London Life: A Guide in 10 Points (in no particular order)

These are for debate; what do you think? People have been at this one for years. I presume nothing; was just thinking whilst walking from Islington to Waterloo. Maybe I should find more work?

1) Walk everywhere

It’s never really that far, and then the town with all the random lanes and squares is yours.

2) If you can’t walk, cycle

But don’t wear lycra and go really fast. Cruise along and smile at lycra people at the lights when you catch them up.

3) Observe people from exciting vantage points

Bill Bryson said he loved the arch at Hyde Park Corner. Look at all those people rushing around, then stroll off at the same speed. There are benches with awesome views all around too.

4) Find random historical corners

One of my favourites is Little Britain by the Museum of London, as it’s so peaceful but close to all of the action. Or here near Holborn, the church of St. Alban the Martyr.

The Resurrection , by St. Alban the Martyr

The Resurrection, near St. Alban the Martyr

5) Do the free things

Some are found online, many are not. Look at the rotting sign for a free lunchtime concert and go.

6) Talk to people – all of them

Some people get a little scared, but there are so many people who love a chat, many of whom are almost invisible.

7) Become a little eccentric

My dad started wearing an Austrian hunting hat to work. Made him feel a little better. Or sing in the street?

8) Be the email boss

Compartmentalise – slap the phone away and email at email time only.

9) Green Spaces

I’m typing this in Lincoln Inn Fields watching some tennis. The beech trees here are tremendous!

Lincoln's Inn Fields

Lincoln’s Inn Fields

St. George's Gardens, near Gray's Inn Road

St. George’s Gardens, near Gray’s Inn Road

10) Independent London

There are now loads of trendy apps to tell you where independent London is. It’s so much more personal and varied, and there’s so much of it around!

The King's Arms, near Waterloo, my end point!

The King’s Arms, near Waterloo, my end point!

Summer Musical Travel

One of the disarming effects of modern travel is the ease with which you can travel from place to place, without realising that you’ve actually gone anywhere. Sleep, read, watch a film, and suddenly you’re in a different place and you don’t really have any choice about it. You, the past you, have booked and paid, so you go. And then there you are.

Evensong in Cambridge, with choristers from St. John the Divine, Kennington

Evensong in Cambridge, with choristers from St. John the Divine, Kennington

This has happened to me several times this summer. I finished conducting evensong in the gloomy chapel of St. John’s, Cambridge, and found myself one sleep later in a school minibus flying across all of the lanes of the highway to Shanghai city centre. Shanghai felt liquid and close, the air so heavy that breathing felt difficult. Electric bikes without sound or light dribble along pavements; every step into a street increases your heart rate. Roads take precedence, walking has no air-conditioning and feels antiquated and unhealthy. Vast, marble facades denote new shopping centres that sprout out of almost every block, their lights alluring but harsh. The french quarter is calmer, closer, smaller, where trees dominate alongside mosquitos. The food became similar after a few days, but we remained polite. Pedestrians flow along the bund that reflects the river alongside. Murky, shallow freight ships creep along as if they have something to hide. There is light everywhere above.

My first selfie

My first selfie

We were teaching the Fauré requiem to a group of local children. The children were fantastic and keen to try anything, no matter what. Even playing me at badminton. Moaning and tiredness to a minimum, in spite of the 10 hour days. Embarrassingly, it was the staff who started to yawn first. Music was a beautifully uniting force, forming lasting bonds that managed to surpass our stark lack of linguistic capability.

Impressed?

Impressed?

One sleep after the last day of the course, and I’m with my lovely fiancée in a turf-covered cottage on the Isle of Lismore, struggling to understand the rain and the breeze. We have to light the fire. We discovered the phrase ‘The Lismore Effect’. Cloud, drizzle, sudden rays of sunshine, monastery, church with carpet, viking ruins, haunted, volcanic, desolate, peaceful, remote. Don’t go to the post office on a Wednesday afternoon. And bring lots of cash to the cafe. If you go walking along the coast, be prepared to climb. Volcanic rock sticks out everywhere, and it’s sharp. Next time I’m bringing a boat.

Lismore from Port Appin

Lismore from Port Appin

The Lismore Effect. We encountered someone holding some music on a path, called Bruce. One brief conversation, and we’re invited to dinner – a delicious potato salad despite their fishless sailing outing. Bruce plays the piano, and he loves Lieder. So we went to the local farmhouse, ascend to the attic, open the windows, and perform Dichterliebe to the crowd. We’ll remember that evening for years. Lismore: it’s very wet, but I’m sure we’ll be back.

Subsequently, I’ve been to Eastbourne to sing for a week, then onto Bruges, Antwerp and Utrecht. Everyone says it, it’s very in vogue, but it’s heartwarming to spend a summer singing with people in four different countries, some prearranged, some organised on a path in the Hebrides, and witness the life-affirming power of music: its unique ability to pull us out of there here and now and experience such depths of emotion that are hard to find in a world of free WiFi. You can wake up and take stock, realise where you are, access your emotions and begin to work out where you fit in the world, and what you can do to change it.

St. Paul's, Antwerp. A few casual Rubens on the wall...

St. Paul’s, Antwerp. A few casual Rubens on the wall…