SO Travel flashback London's Abuzz for 2012

SO Travel flashback London's Abuzz for 2012

Sunday, January 26, 2020

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Published: February 5, 2012


London is this year's vortex for high- wattage global events, making it the premier destination for 2012.

Firstly, it's Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee. Hol' yu hat; Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne for 60 years. The first weekend in June will be chock-full of parades, concerts and parties in her honour, including The Diamond Jubilee River Pageant with 1,000 boats sailing down the Thames accompanying the Family on the Royal Barge. This will be one of the 2012 must-see spectacles. On this far-flung side of the pond, there is political talk (again?) of republicanism, so it may be the last Jubilee we can celebrate with Her Majesty, as her subjects. Jamaicans angling for knighthood also have to act quickly to dust down and beef up the résumés as time is fast fading. Sir Pondi Road. Hmm, yes, there is a nice ring to it.

In recent years, the Royal Family has opened Buckingham Palace to the public. Inspired by White House tours in America, a desire to be more people-friendly (dat blasted Diana!) and a need to supplement the Royal income, thousands of royal watchers have been allowed to amble through the majestic halls. In addition, Kate Middleton's wedding dress is part of the Palace display supplemented by a video showing the intricacies involved in making it. Unlike Versailles in France which, while far grander, is merely a museum, Buckingham Palace is still a worked-in, lived-in home, with certain special charms that need to be seen to be believed.

Leonardo da Vinci is in town for a blockbuster show at the National Gallery. In the history of painting, never before have nearly all of the da Vincis ever been housed in a single exhibition. Sadly, the Mona Lisa is not part of the line-up, but having been stolen once, one can understand the reluctance of the French to release the painting from Paris. But all the other da Vincis which could travel are now in London.

Once this exhibition is over, the only way to see all these paintings currently on display would require trips to London, Washington, Paris, Rome, Florence, Saint Petersburg, Munich, Parma and Milan. Given that da Vinci is probably the most famous painter in the world and his works are so spread out around the globe, the exhibition at the National Gallery represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to commune with the master.

Royal Ascot in mid-June is the centrepiece of the British social calendar. The pageantry, fashion and style of fancy hats and morning suits overshadow the high-quality horse races. I nearly had a conniption when an old family friend invited my youngest sister and I to the Royal Enclosure (Box) for this year. Having never been to an event with this much social regulation, I have been carefully and obsessively studying the protocols of dress and behaviour. Cu pon mi! Finally, I have a reason to add a top hat to my accessories.

The high-flyer benefit of the year will be Arpad Busson's Ark dinner for disadvantaged children around the world. The whopping £10,000-a-head price tag to attend is just the beginning. The auction is where the real money gets spent. On hard times and looking for a husband or cougar? Maîtres d, valets, coat checkers and sundry service professionals will be the only way mere mortals get to mingle with this crowd.

The British Museum is having a special exhibition on the “Haj Journey to the Heart of Islam.” Since Sept 11, 2001, the narrative of Muslims has been victim to many myths and twists. Enough with the bias and propaganda on both sides. It's high time to try and understand the world's fastest-growing religion. The British Museum is second to none at elucidating a culture. This exhibit is a good place to begin unravelling the mysteries of that Other religion.

There is the Chelsea Flower Show in May with 11 acres of over-the-top floral creations. The most famous floral event in the world is indispensable to understanding global gardening trends.

Wimbledon 2012 will be full of all kinds of surprises, as none of the usual suspects seem secure and all top positions are up for grabs. Tension will be high on centre court come July.

The hot theatre tickets this year include the World War I thriller War Horse in the West End, blending live actors with puppeteers for a riveting evening. In April, Cate Blanchett lights up the Barbican stage in the surreal drama Lotte, a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown after her husband leaves her while on holiday in Morocco.

Très cool and kitsch is crossing Abbey Road in formation to re-enact the famous Beatles album cover. The day I went, there were several groups waiting their turn to cross the Road. It's hilarious to see the kinds of outlandish outfits and the lengths people go to recreate the iconic image. I went as the photographer for a group of girlfriends who had donned their old wedding dresses to re-enact the scene. Most of the motorists are in on the joke, but occasionally you do get an irate driver who wants you to move along more quickly out of the road, so be prepared for a little berating: “Damn tourists!”

Serious mixologists, like me, are lounging at Zetter Townhouse. Plop yourself down in an oversized couch, take in the quirky décor and order the Twinkle made with Vodka, Perrier Jouet Champagne and some special cordials.

Traditionalists head to the newly renovated American Bar at the Savoy and nurse away tough days in martinis, or to Dukes Bar where, if you can get Alessandro to make your drinks, you are in for a special treat. Alessandro Palazzi is to London what Colin Field at the Hemingway Bar is to Paris — these men are the bar dons who elevate cocktail blending to high art.

Sketches Bar and Restaurant may be old news but is still one of the most interesting décors in London. I always take newbies for the wow factor in the décor. Everyone is especially blown away by the ultra-white space pod toilet cubicles. Besides, the drinks aren't half bad.

Hardcore foodies would be hard-pressed to find anywhere better than 21st century London. The Ivy still packs a punch for pre-or post-theatre dinner. Last year I went with some American and UK friends to see the beautiful Thandie Newton in Death and the Maiden. After the play, we sauntered over to the Ivy and held court at a centre table until closing time. We got royally smashed and grabbed copiously from each other's plates. It's also still a great venue for discreet celebrity watching.

St John is excellent for reinvented British Classics. High teas at the Wolseley or the Athenaeum are my preferred locations for that ever-so-delightful UK tradition. For the best steak and hamburgers in London, look no further than The Mandarin Oriental restaurant Boulud. Months after I had their succulent meats, I was still dreaming about my time amongst the carnivores.

