Category Archives: Londontown

My First Picturehouse

cineworld

I cannot say for certain that the first film on the big screen I saw was at the cinema that has occupied the corner of King’s Road and Old Church Street for as long as I can remember, but I cannot think that it would have been anywhere else. This is where I believe my love of film began. And sadly, this is the place I must say goodbye to next week, because they are closing their doors. When I found out that news a month or so ago it felt like a chapter of my life was ending. Similar to the way you feel when you leave school. That place where you became who you are, no longer part of your every day.

When I tell people that I grew up at this cinema here that is no exaggeration. My mum, as well as series of godmothers and family friends, worked there up until I was in my teenage years. Even now when I go there’s a possibility that someone I call ‘Auntie’ will be taking my ticket. I remember it first as a Cannon, then a MGM, a Virgin, a UGC, and now its final incarnation as a Cineworld. I remember when the box office and kiosk were both on the ground floor, and what is now the kiosk was an actual bar. When the uniform was a brown skirt and blazer and the tickets were printed on a dot matrix printer. One of my mum’s friends would watch my sister and I as she served behind the bar. We would eat the peanuts as we waited for our mum to collect her wages. No bank transfers then. Sometimes we’d go upstairs and look over the side of the bannister on the first floor into the lobby, now that space is a second kiosk. When I was a child watching movies there used to be an usher standing in the screen selling ice-cream before the film started, I remember their names were Sue and Maria. Sue had curly blonde hair and wore glasses. Maria, with her silver hair always tied up neatly, reminded me of a kindly grandmother from a storybook.

Screen 4 – the basement, if you wanted to you could sit all by yourself in the single seat on the left, bathrooms conveniently located just outside the door. Screen 3 – take the back row on the right, that way you get the rail. Screen 2 – the bigger screen, where we used to sit on the left because that way my mum could find us if she needed to, but middle-middle is where you wanted to be. Screen 1 – the screen at the end of the corridor, middle-middle. Three Men and a Little Lady. The Woo Woo Kid – before Patrick Dempsey became McDreamy on Grey’s Anatomy. Turner and Hooch. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure – that one was a little frightening. The Princess Bride. My Girl – it was the last show that day and my sister and I were the only ones in there, but we were waiting for my mum to finish her shift anyway. Who Framed Roger Rabbit on my then best friend’s seventh birthday – I still have the cinema ticket for that one somewhere. Mermaids – my first 15 rated film in the cinema, I was not 15 but it was the start of my Winona Ryder fandom.

So many memories. It is only now that I take the time to think about it that I realise how many there are, and how so much of my life was influenced by those walls. Simple things that seem unrelated, like my watching Eastenders. My mum would have Thursday and Friday off, and Thursday used to be the only day Eastenders was on so that was the show we ended up watching. Every Thursday, after Top of the Pops. We would tape Dallas – yes, on a VCR (with a plug in remote I might add), because that was on a Monday. I am not a big fan of metal staircases because of the ones that go up to the staff room. In my mind I remember them being dimly lit with water dripping between rungs. That memory is probably more influenced by a movie I saw there rather than actual reality.

Practically I understand the decision, even if there wasn’t issues with their lease. There’s another cinema a short walk away. That one’s recently added a Starbucks franchise and the screens are much larger. It is probably a better cinema, although I will never fully admit that. A rivalry again from my childhood because that cinema was originally part of a different franchise – an ABC. We didn’t go there. We just accepted that if a film we wanted to see was there we would have to wait for it to be on video to watch it. My cinema certainly doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles of 4D and leather chairs on offer in other cinemas and other chains. However, none of those will ever feel as much a part of me as this cinema came to be.

