ETM: Double Down by Dorrance Dance

ETM: Double Down by Dorrance Dance, currently at Sadler’s Wells, is jaw-droppingly brilliant. Quite literally – at times I was sitting open-mouthed and at risk of drooling. It is the most brilliant creative thing I’ve seen in a long time. And I’ve seen quite a few brilliant things already this year. Although described as “masters of tap”, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers they ain’t. It’s very difficult to find words to describe the performance but it’s a sort of tap meets hip-hop meets Tom Hanks playing floor piano in Big meets Vangelis meets Stomp meets the Kodo Drummers. And that in no way does it justice. With smoke, sampling machines, a Mo Farah look-alike bass player, the haunting voice of Aaron Marcellus, the amazing twisting rhythmic Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie (described in the programme as a New York City based b-girl: I have no idea what that means) spinning, twitching, tapping, body-slapping, clicking, percussion-playing dancers who looked at times as though a 10,000 volt electric shock had been delivered to their bodies yet who remained in supreme control, high octane-fuelled ultra energetic yet haunting; it most certainly got rhythm. Just go see it for yourself.

(Photos by Christopher Duggan, Matthew Murphy and Hayim Heron and taken from the programme)

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A few years ago, whilst on holiday with a friend in Argentina, I was lucky enough to visit a milonga in Buenos Aires. All the tourist information and guide books gave details of places where you could visit a tango show, and have tango lessons, but we wanted the real deal – a place where the locals danced tango and not just a show put on for the tourists. Then we found out about milongas. Wikipedia defines a milonga as “a place or an event where tango is danced… most milongas are held on a regular basis (usually weekly)… People who frequently go to milongas are sometimes called milongueros.” So this sounded like the real deal, but where to find one? As we walked around Buenos Aires I started to see notices stuck up on lampposts, advertising the next milonga, often with tear-off strips at the bottom giving the address. It seemed that often a milonga was not held in a dance-hall or club, but in a temporary space cleared for the purpose of holding a milonga, so maybe in a warehouse, anywhere where there was room. I asked at my hotel, which was a small boutique-style hotel in the San Telmo area, if there was a local milonga taking place that night, and with a bit of looking up on the internet, they gave me an address which was not far away.

We dressed up, went out for dinner and then after dinner made our way to the address we’d been given, which looked extremely inauspicious from the outside. It was an old building, several storeys high, and there was nothing on the outside to indicate that anything was going on inside at that time of night. There was, however, a little sticky label next to one of the doorbells saying merely “milonga”. I pressed the bell, and a voice answered in Spanish saying something that I didn’t understand, and the door buzzed and unlocked. We entered into a dingy staircase and walked up about five floors feeling a bit over-dressed until we reached our destination – outside one of the rooms in the building there was a table with a petty-cash tin on it, and a man and a woman standing by it. I asked if this was the milonga, and how much it was to enter, and was told that it was and the price of entry was pretty cheap – from memory it was about £5. We paid our entry fee, and walked through into a room that was pretty bare, but had a few café-style chairs and tables around the outside, and a counter with a few bottles on it that seemed to be the bar. We bought a bottle of wine from the bar and sat down at a table at the side of the room. When we arrived no-one was dancing, but shortly afterwards the music started and people took to the dance floor. The milongueros were all ages and of differing abilities but it didn’t matter – everyone was there to have a good time and enjoy the tango music and dancing.

Initially the music was recorded, but later in the evening a band appeared and set up in the corner and they were absolutely amazing. It was such a lovely evening and one of the highlights of my holiday.

Fast forward a few years to June 2017 and I found myself eagerly taking my seat at  Sadler’s Wells to watch a performance entitled “milonga”. The production was billed as “Tango for the 21st century” and was a collaboration between UK choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and an international cast including Argentinian Tango dancers alongside contemporary dancers, and all danced to a tango band on stage which also included Argentinian musicians.

For the next hour and 25 minutes I was treated to an amazing performance; it was more than a dance, it was a multi-media immersion into the streets of Buenos Aires and the world of tango and the milonga. A number of different vignettes merged seamlessly into each other; some took place in a dark set reminiscent of the milonga I attended a few years ago, others were danced in front of video screens playing scenes from the streets of San Telmo, from central Buenos Aires including Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo, and from the Recoleta area including a funeral scene from La Recoleta cemetery where Eva Peron is buried. The whole production could be used as a promotion for the Argentinian Tourist Board and I found myself reminiscing and watching the street scenes eagerly looking for places that I recognised. But however enticing the multi-media images were, they added to, rather than took away from, the incredible dancing. Although the programme labelled the cast members as either “tango dancers” or “contemporary dancers” it was not always easy to tell who was a tango dancer and who was a contemporary dancer. The choreography was superb; the dancers twisted and writhed seductively, sensuously and passionately throughout the piece, which included comedy and pathos alongside some stunning dancing. All the dancers were extremely accomplished, but I have to single out contemporary dancer Silvina Cortes who was mesmerising and seemed to have limbs made out of liquid mercury!

