Diary Of A Madman by Al Smith after Gogol, Gate Theatre Notting Hill, 29 July 2016

I rather liked the idea of this modern adaptation of Gogol’s magnificent short story, Diary of a Madman, set in modern Scotland.

This show is going to Edinburgh in August and then running at The Gate Theatre in September, but we booked for one of three previews at The Gate, which we thought would be a good way to see the production.

The play and production certainly had its moments, but also had some longueurs. Perhaps these will be ironed out between preview and main show, but the preview ran for some 90 minutes and I suspect that 60 to 70 would work better; there is certainly at least 20 minutes-worth of material, mostly earlier in the piece, that is surplus to requirements and made the play seem slow.

But it was very well acted and there were some lovely ideas in there. The bar scene towards the end was a wonderful mixture of anarchic, comedic and suspenseful drama. Some of the topical humour about referenda should play well, especially in Edinburgh.

Here’s a link to the Gate resource on the production. Too early for reviews at the time of writing, but perhaps not at the time of reading.

Janie particularly enjoyed the pea soup followed by “Big Al” pasta dish at Chez Clanricarde after the show.


Youth Club Alumni Dinner at Bill’s in Covent Garden, 28 July 2016

The last two or three years we’ve been having youth club (Streatham BBYO) reunion gatherings at Bill’s in Covent Garden. Having done nothing of the sort for well over thirty years, it suddenly and seamlessly felt like something that several of us actually really like doing.

The previous gatherings have been late May, to coincide with half term (several of our number being tied to school holiday times) but that week didn’t work for a great many people this year, so we shifted to the “schools out” week in July instead.

Slightly depleted in number, nevertheless seven of us gathered; Andrea, me, Linda, Liza, Mark, Martin, Sandra. Very pleasant it was, as indeed it has been previously.

We discussed old times, new times, in-between times and of course recent political events.

It’s amazing how much we slip back into club mode when we meet; of course we all have very different lives now, yet we are unquestionably in many ways the same old group.

The time passed very quickly and when the out-of-towners shot off to make sure of getting the last train, the west/north-west London contingent decamped for a drink/coffee and a few more minutes of chat before going home.

A very enjoyable evening.

Dinner with John White at Six Portland Road, 26 July 2016

It was Alistair Little (aka Big Al DeLarge) who recommended Six Portland Road to me when we were at Lord’s together in June. He said the menu looked really interesting and the reviews read well, but he hadn’t yet had a chance to try it. I immediately thought it sounded just the ticket for my next meet up with John White.

So it was.

John was able to get away from his desk in good time, so he popped round to the flat first. I showed him my baroq-ulele (he had previously only met Benjy the Baritone Uke) and I demonstrated the sweet, quiet quality of the mock-baroque instrument.

Then we went to the Uxbridge Arms for a quick drink on the way to Portland Road. I find it hard to believe that John and I had never had a drink in there before, but it is possible. We rarely meet around my way.

Then on to Six Portland Road, where the food and the wine was wonderful. I felt a bit fishy, so I started with a scallop & pancetta starter and went on to a brill dish with a crab what-have-you. John also felt mainly fishy, but he tried a ham hock terrine followed by a cod dish, his main being lighter than mine.

Great food.  Interesting wine list too, with helpful staff to navigate us through the list.

Fay Maschler has given this place a rave review – click here – deservedly.

Ditto AA Gill behind that pay wall.

Real punters on Trip Advisor also seem impressed, as indeed I believe they should be.

It was John’s turn to pick up the tab. Pricey for a local, but then the locale is Holland Park. Certainly much better value than the City eateries.

Meanwhile John and I of course gave Brexit and Corbyn a good airing, with a fair bit of spleen to vent on both of our parts of course. It’s been that sort of month. At least we had both got past the “total sense of humour failure stage” which made discussing the subjects bearable.

In truth it is always good to chat stuff through with John and I hope we’ll be able to get a four-way meal and chat together with Janie and Maddie very soon.


Reflections and Links After c6 Months of Real Tennis, 24 July 2016

Photo by Horacio Gomes on a GNU Free Documentation License.
Jesmond Dene Real Tennis Court (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne) Seen From Hazard End. Photo by Horacio Gomes on a GNU Free Documentation License.

