When Tim Connell sent round a circular announcing a visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden, I knew immediately that the visit would be a special treat for Janie and guessed that Linda Cook would also be very interested. I was less sure about Michael and Elisabeth; as it turned out Michael was keen.
Janie was very keen and had not yet booked in any patients for that day, so we basically decided to make it a date and took the day off.
There were 25 to 30 of us in the Gresham Society party, I believe. The weather was very kind to us; occasionally the clouds looked a bit iffy, but there was also some sun and certainly no rain.
We got split into two groups; our guide was Anne, who seemed very well informed and proved to be good company.
To my mind, the best plant in the garden was Catharanthus roseus (Madagascan or Rosy periwinkle), which yields natural remedies for childhood leukaemia, increasing survival rates by orders of magnitude. Yet the most popular plant amongst our cynical, Gresham Society group seemed to be Veratrum viride (Indian Poke), which induces profuse vomiting and which some native American tribes use to choose their leader; on a “last candidate to throw up” basis. Going back to traditional, natural methods is sometimes a very good idea.
Janie asked Anne zillions of questions, many of which seemed to me to be more about the poisonous, nasty plants, rather than the medicinal, nice ones. Even more worryingly, I thought I heard Janie ask a few of times, “would you be able to taste this if you added it to food?” Perhaps I am mistaken about that. But when we visited the bookshop before leaving, Janie bought a small book on medicinal plants and a larger book on the poisonous ones. I think I’ll eat out for a while.
We enjoyed a spot of lunch/high tea at the Tangerine Dream cafe within the garden, which made for a very convivial conclusion to the outing. We always enjoy spending time with the Gresham Society crowd.
By the time Janie had concluded her book shopping, I thought we might be running a bit late for the movies, but I had sort-of forgotten that the car journey from the Chelsea Physic Garden to the Curzon Chelsea was a very short one.
So we had time to book Janie’s birthday treat (a preview of the new V&A wing) before stepping in to The Other Side Of Hope. We thought this was a great movie – very interesting, at times amusing, at times shocking. It is about a Syrian refugee who lands-up seeking asylum and then working as an illegal in Helsinki.
By the time we got to our seats, Janie and I had probably had enough suspense, drama, excitement and surprise for one day.
We’d been following the ODI cricket all day, which was well poised when we left Noddyland, in good time to get to The Almeida.
In fact the traffic was very light, enabling us to take an unusually direct route, but that didn’t stop the cricket from taking more twists and turns than a Sat Nav assisted London journey in a traffic jam.
Janie was convinced England were going to win throughout the Saffer chase; whereas I was less optimistic in the absence of early wickets for England on a very flat track. But between the time we drove past Madam Tussaud’s to the time we drove past the Wellcome Collection, the Saffers reduced the ask from 26 runs off 13 balls to 10 runs off 10 balls. Even Janie briefly thought England were as stuffed as…well, waxworks aren’t technically stuffed, but some specimens in the Wellcome Collection must be.
The worst part about listening to the end of that cricket match in the car was waiting to turn from White Lion Street onto Islington High Street, when the Saffers needed just four runs off the last two balls. The radio signal hit one of those building-affected interference spots and we couldn’t hear a thing for about a minute – which felt like an hour. As we emerged onto the High Street, we soon learnt that we hadn’t missed a ball; merely a lot of faffing around in the field. Phew.
So the match was won – scorecard here – just as we arrived at the Almeida. Double-phew. We sat in the car a while to decompress and hear the post-match punditry.
The Almeida was heaving by the time we entered, a little after 19:00. We collected our tickets, bought a programme, ordered our drinks and found a quieter spot in the corner of the bar. Janie wanted to read the two or three sentence promotional teaser for the play, which was absent from the programme but is the information that enticed us to book the play. I volunteered to get her the little promo card, via the loo.
As I weaved through the heaving foyer/bar area, at one point a fellow, with his back to me, was standing in a particularly obstructive place, making it impossible for me to get past. I tapped him gently on the shoulder and said, “excuse me, may I please get past you?”, to which he replied, without turning around, “NO. You can go all the way around the other side instead.”
Janie had met Ollie and indeed Ollie’s other half, Victoria, a few months ago at Chris Grant’s alumni do, so we needed little reintroduction, chatting briefly before the play and then again at some more length about the play during the interval and after the show.
It is one of those plays that gives you plenty to chat about.
The Treatment has had superb reviews (as evidenced in the above Almeida resource), but one of Janie’s clients had absolutely hated this play, describing it as “rubbish”, so we went with a little trepidation. That particular client/lady often has taste that corresponds with ours. But on this occasion Janie’s client got it wrong; I can see how the play (indeed Martin Crimp’s writing generally) wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, but it is very interesting and far from rubbish.
Martin Crimp’s plays are (in our experience) always sinister and weird. The Treatment (which Crimp wrote and was first performed in 1993) echoes some of the themes Crimp also covered in The City – which we saw at the Royal Court in 2008 and which I Ogblogged here. In particular the crazy, suspenseful nature of cities. Menace that is partly overt, partly covert; some only in our minds, some all too real.
