Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fancy a pint at the pub?

Last night I went to a yoga-class at a pub. A few weeks ago, I went to see Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West. At a pub. And sometimes you’ll find me quizzing away and trying to get more points by googling things on my iPhone – at a pub. Oh, and when the weather gets to be even more lovely than it is right now, you will definitely see me with a glass of white wine in the lovely back yard – of a pub. A pub that incidentally once played host to an interview with the magnificent Miss Anne Hathaway. But that’s a different story.
If you leave this cute little island on which I currently reside, and go to just about any other country in Europe, you’ll find the concept of The Irish Pub. It is quite often located in a building with atrocious stained glass windows and matching lamps. On tap at the bar, you’ll most definitely find either Kilkenny or Guinness, along with a couple of other none too exciting beers and maybe the odd cider – not the fun ones either. The kitchen will be able to whip up some fish & chips, maybe a pie and most definitely the old favorite from the homeland – nachos with cheese and guacamole! And I’m not saying that this isn’t a perfectly nice place to watch a soccer game and drink a beer, if you’re in to that sort of thing. It’s just not a place I would choose to hang out voluntarily.
Now, I am very well aware that the above portrayal is of the nondescript Irish pub – and I live in England. However, for some reason all the pubs that I’ve encountered outside of the United Kingdom are Irish, so for me – and many others, I’m sure – that’s what comes to mind when the word pub is uttered. At least it used to be. From the first few lines of this blog post, you’ve probably already gathered that this has changed quite a bit over the past 7 months. In fact, I think that one of the man’s favorite things about living in London is that I’ll actually go to the pub with him. Voluntarily. And I’ll enjoy myself while I’m there. So let me tell you a bit more about the pubs in my neck of the woods…
Right across the street from our flat you’ll find a theatre pub. A wonderful pub, that basically has a theatre in the back room. This particular theatre pub specializes in opera, and it just so happens to have won an Olivier Award for Best New Opera last year. As mentioned above, I saw a Puccini opera there a few weeks ago and it was a superb and highly professional production. And even though few things make me happier than the golden pillars and red velvet seats of places like the Royal Opera House, there is something magically special about being in an intimate venue where you are close enough to see the sweat on the actors’ faces.  
Just down the road is another brilliant pub – recently renovated, serving only organic and seasonal food, filled with comfy chairs and couches and offering weekly yoga classes in the upstairs function room. And why wouldn’t they? It’s not like somebody is going to book it for a party on a Tuesday night. And while they may not be the traditional choice, fairy lights work wonderfully for achieving that calm and serene yoga atmosphere.
Walking through the little park next to our flat, you’ll reach yet another dazzling destination – always brimming with people on Quiz Night, as George may very well be the best Quiz Master in town. Oh, and drinks like A Chockwork Orange are perfect for celebrating a team win – or for making the defeat a bit easier to bear.
Also across the street, a few houses down from the theatre pub, is a joyful and quirky place that will serve your strawberry beer with a side of Star Wars, projected on to a big white wall above the bar. And every couple of weeks, they transform the entire pub into a treasure trove of an arts & crafts and vintage market where you can find true gems for just a few quid.
And then of course there’s Miss Hathaway’s favorite pub… Okay, I don’t know if it’s actually her favorite pub, but it’s not like she’s going to read this. What I do know is that she was interviewed there for Marie Claire magazine, just around the time I moved to Angel. And I totally understand her choice – it is a simple and beautiful pub with an amazing back yard, perfect for a bottle of white wine and a warm summer night. Did I mention that the food is amazing? 
Every country has something that makes it special. For England, one of those things would definitely have to be the pub culture – which isn’t much of a surprise really. To me, the surprise has been to see that it truly is a culture. It is being cared for and nurtured every day, it is a precious part of daily life and, perhaps most importantly, it is in a constant state of development. Because truly, there isn’t much that a pub can’t do.  

(If you happen to stop by Angel, here is a list of links to the places I have mentioned:



Friday, February 17, 2012

Smile.


