Archive for the ‘Greenwich’ category

Better late…

May 10, 2010

 In past years I have tried to chronicle the blooming of the Canary Bird Rose as a sign that spring is on the way (it’s generally one of the first to flower).  But this year it was very late indeed…

Unfortunately the one outside my front door has been pruned back so hard that there is no chance of it flowering at all this year;  but the big one in the middle of the Green was suddenly profusely in bloom when I got back from a long weekend away last Tuesday, 4 May.

This is about three weeks later than in 2008!

Meanwhile I have just walked through the Rose Garden in Greenwich Park (very chilly! — swathed in scarf and gloves);  not a bloom in sight, except for a pretty ‘wild’ rose and a bush of what I would have sworn was Canary Bird but they call Rosa Hibernica

Garden Opera: Don Pasquale

August 27, 2008

Another August Bank Holiday, another Garden Opera performance in the magical setting of the Observatory Garden in Greenwich… (so it must be a year since I started this blog!  Hey!  Happy birthday to me!)

Alas, no idyllic weather this time, but at least the rain held off.  The audience was enthusiastic but not a full ‘house’ – where were the Burghers of Blackheath?  Not all in Tuscany, surely?  Perhaps put off by the weather, or by the relatively unfamiliar opera on offer?

Donizetti is mostly known for his prolific output of bel canto operas on serious or historical subjects, but he was also a dab hand at comedy, managing to combine swift-flowing action with hilarious patter songs, gentle lyricism and (as my friend Diana noted) some eyebrow-raising sudden key-changes.

Ernesto, the tenor lead, has probably the hardest task in Don Pasquale, having to play the soulful romantic while all about him are embroiled in comedy.  Alexander Anderson-Hall rose bravely to the challenge, having to work hard at times but to fine effect.  He could also ‘do’ the comedy when required.

Catherine May, as Norina, was a treasure – huge expressive eyes conveying every nuance of surprise, horror, complicity, teasing, play-acting and genuine affection.  And she could do the high notes too!

James McOran-Campbell, charismatic as ever (and with a green corduroy three-piece suit to die for), made Dr Malatesta into an untypically youthful but convincing and very funny conspirator.  Last but not least, as the eponymous Don Pasquale Deryck Hamon was a hoot – all arms and legs in confusion, infuriatingly pompous, ridiculous when trying to be ‘with it’, yet winning our sympathy for his plight.  And he had the low notes…

Bernie Lafontaine provided deft orchestrations for his hard-working six-piece band, which once again sounded convincingly like a whole orchestra.

Stage direction was by Duncan Macfarland (of the Royal Opera House) who updated the action to the ‘late 1970s’, explaining that it was a time when 1960s counter-culture collided head-on with the bourgeois values of middle England, thus enabling him to retain the conflicts of the original while playing down the now-unacceptable social stereotypes of Donizetti’s day.  (This did mean losing the bite of the final ‘moral’, in which ‘When an old man wants to marry, he’ll only make a fool of himself’ became something harmless about ‘losing a guidebook’…)

Designers Neil Irish (sets) and Dulcie Best (costumes) rose to the challenge brilliantly.  (more…)

Three cheers for the Green Blue and Black

January 13, 2008


When this leaflet came through the door, my first thought was that it was quoting Spike Milligan’s poem ‘Teeth’:

English Teeth, English Teeth!
Shining in the sun
A part of British heritage
Aye, each and every one.

English Teeth, Happy Teeth!
Always having fun
Champing down on bits of fish
And sausages half done.

English Teeth, HEROES’ Teeth!
Here them click! and clack!
Let’s sing a song of praise to them –
Three Cheers for the Brown Grey and Black.

(c) Spike Milligan, 1959

Then I realised it was Greenwich Council’s incredibly complicated new procedure for recycling rubbish.

Once upon a time, in the land of Ago (as a friend would have it), I lived in a flat down the road from here, and Greenwich Council would provide black plastic bags to put in our dustbins every week. 

Now we have a green wheelie bin for ordinary rubbish and a blue bin for ‘dry recyclables’.