I have taken the day off work with the intention of watching as many films as I can, which given the current schedule most likely means three. Now to decide what that final film will be. It will quite likely be a choice between Logan, Kong: Skull Island, or Hidden Figures. Wolverine’s last hurrah seems fitting, and I have certainly seen many a comic book based movie here. Kong, featuring my current silver screen crush – Tom Hiddleston, and of course a Hollywood legend – the ape. Or perhaps the story of three extraordinary women whose determination brought us to the stars. I’ve already seen Hidden Figures, but it seems fitting that a movie that teaches us to see a world bigger than the one we might have imagined possible might be the last one I see there. That place where I was carried to a thousand different worlds and times.

My choice will most likely be determined by time. Aren’t most things these days? Under that roof though, in the darkness, sat in those seats, for however long that movie was on for, the rest of the world didn’t matter. You didn’t look at your phone, you might not even talk to the person sat next to you. Instead, you were carried away to wherever and whenever the screen took you.

I will miss these walls. I will miss the chance to be carried away again in this most familiar of environments. Chelsea cinema – in all of your guises, for all of the memories and the movies I thank you. Goodnight.

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My City, My Coffee

I have an overwhelming feeling of pure and complete contentment at the moment. Not to be mistaken for happiness, for I feel that implies a sense of giddyness and a certain spring in ones step accompanied by a most definite Cheshire Cat grin (or at least it does in my case). No, this is most definitely contentment. Calm, peaceful, inhale deeply, exhale slowly, contentment. Why? Because of my coffee.

This is quite ridiculous I know, even more so because I am not a big (or small) coffee drinker. However, this is different. This is no ordinary cup of coffee. This is the Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte. Oh yes. I have had people request their local Starbucks hold back some PSL mix for my visit so it would be there when I visited (yes, again, my people are amazing). This drink conjures up so many memories of thick socks, hands in pockets, and pulling your jacket that little bit tighter to keep in the warmth. I am almost willing to call this season ‘Fall’ even though I know it to be autumn.

I was introduced to this beverage three years ago on a cold autumn New York afternoon. My friend Bobby and I were having one of our walking and talking moments and he stopped on the corner of 35th and 7th. That I remember exactly which Starbucks, in a city where this is one on every corner, demonstrates how important a moment this was. We went inside, and rather than simply ordering me my first Pumpkin Spice Latte, Bobby managed to get the lady behind the counter to give us the drink for free. Something about not wanting me to have a whole one in case I didn’t like it, but she said she would have to make it anyway so we could just have it. This may actually be why I remember it so clearly, because it’s one of my favourite Bobby Moments, rather than the start of my love affair with the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Whatever the reason, it makes for a good story.

This drink was part of so many of my favourite moments, and now that Starbucks has brought it to London, I get to enjoy it whilst I walk the streets of my own city! I feel that I am now ready for autumn. Let the clocks go back, let the colder days come. I will hold my Pumpkin Spice Latte in my hand and fall in love with my city as the leaves turn golden and wish my NYers were with me to share these moments, but perfectly content because my LDNers are with me.

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My London

My heart is literally breaking over what is happening in my city. I love London unequivocally. I have seen other cities and I have experienced other cultures, some very different from my own, but I can say without a doubt that my heart is most at peace when I am walking the streets of London. The air here is different. The rhythm of the city beating its own distinct pulse through the buildings, along the river, and out through every street laid out due to necessity not the order of later cities learnt from our example.

The events of the past few days both sadden and anger me. Some are saying that it is the disenfranchisement of our youth that is causing them to act out in this way. Council services have been cut so they do not have anything to occupy their time with and the economic situation for them is bleak. I understand that, part of me even agrees with it. If there is no promise of a brighter future then, why not take what you want when it is there for the taking? Why work hard to earn enough for the latest high-tech gadgetry when throwing a chair through the window of Dixons and running off with all you can carry will have the same affect? Why? Because we are supposed to be better than that, that’s why.

When life gets hard we are not supposed to use it as an excuse to run around lawlessly destroying our own communities. We are not supposed to make our neighbours fear for their own safety. We are not supposed to destroy the homes and livelihoods we have spent so long and worked so hard to create. The disenfranchised youth with monetary incentives to stay in school and free travel; these are the people running around causing mayhem as they take pictures with their i-phones and Blackberrys.