I took up real tennis at Lord’s about six months ago, having some lessons in January before disappearing to Nicaragua for much of February and then starting to play in earnest on our return from holiday.

At the time of writing, I have probably played some 40 competitive hours on court. Or, as Chris Swallow, one of the coaches at Lord’s puts it:

in real tennis terms, Ian, you are still in nappies.


Real tennis is the ancient game from which most modern court ball games (squash, lawn tennis, fives) derived – the Wikipedia entry – click here – gives a very good overview.

Here is a link to the Tennis and Rackets Association site, where you can find lots more information about the game and video footage of recent big matches.

It is an asymmetric game in many ways, not least the service end and the receiving end (known as the hazard end) have very different characteristics.

Photo by Horacio Gomes on a GNU Free Documentation License.
Bristol and Bath Real Tennis Court Seen From The Service End. Photo by Horacio Gomes on a GNU Free Documentation License.

Even the rackets are asymmetric (see photo below). The balls are hand-made, therefore not completely round, solid and hard. The game can seem more than a bit strange to the uninitiated. Alex Bowden, aka King Cricket, who joined me for the first day of the Sri Lanka test this year, described it (in his “report” – click here) as:

…an almost entirely baffling experience. As far as we can work out, those who commit to real tennis from an early enough age must at some point hit some sort of sweet spot where they have had sufficient time to attain a rough grasp of the rules without yet having been consigned to a wheelchair through old age.

The actor Michael Keane – for his details click here, who plays real tennis at Lord’s, says with characteristic wit that:

real tennis originated in medieval times and we are fortunate to have some of the original players still playing the game with us at Lord’s.

That quip is a little unfair, but we do have at least two gentlemen playing at Lord’s, approaching the age of 90, who are determined to continue to turn out next year as the world’s first nonagenarian tennis doubles pair. I hope that, by then, I am good enough to be selected to play against them.

My progress

It’s hard to tell really. I started with a handicap of 77 and currently have a handicap of 67. I am told that I am making decent progress but won’t be satisfied unless or until I get that figure below 60. As long as I stay fit, I expect that my handicap will continue to fall for a couple of years at least while I come to terms with the many aspects of this fascinating, addictive game.

Of course, I play a lot of modern tennis with Janie and have played that game since I was a nipper. In time I think my modern tennis experience will be a help rather than a hindrance, but for the time being if anything it adds to my confusion. The shots that do best for me at modern tennis, such as slice and in particular top spin, are anathema to real tennis, which requires well-weighted chop or cut shots for maximum effect (i.e. to minimise bounce).

In a way, real tennis shots have more in common with cricket shots than modern tennis shots. Head still, foot to the ball, side on, firm wrists, timing the shot…all characteristics with which I have always struggled at cricket…so perhaps it is unsurprising that I am finding real tennis difficult too.

Added to which, my unusual habit of playing modern tennis off both arms has some interesting implications for the real tennis, where there are some real benefits to playing left-handed in many circumstances, not least when playing on the hazard side with all those pesky nooks and crannies to defend. But it does also mean that I shall probably need a fair bit more court time than most to get the requisite muscle memory in both arms and to learn when and how to switch hands in various circumstances.

When I started I played once a week, but I soon realised that I would need to play at least twice a week to make real progress. Initially I planned to take some more lessons after about 20 hours of court time, but I now realise that I need to find my own way around the court for 40-50 hours before I would be able to benefit properly from more formal instruction.

The good news is that more or less everyone at Lord’s seems to be so very welcoming and encouraging. In particular, some of the more senior players from whom I can learn a great deal about the game seem keen to play with me and also keen to advise – usually AFTER teaching me a lesson in competitive play on the court, of course.

Some More Links And Plans To Report On Further Progress

I have created an Ogblog category for Tennis, which covers real and modern tennis, playing and watching. A search on that will find all I have written so far on all forms of tennis.

