Janie (Daisy) and I normally play (modern) tennis every Saturday and Sunday morning, so my response to requests to fill in for late cancellations on the real tennis court at the weekends normally contains the answer “no”.
Actually the weather forecast was wrong. It didn’t rain.
It snowed. Noddyland looked resplendent as we set off for Lord’s.
We allowed plenty of time to get to Lord’s in the snow, but actually the roads were empty yet perfectly passable so we got there in a record 20 minutes from Noddyland.
The wise doctor, Doctor Wyse, who was to be the third of the Boomerang Cup team in practice on the day, was not so lucky with the weather and phoned in snowed in. Iain Harvey and Oliver Wise were the two Boomerang Team stalwarts there for some match practice ahead of the antipodean batttle.
Carl Snitcher very kindly stayed on for a valiant extra 70-80 minutes after his hour of singles, to help make up the four.
Initially I partnered Iain against Oliver and Carl. Iain took pains to point out at one stage that he was bringing an extra “I” to our partnership…while I was bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t been using both of my eyes to watch the ball enough.
After one Boomerang set in the above permutation, Oliver and Iain felt that they should get used to partnering each other, so I then partnered The Mighty Snitch for a while (see above photo).
Once Carl had to leave, Chris Swallow took over as my partner for just under an hour, immediately bringing better performance out of me through some form of coachy-osmosis or something.
The Boomerang Cup has slightly different rules. Boomerang sets are “first to eight” (best of 15 games) rather than the regular “first to six” real tennis sets. Games are decided on “one point” at 40-40, even when there is no handicap to play. Also, if the receivers are three or more games behind, they can do a switch during the set (just the once) to try catch up by each facing the alternative opposing server. (In regular rules, the receiving pair decides who will receive against whom at the start of each set).
Janie (Daisy) enjoyed Rose Harvey’s company while watching and while taking some photos and vids. Three short clips below – the first is me serving and playing well:
…the second is what happens when that serve, the demi-piquet, goes slightly awry against a good player…
…the third shows me playing quite well again – this time from the grille side of the hazard end (I’m not making these names up as I go along, honest):
It is terrific experience for me to play doubles with better players like this; somehow I manage to lift my performance (at least a bit) when I play in these circumstances, which must be good for my game. In any case, it was a great fun morning of tennis.
Further, two of the lead performers for this production, Geoffrey Streatfeild and Cara Horgan, were in The Pains Of Youth – Ogblogged here – which Janie and I hated and from which we walked at half time.
But these reflections are terribly unfair on those fine actors, whose performances were the saving grace of this production of Cell Mates. Our problem with Cell Mates, I think, is mostly the play itself.
The story of George Blake and Sean Bourke is very interesting. I can see why Simon Gray sought to dramatise it. Yet sometimes great stories do not make great drama; or perhaps this story would have needed more dramatic licence to bring the story to dramatic life. Blake’s passion for Marxism and the Soviet Union, to the exclusion of his human relationships, is a fascinating idea but made for dreary drama to our eyes.
To us, this play was a waste of excellent talent; all of the cast are fine performers and played their parts well. Edward Hall is a director we greatly admire. We considered walking at half time, but stuck it out on the strength of the performances.
We booked a late afternoon preview slot for this exhibition months ago, when it was first announced.
We love Winnie-The-Pooh; we don’t love swarms of children. Simples.
We got to see this charming little exhibition in ideal (for us) circumstances. Enough people around for it to have atmosphere but a quiet slot mid-to-late afternoon, just ahead of any members who might bring their children after school.
Reviews and stuff (at the time of writing just previews) can be found through this search term – click here.
We took several photos – if you want to see more than just the few on show in this piece, either click here or the photo below:
The show is an interactive experience, but in a very analogue way – with a staircase to sit halfway up, a slide, an hexagonal spinning name generator and some drawing exercises.
No virtual reality like the Modigliani across the water, nor even any computerised games. Pooh sticks was thus, in my opinion, under-served. One senior lady member wondered out loud whether any children had been involved in the curating of this exhibition. I thought it a good question and guessed that the answer is no.
Still, the exhibition was beautifully designed – Janie thought it one of the most stylish she can ever remember – with lots of hoardings in the style of E. H. Shepard drawings emblazoned with well chosen chunks of A.A. Milne’s wonderfully crafted words and some sound effects, such as bees in the vicinity of the story about Pooh searching for honey. The simplicity, I guess, is a large part of the show’s charm.
I got to visit the North Pole. Janie, of course, now five weeks into her pole dancing hobby, found Pooh’s pole a little tame for her taste…
…yet Janie was surprisingly timid at the idea of trying out the slide, which she did attempt, eventually, rather gingerly in my view:
We had lots of fun at this exhibition and did learn quite a lot about the wider context of the works from the exhibits.
