Fun in the big city

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FRESH from my failed attempt at Olympic security in last Monday’s column, I was in London last week as the city was on the verge of the biggest event in its recent history.

 If you are planning to go down over the next few weeks, be prepared for a few surprises.

 The first one is that the Olympic influence spreads well into central London, a long way from the main sites at Stratford in the east of the capital.

 There are many Olympic road lanes, including outside our hotel near the British Museum, and accidents are waiting to happen as some tourists were trying to pose for pictures on the Olympic rings, accompanied by cheery waves from passing cabbies.

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 As most of we visitors from the North-East leave the car at home for a visit to the big city, it’s not going to be too bad getting around; tubes and cabs will be busy, of course, so no change there then.

 Hotel prices are not too bad in places and a quick browse through websites will find plenty of bargains, perhaps caused by an expectation of an Olympic glut which didn’t quite happen.

 If you are taking a London break this summer, let me recommend some top notch theatre, with a North Eastern connection too.

 A revival of Abigail’s Party is doing really well at Wyndham’s Theatre and the star part of Beverley, originally played by Alison Steadman, is handled beautifully by Jill Halfpenny, born in Newcastle of course.

 If, like many, you are a fan of this knockout Mike Leigh play, you’ll remember the lovely scenes where wannabee posh lady Beverley hosts a “sophisticated” party for her neighbours, accompanied by non-stop drinking.

 What could possibly go wrong?

 If you are of my generation, you will find the set wonderfully evocative, with the perfectly created living room looking spot on for the early Seventies, with lots of G plan furniture, pull-down cocktail cabinets, and “classy” art prints.

 The play has a really strong cast, with Natalie Casey, best known to me for her role in Two Pints of Lager on TV, doing a superb turn as the dormouse who roars after a bottle of gin.

 Many column readers will remember (mostly) nights like these, and especially recall buying those smart furniture units, or assembling your own guided by Do it Yourself magazine.

 The other local connection last week was at a superb night for Blenheim Palace with a James Bond theme.

 The splendid photographer (or toggie in his local parlance) was Nick Callaghan who hails from, in his words, God’s own kingdom, but is now exiled in Milton Keynes.

 His Hartlepool connections are firmed up by his memory of a first girlfriend from the town.

 Her name was Jackie and she worked in Yarm.

 Nick tells me that he’s been awake every night since last week trying to remember more, but he can’t – it was a bit back mind.

 If Jackie, probably a grandma now, is reading the column, do tell.

 So, not a bad trip to the deep south, with Jill starring in the West End, Nick snapping the rich and famous, and yours truly standing in for Sean Connery the elder.