The current UK tour is now over, but it has been on tour since its premiere in 2013, and has visited 42 cities across 20 countries and 5 continents. If you get a chance to see it, snap up a ticket – you won’t regret it. And I will certainly be going again if it comes back to the UK – it’s a 5-star performance!



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Portobello parkrun: If Carlsberg did parkruns…

One week on from some parkrun tourism at Weymouth, I found myself away for a consecutive weekend break at the opposite end of the UK – in fact, in a different country altogether. I had been invited to help celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday, that friend having moved from London to Edinburgh six months previously.

I had tried to run a Scottish parkrun on a previous visit to Edinburgh last year but got caught out by the time difference; I hadn’t realised that Scottish parkruns start at 9.30am not 9.00am, and the half-hour’s difference meant that I didn’t really have enough time to complete the run before catching my train back to London. So I was keen to see if I could complete what I set out to do a year previously and run a Scottish parkrun.

There were some obstacles to achieving this aim though. Firstly, I was flying to Edinburgh so would have to rely on public transport to get to the chosen parkrun and back to my B&B. Then I would need to find space in my small cabin bag for running kit in addition to party outfits and other clothes needed for the weekend, and packing light has never been my forte. Finally, in order to accommodate people travelling up to Scotland after work on the Friday evening, the weekend’s festivities started fairly late with a meal in a restaurant booked for 9.30pm suggesting that I wouldn’t get away until after midnight, and a late, boozy Friday night is never that conducive to getting up early for parkrun on the Saturday morning. Did I really want to put in all this effort to go and run 5k with a hangover, or could I give myself a weekend off? At least the extra half hour in bed for the Scottish version of parkrun would be welcome, and led me to muse that perhaps the half-hour later start time was, in fact, due to the Scottish love of whisky rather than anything to do with the light as I had been led to believe!

To overcome the first hurdle I asked the advice of local parkrunners on the facebook parkrun discussion group page, and soon discovered that my B&B, chosen because it was near my friends’ flat, was actually quite a long way from either of the two parkruns in Edinburgh – Cramond and Portobello. But the website of both parkruns also signposted me to the excellent Lothian Buses website, from which I could see that there was a number 5 bus that went from about 10 minutes walk from my B&B and that took me to a few minutes walk from the start of Portobello parkrun, which was set in a park called “Figgate Park”. To overcome the second hurdle, I added a hold bag to my ticket, justifying the extra cost on the grounds that I could now take up the bottle of local damson gin that I had bought as a housewarming gift but was too big for hand/cabin luggage. And I gave myself a talking to in order to overcome the final hurdle, whilst also giving myself permission to miss parkrun if the night out ended up becoming too boozy and too late!

However, it was actually another hurdle that almost made me miss parkrun. Having enjoyed a lovely evening out on the Friday night, I returned to my B&B at about 12:30am and went to set my phone’s alarm for 7.30am but my phone completely froze and I spent the next 15 minutes trying to switch it off/on and trying to remove the battery.  I gave up eventually and decided to just go to sleep and leave it to fate as to whether I woke up in time or not. And 5 minutes after settling down to sleep the phone came to life again, so I was able to set the alarm.

Saturday morning came, and I set off to find the number 5 bus stop – however when I turned up at the area where I believed the bus went from there were a number of bus stops but none for the number 5, and no-one that I asked seemed to know where the number 5 bus went from. However, a café owner mentioned there was a bus that went from around the corner, which did indeed turn out to be the number 5 bus stop. 10 minutes stressful wait went by during which I almost resigned myself to missing the run as I didn’t think I would get there in time, and then the bus appeared. I asked the driver if he could let me know the nearest stop to Figgate Park, but he replied “Never heard of it!” Still not deterred, I got on the bus and followed the route on google maps (where would we be without smart phones?) and then was relieved when we went through the city centre to see a woman get on the bus wearing an Edinburgh frontrunners top and running leggings/shoes. She confirmed that she was going to parkrun, but was also a first timer and so had no idea where to get off the bus either. Fortunately, some other regular Portobello parkrunners got on the bus and they not only knew where to get off the bus but also kindly allowed me to tag along with them to show me the start.

After all the stress of getting there, and worrying that I would miss the start, I actually found myself there about 20 minutes early, and so I asked if there were any loos that I could use before the run. Apparently there aren’t any loos in the park, and this had been quite a contentious issue in the past and the one thing that goes against Portobello parkrun. But apart from that, I have to say that Portobello parkrun is perhaps the nicest parkrun that I have ever done. If Carlsberg did parkruns they would all be like Portobello (but with the addition of a nearby loo!).

Why so nice? Well, firstly the location is perfect – set in a beautiful park that seems to be a bit of a well-guarded secret as not only had the bus driver not heard of it, but neither had any of my local friends including one who had grown up in Edinburgh about 15 minutes’ drive away! The park is gorgeous, with a burn running through it that leads to a lake (called Figgate Pond) with a boardwalk and lots of wildlife including a heron that is often present, although sadly absent on my visit. The course is three laps of the park and is only slightly undulating. I particularly liked the fact that the path running down away from the lake is very close to the path running back up towards the start on the other side of the burn, so that as the runners spread out you can see the runners on the other side of the lap.

