Sunday, 28 August 2016

Two Gigs - Pet Shop Boys and Proms 19 Bowie Night

In the last month or so I've been to two big gigs: Pet Shop Boys 'Inner Sanctum' show at the Royal Opera House to promote their new record, 'Super'; and the Proms tribute night to David Bowie with string arrangements of some of his classic songs at the Royal Albert Hall. Rather than gigs, these were really concerts given the venues and despite the pop/rock nature of them both. And there's nothing wrong with a concert.

As recent convert to all things Royal Opera House I was interested to see what the Pet Shop Boys would do with that venerable red and gold auditorium and how the place would cope with marauding Pet Shop Boys fans... well, not quite marauding because your average PSB fan is, shall we say, largely past the marauding age. The bar seemed to have discovered beer and the ushers even allowed you to take glasses into the auditorium (something unheard of!). Ten the lights went down, the grand curtains lifted and the thump-thump-thump of electronic beats started. It was time for the Pet Shop Boys!

The show opened with lasers flashing and two big domes slowly turning revealing the lads to the sound of 'Inner Sanctum' from the new album and then mayhem was released with the best laser show ever - the '80s were good for something after all! It really was astonishing sitting there with these incredible lights and lasers firing off everywhere and creating patterns and shapes of wonder with those loud beats (phat beats anyone?) pulsing around the auditorium. At one point I looked round wondering when one of the balconies might collapse due to the endless thumping.

Song after song kept the atmosphere electric with a very eclectic selection of hits and favourites as well as a liberal sprinkling of songs from the new record. 'West End Girls' was, surprisingly, the second song to be played, and I quite liked that - get the obvious hit out of the way to keep us guessing later on. I loved hearing 'Winner', their Olympic song from London 2012 and the best song that summer, 'The Sodom and Gomorrah Show', the bouncy 'Love, Etc', 'New York City Boy', 'The Pop Kids' from the new record, 'It's A Sin' and the great 'Go West'. The encore was 'Domino Dancing' and 'Always On My Mind' with an outdo version of 'The Pop Kids' for good measure. The 'fat-suit' dancers at the end were inspired, something totally alien to that stage which is used to the athletic, powerful bodies of ballet dancers.

The second concert was on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms summer series and was dedicated to the music of David Bowie. Back in January, Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff released an EP of six Bowie songs as a tribute to his passing. All were rearranged by Jherek for a string quartet and they made a suitably startling attempt at reinterpreting some of Mr Bowie's classics. That worked really well, but would it translate into a two-hour concert with various composers and arrangers re-arranging his music for the string orchestra that filled the stage?

It was a strange affair put together by Andre de Ridder and his chamber orchestra Stargaze. I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn't a long-rehearsed show of hits, but rather a set of re-arrangements for strings with guest vocalists but what worked for half an hour on Amanda's EP didn't really manage to sustain it over a full two-hours show. Possibly the problem was having too many different people doing the arrangements and too many different singers? If you're going to do something like this then you need big names and with the best will in the world you can't really consider someone like Neil Hannon 'big'.  The biggest pop name was Marc Almond and he wasn't really on form, only starting to come alive with a sing-along 'Starman'. The biggest 'cult' name was John Cale who actually brought most a band onstage for his three-song mini-set of 'Valentine's Day' 'Sorrow' and 'Space Oddity'. I liked his 'Sorrow' but 'Space Oddity' just went on and on and on ...

The women were far more powerful and imposing than the men. Anna Calvi did a haunting version of 'Lady Grinning Soul', Laura Mvula did a good job at trying to funk up a string version of 'Fame' and Amanda Palmer did a powerful 'Heroes'. Highlight of the evening was Amanda's and Anna's duet on 'Backstair' with Jherek prowling behind them with his guitar slashes.  That received a huge round of applause and, no doubt, lots of new fans for the two singers.

The concert ended with the usual 'get everyone back on stage for a sing-along' to the frankly weird choice of 'After All' from 'The Man Who Sold The World'. Why that song? Who chose it when there are so many great songs to send us out into the night on a high? Amanda, of course, brought her baby son on stage for that encore - what a collection of baby photos he's going to have when he grows up!

If a winner is needed then the gold medal easily goes to those Pet Shop Boys for a fabulous show - I want to live in that laser show! The Proms comes second for a worthy idea that, for me at least, didn't really work. But good on ye for trying.