Afterwards, we tried out the new members’ room for refreshments and very much enjoyed it. A much larger, airier space than the previous room, which was rather pokey and “uti” for the V&A. The friendly staff and tempting menu come into their own in this improved facility.
As for the Pooh show, the V&A shop will no doubt do lots of business with some excellent books about the wider context and also some beautiful editions of the Milne/Shepard Pooh books themselves. But we resolved instead to stop off at the flat and pick up my tatty Methuen paperback Poohs for the weekend – by gosh they are dog-eared and falling apart but they are mine:
After dinner, little Daisy dropped off to sleep while I was reading her some of the poems. Bless.
In any case, herring didn’t form part of the Noddyland meal, which comprised smoked salmon nibbles followed by Janie’s (Daisy’s) famous wasabi beef fillet dish and finally danish apple cake. We hadn’t seen Jacquie and Hils for over a year; it was great to see them again and have a chance to reciprocate Jacquie’s warm hospitality.
As usual, Daisy had massively over-catered, so I was able to lunch on some left over beef, sauce and potatoes couple of times during the week, including Thursday…
…which was probably just as well, given the tardiness of the Cafe Rogues meal in Holborn that evening, at the comedy writers Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner.
To add insult to indigestion, four of us were served our deserts some 30 minutes after everyone else. Jonny escaped this time, but I was caught twice – along with Jasmine, Barry and John for the lengthy dessert desert.
Still, everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Nine of us gathered this time; me, John Random, Jonny Hurst, Jasmine Birtles, Colin Stutt, Hugh Rycroft, Gerry Goddin, Mark Keagan and Barry Grossman.
With Jasmine’s crackers, we played our regular Christmas game of trying to work out the feed line from the punchline of the corny cracker jokes…with limited success this year as the jokes were so corny. Examples:
A. A monkey burp.
Q. What’s silent and smells of banana?
A. Mrs Sippi
Q. Who is the most famous married woman in America?
But John had doctored his crackers with moral maze dilemmas to replace the corny jokes. Example:
Q. What do you get if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo?
A. A series of far-reaching ethical questions that go to the very heart of modern genetics.
Tut tut if you read that question and thought the answer was, “a wooly jumper”.
Traditional quizzing after dessert…or in the case of the four of us sorely neglected souls…during the dessert.
Colin Stutt again did a warm up game, taking the best jokes from the fringe for the last few years and seeing if we could remember the punchlines or construct good/better punchlines ourselves. I reckon I did a reasonable job on 10-12 out of 30 of them, actually knowing the answer to only a couple.
Mark, the holder of the Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Trophy, naturally led the main event quiz. I’m usually in with a chance when Mark writes the quiz but so are one or two other people. In a close run contest this year:
I scored an impressive but ultimately inadequate 55…I coulda been a contender but all I got was a one-way ticket to Palooka-ville;
Jonny Hurst stormed through to take the trophy with a breathtaking 58.
Yes, the place was ridiculously noisy. Yes, the service was poor, except when it was terrible. But at Christmastime, almost everywhere is thus. These Ivan Shakespeare gatherings of good old friends are always lively, witty evenings that make me happy; that is the bit that really matters.
The playwright, Israel Zangwill, sounds like a fascinating character in his own right. To some extent the story in the play mirrors his story, although the play is set in New York, not Zangwill’s native London. Also, the play’s young hero is a composer, rather than an author.
The young hero of the play, David, is a refugee survivor of the Kishinev (Chișinău) pogrom, inspired to compose music to celebrate the cultural melting pot he finds in New York. He falls in love with a beautiful Russian Christian radical who is running a settlement house in New York and who turns out to be the daughter of an anti-semitic Baron from Bessarabia. How culpable is the Baron for the pogrom that took place on his watch? And how is the young love going to go down with him and with David’s traditionally orthodox but loving kin?
If that all sounds a bit melodramatic to your taste, I can understand the sentiment. Yet somehow Zangwill manages to avoid those excesses, at least in the hands of this Bitter Pill/NeilMcPherson/Finborough production. The play isn’t quite Ibsen, but it is even less like a melodramatic Yiddish Theatre monstrosity.
Indeed the play seems hugely pertinent today, with many minorities being persecuted across the globe still, plus swathes of refugees and migrants on the move. Zangwill includes both sides of the assimilation (or perhaps I should say acculturation) and ethnic tolerance argument, although you are left in no doubt that you have been in the hands of a liberal enthusiast of the melting pot.