I tag everything I write about real tennis – often a paragraph in a diary piece about my day, as “real tennis” so a click on that tag cloud phrase (or a search on the phrase “real tennis”) should uncover all references but exclude the modern tennis. Within those pieces are also links to other pieces where I have mentioned real tennis (e.g. those published on King Cricket).

Photo taken on May 4, 2005, by Peter Cahusac at the Falkland Palace Royal Tennis Club. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Photo taken on May 4, 2005, by Peter Cahusac at the Falkland Palace Royal Tennis Club. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Periodically, I shall report on my progress and occasionally report on my games, usually as part of another memorable day. For example, 19 July 2016, after playing a particularly sticky afternoon game, I cooled off by sitting in the shade catching up on my reading while the MCC played Nepal at cricket – see Cricinfo write up here. A useful and enjoyable afternoon. Were it not for this piece, I might have given that afternoon an Ogblog entry of its own.


A Works Outing To The Middlesex v Surrey T20 Match At Lord’s, 21 July 2016

A Pokémon Displaying A Worrying Level Of Indifference To Cricket (with thanks to Xueyi for capturing the little fella)
A Pokémon Displaying A Worrying Level Of Indifference To Cricket At Lord’s (with thanks to Xueyi for capturing the little fella)

For several years now, it has been a Z/Yen tradition for a dozen or so of us to visit the Middlesex v Surrey T20 match at Lord’s. For several years, the tradition was also to witness Surrey thrashing Middlesex and for the assembled throng to try consoling me and Jez with “maybe next year” platitudes.

But last year, for the first time in yonks, Middlesex won the match. Better yet, this year Middlesex were sitting a bit higher in the table than Surrey ahead of the fixture, with both sides desperate for the points to help achieve knockout-stage qualification. A big game.

However, I had some difficulty persuading Xueyi to attempt watching cricket again. Her previous visit (two years ago) had left her cold in several respects; not least the chilly weather but also finding the cricket hard to fathom and finding the “M&S picnic nibbles” not quite to her taste. I suggested that I might take a trip to Chinatown and stock up with Cantonese bakery delicacies as the centrepiece of the picnic if that might persuade Xueyi to join us. She said it would.

I was working from home that day, so I chose to make my Chinatown hike reasonably early to be sure of a good stock of the day’s bakery delights. I googled to see if my old stomping ground was still top notch for this purpose and discovered that, indeed, Kowloon in Gerard Street is still highly regarded, especially for its massive cha siu baos and gai mei baos. I was introduced to that place in the late 1970’s/early 1980s when doing holiday jobs for Newman Harris in Cavendish Square; the Chinese Malaysian trainees and I used to make a lunch of those big tasty buns. It must be a good 25 years since I last went there, though.

Picture by Anthony Baby from (optional) This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
Cha Siu Baos – Picture by Anthony Baby from (optional) – This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

On the way, I recalled that the place used to be cash only and made sure I had drawn enough money just in case. Indeed, the place was utterly unchanged including the hand-scribbled order ticket and the cash only payment desk. I went a bit mad buying lots of baos, plus some cha siu pastry ones and some sweet melon pastries too.

I called Xueyi to let her know that I had bought loads of food and also to ask her to let Linda know that we wouldn’t need much else for the hoards, but Xueyi clearly had other ideas, not least a fiendish plan to get some smaller delicacies from her favourite dim sum joint; Orient London. Like me, Xueyi went a bit mad getting loads of cha siu pastries (smaller than the Kowloon ones, but, frankly, much finer) and also some very juicy and delicious prawn spring rolls, which were surprisingly good cold. Also some Cantonese brisket beef slices.

Cha Sou Pastries - by Terence Ong - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Cha Siu Pastries – by Terence Ong – licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

In her fervour, Xueyi neglected to pass on my message to Linda, who went down to M&S and bought a fair selection of nibbles just in case my Chinese food idea didn’t go down well with everyone.

Anyway, to cut a long story short the Chinese delicacies went down very well with our team and there were plenty left to feed other spectators sitting near us and Linda had lots of M&S food to take home with her for the weekend.

Why were we there? Oh yes, a cricket match.