But the culinary topper is the tasting menu at the Hibiscus restaurant in Mayfair. My closest friend had flown in from Melbourne to take me to dinner for my birthday. For five leisurely hours I was in foodie heaven. Devonshire crab, ravioli of smoked chicken with cardamom, roasted partridge — my mouth still waters.

The internationally fashionable tend to stay at either of Kit Kemp's twin sister hotels, Soho Hotel or the Haymarket. Here one rubs shoulders with film stars, models and other demigods who grace the covers of Vanity Fair; the real Vanity Fair, not that stodgy Thackeray book read by A-Level students and newspaper editors. Last fall at a very late breakfast at the Soho Hotel, the maitre d' sat me next to a very exhausted Javier Bardim. When I asked him what gives, he said he was still suffering from the ongoing effects of a newborn in the house.

For those wishing to stay in Central London but with suburban London pocketbooks, Dean Street Townhouse has a set of tiny rooms (read: 15 square metres) that can usually be had for under £200 smack in the middle of Soho. But honestly, who cares how small the room is? You are in London to be out and about, and should be returning to your room only when you are dog-tired.

British TV is also going through some kind of renaissance. Everyone who grew up on Upstairs Downstairs is now addicted to Downton Abbey, the new British soap about class shenanigans in a grand household. Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess steals the show. The new Doctor Who, Matt Smith, has amiably filled out the role. iPad watching of the time-travelling Doctor's adventure with my niece and nephew has become a new bonding ritual in my house. The new sexually ambiguous Sherlock Holmes and Watson (are they or aren't they?) solving crime in modern-day London has also taken audiences by storm on both sides of the Atlantic.

Absolutely Fabulous (AbFab, to fans!) has had a reunion, and not a moment too soon. Celebrity culture is in desperate need of comedic skewering. Thank media gods for Ricky Gervais! The AbFab reunion episode begins with Saffy being released from jail, and then we are treated to a hilarious mocking of all the new reality celebrities who do nothing, say nothing and, sacre bleu!, lack any kind of style except vulgar. “The Kardashians are a new disease that spread like herpes,” declares Eddie. “And multiply like head lice,” adds Patsy. I was on the floor clutching my stomach in agreement.

Obviously, the televised event of the year will be the Olympic Games and Jamaicans are already presumed to be the megastars. The Brits will have a hard time matching that over-the-top presentation by the Chinese in 2008, but they will undoubtedly find their own memorably cheeky production. Tickets are already largely sold out, so any attempt to attend the major events at this stage will involve dealing with international scalpers and raiding the bank.

On our end, with the change in the administration, old plans are being dismantled and new, hopefully better, plans are afoot. Those who had been sucking up to Babsy had better start sucking up to Lisa. However these things get decided, though, let's all hope that we do not waste the chance to showcase Jamaica appropriately on the world stage.

With 2012 being our 50th year of Independence and our other athletes expected to shine in the Olympics taking place in a city with a large diaspora population, all eyes will be on Jamaica.

It is the right time to ask: What has become of the nation that gave the world Bob Marley and reggae, Marcus Garvey and Michael Manley, Don Quarrie and Usain Bolt, Barrington Watson and Carl Abrahams, Rex Nettleford and The Harder They Come, jerk chicken and curry goat? Have we continued to build on this momentous foundation or are we like the horse which was fast out the gate and then petered out along the course?

Beyond the Games, we should be hosting a wide variety of other events. All would be well attended as there will be massive interest and curiosity in all things Jamaican. Beyond our dancehall, we should also be having events which feature Jamaicans in classical music. We should have panels which promote the diaspora discourse: imagine getting our leading intelligentsia together to discuss “Since Independence what has gone right, what has gone wrong and why.” This would be a sold-out event in London.

Tour-packaging companies should stand at the ready to sell “Athletic Vacations in Jamaica: Eat, sleep and train like a Jamaican athlete for a week.”

The banks and investment houses should have programmes to explain why investing in Jamaica now is opportune.

We should have an art gallery featuring the masters and introducing our up-and-comers. A Jamaican art show would garner incredible interest in London in August, especially if many of the works deal with issues of Independence and/or athletics.

We should have a luncheon and food booths which showcase our emerging cuisine. Think Observer Food Awards winners and the best of Jamaican culinary artists presenting their wares. Everyone knows jerk chicken but who knows about Jackie Tyson's mango glaze pigstail? Wake up, people, we can charge big money eena August and mek dem taste our new tings!

Our best-run charities for children should have reps in town to demonstrate how they have done.

We should have a small theatre showcasing some of our forgotten and new playwrights.

Readings from some of our best books should be taking place in the major bookstores around London. Has anybody called Waterstones and informed them that during Olympic season we are bringing three or four of our major authors to read in their retail outlets? Do you honestly think Waterstones would not jump at the chance to leverage the high visibility of the Jamaican brand in the summer? It would bring tears to my eyes to walk past the Waterstones bookstore on Piccadilly and see Jamaican books in the window.

And we should have a Jamaican programming booklet that outlines where and when all things Jamaican will be happening in August.

Let us take the opportunity to declare to the world that yes, we can “wine up wine up” and we can run, but we can also write books, and paint and act and discuss. We are a complex and accomplished people. Let the world know it. This is our moment.

We need the vision and funding to take advantage of this unique opportunity that has presented itself. It is one of those once-in-a-lifetime chances — our 50th anniversary, the Olympics held in London, home of our large diaspora, and our athletes out front ahead of the curve — when will incredible factors like these ever converge again?

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