All photos nicked from the internet, with thanks.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

'Jeff Koons: Now' at Newport Street Gallery

This morning I walked to the Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall to visit the Jeff Koons exhibition at Damian Hirst's gallery. It's just a bit further up from the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (that's seen much better days) in a rather nondescript small street so it's a lovely place to find. It's spacious, light and airy that was busy but not uncomfortable with crowds.

The gallery also has good manners and excellent staff from what I can see. It was really nice to be greeted at the door with a smile by an attendant explaining that there were no labels beside the exhibits and giving me a nice little fold-out leaflet with information about most of the exhibits. I, of course, didn't look at the leaflet until I was safely in the restaurant at the end - if there's one thing I took away from my recent history of art course it's not to look at the labels first, look at the art.

I immediately fell in love with the enormous 'Balloon Monkey (Blue)' which you can walk all the way round and see him shining and gleaming. He really does look like he's a huge blown up balloon (you can even see the tied up tail of the balloon on his head) but he's actually made out of stainless steel. He's an impressive sight. I refer to him as he since he's rather phallic, something that is plainly obvious when you look at him from the gallery above.

No matter where you are in that room you can see yourself reflected in the monkey somewhere, that's how mirror perfect the finish of his skin is. Several people were taking photos of themselves in his reflection while I was there and it is quite magical in that respect. All in all, it seems like it was quite a feat of engineering to fashion this huge piece out of stainless steel. That makes it all the more impressive.

Another piece that made me smile was 'Play-Doh' which is what it says on the tin, a huge mound of colourful play-doh all mashed up together. Which, of course, is exactly what it isn't, it's made of aluminium, but you'd never guess that from looking at it. You can see where the play-doh has cracked and is roughly put together and the only thing you can't see are any finger-prints in the doh. Again. you can walk all round it and the different pieces of doh are presented differently as you move round, as they would be if you made this piece yourself. I wanted to jump into it and clamber to the top. If I had done that then it would've hurt and probably been very slippy to climb to the top. Maybe another day ...

The next gallery included two of my favourites - the little 'Elephant' and a large painting that has no name since it's not mentioned in the leaflet so I'll call it 'Lego' since it feature a big piece of lego in the middle. It doesn't really show up in my photo but this painting is covered in different textures and clever shading - in places you can see the texture of the canvas underneath the paint. It's very big, maybe 10' tall?  It's a lovely blend of colour, shape and texture and just stands there with a painted yellow lego piece slightly below centre. If there'd been a seat in that gallery I'd quite happily have sat down and gazed it for a while trying to figure out what it's trying to say.

It's too big for my living room but the lovely 'Elephant' isn't - he'd fit in a corner of my living room quite easily and cheer me up no end! He's another 'inflatable' that's actually made of stainless steel. You can see me in his tummy taking this photo...

After my mammoth walk to the gallery and then wandering round the place I needed a sit down and a cup of tea so called into the Pharmacy restaurant for tea and a pudding (Earl Grey and summer pudding to be precise). It seems to be themed around a chemists shop with images of pills everywhere, the seats of stools looking like giant tablets and boxes of tablets decorating the back wall. Strange but great service.

It'll be interesting to see what the next exhibition is...

Friday, 19 August 2016

The Bolshoi Ballet at the Royal Opera House

The Bolshoi Ballet has enjoyed a summer season at the Royal Opera House while the Royal Ballet has been having a holiday. It's the 60th anniversary of the Bolshoi's first shows there and, since I've never seen them before, I had to get tickets to see these famous exponents of ballet.

I got tickets to see 'Don Quixote', 'Swan Lake', 'The Flames of Paris' and 'Le Corsaire' (hey, pirates, obv I got tickets!). The tickets were more expensive than normal but that's only to be expected for a special attraction and all shows sold out. The thing that I was quite surprised about when I attended 'Don Quixote' was that there was merch! I don't know why I was so surprised - if I was touring the Bolshoi I'd have merch (and a lot more than they had) but it did have surprise element to it. Tee shirts, tote bags, teddy bears in lunch baskets, and, of course, a special (and specially expensive) tour brochure. I bought the brochure but avoided the other stuff.

My first Bolshoi show was the quixotic 'Don Quixote', the tale of the good Don's misadventures along with his side-kick, Sancho Panza, but it's not really about them. They're a means for other things to happen in true picaresque style rather than them being the things happening. We have a short introductory scene that shows us the ancient knight deciding to head out into the world and then we're off. We did see windmills in one scene but no knightly charging and vanquishing.

