While We’re Here, Barney Norris, Bush Theatre Studio, 20 May 2017

Janie and I were very excited about this visit to the Bush – the first since the major refurbishment and our first visit to the new Studio.

We really like the way they have refurbished the bar, library and garden/yard to utilise the space so much better. Still a friendly vibe, too.

We bumped into my friend Nigel from the health club, who had popped into the bar with his girlfriend, Candice, ahead of a visit to the flicks around the corner.

The play was excellent. A short, two-hander of a chamber play; very touching and moving.

It is described in the Bush resource on this play/production – here.

Very understated, yet lots going on about loneliness, lost love and how people’s lives can pan out.

Only a short run at the Bush but I do hope the play goes on to do well.

In the spirit of trying new things, we also tried Vietnamese food from Tem Tep in Church Street, which we’d been meaning to try for a while. Pretty good; we’ll try some more dishes from there for sure.

Hit The Road “Giac”, Three Exhibitions In Half A Day, America After The Fall, Royal Academy, Giacometti and Wolfgang Tillmans, Tate Modern, 16 May 2017

Now that Daisy is a member of the Royal Academy and the Tate, it is even easier for us to take in a few exhibitions in one outing, even those in which we might only have a passing interest.

Giacometti most certainly does not fall into the “passing interest” category – he is one of my favourite sculptors – Daisy’s too (perhaps to a lesser extent). So we planned our trip around the members’ evening showing of the Giacometti exhibition.

Here is a link to the Tate’s on-line resource for the Giacometti.

I had fancied seeing the Wolfang Tillmans some weeks/months ago, but perhaps not to the extent of making a special trip for it. So I was really pleased when the Giacometti invite informed us that the Wolfgang Tillmans would also be showing on that members’ evening.

Here is a link to the Tate’s on-line resource for the Wolfgang Tillmans.

We had also both quite fancied America After The Fall at the Royal Academy, but again not to the extent that we’d arrange a special date for it.

Here is a link to the Royal Academy’s on-line resource for America After The Fall.

Thus our plan was hatched – take the afternoon off, have a bite of lunch together at the town residence, mosey along to the Royal Academy for America After The Fall, scoot down to the Tate Modern and take in the other two exhibitions, shoot back to the town residence to pick up Dumbo (my Suzuki Jimny), then escape London to the calm of the country residence (W3) with some shawarmas.

The plan worked perfectly.

I think we both enjoyed America After The Fall more than we expected to. I had forgotten how much I like Grant Wood’s work as well as Edward Hopper’s and there were several fine examples from each of them. Plenty of other interesting pieces too, along with some rather grim and ordinary work from that difficult 1930’s period.

With some time on our hands and the members’ bar and garden at our disposal, we took some juice in the garden of the bar. We were lucky to get a garden table and celebrated our good fortune with a double-selfie:

Daisy and Ged RA, RA, RA!

Then we braved the rush hour for three stops of the Jubilee to the Tate Modern, arriving pretty much spot on members’ opening time, 18:45. This precision of time keeping does not come naturally to Daisy and I must admit to a bit more luck than judgement on my part too – I don’t pay my time pieces much heed on an afternoon off.

Coincidentally, while waiting for Daisy at lunchtime, I was Ogblogging my old NewsRevue lyrics and came to one about the 1996 Cézanne exhibition at the Tate Modern, based around the Leonard Cohen tune Suzanne.

That got me thinking about a suitable song for Giacometti. Initially I decided that Cézanne was an easier name for parody, but then I had the thought:

Hit the road, Giac,

Ometti come back no more, no more, no more, no more,

Hit the road, Giac,

Ometti come back no more…

So that was it – I had Ray Charles stuck in my head for the rest of the day:

But I digress.

The Giacometti exhibition was everything we wanted it to be. Comprehensive, interesting information about Giacometti’s life and the diversity of his work, lots of our favourite pieces to see and some new favourites to squirrel away in our minds. We particularly enjoyed the documentary film. made late in his life, showing Giacometti paint the interviewer and then talk about the meticulous way he formed his sculpture’s eyes and faces.

