Friday, 19 June 2015

Nick Darke’s The Dead Monkey at Park Theatre in Finsbury Park

UK, London, Park Theatre 90 Mongrel Thumb, in association with Falmouth University presents The Dead Monkey by Nick Darke.  Directed by Hannah Price with James Lance as Hank, Ruth Gibson as Dolores  and Charles Reston as Vet. Park Theatre, London, UK

10th June 2015
Photo: © ZuteLightfoot

California. The land of surfing, oranges and the great American dream. Dolores and Hank are married, happily perhaps or so they think. Hank was great once, a renowned surfer with a monkey on his back, literally speaking of course. Dolores was happy to be by his side, to look after his monkey when Hank went on to travel the country in search of the next great sale. Until the day that she wasn’t. Until the day that the monkey died and Dolores discovered that she has a unique talent.

When the tables are turned, Hank is happy to be by Dolores’s side, to look after their Macedonian curly tailed pig while Dolores exercises her gift. Until one day when he isn’t. Until the day that it all comes tumbling down and Hank realises that his best days are behind him.

Directed by Hannah Price, The Dead Monkey is bleakly comic and very dark. It lures the audience in with a promise of humour and satire before savagely delivering its message. Written by Nick Darke in 1986 and originally performed by the RSC, The Dead Monkey is a tale of desperation and creeping violence in a grimy American marriage that is as relevant today as it was almost 30 years ago.

The Dead Monkey is expertly performed by a three-person cast consisting of James Lance as Hank, Ruth Gibson as Dolores and Charles Reston as the vet. With all the action taking place on the intimate Park 90 stage, the cast grips you from the very first scene and takes you on a rollercoaster ride of love and duplicity, desperation and euphoric recall.

I was especially impressed with the set design and costumes in the play. For a moment there, it really felt like we were in a beachside shack in California which made the final scenes ever more powerful. All three actors underwent incredible transformations in their appearance for their roles with Gibson chopping off her long red locks and dying them platinum blonde and James and Charles adopting a moustachioed, early 1980s look that was startling in its authenticity (or is it just me that finds that particular period of fashion unsettling?)

I thoroughly enjoyed The Dead Monkey and would highly recommend it.

UK, London, Park Theatre 90 Mongrel Thumb, in association with Falmouth University presents The Dead Monkey by Nick Darke.  Directed by Hannah Price with James Lance as Hank, Ruth Gibson as Dolores  and Charles Reston as Vet. Park Theatre, London, UK

10th June 2015
Photo: © ZuteLightfoot

This is the second time that I’ve seen a play at The Park Theatre in Finsbury Park and I have to say that I really like it. The theatre is in a great location and is situated right outside Finsbury Park tube station. There are also loads of great restaurants in the vicinity and I’d especially recommend Pasta Remoli and My Cottage Cafe Lebanese Restaurant on Clifton Terrace. I certainly hope to see more performances here in future.

Presented by London theatre company Mongrel Thumb, The Dead Monkey is showing at Park Theatre in Finsbury Park until 4 July 2015. Prices start from £18 each with £12.50 Tuesdays and Pay What You Can matinees. Book online at Park Theatre or by telephone on 020 7870 6876.

Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, London N4 3JP.

Photo credits: © ZuteLightfoot


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

An Art Deco Tour of the Strand

80 Strand

Recently, I joined London tour guide Yannick Pucci for an Art Deco tour of the Strand. You might remember reading about Yannick before as I most enjoyed his Art Deco in Bloomsbury and Macarons and Mews tours.

King George III statue Somerset House

On this bright and sunny May day, we met up at the King George III statue at Somerset House before walking across the courtyard of Somerset House and out on to the terrace. The lovely Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi and I agreed that we simply must return for afternoon drinks on the terrace. It looked really lovely and relaxing.

Sir Arthur Sullivan memorial

We took a turn through Victoria Embankment Gardens where we could see the buildings that would form the focus of our tour. We spent some time at the memorial to Arthur Sullivan, considered especially racy when it was erected in 1903 and not entirely appropriate. The memorial depicts the Muse herself, draping herself in a pose of devastation following Sullivan’s passing.

