Monday, 25 July 2016

Laura the Explorer: A visit to Nunhead Cemetery

 A new series in which I explore parts of London (and other spots), giving my camera a good workout while I'm there, and flex my writing muscles when I get back to my desk. First up, Nunhead Cemetery. Well, it's practically in my back garden - it'd be rude not to.

One of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries, Nunhead Cemetery isn't a modern graveyard by any stretch of the imagination, and therein lies its charm. Expectations of tarmac paths and manicured lawns are soon washed away by winding gravel walkways and overgrown greenery.

Mother Nature rules here, and she wants everyone to know it. She dictates the gentle meandering of the paths -- paths that are really more like living tunnels, thanks to the near-complete canopy of trees overhead, leaning in towards the centre to form an arboreal guard of honour to anyone who has the privilege to walk through.

Mother Nature dictates where human footsteps can - and cannot -go
Entering at the Limesford Road entrance, I realised straight away how wild the cemetery was, and opted for what seemed to be the central path straight through the cemetery. I'm not one for believing in superstitions or ghost stories, but a cemetery isn't top of my list of places to get lost, thanks very much.

I strolled so far without encountering a single other soul, I was begin to believe I had actually travelled back in time to the 19th century. There was nothing around to date the scene, no point of temporal reference. Not an electric light, nor a pylon. Even the dates and names on most of the gravestones were mostly illegible, erased by the years and the elements.

By this point, a Victorian chap in a top hat wouldn't have been a shocking thing to find round the next bend.

The only sound was birdsong, plenty of it, and the occasional airplane overhead. Once or twice, the crunching footsteps of a fellow living being on a gravel footpath nearby jolted me back into my surroundings. The trees formed a curtain between us, so although they were only a few feet away, I couldn't actually see them. Still, their presence was reassuring.

There's an air of Jurassic Park to the place, and it's hard to tell what's been there longer - or which is holding the other up -the decrepit, gnarled trees or the greening, mossy graves.

Among the wonky, aged headstones, a more modern sight appears. It seems to be a war memorial area, the gravestones all lined with military precision, as the soldiers they represent would have been in real life, and so much cleaner than the other masonry.

Closer inspection reveals an even sadder sight; to the right of the war memorial headstones is a carved stone commemorating a local group of Scouts who drowned off the Isle of Sheppey in 1912. Nine of them, all named, and all aged 11-14 when they perished.

I wander on, deep and thought, and arrive at the what was once the central chapel of the cemetery. It's now a ruin, but on a Sunday morning, it's a bustling meeting point for families dog walkers, joggers. A meeting point for life. Suddenly the kids whizzing through the cemetery on scooters, the people throwing balls for their dogs and the joggers plugged into their headphones seem...insensitive. They're all using it as a regular park, when really, it's not a regular park at all.

Further snaking though woodland paths reveals the main entrance - I must have arrived via the tradesmens' entrance. A quick glance at the map board points out a viewpoint on the western perimeter of the cemetery. I love a view, me, and it's certainly a good enough reason to follow the path that skirts the western edge of the cemetery.

Round here, it's a bit livelier again, with dog walkers and ramblers going about their business. It's clear that no-one's brushed up on their cemetery greeting etiquette that morning. In a very British way, passing people half mumble at each other, not entirely sure whether to say hello or not. It's odd, really: we're clearly not here as mourners, me with my camera, them with their dogs. Indeed, mourners for the residents of this particularly cemetery are probably now the mourned themselves, so distance are some of the fading dates on the gravestones.

At the bottom of what transpires to be a steepish incline, the path is thick with mud in patches, even on a hot day in July. The sun never reaches these corners, kept out by the thick canopy of leaves, and that itself is a chilling thought.

Continue with the uphill amble, past a wild pond, and soon you'll be rewarded, not just with a bench -- which, to be fair, would be reward enough itself at this point in the battle against gravity, like the inexperienced hill climber's equivalent to shimmering in the desert -- but with this corker of a view:

I can only guess that this is one of the protected sightlines of St Paul's; you can't see it here, but out of shot, the trees had been so as to frame this view. This alone is worth the trip to Nunhead Cemetery, climbing the hill, waiting until a group of hikers had finished using the bench so that I could sit down and take it all in properly. And to think -- it's practically in my back garden.

Where in London should I visit next in this series? Suggestions in the comments below please.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Is this the best crazy golf course in the UK?

You know it's getting serious when you entrust your handbag to a panda while you tee off.
I love a crazy golf course. There's something intrinsically childlike about them, the way they can reduce full-grown adults to over-excited, golf club-wielding maniacs.

Given the recent influx of crazy golf courses in London (crazy golf underground, crazy golf on a roof, crazy golf that's literally rubbish), it seems I'm not the only one. But sometimes it's nice to step away from the hipster haunts of Shoreditch and go back to good, old-fashioned crazy golf -- fibreglass animals and all.

Talk about putting me off my swing
The course at Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire is just that. A wildlife park may not seem the obvious place for a crazy golf course, but Paradise caters for a young family audience, and it does it very well. Fortunately for us, visiting on a rainy Sunday (a Sunday which also offered the Wimbledon and Euro 2016 finals, the British Grand Prix and some golf or other on the TV), all children were out of the way and we had the course practically to ourselves.

It's an 18 hole course, and a sizable one at that. Thanks to the abundance of greenery, you never know what's around the next corner (expect fibreglass animals - there are always fibreglass animals).

The first hole
The course takes in hills, peaks,  troughs and even a little stream. The stream was a cause for concern - teeny tiny frogs, no bigger than a 1p coin were living in it, oblivious to the dangers of being trampled by human feet or doinked over the head by a golf ball.