The Wolfgang Tillmans was a delicious dessert after the Giacometti.  It is a very interesting exhibition. Mostly photographs of course, but some of the rooms were “littered” with articles and papers that interest him, many of them about the brain and how we form impressions from images and ideas. Some of his photographs are simply wonderful and awe-inspiring. He seems to be a very interesting man, too, although the scattering of papers and articles made me want to have a chat with him rather than simply look at his reading pile.

We quite liked the playback room for sound too, although Janie found it too loud (as did I to some extent) but it was interesting to hear recorded sound at studio quality. We’re used to decent quality at home these days, but often forget how much higher quality is possible in recording, which I imagine is the intention of that work.

I’m rambling again. Three exhibitions, all three well worth catching if you can, especially the Giacometti, which is really special. We had a great outing.

Manwatching by An Anonymous Woman, Royal Court Upstairs, 13 May 2017

The conceit of this short play is that it is written by an anonymous woman and performed by an unprepared man. A different man each night (otherwise he’d be prepared, wouldn’t he?). The play is primarily about female masturbation and sexual fantasies.

It is all explained on the Royal Court Website – here. The men scheduled to perform the piece at the Royal Court are all comedians. We got a rather good comedian named Liam Williams.

We liked the idea/conceit of this piece more than we liked the piece when we saw it. I don’t think that had anything to do with our comedian; I think there is only so much humour and thoughtfulness that can emerge from the subject.

We laughed a few times. Some of the jokes were genuinely funny; some a bit tame. A couple of women walked out during the show, which I found odd, as the blurb left us with no uncertainty as to the style of content to expect.

There is an “I am Spartacus” device at the end which fell a bit flat, mostly because the middle-aged women who had envelopes with instructions/suggestions couldn’t read same without their glasses, despite it being rather obvious what they were being asked to do. I felt like standing up myself and saying “I am the anonymous woman”, but thought I might be accused of male appropriation.

It was fun but not funtastic. I enjoyed it a bit more than Janie did, although the few reviews so far indicate that women seem to like it more than men:

Janie shared Dominic Cavendish’s scepticism about whether the men really are reading the play entirely unseen. I’m not sure I share the scepticism and I’m really not sure the point matters as much as Anonymous Woman says it does. I don’t think “spontaneous comedians” are being genuinely spontaneous very often, but what do I know?

As for Anonymous Woman’s identity, Andrzej Lukowski has a wild guess at Penelope Skinner. I think it must be one of the Royal Court’s regular female playwrights, possibly Skinner but my guess would be either Lucy Kirkwood or Lucy Prebble.

A short, fun evening out, which we rounded off with a smoked salmon and salad supper at home; very nice.

 

An Unusually Busy Day With Tennis, Middlesex/Saracens and DJ Jamming Session, 9 May 2017

Packing it all in; real tennis and ukulele jam

Following my first ever ukulele lesson last week (remarked upon in this linked concert thread), Luke the Baroq-ulele and indeed my real tennis bag are in the capable hands of Wahid for strapping/repairs respectively.

Today’s itinerary included some real tennis at lunchtime, then hot wheels from Lord’s (where Middlesex meetings would normally take place) to Saracens/Allianz Park where today’s “Middlesex in exile” meetings were taking place; then on to a jamming evening with DJ in Cricklewood.

No sense in taking Dumbo on those rounds, so I needed to get smart about my luggage. I discovered that there was but one sweet spot in Benjy’s ukulele case where both uke and racket could fit and the lid would close without difficulty.

That configuration (pictured above) raised a few smiles (and even photographs) as I did my rounds.

The day went well. I won my tennis (just), the Middlesex meeting was very productive.

The low point was the “greasy spoon” at the end of DJ’s road, where I squatted for 45 minutes before the jam. It neither looked nor was rated “greasy spoon” on-line…and since when did greasy spoons have fancy coffee machines with every conceivable variety of coffee available?

The jamming session with DJ was great fun, although DJ doesn’t think that the marriage of tennis racket and uke in one case is a good idea on a regular basis.

Perfectionist/purist.

Biber, Buxtehude, Schmelzer and Kühnel, Arcangelo, Wigmore Hall, 5 May 2017

We like these “Wigmore Late” concerts at 22:00 on a Friday evening. With the flat so close to “The Wig”, we can enjoy a home cooked meal and mosey on down at leisure.

