Latest BBC feature: London pigeon droppings inspire brooch-maker

Brooch by Frances Wadsworth-Jones

From the ‘Heaven Sent’ collection by Frances Wadsworth-Jones

A young artist being showcased at the Museum of London has found inspiration for jewellery in pigeon droppings.

Frances Wadsworth-Jones from Ealing, west London, creates brooches using crushed precious and semi-precious gems which sell for up to £2,500.

She said it “played on the idea” that bird droppings landing on someone was “lucky”.

Continue reading here.

Latest BBC feature: Musicians audition for Tube busking licences

Ben Hudson

I told Ben Hudson ‘You look like a young Michael Hutchence’. He said ‘Who’s he?’.

The sound of No Woman, No Cry emanates from a disused platform at Charing Cross Underground station as weekend engineering works are announced and a man plays scales on a bamboo flute.

It’s the last audition day for performers hoping to gain the busking licences for the Tube which were first made available 10 years ago.

Over three weeks, 250 people have played for a panel of three – sometimes including record company professionals – hoping to join the 350 performers who try to entertain commuters. There are up to 100 licences available.

Continue reading here and see my gallery of pictures here.

BBC feature: Canal community recalls Gemma McCluskie body part trail

Regent's Canal took on a "macabre atmosphere" with the knowledge that body parts were still to be found, said one resident

Regent’s Canal took on a “macabre atmosphere” with the knowledge that body parts were still to be found, said one resident

On 6 March last year a human torso was discovered in London’s Regent’s Canal.

Following the macabre find, people living, walking, working and kayaking in the area knew there were two arms, two legs and a head yet to be discovered – possibly by them.

It was six months before the final part of Gemma McCluskie’s body – her head – was found in the canal in Hackney, east London, as revealed in graphic detail during the murder trial of her brother.

One resident of Kingsland Basin said he was having breakfast on his balcony when the discovery was made and there was a commotion among people on the barges below.

Continue reading here.

My lesson in Chinese wisdom appears on photography website

Someone once told me ‘What you see is what you are’, taken in London’s Chinatown by Mario Cacciottolo

In the summer I had the privilege of meeting a student from Taiwan studying Shakespeare in London called Juan Hung Yu.

We spent a lot of time discussing the experiences we had had as foreigners in each other’s countries. Her impressions of England were of a place where everybody is very polite. Like me in China, she had been shown terrific kindness by strangers.

She loved the variety of historical and cultural pursuits on offer and spent her time dashing between debates, recitals, museums and performances.

In short, as I had been in China, she was hooked on England. It was under her skin. But I pointed out that few in England appreciate how lucky they are, and most, in fact, moan about their lot.

“Xiang you xin shen,” she said.(It should be ‘xin’, not ‘xing’ as I wrote it down in pinyin). She explained it means ‘image from heart born’, that what you see is what you are. If you see the world and think it is fabulous, with many opportunities, it’s because you are.

When I was asked if I had something that someone once told me that I would like to add to Mario Cacciatollo’s beautiful photography website, it came to me straight away.

See the Someone Once Told Me page here.

Expat life: I had a farm in Africa…

  • The expat ‘holiday lives’ kept under wraps

“Is that you when you were on holiday?” someone asked me last week at work when I let Shanghai out of the bag for a moment and discretely shared a picture of my life in China taken before I returned to London just under a year ago.

“No, that was my life,” I answered as I reflected on the image of me on my precious scooter I had had to leave behind.

In the picture I am happily coasting down the backstreets of Shanghai, taking in the sights of chickens being cooked alive by the roadside. It was an afternoon when washing was being maneuvered up high onto overhead telegraph cables, the gas man was doing his rounds cycling with a gas bottle on each side of his back wheel, a couple in pyjamas were chatting at a kiosk.

It was all so blissfully everyday to me. Not something to just write a postcard about or pack away in my suitcase with my souvenir chopsticks and suntan after two weeks.

It got me wondering how my friends in England can fully know me, without a grasp of the life I lived for four years.

The majority of new friends I’ve made since returning have a cursory understanding. Jo lived in China. She learnt Mandarin, or was it Cantonese?

But how often do ex-expats really let their life stories out of the bag? How often do they sit down and begin their tale, a la Karen Blixen’s, “I had a farm in Africa…”? Rarely, I would say.

Soon after returning to England, I was standing in a bar, in a circle of people comparing stories of eccentric behaviour they had recently witnessed. “A guy I sat behind at the cinema last weekend brought nachos in with him and ate them really loudly. Who does that?”, one girl said half-complaining, half relieved to have been exposed to such crazy shenanigans to bemoan in assemblies like this. Everyone laughed and shook their heads. Those crazy cinema-goers.

