On Tuesday 24 July 2007, the Extreme Cellists successfully completed the "Monopoly Board Challenge" - giving a short performance at each of the streets on the London Monopoly board, in order, in the space of just one day!
Unlike previous Extreme Cello events, the purpose of this challenge was not to raise money via sponsorship, but to raise the profile of one of our supported charities, Aspire. This is a charity which runs a rehabilitation centre for people with spinal cord injuries, based at Stanmore in Middlesex. We visited this centre, and the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the day before the Monopoly Board challenge, and played a short recital at each of these places too! The story of the trip follows...
Monday 23 July
We had been invited by ASPIRE to visit their National Training Centre at Stanmore, Middlesex; however, they also arranged for us to visit the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, an hour or so up the road. The NSIC is a purpose-built centre that treats and rehabilitates people with serious spinal injuries, with treatment continuing for months and even years after the injury itself. Although not perhaps the most extreme location we have ever played in, our performance here was certainly in one of the most interesting: a very well-equipped gym. We played for a mixture of staff and patients, some of whom were using the gym equipment at the same time! Pictured (right) are the cellists with a few of our audience.
After this, we set off down the A41 to ASPIRE... the National Training Centre is a wonderful facility situated adjacent to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, and indeed we gave our performance in the Spinal Injuries Unit of the RNOH, which is closely linked (metaphorically and physically) with the ASPIRE centre. After playing for more staff and patients, we had a look at the wonderful facilities of the Training Centre itself. I think we were all very impressed, especially with the swimming pool that we fancied having a dip in ourselves! More importantly, we were all agreed that ASPIRE is a fantastic charity for which we wanted to keep raising money.
Tuesday 24 July
And so on to the Monopoly Board Challenge... this had been a few months in the making, and although was less difficult to plan than some previous events (notably the Cathedral roof tour), the amount of paperwork involved in dealing with the Greater London Authority, six London boroughs and various police stations still meant that it was nice to get the day itself underway!
We started at 6.30am playing at Old Kent Road (right). As a major arterial road, this was busy even at that time in the morning, so when we were asked by an Evening Standard photographer to play on an island in the middle of the road, it was pretty noisy! We were pleasantly surprised when an old friend, Katharine Medlow, turned up for this performance, and then accompanied us to our next location, Whitechapel Road (7.15am). She was the first of many friends to join us throughout the day - some we were expecting, others we were not; we were also joined by some people who had seen us in the Metro the previous day, and wanted to come and listen!
Whitechapel Road was followed by the Angel, Islington (8.15), Euston Road (8.45), and Pentonville Road (9.15): pictures below. A longish journey on the number 91 bus then took us into the heart of the West End, where we would remain for most of the rest of the day.
We followed this up with three very close performances: Pall Mall (10.20), Whitehall (10.40) and Northumberland Avenue (11.00), each just a couple of minutes' walk from Trafalgar Square. Whitehall attracted our largest audience of passers-by yet, although the relatively narrow pavement prevented them from all getting a good view! We were also approached by some mounted police officers there, who had obviously been well-briefed on what we were doing: the benefits of forward planning!
This was in marked contrast to our next location, Bow Street (11.45), where we were "moved on" from outside the Royal Opera House by a slightly over-zealous security guard (apparently we were "blocking" an emergency exit several yards away, which could cause problems in the event of an evacuation), and so played outside the old Magistrates' Court opposite instead. To finish the Orange section, and our morning session, we went on to play at Great Marlborough Street (12.30) and Vine Street (13.00), the latter of which resembled a (small) building site!
After a spot of lunch, we got started again on the Strand (14.30), playing outside the Royal Courts of Justice, and then made the short walk to Fleet Street (14.50), where it was rather windy! Then it was on to Trafalgar Square (15.30): we played on the top terrace here, just under the National Gallery; this prevented us from getting sucked into a rather noisy Norwich Union athletics event on the main part of the square!
Leicester Square was next (16.00): this was a blissful respite after the hustle and bustle of Trafalgar Square, which was a pleasant surprise to us. We had a good audience here, and played our longest set of the day to the listening public (and pigeons). We then found that the best place to play on Coventry Street (16.30) was in the doorway of a nightclub, which was a slightly unusual experience... but then we're used to them! Piccadilly Circus (16.50) was rather noisy, but we gave it a good bash there, as we were joined by a family (unknown to us) who had come especially to hear us play having seen us in the Metro - what a wonderful thing to do! They came to a couple of our later locations as well.
And so on to our final stretch - the green and dark blue squares on the board. First up is Regent Street (18.00), where we decided to play opposite Hamley's - a little noisy, but still a good spot. The came Oxford Street (18.30), where on police advice we played just next to the famous John Lewis store, which attracted another good crowd. (New) Bond Street at 19.00 finished up the greens in a more sedate way; once again, we were joined by many friends and supporters here, some of whom stayed with us for the rest of the day.
Park Lane (19.45) was a slight challenge, as there are not many quiet places to play... we settled on a small traffic island just outside the Dorchester Hotel. Then up to our final location of the day, and an emotional one as we were joined by several friends at Berkeley Square, Mayfair (20.30). Of course we played "A Nightingale Sang..." as the location demanded, but not before we were nearly all arrested (see picture - apologies for poor photo quality). This was a joke of course - the police were, as they had been all day, well informed about our event and very helpful.