Looking down towards Victoria Embankment Gardens from the Strand

Together with W. S. Gilbert, Sullivan formed the duo Gilbert and Sullivan and the Savoy Theatre was built from the profits of this successful partnership. Naturally, it was not the performers themselves who were getting rich but their producer Richard D'Oyly Carte and he went on to build the Savoy Hotel right next to the theatre.

The Savoy Hotel

Peter of Savoy stands proudly above the iconic Art Deco entrance to the Savoy Hotel, marking the Savoy as one of the most recognisable Art Deco treasures in London. Check out the geometric steps leading down from the silver signage.

In my mind, this display always reminds me of the front of a car which would make sense in an era obsessed with planes, train and automobiles, when the march towards the future was inevitable and filled with the promise of technology. 

The Art Deco glass and chrome of the Savoy

Just under the Savoy sign, the road winds clockwise around a central fountain and cars drop off their passengers. Protected from the weather and other elements, you can find an almost unspoiled display of Art Deco glass and steel design.

Kaspar the Savoy Cat

No visit to the Savoy is complete without paying your respects to the topiary depiction of the famous Kaspar, the Savoy Cat. What a beautiful young specimen who no doubt prevented bad luck to many a Savoy guest. You can read a little bit more about how Kaspar warded off bad luck at the hotel

80 Strand from the side

Following our visit to the Savoy we wended our way towards the Adelphi Building. On the way, we were able to appreciate the side of the Shell Mex building, with the American eagle located about half way up.

Shell Mex House or 80 Strand is the iconic building with the clock on top that you can easily spot when standing on the Southbank on the other side of the Thames. It is featured in the first and last photos of this post and is so imposing that it is difficult to truly appreciate its beauty except from a distance.

Detail on the Adelphi Building

Finally, we made it to the Adelphi. This is one of my favourite Art Deco buildings in the world and one that I worked next door to for three years. Despite spending so long staring out the window at the building, I knew very little about it and enjoyed hearing about every little ornamentation, detail and statue from Yannick. The Adelphi truly is one of the modern wonders of the architectural world.

Looking up at the Adelphi Building

Nearly every surface on the building is filled with symbols of the Art Deco ethos, from bees and the pestle and mortar, representing the apothecary and advancements in medicine, to symbols of industry and technological advancement.

Mantel detail on the Adelphi Building

The Adelphi is in the middle of a massive refurbishment which is a pity because I have never seen the building looking so blackened. I am sure they will restore it to its white glory once the works are completed.

Adelphi statues

Once we had completed our exploration of the Art Deco buildings, we walked some distance towards Trafalgar Square before turning to look back. There it was, the other side of the iconic clock of Shell Mex House. Did you know that this clock is even bigger than the clock atop Elizabeth Tower (which you might know as Big Ben)?

The view of the other side of the clock on the Shell Mex building

Overall, I would say that Yannick’s Art Deco in the Strand walking tour is excellent and highly recommended. I worked in this area for three years and I was astonished by the amount of information I learned on the tour. As with all Yannick’s tours, the tour is really well researched and you get to learn not only about Art Deco but also about the history of the buildings before they took their present form.

Are you a fan of Art Deco? If so, which is your favourite Art Deco building?


Sunday, 7 June 2015

Exploring Royal Victoria Dock

The minute I stepped onto the platform at Canning Town, I began to feel the sheer energy and nervousness of the students around me. I like to call it the Morgue Train - the train from Canning Town to Custom House where ashen-faced students take their final journey before writing their exams at the ExCel centre. I wasn't nervous before I got onto that platform but I've decided I'm some sort of psychic sponge because I was a nervous wreck by the time I got off the train at ExCel.

So I decided to find a quiet place where I could plug in my earphones and listen to Alan Cumming read his book Not My Father's Son on Audible.

Royal Victoria Dock is really quite nice when you take the time to explore.

"Landed" a tribute to the workers of the Royal Docks from 1855-1983. Sculptor Les Johnson (2009). I took this photo straight into the sun so it didn't come out very well but I kind of like the silhouette effect.

This is Vulcan by Eduardo Paolozzi. I'm pretty sure this was erected after Paolozzi's death. I'd love to know the story behind that.