From next week, we will still have these two bins, but the green one will be for compostable kitchen and garden waste – and we can’t use plastic bags in them.  So the stuff will sit in the bin and rot?  And they will give us a free ‘kitchen caddy’ to stockpile the stuff before it goes in the bin.  Hmm, that’ll be fragrant.  They advise us to line the caddy and bin with newspaper, or BUY compostable bags from them at vast expense.

As for any rubbish that doesn’t fall into either category – (more…)

Greenwich Market ‘saved’

October 16, 2007

(see my previous post:  Save Greenwich Market)

It seems we’ve won!

So instead of knocking it down, it looks as if ‘they’ are going to do it up nice after all.  


Common sense prevails — hooray!

Many thanks to all of you who signed the petition.

And thanks to The Londonist for the heads-up.


picture (‘What the market could look like’) from BBC London — thanks

Inappropriate Touching

October 13, 2007

Suddenly large numbers of these rather sinister signs have sprung up all over Greenwich Park.  I guess they are saying ‘It’s all right to pick chestnuts up off the ground but don’t try to knock ‘em off the trees’.  But ‘It is forbidden to touch the trees in any way’ evokes some very peculiar images.

Presumably the second half of the sign is aimed at Japanese tourists?  (‘Yus, we know who’s responsible…’)  Or are there gangs of illegal Chinese workers, like cockle-pickers, intent on denuding our chestnut trees of their nuts?  (Are they a Chinese aphrodisiac?)

Incidentally the trees were full of yakking green parakeets, whose feral population is growing, and visibly migrating, year by year.  By next summer they’ll be in our back gardens;  several flocks of them, of twenty or thirty birds each, flew over me (yakking) as I walked home.  I have a horrible premonition that in ten years’ time they will have ousted all indigenous birdlife in the Park, if not the whole of the south of England. 

And have you noticed (more…)

Save Greenwich Market!

August 31, 2007

Market stall

In the centre of historic Greenwich, south-east London, is an early nineteenth-century covered market, lined with interesting small shops and filled at weekends with colourful craft and food stalls, always thronged with local shoppers and tourists having a wonderful time.  Like so many other characterful sites in London (Camden Market, the bookshops in Charing Cross Road), Greenwich Market is threatened by developers — in this case Greenwich Hospital — who think the site is ‘uneconomic’ (it’s ‘only’ open at weekends!  It doesn’t have a Starbucks!!) and have plans to pull it down and use the space to build a block of flats.  In the centre of Greenwich!  Already they have put up rents so that stallholders and shopkeepers are being forced out of business…

It’s just about the only reason I go to Greenwich now (and already the last surviving second-hand bookshop seems to have gone).  You can help:  please SIGN THE PETITION at


(picture from )

All you need is…

August 27, 2007

…a simple stage set and a few props that can (literally) be packed in the back of a van,  a six-piece band, a small cast of young singers (singing in English), and a garden somewhere, and you have the ingredients for a performance by GARDEN OPERA (oh, and good weather is a help).

I’ve just walked home from the Old Observatory Garden in Greenwich (a magic setting), with a song in my heart, a lump in my throat, and — oh dear, is that something in my eye? (sniff)…  This was a performance of La Boheme, one of sixty performances on Garden Opera’s summer tour, and it was wonderful.

As a corrective to over-elaborate productions at *ahem* the Royal Opera House and elsewhere,  Garden Opera is about the essentials, stripping away distractions such as lavish settings, chorus, supernumerary actors and production ‘Konzepts’;  what remains is the essence of the opera, the music, the storytelling and the emotion.

Of course you also need a company whose members are all totally dedicated to what they are doing (on a shoestring), and an arranger, conductor and director with a clear idea of what they are aiming for.  Garden Opera is a shining example on all fronts, and has given me some of my most intense operatic experiences in recent years (including the most moving Magic Flute ever — and the only one in which the Queen of Night also played Papagena and [if my memory serves me] the serpent;  a mind-stretching Don Giovanni;  and a Carmen with a stomach-turningly realistic and unexpected murder only a few feet from where I was sitting). (more…)