Author: jcpreen

Jim Preen Soul Set: Short notice gig at the Bonnington Centre, Vauxhall

Jim Preen Soul Set: Short notice gig at the Bonnington Centre, Vauxhall

My band the Soul Set are playing the Bonnington Centre in Vauxhall this coming Friday 23rd February.

It’s a great little venue that’s a short walk from Vauxhall Cross, which is liberally sprinkled with busses and tubes (Victoria line). We will be dispensing great bucket loads of boogie, soul and blues from 8.30. Entry is free.

Let the winter blues give way to some summer grooves.

Bonnington Centre, 11, Vauxhall Grove, Vauxhall SW8 1TD

It’s out of this world as Londoner beats the odds

It’s out of this world as Londoner beats the odds

We are just back from grabbing some summer sun in Florida. And if you’re thinking it’s all very well for some, but what on earth does this have to do with London? Then bear with me.

Our hotel, located on the ‘Space Coast’ was a forty-five-minute drive from the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral. I could tell you what a fantastic museum it is, about how you can see the space shuttle, the Apollo rockets, the moon buggy, get to touch moon rock, but that stuff you can find on Trip Advisor.

Walking by one of the Saturn rockets that sent Armstrong and Aldrin hurtling towards the moon there are a series of front pages capturing the excitement of the moment. A Saturn rocket may be an awe-inspiring sight, but a splash about the moon shot, for an old news hound such as myself, is impossible to resist.

Working through the headlines: “First footprints on alien world” –  “Everything ‘Go’ Astronauts walk in lunar dust” – “Moon is magnificent desolation” –  “Old Glory hoisted by first moon men” my eye was caught by the headline: “Briton gets $24,000. Landing Pays off.” It was a short article at the foot of the Tulsa Daily Herald from 21st July 1969 and tells the story of David Thelfall who, in 1964, placed a bet of £10, that a man would set foot on the moon before 1971. At the time £10 was twice the weekly wage.

Threlfall later said: “In 1963 I heard President Kennedy make a speech in which he said there would be an American on the moon by the end of the decade. I thought if a bookmaker was prepared to offer reasonable odds it would be a common sense bet.”

Threlfall contacted William Hill and was duly offered the odds of a thousand to one. When Neil Armstrong took his ‘giant leap for mankind’ and the bet was won, the bookmaker presented Threlfall with a cheque for £10,000 live on TV from a London studio. In today’s money that’s around £150,000.

William Hill never revealed who their representative was who offered such absurd odds and as for Threlfall, he went out and bought an E-type Jag.

Dog talk: Bone of contention

Dog talk: Bone of contention

“From a dog’s point of view his master is an elongated and abnormally cunning dog” says Mabel Robinson, but I’m not so sure. When some canny (canine?) entrepreneur started selling videos that taught how to test your dog’s IQ, Jay Leno remarked: “Here’s how it works: if you spend $15 on the video, your dog is smarter than you.”

Cunning or not, Rusty came to us from Battersea Dogs and Cats five months ago and an unexpected bonus is that strangers, who would normally run from talking to a tall, middle-aged man like me are now more than happy to chat.

Having a dog is like having a baby, they render the owner, that’s how I like to think about my daughter, harmless. Obviously having a cute dog makes this easier. If you own a devil-dog that’s covered in tattoos, then people may not be quite so chatty. Bucket and I look at the dog first and if we’re not sure we look at the owner.

Last weekend Rusty and I were walking down our street just as a family (mum, dad and two kids) were knocking on a neighbour’s door. Bucket clearly thought they looked interesting, latched on to them and when the door was opened shot into house. Bucket is a four pawed, self-styled ice breaker. We didn’t know these neighbours before, we do now.

Out walking, I’m on first name terms with Max, Fat Otto and Scampi (in your basket) what their owners are called I have no idea. It’s like a Freemasonry of dogs but without the weird handshakes. Someone once raised the reasonable question: Do other dogs think poodles are part of a weird religious cult?