Secondly, the volunteers were lovely. The guy who gave the first timers’ briefing did it in an interactive way – getting us to walk through the funnel and showing where the barcode scanners stood etc. All the marshals on the route were encouraging, as well as those at the end on finish tokens/barcode scanning duty.

But what I particularly liked about Portobello is that the finish line is after a short straight section after the route peels off for the laps, and close to the start and where everyone left their things. So this meant that there were lots of people hanging around and cheering everyone in as they came up that final straight. I am very often one of the last runners to finish, and I am used to many runners having left and gone home by the time I finish, and yet here it seemed that lots of people stayed behind to encourage the slower runners.

And then there was a lovely café nearby for the traditional post-parkrun coffee, and to which a number of volunteers repaired to sort tokens, process the results etc. And the café had a loo which made up for the lack of loos in the park! Whilst in the café I got chatting to some of the other parkrunners and then we helped out the lovely Ella and her father to sort the 300 or so finish tokens.

It’s a close call as to whether I prefer Rosliston or Portobello as to my favourite tourist parkrun course; both are excellent. But both are pretty near as perfect as a parkrun could be, hence the “if Carlsberg did parkruns” title! And although I didn’t get an all-time parkrun PB which I put down to too many glasses of wine the night before, I am extremely glad that I made the effort to get up and out and to have completed my first Scottish parkrun. Thank you Portobello!


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Weymouth parkrun: the one with the pineapple! (Or how parkrun has changed my life)

Something very strange has happened to me. Throughout my life I have hated any form of exercise, and have only taken part in any organised sporting activity through necessity rather than choice. Team sports hold me in absolute terror with memories from school days of being in the ‘reject’ pile of the kids that the chosen team captains were forced to select after they had chosen all the sporty kids for their teams. Solitary attempts at exercise did not fare much better, whether it was going to the gym or, even worse, running outside. At least on the treadmill at the gym there was a television screen to distract me from the pain!

And yet, since I have been fully indoctrinated in the parkrun cult, things have changed dramatically. I use the word ‘cult’ in jest, as this is what a friend called parkrun as a joke, but thinking about it, there are certainly some similarities. Both parkrun and cults try to recruit new members, and welcome new recruits with beaming smiles and a friendly “hello”; both require you to turn up on a regular (weekly) basis; membership of both finds you changing your habits and even your personality; both engender a feeling of belonging, and no matter how hard you try to explain it to those on the outside they fail to understand the attraction. (Although I have questioned my life choices on a number of occasions on why I would want to get up at 7am on a Saturday morning and go and run 5k instead of having a lie-in and nursing my hangover!) And like all cults we have a great guru to venerate in the form of founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt!

As for that change of personality, it seems to extend beyond finding myself sometimes turning down alcohol on a Friday night because I have planned to go to parkrun in the morning! I was recently lucky enough to be invited to go away for the weekend to share an Air B&B with 7 other people in Lulworth, Dorset. Whereas in the past the first thing I would have done after accepting the invitation would have been to look up places to go and visit, and to check out restaurants and bars in the vicinity, now my first thought was to rush to the computer to see if there was a nearby parkrun that I could do! Looking at the parkrun website  and the unofficial tourist tool, the nearest parkrun appeared to be Weymouth, which was a mere 25 minute drive away from our AirB&B.  Once I got over my initial disappointment about not being able to complete another letter in the alphabet challenge (as described in my previous blog post about parkrun tourism), as I had already run a ‘W’ parkrun with my home run of Walthamstow, I turned to the course description and got excited to read “… one and a half laps anti-clockwise around the miniature train track and 9-hole golf course… loop around the Round Table ‘pineapple’ monument…” A parkrun with a miniature train track, golf course AND a pineapple, and by the sea too … what’s not to like? I knew that a number of our group had booked to go coasteering on the Saturday morning, but I messaged the group to see if any of the others fancied joining me at Weymouth parkrun and was pleased when Liz said she would join me, as she is another parkrun cult member!

And then Sarah said she would come along too – not to run as she doesn’t run, but just to keep me company on the journey over, planning to then go for a walk by the sea or to look around Weymouth whilst I ran. Talking to her about it, it seemed that whilst she had heard of parkrun (and after the media storm over the cancellation of Little Stoke parkrun, few people have NOT heard of it now) she didn’t know much about it. So I suggested she volunteered to help out and sent her the Weymouth helpers’ email address. I didn’t really expect her to take me up on the idea, but she did and proudly announced that she had heard back from them and she was going to be a marshal. Fantastic – another potential cult convert!