Of course I cannot help this piece bringing to mind my own family – in particular my mother’s musical family, who came to London from the Pale of Settlement in the early 1890s.
I wondered briefly whether Israel Zingwall might have taught my Grandpa Lew at the Jews’ Free School, as the programme says that Zingwall taught there, but a little on-line research indicates that Zingwall quit teaching at that school a few years before Grandpa Lew made his fleeting appearances there (between periods of survival-oriented child labour truancy).
Returning to the Finborough in December 2017, the place was deservedly full on a cold, wet Sunday evening. In the bar and audience we saw Michael Billington, with Mrs B making a (now rare/occasional) appearance at the theatre. The Billington’s dedication to high-quality fringe theatre over the decades is exceptional.
Janie, tiring of hearing all about my new yet ancient hobbies of baroq-ulele and real tennis playing, has decided to take up a new hobby of her own; pole dancing.
Today was her fourth lesson. As we had arranged a day off, I thought I would have a relatively light day of exercise, taking advantage of the studio where Janie was having her lesson to do half an hour of stretches and abs before hunkering down for an hour with my Economist.
I kept up with Janie and her teacher, Lana, for the first couple of minutes of stretching, before they went off into the stratosphere of stretching and I reverted to the gentle, safe stuff I do regularly in the gym.
I was still doing my clams when Janie and Lana started working through some pole routines.
I was about five minutes into my Economist reading when my phone rang. Chris from Lord’s. Could I possibly help out and cover for a last minute drop out at 17:00 today.
I realised that I could, instead of reading the Economist and watching Janie up a pole, trundle over to the flat and pick up some kit, enabling me to help Chris out.
So I did, missing out on Janie’s further improvement in lesson four:
Lana assured me that Janie is a natural at this sport and I must say that her progress in such a short time looks quite remarkable to my untrained eyes…
…which is more than can be said for my slow but relentless progress at real tennis.
I did have time to drop Janie at home after her lesson but she said she’d like to watch me play, as she hasn’t seen it for a good few months.
I asked Janie to put some energy into putting my opponent off while she watched, but she signally failed to do that.
Janie did take a few pictures, though, plus a couple of short vids, one of which, remarkably, shows me landing a chase of half-a-yard on the return…
…which is a pretty good shot. I’d like to assert that I land half yard chases with some regularity, but that wouldn’t be true. Still, please invest 8 seconds in the vid below and you’ll see how it’s done:
We’d both had fun and we’d both enjoyed following each other’s hobbies. That’s a good day off.
Janie and I spent a very enjoyable evening with Simon Jacobs at his place.
We chatted before dinner about a multitude of subjects; mutual friends, old times, cultural matters and a few intractable world problems which we three would be able to tract in a jiffy if only “they” (whoever they are) would let us take charge of the world.
Simon then suggested we eat, starting with a yummy, bright green vegetable soup.
Simon prefaced the serving of the soup dish with an anecdote about a nurse, who had told Simon emphatically that lightly-cooked broccoli is a super-food that cures and/or staves off almost all known ills.
“Ah, so this is broccoli soup, I suppose?” said I.
“No”, said Simon, “as it happens, this is watercress and spinach soup”.
Clearly Simon is utterly cavalier about his health and that of his guests. Tish.
Next up, an extremely tasty Lancashire Hot Pot, with thyme as the prevailing aromatic herb complementing the well-balanced mix of lamb and vegetables. Rounded off with a leafy salad.
But back to the preview pieces for the second album. I would tell you all about the amazing tracks and snippets we heard…
…but if I did tell you, I’d have to kill you, which seems a little excessive in these circumstances and also might reduce Simon’s potential buying audience once the second album is actually released…
…just rest assured, patiently, that Simon’s second album will be well worth the wait, but wait we all must.
Here, just to keep you patient, is an unplugged song from Simon’s YouTube channel. This song isn’t destined for Simon’s second album, nor is it on his first album, it’s just meandering aimlessly around Simon’s living room, like an untamed pet:
In turn, I tried out one or two songs I have been dabbling with on my baroq-ulele, including my forthcoming performance piece for the Gresham Society soiree.
Simon and I swapped tips and cutting remarks like two old mohels on a mission, while Janie gently reminded us that it was getting late and that all three of us probably wanted to hunker down to follow the test match before turning into pumpkins at midnight.
As we left, Simon expressed his sense of foreboding about the test match while Janie and I expressed how much we had enjoyed our evening.
In the end, it occurred to both of us that four exhibitions in one day is overdoing it at our age…actually WAS overdoing it even when we were younger and less discerning.