Sometimes too much at leisure – we have on occasions relaxed into the evening so much that we’ve suddenly realised that we need to get a shift on…

…but not this evening.

For those readers who simply want to know what we saw – here is a link to the Wigmore Hall stub on this delicious concert. Those who want to know more, including information on the delicious food, read on.

As I have a freezer drawer full of (now lamented) Big Al’s wonderful pasta sauces from Tavola, we had a pasta supper (Al’s amazing veal and spinach meatballs in tomato sauce, with tagliatelle) before heading off in good time to The Wig.

We recognised most/all of the Arcangelo performers, although I don’t think we have seen Arcangelo as an ensemble before. For sure we had seen Jonathan Manson, the viola da gamba player, before, not least in a lovely 2009 concert I wrote up only a couple of weeks ago.

We had also recently seen and very much noticed the young theorbo player, Thomas Dunford, with Les Arts Florissants, which I wrote up – here.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Licence – with thanks – http://collection.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects/co5900/theorbo

Yes, I know that the Wigmore Hall stub (and programme) suggests that Thomas Dunford was playing a lute, but believe me, it was a theorbo.

Indeed, having had my very first baroq-ulele lesson with Ian Pittaway on Wednesday, I was studying Dunford’s work like a connoisseur. A mixture of thumb-inside and thumb-outside playing, with some trill and rasgueado-looking stuff thrown in. Not sure he quite anchors his hand comprehensively, but then that would make playing the whole range of strings on a theorbo a lit of a challenge.

I also found myself fascinated by Dunford’s instrument straps; one for the shoulder (as recommended and now work in progress for my baroq-ulele), but also an additional one upon which he sits for extra support.

Mercifully, I didn’t let all of that geeky stuff detract from my enjoyment of the wonderful music.

The leader, Jonathan Cohen, introduced and discussed the pieces/composers masterfully. He isn’t a charismatic showman, but he comes across as very knowledgeable, very pleasant and inclusive of the other performers, which Janie and I liked. At one point, for example, he invited Sophie Gent to explain the techniques she was using to embellish the relatively simple parts that composers wrote down in that earlier baroque period. She explained herself very well.

Ahead of the Kühnel sonata, Jonathan Manson showed us the detailed craftsmanship of his viola da gamba. He explained that August Kühnel spent some time in England to study music around the time that Manson’s viola da gamba was being made, so Kühnel might have actually seen that beautiful instrument being crafted.

The music in this concert was very beautiful. I liked all of it, but found the Schmelzer sonatae especially appealing and moving; so much so that I plan to invest in a decent recording of them – perhaps the one linked here – advice in the next few days would be appreciated.

After the concert, the Wigmore Hall had arranged for some jazz in the bar, as they have done in the past but they had (or have not yet) not promoted that idea yet this season. Unsurprisingly, very few people stuck around, but we did, enjoying some 1950’s style jazz piano over a glass.

Janie and I were pleased to see the Arcangelo performers all supporting that jazz initiative after their gig. It also gave us a chance to congratulate Jonathan Cohen in person.

Arcangelo is a relatively new, young early music group; they are very talented and they deserve to do well. For sure, we’ll be looking out for them again.

Lunch With Rohan Candappa, Phoenix Palace, 4 May 2017

What’s the matter? Ducks got your tongue?

Having had little chance to chat together at the most recent old school gathering in the city, Rohan and I agreed at the end of that evening that we should meet again soon to chat about writing and stuff.

We settled on the idea of lunch and I suggested dim sum, to which Rohan replied, somewhat cryptically…

I worship Dim Sum like the ancient Aztecs worshipped the sun

…which I took to mean, “yes”. So I booked a table at the Phoenix Palace, probably the only restaurant in London that is highly rated for dim sum, yet that I hadn’t tried before.

