Mickey and Mini Mouse

London Calling – It’s a kind of magic

On what many think is an unlucky day (Friday, October 13), a major new exhibition opened at Excel in London’s docklands.

Fans of the cartoons and magic that is Disney are flocking to the enchanting epic ‘Disney100: The Exhibition’. On display is a dazzling array of props and costumes from the last 100 years. There are 10 themed galleries with exhibits from every stage of Disney evolution. The attractions and rides of the various Disney theme parks around the world are vividly celebrated.

Original artwork from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) sits alongside a celebration of the 1961 animated classic 101 Dalmatians. Also, the iconic bright red dress from Cruella (2021), worn, of course, by Emma Stone, is displayed along with many other costumes and artefacts.

There are various tributes to the famous older characters like Donald Duck, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Pluto. Then, other sections of the exhibition bring things more up to date with characters and costumes from Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel – all franchises now under the Disney wing.

The exhibition runs until the end of January 2024, so plenty of time to plan a trip.

Christmas is coming

Christmas is a fun time in London and, each year, the UK capital reinvents itself to appeal to the masses of tourists who visit. Preparations now begin so much earlier as does the Christmas season itself and a couple of fantastic new ideas have caught your columnist’s eye.

London has seen trails of numerous colourful statues dotted around the famous sites, including elephants, gorillas and cartoon characters like Wallace and Gromit. This year, in a much more seasonal offering, the area around Fleet Street will be festooned with huge, colourful snowmen!

From November 21, an art trail ‘Walking with the Snowman’ will grace the roads in the former newspaper and press district of the City. Raymond Biggs published the original Snowman in 1978 and, since then, this timeless classic has gone on to sell nearly six million copies. Films and music have, of course, followed with the song Walking in the Air, sung by Aled Jones, hitting the charts in 1985 and reappearing each Christmas since.

The trail runs until January and is free to follow. It is launched in partnership with Wild in Art and Penguin’s Random House, with each unique sculpture designed by individual artists inspired by The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Meanwhile, underneath Waterloo Station something very special is coming. London is full of old factory buildings, most of which are now being recognised as of important historical significance. The Old Bauble Factory beneath the tracks is just such a place and where better to stage ‘Wishmas – A Fantastical Christmas Adventure’?

Here, families will be able to stroll through a magical portal into a veritable winter wonderland. There will be a Wishmas Train, robins and Wishkeepers to meet and a wonderful Wishmas Market. The team behind this have a great track record with Secret Cinema, so visitors are assured a great festive fun time – running right through to January 7.

Old Father Thames

The amazing tidal river that dissects London creates some of the most iconic views of the UK capital but has also produced some interesting opportunities and problems in equal measure. These days, there are 35 bridges across the river from Hampton Court to Tower Bridge, but, years ago, there were far fewer.

For example, Chartist riots were prevented from reaching the heart of the capital by the Duke of Wellington blocking the two bridges that would have brought the rioters into Westminster in Regency times and there are many other ways in which the history of London has been shaped by its river.

Rather more ignominiously, with its strong tidal flows, it has been a convenient sewer for one of the world’s greatest capitals for hundreds of years. By Victorian times, things were becoming grim, with the burgeoning population, when along came the right man at the right time – Joseph William Bazalgette.

The ‘Great Stink’ of 1858 was not only disgusting for Londoners, it was leading to epidemics of cholera and other serious health issues.

Bazalgette’s solution was dramatic, expensive and amazingly ahead of its time. Under his supervision, 82 miles (132km) of enclosed underground brick sewers were built to intercept outflows of 1,100 miles (1,800km) of street sewers. These were beneath the roads, variously forming what are now the ‘Embankments’ running along each side of the mighty river.

Pumping stations and some of the bridges were built at various places with no expense spared in their technology and appearance. In fact, several of these hold open days where the fantastic, ornate, gothic/Victorian architecture can be explored.

The great man’s works continue to flush the capital on a daily basis, but with an ever-growing population (now approaching 10 million – almost the same as the whole of Portugal!), the network is in constant need of upgrade and improvement.

In the 10 years that your columnist has had a house in South West London, work has been underway alongside Putney Bridge to extend and improve the system and utilise the new Tideway Tunnel. This has involved a huge amount of construction equipment with cranes, barges and disruption to riverside businesses and properties. However, this work is now nearing completion and the end result looks to be worth the wait.

A 36-metre shaft has been constructed and a plaza-style space sits above this. It has created what is perhaps over optimistically called a ‘mini-park’. There are benches for gazing across the river and certainly this has produced the prime spot to watch the start of the world-famous Boat Race. The granite used to construct the edifice comes from the same quarry in Cornwall that supplied the stone for the adjacent Putney Bridge (designed and built by Bazalgette 140 years ago).

There are fantastic artworks on display from Glasgow-based artist Claire Bailey. These include bronze oars forming the handrails of the platform, with a nod to the annual clash between Oxford and Cambridge Universities. A bronze strip inlaid to the granite defines the exact starting point of the Boat Race and there is a beautiful bronze ventilation column together with uplighting for the whole structure. And the best thing is that the construction barges, cranes and scaffolding are gone, and business is back to normal on the riverside terraces of local bars and restaurants!

By Richard Lamberth

Richard leads parallel lives with homes and business interests in London and Portugal. He provides consultancy services to leading businesses in insurance and financial services, property and media sectors. He has four sons, two dogs and enjoys a busy family life. He likes swimming, keeping fit and an outdoor life.
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