Kiss Me by Richard Bean, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 29 October 2016

Unusually we return to the same theatre two weeks in a row, but this time to see a premier of the downstairs play, Kiss Me by Richard Bean.

After the busy end to our week, we were rather relieved to discover that this was a short play – 70 minutes without an interval.

The play is set in the 1920’s. A young WW1 widow has arranged a liaison with a young man through a mysterious doctor who helps women with deceased or damaged husbands to get pregnant, through the services of this young man. It is a strange scenario, but there is some evidence that some sort of arrangement or arrangements of this kind did happen at that time.

The liaison is supposed to take place within strict parameters regarding lack of intimacy and information sharing, but inevitably in the play the parameters soon break down and so the play becomes a more conventional love story, albeit within an unconventional scenario.

It was a little difficult to buy into the conceit of this play lock stock and barrel; the woman’s motivations in particular seemed confused, the man’s a little hard to believe as stated. Still, the acting was good and the play did cover some interesting points about sexual mores, class differences and of course sex discrimination in that era. The young man basically has so many more choices than the woman.

Here is a link to the Hampstead resource for this play/production.

In short, we enjoyed the play and we enjoyed our Mohsen Persian supper too.

 

Talking Ethics At University of Sussex, Followed By Dinner With Sidney & Joan Pizan at The Salt Room, 28 October 2016

After my slightly nerve-wracking House of Lords experience yesterday, another busy day.

An early visit to the gym, then back to the flat to allow in Steve the window cleaner while I did my month end paperwork, cleared my e-mails and stuff. Then to the house to pick up Janie and off in the direction of Brighton.

A relatively event-free journey until we get very close to the Hotel Una indeed, when we hit gridlock on the sea front road. We can hear sirens and nothing moves for ages. In the end, we turn off the main strip and I drop Janie near the hotel, where she can walk one minute round the corner to Regency Square, while I can turn around and drive back out of town to the University to be sure I’m there on time.

The seminar is a rather academic-oriented affair organised by the Department of Philosophy, although I am one of three guest speakers from the world of commerce. We try to cover rather a lot of ethical ground in one afternoon, perhaps a little over-ambitious, but no-one seems to mind, especially once the wine and nibbles arrive.

I abstain from the wine but (having skipped lunch for a small snack before departure from London) indulge a little in the nibbles and some juice before making my excuses and heading back to the hotel.

Rather a rapid turn-around at the hotel, which made the luxury of the place seem somewhat surplus at that hour, but then we went round the corner to the Salt Room, where Sidney and Joan had already made a start on a bottle of very jolly Sauvignon Blanc.

It was lovely to see them both. Sidney had very kindly brought me as a gift a couple of his very beautiful old books on London. We chatted about all sorts of things, tried not to get too grumpy about politics and enjoyed a very good meal.

We didn’t have starters (except Joan who made a main course of two starters). Sidney and I both had a delicious skate wing dish, while Janie had partridge, which she described as lovely. Some good sides and some more of that Sauvignon Blanc. The maître d’ brought us some fish croquette balls to share while we waited for our mains, which was a nice touch. Our French waitress was delightful too.

Sidney and Joan shared a desert, as did Daisy and I. I also ordered some amazing chocolate pebbles which I remembered from the previous visit.

After dinner, we strolled round to the Hotel Una and showed Sidney and Joan the bar, the breakfast rooms and our bedroom. I demonstrated my ukulele skills; pleasent enough but rather a come down from our family’s profound talent with the violin, Sidney and I both felt.

The plan had been to get Sidney and Joan a cab from the hotel, but with a second wind they decided to stroll to the bus stop (we walked with them) as they live but one stop down the road.

I then buried my nose in the books Sidney had given me, until Janie reminded me how tired I must be.

A really nice evening, it was.

Two Visits To Two Different Lord Places In One Day, 27 October 2016

A morning visit to the House of Lords, to give evidence to a select committee hearing on Brexit for Professional and Business services.

I don’t normally mention work-related stuff on Ogblog, but this one sort-of bleeds into “work life”, as Brexit is rather important stuff generally right now. Here is a link to the business write up on Now and Z/Yen – click here.