What I didn’t realise when I booked it was quite how enormous the restaurant is and how relatively small its mid-week dim sum clientele. Indeed the seats to punters ratio reminded me a little of the dining experience Janie and I had in Shigatse, Tibet, in 2002…

To be fair, there were a few other people in the Phoenix Palace, whereas Janie and I really were on our own in the huge dining hall in Shigatse

…but there the resemblance ended, as the food in Shigatse was terrible, whereas our dim sum at the Phoenix Palace was excellent.

I was delighted to see ducks tongues on the menu – you don’t often see those. It reminded me of the dim sum lunch I had with Mike Smith in Gerard Street, towards the end of the last century, at which I ordered ducks tongues. The dish seemed to freak Mike out rather comprehensively. In particular, it was the fact that a duck’s tongue has a bone that seemed to bother Mike. He related the tale of the ducks tongues dim sum lunch to anyone who’d listen for quite a while after that lunch.

But I digress.

Except to say that, of all the dishes we ordered, Rohan enjoyed all except the ducks tongues, so I got to eat most of the tongues.

The other dishes, mostly of the dumpling or bun variety, we both liked a lot. Of course, they tended to come in portions of three; a traditional dim sum portion number for (we suspect) hard-nosed commercial reasons; i.e. to encourage multiple portion ordering. But Alleyn Old Boys like me and Rohan are not to be mugged by a simplistic ploy of that kind.

Oh no.

We devised ways of splitting almost every species of dim sum imaginable. We even devised our own term, “splitting the pork bun”, which sounds like it ought to be a euphemism for something rude.

We talked about Rohan’s latest writing project and my Ogblog project. Rohan tried to convince me to write something more substantial than Ogblog pieces, e.g. a novel, based on my youth. I have promised him that I’ll think about that, which I shall.

We also talked about the recent loss of Paul Hayes, one of our former classmates, with whom Rohan had re-established contact in recent years. We discussed how we need to get on with the things we really want to do, as we have no guarantee or entitlement to a long life, so it’s not so clever to keep deferring things until later in life.

As if to bring home that rather melancholy line of thought, we both inadvertently diced with death walking down Baker Street, as a tearaway car (presumably evading the fuzz) zoomed across the junction with Blandford Street on the wrong side of the road at ludicrously high speed, only a few seconds ahead of us crossing and only a fraction of a second ahead of what could easily have been an horrendous crash with a bus.

Yet we were still able to put our dolefulness to one side as Rohan raised the topic of the blue plaque in Crouch End celebrating Carswell Prentice and the invention of the shopping trolley, around which we had quite a giggle. Sadly, as any clicker of the preceding link will discover, that particular blue plaque is, regrettably, a falsey. So the delicious idea of instigating a flash crowd to celebrate the inventor’s birthday needs to be metaphorically abandoned in the metaphorical canal where extremely funny but non-starter ideas reside, pathetically lying on their side, for all eternity.

Still, the lunch was a breeze and certainly encouraged a few more of my creative writing neurons to get firing.

The Handmaiden, Curzon Bloomsbury, 30 April 2017

So many people told us that we should see The Handmaiden, we eventually put our reservations to one side and made a reservation to see it.

We had previously pencilled in Sunday 30 April for Sense of an Ending, but having taken in a showing along with a Julian Barnes Q&A the week before, it made sense to see The Handmaiden that day.

The Handmaiden is explained, trailed and  emblazoned with cool photos on IMDb – well worth a click-through. Then you needn’t bother to sit through nearly 3 hours of film.

The Handmaiden is everything we were told it would be, hence our reservations about it. Beautifully shot with exquisite settings, absolutely no problem with that aspect.

But the film is extremely long for the relatively straightforward thriller plot (just a few twists and turns) and fairly predictable ending.

The female leads are both very beautiful and the soft pornish love scenes between the two of them are all in the best possible taste, as a well-known arbiter of such matters used to put it.

The torture scene towards the end, which we knew to expect, simply had me looking away from the screen for a few minutes.

We both found the whole experience a bit disappointing, but at least we can now tell people that we’ve seen it, which makes them stop lecturing us on how we would definitely love that movie.

On leaving the movie theatre, I checked the cricket score and it looked as though Middlesex had bowled themselves into a position where they were likely to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Gloucestershire.

