Hint. Hint.

11 August 2011

A Doll's House at the Arcola Theatre

My Summer holiday in Norway was book-ended by two Norwegian plays.

The first was close to home at the Orange Tree in Richmond but the second, Ibsen's A Doll's House, required a trek to the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. Luckily the London Overground goes directly from Richmond to Dalston so the Arcola is in reasonable reach.

This was my second time at the Arcola, and in Dalston for that matter, and the second trip was made because of the success of the first.

It was the same theatre but a different studio. For Uncle Vanya I was in the main studio but A Doll's House was staged in the smaller Studio 2.

This was very like the familiar Orange Tree except that the seating is only on two side and there are more rows overall. The Arcola has an intimate feel as a result which was enhanced by being in the front row (as usual).

The surprises started immediately as several of the cast were already in position but motionless, waiting for us to be ready. Once we were (and that took a little time as the show was sold out and some squeezing had to be done to get everybody on to the benches) the lights dimmed and the actors stirred.

What followed was enchanting and engaging.

The play is what it is. The story is simple but strong and believable. What matters then is what the cast and crew make of it.

I liked the simple presentation with the almost bare stage acting as the main room of the house and the study to one side but clearly visible.

The scant props were used sparingly. The jumble of decorations in the room seemed to have no meaning but they certainly added to the charm of the evening.

I thought that all the acting was fine. I found all the roles convincing and that is the main thing. I could have thumped the husband for his outdated bigotry but that was not the actor's fault, he was merely playing the role of a bigot in an old play.

The unusual feature of the performance was the addition of three ghost-like women who, in addition to playing occasional roles like maids, hover around the wife (the doll) exaggerating the emotion of the situation on their faces.

A simple effect that works well; the sense of impeding doom is stronger if you can see somebody who looks truly doomed.

Overall the production came across as clever but clever for all the right reasons, not just clever for clever's sake - a mistake that some productions that I have seen recently have skirted close to.

If you have a good story a good production and some fine acting then you've got a good show and a good evening out. And A Doll's House was definitely that. Most satisfying.

10 August 2011

Marvelous Malmo

I had been to Malmo a few times over the years but only ever briefly. The first time was around 1997 when I was working in Denmark regularly for IBM and I popped across the water for a meeting and the other times were just to change trains. So I knew about the town square but beyond that was about it.

This time I stayed for two night as I travelled slowly back to England by train from my holiday in Norway. This gave me quite a bit of time to explore the central area despite encountering the only serious rain that I had all holiday.

The hotel was close to the town square, deliberately, and that's where the exploration began.

Actually there were several explorations as I went out on the evening I arrived, the next morning, that afternoon and that evening, and I passed through the square at least once each time.

It's lucky that it is so pretty then.

It's spacious, surrounded by delightful buildings, has the prerequisite grand statue of somebody important and (not in this picture) one of the most unusual water features I've seen.

And, as if that were not enough, short pillars of flowers are clustered around the square and behind the ones on the far left you can see a full sized Mini pretending to be a Matchbox model.

Leading the way South out of the square along one of the main pedestrianised streets is this joyous band of musicians.

There are so many statues and water features in Malmo that it was tempting to include several but I managed to restrain myself to just one and chose this for its sheer exuberance.

Some other statues were more traditional but there was also the large pebble, half buried deer, a de-constructed violin and a large serpent peering out of a cave.

There were plenty of other water features too, which seemed a little unnecessary in a city surrounded by water and with a river flowing through it, but they, with the squares and statues, helped to make Malmo a welcoming and friendly place.

Turning West from the old town takes you to the older town.

Here narrow cobbled streets are packed with cottages of different sizes and colours. Tradition dictates that large flowers are grown next to the houses and are left to do as they will even when that means blocking windows.

Continuing West takes you in to a large park. This is a mixed place with some parts looking like wild countryside with lakes and trees and others arranged more formally with planted flowers and, of course, statues.

On the North side of the park is Malmohus. Once this was a proud castle (though a fortified house is probably a better description) and now it has been relegated, like so many of its peers, to a museum.