But she’d lost me. My mind had drifted back to a performance of Swan Lake I’d been to in Shanghai where the woman next to me was on her mobile phone the whole way through, describing in detail what was happening on stage to a friend at home.

I didn’t share my story. You have to ration your China. When I start a sentence “In China,” people’s eyes tend to glaze over. They’d much rather hear a funny anecdote from Cheltenham.

So when an expat friend visits London from Shanghai, it’s a chance to talk easily about our ‘holiday lives’. In the last month, three visitors have popped by regaling stories of international flights taken with emergency passports, TV shoots in remote parts of southern China, weekends wreck-diving in the Philippines – familiar currency.

With each of them, I have experienced things my friends at home would probably struggle to. But they will no doubt leave China one day and mothball their stories.

The stories will dwell in the Ngong Hills of the mind, only allowed out when in the company of other China expats or when we’re packed off mumbling to old people’s home.

“I had a flat in Shanghai, on the banks of Suzhou Creek,” I will tell a woman changing my bed pan one day as I busy myself applying lipstick to my eyebrows.

Josephine wrote a blog about her expat life for the Daily Telegraph for two years called Chelsea Girl in China.

Latest BBC feature: Requiem inspired by Londoners’ epitaphs is premiered

Barbara Windsor singing

A requiem inspired by the graves of Londoners has been premiered in north London.

Benjamin Till spent two years visiting 20 graveyards and cemeteries for the funeral composition, The London Requiem.

Actress Barbara Windsor, comedian Matt Lucas, playwright Sir Arnold Wesker, folk singer Maddie Prior and pop singer Tanita Tikaram have contributed.

It was performed at Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.

‘Wonderful, loving fun’

Mr Till who lives in Hampstead, north London, said it was a trip to his local burial ground Highgate Cemetery which gave him the idea to write a requiem.

He said he was struck by the graveyard’s beauty and an inscription which read: “Be kind, for everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle.”

An epitaph in Hoop Lane Cemetery in Golders Green, north-west London, inspired the second movement of the piece, the Kyrie.

It reads: “Ever in my heart, Ever in my mind, Ever by my side. Thanks for 53 wonderful loving fun years.”

The words have been sung by Barbara Windsor.

She said: “When you get to my age – I’m 74 and I’ve experienced a hell of a lot – you don’t get many firsts.”

Continue reading here.

Latest BBC feature: Three retired ladies attempt to ride every London bus

Snapshots taken since 2009 from London buses

A Freedom Pass entitles Londoners to free travel from the age of 62. But few exploit the potential of free travel across the entire capital, from Hillingdon to Havering, Barnet to Bromley, quite like three retired ladies.

They have set themselves the challenge of travelling on every bus route in London from end to end and blogging about it in numerical order.

Later, the self-styled “ladies who bus”, Jo Hunt, 68, from Camden, north London, Mary Rees, 68, from Peckham, south London, and Linda Smither, 65, from Forest Hill, south-east London, will take the 381 bus which passes the Freedom Pass office.

‘Completely gobsmacked’

They started their challenge in March 2009 and aim to complete every journey up to the number 549, plus the 600 routes which are not school buses.

Retired teacher Jo Hunt says London bus drivers are “extraordinarily good”

Mrs Hunt, a former History teacher at Watford Girls’ School, said: “It was probably my idea. I’m not a Londoner like the other two and I was completely gobsmacked how far the buses go.”

Continue reading here.

You’re a Londoner when…

Can you pick up a Standard from a stand in one swift movement without breaking your stride? c.Richard Baker

Olympics visitors are going to descend on London soon.

Since I’ve just returned to the city after four years abroad, I’ve been studying its inhabitants and learning to imitate them.

These are my conclusions.

YOU’RE A LONDONER WHEN…

  • You don’t break your stride to pick up an Evening Standard from a stand
  • You can trot down a moving Tube escalator in high heels
  • You own something high viz
  • You think 11pm is late
  • You don’t question why the bus, train or Tube you’re waiting for is late or cancelled…
  • But you’ll sure as hell get narky if a bus passenger deigns to pay in cash or ask a question of the driver hence delaying you by one minute
  •  You’ve always thought you should one day take the open top tourist bus… but never have
  • You are profoundly disappointed when it’s 13 degrees and there’s no sunshine- though this is the yearly average state of play and you’re not living in Rio
  • You’ve had too much to drink in a public place
  • You are able to navigate the streets of Soho though they were seemingly mapped out by a confused medieval goat

For exhibits of the above and great London street photography, go to the free exhibition at King’s Cross Station until August 15: www.lfph.org/diary/contemporary-london-street-photography.