On a day with blue skies and white clouds most Londoners would be out enjoying this momentary glimpse of summer. Instead, most are constantly refreshing their computer screens for an update on what the current situation is in the city. We are on tenterhooks waiting to hear what is happening around London. And I, like so many, have a heavy heart inside my chest as I see the actions of few, reeking havoc across the city that I love. It aches at the scenes plastered across newspapers and television screens as the world watches Londoners tearing London apart.

And what can we do? In the aftermath those that can have done what I knew Londoners would do, they have taken up their brooms and bin bags and are helping with the clear up. Others waiting until it is safe so they can go in and help clear away the broken pieces and help mend the broken lives of those affected, but what of the looters? Whilst the police and the politicians decide what action to take stories come in of people taking up saucepans and bats, whatever they can, to defend whatever they have left. Elderly people determined that they will not live in fear in their own city. This is the true face of London.

The looters are nothing but opportunistic scum. They have brazenly walked through our communities and neighbourhoods, along our high streets, and declared themselves above the law. This has nothign to do with what happened to Mark Duggan and the police shooting. This is about nothing more than causing as much damage as possible, to hell with who gets hurt. I hope each and every one of them gets caught and are punished accordingly. Raise my taxes to lock them up; right now I do not care. They have tried to destroy my city; they do not deserve to be a part of it.

All across London everyone I know is bracing themselves for another night of looting. Stores have shut early, shutters pulled all the way down and some are even boarded up. People have put their cars in garages. All plans have been cancelled. As we set in for the fourth night of possible unrest the 16,000 strong police force out on the streets brace themselves too. We wait for the sun to set and pray that tonight we are spared a repeat of the previous nights. Every Londoner listening out for the sirens and helicopters. Every Londoner looking on in disgust at the ones we have disowned. Every Londoner hoping that this madness is over and that their city can be returned to them.

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The Last Great Comic Book Store

I found out today that my comic book store, Avalon Comics, is closing. It’s been on the cards for a while now, with the big publishers supplying large chains like Forbidden Planet and raising the prices and the lack of new readers I feared this would happen. As much as movies based on comics are no longer the geekfest they were and it is actually “cool” to know who Peter Parker is there is still a divide between comic book readers and the masses – from both sides. I have had people turn their noses up when I’ve been sat on the tube reading my books with pictures in them. I in turn have rolled my eyes when I’ve been sat in a cinema and some guy who is trying to impress some girl who’s just there to ogle over the guy dressed in a spandex costume incorrectly reference some comiclore. People may list ‘Kick-Ass’ as one of their favourite movies of this year but ask most of those people if they’ve read the comic, or any comic, most would say no. The disconnect between movies and actually reading comics is a big part of the problem.

Another part of the problem is that those who want to read comics have no idea where to begin. Four years ago when I wanted to start reading 52, if it hadn’t been for my best bud telling me about Avalon then I probably never would have read it. There is no way that I would have been bothered to go down to Forbidden Planet every month (or every week since it was a weekly title) to pick it up. I can name six comic book stores in London, there may be one or two more, and I have searched these out. I can probably name you just as many in New York and that is just from walking around and noticing them. You can pick up comics in Barnes & Noble, bookstores here are becoming a dying breed. Even the chains are dying off with only Waterstone’s the last bookstore presence on the high street. Of those stores that I do know, I say with complete unbias that Avalon is by far the best comic book store in London.

I have been to the other stores and there is perhaps only one other that I would have no reservations about. The way that comics are handled in some comic stores, and anyone who has been in the comic stores here know which one I’m referring to, astounds me. I don’t know how anyone who is serious about comics would ever buy from them despite the volumes they carry and the number of variant covers they have. I took a friend of mine into there when he was visiting and warned him that I didn’t like the store and he said as soon as he walked in he understood why. Another store I know keeps their comics in better condition but the guy behind the counter is the comic book guy from the Simpsons, no lie. And the others are so in need of a refurbishment and quite frankly, a clean, that you don’t really want to go in there. Avalon is well organised, the comics are treated and stored properly, and when you walk in there you don’t feel like you’re going to get told off every time you go to touch something. I would in fact, for anyone who likes comic books, make it a point to make sure they went to Avalon to show them exactly what a comic book store should be like.