The day came, and 4 of our merry band of 8 set off for Weymouth; 2 to run, 1 to volunteer and 1 who came along for the ride and who turned out to be a useful friend to have along to hold our stuff and take photos – thanks, Cheryl! We had a bit of confusion over the parking situation: the parkrun website said “The run starts adjacent to the 9 hole golf course, east of Weymouth College. From Lodmoor car park head away from sea to right hand corner towards the nine hole golf course”, which seemed to suggest you could park in Lodmoor car park. Yet the directions for getting there by road took you to the car park of Weymouth College, 300m from the start. I think the discrepancy is that you have to pay to park in the nearer Lodmoor car park, whereas you don’t pay in the College car park so most of the regulars coming by car park in the college. Having parked, the difference between Weymouth and Walthamstow parkruns was immediately apparent – at Walthamstow we have only just started getting just over 100 runners, with the attendance record being 109 runners, whereas Weymouth was much bigger with runners appearing from all directions, and the attendance record being 476 runners.

Sarah went off for her marshall briefing and returned proudly sporting her hi-viz marshal jacket, having been briefed that she had to be “courteous and encouraging” to the runners.


Liz and I went to the new runners’ briefing and then made our way to the start where we found they have a staggered start system with markers for guestimated approximate finish times in 5 minute intervals, so that the slower runners like myself start further back and don’t become an obstacle for the faster runners at the start.

And then there was another cult similarity – the run director started singing and tried to get everyone singing and clapping along to “Monday, Tuesday, Happy Days…” The sheer number of runners meant that the run director had to use a PA system to be heard which rather distorted his voice, and unfortunately there were a lot of rude people at the back who continued to chatter away over the top of his briefing so I couldn’t hear a word of it.

But then we were off. The route is lovely, flat and varied, situated in Lodmoor Country Park, and runs through woodland and up to the rather striking giant pineapple statue (the new runner’s briefing told us that we couldn’t miss it – and she was right!) before running back to do another loop before the finish. One of the good things about the ‘out and back’ nature of the route is that if you’re running with friends who run at a different pace to you, you get to see them and give them a wave as you pass each other on the route.

And because Sarah said that she had a couple of friends running, the volunteer director kindly put her on a marshalling spot where she could see us three times as we looped around. As I approached Sarah for the last time I was delighted to see a novel home-made sign that said “Drinks ahead” and to later discover that they had a trolley with two huge water bottles and cups for much needed rehydration. I passed Sarah for the last time and then it was a sprint to the finish line and then I noticed the funnel – and WHAT a funnel! Now I’ve heard the term “funnel-ducker” on facebook parkrun groups but have never really understood it or realised what it was until Weymouth! At Walthamstow by the time I reach the funnel I am usually the only person in it apart from the person holding the finish tokens, and then the barcode scanner is right by the end of the funnel. But at Weymouth you collect your finish token and then enter the funnel which is a massive log-jam of people queuing up to be scanned. Even with the funnel manager tryng to keep order I can quite see now why some people are tempted to duck out of the funnel and go and get water and not wait around getting cold and waiting to be scanned.

Whenever I’m a parkrun tourist, I am fascinated to see how people sort their finish tokens. At Weymouth they had a fantastically organised and innovative system of Tupperware boxes and a board with hooks – and some cheery and efficient volunteers making short work of the task.

I didn’t go to the appointed post-parkrun café as my friends preferred to get away, but it seemed to be a little distance from the start/finish in Weymouth College, and by the official car park. And so it was just a question then of waiting for the results to come in. I had taken a photo of my finish token – number 352 – so I was a bit surprised when I got my result saying I had finished in position 353. Nevertheless I was happy as my time was a whole minute faster than my previous best ever parkrun time, no doubt due to the flat and fast course. But then when I looked at the results a couple of days later I saw they had been amended and I was now in position 351 with an even faster time! Confusing. I emailed them and got a lovely reply saying that they had had some timing issues – easily done with so many runners.

So things I liked about Weymouth parkrun, in no particular order:

  1. the route – lovely and flat, with varied scenery and things of interest along the way – like the pineapple!
  2. the lovely and encouraging volunteers, including the singing run director!
  3. the free water at the end!

Things I didn’t like about Wemouth parkrun:

  1. the large number of runners resulting in a long funnel queue
  2. the difficulty hearing the briefing, with the distorted PA system and the ignorant people talking over the briefing
  3. the slightly confusing parking situation (although I appreciate this was just because we were first-timers)

So what did Sarah think of her indoctrination into the parkrun cult? Well, she love it, and has said that she will look up her local parkrun and will go and volunteer there too. Great – another member of the cult!


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Modern Life is Rubbish

Or the Great Plumbing Scam as I was going to name this post! Who was it who first coined the phrase “Modern Life is Rubbish”? I’ve tried googling it to find the derivation of the phrase, but I couldn’t find the answer and instead found all manner of uses of the phrase, such as its use by Blur as an album title.

Life was much simpler when I was growing up – or so it seemed. I grew up in a small village in Wales. When my parents needed a tradesman, like a plumber or a carpenter, they could find one through the village grapevine – either someone living in the village or nearby. If they couldn’t find someone through word of mouth, they would just look up in the Yellow Pages and book a local tradesman. This was one of the great advantages of living in a small community. Of course, there wasn’t as much choice and therefore the tradesmen operating in that community had a bit of a monopoly, but the system worked.