So did my little plan work? Well yes, a little too well. When the time came, I walked calmly into the exam hall and took my seat. I took a deep breath and told myself "I can do this" before opening up my paper. And then I realised that this was one of those papers, the papers my institute is notorious for with the 30% pass rates. I wanted an A but now I'll be satisfied with a pass. Anyway, onwards and upwards! My exam is over and I have a little bit of breathing space for a while. I'm hoping there is a lot more calm in this time and definitely a lot more exploration and photography.


Monday, 11 May 2015

An Unexpected Interlude


Back in February when I wrote about the return of daylight, I had no idea that it would be my last post on Emm in London for thirteen weeks. If I'd known, I might have made a little song and dance about it, perhaps cheerfully announced that I was taking a little spring break. But it wasn’t planned and it wasn’t a break – it was simply a case of real life getting in the way.

When our offices moved to the East End in January, I was excited to be in a new area and to have many possible new routes to work. I could walk, explore, take photos, listen to audiobooks and generally fall in love with London all over again. But then the reality of our new office situation set in.

My commuting time is at least an hour longer every day and that is before we add train delays and cancellations. In addition to that, things have gone slightly pear-shaped at work and my average working day is ten to eleven hours long. When you come home only to eat, go to sleep and rush off to work again in the morning, something has to give especially if you’re studying a professional qualification on top of all that. In my case it was this blog. I simply didn’t even have time to say cheerio, I’ll be back soon.

So am I back? To be honest, I don’t know. In my time away, I’ve figured out what I missed. I miss my blogging friends more than I can say. I realised that reading about your lives on farms and in cities around the world keeps me grounded while allowing me to vicariously satisfy my wanderlust. I miss telling my stories and sharing my photos. I miss discovering new art galleries and museums and sharing that with the world. I miss falling in love with London (and England) every day and peddling that love affair to fellow anglophiles.

Most of all, I missed this space and the creative outlet it provides. I miss weaving words and photos together and drawing inspiration from other creative people.

So I will try not to disappear again for 3 months (at least until next year end when I’ll probably do it again). I will update from time to time when I find inspiration or when I’m travelling. I’ve got a couple of photo essays up my sleeves from my past travels and I look forward to sharing those. But I don’t know if I am back in the sense that I still won’t be able to find much time for anything until my work situation changes.

How are you? And what have you been up to in the last three months?


Sunday, 8 February 2015

Untitled London: The Return of Daylight

Dear Emm in London, it has been three whole weeks since I confided in you and I fear that you’ve been sorely neglected. In my last post, I wrote about working the kind of overtime “worthy of an accountant at year end”. At that point I can honestly say that I had no idea what overtime was. We were a team member down and I clocked up 36 hours of overtime in January while doing the work of two people. I sincerely hope there is a week in Majorca at the end of this tunnel.

It was not all work and no play though. I went to a Dim Sum afternoon tea, which I hope to tell you about soon, as well as tea at the Rosewood where Stephen finally got to meet my friends Yannick and Fran and I got to meet new friends too. I went to an art gallery opening with Melissa which I’ll tell you a little bit about below. To round off a busy fortnight, we spent last weekend at the Great Danes Hotel in Maidstone for Ste’s year end function where we had facials, massages, haircuts, time in the spa and a very good time indeed.

This instalment of Untitled London is called The Return of  Daylight because the northern hemisphere finally began to tilt towards the sun again and I began to see daylight in both the mornings and the evenings. Enjoy!

Leadenhall Market - Time Here Becomes Space

6pm, Monday 19 January 2015

Leadenhall Market. Time here becomes space.
London Bridge and the Shard from Cannon Street Bridge

7.55am, Tuesday 20 January 2015

House of Fraser - King William Street

8am, Wednesday 21 January 2015

Tower Bridge from the Queen's Walkway

7.50am, Thursday 22 January 2015

Amara Por Dios at Lollipop Gallery

7pm, Friday 23 January 2015

Melissa and I went to the wonderful Fem Graff exhibition at the Lollipop Gallery in Commercial Street, E1. This fantastic exhibition runs until February 22, 2015 and features the work of female street artists such as Amanda Marie, Zabou, Ashes 57, Jimmy C and Amara Por Dios. The gallery also run FREE street art tours every day at 1pm and 5pm.
Tea at Rosewood London

3pm, Saturday 24 January 2015

Savage Gardens

8am, Saturday 26 January 2015

The Shard from Hay's Galleria

8.30am, Tuesday 27 January 2015

The city from Hay's Galleria

8.30am, Wednesday 28 January 2015

20 Fenchurch from King William Street

8.45am, Thursday 29 January 2015

30 St Mary Axe from Febchurch Street

8.55am, Friday 30 January 2015

In other news, I got my exam results at midnight last night and I got distinctions for both law and performance management. I’m very pleased indeed and feeling slightly more comfortable with studying nine more subjects over the next three years.