Beside it is one of the formal gardens. This is arranged in sections, each one different. The effect is much like Chelsea Flower Show.

Emphasising that effect is this modern plot. The grey of the path and of the slate next to it are offset nicely by the bold red of the seat.

Elsewhere in the garden there is more water, avenues of trees and a windmill. This is a wonderful place to wander aimlessly (I refuse to admit that I was lost!), even in the rain.

Crossing more water to the North changes everything.

This is the West Dock that is a confusing mix of large industrial buildings, modern homes and offices, and a prodigious army of cranes that is slowly turning one in to the other.

The water has been tamed in to shallow channels with artificial waterfalls. What was once the commercial blood of the city is now just part of its decoration.

Derelict docks have been reclaimed with concrete and grass. People live and work in one while looking out at the other.

It's also rather hard to miss the centre piece of the redevelopment, the Turning Torso.

I like this. I like it a lot.

It was the beacon that guided me from the park, where it is clearly visible, through the desolation and construction to find out where it lived and why.

It is the asymmetry that appeals to me the most. The turning is nice but only because that turning exposes different faces of the building. Modern steel and glass construction is always a hit with me too and the Turning Torso has plenty of that.

When I planned my holiday Malmo was little more than a convenient resting place on the way home. When put to the test, Malmo showed itself well capable of entertaining me for a wet day and a half with its eclectic mix of the new, old and very old. It most definitely became part of the holiday rather than the journey.

8 August 2011

LIKE 27: Kings Cross walk

The people of LIKE slow down over the Summer bur rather than take a complete break they ease off from the regular monthly discussion and have some strictly social events instead.

Last year's Summer walk around the City was popular and successful so this year we went on an other one. This time we were guided around the Kings Cross area that has seen a lot of change in recent years and still looks like a building site.

The area was quite familiar to me as I have worked out of the Logica offices in Euston and Kings Place so I knew some of the sights to expect and was looking forward to having a guide tell me something about them.

We started at St Pancras, and that's a good place to start any journey. We learnt a lot about the history of the station and hotel from its original commissioning to it recent re-purposing as the gateway to mainline Europe.

Inside the famous Gothic frontage we paused to enjoy the new statues and the old roof.

We left St Pancras by the main entrance at the side facing Kings Cross which is now crawling with construction workers as the tide of redevelopment moves slowly East and North.

From there we made the short trip to the familiar, pretty and tranquil St Pancras Gardens.

I had been there several times before and photographed the monument before too but this time I learned that it was unveiled in 1879 by Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts (of the banking family) in memory of the people whose graves had been disturbed by the encroachments of the Midland Railway.

From there we headed for Kings Cross along Goodsway that sits in the middle of the ongoing regeneration, and shows it. In time this will be pretty and will attract people north of the Euston Road, the northern border of Central London, to bask in the new public spaces and to use the new facilities.

The final leg took us along the canal to the Caledonian Road where the appropriately named Canal 125 (it overlooks the canal and its house number is 125). By then a beer was very necessary and the first was consumed quickly to be followed by a couple of slower ones. The food was good too and we all had a pleasant time unwinding from the rigours of the walk.

Even though this was billed as just a social event it shared all the best features of the regular LIKE evenings with a mix of learning, networking, dining and fun.

7 August 2011

Another day in Oslo

The packaged part of the holiday ended with a train ride from Trondheim back to Oslo for one final day to include a coach tour of some of the main attractions.

The arranged tour only took an afternoon with left a couple of mornings free to do some free-form exploring. And that's the kind of exploring that I like the best.

I was back in the Thon Hotel Opera, ideally situated in the small area between the central railway station and the ultra-modern opera house.

This a sign told me is part of the Opera Quarter where a building frenzy is turning some redundant docks in to something rather different.

substantial changes are being made to the roads there too and so the first part of the expedition was a little challenging but it was worth it just to cross a bridge as crazy as this one.

The triangular beam above the bridge looks very purposeful and structural but I have no idea what it does. Apart from looking great.

Negotiating a few more roads and a few railway lines took me to the hill to the immediate West of the harbour.

Here a series of footpaths through the trees took me quickly up to the top and then slowly down the other side.

