Andy Murray – Wimbledon Champion!

Few of us thought we would see the day; and once it arrived few of us felt we would survive it!  In a breathtakingly dramatic final, yesterday Scotland‘s Andy Murray clinched championship point to become Britain’s first male Wimbledon single champion in 77 years – and Britain couldn’t be prouder!

Wimbledon Logo
Wimbledon Logo

I blogged last year about our annual obsession with tennis during the Championships and this year was no different.  After seeing Andy Murray reach Wimbledon final in 2012 only to lose in straight sets to the ever dominant and seven-time champion Roger Federer, Brits were holding their breath yesterday when we had a second chance to see a Brit once again lift the trophy in London.  And the feat was to be no easier this year as he faced world number one from Serbia, Novak Djokovic.  The win was, on paper, a straight-forward victory with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 straight sets score-line; not a tie-break or fifth set in sight!  However in reality it was a tight tussle with Murray twice having to come back from a break down once in each of the second and third sets.

Andy Murray - Wimbledon
Andy Murray with Wimbledon Trophy

However, it was in the final game that the drama really unfolded; for the last few weeks we have cooked in one of our warmest Summers in a long while, but yesterday, in London‘s blistering heat, Andy Murray made us sweat for a whole new reason.  Coming out to serve for the match Murray made it to 40-0 and held three consecutive championship points only for the Serbian player, with a combination of bravery, skill and a hint of luck, to edge his way back in to the game.  Equalling at deuce all of a sudden what had seemed like a certain victory now hung once more in the balance.  The tension was tangible in the stadium, on Henman Hill and on sofas up and down the country from the highest of the Scottish Highlands to the tip of Cornwall in England as Djokovic enjoyed three break points before Murray steadied the ship and his nerves finally clinching the victory on his fourth match point.

As Murray roared in celebration so did the British public.  More than 20 million people in Britain, almost a third of the population, tuned in to watch the final –  a sign of just what this historic win meant to the nation!  Well done Andy Murray!

Liverpool – A Capital City!

“Why should you never swerve your car to hit a Scouser on a bike…?”  This is the beginning of a joke about Liverpool that I heard in the pub last week. I’ll tell you the punchIine shortly, but needless to say it is not complimentary of the city.  Incidentally the joker had never actually been to the city but it seems that here in Britain it is fair game to poke fun at Liverpool and the city still takes a good verbal bashing from the peoples of other areas of England.  So why was Liverpool named European capital of culture as recently as 2008?  What is the culture of Liverpool?  And what on earth is a Scouser?

Liverpool Captial of Culture, 2008.  Flag.
Liverpool Captial of Culture, 2008. Flag.

As a major port, Liverpool boomed during the industrial revolution from international trade and immigration from Ireland.  Lobscouse was the regional dish, a hearty Lamb Stew that was eaten by the Sailors and shipbuilders after a long day out in the cold dockyards and it is from this that the colloquial name for  Liverpudlian’s (people from Liverpool) is derived, Scouser and the name of the accent, Scouse.  By the 1980’s however the city’s heavy industries fell in to decline and in 1981 an area of Liverpool called Toxteth was the scene for some of the worst riots in England.  For many Brits, it is from this era that Liverpool and Scousers still hold their reputations, hence the jokes and stereotypes suggesting that Liverpool is high on crime and with many deprived areas.

Liver Buildings, Albert Docks, Liverpool.
Liver Buildings, Albert Docks, Liverpool.

So why was Liverpool named European Capital of Culture?  Well, Liverpool has bounced back from its eighties lows.  Aesthetically, Liverpool has always been very appealing; it is home to a number of iconic landmarks, as the only city in Europe with not one, but two Christian cathedrals, an elegant 18th century town hall and the stunning riverside Liver Buildings.  But in recent years this has only improved with the redevelopment of the cosmopolitan Albert Docks area, now home to trendy bars, boutique shops and popular museums and the addition of the “Liverpool One” commercial centre which offers some of the best shopping in the North of England.

But surely “culture” really lies within the people of a city and any city that has experienced the turbulent history that Liverpool has must have bundles of character.   In fact Liverpool has given birth to a hugely disproportionate number of Britain‘s best-loved actors, comics and TV personalities not to mention a few singer/songwriters that you may have heard of: John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Eleanor Rigby Statue, Stanley Street, Liverpool
Eleanor Rigby Statue, Stanley Street, Liverpool

The Beatles, of course hailed from Liverpool and catapulted the city into the international Limelight with their Mersey Beat and Pop/Rock sounds.  They were inspired by the city, it’s people and their humble surroundings such as Penny Lane, a quiet suburban street, and Strawberry Field, a local city orphanage. Indeed even the Cavern Club where the Beatles first performed together remains unassuming and fairly low-key. Today you will see a number of sculptures all over the city such as those of the Beatles themselves, the un-missable Yellow Submarine at Liverpool Airport and the, rather fittingly, little known statue of Eleanor Rigby sat alone on a bench tucked away on a quiet side street.

So if culture is about people then it is little wonder that Liverpool won city of culture in 2008; Scousers, are loyal and humble, abundant in personality and with unrivalled sense of humour even in hard times.  So, the joke I heard goes: “You should never Swerve your car to hit a Scouser because the chances are that the bike is yours…”.  However in reality this is an outdated view of this magnificent city – if you did knock a Scouser off his bike today he would probably get up, dust himself off, check your car wasn’t damaged and then offer to buy you a pint in the pub down the road. And if you don’t believe me, why not visit yourself!

Check out our blog from 2012 – 50 years of the Beatles.

 

Celebrating Wales – St David’s Day!

What do leeks, small onion-like vegetables, and daffodils, beautiful glowing yellow flowers, have in common?  Well, quite a lot if you’re Welsh actually.