I find it strangely liberating and desperately un-British that people will start petting your dog without permission. I should say that Bucket is entirely promiscuous and is happy to be petted by anyone.

Apparently, the polite way to go about talking with other dog owners is to praise their mutt’s look, and general loveliness. To stir the pot a little I recommend saying: Blimey, that’s a great hairy thing you’ve got there. It usually gets results.

Thick fog smothers Tate Britain

Thick fog smothers Tate Britain

Peeking out from behind swathes of mist and murk great paintings emerge at Tate Britain’s ‘Impressionists in London’ exhibition, but you have to wade through some dreadful muck to get there.

I know you won’t take a blind bit of notice of what I say, but if you plan to visit this exhibition,  do wear trainers. You’ll want to go at quite a lick.

Room 1: With the Prussians beating the bejesus out of Paris in1871, French artists, including Camille Pissarro, Charles-Francois Daubigny and a young Claude Monet decamped to London in many cases to paint pictures of Sydenham. I mean I have nothing against Sydenham, but with your home city in flames, doesn’t London have a bit more to offer? Nothing to see here, keep moving.

Room 2: By now you really want to be building up a good head of steam, perhaps whip out a skateboard and marvel, as you glide by, at the awfulness of the Quality disporting themselves in paintings by James Tissot of well, the Quality disporting themselves. These paintings are why photography was invented so nobody has to do this stuff anymore.

I’m also not sure what any of this has to do with impressionism, looks more like expressionism to me.

On! On! past Alphonse Legros doing his worst and as quick as you like through the room dedicated to the ‘celebrated’ sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. I don’t know about you, but I only notice sculpture when I’m backing up to get a good look at a painting and then bash into it.

By the time you reach Room 5 you’ll have reached optimum velocity, but hold up is that a painting worth looking at? Yes, it is and it’s Monet’s ‘Leicester Square at night’, great splodges of greasy reds and blues. Perhaps not Monet in mid-season form, but certainly worth a glance.

It’s funny I’m sure I used to like Pissarro, I remember enjoying a couple of his paintings at the Ashmoleum in Oxford years ago, but now they look incredibly trite, almost chocolate-box, paint by numbers kitsch.

By the time you enter Room 6 you may be losing the will to live, but help is at hand in the form of three paintings or nocturnes by the American artist James McNeill Whistler. They are simple washes of grey blue, with lonely stick figures haunting the canvas, but taken together are magnificent. They are owned by the Tate but don’t often get a run out. Oscar Wilde commenting on his friend Whistler’s work in typical Oscar style said: ‘There may have been fogs for centuries in London. I dare say there were. But no one saw them, and so we know nothing about them. They did not exist until art had invented them.’

This exhibition really ought to carry a weather warning as the dense fog leaks from Room 6 and blankets the next room. It’s a regular pea-souper in Room 7, which holds Monet’s celebrated pictures of the House of Commons and Big Ben. You can hardly see the nose in front of your face.

Monet, in his sixties, came to London for three consecutive winters saying he wished ‘to sum up…impressions and sensations of the past’ and there is a melancholy, retrospective quality to the pictures. Staying at The Savoy, one room for sleeping and one for painting, he would venture out into the gloom at about 4 o’clock to capture the sun going down. Surely, these must be some of the greatest pictures of London. Fog swathes Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster as the fading sun hits the Thames; they make London look as beautiful as Venice.

Here’s the question: when these pictures were complete and put on sale how many were sold in London? Not one, nada, zip. We don’t want that weird, modern, foreign rubbish round here thank you very much.

The ‘Impressionists in London’ exhibition is 60% dreadful, 20% mildly interesting and a further 20% utterly magnificent. It costs £19.70 to get in, you do the maths. For me the three Whistler paintings alone are worth the price of admission.