Finally, I spent some time this weekend redesigning my blog A Passion to Understand. I hope to spend more time there this year – the topics are so important to me and I hope to see my career and interests converging in the next year or so. I’d love it if you could pop over and let me know what you think (and if anything is broken). I also have a Twitter account for it: @apassionblog.

Do you have any other blogs or side projects that you don’t talk about often?


Saturday, 17 January 2015

Untitled London: Winter's Return

When I was on my recent holiday, it occurred to me that I don’t write often about my daily life in London or what is going on in my personal life. A million blog years ago, I used to post a photo of the book I was reading and a cup of coffee on my rare lunch hours but life is completely different now. I rarely read books now that I have a Kindle, I always take a lunch hour so they aren’t unique anymore and I spend so much more time walking and exploring London now than sitting in coffee shops!

I’ve come up with an idea for an Untitled London series. These are photos that I take on my travels each day and often they won’t have a title other than the date and time that they were taken. The idea is to chronicle the passing seasons and trends in London and to capture all the magical things I see. These photos will all be taken on my iPhone and many of them will be filtered and edited in Snapseed, VSCOcam, Color Efex and Photoshop.

This instalment is Winter’s Return because I’ve returned to work and yes, it has been a rather wintery surprise after three weeks in South Africa. Our offices have moved and I’m no longer working in the Peter Pan building in WC2N but am now in east London in E1. I have a brand new walk to work and get to explore a whole new area of London. It is no secret that it is fast becoming my new favourite part of London.

City Hall and the Shard

8.05am, Monday 5 January 2015

Tower of All Hallows Staining

8.00am, Tuesday 6 January 2015

All that remains. This is the Tower of All Hallows' Staining built c1320. The church survived the Great Fire of 1666 only to collapse in 1671. It is believed that the large number of graves in the surrounding area weakened the foundations. Rebuilt in 1674, it was eventually torn down in 1870 when the Parish of All Hallows' amalgamated with the nearby Parish of St Olave, Hart Street. St Olave, Hart Street was gutted in the Second World War.

Dwarf (Walkie Talkie)

9.05am, Wednesday 7 January 2015

Dwarf. (Walkie Dwarfie? Dwarfie Talkie? The things I ponder on a mid-morning tea break). The first of many, many photos you’ll see of the Walkie Talkie Building at 20 Fenchurch.

Wet London

8.00am, Thursday 8 January 2015

Walkie Talkie Building

8.10am, Friday 9 January 2015

The Ship EC3

8.15am, Monday 12 January 2015

At the Foot of a Giant.  20 Fenchurch Street

7.50am, Tuesday 13 January 2015

Early morning in St Dunstan in the East

7.50am, Wednesday 14 January 2015

Taken inside the bombed out church of St Dunstan-in-the-East.

Boris Bikes on Great Tower Street

8.10am, Thursday 15 January 2015

The Guild Church of St Margaret Pattens

8.15am, Friday 16 January 2015

The only news in my personal life at the moment is that I don’t really have one during the week. It is financial year end at work and I’ve clocked up the kind of overtime worthy of an accountant at year end. Luckily for me that means some time off later in the year so I’m looking forward to taking some afternoons off – do let me know if you’d like to join me for an afternoon tea or some exploring.

The weekends have been blissful so far. I’m catching up on all the sleep I lost during my exams and in South Africa (my nieces wake up at the crack of dawn!) and I’m going on a date tonight (with Le Husband!) which I’m insanely excited about. Tomorrow I’m venturing into a hopefully snowy London to try out the Chinese Afternoon Tea at Millennium Hotel which I hope to tell you about soon.

What have you been up to in 2015?