Barmy Kev came and sat near us but for some reason chose not to join us when invited. Perhaps he thought we might have designs on his bottle of wine (as if we didn’t have plenty of that too). But soon Kev realised that he had no corkscrew, so (not for the first time in my life and surely not for the last) begged the loan of a corkscrew from me and then demonstrated for about 5 minutes how very bad his screwing technique is for one so experienced as he – Kev’s MTWD write up, here, does not do his demonstrable incompetence justice. There was a big crowd cheer when he eventually withdrew the cork.

Meanwhile, Xueyi (from Nanjing, China) and Ashley (born in Jamaica but raised in the USA and therefore strangely aware of but not well versed in cricket) asked quite a lot of sensible questions about the game and then settled down to finding pokémons in the crowd, which they seemed to be able to do with little difficulty and much delight (see photo).

Marc (sitting next to me) tried to argue a social justice case for Surrey to win the match because Middlesex won last year; this was about as convincing to me as his “Brexit leave” arguments.

Linda was especially interested in the progress of our sponsored player, Ryan Higgins, as for once our sponsored player was actually playing in the fixture we attended. He took an early catch, bowled well restricting the scoring/taking a late wicket and eventually scored the winning runs in that tough run chase. Not bad. Here’s the scorecard. Even better, Ryan Higgins took five wickets the next day as Middlesex recorded back to back wins; a real breakthrough period for the promising 21 year-old. Our boy.

Regardless of whether they focus on the eating, drinking, pokémons and/or cricket, the Z/Yen team always seems to enjoy this outing. There was a record crowd for a domestic T20 cricket match in England that night 27,000+, so it seems that we’re far from the only bunch that finds these T20 evenings a fun and enticing proposition.

Becca Stevens Band, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 18 July 2016

We were keen to try a music concert as part of our “friendship” with The Globe and were intrigued by the Wonder Women live music series.

Top of our list of intriguing looking acts was Becca Stevens Band, conveniently billed for 20:00 on the fifth day of the Lord’s test, which we had booked out as leave in case the match turned out to be a five day thriller. It didn’t.

So, we enjoyed some tennis, sorted out stuff in Ealing and relaxed for most of the day, which was a scorcher. Then headed off to Southwark for this concert.

Not so easy to park near the Globe if you are arriving at 19:30 for a 20:00 event, although we spotted a few neat possibilities when we walked the five minutes back from the place we eventually found back down the road.

I had booked the box seats at the side of the stage – coincidentally known as Lords Rooms in Jacobean times – which is a good view for this type of gig.

Here is the Globe stub about the concert. Not least, it was the bit about “Appalachian folk, guitar, ukulele and charango” that attracted me.

Here is a link to Becca Stevens Band’s own website.

We really enjoyed this concert. The sound balance wasn’t quite right, with the drums dominating, which was a shame. Becca Stevens has a wonderful range to her voice – sort-of Vashti Bunyan meets Joni Mitchell, the latter unquestionably being a major influence on her own writing.

Becca Stevens herself comes across really nicely. As did the band, really; they all seemed genuinely moved (but not overawed) by the beautiful candlelit setting of the Sam Wanamaker. The keyboard player (Leon) harmonises vocally very well with Becca, as does the bass player (perhaps to a lesser extent).

Towards the end of the concert, Becca Stevens invited Jacob Collier (a rising star in the multi-instrumentalist, fusion music world, who looked about 12 but is in fact 21) to join her on stage for a duet arrangement of As by Stevie Wonder. Becca played charango and Jacob played double bass, to Becca’s express surprise (I think she expected him to pick up the bass guitar). They are working on a project together for a new album, which might well be very exciting…or possibly all over the place; probably the former. This rendition was clearly unrehearsed and somewhat work-in-progress, but still wonderful to see.

Here is a link to Jacob Collier’s website.

We had fun as an audience when invited to sing a backing vocal line a couple of times during the concert – once in the first half and then again second half with the “always” line in As.

The steward who was standing (and eventually sitting) next to us was very pleasant company and gave us some interesting insights as to how the Sam Wanamaker works, including the mechanism they use to replace the candles during the interval.