Open until 7th May 2018

On my way out I spotted a fantastic exhibition by Bernard Cohen, an artist new to me. It’s free and definitely worth a look. Here’s one now.

Secret London: Postman’s Park

Secret London: Postman’s Park

The City of London, financial capital of the world, home to The Gherkin, the Walkie Talkie, the Cheese Grater and other towering monuments to the power of capitalism. As is well known its streets are paved with bitcoin. All of which is rather in danger of overpowering a little splash of green located at its heart known as Postman’s Park.

To be honest at first glance it doesn’t look up too much. It’s just a tiny garden, a former graveyard, (honestly, I don’t spend all my downtime in cemeteries) that’s located close to where the General Post Office building once stood, hence the name.

It has the usual London Plane trees, some uninspiring Hosta shrubs and a few sad banana trees that cut a forlorn sight on a cold winter’s day.

The reason you go, is to look at Watt’s Memorial, a strange and melancholy  piece of Victoriana that commemorates deeds of heroic self-sacrifice, often by children. A rather rickety shelter is home to 62 plaques that document the death of an individual who died trying to save another.

  • ‘David Selves supported his drowning playfellow and sank with him clasped in his arms.’
  • ‘William Donald aged 19 drowned in the Lea trying to save a lad from a dangerous entanglement of weed.’
  • ‘Sarah Smith, a pantomime artist, who died of terrible injuries received when attempting in her inflammable dress to extinguish the flames which had enveloped her companion.’

All of them touching stories that George Frederick Watts made it his life’s work to commemorate. Watts, a minor Victorian painter, suggested the idea in a letter to The Times to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. He had been collecting newspaper cuttings of heroic self-sacrifice and from these the names were chosen.

The memorial opened in 1900, just four years before Watts died. In 2007 another name, Leigh Pitt, was added. He drowned saving a nine-year-old boy who had fallen into a canal. It has been decided that no further names will be added.

If you want to know more about the individual stories, then visit this website.

If you want to see for yourself, jump on a tube to St Paul’s and take a two-minute walk up St Martin’s Le Grand. Go on a summer’s day – you’ll be glad you did and thanks to the reader who suggested I check out their little bit of Secret London.

Random thought: A writer should base a short story on each plaque.

 

So long Ziggy

So long Ziggy

The grim reaper has just claimed our cat as his latest victim. Yes, I’m afraid Ziggy is no more.

Keen readers of this blog will have come across Ziggy before and will know he was not always an easy animal to love. When people or indeed pets die the convention is to heap praise upon them. Whatever their true nature, once dead they are miraculously transformed into the most loved, most kind, most cherished individual. I’m going to pay Ziggy a compliment and break with this tradition.

Ziggy chose us as his family while has was residing at Battersea Cats and Dogs. He was a kitten then, but right from the word go he had an independent not to say violent nature.

Prior to Ziggy’s arrival the odd mouse used to scuttle through our kitchen and despite getting the rat catcher in every autumn we couldn’t entirely get rid of the vermin. Ziggy was made of sterner stuff. One feline trip into our kitchen and the mice could be head packing up saying yeah, we’ve has it good, time to move on.

The problem was on plenty of occasions Ziggy treated us like vermin. You would pick Ziggy up at your peril and probably receive a juicy bite for your trouble. He was kind of sneaky too because as my wife pointed out with Ziggy is was often: lick, lick bite. Two licks to draw you in and then BAM, he’d sink his teeth into your fleshy parts.

For all that we were suckered in by his feisty nature; the fact that on one occasion he dragged a whole rump steak through the cat-flap still wrapped in plastic. He’d clearly nicked it from some neighbour’s kitchen table. He ate it pan-fried.

Then there was our neighbour who understandably got upset with Ziggy regularly arriving at her house at 3am and throwing a bit of a party with her cat. She was forced to install an electronic cat-flap to keep him out. Ziggy quickly learnt that if the owner’s cat went through the flap there was a three second delay allowing him to scuttle in behind.

