London Calling – Go Ape!

London Zoo is the world’s oldest scientific zoo, having opened on April 27, 1828 and it is home to some 17,500 creatures. Many of the larger animals have moved to the Zoological Society of London’s second home, Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire, but the gorillas are still there, on the northern edge of Regent’s Park.

Maybe Kumbuka, the only male Western Lowland Silverback, had just had enough of city life one Thursday in October when he made his bid for freedom. Visitors reported he was looking “really angry and banging on the cage” shortly before he escaped.

Beautiful creatures though they are, they can also be extremely dangerous and the zoo immediately put into action an emergency plan to deal with the situation. Armed Metropolitan Police officers were on the scene within 10 minutes. Apparently the huge gorilla only made it into a ‘secure keeper’s area’ but was on the loose for nearly two hours before being shot with a tranquilliser dart.

The 100 or so visitors were corralled into the zoo café for the duration and several said it felt a little like being in the film “Jurassic Park”.

Now back in his enclosure which was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 2007, Kumbuka made a fast recovery from his adventure and now heads up the zoo’s escape committee.

Stop the war

For many years, Parliament Square had an unintended resident in Brian Haw, the veteran anti-war protester. Demonstrations on the grass square, opposite the Houses of Parliament, famous for its statues of Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, have long been banned. But Haw was there before these laws were passed and fought continual attempts to remove him. In total, his scruffy encampment with banners and posters railing against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was there for over 10 years.

Haw died in 2011 at the age of 62 from lung cancer but now his message lives on in an art installation at Tate Britain. Artist Mark Wallinger won the Turner Prize for creating State Britain 2007 which is a meticulous reconstruction of the encampment. Everything is faithfully reproduced in the 40-metre installation, including the tarpaulin shelter and tea-making area and every message of support Haw received.

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, who is stepping down from the role after nearly 30 years, said that through buying this artwork, the Tate was fulfilling its historic mission to be “national in deed as well as status” by reaching an ever-wider audience.

The importance of being, well, rich!

You will have to be if you want to buy Oscar Wilde’s Mayfair home, it’s as simple as that! The beautiful, Georgian, Grade II listed house at 14 Half Moon Street has come on the market with a whopping price tag of £14.95 million (€16.65 million). Having undergone extensive renovation, the house retains its original glamour and yet also incorporates those must-haves for the super rich – a cinema, gym, steam room and a lift!

This house was the inspiration for Algernon Moncrieff’s bachelor pad in “The Importance of Being Earnest” and when Wilde lived there, it was fittingly divided into ‘bachelor chambers’ lived in by Wilde and many of his bohemian circle of friends. The nearby Flemings Tavern in Half Moon street was Oscar Wilde’s favourite drinking establishment and he bought his trademark lapel carnations in the nearby Burlington Arcade of exclusive shops. No handbag needed – just very deep pockets!

As you like it

Londoner Ricky Chard is fed up with trailing off to see rented property which is nothing like it would seem to be from the pictures and details. An average rental in the UK capital is a whopping £1,555 (€1,727) per month and visiting properties is time-consuming and tedious in the congested city. So Ricky and his fiancée Cara Lee have launched www.likealet.co.uk, which they have dubbed the ‘TripAdvisor for renters’.

On this site, potential tenants can check out issues like damp, noisy neighbours, heating and parking, and can also comment on the attitude and helpfulness of individual letting agents and landlords. As Ricky says: “There were so many occasions when I arrived at a property only to be disappointed at the reality compared to how it was marketed.”

The site is intended to generally help improve standards rather than becoming a moaning forum and will also allow tenants to comment on tradespeople and service providers. Altogether a rather good idea.

May the force be with you

Star Wars fans around the globe are awaiting, with baited breath, the new prequel to the epic saga, “Rogue One”, which is due to hit cinemas just in time for Christmas (good old Disney!).

But in London, “Star Wars Identities” will really get fans’ adrenalin running just before this when the fully interactive exhibition hits the O2 in November. Over 200 original props will be on display, including Darth Vader’s suit, and visitors will be able to create their very own character too.

Also on display will be the R2-D2 robot into which the late English actor Kenny Baker somehow fitted, the bikini worn by Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” and Han Solo in his carbonite frieze from the same film.

The show describes, in great detail, the development of the main characters from concept to final production, so there is truly something for everyone – provided you like “Star Wars” that is!

And talking of friezes…

The English Gardens in Regent’s Park have been transformed into a free sculpture park until January next year as part of the Frieze Art Fair. This truly is a display worth taking a look at for its sheer eccentricity and creativeness. A particular favourite of mine is Fagend Study – in essence, a giant stubbed out cigarette, made of steel, weighing some 300kg and created by American sculptor Claes Oldenburg. Equally bizarre is a surreal combination of a bronze cabbage placed on a chicken’s legs, the work of Claude Lalanne which you really have to see to believe!

The annual Frieze Art Fair has become an important part of the London contemporary art scene and this year featured work from over 1,000 artists and 160 galleries.

By Richard Lamberth