It’s said that London is a collection of villages, and with the rise of social media a whole virtual community is opened up to us. There are facebook groups and other social media sites for local recommendations that take the place of the village grapevine, such as this one.  In fact, the internet itself has opened up numerous other ways in which tradesmen can advertise, including comparison sites and ratings sites like Trusted Trader or Rated People. However, more is not necessarily better.  When I needed a builder for a small job last year I went onto a number of these sites and entered my details, but many of the sites needed me to tell them how much I was prepared to pay for the job to be done, and I simply had no idea what the going rate was. Other sites didn’t need this, just the details of the job, but having entered my details no-one contacted me. People told me that many builders and tradesmen didn’t want to take on small jobs, and there was so much work to go round that they waited for the big jobs like building a conservatory that obviously paid more.

So when my bathroom loo was leaking recently resulting in a soaked bathroom carpet, I needed a plumber and fast. I turned to social media for recommendations but came up blank. So I resorted to the trusted method of my parents and opened up the Yellow Pages. I had the naïve idea that in there I might be able to find a small, reliable, family-run local firm, called something like Pete the Plumber, that had been operating in Walthamstow for years! Yet although there were numerous adverts in the plumbing section, there was nothing that fitted the bill. Having no idea which firm to choose amongst the plethora of adverts, I decided to opt for one that had a local Walthamstow number, rather than a huge firm that might be based miles away.

Many of the adverts stated that they were “local” plumbers, or East London plumbers. Looking back I realise my mistake – I thought the titles “East London Plumbers” or “East London Local Plumbers” were the names of the firms. I chose one that advertised different numbers for the different areas, Walthamstow being one of them, and thought that I was ringing through to a Walthamstow firm if I rang the Walthamstow number.


I rang to ask for a quote. I should have been wary when they quoted me a price of nearly £150 +VAT to come out the same day, and nearly £130 +VAT to come out the next day, but when I said I was going to ring round to get other quotes they then quoted £94 +VAT. So I booked them, and the plumber duly turned up the next day. After 20 minutes he stated that it needed a part which he would have to buy and come back on another day. The invoice he wrote out was from a firm called “RIGHTIO LIMITED” which were based in Birmingham. Hardly the local Walthamstow firm I thought I was booking. Looking back at the advert I see that at the bottom of the advert it states “Powered by Rightio”. I had not noticed this initially and had no idea what it meant.

The Rightio plumber came back two days later to fit the new part. As I was unable to get a day off work I had to arrange for a kind friend to hang around and let the plumber in. When I came back from work I found that rather than the problem being fixed, it was actually worse than before. So I rang up to get them back out. I had to arrange to take a day off work (which was no mean feat at short notice) and use up a valuable Annual Leave day for their 9-12 slot. Mid-morning I got a call saying that the plumber had been “delayed” and now would not turn up until the afternoon. Mid-afternoon I got another call stating that the plumber was further delayed, in fact so delayed that he now would not make it at all and couldn’t attend until next week. Being unable to take another day off work easily this was not acceptable to me, but the person in the call centre – because that’s what it was rather than a family-run local firm – didn’t seem to appreciate that this was a problem. She told me that there was only one “engineer” in “my area” working today, and that person had been held up all day on an emergency call. So I asked if she could get someone out from a nearby area – as the advert listed Hackney, Chingford, and East Ham, all of which are nearby to Walthamstow. She stated again that there was only one person working in my area. So I asked her what she thought my area was – and she said “Enfield”! She also told me that when I booked a date and time, they were only “advising” me of the available time slot and they had no contractual agreement that meant that they had to turn up on that date and time. And if I didn’t like it, I could write to their Customer Relations department. Great.

I do feel like I’ve been conned; where I thought I was booking a local firm I was in fact calling a national call centre that just employs people to work for them on a contract basis. I suspected that they pay them on a zero-hour contract basis and probably give them nothing in the way of employee benefits, and the plumbers they use may be on the books of many of these call-centre plumbing firms and can pick and choose what work they accept. If this is the arrangement, the call-centres have no control over what hours the plumbers work, and it’s cheaper to fob the customer off and tell them that there is no-one available rather than pay the plumber overtime.  Looking into it, I found a term for this system: a “gig economy” and found this article about a landmark ruling against Pimlico Plumbers from a couple of months ago.

In the meantime, I still have a leaking loo, a soaked carpet and am waiting a call-back to see if they can find someone to come out on Sunday, but I’m not holding out much hope. Speaking to friends about this, many have similar tales of woe. Is the problem just that we are in London? Is it much simpler and easier to arrange tradesmen if you live in a village in Devon or a city like Leeds? Or is this a symptom of modern life? If the latter, then modern life certainly is rubbish!