Remember when you were a little kid, and some distant relative came to visit? Without exception, they’d pat you on the head and tell you how much you’d grown. Well, at least that’s how it seemed to me. And even though I was a pretty tall kid, I always felt like they were exaggerating wildly. Well, it turns out that being away for a while does make you see things more clearly – whether it’s a kid’s growth or people’s behaviour.
Some of you may have read this blog post called How to piss of a Dane, that has been making its way around the internet lately. I find it quite clever and entertaining, but what’s more important – most of this stuff is spot on! And, perhaps even more importantly, I’m not sure I would have been able to see that a year ago.
The other day, I left my house to go to Starbucks. No surprises there. On my way, I smiled at the sweet lady in the shop downstairs. I said hello to the guy, who seems like all he does is sit outside our local branch of Paul and drink coffee. I smiled, nodded and said hello to a whole bunch of other random people – some because I’d seen them before, others just because we did one of those little which-way-are-we-going-to-pass-each-other dances. When I arrived at Starbucks, I was greeted with a huge smile and a friendly »How are you? I haven’t seen you in a while! Your usual?« Granted, the middle and latter part of that greeting indicates that I really need to spend less money at Starbucks – especially because all the other baristas had seen me plenty in the previous days. Anyway, I got my Grande Soya Chai Tea Latte, and trotted homewards with a silly smile. Why? Because obviously there is no PIPA (yeah, you need to read that other blogpost) in London. Well, at least not in Angel. People talk to each other. They smile at each other’s dogs and kids. They are polite about queuing, whether it’s at the bus stop or in Sainsbury’s. And they don’t mind if you ask how they’re doing – even if it’s just a quick »Hiya, you alright?« (which seems to be the British version of that much-discussed American phrase). I like that. I find it charming, and it never fails to brighten my day.
At this point, I would like to clarify one thing: As some of you will know, I work from home. Which means my only colleague is my dog and he sleeps a lot. So during the course of a workday, I don’t talk to a whole lot of people, unless I have a meeting somewhere. However, I am not one of those freaks who divulge way too much personal information while paying for their gum. So the fact that I talk to a lot of people during my daily outings doesn’t have anything to do with me specifically. Just so we’re clear.
Also, I want to make sure you understand that this blog post is not about bashing all places that are not London or Angel. I realize that my way of seeing things is not the only way. I know that the man and the dog agree with me on this particular subject, but then again, they’re hopelessly biased. It all depends on which window you look at things from. As an example, my lovely Aussie friends tell me that the service in London blows compared to say, Sydney. To me, the service in London is mostly very good, sometimes just okay, but never downright shitty. It’s all a matter of which kind of glasses you’re wearing, and I’ll readily admit that mine may still be somewhat angelic and pinkish when it comes to my new ‘hood.
Anyway, I think my main point today is this: smiling at people is ridiculously good karma. Being around people who are rude and grumpy often makes me, well – rude and grumpy. On the other hand, being around polite people who smile, say hello and take a step back instead of just squeezing past you into the bus makes me do the exact same things. Which is why, on a daily basis, you’ll find me wandering the streets of Angel with a Starbucks cup in my hand and a smile on my face. 


Friday, February 10, 2012

Magic


I went on a trip last week. I walked down to Angel station and took the Northern Line almost as far as it would take me – possibly the longest tube journey I’ve been on since moving to London. I’m not a big fan of the tube, I prefer the lovely red buses. Anyway, my journey took me to Wimbledon, where I visited a magic place called Polka Theatre. Polka Theatre produces world-class theatre for little people and it is led by the lovely and inspiring Jonathan Lloyd, who had agreed to meet me for an interview. My reason for interviewing Jonathan was that I had visited the Southbank Centre a few days earlier to see a Danish children’s performance called Goodbye, Mr. Muffin – a heart-tugging story about the last days in the life of a beloved guinea pig. The performance – and a few emails to my editor at Børneteateravisen.dk, a Danish publication that focuses solely on performing arts for children – got me thinking about the differences between Danish and British culture, more specifically about how the two handle difficult subjects in regards to children. I had heard about Polka Theatre and decided to give them a call, on the off chance that somebody there would agree to talk to me about the subject. And that’s how I ended up in a wooden train wagon in Polka’s cafĂ©, having one of the most interesting conversations about children’s theatre that I’ve had in a while.
In case you didn’t know – children’s theatre is awesome. I have no idea how many hours of my childhood I’ve spent on the floor in some gym, witnessing magic on an improvised stage or even going to an actual theatre to see a play created especially for me. Well, at least that’s how it felt. What I didn’t know, was that all these hours on gym floors and all the trips to different theatres, were actually preparing me for me life. Because the majority of children’s performances have an important story to tell. In the case of Mr. Muffin, the story is this: we all have to die one day. Hopefully it’ll be after a long and full life – Mr. Muffin sure didn’t have anything to complain about: a lovely wife, four furry children, a nice little house, a mail box, and even letters in the mail box every once in a while. So when his tummy started hurting and the vet said there was nothing he could do, it was okay. (If you’re wondering: yes, I all but cried my eyes out during the performance. As did most other adults in the audience. The kids were fine.)
Children’s theatre is magic. It gives children resources to understand themselves and the world they live in. Or in the words of Jonathan Lloyd: »Children know that there are things out there that they are not supposed to know about – which obviously makes them very interesting to them. So if you’re telling a story to children, do you pretend those things aren’t there? Or do you try and introduce them in a way that is appropriate and doesn’t overwhelm them? It’s a challenge, because a lot of good stories deal with quite difficult and emotional subjects. Personally, I think you can be bold about your subjects, and you should never underestimate children’s capacity of understanding the world they live in. It is crucial for us to talk to children, and get their voices, their stories and their opinions and give them our stage as a platform.«
The theatre still rocks my socks off. In terms of things that money can buy, few things make me happier than entering a space for performing arts and sitting down for an hour or two to listen to what the people on stage are telling me – whether it’s with their voices or their bodies. To me, it's magic.  

(Here is alink to the full article. It is, of course, in Danish, but hey, Google Translate is your friend. However, please don’t judge my writing or Jonathan’s ability to express himself from the results of Google Translate.)

(Also, a big thank you to Jonathan for taking the time to talk to me and to Elise Neve, Press and Marketing Officer at Polka Theatre, for setting it all up and just being lovely and helpful.)