Along the way I passed several camping sites, a farm and several sports fields. All this seemed incongruous so close to the centre of the city.

The North side of the hill was a charming older part of Oslo with a familiar European architectural style.

This is one example where familiarity does not breed contempt, instead it gives a reassurance that this is a normal city, where normal people live and normal things happen. Sadly this proved to be untrue only a few days later.

The coach tour did what I wanted it to do and that was to take me to the main attractions that I could not walk.

Our first stop was the Norsk Folkemusem. I don't think that I need to translate that for you.

As with other ethnographic museums that I've been to from Sussex to Latvia, this is a collection of buildings from different ages and places reassembled in one place and time.

This lack of context makes it harder to pull the picture together but taken individually each buildings each have a story to tell and it's a story worth hearing.

This is a stave church. That means that it is made of wood, which is obvious, and that it has leanings towards the pagan religions, which is less obvious.

Elsewhere in the museum are traditional farmers' cottages with earth roofs, communal halls and other examples of how people used to live in what is essentially a harsh environment.

Next on the list was the Viking Museum.

Given that Norway is heavily associated with Vikings you might have expected a little bit more from a Viking Museum in Norway; something on the scale of the Maritime Museum in Liverpool. It isn't.

What it lacks in volume it makes up for in age.

There is one almost intact full-size Viking ship that you can get close to but cannot quite touch and a gallery that you can look down on it from.

Around it are a few fragments of other ships, some smaller cousins and nautical relics from that time.

The point in going to the museum is to see that one well preserved old ship and to see how it was cleverly constructed.

The next stop was completely different.

Holmenkollbakken on the North-West side of Oslo has been the centre for ski jumping 1982 but the latest incarnation is from 2010 and was built for the Nordic World Ski Championships in 2011.

The jump looks strange without its thick coating of snow but the beauty of the construction is obvious.

The jump is there to propel people down the steep slope and through the air but in their absence the structure draws your eye upwards instead.

Our final stop was Frogner Park which is simply insane. It is reminds you of the follies that the madder English gentry built but it is weirder than that.

Vigeland Sculpture Park covers 80 acres and features 212 bronze and granite sculptures all designed by Gustav Vigeland. They are all nudes and are all in non-traditional poses.

Water compliments the statues in several places and this tableau is fairly typical of the park.

I did try a few times to take pictures the show the sweep of the park as it rises up one hill then falls down the other side accompanied by water but this is a very popular place and everywhere I looked there were far more people than statues which rather spoilt the view.

The tour ended back where it started, at City Hall. The guide informed us that the austere brick building was full of art and so I decided to go there the next morning, my final day in Norway.

I was expecting a few classical paintings in a darkened room, not this.

The entrance hall sets the scene. Large paintings fill the room as they also do on the floor above.

The composition is as busy as Bruegel and, I presume, tells stories from the history of Norway and Oslo. Certainly there are lots of Norwegian flags in the pictures but there is also a topless woman on a bear which is a story unknown to me.

The pictures were an unexpected discovery and set the seal nicely both on the two visits to Oslo but also to the eleven days in Norway. Next stop Malmo.

6 August 2011

2401 Objects at Jacksons Lane

2401 Objects was at Jacksons Lane for just one night in preparation for Edinburgh and that was an opportunity that I was not going to miss as it was produced by Analogue the company behind Beachy Head.

And like Beachy Head, it was a production that told a sometimes harrowing story in a clever way.

2401 Objects tells the true story of Henry Molaison who emerge from experimental brain surgery in 1953 without any recollection of the last two years of his life or the ability to form new memories.

We see Henry has a young man heavily constrained by his epilepsy that his heavy regime of drugs is not controlling. He lives at home looked after by his parents and is wary of going out and of meeting other people.

The surgery is experimental and drastic with severe consequences and Henry becomes a goldfish living in a perpetual present punctuated with a few memories of his former life.

The story is told as a history and we see the both old Henry in a nursing home and the young Henry with the story flipping between the two.

In the nursing home we see his nurse and doctor and in the family home his two parents. The cast doubles by with, for example, Henry's father also playing the old Henry and his mother the nurse.