So we diverted to Lord’s on the way home and watched the last 90 minutes of the match from the President’s Box (temporary Middlesex Room), witnessing Middlesex then snatch defeat from the jaws of the victory that had early looked like the jaws of defeat.

Here’s the scorecard.

So that was two cringe-making torture scenes in one afternoon; the second of which panned out far more slowly than the first and it would have been a bit peculiar to have looked away from the field of play for the whole of the last hour.

We ran into Brian and Judy as we were leaving, so at least we had a pleasant chat with friends before departing the day’s second torture scene.

The Ferryman by Jez Butterworth, Royal Court Theatre, 29 April 2017

This visit to the Royal Court Theatre was the third of my “three courts in one day” – click here to read about the other two.

There’s been a lot of press chat about The Ferryman, now that Jez Butterworth is seen as such a hot property as a playwright and Sam Mendes returning to the theatre to direct again, now that he is a hotshot movie director. Apparently this Royal Court run sold out before the previews even started, while the West End transfer is already taking bookings.

We saw one of the last of the previews.

Here is a link to the Royal Court on-line resource on this play/production.

I don’t recall Jez Butterworth’s plays being long previously, so we were a bit daunted when we learnt that this play runs to more than three hours. Especially daunted in my case, with all that court time in my mind, legs and backside, I feared for my ability to concentrate throughout the piece and wondered if I’d be able to move at the end of the show.

As it happens, the play/production is sufficiently pacy, stylish and interesting to hold the attention almost throughout. My body didn’t let me down either…just about. Janie and I both felt that the final act was perhaps a little too long, but twixt previews and press night there might be some tweaks to put that aspect right.

The cast was superb. The design and directing top notch. Sam Mendes knows what he is doing. The Royal Court almost certainly has a big hit on its hands.

Janie remarked that this was a quintessentially Irish play (or words to that effect), which she tends to prefer in theory more than in practice. She loved The Weir, for example, but often finds Irish plays a bit samey and she usually struggles to understand the accents at times.

This play reminded me of Brian Friel’s hit Dancing at Lughnasa, except that The Ferryman is set in rural Northern Ireland (County Armagh) in the early 1980’s rather than Friel’s play from County Donegal in the 1930’s.

Indeed, the thing that distinguishes The Ferryman from most traditional Irish rural plays is that The Troubles are right at the heart of the story, rather than on the periphery. The older generation talk of friends and family caught up in the 1916 Easter Rising and listen to Maggie Thatcher on the radio talking about the 1981 hunger strikes, while the younger ones talk of attending Bobby Sands funeral.

If this all sounds a bit “tell rather than show”, then I am doing the play/production an injustice. It is very show. There’s singing, dancing, several species of livestock and spirits, both of the supernatural kind and indeed a great deal of Bushmills drinking. Yes, everything you’d expect from a good rural Irish play.

Why The Ferryman? Well, towards the end of the play one of the oldsters, Uncle Pat, quotes Virgil (The Aeneid Book Six, since you asked), in which Aeneas learns that Charon The Ferryman is not permitted to carry the unburied, lost souls across the River Styx until they have roamed the shores for a thousand years.

What relevance does that tale from The Aeneid have to the play? Well I’d probably spoil the play by trying to link those tales and might not hit the spot with my attempt. Suffice it to say that the West End transfer has used the strap line:

“You can’t bury the past”.

A very Ogblog strap line, for a play/production that is very much worth seeing.

The image is another link to that Royal Court resource

Three Courts In One Day, 29 April 2017

I was a slightly reluctant conscript to represent the MCC against Middlesex University Real Tennis Club (MURTC) today.

Much as I love playing real tennis, my weekend routine is to play modern tennis with Daisy in the morning and we had theatre tickets booked for the evening.

But this match was the reverse fixture of a match I played back in the autumn, mentioned en passant in this piece – click here

…and it was after all just down the road in Hendon on a long weekend…so I told the skipper that I would play only if needed.

I got the “yes, you are needed” message a couple of weeks before the match.

Still, I was selected to play the last (doubles) rubber, mid afternoon, so I thought there was no need to dispense with the traditional Boston Manor modern tennis fixture with Janie first thing.