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A little bit of cinematic history

When I first moved to Walthamstow I was pleased to see that the area had a cinema. And not a soulless multi-screen complex built in an out-of-town retail park surrounded by fast food chains and pizza restaurants, but a real old-fashioned cinema in the town centre. I remember going to see ‘All About My Mother’ by Pedro Almodovar there, and although the cinema itself seemed a bit down at heel you could still see that once it had been very grand indeed with a foyer and decoration inspired by the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain. In fact, the cinema was once called the Grenada, and the original owners who turned the building from a music hall into a cinema went on to found the Grenada television company. I have a vague memory of the original Christie organ being played before the film, although I’m not sure if this is a false memory, and I was aware that this was the only cinema left in the country with the original Christie organ still in place and still playable. I also knew that Alfred Hitchcock had lived in nearby Leytonstone, but I had no idea whether he had visited the cinema (he had) and no idea of the history of the building. I was just glad that the cinema was there and still providing entertainment.


The phrase “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” proved apt as in 2003 the cinema closed its doors for the last time and shut down. After it shut, in order to go and see a film you had to either go into central London and pay outrageous prices for a ticket, or get in the car to go to the Odeon in South Woodford, or one of those out-of-town retail complexes in Enfield or the Lea Valley. The building itself had been bought by a controversial Evangelical religious group called the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) who had bought up various other theatres and buildings in London and who wanted to turn the building into a church. For over ten years I read articles in the local newspapers about the building, as the church failed to gain planning permission to alter the site, which had been listed by English Heritage, and various protests were held, often organised by the McGuffin Film Society who campaigned and fundraised to save the building and try to restore the site as a place of entertainment. I joined the McGuffins and went to a few protests but in my heart of hearts I didn’t really think the building would be saved. In the meantime the cinema building, neglected and deserted, seemed to be crumbling away before our very eyes, and started to look very down-at-heel. I finally remember reading that, after another failed planning permission bid, the church were going to sell the building, and although I was glad, I hoped that it wouldn’t go the way of the local – and also historic – Walthamstow Dog track, and be turned into ‘luxury’ flats, keeping only the façade in place.

Then in 2015 I heard that a pop-up pub was opening up in the foyer space, called “Mirth, Marvel and Maud”. I had the impression that this was only a temporary ‘pop-up’ and was not sure how it would work; I’d heard it was in the foyer only and that the inside huge theatre space needed a lot of restoration work. I had no idea if the Christie organ was still in situ, having been damaged during one of the illegal raves that occurred in the building during the Church’s ownership. But Mirth, Marvel and Maud opened, and I heard nothing but good things about it from local friends who had been for a drink there.

In recent years I had, however, been enjoying independent cinema in Walthamstow when the Stow Film Lounge started up. Created by a couple of local film buffs, they put on screenings of films in Orford House Social Club complete with the Pearl & Dean advertising jingle, and often including innovations like joint pizza and film tickets, or following the film with Cabaraoke (a mix of cabaret and karaoke) to make it a proper night out. They also created a kids film club, and a baby film club, where parents of young babies could come and watch a film safe in the knowledge that no-one would object if their baby cried and where the babies could crawl around on play mats whilst the film was on. However, seemingly almost as soon as it had been established, the Stow Film Lounge lost its home at the Orford House Social Club, and although it appeared occasionally at other venues in the locality, none were quite so convenient for me.

So I was thrilled to see the Stow Film Lounge advertising that they were showing films in Mirth, Marvel and Maud, bringing cinema back to the old building, with films on a weeknight and also old classics on a Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t wait to go back into the old cinema, and so a couple of Sundays ago I went to see the classic Bogart and Bacall film, ‘The Big Sleep’. And I was not disappointed at all – far from it. The films are shown in a small cinema space, called “Maud”, and they were even giving free bags of Maud popcorn – all for the remarkably good value price of £6 for the ticket.

Inside the building, the foyer area was spacious and grand and MM&M have done a really good job of restoring the foyer and turning it into a lovely social place. It seemed both cosy and relaxing as well as grand, with the chandeliers still in place and the walls painted a warm yellow colour. I noticed from posters that they do quiz nights and also host various other entertainments, like stand-up comedy and theatre performances, thus restoring the building back to its original purpose as a place of entertainment.

The bar was also serving coffee, and I was able to take my coffee into the cinema space, where I settled down to watch the film. Before the main film started, they showed a five-minute short film all about the history of the cinema, during which I learnt that the building was originally the Victoria Music Hall which opened in 1887, and the first film shown there was in 1896, before it was turned into a dedicated cinema in 1907. The original cinema had seated nearly 3,000 people, and as well as films was also a music venue, with such legends as The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison all performing there.

And then in the middle of the film there was an old-fashioned intermission, where I was able to order an espresso martini to take in for the second half, having been enviously eyeing up the espresso martinis which some of my fellow cinema goers had been drinking in the first half!. I can’t think of a nicer way of spending a Sunday afternoon than sipping a cocktail whilst watching a classic film in such a historic venue, and I hope that this initiative is supported by local people so that it continues and goes from strength to strength. I shall certainly be back, hopefully on a regular basis!