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

A Bicycle Tour of Soweto

Soweto Bicycle Tours

I grew up in Johannesburg, and I admit that like any future expat who dreamt of living and working abroad, I often took my hometown for granted. Over the past eight years, I’ve made a concerted effort to rediscover Johannesburg and am proud to say that I’ve seen many of the sights.  Nevertheless, it becomes increasingly challenging to find new things to do and I was thrilled when my gorgeous friend Jeanette recommended Soweto Bicycle Tours.

While many visitors to South Africa focus on our fantastic cuisine, incredible wildlife and unparalleled luxury, a Soweto Bicycle Tour is highly recommended if you are interested in our history, urban culture and indomitable spirit. The tour will take you off the beaten path and show you a side of South Africa you wouldn’t necessarily see and you get to sample traditional food and drink while learning about the struggle and Apartheid.

About Soweto

Soweto is a massive urban area south west of Johannesburg. The name is in fact an abbreviation for ‘South Western Townships’ and was designated by the Apartheid government as a racially segregated area where the black working class could be relocated after forced removals from areas such as Newtown and Sophiatown. Soweto was home to Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and it is known as the seat of anti-Apartheid activism and the setting for the 1976 student uprising.

I don’t think the architects of Apartheid could ever have predicted the resilience of strength and spirit that would come to characterise modern day Soweto. Today you will visit Soweto to sample traditional beers and food, to learn about Sowetan culture and music and to visit some of the historical sites that helped make Soweto what it is today. Make no mistake, twenty years after the fall of Apartheid, it is clear that the South African government still has a lot of work to do and Soweto remains one of the most impoverished and disadvantaged areas in the country. I hope that my photos can reflect some of this.

The Soweto Bicycle Tour

Soweto Tuk Tuk Tour

Firstly, let’s get something out of the way. I’m sure you’re all massively impressed that I signed up for a bicycle tour in the first place given that the most active thing I ever do is walk but honestly, there is no need to be. What we actually signed up for (and paid half for ahead of time) was a 4-hour Soweto Tuk Tuk tour but when we arrived at Lebo’s Backpackers Lodge, it turned out that they had forgotten to check their system for bookings from the previous evening and thus no drivers were available. Definitely make sure you phone ahead to confirm your booking before travelling 50km across Johannesburg (details below).

And so it was that I got on a bike for the first time in twenty years and went on a two-hour cycle tour of Soweto. I have to admit that after the first five minutes and a slight incline, I thought that I wouldn’t be able to do it but the tour is designed for people like me and there are frequent breaks to rest and look at the scenery.

In the distance below you can see Orlando Towers – the towers I jumped off two years ago to cure myself of my fear of heights.

A View from Orlando West to Orlando Towers

Mzimhlophe Hostel

The first stop on our tour was perhaps the most poignant for me. When I went to university in the early 90s, one of my key areas of study was the violence taking place across South Africa at the time. One of the most unstable areas was in the hostels, vast single-sex institutions where migrant workers lived in appalling conditions. This was the first time I had been inside a hostel and the echoes of the past raced through my mind as we stood there.

Mzimhlophe Hostel

Ntando - Soweto Bicycle Tour

Mzimhlophe Hostel - Soweto Bicycle Tour

Mzimhlophe Hostel - front door

Mzimhlophe Hostel - ablutions

At the end of Apartheid, hostels were torn down and families began to move in to these areas and establish informal and semi-formal settlements. Conditions are not great today and these houses do not have running water or sewerage. Our tour guide Ntando explained to us that there is one set of latrines and washing facilities for every six to eight families. The families co-operate with one another to take turns to clean and maintain the facilities.

Mzimhlophe Hostel - child

Mzimhlophe Hostel - shebeen

While in Mzimhlophe, we visited a shebeen where we sampled traditional beer and everyone but me ate traditional meat cuts such as heart and lung. We passed around a giant calabash and sampled some traditional beer which tasted like fermented sour milk. I didn’t like it but can see how it could become an acquired taste.

Shebeens were originally unlicensed drinking establishments that arose because Apartheid laws prevented black people from owning or entering drinking establishments. They form a very important part of South African culture today and the photo above shows you how people sit together side by side to drink. The spirit of ubuntu and oneness is very important in South African culture.