On the other hand, the production was a riot of colour and movement and an incredibly full stage. One of the many things the Bolshoi does really well is crowd scenes, people everywhere but not impeding the principals as they show off. And that's what I learned from 'Don Quixote' was the main difference between Russian and British ballet - the Russians do endless showing off of their technical excellence, including bows mid-scene, whereas those reserved British types don't! And it was wonderful! To see the principals doing their thing and then the whole audience exploding into applause was wonderful. I'll never forget Maria Alexandrova starting at the back of the stage and going up on tippies and going round and round and round and round gradually moving in a straight line to the front of the stage. Wow! That deserved applause and she certainly got it!

The second performance was 'Swan Lake' which I had been looking forward to for a while. I've seen (and love) Sir Matthew Bourne's version of the classic tale but never seen the traditional 'Swan lake' so I was very keen to see it danced by the Bolshoi. And I wasn't disappointed, it was really good with much showing off from the Swan as well as from the prince.

The Swan was beautifully and elegantly danced by Olga Smirnova and the prince was danced by Vladislav Lantratov who also danced our hero, Basil, in 'Don Quixote'. Both of them - and the whole corps - deserved every bow they got, they were splendid! Olga's party piece is obviously dancing round and round and round on hippies but diagonally down the stage and Vladislav's in making impossible leaps across the stage. Such athleticism from them both, captured together and creating beauty. I loved it.

The third production was 'The Flames of Paris' about the French Revolution and this was the only ballet from the 20th Century and the least enjoyable. It seemed to not really know what it wanted to be or what it wanted to say (other than down with the aristocracy). The first act was full of exposition as to why the current regime needs to go and then virtually the whole of the second act is taken up with a court entertainment with no story telling at all until we hear the shouts of the crowd off-stage as the revolution begins. Having said that, I loved the court entertainment and all the fancy footwork and showing off it contained!

This again starred Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov as the main characters, along with Denis Savin, and, although they struck some really good revolutionary poses, it was more hit and miss than previous productions. Not through any fault of their or of the corps, but because it was an odd production that kept seeming to stall after running forward with the story. That made it quite confusing to watch - what are we looking at now? I'm pleased I saw it if only to show that the Bolshoi is subjected to the material it's given but what a joy their crowd scenes are, very spectacular!

The final production was 'Le Corsaire', a ballet I'd seen danced by the English National ballet last year and which I've wanted to see again. The Bolshoi gave me the perfect opportunity.  It has scenes of men in turbans and colourful robes, of pirates vigorously fighting and swashbuckling, and of beautiful courtesans winning custom by their exceptional dancing. It's an exotic tale of love and mutiny and the power of wealth and weapons - well, it's based on a poem by Byron. It was also, ultimately, rather disappointing in its delivery.

The principals of Anna Nikulina, Mikhail Lobukhin and Nina Kaptsova were excellent but the corps were less so. The dancing wasn't terribly synchronised and the lines weren't always straight - hardly a big thing but we expect perfection every time from the Bolshoi and that's not what we got except for the glorious floral dance scene which was a spectacle to behold. It didn't really help the plot move forward at all but it was gorgeous.

The Bolshoi Ballet was excellent and I'm so pleased that I've seen them so early in my 'ballet appreciation career'. I have seen some tremendous dancing and technical achievements, spectacular  sets and costumes and great music (the ballet brings it's own orchestra with it, of course). I did find stopping the ballet for the principals to take a bow after every grand piece rather frustrating - at the same time as wanting to clapclapclap - since it interrupted the narrative but it's nice for them to get their own applause. Ultimately it was technical brilliance over story-telling and romance and that's what I'm used to from the Royal Ballet. I love a bit of showing off but I also want to fall into a story and be swept along by it.

The next time the Bolshoi comes back to the Royal Opera House I'll be there in the audience ready to be amazed but I'll have a better idea of what to expect - and I'll bring my special pair of clapping hands! Thank you Bolshoi!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Bhupen Khakhar at Tate Modern

There's a small exhibition of paintings by Bhupen Khakhar at Tate Modern at the moment called 'You Can't Please All'. I'd not heard of Mr Khakhar before and didn't know what to expect and I'm still not really sure what I've seen at this exhibition.

It's the first international retrospective of his work since he died from cancer in 2003 (and his paintings trying to depict his experiences during cancer are painful to see). I've been to this exhibition twice because I couldn't decide whether I liked the paintings - or whether they were good - on the first visit. And I still can't.