I wrote up a small piece about this on Facebook too – click here – as I know quote a lot of my Facebook friends are interested in Brexit. Some business around Lord Whitty’s coughing and Bob Fleming’s Folking Classics is quite amusing on that thread.

I think it went OK. I said what I really feel AND they let all four of us panellists go after the hearing, rather than “taking us by boat to the Tower”, so by that criterion I think it went really well.

In any case, you can judge for yourself.  The transcript comes out about a week after the hearing – but if you like telly you can watch the vid straight away and the latter remains live for about a year – click here. 

Back home to clear my backlog of messages and the like, then after a quick bite of lunch on to the other Lord’s to play real tennis. Perhaps liberated from the fear of noble shackles,  I played well today, in contrast with the shocker I played yesterday.

I was due to have a jam with DJ this evening, but he deferred to another date as he is a little poorly. So I ended up having a quiet pasta supper and an early night – probably just as well as I was very tired and had another busy day lined up for tomorrow.

 

The World of Orlando Gibbons, Phantasm, Wigmore Hall, 24 October 2016

This had allegedly been a day off, although I did plenty of work during the day. Still, Janie and I played tennis in the morning and had  a very pleasant late lunch and late afternoon together.

Then to the Wiggy for this concert, booked a long time ago and I had no recollection what it was about.

Ah yes, a rare opportunity to hear consort music by Orlando Gibbons, performed by the esteemed viol ensemble Phantasm.

They were great on the night.

Here’s a link to the Wigmore Hall stub for this concert, so you can see what we heard, as it were. 

All the music was wonderful but, as Laurence Dreyfus quite rightly puts it in his programme notes, it is the six part pieces that really stand out.

Listening to them is like peering into a kaleidoscope…[t]he term ‘syncopation’ simply does not cover it

Syncopation – surely not “The Funky Gibbons”? – no, perhaps not. Very soothing music as it happens.

Dreyfus also mentions in the notes that it is so difficult to keep time for these pieces that even seasoned performers can miss their entry beat…

…and indeed he came a cropper himself on one occasion. Dreyfus took it on the chin and they started O Lord In Thy Wrath again.

Indeed, Laurence Dreyfus seems a rather sweet, self-effacing chap. When he introduced the encore, Pavane in F by John Jenkins, the elderly gentleman next to me said, rather loudly, to his wife…

John Who?

…Laurence Dreyfus smiled sweetly and said, a little louder, directly to the gentleman…

John Jenkins.

…I liked that.

The Gibbons music reminded me a little of the Corelli sonatas I enjoy so much, but of course these pieces were written so much earlier – incredibly sophisticated and rich sounds for their period.

Wonderful musicians all, Phantasm. Of course they spend almost as long tuning their viols as playing; that’s viol music for you.

I’m thinking I should invest in a good recording of these consort pieces. Glenn Gould is said to have listened to little else at times, but then he was as mad as a bag of frogs, so perhaps not a role model for listening choices.

Still, I loved the Gibbons consort sound and Janie dozed and listened appropriately.

Excellent review by Michael Church in The Independent – click here.

Yummy Chinese grub taken away from The Four Seasons on Queensway to round off the evening.

Update: I couldn’t resist downloading Phantasm’s recording of Gibbons Consort music – click here for link – delightful sound on the recording too. Not the same as live, of course, when is it ever, but lovely soothing sound.

I, Daniel Blake, Gate Picturehouse, 23 October 2016

Superb movie, this.  I, Daniel Blake – click here for IMDb entry.

Janie and I had both been tracking this one for a few weeks. Our original plan was to see it at the Curzon, but the nifty timing of 15:20 at The Gate, together with the chance to pop in to the flat afterwards to pick up one or two things, won it for the Gate Picturehouse.

What we didn’t know when we bought the tickets online was that the heating in the Gate had broken down, making the experience doubly bleak.

I mean, you don’t go to a Ken Loach film for heartwarming, do you? You go for bleak. Still, you don’t actually need to feel physically cold and experience personal suffering to empathise with victims of our country’s heartless benefits system, in chilly Newcastle.

So, Janie and I suffered for our art, but it was worth it.

The movie especially highlights how inflexible our state bureaucratic systems are, so if you fall foul of them or make a mistake or have a mistake made about you when you are in an especially vulnerable position, matters can spiral out of control and out of hand so easily.

It also highlights how very dispossessed are those people who do not have ready access to on-line facilities and/or do not have the skills to use information systems.

Ken Loach has previous at highlighting big social issues and making things happen about them; Cathy Come Home being perhaps the most memorable example. I hope there is a reaction and some social change on the back of I, Daniel Blake.

Not as relentlessly grim as some Ken Loach films, as there were glimpses of humanity throughout the film. The kindly job centre employee being reprimanded by her boss for trying to help Daniel…”I’ve told you before, it might set a precedent…” was especially chilling. A scene at a food bank was heartbreaking.

I don’t often implore people to see stuff, but this really is one of those films that ought to be seen by as many people as possible. The film is also an excellent piece of drama. Go see it.

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide To Capitalism And Socialism With A Key To The Scriptures by Tony Kushner, Hampstead Theatre, 22 October 2016

I’d forgotten how much Tony Kushner likes to write long plays. Perhaps the unfeasibly long title for this play (which Kushner helpfully abbreviates to an Apple-device-like nickname “iHo”) should have reminded me.

But I did remember how superb Angels in America had been in 1993, even though I only saw the first part of that seven-hour epic as I was so poorly the day Janie and I were supposed to see the second half that Janie went to see it alone while I spent the evening (as indeed I had spent the whole day) on the potty.

It had been a long wait for the next Tony Kushner and I snapped up these Hampstead tickets with relish when I saw the superb-looking cast and creatives list for iHo.

Before I forget, here is a link to the Hampstead’s excellent resource on this production of iHo. 

Still, come the weekend of our visit, when I saw that the production was listed as 3 hours and 30 minutes long, my heart sank a bit and I started to formulate contingency, bail-out plans, just in case it was all going to be too much. Two intervals give you extra scope for polite bail-out, of course.

Neither Janie nor I tend to have as much attention span as we once had. Perhaps it is a sign of the times; younger folk these days hardly ever finish a…or perhaps our increasing age decreases our patience – ’nuff said.

I needn’t have worried. The play has plenty going on to hold my attention for that length of time. Janie was less sure about the play than I was, but she was very taken with the performances, the design and the directing.

We ran into John and Linda – a couple we often see at the theatre and who live near the flat in Notting Hill Gate – for the first time in ages – chatting to them made both intervals whizz by.

The play might pick up some criticism for being a long, meandering ramble through an essentially simple plot about a family and their brownstone homestead in Brooklyn. But of course the play covers more than that; homosexuality, capitalism, socialism (and indeed Marxism) naturally show up; to a greater or lesser extent defining characteristics of the complex personalities of the chaotic protagonists.

Central to the plot is the overt and outspoken desire of the central character, a retired longshoreman/union-leader played excellently by David Calder, voluntarily to commit an act of euthanasia. His bisexual employment-lawyer daughter, the equally excellent Tamsin Greig, an intriguing opponent to the idea, matching the old git with her advocacy and connivances to try to steer the outcome her way, metaphorical punch for metaphorical punch.

The rest of the family and their entourages were also wonderfully depicted by this excellent cast. Family row scenes tended to have several people yelling at the same time, yet, through superb writing/directing, I felt that we were getting to hear and follow everything we were supposed to.

Anyway, we saw this production in preview, so the reviews are yet to show. The good ones will (in the fullness of time) be on the Hampstead resource for this production – here’s the link again. You’ll have to find poor/indifferent ones for yourselves unless I decide to return to this page and add some.

I thought this play/production was great and well worth seeing. Janie, less sure about the play, still thought it worth seeing. We both found a light, shawarma supper afterwards well worth eating.

 

 

Dinner At The Twits, The Vaults, 20 October 2016

Leake Street aka Graffiti Tunnel
Leake Street aka Graffiti Tunnel

An unusual night out for us at The Vaults in Waterloo, engineered by DJ, who very generously sent us a couple of tickets fort his event as an impromptu gift.

Dinner At the Twits is a cross between an immersive theatre experience and a themed dinner party. Based on a grotesque Roald Dahl story, the conceit of the experience is that attendees are guests at the reconfirming of vows evening for the unspeakably awful couple, Mr & Mrs Twit.

You can read all about it on the official web site here.

 

Ged trying to look edgy (with only limited success) on Leake Street.
Ged trying to look edgy (with only limited success) on Leake Street.

We got to the venue in good time, so we stopped off in the cocktail bar before the experience proper. The bar was a fun place and the cocktail mixologist did us proud…

cocktail-mystro-mixing-our-pre-show-cocktail
He’s got an “ology”; mixology
ged-not-so-sure-about-his-pre-show-cocktail
Ged “before”
Daisy "after"
Daisy “after”

…you get my drift.

Then on to the ghastly garden, where you are given another cocktail – a “sting and tonic” with nettles in it – plus you have to forage for appetisers (including bloodied hearts, burnt sausages and pigeon goujons) and mingle with the Twits and their monkey-like assistants.

Sting and tonic cocktails
Sting and tonic cocktails

Then the banquet itself, where the show continues and you eat a meal based around bird pie and a rather lemony trifle.

Who ate all the pies?
Who ate all the pies?

The plot of the show doesn’t really warrant extrapolation.  Ryan Gilbey of the Guardian does a reasonable job of explaining the inexplicable.  I nearly found myself in the role of a monkey ball, to be shot from a canon against one of the vault walls. Mercifully, we were rescued by a giant bird puppet just in the nick of time.

Yes, the show was a bit panto-like (what do you expect from Roald Dahl) but the food and beverage was very imaginative; the  grotesque theming was very well done.

fter show in the upside down bar
After show in the upside down bar

Just in case you haven’t had enough to drink by the end of the meal, there is an after show “upside down” cocktail bar as well. We had certainly been plied with plenty, so made our metaphorical excuses and returned to the relative safety of Notting Hill Gate, replete with food, drink and entertainment.

Thanks, DJ.

PowerSolo Cricket Bat, King Cricket Piece, 17 October 2016

One of the joys of writing for King Cricket is that you never know when your piece is going to be published.

For example, I wrote a little piece about a spunky spider we encountered in the Lower Compton Stand at the Lord’s test match on 7 September 2017; within a fortnight King Cricket had featured the item – click here.

Then, two days later he published another quirky piece entitled, “A cricket bat in a Danish nouveau-punk duo’s video” – click here. My first thought when I saw this headline was, “I vaguely remember seeing this video before”. Then I saw that I was credited with the piece. I had to search my outgoing e-mails to find the thing – nearly a year ago I wrote and sent it; 17 October 2016

Still, the pleasure from seeing my little contributions go up there is just the same eleven days or eleven months later.

I’ll keep a more efficient log from now on though…

…there are still a couple of neglected masterpieces from 2014 on King Cricket’s pile that should eventually see the light of day one way or another; on King Cricket, on Ogblog or eventually on both.

I commend the PowerSolo King Cricket piece to you – not least for the bants in the comments section, but if all you want do is see the vid, then that is embedded for yuo below:

 

Pickled Herring Of The Year Competition and Other Delights, 12 October 2016

Not all that many people are familiar with the Pickled Herring Of The Year competition. But if you are part of the wider cousin-hood of my mother’s family, in particular the Briegal branch, then you probably know all about it.

Briegal table, minimally laden when the photo was taken, thanks to Hils for the photo
Briegal table, minimally laden when the photo was taken, thanks to Hils for the photo

For more years than I can remember, Jacquie Briegal has hosted a fast-breaking dinner at the end of Yom Kippur. Breaking the fast, for most of us who attend, has become a nominal term for the family gathering, as hardly any of us now participate in the fast itself. But that is no reason to abstain from a jolly family gathering and feast for theoretical “fast-breaking”.

I worked in the morning and into the afternoon, but had taken the opportunity to arrange some real tennis late afternoon, with a view to using Shanks’s pony to get from Lord’s to Jacquie’s place in Swiss Cottage.

A couple of days prior to my real tennis game I was asked if I could stay on an extra hour. As I have reported before, click here, this quite often happens in the Lord’s real tennis fraternity. As it happened, I realised that I could do that and still get to Jacquie’s in reasonable time. What I didn’t realise (or at least didn’t think about) was quite how much two tough singles matches on the trot would take out of me.

First up was my old friend from NewsRevue, Chris Stanton. I have mentioned running into Chris at the Lord’s real tennis courts before, click here, but I had not played him before today. A tough gig for me, even with the handicap adjustment, which we both thought a little understated. Still, it was good to chat with Chris again before we started, remembering NewsRevue friends, songs and sketches gone by. Then after Chris, another gentleman I hadn’t played before, with vast real tennis experience and a less than generous handicap adjustment to compensate; I somehow got a draw out of the second match.

Suffice it to say that I started my two hours on the real tennis court feeling like a leaping salmon and ended it feeling like a pickled herring…

…which segues us nicely and effortlessly (well, actually the walk from St John’s Wood to Swiss Cottage felt far from effortless that evening) to the Pickled Herring Of The Year Contest. I neglected to mention above; part of the family tradition of breaking the fast at Jacquie’s place is for the meal to begin with a veritable smörgåsbord of starters, focused around varieties of smoked and preserved fishes, primarily various types of pickled herring.

My (self-appointed) role in this herring-fest is to judge the Pickled Herring Of The Year. The rules are pretty straightforward:

  • I alone decide the results – attempts to influence my decisions meet short shrift in this competition. That might sound a bit dictatorial – it is meant to;
  • Only the actual chunks of pickled herring varieties are eligible for the competition. Smoked salmon and gravadlax (ever-present) need not apply;
  • Nor does Jacquie’s delightful chopped herring qualify for the contest, although Jacquie did once get a lifetime achievement award for the chopped herring – the equivalent of Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize For Literature – controversial but undoubtedly both are achievements worthy of the highest possible praise.
As it happens, this is not a photo of the moment Jacquie received her lifetime achievement award; perhaps it should have been. Thanks to Hils for the photo.
As it happens, this is not a photo of the moment Jacquie was garlanded with her lifetime achievement award for chopped herring; perhaps it should have been. Thanks to Hils for the photo.

We were a relatively small group this year; Jacquie and Hils of course. Josh (Jacquie’s grandson, Hils’s nephew), cousin Jane and her daughter Ruth, cousin Michael (always the last to arrive as he does actually go to shule and fast), plus me and Janie.

Hils and Janie - again not from a herring-fest occasion - thanks to Joy for the photo.
Hils and Janie – again not from a herring-fest occasion – thanks to our neighbour Joy for the photo.

Jacquie does not adjust the quantity of food served for the number of people who happen to be attending that year, so there were easily as many varieties of herring up for the award as usual (six) and huge quantities of other food. I haven’t even mentioned the main courses, including place goujons, salmon fishcakes, gefilte fish balls…nor the enormous variety of salads, breads, other accompaniments, several varieties of honey cake, other sweetmeats…

…I’m sure you get the picture…

…I’m equally sure that you, dear reader, now rapidly want to know the results of this year’s competition so you can stop reading and go off to eat something – your mouth is no doubt watering by now.

Bronze herring 2016 – wine pickled herring;

Silver herring 2016 – schmaltz herring;

Gold herring 2016 – sweet pickled herring.

Unusual for the sweet to win, but this year one of the sweeter herrings was perfectly balanced in the combination of sweetness and sourness; it also had a superb texture, a little like the schmaltz herring texture that quite often wins.

 

An Interesting Day Culminating With Twenty Minutes Spent Watching Dire Situation Comedy, 11 October 2016

People who know me well know that I watch very little television other than cricket and news.

So how did an interesting day end with me watching extracts from not one but two dire situation comedy shows? Here’s how.

I had arranged to meet Richard Goatley at lunchtime after a noonday game of real tennis at Lord’s. My game went very well as it happens, as evidenced by Richard who popped in to see the final point and asked if I wanted to start our meeting with some lunch in the Tavern, which I did.

Over lunch, before getting down to business proper, Richard and I chatted about a myriad of topics, including a rather geeky conversation about per capita GDP in various European countries and then, somehow, the subject of dire situation comedy shows on television.

Richard asked me if I had ever seen a show named “Come Back Mrs Noah” with Mollie Sugden in the lead. It was set in the year 2050 on a spaceship that was accidentally launched with a housewife and reluctant scientists on board. I confessed that I had not. Richard told me that I simply had to watch the first episode (which is available on YouTube) for its sheer direness, although he suspected that I wouldn’t last the full 30 minutes.

Richard googled “Mrs Noah” to extract some details about the show’s provenance and found a list of the 10 most dire situation comedy shows which included one, “Heil Honey, I’m Home”, about Hitler and Eva Braun, which neither of us had ever come across.

When dividing up the action points at the end of the meeting proper (yes, we did discuss plenty of real Middlesex CCC strategy business, thank you), we agreed that I would watch said episode of “Mrs Noah” and Richard would track down “Heil Honey”.

Come Back Mrs Noah was not hard to find – even easier for you – click here for the first 10 minute reel and (if you can bear it) you’ll see links to the other reels too.

Mrs Noah was not quite as bad as Richard led me to expect, although it was bad. There was one really prescient joke right at the start when the newsreader mentioned “The Margaret Thatcher Memorial Statue in Moscow’s Red Square”. As the show was written in 1977, 18 months before Thatcher came to power, I thought that was an intriguing joke to set in 2050.

There was a very non-PC 1970s joke in which the spaceship’s lift spoke with a rather unconvincing Trini-meets-Bajan accent and the reporter says, “they make the lifts in Notting Hill Gate nowadays”.

Another non-PC joke (presumably set to be a runner) was a sentient camera that was said to be able to frame and focus on the most interesting part of any scene; the device continuously followed Mollie Sugden around, clearly pointing its lens at er bust.

My dad would have laughed at that runner, as he would have laughed at the runner in which the computerised vending machine for making tea or whatever emitted a fart sound before dispensing its contents. I quite liked the idea of the computer (in the hands of posh, unworldly scientists) taking far longer to botch up making a cup of tea than it would take for a competent person simply to make a cup of tea. Indeed I enjoyed the notion that the whole enterprise was Heath Robinson-like – an unconfident, comedic, British answer to Star Trek.

But 10 to 12 minutes in I could see where the show/series was going (nowhere near orbit, I fancied) and what most of the runners were going to be. It wasn’t all that bad – it seemed to me no worse than other shows from the same stable, “Are You Being Served”, “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” etc., faint praise as I always found those shows lame. I gave up after 15 minutes.

I’d put aside the full 30 minutes, so I decided to track down “Heil Honey I’m Home”, which was also pretty easy to find – even easier for you – click here.

Heil Honey is truly terrible. Exceptionally awful. Simply not funny. This is not because of the subject matter – I have seen and heard Hitler made funny a few times – the show simply does not present a potentially funny scenario. Perhaps the idea (Hitler in a suburban American home) would be worth a one minute sketch, along the lines of a sketch I remember fondly, the “Mr Hitler Joins An Assertiveness Training Course” sketch – (was that on the Burkiss Way or Radio Active or something else?). But even a one minute sketch needs a joke or two.

Heil Honey I’m Home is a crime against hilarity. It brought to mind the late great Ivan Shakespeare’s uncharacteristically catty line about a comedy writer whose work he didn’t like, “he basically only has the one joke, which he recycles in every sketch he writes…and the sad part is…his one joke isn’t funny.” Ouch.

The Heil Honey title did remind me of one of my weirdest lyric writing episodes, “I Only Have Heils for You”, only partially explained, with the lyrics set out – click here – I think you’ll laugh reading this.

I lasted five minutes on “Heil Honey”; I think I showed perseverance staying for five. I didn’t laugh once. But worth the experience as I now know where my lowest comedy ebb sits. Thanks Richard.