Tie Me Boomerang Down, Preparing The MCC Team For The Boomerang Cup, Lord’s, 10 December 2017

Janie (Daisy) and I normally play (modern) tennis every Saturday and Sunday morning, so my response to requests to fill in for late cancellations on the real tennis court at the weekends normally contains the answer “no”.

The Galloping Bard And The Mighty Snitch Take On the Boomerang Boys

But I had noticed that the weather was set utterly foul for Sunday, so when Chris Swallow asked me on Friday if I could possibly do a couple of hours doubles to help the MCC Team prepare for the Boomerang Cup in Melbourne – click here to learn about that premier international sporting event, I thought Janie probably would sooner watch me play “realers” in a good cause than watch the rain wash out any hope of us playing “lawners”. I asked; Janie said yes.

Actually the weather forecast was wrong. It didn’t rain.

It snowed. Noddyland looked resplendent as we set off for Lord’s.

Snow Time In Noddyland

We allowed plenty of time to get to Lord’s in the snow, but actually the roads were empty yet perfectly passable so we got there in a record 20 minutes from Noddyland.

The wise doctor, Doctor Wyse, who was to be the third of the Boomerang Cup team in practice on the day, was not so lucky with the weather and phoned in snowed in. Iain Harvey and Oliver Wise were the two Boomerang Team stalwarts there for some match practice ahead of the antipodean batttle.

Carl Snitcher very kindly stayed on for a valiant extra 70-80 minutes after his hour of singles, to help make up the four.

Initially I partnered Iain against Oliver and Carl. Iain took pains to point out at one stage that he was bringing an extra “I” to our partnership…while I was bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t been using both of my eyes to watch the ball enough.

After one Boomerang set in the above permutation, Oliver and Iain felt that they should get used to partnering each other, so I then partnered The Mighty Snitch for a while (see above photo).

Once Carl had to leave, Chris Swallow took over as my partner for just under an hour, immediately bringing better performance out of me through some form of coachy-osmosis or something.

The Boomerang Cup has slightly different rules. Boomerang sets are “first to eight” (best of 15 games) rather than the regular “first to six” real tennis sets. Games are decided on “one point” at 40-40, even when there is no handicap to play. Also, if the receivers are three or more games behind, they can do a switch during the set (just the once) to try catch up by each facing the alternative opposing server. (In regular rules, the receiving pair decides who will receive against whom at the start of each set).

Janie (Daisy) enjoyed Rose Harvey’s company while watching and while taking some photos and vids. Three short clips below – the first is me serving and playing well:

…the second is what happens when that serve, the demi-piquet, goes slightly awry against a good player…

…the third shows me playing quite well again – this time from the grille side of the hazard end (I’m not making these names up as I go along, honest):

It is terrific experience for me to play doubles with better players like this; somehow I manage to lift my performance (at least a bit) when I play in these circumstances, which must be good for my game. In any case, it was a great fun morning of tennis.

Cell Mates by Simon Gray, Hampstead Theatre, 9 December 2017

There were warning signs that this production of this play might provoke thoughts of walking out part-way through and even take me and Janie to the very edge of reason…

…I had simply forgotten about them and/or ignored them.

We didn’t book the original production of the play, Cell Mates, but we read all about it when Stephen Fry walked out on the production after just a few days and disappeared – the controversy about that is well documented on the Wikipedia entry for the play – here.

Further, two of the lead performers for this production, Geoffrey Streatfeild and Cara Horgan, were in The Pains Of Youth – Ogblogged here – which Janie and I hated and from which we walked at half time.

But these reflections are terribly unfair on those fine actors, whose performances were the saving grace of this production of Cell Mates. Our problem with Cell Mates, I think, is mostly the play itself.

The story of George Blake and Sean Bourke is very interesting. I can see why Simon Gray sought to dramatise it. Yet sometimes great stories do not make great drama; or perhaps this story would have needed more dramatic licence to bring the story to dramatic life. Blake’s passion for Marxism and the Soviet Union, to the exclusion of his human relationships, is a fascinating idea but made for dreary drama to our eyes.

To us, this play was a waste of excellent talent; all of the cast are fine performers and played their parts well. Edward Hall is a director we greatly admire. We considered walking at half time, but stuck it out on the strength of the performances.

Anyway, here is the Hampstead Theatre resource on the play/production. 

Here is Ed Hall talking about the production:

Here is the trailer:

Here is a search term that will take you to reviews and stuff – the critics seem to be seeing a bit more in the play/production than we did.

Winnie-The-Pooh: Exploring A Classic, V&A, 8 December 2017

Little boy, captivated by the images and artefacts

We booked a late afternoon preview slot for this exhibition months ago, when it was first announced.

We love Winnie-The-Pooh; we don’t love swarms of children. Simples.


We got to see this charming little exhibition in ideal (for us) circumstances. Enough people around for it to have atmosphere but a quiet slot mid-to-late afternoon, just ahead of any members who might bring their children after school.

The V&A rubric on the exhibition can be found by clicking here.

Reviews and stuff (at the time of writing just previews) can be found through this search term – click here.

We took several photos – if you want to see more than just the few on show in this piece, either click here or the photo below:

The show is an interactive experience, but in a very analogue way – with a staircase to sit halfway up, a slide, an hexagonal spinning name generator and some drawing exercises.

This little girl tried out the drawing exercises

No virtual reality like the Modigliani across the water, nor even any computerised games. Pooh sticks was thus, in my opinion, under-served. One senior lady member wondered out loud whether any children had been involved in the curating of this exhibition. I thought it a good question and guessed that the answer is no.

Still, the exhibition was beautifully designed – Janie thought it one of the most stylish she can ever remember – with lots of hoardings in the style of E. H. Shepard drawings emblazoned with well chosen chunks of A.A. Milne’s wonderfully crafted words and some sound effects, such as bees in the vicinity of the story about Pooh searching for honey. The simplicity, I guess, is a large part of the show’s charm.

I even visited the North Pole

I got to visit the North Pole. Janie, of course, now five weeks into her pole dancing hobby, found Pooh’s pole a little tame for her taste…

Janie visits a pole in her own way

…yet Janie was surprisingly timid at the idea of trying out the slide, which she did attempt, eventually, rather gingerly in my view:

Hard landing, apparently

We had lots of fun at this exhibition and did learn quite a lot about the wider context of the works from the exhibits.

Afterwards, we tried out the new members’ room for refreshments and very much enjoyed it. A much larger, airier space than the previous room, which was rather pokey and “uti” for the V&A. The friendly staff and tempting menu come into their own in this improved facility.

Keeping the wolf (or perhaps, in this case, tigger) from the door

As for the Pooh show, the V&A shop will no doubt do lots of business with some excellent books about the wider context and also some beautiful editions of the Milne/Shepard Pooh books themselves. But we resolved instead to stop off at the flat and pick up my tatty Methuen paperback Poohs for the weekend – by gosh they are dog-eared and falling apart but they are mine:

My Poohs and I’m proud of them

After dinner, little Daisy dropped off to sleep while I was reading her some of the poems. Bless.

An Amazing Week Of Grazing And Moral Mazing, 1 to 7 December 2017

It’s a cracker

It’s December, so of course the eating and drinking goes into overdrive.

Starting on the very first day of December; lunch with Michael Mainelli, Brendan May and John Lloyd at the Guildhall. Great to catch up with those guys, it brought back to my mind a quite interesting 2003 evening in a TV studio with Brendan and John – now Ogblogged – click here.

The next day, cousins Jacquie and Hilary Briegal came to Noddyland for a late lunch that morphed into early evening. Jacquie couldn’t resist bringing some of her famous chopped herring for us, although, as any fule no, chopped herring cannot take part in “herring of the year” contests, which in any case have to be held at Jacquie’s place – click here for the most recent example.

In any case, herring didn’t form part of the Noddyland meal, which comprised smoked salmon nibbles followed by Janie’s (Daisy’s) famous wasabi beef fillet dish and finally danish apple cake. We hadn’t seen Jacquie and Hils for over a year; it was great to see them again and have a chance to reciprocate Jacquie’s warm hospitality.

As usual, Daisy had massively over-catered, so I was able to lunch on some left over beef, sauce and potatoes couple of times during the week, including Thursday…

…which was probably just as well, given the tardiness of the Cafe Rogues meal in Holborn that evening, at the comedy writers Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner.

I reported last year on the ruthless efficiency with which the venue forced us to pre-order and the chaos and long waits that nevertheless ensued. Last year, it was Jonny Hurst who took the brunt of the tardiness, waiting about an hour longer than everyone else for his main course. This year, Jonny was again such a victim, but I too was one of the chosen people for this indignity. Perhaps we weren’t served a full hour later than everyone else, but surely at least half an hour later.

I suppose you can chat, drink and even be ruined while you wait for food

To add insult to indigestion, four of us were served our deserts some 30 minutes after everyone else. Jonny escaped this time, but I was caught twice – along with Jasmine, Barry and John for the lengthy dessert desert.

Still, everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Nine of us gathered this time; me, John Random, Jonny Hurst, Jasmine Birtles, Colin Stutt, Hugh Rycroft, Gerry Goddin, Mark Keagan and Barry Grossman.

Jasmine and John brought crackers. John Random’s were very special; he had doctored some real crackers, emblazoning them with a picture of Michael Buerk and describing them as Moral Maze crackers.

With Jasmine’s crackers, we played our regular Christmas game of trying to work out the feed line from the punchline of the corny cracker jokes…with limited success this year as the jokes were so corny. Examples:

A. A monkey burp.

Q. What’s silent and smells of banana?

A. Mrs Sippi

Q. Who is the most famous married woman in America?

But John had doctored his crackers with moral maze dilemmas to replace the corny jokes. Example:

Q. What do you get if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo?

A. A series of far-reaching ethical questions that go to the very heart of modern genetics.

Tut tut if you read that question and thought the answer was, “a wooly jumper”.

Jasmine and John pulled…
…which left Jasmine grappling with a tricky moral dilemma.

Traditional quizzing after dessert…or in the case of the four of us sorely neglected souls…during the dessert.

Colin Stutt again did a warm up game, taking the best jokes from the fringe for the last few years and seeing if we could remember the punchlines or construct good/better punchlines ourselves. I reckon I did a reasonable job on 10-12 out of 30 of them, actually knowing the answer to only a couple.

Mark, the holder of the Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Trophy, naturally led the main event quiz. I’m usually in with a chance when Mark writes the quiz but so are one or two other people. In a close run contest this year:

Mark had bubble-wrapped the trophy for safe-keeping…
…let’s hope that Jonny also treats the magnificent artefact with the respect it deserves.

Yes, the place was ridiculously noisy. Yes, the service was poor, except when it was terrible. But at Christmastime, almost everywhere is thus. These Ivan Shakespeare gatherings of good old friends are always lively, witty evenings that make me happy; that is the bit that really matters.

The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill, Finborough Theatre, 3 December 2017

This was a very interesting Sunday evening at the Finborough.

Here is a link to the Finborough resource on this play/production.

The playwright, Israel Zangwill, sounds like a fascinating character in his own right. To some extent the story in the play mirrors his story, although the play is set in New York, not Zangwill’s native London. Also, the play’s young hero is a composer, rather than an author.

The young hero of the play, David, is a refugee survivor of the Kishinev (Chișinău) pogrom, inspired to compose music to celebrate the cultural melting pot he finds in New York. He falls in love with a beautiful Russian Christian radical who is running a settlement house in New York and who turns out to be the daughter of an anti-semitic Baron from Bessarabia. How culpable is the Baron for the pogrom that took place on his watch? And how is the young love going to go down with him and with David’s traditionally orthodox but loving kin?

If that all sounds a bit melodramatic to your taste, I can understand the sentiment. Yet somehow Zangwill manages to avoid those excesses, at least in the hands of this Bitter Pill/NeilMcPherson/Finborough production. The play isn’t quite Ibsen, but it is even less like a melodramatic Yiddish Theatre monstrosity.

Indeed the play seems hugely pertinent today, with many minorities being persecuted across the globe still, plus swathes of refugees and migrants on the move. Zangwill includes both sides of the assimilation (or perhaps I should say acculturation) and ethnic tolerance argument, although you are left in no doubt that you have been in the hands of a liberal enthusiast of the melting pot.

Grandpa Lew, sitting, with his musician brother, Great Uncle Max, standing

Of course I cannot help this piece bringing to mind my own family – in particular my mother’s musical family, who came to London from the Pale of Settlement in the early 1890s.

I wondered briefly whether Israel Zingwall might have taught my Grandpa Lew at the Jews’ Free School, as the programme says that Zingwall taught there, but a little on-line research indicates that Zingwall quit teaching at that school a few years before Grandpa Lew made his fleeting appearances there (between periods of survival-oriented child labour truancy).

Returning to the Finborough in December 2017, the place was deservedly full on a cold, wet Sunday evening. In the bar and audience we saw Michael Billington, with Mrs B making a (now rare/occasional) appearance at the theatre. The Billington’s dedication to high-quality fringe theatre over the decades is exceptional.

Reviews, if/when they appear, should be covered by this search term – click here.

Janie and I highly recommend this production.