They're narrative paintings and tell a story, whether a re-telling of an old Indian yarn, tales of village life or being gay in India today. There are also hints at public and private life such as in the painting above of the man on the balcony - to the world on the other side of the balcony he's bare-chested and probably wearing a dhoti but we can see that he's actually naked. Just why he's naked I have no idea.

There are quite a few naked men in his paintings, often aroused and inter-generational like in this painting. The large couple are clearly the most important in this painting, but are we seeing the result of the story? do all the smaller images lead up to this larger image? Or are they all disconnected and random? Are they lovers or is this a business transaction with the younger man being a masseur? Who knows.

Most of the paintings use very vivid colours (that don't really come across in the images for this blog) and the figures are quite stylised and often quite awkwardly posed. I can't quite work out why this should be other than the artist was trying to create a style or an image for his work. I'm not sure it works.

A painting I did like was one he did based on a short stay in Britain in the late 70s, called, I think, 'Man in a Pub'. There is the man sitting in his coat, drink in hand, with other images of random men to his left. And sitting right between his legs is his hand holding his limp driving gloves, an image of impotence compared to the other phalluses in some of his other paintings if ever there was.  Maybe there's a not so subtle message here for the former rulers of empire?

As I said, I can't decide if I like these works - go along to Tate Modern and decide for yourself.

Monday, 15 August 2016

'Into The Woods' at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Last week we went to see the new production of 'Into The Woods' at the Choccy Factory, possibly my most favouritist Sondheim show. I saw it at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre in the woods (an ideal location) a few years ago with Jenna Russell and Michael Xavier so any production has a lot to live up to. This version is imported from America with the Fiasco Theater's production and it is well worth seeing.

'Into The Woods' is the story of all those old tales bunched together so we have Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and more all wrapped up together and interacting. Prince Charming marries Cinderella and his brother marries Rapunzel. And, of course, there's a witch, because there's always a witch and she lives next door. The first half of the play tells us the stories we all know (well, mainly, although there are some twists) and the second half tells of the potential consequences. Is Cinderella happy after marrying her Prince Charming? What happens to Red Riding Hood after her ordeal in the forest? And how does Jack turn out in the end? Do they all live happily ever after? You'll have to get a ticket to find out for yourself.

I liked the staging, with its backdrop of ropes strung floor to ceiling to give an impression of being in a wood and there's wood everywhere (and a smell of wood in the air). The piano is the main prop on the stage, wheeled around while being played and various chairs and tables brought on every now and then, including a set of step ladders to be Rapunzel's tower. It all worked very well. I liked the stripped back keyboards hung around the stage to decorate it and the small chandeliers hanging on stage and out into the audience.

The cast is a mix of Americans from the Fiasco Theater and British home grown actors and they gel really well together giving us a very organic production, growing and weaving stories together. I particularly liked Harry Hepple as the Baker (and who I've seen in a few things over the last few years, including 'Pippin' at the Choccy Factory), Laura Tebbutt as the Baker's Wife who has a lovely voice as does Claire Karpen as Cinderella (who turns out to be a hero, obvs) and Emily Young as Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. Most of the actors played a couple of parts. I also liked Vanessa Reseland who brought a curious intensity to the role of the Witch who is so central to much of the action and leaves so heroically through the audience.

I enjoyed this production very much and so will you as soon as you buy tickets. And don't forget your magic beans.

'Sunken Cities' at the British Museum

The latest big exhibition at the British Museum is all about two cities that sunk into the Mediterranean and vanished until they were re-discovered by accident in the last century, the cities of Thanis-Heracleion and Canopus. The underwater excavations began in 1996 and they've found some fascinating stuff so far.

A lot of the exhibits aren't necessarily Egyptian but are Greco-Egyptian from the period of the Ptolemies, the dynasty appointed by Alexander to rule that part of his empire.The Ptolemies adopted many Egyptian customs to bolster their right to rule - using the title pharaoh rather than anything else, marrying within the family, becoming objects of godhood, building temples to Egyptian gods and associating themselves with the local deities - but their Greek heritage also came with them.

One of the more obvious examples of this mixing of the cultures is this lovely life-sized statue of Queen Arsinoe II with its typical Egyptian striding forward movement of royal statuary but the delicacy of the drapery around her is typically Greek, making the cloth almost invisible. You can walk round this statue and it's just as good from behind with the delicacy and movement of the buttocks and thighs.