So, we resolved to visit the Tate galleries on our Wednesday off (I was so tempted to use the headline “Tate-à-Tate”), then to take in the two smaller exhibitions at the Royal Academy a couple of days later, by taking advantage of late Friday opening.
We enjoyed all four exhibitions, but the highlight for us was undoubtedly the first one we saw; Modigliani.
Just in case any Ogblog readers remain confused, I have embedded the trailer for the wonderful Modigliani exhibition below:
We both really loved this exhibition. Not only does it show a superb selection of Modigliani’s work, but you get some real insight into his working world, from his early days in Paris to the end of Modigliani’s relatively short and tragic life.
A tip for anyone planning to go to this exhibition; do make sure you bagsy a (free) ticket for the Modigliani virtual reality studio: The Ochre Atelier. Both Janie and I thoroughly enjoyed that experience. You feel that you are sitting in Modigliani’s studio from three different angles. You can’t quite smell the smouldering Gitanes in the ashtray, but you do sense the breeze coming in through the window.
Impressionists In London – French Artists In Exile 1870 to 1904
We had the car with us, making it a surprisingly short hop from the Tate Modern to the Tate Britain, via Lambeth Bridge.
This exhibition has been somewhat maligned by the critics, but we enjoyed enough of it to justify the visit.
Many of my old school friends, for example, will appreciate the scenes from suburban London where the French artist refugees seemed to congregate for a while; doing some interesting impressions of 1870s Upper Norwood, Sydenham, Lordship Lane and the like – Sarf London Ooh La La?
Cricket loving friends, d’autre part, should love the impressions of 1870s cricket, from Tissot (surely not an Impressionist) hanging out with the I Zingari lot in St John’s Wood to Pisarro’s wonderfully impressionistic crickety park scenes.
In fact, there were quite a lot of Pisarro works on various subjects, probably worth the visit alone. Monet’s foggy London scenes are also well worth seeing if you have never seen them before – as it happens we had seen them before but were very happy to see them again.
Jasper Johns – “Something Resembling Truth”
This was a far more interesting exhibition than I expected. I had a few key images in my head for Johns (flags, numbers…) and didn’t realise the diversity of his work when you see a full tilt retrospective, which this undoubtedly is.
It’s patchy; Janie and I both enjoyed some but not all of the works, but there was plenty to enjoy and I (for one) was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the work and variety of styles. A lesser-known middle period in the 1980s, for example, yielded interesting work to my eyes.
Dalí / Duchamp
Janie and I both love Dalí’s better works and many of those were on show in this exhibition. Duchamp’s art, we felt, was less interesting. Marcel Duchamp was clearly a very interesting thinker, but perhaps not such an interesting artist.
Well worth a look at this exhibition, though, with a good selection of artefacts and photographs as well as art works.
Further, with the Jasper Johns and the Dalí / Duchamp exhibitions located next to each other, it really does make sense to see both in one go, unless you are very short of time and/or have an aversion to seeing two shows in one go.
We had a mixed juice (or non-alcy cocktail) in the RA members bar after the shows, served by a comedy combination of competent barman and clueless waiter.
Here are some link terms to reviews of the four exhibitions:
But don’t take the experts’ words for it – we’ve all had enough of experts after all. Janie and I thought all of the exhibitions were worth seeing, but if you can only see one of these exhibitions, for us it would have be the Modigliani.
How Tom kept the event secret goodness only knows, but Toni was genuinely surprised to see us sitting there in the restaurant waiting for them when she and Tom arrived; she genuinely thought she was going out for an evening just with Tom.
On our previous visit we’d enjoyed some sort of special set meal based on some award-winning dishes. On this occasion we tried a more regular style of Oklava set menu (if you can describe any of this food as regular):
A couple of unusual looking wines caught my eye; so unusual that the waitress suggested that I taste them before choosing them. The white was a dry muscat; perhaps she thought I was expecting something sweeter but it was in fact more or less what I expected and a very interesting wine.
The waitress warned me that the red, a blend of noble grapes, was quite a lot sweeter than one might expect. On that description, I anticipated the taste of communion/kiddish wine – heaven forbid – but of course it was a very interesting blend, a little sweeter (perhaps through the riper Turkish growing conditions) but well-suited to the Turkish style food.
The food was excellent again at Oklava. The chilli roast cauliflower was a highlight for me (Janie didn’t like that one much), but the pomegranate glazed lamb breast and yoghurt was a hit for both of us.
It was a superbly convivial evening. Lisa, Janie and I hadn’t met Mike, Claire or Sophie before, yet it felt like a gathering of eight long-standing friends from the word go.
Well done and thanks, Tom, for gathering all of us together; it was a very enjoyable evening.
