London Surprises

A couple of months ago I was contacted by my brother’s partner Ger, asking if Clare and myself could help with a birthday surprise for my brother Peter.

Unbeknown to Peter, Ger had booked a surprise weekend in London for his birthday (it’s worth mentioning here that Peter and Ger live in Dublin). The plan was that we’d ‘appear‘ unexpectedly as part of the trip and spend the day together.

And so it was that Clare and myself travelled down to London on Saturday in time to make our appearance at the Nag’s Head pub in Covent Garden.

I was a little nervous as we got closer to the pub, as the street’s were busy and I didn’t want Peter to spot me before we got there and ruin the surprise. I was also conscious that being six foot three, I hardly blend into the crowd that well – I don’t think I would make a good spy!

Not far from the pub, I glanced down a side-street and to my horror looked straight at Peter. I quickly ducked down, grabbed Clare and dragged her round the corner, “he’s there, Peter’s there, I just looked straight at him but I don’t think he noticed me.”

We rushed down the street knowing that Peter and Ger would turn round after us any minute. Clare shouted to go into a shop but the doorway next to me was a Paul Smith shop, “I can’t afford anything in there!“. Clare pushed me in.

After a short period pretending to be interested in a very expensive shoe, we ventured carefully outside and crept into the pub. The pub was packed but there he was on the other side of the bar. I crouched down and squeezed forward through the assorted drinkers like a lion stalking its prey – or possibly a man with a serious back problem trying to get to the loos.

What I couldn’t see though in my hunched-down position, was that Peter had his drink, and was now walking straight towards me. The crowd parted and Peter was confronted by this strange man squatting and creeping towards him. I looked up from his feet and said the first thing that came to me, “oh, hello. D’you come here too?“.

Mission accomplished!

We had a great time in London with Peter, Ger and Ger’s brother Derek (Derek lives in London, he joined us later). We had a few drink’s in the Nag’s Head and then met up that evening before travelling to Soho for more drinks, a beautiful meal in a local Tai restaurant and then on to the Hippodrome Casino.

Now I’ve been to casinos before and to be honest I’m not really a gambler. When I’ve gambled in the past I’ve proved to be fairly incompetent and extremely unlucky, so I’ve learnt to simply keep the money in my pocket and not bother. So the lure of the casino didn’t really work for me, but I happily watched as Peter gave Ger encouragement and she went onto more than double her money, I think Derek did even better, so a good night had by all – it seems gambling does pay. Just not for me.

Good company, good food and a great location. In fact we had such a good time, I forgot to take any pictures.

The next day we met up for a debrief on the previous night before Peter and Ger had to catch their flight home. Always a pleasure to see them, we bid them farewell and wondered what to do next?

As we were south of the river we walked to the Globe Theatre, which I’d always wanted to see, and did the tour. The Globe is a recreation of the theatre that Shakespeare’s plays were first shown in, and is a very active venue with live shows throughout the summer. The Globe is open air so they only use it during the warmer months and then they use the new, candle-lit, Sam Wanamaker theatre next door, which is undercover (apologies for the photos, they’re all taken on my phone).

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The tour was interesting and we got to explore a little bit, though I was a bit disappointed that we couldn’t actually go onto the stage. It did, however, make me really want to see an actual show there. We didn’t have time this trip, but we both promised ourselves that we’d book something in the new year and make a special effort.

As we finished the tour, we discovered that a surprise, free, event was arriving. A procession of performers in a variety of costumes came into the theatre and we were encouraged to follow them. It’s hard to describe what was going on but it was a kind of theatrical, Elizabethan harvest festival with singers, actors and morris dancers.

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We watched it for a while and then the procession left and made it’s way onto Borough Market. We decided to get a bite to eat and then make our own way to the market, as it had been recommended to us.

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After the market, we headed home.

Travelling by tube we arrived at Euston only for Clare to hear an announcement that she recognised as a coded alarm. This was shortly followed by an instruction to evacuate the underground station. Luckily we were where we need to be so we quickly climbed the escalators out into Euston station, only to discover that the trains were disrupted as some idiot had thrown something off a bridge and it had hit a moving truing damaging the train and the tracks.

Again, we were lucky. We managed to find a train home and get seats – all part of the adventure, eh.


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I’ve never been to Berlin before, in fact I’ve never actually been to Germany before, so this was going to be an adventure, and I do love a good adventure.

I was in Berlin to attend the Zebra Poetry Film Festival where my film, ‘Not Talking’ was being shown, but as much as I enjoy films and the company of filmmakers I didn’t want to spend the whole time sat in a darkened cinema. I wanted to see Berlin. Well, as much as I could pack into five days anyway.



The current Lady Hughes couldn’t make it unfortunately, but Adele Myers (Bokeh Yeah!) and Julie Spellman, both friends from Manchester, were also going to be there, so I wouldn’t be completely alone. Not that I needed to worry as I quickly made friends at the festival and Adele and Julie seemed to know everyone so that made life a lot easier and much more fun.

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Before I went I’d heard that Berlin was the coolest city in Europe so no worries there. No-one fits into a trendy, happening environment better than a middle-aged, father of two, from Manchester –  at least that’s what I kept telling myself.