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Parkrun Tourism

Over the last couple of weekends I have indulged in a bit of parkrun tourism, at Exeter and Rosliston in Derbyshire. Until recently I had not really come across the concept of parkrun tourism, despite having taken part in parkruns at more than one venue in the UK. But I have come to realise that there are hosts of parkrun tourists (or PTs as they shall now be known), some taking it very seriously indeed!


The volunteer team setting up at Rosliston


My parkrun habit crept up on me slowly and has developed over the past couple of years; I first wrote about it in April last year: #loveparkrun.  My “home” parkrun is Walthamstow; this was where I started volunteering and with the encouragement of the lovely Walthamstow parkrun family I moved on to being able to run it myself. However, my third parkrun was at Oakwell Hall in Yorkshire. I was staying with family in Leeds, and having just started to run I didn’t want to lose the momentum and miss out on my Saturday morning parkrun fix. The same thing happened a few weeks later when I was staying for the weekend in Salisbury; again I looked up on the website and found that there was a parkrun a mere 20 minutes’ walk from where I was staying. But it was not until a few months later, when I tried out another Yorkshire parkrun at Cross Flatts, that I first heard the term “parkrun tourist”. During the Run Director’s briefing at the start they asked if there were any PTs present. Those that put their hands up were asked where they were from. I thought I would have come the furthest, being there from London, but was amazed to find some PTs from abroad taking part. This has gone on to be a feature of my tourism – I often think I’ll have come the furthest, only to find someone there from Melbourne, or Cape Town, showing just how far parkrun has developed to become a global phenomenon.

So what qualifies you to become a PT – and how is the term parkrun tourism defined? Again, I have only recently become aware of a number of different social media groups that are devoted to all things parkrun, such as this facebook group: parkrun discussion group. The subject of what defines parkrun tourism has been much debated in these groups, with various differing opinions being held. One view is that you are a PT if you are simply running at any parkrun other than your home run; another is that you have your home parkrun, then your “local” parkruns (any other run in the geographically based section of the parkrun website that also features your home run, e.g. Greater London, Wales or Yorkshire and the Humber) and anything further than that makes you a PT. There are some who favour the idea that if you have to stay overnight to attend a particular parkrun you are a PT – everything else is ‘local’. And other more hard-core people who insist that you are only a PT if you make a special effort to go somewhere different to run parkrun, rather than merely attending a different parkrun to your home run because you happen to be away for the weekend.

Through social media, I was also introduced to the wonderful analogue tracker designed by Hannah Perrin – and yes, there is even a parkrun analogue trackers group!

Hannah’s tracker allows you to keep track of your parkruns in a fun yet organised way, colouring in a different block for each run in different colours to represent your ‘home’, ‘local’ and ‘tourist’ runs. And this also introduced another concept to me – the alphabet challenge! The idea is that you try to run a parkrun that begins with each letter of the alphabet, colouring them off on the tracker as you go. And no, there are no parkruns beginning with the letters X and Z (unless you count eXeter for X, and until Zennor starts up a new parkrun!). If you’re at all like me and you like lists, bullet journals and collecting things, this opens up parkrun tourism to a whole new ballgame. Suddenly I was starting to look at where I was away for the weekend and seeing if I could ‘bag’ a new letter. So when staying in Devon, should I do Exeter Riverside, or save the “E” for when I’m in Edinburgh in May and do Killerton instead? Planning a weekend away in Lulworth, Dorset, in May, so I look for nearby parkruns and find… oh no… the nearest is Seaton which begins with an ‘S’ and I already have Salisbury – d’oh! And another weekend in Lyme Regis gives the possibility of running at Weymouth – but I don’t need another ‘W’ as I have my home run at Walthamstow! I seriously need to get a grip before this thing takes over my life…

As I embraced the idea of parkrun tourism, a bit of guilt started to creep in though. Was I abandoning my home parkrun, or being disloyal to them? I am lucky in that there are a number of parkruns near to where I live, so I am spoilt for choice. My home run of Walthamstow is run entirely on grass which gets very, very muddy in winter, so as winter set in I started running at nearby Hackney Marshes, which is run entirely on tarmac paths. And yet I felt incredible guilt at running there, as Walthamstow struggled for runners during the inclement weather and even in midsummer rarely gets above 100 runners. Of course, the fewer runners, the fewer people there are to volunteer and I didn’t want the lovely Walthamstow parkrun family to think I had deserted them. I don’t feel quite the same guilt if running a lot further away though; if I’m away for the weekend in Devon, or Yorkshire I can’t get to Walthamstow, so the least I can do is fly the flag for the ‘Stow by wearing my Walthamstow-branded apricot parkrun t-shirt at the different course. This, of course, also marks me out to be a PT and opens up many conversations, such as one I had with a marshal at Rosliston who had noted the t-shirt and came up to talk to me as his family came from nearby Leytonstone! And I can encourage anyone I talk to as a tourist to come and do a bit of tourism and run at Walthamstow!