Lawners at Boston Manor – court one of three

I played a cracking good game of lawners, though I say so myself. Janie later claimed that she let me win by a large margin to help build my confidence for the big match. I don’t think so.

Went home, showered, switched from pyjamas to whites and off to Middlesex University for lunch and the match. By the time I got there the MCC were one rubber down and while I was eating lunch we went 2-0 down with two rubbers to go.

Then we watched a very exciting game of doubles, which looked as though it would go MURTC’s way but ended up going MCC’s way.

“No pressure, but it’s all down to you two”, said one of my team mates, helpfully, as my partner and I went on court for the deciding rubber. Court two of three.

We’d never played with each other before and I have only played a handful of doubles at real tennis, so asked my partner to do the calling. He seemed reluctant to do that at first, but when I called a couple of times, reminding him that I really wasn’t sure whether to go for the ball on not, he said he’d call himself, which he started doing and I started to work out quite quickly what he wanted to play or leave.

The handicapping system did us some favours, as my limited doubles experience means that my doubles handicap lags behind that of my singles. On the other hand, the MURTC court is very different from that at Lord’s – much bouncier, it reminded me a bit of the one I tried in Manchester last autumn – click here, adding to the novelty of the situation. Yet, that extra bounce sometimes gives the player just a smidgen of extra time to adjust and hit a better shot – at my stage of real tennis, I rather like the extra bounce.

Anyway, the upshot of all that, I’m delighted to report, is that we won our rubber and thus the match was drawn. My partner and I were metaphorically carried aloft with garlands in our hair, before everyone said fond goodbyes and went their separate ways.

These real tennis matches are very enjoyable, friendly affairs. A good way of getting to know some of the MCC players better. Also a good way to meet some really interesting and pleasant people from other clubs, in this case MURTC.

No photos from our match but here is a little promo video from MURTC that they made only a few weeks ago, which gives a pretty good idea about the place, not least its friendly and welcoming atmosphere. You can even see a couple of the people I met in the still below – the professional and the male student (left of picture).

“Three courts in one day…so what about the third court?” I hear you cry. Well, that was The Ferryman at The Royal Court, which I have written up separately – click here.

Letters From Baghdad Followed By Panel Discussion, Curzon Soho, 27 April 2017

Janie and I were particularly keen to see the movie Letters From Baghdad – click here for IMDb listing – and were motivated to put this Thursday evening aside as there was to be a panel discussion, organised by the producers Bird’s Eye View,  after the film’s showing at the Curzon Soho.

18:25 in Soho is a bit early for us mid-week and seemingly was a bit early for everyone else – while we made it on time there seemed to be no rush to start the showing on time.

Still, what that did mean was that we did have time for a drink before the show and ended up chatting with one of the panellists, Joan Porter MacIver, who heads the British Institute For The Study of Iraq, aka The Gertrude Bell Memorial. In truth, by far the most interesting aspect of the panel discussion for us was the chat we had with Joan before the showing.

The film itself was fascinating. Gertrude Bell was a most unusual woman for her era and was hugely influential in early 20th century Arabia as the Ottoman Empire collapsed and The Great War settlement came into play. The movie is basically dramatised letters and archive papers by and about Gertrude Bell.

The panel discussion was a bit of an anti-climax. Mia Bays from Bird’s Eye View hosted the discussion. The other panellists were Joan Porter MacIver (which made perfect sense) and Paul Hilder, for reasons which seemed hard to fathom at the time and in retrospect…seem equally hard to fathom. Hilder seems to be a self-appointed doyen of “new politics” and did, in 2005, co-author a paper on the Iraqi liberation, although this last fact was not mentioned during the discussion.

Each panellist asked a very open question about the film’s topic and the audience were asked to comment or ask supplementary questions of the panellists. I remember very little of what was said, other than the very obvious points about the male-dominated society in which Gertrude Bell operated more or less omitting her from the historical record for decades after she died.

Still, we were pleased to have seen the fascinating film and would have wondered about the panel discussion had we not attended that night. But we won’t be rushing to panel discussions in future unless we know the panellists and/or the nature of the proposed discussion ahead of time.

Janie (no Gertrude Bell), trying to endear herself to the locals in Palmyra, 1997.