A big 'wow' moment was the first glimpse of a giant bull, Apis in all his glory. So solid, so there and the detail of his face is wonderful. He is a startling and imposing sight and gathered many visitors to examine him in detail, just like I had to. He wears a solar disc crown (which you can't really see in this photo) to signal his divinity. Bulls were worshipped in many parts of Mediterranean cultures over the eons and it's easy to see why in this marvellous sculpture.

Some of the exhibits have video screens beside them so you can see clips of the archeologists in their diving suits finding the exhibit and excavating it. That's quite a novel approach and works really well when you can see the artefact all cleaned up and there in front of you. Some of the colossal statues were in several pieces when they lay in the sea but have been put back together again such as this statue. It's all terribly impressive.

There was a pair of matching statues of Isis and Osiris at the start of the part of the exhibition that focused on the Osiris mysteries and ceremonies. They are gorgeous and in seemingly perfect condition. Those ancient Egyptian sculptors knew how to work their stones to perfection and there are some tremendous examples of the wonderfully smooth textures in the lovely museum at Luxor which I visited years ago. This pair of statues are really marvellous in their detail and craftsmanship, stylised of course, but that's part of their joy. I went back several times to take another look.

I think this is the British Museum's best exhibition for a while and well worth visiting. There's so much more to the exhibition than I mention and some wonderful - and very informative - artefacts. I loved the statue of Horus protecting Nectanebo II, the last truly Egyptian pharaoh, and the statue of Taweret near the exit - now she's a goddess worth worshipping! My advice? Go and see this exhibition if you can, it's definitely worth a wander round and something to marvel at. Well done British Museum!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

'Dutch Flowers' at the National Gallery

There's a lovely little exhibition of floral paintings on at the National Gallery at the moment called, simply, 'Dutch Flowers'. It's in Room 1 beside the front entrance to the Gallery and is made up of a couple of dozen paintings of flowers by Dutch artists over the 1600s - 1700s at the peak of the Dutch fascination with flowers.

As well as the riot of colour in the paintings, it's worth looking at the fine detail, the insects seeking nectar, the fruit tucked in beside the flowers and, occasionally, the dead fowl. I wasn't keen on those. Given the incredible detail it's quite surprising how small these paintings are, none more that about 2'6" high so how these artists managed to fit so much detail in is quite astonishing.

As the signs for the paintings made clear, none of them are particularly 'real' portrayals of flower arrangements since they include flowers that aren't in season with one another. I get that, but it sort of makes them even more impressive that they were painted over at least a year as different flowers came into bloom, and keeping the composition a unified whole. That might help explain the inclusion of so much fruit and some fowl to keep the paintings 'alive' while waiting for the next flower to bloom.

They are quite astonishingly detailed paintings and you do need to look at them carefully. I've been to the exhibition three times now and appreciate it more with each visit. It's open for another few weeks so take a look if you can - it's quite small and in one room so it won't take a lot of time but it's nice to have the paintings grouped together as they are.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

#1MillionSteps for Diabetes UK

I haven't done much blogging over the past month or so and that is, in part, due to committing to take the 1 Million Steps Challenge to raise money for Diabetes UK. That means walking at least 10,000 steps every day between 1 July and 30 September. I haven't managed that every day but on other days I've massively exceeded it and got some spare steps in my steps bank. I'm a diabeatnik myself and have Type 2 diabetes so I have a vested interest in raising money for research and support for diabeatniks and also into the end result of being more active, that is, a healthier me! In the last week I've exceeded 500,000 steps so I'm on track to complete the 1 million a week or two early.

It would be quite difficult to achieve 10K steps by pottering about at home (well, unless you live in a mansion, I suppose) so that in itself has encouraged me to get out and about more and to walk more. So, instead of getting the bus to the tube or railway station, I now walk. The walk to the station takes me past streets I've never walked down and parts of Tooting Common I've never explored, so I take diversions and see what's at the other end of the street. That increases my steps and it helps me better understand my area of London and what great stuff I live beside.

Instead of getting the tube to the nearest station to wherever I'm going, I get off at the station before that and walk. That helps me see things I wouldn't normally see. I was recently on a one week course at the National Gallery so I got off at Embankment rather than Charing Cross - not a huge difference really, but it gave me another 1000 steps each morning when I arrived and each afternoon going home.

Being at the National Gallery gave me Trafalgar Square to step round at lunchtime and the Gallery itself to explore, as well as Covent Garden down the road and a host of other things. I'd never had lunch in Trafalgar Square before so I made a point of getting some sandwiches and water one day and sitting int he Square to watch the tourists and other lunchers. That's a very small thing but, if I wasn't counting my steps, I would probably have just gone to the Gallery cafe for lunch rather than going outside or parading up and down the galleries exploring the art. It's often the little things like that that add the extra steps I need for the bank.

