Day 366: Achievement 66. Attend a BBC Prom

Yes, I did it.  Finally.  After six years of working for the organisation that puts them on, twice attending Proms in the Park, annually watching a good few concerts on the tellybox and ‘always meaning to’, I went to see a Prom.  Yay.

The gig in question was Prom 23; Beethoven’s 4th, Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5 and Liszt’s Dante Symphony.  Those demonstrating their skills were Stephen Hough (tinkling the ivories), Julia Doyle and the CBSO Chorus provided the vocals and the BBC Philharmonic set the whole thing to music (under the stick-waving of Gianandrea Noseda).  Perhaps that means something to you.

Heather was to be my gig buddy for the night.  After queuing up for around half an hour around the back of the Royal Albert Hall, she appeared (both mysteriously and magically) just before the doors opened.  Thus avoiding having to queue (and endure a conversation with me).  Having made the cut, and having paid only £5 for an arena day ticket, it seemed appropriate to celebrate with beer.  This is where the night’s first (and, if I remember, only) mistake came into being: visiting one of the Royal Albert Hall’s bars.  Expensive, not very nice, beer in a flimsy plastic beaker.  Bleurgh.  A much better idea, for the drinkers, is to visit the Imperial College student union bar.  A pint of beer and a gin and tonic for £4.40, real glass to drink out of, and a lovely beer garden to drink in.

It’s quite a strange crowd that goes to The Proms.  Among other more normal sites, a couple were laid out on the floor, heads resting on a bag.  A lone woman spent the whole concert sitting on the floor, cross legged, playing with an iPad.  An elderly couple in the front row listened to the whole event with there eyes closed.  More surprisingly, so did a number of people who were standing on the arena floor.  A few of them were swaying, most were resolute in their stillness.  Then there were those who decided to do what I can only think of as the classical equivalent of playing air guitar.  Air conducting?

I’m not best placed to review the music of the night, so I’ll leave that to my colleague David (who was also there with a decidedly more high-brow crowd).  I’ve not sought his permission, so hopefully he’ll either never read this or not at all mind:

The Beethoven was rather leaden, the Saint-Saëns fun but a tad shallow, and the Liszt dragged rather. Otherwise, it wasn’t too bad!


So there you have it.

Meta: A seven month update

Hello, Things Fan!

Updates have been a little thin on the ground recently.  Apologies for that but, as you might expect, I’ve got a few excuses up my sleeve (always handy when you’re as disorganised and lazy as me).  Firstly, the impetus to do the Hundred Things within a year is gone.  I’ve accepted the offer of a new job that’s based in London, so I’m going to be knocking around the south east for the foreseeable.  Secondly, I’m sure you remember Claire from the Winter Wonderland post.  Well, we’ve been hanging out a fair bit and that, along with working at Stupid O’Clock, has left me with precious little time to do Things.  But there’s precious few Stupid O’Clock shifts left to do before I join the leagues of nine-to-five desk jockeys and generally have a more sensible life.  Good news there, then.

Be assured, though, that although there’s been a drought of updates, there’s been a veritable feast of Things that are just waiting to be written about.  From an utterly disappointing two hours in the IMAX (Tron Legacy) to a mooch around St. Paul’s Cathedral (no road to Damascus moment), via the delights of the Crystal Palace maze (took far too long, especially as I’m taller than the hedge).  That, and more, is still to come — including the bizarre tale of how I spent two months at the Old Bailey but didn’t manage to see anyone get sent down.

In sad news, Konstam, the restaurant that sourced all its ingredients from around the M25, has joined Woolworths in the great big High Street in the sky.  The Terrace Garden at The Langham has probably shut, too, it being last summer’s pop-up champagne bar.  If you’ve got any idea about what could replace these Things, stick your thoughts down in the comments.  I promise to read each one of them.

Think that’s about it for now.  Stay tuned for an actual update… soon. Ish.

Day 43: Achievement 30 (part 7). The Brunel Museum, Thames Tunnel shaft tour

The Brunel Museum manages to be both small and in Rotherhithe.  In terms of square footage, I’m pretty confident the living area of my flat is bigger.  There’s a television in the lower corner, running a film on Marc Brunel and his tunnel.  There’s a mezzanine level with a gift shop and tea bar.  And there’s an upstairs bit with some diagrams about how the tunnel was built.  Out the back, there’s some benches.  One of them has a model of a train in the middle of it:

Railway model

Perhaps more interestingly, the original south-side shaft of Brunel’s Thames Tunnel is right next to the museum.  I was fortunate enough to climb through a hatch, down some scaffolding, and arrive at a newly installed concrete floor about twenty feet down.  The shafts were built above ground and the ground below them was removed, allowing them to sink.  The north-side shaft now forms a part of Wapping station on the London Overground network.  If you’re stood at the foot of the stairs, by the lifts, just look up.

The Thames Tunnel, now allowing trains traveling between Rotherhithe and Wapping to traverse the river without getting wet, has something of a chequered past.  It flooded twice during construction, killing six and delaying the project for seven years.  The original intention was to allow goods to cross the river with speed and ease.  Alas, Marc Brunel wasn’t as much of an accountant as he was civil engineer.  That’d be how he got himself into the situation of running out of money before building approach ramps.  Whoops.

Plan B: put spiral staircases in the shafts, lease pitches in the tunnel to merchants, cash in on the novelty of it all.  The path of the original spiral staircase can still be seen in the south shaft:


But that didn’t really work out, either.  Ne’er-do-wells and purveyors of the original profession made the tunnel a place to do business.  Many of the stall-holders didn’t renew their leases and, once more, Brunel was stuck.

So he sold it to the East London Railway, completing a series of firsts.  It was now the first tunnel to pass under a navigable river.  It housed the first shopping arcade in a tunnel.  And now it was the first under-river tunnel on the railway, before becoming the first under-river tunnel on the world’s first underground railway.  It was also the first, and last, project Isambard Kingdom Brunel worked on with his father.

More photos over on flickr.