Coincidentally, Benedict Cumberbatch was in the audience with us, sitting very close to or even next to Ollie and Victoria. As a young, up-and-coming, virtually unknown but clearly very talented actor, Cumberbatch starred in that production of The City (and indeed Martin Crimp’s version of Rhinoceros at The Royal Court – Ogblogged here). I think we first saw Cumberbatch at the Almeida as it happens, as Tesman in a superb production of Hedda Gabler in 2005.
Benedict Cumberbatch also plonked himself at the next table to ours during the interval, much to the complete nonchalance of Janie, Ollie and Victoria…until I pointed him out to them.
Actually, these days Benedict Cumberbatch is everywhere and in everything, so on that basis this encounter was hardly a coincidence. Indeed, given the size of the cast used in The Treatment it’s a miracle that Cumberbatch wasn’t in the play rather than merely watching it. Stranger still that Janie and I didn’t see him eating at Ranoush in Kensington later in the evening. Absolutely everywhere, he is.
Janie and I will find ourselves talking about this play for some while, I’m sure; certainly for the rest of the weekend…and this is a long weekend. That’s the sign of a good play to us. We also thought it was a superb production, with excellent performances and very innovative stage direction/set design.
Perhaps this illustrates the popularity of Rich “The Rock” Davis, who was visiting from Canada for the first time in a while and around whom the event was planned. Organised by Johnny Eltham – who else? – based on an original idea by David Wellbrook.
Or perhaps the high turnout was simply relief that, for once, our guest of honour visiting from the great dominions was not Sir Nigel Godfrey.
The plan was…the usual. 7.00pm Walrus & Carpenter, 8.30pm Rajasthan curry shop. I was fashionably late again this time, arriving just before 8.00, with no real excuse other than getting bogged down in whatever forgettable thing I was doing late afternoon.
Another glorious weather evening so everyone was drinking outside the Walrus and Carpenter. I got a chance to chat with Rich on arrival; also Paul Driscoll and Perry Harley. The conversation soon got to Brexit and how Britain is increasingly starting to resemble Weimar Germany. Soon after that I was tapped up for the drinks float.
The drinks float is a great idea. It discourages late arrival – the price is fixed – £20, not ℛℳ500,000,000 in case you were wondering – and if those arriving late, like me, don’t drink their portion, the remainder of the drinks float becomes a bodmin-avoiding contribution towards the dinner. You can tell that some fine economic brains have got to work on this one over the years.
Soon enough, Johnny Eltham commandeered two or three of us to form an advanced party to seize vital territory in Rajasthan. This we were able to secure without bloodshed or unpleasantness. In fact, the Rajasthanis greeted Johnny like an old friend and welcomed us to the downstairs area, which to all intents and purposes became our private room for the rest of the evening.
By my reckoning fifteen of us sat down for dinner; Chris Grant, David Wellbrook, Ben Clarkson, Martin Cook, Simon Ryan, David French, John Eltham, Ollie Goodwin, Paul Driscoll, Rich “The Rock” Davis, Paul Spence, Nigel Boatswain, Perry Harley, Steve “Peanut” Butterworth…and me.
If you are struggling to imagine what this gaggle might look and sound like, struggle no more. David Wellbrook shot a nifty ninety second vid while no-one was looking and posted it on Facebook – it is embedded and viewable below:
I had no idea that I wave my arms around quite as much as that. It’s a miracle that I don’t send food and drink flying.
As fortune would have it, I was sitting near Steve Butterworth, Perry Harley, Paul Spence and David French – all of whom are people I either haven’t seen in ages or didn’t get to speak with properly on previous occasions. It was really good to catch up with them properly after all this time. I had a brief conversation with Paul Spence about nuclear power, which led to this recollection and Ogblog post about Ringroad revue – click here.
Returning briefly to earlier in the evening…although I was late, I was not the last to arrive. Chris Grant and Nigel Boatswain turned up after me. Soon after their arrival, Johnny Eltham came up to me and said, “have you seen what Nigel is wearing? That jacket…those trousers…they look like a pyjama suit…you’ve got to write about it on your blog”.
I explained to Johnny that I don’t notice what anyone is wearing, so any sartorial references on the Ogblog would, to the regular reader, e.g. Janie, quite obviously not be mine.
“Oh that’s easy”, said Johnny, “it was David Wellbrook who spotted it and asked me to tap you up”.
“Ah yes,” I said, “as long as I make that point, all will be explained. I’ll need to take a photo of the outfit with my iPhone, though, it almost defies description.”
As the evening wore on, I was surreptitiously asked a couple of times when I was going to take the photo. Johnny even offered to provide cover, pretending that I was taking a group photo while in fact taking a photo of just Nigel and his pyjama suit.
I quietly suggested to Johnny that Nigel, as an Apple bigwig, would probably have the savvy to know what sort of photo was being taken with an iPhone (other brands of smart phone with camera are available) and in any case I would only blog a photo with Nigel’s explicit consent; I certainly don’t want the full weight of Apple’s legal department on my case.
“Just leave it with me”, I said.
So late in the evening, I told Nigel he had won a sartorial award for the evening and asked if I could take a photo for Ogblog. He giggled and said yes.
A few minutes later, as Nigel and I parted company at South Kensington tube, I thanked him once again for the photo and assured him that he would enjoy the blog piece. “Oh gawd, what have I done?” was Nigel’s reply.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
…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.
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.