Wales Flag
Wales Flag – Welsh Dragon

Last Friday the little nation of Wales celebrated its National Day as it does every year on 1st March.  Whilst not as internationally well known as the celebrations of St Patricks Day, which come around just shortly afterwards, the festival of St David is celebrated just as vigorously by the Welsh, who are certainly a proud and patriotic bunch.  So who was St David and how do the Welsh celebrate?

A 6th century Welsh Bishop of Minevia, legend has it that St David made his way from Wales on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he was made an archbishop and returned home to become a renowned preacher and teacher setting up monastic settlements throughout the country.  His miracles include moving the earth itself as it rose up beneath him whilst he was giving one of his speeches.

Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales
Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales

Almost 900 years later, St David was pronounced a saint and today St David’s Day, which is celebrated on the date of his death, marks an unmissable highlight of spring-time in Wales.  Celebrations take place across the country in every town and village of this little nation but the centrepiece of the festival takes place in the capital city of Cardiff.  Here there are master-classes in Welsh culture and cuisine with language workshops of the ancient Welsh tongue and culinary expositions taking place offering tasty treats such as the traditional Welsh cakes, Cawl and Welsh Rarebit.  The hi

The Daffodil - National Symbol of Wales
The Daffodil – National Symbol of Wales

ghlight is a vibrant parade of red and yellow which marches through the city past the stunning Cardiff Castle and on to St David’s Hall.  Dancers and theatrical performers come together to create a grand spectacle showing off the symbols of Wales such as giant dancing red dragons, and children in the traditional dress of black chimney hats, frilly skirts and white shawls.  And of course no Welsh celebration would be complete without some fine Welsh music whether from the national orchestra, a rendition of the stirring national anthem, the traditional dulcet tones of

some of Wales’ world renowned male-voice choirs or some the country’s best known international divas such as Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey.

And of course the locals are out in force wearing their national symbols of Wales proudly on their breast – the lowly leek or the beautiful daffodil.

Happy Birthday Tube You!

Some of us may take it for granted, some people complain about it as they make their daily commute, but it should be remembered that the London Underground is the oldest subway in the World and last week celebrated its 150th Birthday!

London Underground or "Tube" Train
London Underground or “Tube” Train

Amazingly, the London Underground’s first steam engine chugged through the tunnels between Paddington and Farringdon way back on January 10th 1863. However, within days of this maiden journey, the single line was carrying tens of thousands of people each day and had become one of the busiest routes in England.  Built to ease congestion on the busy London streets above ground, the tracks were originally laid by digging long trenches, constructing the tunnels and then refilling the ground above.  Over the years the construction became more sophisticated, with the famous English engineer Isambard Brunel assisting in developing much deeper tunnels and extending the network across London.  The trains themselves followed suit, modernising from steam engines to electrified lines by the late 1800s.  Previously run as separate entities, and giving us the interesting line names (such as Bakerloo, Jubilee and Metropolitan) that are still so familiar to us today, by the 1930s the lines were all brought together under one publicly owned management system and the London Underground or “Tube” as we know it today began to take shape.

Roundel Logo of London Underground
Roundel Logo of London Underground

A century and half after the first journey, today the tube boasts 270 serviced stations, around 400 miles of track and up to 3.5 million journeys made every single day!  Whilst many choose to complain of high-prices, overcrowding and old-fashioned trains, it is undeniable that the London Underground is not only an essential part of the city but has also become an iconic part of the fabric of London and an attraction in itself.  The roundel logo (the red circle with the horizontal blue bar across its centre) and the schematic tube map (whose basic layout remains almost the same as its original design in 1931) have both become famous symbols of the city.  And the tube stations and their unique names have featured in art works, literature and music across the years.

London Underground Map
London Underground Map

Throughout 2013, the London Underground’s anniversary will be celebrated with the release of a special two-pound coin by the Royal Mint and new honorary stamps issued by the Royal Mail so if you’re over here on your travels, don’t forget to look out for them.

Love it or hate it the underground is an idea that has caught on; today there are around 160 subway systems in cities across the globe all following the trend that was set by London more than 150 years ago.  With its role in city life more important than ever and with extensive investment planned for the coming years, who knows what the tube could look like in another 150 years time?

The Stones keep on Rolling!

As far as boy bands go, they are no One Direction!  But with a combined age of 273 years between them, the Rolling Stones last night proved that they still have what it takes as they returned to the stage in front of thousands of screaming fans.

O2 Arena, London
O2 Arena, London

The group performed in Sunday night’s sell-out concert in the 20,000 seat capacity venue at the magnificent O2 arena in London.  The concert marks the first of five such events as part of a celebration of their 50 year anniversary and saw two former band members join them who have not been seen on stage together in more than 20 years.

The series of concerts has proved controversial here in Britain as many complained of the high cost of tickets; official ticket-costs started from £95 for the “budget” seats but ticket prices spiralled on unofficial ticket website with some people paying up to 7 or 8 time the ticket face-value.  Others anticipated that the band were simply “past it” with each of the performers now within their rights to claim the state pension and their free state bus-pass!

The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones

They proved critics wrong though with cheeky chappy front-man Mick Jagger still on excellent form both in his performance and as he teased the adoring crowd with comments about the price they had paid to see them perform.  He was well supported by other band members Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts who were all complimented on their performances by both fans and industry experts alike.  Age certainly didn’t seem a factor as they performed a long back catalogue of their classic songs, rocking the stage in a performance lasting well over two hours.

And it doesn’t end there as the group are set to perform in four more concerts over the next couple of weeks, once more in London, England before moving stateside for performances in New York and Newark in early December.

So, in case you doubted it, it seems, that you can still rock out in to your seventies and that the Rolling Stones are still far from gathering any moss!