I knew nothing about comics when I started to read them. From the beginning the guys at Avalon couldn’t have been more lovely. All I had to do was send them an e-mail explaining that I was new to comics but wanted to start reading 52 and they were more than happy to get me the back issues that I had already missed and to set up a standing order for the rest of the series. My order has grown considerably since then and that is mostly due to Mark and Bruce, but not because they push any titles on me that I don’t want – far from it. They know what it is I read, and they know what it is I like to read. Mark will often e-mail me to tell me about a new title that he thinks I’d be interested in and ask me if I want it added to my order, or if he knows that a title is going to spin-off or that there is an existing storyline that ties in then he’ll make sure I don’t miss it. I would have been completely lost without his expertise during all of Final Crisis and the Batman RIP storylines. I trust their opinions implicitly. There is not a single title that they have recommended that has turned out to be a mistake. I have no qualms about going in there or sending them an e-mail to ask their opinion on things. Numerous times they have helped me to decide what to get the Best Bud for his birthday and will order it in for me.

It is not only their comic book knowledge that sets them above every other comic book store I have been in. Mark and Bruce are simply two of the nicest guys you could ever meet. Mark has been working in the store since it opened in 1988 when he was just 15yrs old and he and Bruce have developed a relationship with every one of their customers. I have been into the store perhaps only a dozen times but from the very beginning they have always welcomed me in there with a smile and a, ‘Hi Gemma!’ That level of customer service is almost unheard of. They even send me a Christmas card every year!

A friend of mine said to me once that I was like the Batman of underfunded projects. I only wish I had a fraction of Bruce Wayne’s money because I have known for a long time that if I did, then one of the first things I would do is make sure that Avalon stayed open. Unless my financial situation changes in the next 6mths though it doesn’t look like that will happen. Hopefully they’ll be able to maintain a mail order service. I can’t imagine getting my comics from anywhere else, I wouldn’t want to.

Some of the best things I have read in recent years have been comics, many of them brought to my attention by Mark and Bruce. I have enjoyed every moment I have spent getting lost in the stories on those pages. Buffy moving from the tv screen onto comic book pages. Green Arrow finally getting married to Black Canary. Bruce Wayne “dying” and Dick Grayson winning the battle for the cowl. It breaks my heart to think that so many people won’t know these stories because Mark and Bruce won’t be there to recommend them. When those doors close for the last time on Lavendar Hill it is going to be a sad sad day for this comic book geek.

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Open Eyes


I am in love with my city. I think that’s an important thing to be when you’ve chosen to make a place your home. I understand that a lot of people are where they are because of work, or because of family, or simply because they’ve never thought of being anywhere else. For me though, being a Londoner is a choice. Yes it is where I work and where my immediate family (and chosen family) reside, but I have thought about living other places too.

When I was younger there was always the thought that I could go and live in the Philippines. I’d spent a fair amount of my childhood there, and it’s where almost all of my family are. My last trip there though confirmed that though I could probably spend an extended amount of time there I wouldn’t choose to live there. On that side of the world, Cambodia too. I love Siem Reap. At first I dismissed the commercialism of it all, but once I got past that I found a city more different than any I’d ever been to. But again, an extended amount of time possibly, but not a lifetime.

There are the US cities of course. San Francisco, if I were to live anywhere on the West Coast then it would be there. I’ve learnt to live with the fog and the rapid change in weather and I know almost all the good places to find food – always important. Hawaii, the whole state is somewhere I would gladly be. I can’t imagine ever having to earn a living there though, it would just feel wrong. It is perhaps though one of the few places I can go to truly just chill. Always, New York. If you’d believe my friends then this city is still on the cards for me. Who knows? Perhaps one day. It is a place where I am able to be. For now, London is home.