I met this neighbour shortly after Ziggy’s demise thinking she might be glad to see the back of the cat demon, not a bit of it, she was in tears.

Ziggy died of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) a horrible cat disease for which there is no cure. We knew he was on the way out but still it was a shock when I discovered him, looking surprisingly peaceful, laid out on the bathroom floor.

We considered burying him in the garden, but decided it was best if his mortal remains were disposed of by the vet.

I took him on his final journey which was endearingly and somehow fittingly surreal. I put him in his old cat carrier, which he used to hate as he knew it meant a visit to the vet. It’s a short trip to the surgery, but it was raining so I jumped on a bus for two stops.

An old lady perhaps guessing I was going to the vet asked me if there was something wrong with the little fellow. I said no he’s fine, just dead. She jumped back horrified, it was almost as if she’d been bitten.

So long cat, we miss you.

Stockwell Continental

Stockwell Continental

A new Italian restaurant in Little Portugal

Anyone who has read this blog knows I don’t like to criticise – it’s not an attack blog. But sometimes gentle criticism is appropriate.

It’s probably unfair to review a restaurant that’s only been open for a few days, but really Stockwell Continental you had better up your game.

Friday night supper with friends and family is something of a tradition with us. So, it was with real enthusiasm that we descended on this newly opened pizzeria deep in the heart of Little Portugal on South Lambeth Road. It comes with an excellent pedigree and is owned by the group that runs the much-loved Canton Arms which is just over the road. We are knee deep in Portuguese restaurants, so were delighted to welcome an Italian outfit into our midst.

The restaurant is on the site of the old Rebato’s restaurant which was famous for about five minutes a few years ago when a tired and emotional MI6 agent went AWOL from his HQ up the road and left a laptop full of state secrets behind. The restaurant dined out on this until it closed with newspaper articles and cuttings festooning the walls.

Menu

Looking at the Stockwell Continental menu we discovered it sold mostly pizzas, and as one of our party remarked they had better be good as it’s not exactly difficult to get a pizza in this town.

Unfortunately, things did not get off to a good start; as we came through the door we were met with the smell of eau de drain, with high notes of muck. The restaurant is long and narrow with bare white walls and is over lit. It has the mood lighting of a Chinese takeaway.

The staff seemed distracted, not rude but just not very helpful. One of our party, a coeliac, has to maintain a gluten free diet. None of the pizzas are gluten free and so we asked whether the risotto was suitable. The waiter went away to find out but didn’t return with an answer.

Latterly, we discovered that none of the main courses were GF and when I pointed out this was something they really needed to fix I was told in a quite belligerent manner, by someone who may have been the manager, that some of the starters, mostly the salami, were GF. It seems that at Stockwell Continental the customer is not necessarily right. We were made to feel we were the problem. Clearly the restaurant was not part of the solution.

Antipasti

And to be fair some of the starters were passable particularly the Roast pumpkin, chestnut and ricotta. Starters cost between £4 and £7 with the most expensive pizza coming in at £10, so pretty reasonable prices

Struggling for authenticity the menu does not wear its Italian heritage lightly. I had a Nduja pizza which was new to me. It came with Fior de Latte (soft cream cheese), Nduja (spicy salami) and pickled red onion. It also came topped with some unidentified green kale like substance that neither looked nor tasted appetising. Once I had swept much of the topping to one side I discovered a passable pizza lurking underneath.

Although it has since closed I remember when Counter at Vauxhall Cross opened a pizza restaurant, they announced it was a soft opening, that pizzas were half price and comments and criticism were welcomed. It’s a shame that Stockwell Continental didn’t adopt this approach.

As we were leaving the general consensus among our party was that we would not return, when we could get much better at Pizza Express. However, I think everyone deserves a second chance and I will go back in a couple of weeks to see if things have improved. We would love an excellent Italian restaurant in the neighbourhood and we all really wanted Stockwell Continental to be good. Let’s see if they can up their game.