London Street Pianos: There’s Music in the Air

Classical music drifts through the leaves of Postman’s Park, swirls past the plaques for those who have died saving the lives of others, sweeps over the purple flowers in the middle and people sitting on wooden benches applaud lightly. The girl at the piano pays them no mind. She’s lost in her music. The words “Play me, I’m yours” are scrawled across the instrument that’s positioned in the garden near a tree.

Street Piano - Postman's Park 2

Down near St. Paul’s two friends entertain a small crowd – one on piano and one on guitar sitting cross-legged on the ground. People are smiling, the usual hurried City pace interrupted by curiosity and a lovely sound.

Street Piano - St. Paul's

The piano near Millennium Bridge is empty, but the occasional passerby plucks a finger on a key and giggles shyly wishing she knew how to play, or remembered from her childhood.

Street Piano - Millennium Bridge 2

Over at Monument, the afterwork boys have gathered round, the top of the piano a table for drinks, one lucky colleague appointed to the keys and the others drumming on the side or singing which is sure to get louder and more off-key as the night rolls on.

Street Piano - Monument

And the Royal Exchange has turned into a one-man stage, a piano man and a lonely soul with a beer and a cigarette drunkenly dancing and swaying his worries away.

Street Piano - Royal Exchange 2

There are 21 street pianos set up in London, a project by Luke Jerram. A similar project is going on simultaneously in NYC, only they get 60 pianos. Humph. Most of the London pianos are in the Square Mile, but a couple can be found in Hampstead Heath and Southeast. They’re around until 10th of July. Play them. They’re yours.

Here’s a video from the street pianos website on Carnaby Street last year. How often do you get Londoners hanging out singing “Hey Jude” together?

For piano map and more info: www.streetpianos.co.uk

Listen to a Londoner: Wendy McCooey

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you want to be interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. Always looking for new volunteers! 

Wendy McCooey, 34 

Wendy is a southern Tennessee girl with a sales and marketing background who loves to travel, cook, craft, take pictures, blog, (currently job shopping) and do just about anything if it’s fun. She’s is now seeing what Notting Hill and the rest of London (if not the world) has to offer. 

LLO: Give us the basics first: How long have you lived in London , where are you from originally and what brought you to this brilliant city?
WM:
We moved here October 2009 from Nashville, TN (yes, I have a southern accent, but my husband does not) due to a job transfer with my husband’s company. 

LLO: What’s the best part about living in your postcode?
WM:
 I live in the W11 which is Notting Hill (yes, the inspiration for a lil’ rom-com you may have heard of) and love it here.  The energy and the layout of the area is perfect. It’s city living at its finest, but somehow it still manages to keep some neighborhood “small town” charm to it. Maybe it’s due to all the cool independent movie theatres, the Portobello Market, or maybe the adorable strip of Westbourne Grove/Ledbury area. Whatever it is, it’s home to me now and I smile just thinking about it 

LLO: Favourite place to find a taste of home?
WM:
 If I’m craving pancakes, I hightail it to Balan’s on Kensington High Street for their American Pancakes. I’m a breakfast girl, so these cravings come more often than they need to.  If it’s not pancakes, it’s buffalo wing sauce and the closest thing to ours at home is the voodoo sauce at Henry J Beans in Chelsea. It’s delicious and I get it with their yummy chicken crunchies. 

LLO: Tell us about a memorable “expat in London ” experience.
WM:
 Well… although my husband moved around a lot as a kid, I did not. I had always pretty much lived in the Nashville area until we packed up and moved to London. I was ready for a change, and so I said, “Yes, let’s do it”.  So I quit my job of 7+ years, told my family and friends, packed our stuff, shipped it off, got on a plane and never cried really. UNTIL we landed and later arrived at our new home  – “our flat”. Once that door shut, something happened. I cried, hysterically. My husband could not bring up anything related to back home or I would cry.  There were a lot of ups and downs for me for many many months. Not for him though; he adjusted just fine.  It took me three or four months before I could call London home and truly be 100% happy with my decision. However, now I couldn’t imagine moving back to Nashville any time soon. I guess the most important thing that happened to change how I felt was making new friends here. I have a great group of new friends and I would really miss them if I were to leave.  Oh yeah, and the nonstop traveling around Europe doesn’t hurt either. 