I try not to take my city fore-granted. I used to spend many days just me and my city. Walking her streets and taking time to look at all the hidden secrets that go unnoticed. Lately I find myself with less time to spend so much time with her. Other demands mean I have become neglectful. These past few months though I have taken the time to reacquaint myself with my oldest of friends, and I am reminded of why I love my city.

One of the main reasons I have remembered to really look at my city is The Elephant Parade that has come to London, and will sadly be leaving in a few weeks once all of the elephants have been auctioned off. These beautiful sculptures, set amongst London’s streets to add some colour and adventure to our lives are there to remind us of the plight of the Asian Elephant. Most of us, fortunately, do not face the fear of extinction in our homes, they do.

I, like many other LDNers, set about “hunting” these beautiful creatures, and in doing so I have discovered and rediscovered parts of my city. The walks I take are well-trodden, they have become some of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon so when I do have the time they are where I go. My hunt has made me go to parts of the city that I have never ventured into. I have walked the same path as merchant bankers through Bank and The Royal Stock Exchange. I rediscovered a market that I haven’t been to since I was 14yrs old and on a school trip. I went to where the Mayor lives and I have found hidden patches of green when I thought I knew almost all of London’s green spaces. I have come to know my city again, and all because my hunt for these elephants have taken me down roads and side-streets I had never thought to explore.

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“Your library is your portrait.” – Holbrook Jackson

Apart from a cinema, a library is my one pre-requisite for that house I’ve had an architect in the back of my mind designing for at least the last 20yrs. Floor to ceiling shelves across every wall, and a spiral staircases leading to the upper level. That, or one of those ladders on wheels that you can pull along the shelves. There’ll be a desk where words are written with actual pen and paper, and I’ll also do my colouring here. I think perhaps mahogany, deep rich wood. It’s going to be oustanding.

For someone who has a reading pattern that waxes as much as it wanes I do think a library is the most important building in a community. I think to put that much knowledge under one roof and give people access to it for free is the greatest idea humankind has ever had. Imagine. You want to know something, so you go to a library, look it up, find the book, you get to take it home, and you learn. It costs you nothing and all you need to access it is the desire to know more than you already do. Brilliant. This kind of innovative thinking is what will save humanity.

The architecture alone in some libraries around the world is amazing. I love the British Library, and the reading room at the British Museum…you just feel like you’re absorbing knowledge just standing there. The first time I was in New York and I’d managed to escape yet another shopping expedition I went straight to the NY Public Library and fell in love. Every time since I make sure I steal at the very least an hour to myself to sit on those steps between Patience and Fortitude and just watch the world. On my next visit I will have to visit the Brooklyn Public Library, which I’m told – albeit by a Brooklynite, is even better.

I re-joined my local library last year after a very long absence. There was some trepidation over a book I’d borrowed when I was a kid and lent to someone else who failed to return it. I was scared that after all this time my fine would be bigger than a mortgage. However, turns out they didn’t do a background check and they just let me join after producing my licence and I’ve been happily borrowing ever since. Woo hoo!

Now my library doesn’t have the greatest stock in books, particularly the kind of books I read; but then I’m a selective reader so most of the books I do read are ones I know I’ll fall in love with so owning them becomes necessary. I’ve been internet savvy for a long time and Google is my best friend so I know how to find things online with ease. However, there will always be a part of me that believes sitting at a desk with a pile of books in front of you as you take notes is the only real way to do research. I believe those late night sessions in the library as you try to finish your homework is a rite of passage that everyone should have. The resources may not be great but my library allows me to remember a time when people learnt things from books. Today I had cause to learn.

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My City

Today she looked so beautiful; I couldn’t help but take her picture…

NB. May be best viewed in miniature. I may have seen my city but the camera on the Crackberry isn’t the best for catching it. Apologies for the graniness of the images.

If she needed words…

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