We’ll certainly be looking out for opportunities to see interesting music concerts at The Globe again. We’ll also be looking out for both the Becca Stevens Band and Jacob Collier.

England v Pakistan at Lord’s, Day Two and Four, 15 and 17 July 2016

Early doors on the Sunday in the new Warner Stand - having chosen end seats that would be mostly in the shade
Early doors on the Sunday in the new Warner Stand – having chosen end seats that would be mostly in the shade

Friday 15 July

DJ was my guest on the Friday. I made the picnic and set off on my trek even earlier today, as I wanted to drop some Lord’s Throdkins off at the Middlesex office. I shall probably write a separate piece on the progress of The Lord’s Throdkin  as a “thing” for King Cricket – click here for the recipe and story of the delicacy’s origins.

DJ was bang on time for the start of the game. Minor adaptations to the picnic for DJ, as he doesn’t like anything with butter in it, so (for example) I went for conventional smoked salmon with cream cheese bagel to avoid the need for butter.

Even more so than the Thursday – reported here – the day just seemed to whizz by. We did talk about the political situation a bit. Also about mutual friends and family, although when Janie asked me “did you discuss such-and-such” the answer was usually “no, DJ and I don’t really talk about that sort of thing”. We did talk about music a fair bit and both noted down some tunes to work on ahead of our next jam in a few weeks time.

I had promised DJ that I would show him the real tennis court after stumps. This I did, but was gutted to find that no-one was playing during that 18:00-19:00 slot – what a bunch of wastrels – I played during that hour on the Friday of the Sri Lanka test match! No matter. I showed DJ the court and tried to explain the game to him; I’m sure there’ll be another occasion.

Sunday 17 July

Despite the self-inflicted sore heads from the night before – click here for explanation – Janie and I got to Lord’s nice and early to get a good choice of seats in the new Warner stand.

Janie wanted mostly shade, so we (I) did some trigonometry and worked out where we could sit that would lose the sun by virtue of the lower tier canopy quite early, without being too deep in the bowels of the back of the stand. It worked – see photo above, taken by a kindly gentleman sporting a fair bit of egg and bacon-coloured clothing.

Soon enough the Lord’s fresh air and ambience weaved its magic on us and soothed our sore heads.

Janie’s picnic was based around mini sausages and meatballs, with carrot sticks, tomatoes and dips. We hadn’t had that style of picnic for a good while, as until this day I have been the picnic monitor so far this season.

We took two bottles of white with us but, mostly as a result of the excesses of the previous evening, eked out one bottle and took the other bottle home with us.

We weren’t really expecting England to overcome Pakistan’s score, but they did show fight at times (whereas at other times we thought the whole thing might unravel around tea-time). In the end, we got pretty-much a whole days play and reluctantly had to agree that justice had been done in a very good test match – see scorecard here.

In any case, Janie and I had very much enjoyed our day. We had booked Monday off as a precautionary measure, so we were now free to do those other things on our list, ahead of going to Southwark for a Monday evening concert at the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which I shall report upon soon enough.


Alligators by Andrew Keatley, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 16 July 2016

By gosh this is one powerful play, with this production proving once again that the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs is one of the hottest locations in London at the moment for showcasing modern plays and emerging talent.

This one all-but caused a domestic between me and Janie. Yes, we both agreed what a good play it was. But our take diverged on the moral dilemmas therein and the extent to which the protagonist was to some extent the architect of his own misfortune as well as the subject of great sympathy.

The plot is simple enough; the protagonist, Daniel (played extremely well by Alec Newman) is a teacher, falsely accused of sex offences by a delusional former pupil, years after the alleged offences.

The complexity comes from Daniel’s less-than-exemplary interactions with the troubled schoolgirl at the time, his with-holding of some of the relevant contextual information from the police when first questioned and his troubling interest in internet porn of the kind that bears a creepy resemblance to the alleged offences.

Janie and I debated our divergent takes on this play to some extent during the interval and more vociferously on the way home in the comfort of our own vehicle. Frankly, I think we were both somewhat in shock.