Brian had mentioned the forthcoming event to me some weeks ago, when we ran into each other on the street, so I had saved the date. Brian had told me to expect Ha-Joon Chang and Yanis Varoufakis. I had read the former’s book, 23 Things…, back in the day, but had not got around to reading any Varoufakis. So I one-clicked a copy of And the Weak… , reading it a week (ironically) before the event.
I highly recommend the latter book, btw, especially the “modest proposal” appended at the end of Yanis’s book. Those nine pages should be getting far more thought and attention; they should be required reading for anyone who cares about the future of Europe and European people.
Brian hadn’t mentioned Ayesha Hazarika ahead of time so I had to look her up; a former advisor to the Labour Party and the Remain campaign, now seeking solace in comedy. Sounds like a natural progression to me.
Comedy and economics sounded like my kind of thing.
Before the main event, over pre-panel drinks, I met some very interesting postgrad/researcher types, plus several of the Economy charity’s staff and trustees. A very bright, young and friendly bunch.
Economy’s big thing is to try and make economics understandable to the general public; a very laudable aim. I tried not to bore people too much with tales of The Price of Fish derring do…
…but I do find it hard to express how I feel about making economics meaningful and comprehensible without reference to the book.
I didn’t notice anyone sidling away from me and one or two of the Economy people tried to encourage me to ask a question for the panel session, which I didn’t really want to do and in the end I was rather glad I didn’t get around to it.
As is so often the case with this type of event, the best bits were before and after the formal session. Not that the formal session was all that formal.
Ayesha set the tone for the formal session by being really quite funny when introducing herself and in her early responses. Good self-effacing stuff. Ha-Joon and Yanis picked up on the irreverent tone, but I don’t think either of them should give up the day job for comedy.
Victoria Waldersee of Economy did a superb job of trying to cram a heap of questions about important economic & political issues into a 45 minute panel comprising three people who all talk for a living.
Predictably, the answers didn’t get all that far during the panel session; it reminded me a little of Question Time on the TV – except that on this panel all of the opinion was pitched as anti-economics, anti-capitalist and anti-establishment…
…which is fine as far as it goes, but I wanted to hear what was suggested in the place of everything that is wrong and heard little in terms of alternative proposals and solutions.
More confusingly, I found the panel sometimes at variance with the charity Economy’s raison d’être, with Ha-Joon and Yanis both suggesting that it is impossible to teach economics to youngsters without indoctrinating them with neo-classical economics clap-trap. I don’t agree. We might need a significant shift of emphasis or lens for teaching young people the right building blocks, which means that we might need to teach a lot of teachers to teach differently, but ignorance of vital topics is surely not bliss. Surely it is possible (even if difficult) to change curricula?
Yanis’s big takeaway on education is that young people should be taught economic and political history and not taught that pure economics is sort-of about maths. I buy into that part.
I don’t buy Ha-Joon’s rather emphatic view that economists are to blame for the 2008 crash and each of the preceding market bubbles and failures in the past 100+ years…
…that sounded a bit like a bigot’s rant against his least favourite ethnic group, immigrants generally or some despised far-away nation. Ha-Joon is clearly not a bigot, but to attribute blame so simplistically does an injustice to the undoubted quality of his own mind.
Such simplistic, finger-pointing style was in part a symptom of the shortness of the formal discussion and attempts to match Ayesha for comedy. The audience (there must have been a hundred or so of us crowded into the studio) lapped up the irreverence generally; I suppose that reaction egged on the Professors to attempt greater heights of mirth.
Ayesha, in fact, cleverly switched away from unsubtle comedy when she described her experience of politicians grasp of inflation (almost non-existent) and when she explained inflation in simple, human terms – hard working care workers no longer able to feed their families without resorting to food banks because the prices have all gone up while their wages haven’t.
So by the end of the formal session I was convinced that Economy is a good cause but I was not convinced that the formal panel discussion had relentlessly advanced the charity’s cause; economists and economics had been all-but universally damned.
Indeed, so nervous was I of being thought of as having anything to do with that maligned category of people, economists, I didn’t dare mention my Keele connections – click here if you dare – which I always thought of as being “very much of the left” but with a balanced, open-minded aspect; clearly not sufficiently left in some circles.
OK, I’m now exaggerating for effect…must be catching.
I had some really interesting conversations after the main event; a real mixture of people. One very interesting fund manager who reads books but was now trying to spend the rest of the evening incognito, some more of the Economy people and a very pleasant chat with David Graeber, for the first time in a couple of years.
As always, I thoroughly enjoyed an evening at Brian’s place, meeting interesting people and having my thoughts severely provoked.
I’d like to help the charity Economy if I can; I have one or two ideas…