Mzimhlophe Hostel - Mzimhlophe Hostel today

Soweto Bike Tour

All too soon it was time to get back on our bikes again. On our way out, we passed a newly constructed apartment complex. Our guide mentioned that the flats were being built to provide dignity to the citizens of Mzimhlophe and would be ready for occupation early in 2015. I can’t begin to explain how very sad this made me. In my head I know just how many RDP houses the South African government has built since 1994 – about 3 million to date – but it seems that progress has come awfully late to this area of the world.

Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum

Jazz - Soweto Bicycle Tour

Our large group split after Mzimhlophe and the four-hour cyclists took off on a different route. At this point Jazz took over as our guide and the first place we visited was the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. This museum marks the events of 16 June 1976 when school children took to the streets of Soweto to protest against the Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974. This decree forced black school children to take half of their subjects in Afrikaans, a language that many of them did not understand. Shots were fired on that day and Hector Pieterson was one of the first children to die. What began that day was the Soweto Uprising and between 200 and 600 people died in the violence in the following days. (Do click the link above for more information).

Orlando Towers from Orlando West

Hector Pieterson Memorial

This is the memorial to those that died in the Soweto Uprising. I would highly recommend a visit to the museum, if you ever get a chance. It is an excellent multi-media display featuring photographs, audio and video recordings, first-person testimonies and background into the events both leading up to and following the events of 16 June 1976. I won’t say it is an easy museum to visit - the first time I visited the museum back in 2012, I was so moved that I was unable to talk for two days afterwards. Entrance to this moving exhibit is only R30 or about £2.

Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum

Curios at Hector Pieterson Museum

Protest Art in Soweto

Street art in Soweto

As we rode on, we saw many instances of street art and installation art along the way. The photo below depicts the events of June 16 where a police man and dog faces the crowd of school children. The police dogs were later set free to attack the crowd of children who responded by stoning them to death.

Installation art in Soweto

Nelson Mandela’s House

Nelson Mandela's House

Our next stop was 8115 Vilakazi Street, better known as the former home of Nelson Mandela. He returned to live here on his release from prison in 1990 before moving to his presidential house in Houghton when he was elected. Today it is a museum and you can visit Mandela House for between R40 (AU residents) and R60.

8115 Vilakazi Street - Mandela's HouseSignposts outside Nelson Mandela's House

Tutu House

Stop Violence Against Women and Children

The final stop on our tour was a visit to the home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who still resides around the corner from Nelson Mandela’s old house. The house looks very much inhabited so I decided not to take a photograph of it but I really liked the mural on the wall opposite which is against abuse of women and children.

Tutu House Soweto

Bunny Chow

The last stretch home was the most difficult for me and I have to admit that after over 2.5 hours on the road, I walked much of the last mile back to the hostel. Still, that is not bad going at all for someone who had not been on a bike in twenty years. Actually, I think my last bike ride was in 1987 now that I think of it.

Bunny Chow

We returned to Lebo’s Backpacker’s Hostel where we were treated to a delicious lunch of bunny chow. Bunny chow is a traditional South African meal where you hollow out half (or in this case a quarter) of a loaf of fresh bread and fill it with a stew (or curry if you’re in Durban). I opted for the vegetarian option which was cooked to perfection in a potjie on an open fire. You can just see the potjie in the photos above and below – it is a cast iron pot that looks like a witch’s cauldron.

Lebo's Backpackers Hostel

Despite the mix up with our booking, I would absolutely recommend the Soweto Bicycle Tour and would certainly do something like this again. We saw so much on the tour and learned much more than I could capture in one blog post!

I’d like to thank our excellent guides Ntando and Jazz for their detailed, fascinating and inspired guiding. These guys are really talented and I see a great future for them all.

The prices and details for the tour are as follows:

Soweto Bicycle Tours
Lebo’s Backpacker’s Hostel
10823A Pooe Street
Orlando West, Soweto

2 Hour Soweto Bicycle Tour – R390 (about £22)
4 Hour Soweto Bicycle Tour – R480 (about £27)
2 Hour Soweto Tuk Tuk Tour – R335 (about £19)
4 Hour Soweto Tuk Tuk Tour – R520 (about £30)


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