You lookin' at me?
Adventurous little chaps, we found ourselves dodging mini frogs - and sadly, a couple of squashed frogs - for the next few hole, as we weaved over bridges and in and out of caves.

It really is a Tardis of a course - how they manage to fit so much into such as small space, I really don't know.

On Safari Golf, Paradise Wildlife Park, Hertfordshire. Crazy golf is £2 per person (+ park admission fee).

Saturday, 16 July 2016

The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne: Book Review

The Guilty One by Lisa Ballantyne
(May contain spoilers)

The Guilty One is the story of an eleven year old child who is accused of the murder of his eight year old friend. The plot doesn't focus on him, but on his solicitor, Daniel, a thirty-something Londoner. Except the plot's not really about thirty-something Daniel. To tell you the truth, the book flicks backwards and forwards so much, I couldn't tell you what it's about.

Chapters alternate between the thirty year old Daniel, dealing with this court case and the death of his adopted mother, Minnie, and teenage Daniel, growing up with Minnie. In doing this, it seems Ballantyne intends to highlight the parallels between the lives and experience of Daniel and his client, Sebastian. However, the result is that we never spend enough time at one period or the other of Daniel's life to really grow attached to him as a character.

In the latter half of the book, a large part of it is taken up by the court case. Now, I love a fictional court case, and I've read more than enough Jodi Picoult books to know just how gripping they can be. That's not the case here though. Prior to the court case, the reader isn't given enough information to form their own conclusion as to whether Sebastian is innocent or guilty, and without that belief, there's nothing to hope for.

A weak attempt at a love story also runs as a subplot throughout the novel, but once again, the reader isn't given the chance to grow attached enough to either of the characters to care one way or the other how that works out.

Conclusion: Meh - if it's the only thing around, give it a go, but there are plenty of better books out there.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Ab Fab The Movie: review

**** (4/5)
(Contains mild spoilers)

Sweetie darling, haven't you heard? Patsy and Edi are back with a new Ab Fab film.

Their characters may be growing older disgracefully but Lumley and Saunders don't look as though they've aged a day since the final episode of the final series aired at some point in the noughties. This time, the perma-high duo find themselves in the south of France rather that the streets of London, but the effect is much the same. Sure, the plot has more holes than Edi's string vest, and the green-screening leaves something to be desired, but it's got the Ab Fab charm stamped through it like a stick of rock.

With a film as widely anticipated as this, it's hard not to go in with some expectations, although with early reviews ranging from 1 star t 5 stars, it's hard to know what those expectations should have been. What was widely reported is the sheer deluge of celeb cameos the film has, and those reports certainly weren't exaggerated.

It starts with Jamie Laing from Made In Chelsea eight seconds in, and continues via Emma Bunton, Jon Hamm, Alexa Chung, Christopher Biggins and Jean Paul Gaultier (to name just a tiny proportion of them) before coming to an outrageous halt with Barry Humphries (as Dame Edna Everage).

The one to watch out for, though, is Rebel Wilson. Her three minute stint as an air hostess demonstrates a proclivity towards comic timing second only to the great Lumley herself (whose sharp one liners and infinite facial expressions really come into their own).

Comedy wise, the first few scenes don't have the hilarity expected, but the pace soon picks up. Sure, the jokes aren't to everyone's tastes, which I suspect was the source of may of the harsher reviews I've read, but anyone who enjoyed the TV series should find the same light relief in the films. We may not have been rolling around in the aisles (wouldn't want to spill our Bolly our smudge our make up, would we?), but it's a solid conveyor belt of belly laughs.

The one thing that doesn't sit well with die-hard fans of the TV series is some of the unrealistic changes in character, not least the revelation that dim old Bubbles had something vaguely resembling a plan all along.
Edi and Saffy showing something vaguely resembling sentimentality towards each other and new addition to the family, Lola is somewhat unsettling and untrue to the character dynamics we've grown to love all these years. What's more, it adds a sense of finality to proceedings, all but confirming what we all thought we knew -- that this will be the final airing for our Bolly-guzzling buddies.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

An ode to the many faces of the London skyline

London's a tempremental beast, especially first thing in the morning, before the pulse of commuters and tourists, buses and trains starts pumping through her vein-like roads. Before she's had her morning coffee. Before she's put her lippy on.

From our 5th floor flat in Peckham, we're lucky enough to see London in all her facets; on hazy mornings, when the heat hangs over the city. On rainy afternoons, when the downpour creeps steadily across town, drenching one pocket at a time. On summer evenings, when the bright orange ball casts an almost eerie light over the metropolis.

London's not unlike many humans in that sense. Some days, she's an excitable child, bouncing around and raring to start the day before you're ready, laying all of her toys out in front of you at once, teasing you into playing with them.

Other days, she's a moody teenager, reluctant to start the day and having to have the duvet pulled back a bit at a time before she's ready to reveal her face to the world. Then, and only then, will she reveal the features of her skyline, protruding through the mist one layer at a time, so that skyscraper and tower blocks and church steeples appear one by one.

Other days still, she's an old woman, satisfied with her lot in life, happy to kick back and let the rest of the world see what she's got, not quite flaunting it, but not hiding it either.

I've come to love my little view from our fifth floor flat in Peckham, and my camera's certainly had a decent workout since I moved in. I've also developed a weird fascination in the weather, and have been known to go out onto our balcony in nothing but a towel in pursuit of a photo of a rainbow. For more photos of the view (believe me, there are many), follow me on Instagram.