The challenge has also encouraged me to walk to events rather than get the bus - it means leaving earlier than I normally would but that's no great hardship. I set an early personal achievement of 28K steps in one day by walking to the Lambeth Country Show in Brockwell Park, wander the show for a couple of hours and then walk home a few weeks ago. I last went to the show 20-odd years ago but it was great fun and I loved the beer glasses (so nice I had to have two pints to get two glasses).  That's helped me to re-discover Brockwell Park, it's pond and lovely walled garden, rolling grasslands and picnic areas as well as all the fun of the show itself. The summer sunshine helps, of course.

I've also discovered things a lot closer to home on the two commons I live between - Tooting Common and Streatham Common. Tooting Common is a huge area of parkland bordering Tooting, Balham and Streatham. As well as its famous open-air swimming pool at the Lido it includes acres of grassland, some areas mown short for sports and some left to grow wild, areas of woodland, some recreational facilities for children and tennis courts and, of course, the lake. I wasn't sure if it was a big pond or a small lake but, after many visits, I've decided it's a lake since it's big enough and has a large island in the middle. It's great for wildlife and I like to see the swans, the occasional heron, geese and the shy turtles that appear on a sunken log at one side of the lake. It's very popular with mums and kids who feed the birds despite the signs asking them not to.

The secret joy of Streatham Common is the Rookery, the old gardens of a mansion house that used to stand at the top of the Common but was pulled down a century ago and the gardens were bought by public subscription to remain open to the public. I've known about the Rookery for years but never actually been, so the steps challenge gave me the incentive to visit and I'm jolly pleased I did (and I go back regularly to see them change as plants bloom and wither and others take their place). It really is an astonishing garden up there on the hill and, if you walk further along to Norwood Grove house you get great views across south west London and out over Surrey. You'd hardly believe you were in London sometimes.

Visiting Commons and gardens means I've seen more flowers this summer than in many a year. London is such a green city but it's sometimes difficult to believe that from what we see on the television news and films. Streets and bricks, traffic and concrete, but my London is full of green and growing things, lots of trees and flowers, blackberry bushes and nettles. As well as Tooting Common and Streatham Common, I've visited Brockwell Park, Figge's Marsh (there's no marsh there, sadly), St Jame's Park, Embankment Gardens, walked past so many gardens both big and small and seen so many flowers. Endless flowers and bumble bees having their lunch of nectar. I keep my eyes on the olive tree in the Rookery in case it starts producing olives. Now that we're into August the blackberries are starting to appear and so are all the hips and hawes on the bushes - it's going to be a very fruitful autumn following all the sunshine and rain we've had.

The steps challenge has also made me take advantage of my surroundings and see things that I've known about but never actually bothered to see. Visiting the Rookery was a joy and, now that I've discovered it, it's somewhere I will keep returning to regularly as the seasons change, but today I visited Brixton Windmill for the first time. I've known about it for decades but never quite managed to get there. It's one of the last few windmills in London but it's definitely worth a visit - it's occasionally open and you can go inside. I was just pleased to see its dramatic exterior with it's white sails and black building. It's about half-way up Brixton Hill (or down, depending on your direction) and is definitely worth a visit.

I also visited the Black Cultural Archive while my steps took me to Brixton and the small but very informative exhibition about the history of Rastafarianism. The Archive only opened a couple of years ago on Windrush Square and I'd never been before so this was a perfect opportunity. I also took the opportunity to explore Brixton markets (I remember my first visit 30 years ago and buying a sweet potato, something I'd never tasted before) and visited the David Bowie mural opposite Brixton tube station to see that some new floral tributes had been left for the Starman. There was a huge mound of flowers back in January and every now and then since - they keep getting cleared away after a respectful time but they keep reappearing.

So, the 1 Million Steps Challenge is raising money for Diabetes UK which is a good thing in itself. But it's also good for me. I'm losing weight and becoming fitter, I'm discovering the joys of the area of London I've lived in for years but never had the time or the motivation to explore more fully, and I'm becoming more observant to compete in the Diabetes UK weekly Twitter challenges (I've won twice so far as well - firstly about wildlife I've come across and the second about actual steps). Little things count and can be important as can all the little decisions to walk rather than get the bus or a train to get in a few extra steps or to see a street I've never walked down. I hope I continue after the challenge!