Loyalty to your ‘home’ parkrun used to be encouraged by the awarding of ‘points’ – you collected points by running or volunteering at a particular parkrun, and the more times you ran/volunteered there, the more points you got. At Walthamstow we have had a points ceremony at the anniversary celebration, with trophies being awarded for those with the most points. Whilst this encouraged loyalty to a particular parkrun, I understand that parkrun HQ have now scrapped the points system – perhaps because so many people are now doing parkrun tourism, which makes the points system defunct.

So having decided to do a bit of parkrun tourism, how do you do it? Well, first you need to decide which parkrun to go to. You can use the event finder on the official parkrun website which shows all the events in geographical sections, and then on each parkrun home page there is a section which shows other parkruns nearby. But even easier is the unofficial tourist tool which shows the nearest 10 parkruns to any location in the UK. Once you’ve decided on a parkrun, check out the course details on the official website which tells you everything you need to know about the type of course, how to get there, and often even which café they go to after the run. And then just turn up – but don’t forget your barcode of course! #dfyb

Turning up as a tourist at different parkrun to your home run is, for me, both anxiety-inducing and oddly comforting! Anxiety-inducing as I find I worry a bit about whether I’ll be able to find it ok, will I be there on time, will there be toilets that I can use pre-run etc. But as soon as I get there, the familiar parkrun branding is like a comforting blanket – the distinctive branding means that the event is instantly recognisable as a parkrun and familiar, no matter how far from home you are. And ALL parkruns are friendly and welcoming – we are parkrun family. However familiar and recognisable each parkrun is though, they are also all slightly different, as different parkruns introduce innovations and different ideas unique to that parkrun, such as the different ways that people sort the parkrun finish tokens. Sometimes the scanners stand just by the finish line, sometimes they have the benefit of a table – and in Exeter they even sit at a table in a café upstairs in the nearby climbing centre which is some way from the finish line. But they had a great idea for sorting the finish tokens – by using a marked-up ice-cube tray! At Oakwell Hall I noticed they had a blackboard for people to sign up to volunteer in future weeks, and ideas of different ways of doing the briefings – and being heard and seen – can all be taken back to your own home parkrun, so your home run can benefit from your tourism!

So having embraced the idea of parkrun tourism, I feel like I’ve joined a secret club; a new parkrun family – that of the parkrun tourist family! Over a post-parkrun coffee at Rosliston I was chatting with a woman who was also a tourist – she was only on her 7th run but she had a little camper van and she had started using that to become a parkrun tourist. She would drive somewhere on the Friday night, park up and sleep in the van near the parkrun of her choice and then after the run would spend the day exploring the locality of the parkrun. So parkrun tourism had introduced a whole new hobby to her, and the excuse to get out and about and to see more of the country. At Rosliston there was also a group of women on a hen party – all sporting “Runaway Bride” t-shirts! I’m not sure if they were PTs or at their home run, but often when you get hen/stag parties running at parkrun you inevitably get a few PTs as the bride’s/groom’s friends won’t necessarily be local.


So far I have only completed 7 different parkruns including my home parkrun, so I have a long way to go before I complete 20 runs and get onto the official Most events list. But I’ve just discovered today that when you get onto this list you are entitled to wear the unofficial PT “cow cowl”! I haven’t noticed these being worn, but having only just found out about them today I’m sure I’m suddenly going to start seeing them everywhere!

I started this post by saying that I had indulged in a bit of parkrun tourism over the last two weekends, at Exeter and Rosliston, and you couldn’t get two more different parkruns. Exeter Riverside was entirely flat being run alongside the riverbank – as the name says on the tin – and started at Exeter Quay which is quite built-up but with a number of handy coffee-shops for a post-run coffee. Whereas Rosliston was a complicated course but excellently marshalled so there was no chance of getting lost, set in part of the National Forest, hilly and muddy and scenic! Out of the two, I much preferred Rosliston as a parkrun experience; on arrival I was greeted by friendly marshals who called out a cheery ‘hello’, all the marshalls on the course were really encouraging, the course was varied and ran through a bluebell wood (sadly no bluebells were out!) and fields with sculptures, and afterwards there was a superb bright and airy café right next to the finish for a post-parkrun coffee and breakfast. And they even have a gate made of logs that looks like the parkrun logo – the perfect parkrun course!

I’m already eagerly planning the places I can visit over the rest of the year – keeping in mind the letters I need for the alphabet challenge! But then I read this blog post by Paul Jeffrey, which has raised the game to even new heights!  On the parkrun website you can look up your most recent runs which are displayed in a table. Paul has worked out that by running certain runs his table will show the word ‘cornetto’ if you read the first letter of each parkrun he has done vertically – cornetto being his post-parkrun treat of choice! This opens up a whole new avenue of parkrun tourism challenges – to spell out words by the careful selection of venue! Perhaps I’d better stick to the alphabet challenge for now – I’m reliably informed that currently there is only one option for ‘J’ – Jersey. I’d better get planning…




Posted in parkrun, Running, Travel, Uncategorized, Walthamstow | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments