Christmas Day In Paradise, 25 December 2016

You’re crackers, sir!  I said, “it has come out of one of your crackers, sir”!

It was DJ’s idea.

Paradise by way of Kensal Green is one of his favourite places; we’ve been there with DJ a few times on a Sunday.

Unusually, he, Kim and Max were going to be around on Christmas day. The idea of Christmas day with friends for once, without cooking/washing up pleased us enormously, so we were up for it.

It was fun.

I wasn’t properly up for such a stonking big meal though:

  • antipasti (prosciutto, salamis, artichokes);
  • pumpkin soup;
  • turkey with stuffing and all the trimmings;
  • Xmas pud;
  • cheeses;
  • mince pies;
  • chocolates…

Not only that, but the feast was served for six although there were five of us, as Pinball Geoff was due to be there but dropped out at the last minute. That was a shame for several reasons, not least that Geoff would have enjoyed my plastic tashe, as his group, The Bikini Beach Band once supported Sparks.  I love that Kimono My House look.

I know you don’t have to eat it all. I know you don’t need to drink half a bottle of Barolo on top of the aperitif of a big glass of white. Oh how I suffered the next day.

Ogblog readers will sympathise with me en masse, I just know they will.

One In A Million: Reflections On Real Tennis At The End Of My First Calendar Year, 25 December 2016

With thanks to Toni Friend for the picture, taken during the famous match between MCC and the visiting Australians in September 2016

I took some real tennis lessons in January 2016 and started playing tentatively in March, perhaps in earnest since April when I started playing twice a week.

I wrote a reflective piece with links on my first six months or so of real tennis in July – click here for that piece. For a cursory explanation of the game and links to sites that explain it well, I commend that July piece as a useful starting point.

This end of year piece builds on that July piece and reflects on my whole first calendar year playing this intriguing game, including some astonishing statistics.

 

August to December 2016 News Update And Ogblog Links

Strangely, just a week after writing my July 2016 reflective piece, I was selected to play my first competitive match for the MCC, against a party of visiting Australians in September.

I had in any case decided to have a few more lessons in August, once I had played about 50 competitive hours on court.

I also spent some time in Manchester in September, getting a chance to play a couple of times and have a lesson at the Manchester Real Tennis Club in Salford, which I enjoyed enormously.

Here are some links to pieces I wrote August through October – please note that the pieces might not be exclusively about real tennis:

You might observe that I was having a great time playing real tennis during those months, but there was one small problem. Between early July and late October my handicap signally failed to come down; it simply hovered around the rather inauspicious mark of 67.3 – better than my early mark in the mid-seventies, but certainly not the steady improvement towards 60 and beyond that I had been hoping for.

Apparently, this tendency to plateau at times is quite normal, although I think my first plateau was a little lowly and lengthy for someone of my age and stage.

Anyway, I got a good win the afternoon after the House of Lords (27 October – see the last link in the above list of links) and since then the progress has been relentless for a couple of months, ending the year at a more impressive 64.1 – still a long way to go but definitely back on the improvement curve.

Winning team: David, Tony Friend and me.

My progress was assisted (psychologically only, there’s no direct impact on the handicap) by an unexpected win in a skills tournament in early November – click here for a link to a write up of that one.

I did also play one more tournament this year, against Middlesex University Real Tennis Club, mentioned en passant in an Ogblog piece – click here.

 

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Real tennis is quite a good game for a stats geek – not least because the real tennis on-line system is full of stats and tools through which you can measure yourself and weigh up your opponents. Not that I am even faintly at the stage (if indeed I ever shall be) that such tools would do much for me personally.

Still, for those who might be interested, here is an extract from the system (I have suitably redacted my opponents’ names) showing all of the handicap-contributing matches I have played so far in my so-called career – click here.

Digging deeper into the system, I can see how I have got on against each opponent and how those opponents have got on against other opponents – hours of fun to be had if/when I can be bothered.

However, one set of general stats has caught my eye, as this real tennis on-line system, including the handicapping, is used by every real tennis club in the world. I can see my handicap against pools of other players on various measures.

For example, if I look at my handicap compared with the current handicap of everyone who has ever had their handicap recorded on the system (about 15 years worth of data), I am ranked around 6,300 out of the 10,300 or so people who have ever been ranked.  That puts me somewhere around the 62nd percentile. Not bad for a beginner.

To be more accurate for playing purposes, it is probably better to restrict my search to active players – i.e. everyone who has played in the last year. On that basis, I am around the 3,000 mark out of 4,100 or so people who have played in 2016. That is around the 74th percentile or “bottom of the third quartile” mark. Still not too bad for a beginner.

But returning to the larger data set, I am intrigued by this 6,300 figure. Because that really is close to the sum total of people on the planet who could possibly stand a chance of beating me at this game. The game is so unlike other racket sports, it would be virtually impossible for anyone, even an elite sportsperson, to simply pick up a real tennis racket and beat someone who knows how to play, without having a lesson or two and a few goes first.

Given that there are somewhere between 7.4 and 7.5 billion people on the planet right now, that means, approximately speaking, that fewer than one in a million people are better at real tennis than I am.

Think about that statistic for just a moment. If an alien being from another planet were to come to planet earth and select a human being at random to play me at real tennis, there is only a one in a million chance that the other person would win.

I admit that this one-in-a-million stat is not a very useful statistic in practice, of course, but it is a rather awe-inspiring one in theory.

Just look at my technique again in the light of my impressive stats

Through The Wall, Curzon Bloomsbury, 23 December 2016

We really liked this movie. Here’s a link to its IMDb resource. Janie and I both heard a Radio 4 interview with the director, Rama Burshtein and thought we liked the sound of it. 

When we learnt that it was on at the Curzon Bloomsbury at a suitable time on the Friday evening before Christmas…no brainer!

Basically, it is a simple rom com story, set in an Haredi Jewish community in Israel.

An unconventional yet ultra orthodox young woman who runs a travelling petting zoo for children, after being jilted by her fiancée, decides to set up a wedding day and hope for a groom to appear by the deadline. Given her track record of matchmaker-arranged dates with Haredim, the new strategy seems no less likely to work than the more conventional approach.

It’s quite a long film given its slight plot, but it is utterly charming, quirky, laugh-out-loud funny in parts and very watchable throughout. Janie was mesmerised by it, not least the “beautiful looking people/eye candy in the movie”.

We were blessed with a delightful Muslim family, three generations at least, taking up the whole row in front of us. (Well, we weren’t going to get Orthodox Jews on a Friday evening).

This family seemed to be enjoying the film enormously – one lady from the group shouted out at the screen a couple of times to very amusing effect. We chatted with the whole family afterwards, agreeing that we had all enjoyed the film; youngsters and oldsters of various creeds alike.

Janie had pre-set a wonderful spread of rillettes and cheeses at the house to round off our week/evening in excellent style.

Three Seasonal Events In Four Days, 13 to 16 December 2016

Mark Keegan Admires His Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Trophy Moments After John Random Awards Mark With That Great Honour, 15 December 2016

Brian Eno Singsong and Party, Brian’s Studio, Tuesday 13 December 2016

The first of my “three dos in four days” was at Brian Eno’s place – I have been invited to such dos on several occasions now, often but not always at this time of year. I have known Brian from the health club (BodyWorksWest, formerly known as Lambton Place) for quarter of a century or more.

The party is combined with Brian’s a capella choir gathering, allowing neophytes and bathroom singers like me to have an occasional go.

I thought I arrived in quite good time on this occasion, but the singing was well underway when I arrived; the regulars presumably having made a punctual early start.

The songs chosen were quite relentlessly morbid at first. There is usually a fair bit of spiritual blues material, but this set seemed especially bleak, with unfortunate folk being hanged for crimes they didn’t commit and all sorts. It wasn’t too difficult to pick up on the tunes quickly enough – I suppose that’s why they choose this material for the more open sing-song, but it didn’t feel much like party music at first.

The last couple of numbers were a bit more lively – not least All I Have To Do Is Dream at the end, sung in a doo-wap style. It helped me that I was standing next to a couple of very able, presumably professional singers, upon whose rhythms and harmonies I could latch. A few people afterwards asked me if I was a professional singer, but I’m sure they must have been hearing the sound emanating from those guys, not me.

Brian said that he couldn’t hear me this time, which is a good sign; presumably therefore an improvement on last time. But perhaps he also was deceived by my co-location with the professional-sounding guys.

Anyway, as on previous occasions, I also found the rest of the party great fun, meeting and chatting with several very interesting people. I also danced a bit to some excellent party mix music, well designed for the purpose (mostly 1970’s dance, with some earlier and later stuff thrown in).

I didn’t stick around until too late – I had a scheduled client call quite early the next day – so (as on every previous occasion) I missed the blood, guts, ambulances and police cars stage of the party. Brian subsequently told me that the emergency services stage failed to occur this time, to his intense disappointment.

 

Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner, Café Rouge Holborn, 15 December 2016

Since around the turn of the century, when fellow NewsRevue writer, Ivan Shakespeare, tragically keeled over and died while jogging, several of us have gathered a few times each year to keep in touch and reminisce about our NewsRevue days. Just before his death, Ivan e-mailed a few of us suggesting that we should regroup for that purpose, but never lived to see his idea to fruition.

Quite early in the life of this occasional gathering, it became part of our tradition to play a comedic quiz or two towards the end of the evening. I think it was John Random who initiated that idea, but several other people, occasionally contribute a quiz. Gerry Goddin latterly contributes a variant in which we all have to try to write jokes on suggested themes and Gerry allocates points (or deducts points) based on how well the jokes go down, his perception of each joke’s quality and/or Gerry’s authoritarian whim.

For the December gathering in 2002 (I’ll get around to Ogblogging it in the fullness of time no doubt) I went into a local tourist gimcrack store and bought the cheapest, tackiest piece of porcelain royal memorabilia I could find; then I emblazoned it with a legend declaring it to be the Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Trophy. Since 2002, that trophy has been played for earnestly each year. Nine different people have held the trophy over the years; I am proud to be able to state that I was the 2004 winner.

Anyway, it seems to be getting harder and harder to find a venue that operates flexibly enough for a rather haphazard bunch of former (and in some cases current) comedy writers to gather in mid December. Café Rouge Holborn has become the regular venue for the past few visits, but it seems they tried to impose a Christmas season “pre-ordering” regime on us, which was somewhat beyond the capabilities of John Random’s organising and our ability to be organised by anyone or anything.

So, half-a-dozen or so of us had pre-ordered and Café Rouge assumed that there would only be half-a-dozen of us (despite John booking the table for 10); which proved problematic once the eighth and especially ninth person showed up.

To be fair the staff tried their best in what seemed to be chaotic circumstances and did relocate us to a table for 10 quite quickly.

But poor Jonny Hurst ended up waiting for best part of an hour before any food was brought to him at all, at which point a starter and two main courses all turned up at once. I was half-hoping that Jonny would say, “do you know who I am? I’m Jonny Hurst, the chant laureate, that’s who”. Jonny might even have been forgiven for “doing a Jeremy Clarkson”…but Jonny is far too mild mannered and polite for any of that, even when he has a real hunger-on and everyone around him is tucking in.  Respect.

Eventually we played the quizzes. Colin Stutt offered a small quiz to warm us up, but the main quiz, for the trophy, was a very imaginative effort from John Random which comprised 10 maps, each of which had a location marked with a year. We had to name the movie that was made in that year set in that place.

I was pleased with my 7 out of 11 (one map had two years and therefore two movies and two points) but Mark Keegan pipped a couple of us 7-istas with 8 out of 11 to claim the trophy yet again – his fourth victory in 15 years. Respect.

Gerry Goddin ended the evening with one of his joke-fest games with some especially harsh marking  and the predictable result that Barry Grossman’s jokes pleased him more than anyone else’s – it is nearly always Barry who wins, very occasionally me.

A most enjoyable evening.

 

Z/Yen Group Christmas Lunch at Watermen’s Hall, 16 December 2016

For the first time in Z/Yen’s 23 Christmases, we decided to do Christmas lunch rather than dinner this year.

Linda and Michael conspired to find a five course extravaganza of a lunch at Watermen’s Hall, which seemed just the ticket in the circumstances. It’s a comparatively intimate and relaxed atmosphere for a guild’s hall; but now that Z/Yen is that much smaller, our group wouldn’t completely dominate the room.

Michael pipped me an e-mail the previous weekend to ask if I would write one of the traditional Z/Yen singalong songs – normally but not absolutely always my gig. 

(Previous Z/Yen Christmas events and songs will be Ogblogged in the fullness of time).

Anyway, the sight of the five course menu and the name of the Company that resides at Waterman’s Hall inspired a simple but effective song to the tune of Winter Wonderland – click here or below for a YouTube with Bing and lyrics.

But before exercising our lungs, we ate the following excellent five course meal, washed down with some fine wine and (for some, not me) port.

Z/Yen Group 2016 Christmas Lunch at Watermen’s Hall

(The Company of Watermen and Lightermen)

Menu

Torched mackerel, pickled and salt baked beetroot, horseradish crème fraiche

Smoked ham hock and chicken terrine, pickled apricots, watercress salad

Butter roasted Norfolk turkey, sage and apricot stuffing, bacon wrapped sausages, brussels sprout choucroute with chestnuts

Star anise poached pear, almond crumb, whipped clotted cream

Christmas pudding, brandy sauce

Michael kept me and Xueyi talking about GeoGnomo for a fair chunk of the meal, but otherwise we managed to steer clear of work chat.

Michael was also keen not to torture too many people with our song, but once there were only a few stragglers left (apart from we Z/Yen folk) we found a surprisingly receptive audience; indeed those Watermen and Lightermen joined in the singing with us, rounding off a fine afternoon.

♬ WATERMEN AND LIGHTERMEN AND Z/YEN ♬

( A seasonal song to the tune of ♬”Winter Wonderland” )

 

VERSES ONE AND TWO

Mackerel torched, beetroot pickled,

Ham terrine, we’ll be tickled;

We’ll eat Christmas lunch, Z/Yen Group as a bunch;

Watch us put on weight at Watermen’s.

At the start, we’ll be perky,

By the end, stuffed like turkey;

Five courses of nosh, all terribly posh;

Watch us put on weight at Watermen’s.

 

MIDDLE EIGHT

After eating turkey laced with trimmings,

We’ll tuck in to star anise poached pear;

Christmas pud as well, you must be kidding,

The brandy sauce could be a warning flare.

 

VERSE THREE

Head for home, very slothfully,

On the trail back to Lothbury;

Let’s hope that we scoff…ing walk our waists off;

Walking all the way from Watermen’s.

(RISING/ROUSING FINALE): Let’s hope walking makes us Lightermen!

Platinum by Hannah Patterson, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 10 December 2016

Ged Ukulele Barefoot Ladd, not singing “This Land Is Your Land”

Hmm.

We very rarely see a dud downstairs at the Hampstead – Ed Hall’s project to put works on down there regularly has been a raging success as far as we are concerned.

But sadly, I feel obliged to report that this one, to us, was a dud.

The idea sounded great. An iconic 1970s protest songstress, now a recluse, with an estranged daughter and a fundamentally important secret about that iconic career.

Trouble is, that’s about it, plot-wise. The important secret has a rather “so what?”, tenuous feeling about it, while the motivation of the characters to behave as they do/had done in the past, if the secret was so important to them, was utterly dubious.

It was also difficult to care for even one of the three characters, each irritating in their own way: the iconic songstress, the estranged aspiring chanteuse daughter, and the Californian PhD student who has been studying the icon for six years only then to act as the catalyst for the wafer-thin plot to unfold.

Daisy nodded off about 20 minutes into the piece, once it became clear where it was (and wasn’t) going.

I persevered.

I wondered whether the PhD student’s explanation of protest song types, rhetorical and magnetic, was something the playwright had invented for him or whether it was an actual media studies/sociology course thing. Turns out it is the latter and that the explanation as expounded by the character can be found in the Wikipedia entry on protest songs under “types” and that this particular classification should be credited to the late R. Serge Denisoff, bless him.

The actors sang some protest songs along the way, closing with We Shall Overcome and at one point rendering This Land Is Your Land, quite well.

I rather like the latter song but Janie, tragically not steeped in media studies or the sociology of popular culture, perceives it as a nationalistic US song rather than Woody Guthrie’s intended protest song and has banned me from singing it on my ukulele in her presence. She should click the link I have added to the phrase This Land Is Your Land and look at some of the original lyrics. In particular, the verse that reads:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

…that verse might come back into fashion some time soon. But they didn’t sing that verse in this rather bland play. Pity.

Ferio Saxophone Quartet, St John’s Smith Square, 8 December 2016

Slightly scruffy look for SJSS, even at lunchtime

You don’t see a lot of all saxophone combos. So much so, that when I saw the Ferio Saxophone Quartet concert listed for Thursday lunchtime on a day that I had kept clear for a client meeting that had been deferred until the new year, I thought, “I’ll give that a try”.

Naturally, I cut things a bit fine, trying to finish off some work before heading off for SJSS and then realising that I hadn’t really allowed much margin for error on timing.

Fortunately a Circle Line train came quite quickly. Then, at South Kensington, all of a sudden I could hear a Saxophone combo on the train, playing Hit The Road Jack very well indeed. I looked along the carriage and there indeed were several saxophonists giving it plenty. I managed to snap a couple of them with my smart phone camera.

“Perhaps the Ferio lot are also cutting it a bit fine for the gig,” I thought, “although they look a bit scruffy for SJSS, even at lunchtime.”

Between Sloane Square and Victoria, the combo played Blue Moon very well indeed. But clearly they weren’t the Ferio lot, as the “Anonymous Saxtet” got off the tube at Victoria, after relieving me and others of our small change (voluntarily I hasten to add).

I concluded that saxophone combos are like buses and tubes. You wait what seems like a lifetime for one, then two come along one after the other.

In the end I got to SJSS just a tiny bit late, but in true lunchtime concert fashion they let us latecomers slide in at the back of the hall and then move forward after the first piece. The first piece was a Bach Prelude and Fugue and I reckon I caught most of the Prelude as well as the Fugue.

When I moved forward between pieces, a kindly couple made extra space for me so I could remove my hat and coat quickly, take up an excellent seat and then they also gave me a look at their programme (I picked up my own copy at the end). I’m sure that nice couple would even have shared their sandwiches with me had they brought sandwiches, but they hadn’t. SJSS lunchtime concerts are not really “eat your sandwiches in the concert” type lunchtime concerts.

This was the Ferio String Quartet Concert I heard – link to SJSS site here.

Just in case SJSS archiving isn’t up to snuff, here is the same page saved on Ogblog.

They were very good indeed, the Ferio Saxophone Quartet. I especially enjoyed their arrangement of Grieg’s Holberg Suite, which was the centrepiece of the concert really.

The concert was very well attended – 150+ people, I’d guess, perhaps even 200 if you count the sniffly but very attentive outing of schoolkids.

The Ferios are doing a short residency at SJSS and there are a couple more gigs to go next spring. Here is a link to a short vid the quartet made about the concert I heard and their residency.

The next concert, on 23 April 2017, is all British music entitled Best of British, which seems to me a wasted opportunity. Left up to me, that concert would have been named:

Yes, Sax Please, We’re British…

…but unfortunately such marketing matters never seem to be left up to me. I can’t imagine why not.

Robert Rauschenberg, plus Wilfredo Lam, Tate Modern, 6 December 2016

An appointment to view the Robert Rauschenberg arranged a long time ago, as Janie takes advantage of her Tate membership so we can see the exhibition on a members’ evening.

Janie came to the Z/Yen office to meet me. We then walked from Lothbury to the Tate Modern across Southwark Bridge – a pleasant 20 minutes or so walk when the weather is good, which it was.

We got to the Tate ahead of the special evening opening hours, so we went to the members’ bar and had a small “glass of” each to sustain ourselves for the exhibition.

When we staggered down the stairs to go to the Rauschenberg, we first encountered the entrance for the Wilfredo Lam, which the Tate had also opened up for the evening to enable members to see both exhibitions out of hours. “Why not?” we thought and gave the Wilfredo Lam a quick once-over. We’d seen a fair smattering of his works in Cuba and remembered that he wasn’t exactly our favourite. A bit austere. “Picasso-lite” I described it – probably not an entirely original comment.

Then the Rauschenberg, the real purpose of our visit. Both of us had seen some of his stuff before and liked it, but neither of us had seen much and we both knew little about him.

Janie latched on to his abstract expressionist roots and started sounding off about the absence of such artists as Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly in the exhibition of that name at the Royal Academy, which we visited to hat-losing effect a few weeks ago – click here. It was interesting to learn that Rauschenberg and Twombly had been romantically entangled when young.

We both like his use of colour and some of the earlier, experimental works are interesting. I didn’t much like the transfer drawings but clearly this technique was a step on the path towards his astonishing silkscreen work, which we both find very pleasing and interesting.

The later work is a bit hit and miss. Rauschenberg was bound to be fascinated by the use of digital imaging as part of his work in later years, yet somehow I think the cruder, analogue methods produce more interesting work in his genre.

Well worth seeing, the Rauschenberg exhibition.

 

 

Old And New Music From The Ends Of the Silk Route, Wigmore Hall, 2 December 2016

wigmore-2-dec-16

This was a wonderful concert.

It was supposed to include the Uyghur musician Sanubar Tursan on vocals and dutar – click here for a sample including a hat with a nod to my Vermont and a dutar with a nod to my baroq-ulele, but sadly that artist was unable to show.

Still, we got plenty to see and here; Wu Man on pipa (we’d seen her before, in a late night “gig at the Wig” a couple of years ago) and Basel Rajoub and his Soriana project.

I got all excited about this concert when I went on line earlier in the week and listened to some Basel Rajoub/Soriana music; so much so that I downloaded a couple of albums to get familiar with this Syrian/Jazz fusion music:

Further motivation for the Syrian aspect of the music came from Gresham Society trip earlier in the week, where I saw, amongst other things, a wonderful antique picture of musicians in Aleppo (Basel Rajoub’s home town).

The concert was clearly rejigged to accomodate Sanubar’s absence, so the Wigmore Hall on-line stub – click here – and indeed the main programme did not have a running order, but a separate flyer did – uploaded and shown above.

The concert started with Wu Man alone, then Basel Rajoub’s Soriana Project, then Wu Man joined Soriana so they all played together. The all playing together biuts were the most interesting for live performance. The artists clearly enjoyed playing together.

I didn’t realise how much the pipa had Central Asian origins along with the dutar, but this link to Wu Man and Sanubar Tursan explaining it all helped me understand it.

It is a shame the concert needed to be rejigged, but frankly most of us were perfectly content. Janie really enjoyed the fusion sounds, although she claimed last night to have tired a little of me playing the Basel Rajoub recordings. Perhaps you can have too much of a good thing.

Laura Snowden, Lunchtime Concert, St John’s Smith Square, 1 December 2016

A planned, much needed break in the middle of a busy day in a busy week.

First stop, Lock and Co. to replace my sorely missed Vermont hat. No blame attached to whatever happened during our Royal Academy evening a few weeks ago; merely to say that Daisy should stick to driving duties and avoid hat-stand duties; while I should retain full responsibility for my own hats whatever other duties I am undertaking.

Then on to St John’s Smith Square for the lunchtime concert.

selfie-with-new-hat-and-enormous-organ
Selfie With New Hat and Enormous Organ

I messaged Daisy with the above picture and caption, to let her know that I had replaced the hat and to show off the fact that I was taking a substantial enough break to take in a lunchtime concert on my tod. The reply:

What the…?

The concert was lovely. We saw Laura Snowden at SJSS a couple of years ago; a very talented young guitarist who comes across very nicely.

The centrepiece of this concert was a new work by Wally Gunn, an American composer who seems to have written this piece especially for Laura under commission of a young composers/performers scheme.

Laura show-pieced the new work by framing it with works by better-known composers, although not especially well-known works. A beautiful Dowland to start. Then Villa-Lobos’s preludes; I realised I knew the first well but had never heard the others before.

I enjoyed the Wally Gunn piece; it was based on Darwin diaries and had some very evocative passages, although the whispered words didn’t really float my Beagle, as it were.

Then a couple of Barrios waltzes and finally a short piece by Rodrigo.

Here is a link to the SJSS site page for the concert…

…and in case SJSS isn’t archiving as it should, here is my permanent link of that page.

Perfect way to set myself up for an afternoon of grind and also for an evening of jamming with DJ on my baritone baroq-ulele. Although, after listening to a virtuoso like Laura Snowden, my own pluckings and strummings are brought into perspective.