LLO: If I had one day in London , where would you tell me to eat and drink?
WM:
 I would tell you to eat at either Osteria Basilico in Notting Hill for the tastiest tortellini that you will ever eat or The Ebury on Pimlico Road for their gnocchi.  As for drinks, the bar at Just St. James near Green Park/The Ritz. Order anything to drink, you’ll like it. Or if you want more low-key with loads of charm, head on over to Churchill Arms (Kensington) for a tasty pint of their organic Honey Dew. 

LLO: Favourite places for a Saturday night out in the capital?
WM:
For a Saturday night, if you are wanting to do something special I would say  dinner and go see WICKED (I’ve seen it 4 times and can’t wait til the 5th) or just walk around Oxford/Regent St and people watch for a while and then crawl into a pub and drink until your heart’s content. 

LLO: What’s the strangest or most amusing thing you’ve seen since moving to this city?
WM:
 The most amusing thing was a lady on the tube, probably late 40’s. She was fair-skinned, dark hair, bright red dress and nails, sitting in front of me. Just as I noticed that her toenails were so long that they were growing down in front of her toes (like cupping them), she hopped up in this almost empty car and grabbed the “hold on” bar and starting swinging on it. She grabbed hold, lifted her feet up and just started swinging. Then she put her feet down and swung her hips to the left while still holding on, stretching herself and then changed to the right and did the same thing. This rotation went on for a good 15 minutes.  Being a girl from the South, I wasn’t sure if I needed to laugh or be scared. 

LLO: Best London discovery?
WM:
Kensington Roof Gardens! It’s amazing and believe it or not, Virgin owns it. (Where this picture of me was actually taken). 

LLO: If someone came to you saying they wanted to explore London for a day, but wanted to go off the beaten path, where would you send them?
WM: I would send them to Postman’s Park to start, then off to Camden or Brick Lane and just tell them to walk around. Those areas have so much charm and energy, not to mention all the food you could want at your fingertips. Every few feet you see something new and cool to check out. At night, take a Jack the Ripper walking tour and to finish the evening a pint at Churchill Arms on Kensington Church Street. 

LLO: Favourite place around here for a culture fix?
WM: If we’re talking museum, it’s gotta be the British Museum. I feel like I’m the luckiest girl in the world when I walk in their gorgeous lobby, take a left and cruise on by the Rosetta stone on my way to the Parthenon area. I’ve visited numerous times and it never gets old. The Lindow man in there is also pretty badass. 

If we are talking Theatre, Jersey Boys is amazing, but WICKED is out of this world terrific in every way possible. I can honestly say that I will probably go see it as many times as I can, it’s just amazing. Although I’m a big Dirty Dancing fan, the Dirty Dancing that I saw here was Horrible, to the point that at intermission I wanted to ask for my money back and leave.  I have tickets to see Les Mis in September, so I’m really excited about that! 

You can also never go wrong with the exhibits at V&A. I’m currently dying to go see the Grace Kelly exhibit there. 

Thanks Wendy! 

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here. 

Postman’s Park

Films based in London always capture my interest, especially when they are set in locations I haven’t seen yet. That’s how I discovered the small Postman’s Park near St. Paul’s station. The park contains Watt’s Memorial, the place where the characters played by Jude Law and Natalie Portman begin to fall in love in the movie Closer. The memorial commemorates selfless acts of fatal heroism with a series of plaques detailing the situation in which the death occurred. One of these people is Alice Ayres – immortalised both in the park in as the name of Portman’s character.

When I saw the park in the film, I thought it looked serene and a bit secret – set in the middle of the city. A few days after seeing the film, I found it and was right. Here’s a few photos I took while I was there: