Harvest Festival Play Street, Hanger Hill Garden Estate, 30 September 2017

Photographs by Janie, words by Ian.

Mini Tennis In Our Street

Every month or so, we have “Play Street” in our street. Some of the grumpier residents don’t like it, but we do, even though it takes place right outside our house. We like the sound of children enjoying themselves and the community coming together.

Normally the event really isn’t for us. Not even as a couple who inadvertently ended up at Young People’s Night at the theatre yesterday – click here for that story – can we claim eligibility to join in Play Street…

…until this time. This event was also designated to be a mini harvest festival for the whole community, so all and sundry were invited along. Yes, Janie and I are most definitely sundry.

Arts and crafts tent
Nim – one of the tireless community organisers
A bear in a bear suit – escaped from Edgbaston’s Eric Hollies Stand, perhaps?
Lots of mingling in the street
Three generations, one family, long-time locals
Councillor Nigel flogging his home-made jams for the cause
Many different ways to chat and enjoy the afternoon
Ian chats with local pharmacist Dion about photography

We thought the afternoon was a great success. We hope the community organisers arrange more such events in the future.

Postscript:

Aleksandra Turner kindly sent me a few more photographs, including some with Janie – which is a definite plus. Here is one of Aleksandra’s…

…and here is a link to my Flickr collection of photos from the event, which shows all of Janie’s (20-odd) and includes Aleksandra’s pictures (individually credited) at the end of the set.

Don’t be bemused by the first photo in that Flickr album; it is not from the street fair, but one I took at the theatre the night before.

Many thanks, Aleksandra, for sending me those super pictures of the street event.

The Unknown Island adapted from a short story by José Saramago, Gate Theatre, 29 September 2017

Ellen McDougall is the new artistic director of The Gate and this production is a great start to her role.

Based on The Tale Of The Unknown Island, an allegorical short story by Portugese writer José Saramago, four actors enact the piece. It is a very simple story with many-layered themes; to some extent the unknown island is an individual’s capacity to explore personal horizons, to some extent it is an allegorical tale about bureaucracy, leadership, power and colonialism.

Sounds heavy but honestly it isn’t. It is a one hour piece full of fun and little coups de theatre. There’s even a tiny bit of audience participation…but not of the “embarrassing pick on one person” kind.

Here is a link to The Gate’s resource on the play/production. The production has deservedly had superb reviews, links to which can be found in this resource, saving me the trouble.

Janie and I thought we were the oldest people in the audience…

…turns out I had inadvertently booked for “Young People’s Night” – it was simply the only Friday evening we were available!

Still, we are young at heart.

There was a short Q&A session after the show for Young People’s Night. As we were honorary young folk by then, Janie and I stayed on, finding the discussion interesting.

But back to the play/production – it is most certainly well worth seeing; for the story, for the production and for the quality of the performances, all four performers being excellent.

At the time of writing (the next morning), this production still has a week to run; Janie and I would thoroughly recommend it. Hopefully the piece will transfer and allow a wider audience to enjoy this thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable production.

Dolphins And Sharks by James Anthony Tyler, Finborough Theatre, 24 September 2017

Interesting play this, an award-winner from New York, getting its first airing in Europe at the Finborough.

The Finborough on-line resource describes the play and production well – here.

It is a comedy and it is a funny play, yet the issues in the play about unfair work practices and about attitudes between different minority communities in New York are both poignant and prescient.

The tiny Finborough had been turned into a sort-of Harlem copy shop with the audience all on one side for a change.

The young woman who checks your tickets took pains to ask us not to throw our rubbish in the bins because they are props. We though it was so obvious that they were props that it was almost embarrassing for her to have to tell us this.

But some dumb mf’s has bi dumpin’ dair trash in de set.

In truth, it did take us both a while to get used to the Harlem street talk used in the play, but either it or we settled down quite quickly to that aspect.

The plot was quite slow to build, but by the end of the first half (which was probably two-thirds of the play in fact) the plot was simmering and we were keen for the second half.

That shorter act, after the interval, was very pacey and well done.

The cast were excellent and you can see why this play won awards in the USA.

We picked up some Persian food from Mohsen on the way home. Janie was in a bad mood at the injustice of life as depicted in this play. So it is fair to say that the play was more than a little affecting.

Well done Finborough – another high quality find, well produced.

No One Will Tell Me How To Start A Revolution by Luke Barnes, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 23 September 2017

Interesting and entertaining play, this.

Hampstead resource on the play/production can be found here.

It is the tale of three sisters from a self-confessed chav family which moves to a posh town for the sake of the girls’ education.

It throws up a great many issues about class, families, aspirations and the like.

The problem with it is the extreme nature of the plot. I’m not sure where this posh town might be, entirely populated by such snobby, middle-class people that this trio of roofer’s daughters are so utterly different from all of their peers.

Still, the story provides a vehicle for those pertinent issues and a vehicle also for three very high energy and vibrant performances by the actresses.

Weird set with the audience separated into four quadrants while the stage formed a cross formation covering most of the room, allowing the girls plenty of space for their performances.

It’s a short play (100 minutes without an interval) which suited us well. Janie had bought one of those crispy Gressingham duck things for the weekend and it seemed a shame not to roast and eat it when we got home.

Dinner At The Phantom Pig With Lisa Opie and Toni Friend, 22 September 2017

Chef Vix and his trusty sous chef Luke explain stuff with attentive care

This was Lisa Opie’s idea…and a jolly good idea it was too.

Several of her friends and clients had recommended this pop up restaurant in West Ealing, currently popping up just once a month at The Orchard Cafe, serving the sort of haute cuisine tasting menu food you’d normally expect to find in a far more sprauncy location than the regenerated former Green Man Estate.

We were up for it as, fortuitously, one of Helen Baker’s wonderful wine tastings, which had been scheduled for this night, had to be moved to a later date. Toni Friend was up for it too, so I was to be an honorary girl again for the second time in the last couple of months.

What a find this pop up restaurant is.

First up was a tipple with mystery snacks – the snacks comprising straw-smoked potatoes, a chicken parfait tart and a cauliflower soup – all good but the latter was outstanding.

The tipple, it seems, came whether you went for wine matching or not. We did opt for wine matching with the food. The tipple was a cocktail shot of flavoured liquor (brandy we think) that tasted mostly of lemongrass – probably to lull us into a false sense of healthiness – not least because it was served in a sort of test tube thing. Janie said it looked like a urine sample.

I’m not selling the whole experience very well, am I? Because actually every aspect of the meal including the way it looked and was served was very elegant and thoughtful.

Perhaps best I let pictures tell most of the story – with thanks to Janie, Lisa and Toni, all of whom provided some pictures. All three of them went a bit berserk with their smart phones once the courses and wines started to flow:

The “Beauty Of The Bulb” starter had a phallic look, apparently
Vix described the starter while sprinkling the apple jus
Attentive listeners, eh?
Janie and Lisa both got a bit snap happy across the table
“Never mind the photos…grubs up!”, I say.
Exquisite chicken, cod, ink and mushroom sauce.
The wine keeps flowing; one glass per dish
Here comes the superb duck…
…and here comes Mandy with the wine for the duck!
Mandy can also explain the meal to us.
Ged mucks in by tucking in to the duck.
Toni has a laugh with one of the charming waiting-folk…
…then listens with rapt attention to Vix’s description of the pud.
Toni asked the team kindly to sign a menu for Ogblog
Here also a list of the wine matches

The food was superb, the service delightful and the wine matches well chosen and very generously sized doses…

…perhaps a little too much so for part-timers like me. After Janie and I had been home for about five minutes, Janie rather cruelly snapped me taking a short nap on the bed before completing all of my pre-slumber procedures…

…but after a ten minute snooze I got up and sorted myself out properly. Someone else, who shall remain nameless, didn’t brush her teeth and come to bed properly until about 4:00 am…

…and still I couldn’t beat her on the tennis court the next morning.

We had a great evening and really look forward to trying The Phantom Pig again. We’d highly recommend it; the young and innovative Phantom Pig team are top notch and deserve to do really well.

Four Days In A Row At Lord’s For Either Tennis, Cricket Or Both, 18 to 21 September 2017

No, not bageled at tennis

Monday 18 September 

After work, I went to Lord’s for my long-awaited round of 16 tournament fixture, tennis racket and baroq-ulele in hand.

The least said about my performance at tennis the better. I wasn’t bageled in either set is about as far as “the positives” will go. Perhaps I would have played better tennis with my baroq-ulele than with my racket.

Afterwards I went on to DJs place for a very enjoyable guitar/baroq-ulele jam.

Tuesday 19 September

A day of county cricket between Middlesex and Lancashire at Lord’s with Escamillo Escapillo. After an early visit to the gym, I got to Lord’s a few minutes after play had started. Middlesex were batting and had lost two early wickets by the time I got to HQ. Things didn’t improve for Middlesex that first hour, with four early wickets going down.

We had an excellent lunch of roast beef baps and salad from the Long Room bar; Escamillo’s idea and treat to spare me the picnic preparation. A superb idea it was too.

It was an excellent day of company and cricket, the latter of which got better, then worse, then better again for Middlesex. Escamillo seemed a little conflicted, as a Lancashire supporter who nevertheless wanted to see Middlesex survive in the first division.

At the end of the day, Escamillo Escapillo joined me as a guest at the sponsors’ party in the Thomas Lord Suite, which was very pleasant. I scored a half case of wine in the raffle, which put paid to any thoughts of walking home after the party.

Wednesday 20 September

Early start, as I had agreed to play the real tennis equivalent of a “naughty boy net” at 9:00 (a doubles partnering Mark Ryan) and needed to prepare my share of the Charley The Gent Malloy picnic before heading to Lord’s. Charley and I had agreed to share the picnic duties.

The above photograph shows my share of the picnic, which includes several food items which were to be the subject of foodie debates which, I hope, will form future King Cricket pieces, which will be linked here if/when published.

I performed well in my naughty-boy doubles and got changed in time to secure good seats for me and Chas before Chas arrived, a few minutes after the start of play. Middlesex took a wicket while I was signing Chas into the pavilion.

Charley, being an Essex supporter, was able to give his full support to Middlesex today, as Essex had already won the county championship last week.

We nibbled little during the morning, as I had a tennis singles at 13:00. Chas came and watched some of that match, which went very well for me.

When I returned to the pavilion, the sides were off for bad light and Chas was chatting with a blind member who was visiting with a partially-sighted pal who was enjoying a day at Lord’s for the first time. Delightful company, those two were.

Much like my day with Escamillo yesterday, Chas and I retired to the Warner Stand for the second half of the day. More comfortable seating than the pavilion and a similar view. Nice coffee available in that new stand too.

The centrepiece of my share of the picnic is there to be seen in the above photo; the centrepiece of Chas’s picnic was a plentiful supply Dot’s speciality corned beef baps.

Colin, who used to be on the Warwickshire committee and who acted as my guide at Edgbaston earlier in the season, joined us for a while, enabling some good chat including reminiscence of many Edgbaston visits passim.

Middlesex got into a good position but then subsided in the second innings to leave the match tantalisingly poised overnight.

How quickly the season has been and gone, Chas and I agreed, as we parted company at cricket for the last time in 2017.

I supped on a couple of Dot;s corned beef baps with salad.

Thursday 21 September

Working at home today, while following the latter stages of the Middlesex v Lancashire match. I went to the gym mid morning and heard some of the match on the radio; a couple of early wickets for Middlesex not quite settling my nerves, but improving my outlook for the match. It was a tight finish, but Middlesex were ahead of the curve in taking wickets for most of the day.

Here is a link to the scorecard and Cricinfo resource on the match.

Soon after Middlesex won the match, it started to rain. Not long after that, I set off for Lord’s to play in the quarter-finals of the doubles tournament.

My good performances from the day before did not translate into performance in the big match that mattered. It was a tough fixture, especially as my doubles partner had been on holiday and therefore not played for a few weeks. We fought hard but came second, so that is the end of the internal tournament season for me.

As I left Lord’s that evening, I ran into several members of the Lord’s staff who had clearly been in end of season goodbyes mode for the last few hours with members leaving the ground after the last professional cricket match of the season.  “Winter well”, “see you next year”, that sort of tone.

“See you Tuesday”. I responded. That’s when I’ll be back at Lord’s, picking up again on the fragments of my so-called real tennis career.

Ismaili Centre, Open House London, 17 September 2017

Janie had been keen to see inside the Ismaili Centre, not least its much-lauded roof garden, for ages. But she had been told that the only time it is open to the public is one weekend a year as part of the Open House London initiative – click here.

So we put this morning aside months ago, even deferring our tennis plans until the afternoon, in the hope that a reasonably early start would avoid crowds and queues.

In the event, Janie slowed down a bit from her original thought to start queuing about 7:30 am (perhaps she wasn’t entirely serious about that one), so we arrived around 10:20/10:25, a few minutes after opening.

Good timing – not so many people there at 10:25
We joined this small group for a tour
Janie and I both took a few pictures in the lobby

Beyond the lobby, visitors are not permitted to take photographs, which is a shame really.

The garden was especially beautiful and well described by our guide – here is a link to an official photo of that garden.

More official images can be seen via this search – click here.

We were shown the stunning architecture and artwork within the building, not least the library and big meeting room on the garden level. Also the large prayer hall and also the social hall, where we were treated to coffee and biscuits.

We met some interesting Ismaili people in the social hall; we chatted for a while, learning more about the Ismaili traditions and discussing world affairs, before Janie and I headed back west to do battle on the tennis court.

Janie photographed me on exit…
…and then escorted me off the premises.

Prism by Terry Johnson, Hampstead Theatre, 16 September 2017

The neighbours tried hard to put us off this one. Joy and Barry are film aficionados extraordinaire, having been “in the film biz” themselves. They are also knowledgeable about and great admirers of Jack Cardiff, who was one of the pioneers of colour cinematography. I suspect they found the piece uninformative and irritating.

I had trouble getting Daisy out of the house, after Joy had told her unequivocally that this play was garbage and that she & Barry had walked out in irritation at half time. I said we should judge the play for ourselves and we are both glad we did.

It is set at the end of Jack Cardiff’s life. The play tries to show Cardiff looking back on his fascinating life in cinema through the distorted lens of a long, lingering old age with advancing dementia.

I think we are supposed to see analogies between the cognitive distortions of dementia and the the natural distortions of light through prisms and colour lenses.  The latter can lead, ultimately, to beauty and clarity, whereas I’d suggest that dementia struggles to do that.

The play is also meant to show us the impact of Jack Cardiff’s success (and latterly his dementia) on his son Mason and his second wife Niki. I fear that both of those parts were underwritten, perhaps because both of those people are still alive. Indeed the son, Mason Cardiff, is credited as an associate producer of the Hampstead production. As is Robert Lindsay, who plays Jack Cardiff (rather brilliantly) and was very instrumental in encouraging this piece to be written and produced. I believe Lindsay was a neighbour of the Cardiff family in Denham, where the play is set.

Consequently, the normally excellent Claire Skinner had little material to work with, while I fear that Barnaby Kay who played Mason (and also vaguely attempted Humphrey Bogart and Arthur Miller) was stretched even by his sparse roles.

Actually we thought the stand out performance was Rebecca Night as the young carer, rather casually employed by the Cardiff’s to help Jack with his daily needs and also to help him write his autobiography. The young woman’s unfortunate story formed an interesting sub-plot – potentially more interesting, in my view; that sub-plot bubbled but didn’t really boil.

To my mind, Prism is certainly a flawed play. Terry Johnson is a very capable writer, but I think the conceits of this piece are inherently problematic and the cracks show throughout. There are some superb coups de theatre, though – not least when the boat scene of The African Queen more or less comes to life in front of our eyes on the stage, just before the interval.

Two scenes after the interval were genuine highlights – The African Queen one immediately after the interval and a scene soon after, in which we realise that an explosive earlier scene with the carer and family was perceived by Jack Cardiff to be with Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn and Arthur Miller.

On balance, we’re glad we have seen this play and glad that we have learnt a bit more about Jack Cardiff through it. But this is not one of Terry Johnson’s nor the Hampstead Theatre’s greatest hits.

Here’s a link to the Hampstead resource on this production.

Mixed reviews so not all that much shown at Hampstead – this search will find most of them for you.

Two Forms Of Soaking And Two Friendly Gatherings In One Day, Uxbridge and Southwark, 13 September 2017

I’m not sure I’d seen Fran Erdunast (formerly Weingott) since the build up to my somewhat eventful house party in 1979, but we have been reconnected through Facebook for some time and discovered that we share an enthusiasm for cricket, not least Middlesex.

Fran likes to go to Middlesex out-ground matches, so we hatched a quasi-plan to meet up at the four-day game between Middlesex & Hampshire at Uxbridge CC late season.

Both the weather and my work commitments seemed to be conspiring against this idea, but the forecast for the afternoon of 13 September was, in the end, rather encouraging (sunny with a small chance of showers) and I realised that we should get to see a few hours of cricket at Uxbridge between my morning meeting and the early evening wine tasting in Southwark.

That was the plan…

…and the early part of the plan worked. I got to Uxbridge just before the start of play after lunch and saw a figure who was unmistakably Fran sitting conveniently near to the Gatting Way entrance. She introduced me to Simon, who turns out to be equally keen on county cricket, albeit a Yorkshire supporter (he hails from Leeds). They had arrived about 5 minutes ahead of me and were sorting out some well-appointed seats for the three of us.

After two or three overs, we felt a few spots of rain, which seemed to send the umpires into a tizzy and the players all came off, much to the disgust of the tiny crowd.

A light sprinkling and covering before the deluge

“I think the umpires and ground staff must know something we don’t”, I said, suggesting that we head for the pavilion before the deluge.

Deluge it was. Lashings of proper, wet rain, for about 20 minutes or so.

In an intriguing echo of the “Ian turning up over-dressed” story from 1980, which emerges from my other recent BBYO reunion with Mark Lewis, I realised that I was ludicrously overdressed for the Uxbridge pavilion in my business suit.

I was even more ludicrously dressed for slogging through the sludge of Uxbridge CC after the rain. I rolled up my trousers to avoid mud on suit misery. Jeff Coleman threatened to take my picture for the Middlesex or MTWD website, which I actively encouraged, as I thought it must look very funny, but Jeff kindly relented in the interests of my dignity.

On the way back to the slightly less soggy patch where our seats were now drying in the sun, I decided to have my one “Thatcher” 99 Whippy ice cream of the year, offering to treat Fran and Simon, who both declined politely.

Fran described the intricacies of the dental work she does while I ate the ice cream, presumably to ensure that I was not tempted to try any further sweet treats that day. Simon tried to avoid fainting during this conversation. I tried to put Simon at his ease by admitting to being squeamish when Janie talks about some of the intricacies of her podiatry work, at which point Fran demonstrated her considerable medical knowledge by explaining the difference between mouths and feet. When Simon and I both showed signs of imminent fainting, Fran stopped talking about medical procedures.

Ice cream at Uxbridge on a cold day brought to mind my previous visit to that ground, which Dumbo (my Suzuki Jimny) reported on King Cricket – here.

We watched the ground staff try to remove ludicrous quantities of surface water from the pitch, ably assisted by Angus Fraser and even some of the players. The efforts looked futile and indeed after about 30 minutes of sunshine and hard labour, the umpires came out and concluded that it would be impossible to get anything going again today.

Fran kindly invited me back to her place in Pinner along with Simon for some tea. It would be a chance to continue our chat about the good old days, cricket and cricket in the good old days, which is exactly what we did.

Fran hardly seemed to have changed in the decades since we last met. I am consistently surprised when I reconnect with friends from my teenage years how little they have changed in essence. Fran articulated it well in a note later that day:

…bemused by the surreal vision of grown up Ian Harris sitting on my sofa…[t]he 16-17 year old version I last saw kept reappearing ghost-like during the afternoon.

Fran displayed Essex beating up Warwickshire as background entertainment on the TV; it was clear that both Simon and Fran follow county cricket avidly and know a lot about it. Simon mentioned that Jack Simmons was one of his favourite cricketers; coincidentally Janie had spent a long time chatting with Simon’s hero when we were at Southport earlier in the season. I forgot to ask Simon why, as a Yorkshire supporter, his hero was a Lancastrian. Perhaps Simon will chime in with the answer to that conundrum.

16:30 came around ever so quickly and Fran very kindly insisted on taking me to Pinner station, worrying that I might otherwise be late for my 18:00 wine tasting. Indeed, by the time she had picked a couple of pears from her garden for Charley The Gent Malloy to sample next week (I’ll report back on how the Pinner Conferences go down with pear specialist Charley), even I thought I might have cut it a bit fine for Southwark.

I had forgotten how quick the Metropolitan Line is and hadn’t thought about Southwark, on the Jubilee Line, being a simple hop of a change from the Met line. Once I entered Pinner Station, of course, my brain went back onto automatic from all those visits out that way in my youth, to see Simon, Caroline and others at the Pinner club.

Still, I was surprised when I emerged into the Southwark sunshine at 17:20, a full forty minutes early. Time for a coffee and (sorry Fran) another somewhat sweet treat for fortification (pain au raisin).

Then to the Mousse wine tasting, which this time was on Lebanese wines. Janie arrived only a tiny bit late…

…but much earlier than this photo which Janie took quite a bit later in the evening:

Say “halloumi cheese”: Ian, Helen and Donna

We got to try a few different wines; Chateau Musar (naturally), a top notch wine from Chateau Kefraya plus several excellent wines from Massaya, with which Janie and I were unfamiliar. Helen also served a couple of French examples by way of comparison.

Massaya is less than 20 years old, so didn’t even exist when Janie and I visited Lebanon, tried Musar and Kefraya wines aplenty and also went to the Ksara caves to taste wine:

Tasting Wine at Ksara, Lebanon in 1997
He’s at Ksara…not the Massaya, he’s a very naughty boy

If you want to see the full stack of photos from our 1997 sojourn to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Eilat, click here.

My favourite wines from the Mousse wine tasting evening were a couple of the Massaya ones; Le Colombier (entry level but very gluggable) and the Silver Selection wine which I thought was cracking good. I also really liked the Marsanne-based Hermitage white which Helen served by way of comparison. I have never been much taken with the Lebanese whites, whereas Leb red can hit the spot more often than not.

Janie asked us all to look natural, so of course…

Janie’s attempts to photograph several of us by asking us to look natural were naturally more likely to fail than succeed. The picture above was the best of the bunch. If you want a laugh at the rest, feel free to click through here.

Helen always gathers an interesting, eclectic crowd for her wine tastings, so you don’t just learn a lot about wine, you do so in very agreeable company.

Janie and I thoroughly enjoyed our evening, which we rounded off with Maroush shawarmas and a bottle of Asti Spumante.  (OK, I made up that last bit).

Simon Jacobs, Circle Line, Album Launch Showcase, Old Paradise Yard, 10 September 2017

To Old Paradise Yard in North Lambeth to join Simon Jacobs, friends, family and groupies for the launch of Simon’s long-awaited album, Circle Line.

I say long-awaited…some tracks on the album, the song Circle Line included, I recall Simon playing and me bootlegging onto cassette 35 to 40 years ago.

People had come from far and wide for this launch. As far west as Bristol, where Simon’s kid sister Sue lives…

Sue and Ian swap tales of the wild west

As far north as Lincolnshire, where several of Simon’s family members live. As far south-east as Hong Kong, from whence the delightful and redoubtable Ting Ting had ventured specially to support the launch.

Party time at IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, before the performance

The venue was Eduard’s IKLECTIK Lab at Old Paradise Yard. Eduard himself was one of several really interesting, good company people we got to meet and chat with over the evening. Timothy, Lydia and Ting Ting were similarly people we met for the first time with whom Janie and I felt immediately at ease.

Then the performance/launch:

Simon announced…
…Simon sang…
…Simon stomped…
…Simon tinkled the grand piano ivories.

Although Simon did not quite tinkle in the András Schiff, Well Tempered Claiver stylee Janie and I had experienced a few days earlier, Simon did emulate the great man by not doing an encore.

“I don’t have any more…just relax and party”, said Simon.

And so we did.

Mark Lewis turned up, which was a very pleasant surprise, having not seen him for decades. Janie enjoyed meeting him too. Mark triggered an old memory or three that I must retro-blog soon while the memories are fresh. Indeed, seeing several members of the Jacobs family gathered together again, including Simon’s mum, brought back many memories too.

It was a very enjoyable evening, the purpose of which was to launch Simon’s Album Circle Line, which is available from iTunes (where I indeed found it simply by searching the term Circle Line) and also on Amazon, from whence I actually bought the download, as it was 10p cheaper there.

Don’t just sit there, click through and buy the darn thing. You’ll love it.

We had a great evening – thanks Simon.