While Janie and I were personally reconciled by the time we got home and started tucking in to our shawarma supper, we only realised the next morning when we rose to prepare for a day at Lord’s, that we had rapidly polished off a tasty bottle of Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz in double-quick time, which left us both a little sore-headed until the fresh air of Lord’s started to weave its magic on our fevered brows.

As well as Alec Newman, Susan Stanley as Daniel’s unquestionably sympathy-deserving wife, Sally, was an absolute standout in a generally very good cast and production. The full works Hampstead production details can be found on the theatre’s archive – here.

We saw the last night of the run at the Hampstead, but this production really deserves a tour and/or transfer so here’s hoping it will return/run elsewhere.

Recommendations: yes, do see this play if you possibly can. No, don’t fall out over it; the dilemmas are meant to leave you feeling confused, cognitively dissonant and angry. No, don’t knock back a whole bottle of strong wine between two of you afterwards in a vain attempt to make your whirling brain feel better; doesn’t work.


England v Pakistan at Lord’s, Day One, 14 July 2016

Simon Jacobs joined me at Lord’s on the first day as a result of Charley “The Gent” Malloy’s indisposition.

I had secured the same front row of the Lower Compton seats for this day as I had on Day One of the Sri Lanka test a few weeks ago. I walked all the way, using my new “temporary rucksack” method strapping my picnic bags equally weighted on my back and got to Lord’s nice and early. I chatted for a while with a gentleman neighbour who had similarly booked the same seats for both Thursdays.

Simon phoned me just before the game started to say that he was queuing outside and arrived at his seat having missed two overs, no runs and no wickets.

I had prepared a similar picnic to the Sri Lanka test, including The Lord’s Throdkin and drunken prawns. Also including wild Alaskan smoked salmon bagels, in honour of the absent Charley the Gent, whom we toasted at that bagel juncture.

At one point, I warned Simon that he would need a pseudonym for my King Cricket reporting and Ogblog purposes. I even offered him a chance to select his own pseudonym, but that point soon got lost in other conversation.

As always on these occasions, the day passed incredibly quickly. We discussed politics (Brexit, Corbyn) a lot. Also cricket and some more general catching up, following on, I suppose, from our dinner a few months before.

Towards the end of the day, the conversation turned to Simon’s godson, who has recently moved to London to live and work, so Simon is now able to see a lot more of the young man.

“The only problem is the Generation Y language”, said Simon. “Example. I sent him a text arranging to take him out for a meal and the reply came back:

Awesome, Simo

…I’m not sure about my name being abbreviated to Simo and I am sure that the adjective ‘awesome’ is excessive for such a small matter.”

“Good point, Simo”, I said. “What adjective would the lad use if something genuinely awe-inspiring were to happen to him?”

“Exactly”, said Awesome Simo.

We then tried to banter a bit in young-person speak, but we were terrible at it. “Wicked”, “warped”, “sick”…it was a peculiar amalgam of yoof slang expressions from the 1990’s up to around 2010. We all-but admitted defeat…


…it was just a few overs before stumps and Awesome Simo had to leave, so our conversation continued by text, at least in the matter of keeping Simo appraised on the match. A few minutes after he left, a text from me to Simo:

Wkt Woakes awesome Simo

A few minutes later, me to Simo again:

Final ball wkt Woakes again totes amazeballs

As I was walking home, a text from Awesome Simo to me:

Wow amazing thanks again for like totally the best day EVER


Trying To Work, Somerset v Middlesex Day 4, At The Flat, MTWD Report, 13 July 2016

I know from my own years editing the Middlesex Till We Die (MTWD) website that one of the toughest jobs is getting enough articles for the winter. Sportnetwork require regular editorial material as the quid quo pro for providing their site and system.

So when I chatted with Barmy Kev in the autumn, explaining to him what Ogblog is about and offering him some ideas for pieces, the answer was, “I could do with some stuff for after Christmas”.

So here is a link to my first MTWD article for some years, which relates to my doings/listenings on 13 July 2016.

I suspect that many county cricket lovers occasionally have afternoons like that when the matches suddenly get very interesting indeed.

Yes I did catch up with my work in the end as well, thank you for asking, for those Ogblog readers too lazy even to click the link and read a few hundred words. Honestly.