The story's narrator is a neurologist with a professional interest in Henry's brain and its his action and the end that produces the 2401 objects of the title. But I'll not spoil the surprise for you.

The story is a good one and it's well told.

The storytelling is similar to Beachy Head with storytelling being part of the story. In this case it is the neurologist who guides through Henry's life. And also like Beachy Head, the story is tense with one moment of almost excruciating emotion that haunts long after the play has finished.

The staging is clever too, possibly a little too clever. A translucent screen slides and rotates to divide the stage as the scenes shift. It works and is effective but there were times, such as when cast members were crawling under it, that I felt that it was being overused. But, on balance, it worked better than not and was another plus point for the show.

There was another packed house at Jacksons Lane showing that there is an appetite for new, experimental and challenging theatre; not everybody wants to see Wicked. This was simply another fine example of why I keep going to the theatre and especially the smaller ones.

And the evening ended on an unexpected note. Taking the 65 bus in Richmond on the final leg home the couple next to me mentioned Jacksons Lane. I was happy to tell them that it is a great venue and is easy to get to despite its northerly location. Spread the word.

4 August 2011

Trondheim countryside

My final view of Trondheim goes a little way out of the town in to the neighbouring countryside.

This was always my plan, and was the reason that I spent four days there and only one or two days at all the other places that I visited, but to make it happened I needed some decent weather and a means of transport. Luckily I got both.

Apparently Trondheim had several tram routes but now it only has one, imaginatively numbered 1.

This takes you from the city centre out to the South-West following roads for a while before heading off on its own route. It was surprisingly busy and a few people got on and off at most of the frequent stops.

The tram abandons you in Lian, which you can just about see a short distance from the centre of the map heading East and slightly South.

You can also see some footpaths marked out in thick lines of red, blue and green. Other paths are marked with thinner red lines and then lowly dotted black lines.

The plan was simple; take a bold route to Solemsasen and another one back again. This was changed slightly and I headed up the road marked in white safe in the knowledge that I could join the thick red route later.

I even took the precaution of taking a photograph of the map with me. This was displayed prominently in Lian but I was not sure how well the rest of the route would be signposted.

The plan went wrong quite quickly.

I arrived at the end of the track with no evidence of the main red route that it was meant to meet there or of the thin red route that I should have been able to take just before that to join it.

So I headed back to Lian and started again.

This time I was determined to follow the main route all the way, rather than hoping to catch it later.

I was reassured to see the occasional post announcing that I was on an official path.

Sadly it was the wrong path.

This became apparent when I stumbled across the tram line which means that I was following it East toward the city rather than North in to the countryside.

Being on the wrong route did not matter that much as I had no particular reason for choosing the original path and this one was pretty enough.

The new plan was to follow this route to the edge of the map, then to turn North along the red route, West along the Blue and finally a thin red back to Lian.

It almost worked.

Filled with new confidence and purpose I threw myself in to the new plan. The walking was lovely with few signs of other people or of anything that people may have built.

The red route and then the blue route were found with some ease. The map's honesty on the route also applied to the terrain and the area marked with thin blue lines proved to be seriously damp, despite the lack of recent rain.

This is a fairly typical picture of the path. At times it was worse than this and only the sheer joy of facing a ridiculous challenge kept me going. That and seeing two girls heading down the path to Lian without a care as if people really were expected to go that way.

I followed the route they took (I think) but did not see them again, or anybody else for that matter. It was hard to believe that this path got enough passage to justify that title.

The path decided not to take me to Lian but back to the tram line instead.

Having got there I could see that I had taken the dotted black line South rather than the thin red path West.

Officially this was a mistake but clambering down the muddy hillside was such fun that it is hard to be critical of the poor map and signs that allowed me to get so lost so often.

It was a very pleasant walk that combined exercise, exploration and environment. For most of the day I was on an ill-defined muddy path surrounded by trees, bushes and grasses. And that is all that I hoped for when I climbed on the tram.

The same tram arrived as if summoned to the little station that I found myself at and kindly took me back in to the town to reflect on a wonderful day.