First impressions of Berlin, through the windows of the bus taking me from Tegel airport to Alexanderplatz station, was that it was grey, damp and vaguely industrial – a bit like Manchester actually, but a lot bigger.

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Alexanderplatz is a large square, built by the communists and you can still see the austere style though these days it’s surrounded by shops and fast-food outlets. One of the most prominent shop fronts was Primark, not sure what this says about progress or capitalism but hey-ho everyone likes a bargain I suppose.

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I’d thought ahead and bought a five-day pass for Berlin’s public transport system, which meant I could jump on any of the trains, trams and buses and head off (usually in the wrong direction) without the hassle of buying a ticket.

My hotel was in the Prenzlauer Berg District, which used to be on the East German side, and still retains the tenement look though the  area has gone through the ‘gentrification’ process over recent years and it was really nice. The buildings were painted different colours, there were various shops and boutiques and lots of cafes with tables out on the street. Also it’s worth mentioning that Berlin is the greenest city in Europe (apparently) so the streets are tree-lined and often very beautiful – at least the bits I saw anyway.

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I quickly developed a routine which involved getting out on my own with my camera during the day, then back to the hotel for a quick sleep and shower before heading to the festival and the bars afterwards. It worked for me.

I liked the freedom of exploring, seeing the sights, soaking up the environment and looking for interesting shots. You can’t do everything in just five days so I prioritised the bits I wanted to see and a few touristy things you have to see, just so I can annoy people when they come up on the television by saying, “I’ve been there“.

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My system worked reasonably well and I managed to pack quite a bit in including the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie, the Pergamonmuseum, the Holocaust Memorial, the East Side Gallery , Topographie des Terrors, the Humboldt Box and the Mauerpark.

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Highlights of the trip included the festival obviously, and then experiences like walking alone through the Holocaust Memorial, which is a maze of concrete plinths over an area the size of a football field. It was very eery, as you can see the whole site from the edge but as you walk in it gets deeper and you are quickly dwarfed by the height of the plinths, just catching glimpses of people as they wander across the the path you’re following.

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Checkpoint Charlie was interesting but very commercialised with a huge McDonalds right next to it. The East Side Gallery is where a section of the old Berlin Wall has been retained for artists to decorate with huge murals. There were some striking images, only ruined by slightly less talented graffiti artists adding their own contributions on top.

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The Topographie des Terrors is an exhibition on the site of the old SS headquarters and it documents in exhausting detail, the rise of the nazis and the atrocities that followed. Enjoyed is not the right word, but I did find this fascinating and very sobering – probably not a great venue for a first date though.

I overheard an american lady outside exclaim that she couldn’t take anymore and now needed some rainbows and unicorns to get her mojo back.

Just walking round Berlin is an interesting experience as you can find traces of history that remind you how pivotal this city has been to 20th Century history. Whether it is a statue of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels in a park or bullet holes in the walls of a building, you’re rarely very far away from something.

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Overall, I had a great time in Berlin, the people were friendly, the festival was wonderful and I would love to return and see more of what the city has to offer – I know there’s a lot.

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TEDx Salford

TED is a global set of conferences where a variety of speakers talk about a variety of subjects – usually for fifteen to twenty minutes each.

I’d come across these by accident a few years ago, as many of the presentations are on YouTube, which is nice as a ticket to a ‘proper’ TED conference is hundreds of pounds. From what I can tell, TEDx is a franchised version where organisations like Salford University can run their own conference under the TED banner.

I recommend catching some of the videos on YouTube as they are fascinating and often very inspiring. I’ve seen experts talk about wooden skyscrapers, paper towels, how the brain works, drones and much, much more. Probably my favourite speaker though, is Sir Ken Robinson, who is apparently the most viewed TED talk on the web, here’s the video in case you’ve missed it:

Interesting eh?

Now imagine my excitement when a few weeks ago, Lady Hughes called me up to say there was going to be TEDx Conference in Salford, at the Lowry Theatre, and I could get a ticket for the whole day for £30!

Ticket booked and paid for, I turned up on Sunday hoping the Salford version would match what I’d seen on the web.

My worry was that instead of internationally renown speakers and globally respected experts in their field, we would have a collection of local activists and council departmental heads outlining new initiatives to address anti-social behaviour in Broughton. You see, I hadn’t been able to find out who the speakers were, except for one who was talking about ‘Cliteracy’ whatever that was? The positive thing is that they only talk for a relatively short amount of time, which meant that even if you don’t like one, you know another will be round in a couple of minutes – like waiting for a bus.

I needn’t have worried, the parade of speakers was varied, international and inspiring – too many to list here so here’s the link to their site:

My personal favourites were Massimo Marchiori, Tawakkol Karman (Nobel Peace Prize Winner), Jack Sim (Mr Toilet) and Jack Andraka (teenage cancer scientist).

The only down-side to the event was that I entered with a sniffle which developed into a full-force man-flu through the course of the event. So bad in fact that I had to leave before the end and missed out on the last few speakers – but that’s hardly their fault I suppose.

Great event and I can’t wait for next year’s so I can stock up on vitamin C and see the whole thing.