Janie and I had a quiet time between Christmas and New Year.
We both did a bit of work, especially on the Wednesday.
I had a music lesson by Skype at the house on the Thursday; we even tried (but failed) to liaise and have a Skype with Pady later that day.
On the Friday, we had the next door neighbours – Joy, Barry and Marcie – in for drinks, nibbles and chat. They even requested a short recital on the baritone uke, so I’m clearly not driving them nuts with the instrument…
…just wait until I get a pickup & amplify my sound up to eleven.
Bowie: the Man Who Changed The World – we found this one on Netflix. Janie had wanted to see it for ages. We both found it interesting and enjoyable but gosh it jumps around a lot and there are some telling gaps in the story.
Janie wanted an indulgent evening in on Sunday and had procured some special treat goodies for the purpose. Her favourite is foie gras, which doesn’t really please me. Earlier this year she mistakenly suggested that I didn’t like caviar, so decided to treat me to a bit of that – the Ossetra variety, since you asked.
I tried to put on a nonchalant “this is what we do” expression for the photo…
…whereas Janie went for the more blokey “this is a bit of alright” body language:
Although we hadn’t intended to stay up past midnight, we were so chilled and took so much time over our indulgence, that we heard the sound of fireworks and realised that we had, inadvertently, actually seen in the New Year for the first time in ages.
So perhaps I should have dated this piece 1 January 2018.
Below is an excellent trailer that will give you a reasonable feel for the film:
It is not a movie for the faint-hearted. Janie wondered immediately after the film whether Ai Weiwei had gone too far when getting refugees to relate and revisit the horrors of their experiences. One woman starts to vomit while recalling her story, while one man, showing the record cards of his decimated family sounds traumatised almost to the point of insanity while retelling their tragedy.
But it is also a movie that looks at the movement of people in the abstract, with statements by political and civil leaders expounding many different views on the causes of and possible solutions for the migration crisis facing the world.
Ai Weiwei takes us to many of the world’s trouble spots. Janie and I have been to many such places ourselves, but have never really witnessed the more extreme causes of human migration first hand.
Janie and I visited a traditional Garo Village in Meghalaya in 2005, only to learn that the village has been razed by the electricity board and the Garo people were now living in a shanty, fearful of the wet season to come.Ai Weiwei is brilliant, in my view, by showing us the many sides to the story, from the deeply human individual cases to some beautifully shot scenes, some of people on the move, others of mundane scenes such as a gigantic pile of life jackets. Janie questioned whether Ai Weiwei’s eye for artistic images was appropriate when depicting scenes related to such suffering – so many migrants are lost at sea for want of, or despite those life jackets.
It is 140 minutes long, this film. I think it is a truly superb piece of documentary cinema. I challenge anyone to watch it and not be moved by it.
It will probably also change some aspect of your opinions on this politically and socially-charged subject. If you think there is a fundamental difference between refugees and economic migrants, for example, this film might make you start to think differently.
This film doesn’t provide answers, but it certainly informs and asks the right sort of challenging questions.
This was our first time at the Curzon Victoria – very nicely done the place is too – we’ll surely go to that one again if/when it suits.
But back to Paddington 2 – superb cast yet again, with Hugh Grant doing a brilliant job as the guest villain for this particular film.
There are bits that possibly tickle me more than most people – for example the way my Notting Hill neighbourhood is depicted – so charming & quirky…almost but of not quite as it really is. Except we do have a calypso band on almost every street corner…of course we do.
Indeed I absolutely love the way London is depicted in this film – a subtle blend of modern (e.g. The Shard) and old (steam trains, telephone kiosks, Victorian prisons…umm).
Paddington 2 really did have me and Janie laughing, crying and getting excited by the action like the pair of overgrown kids we clearly are.
If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and start making plans to go see this film.
Reading about this Michael Haneke film in the Curzon brochure, it sounded very interesting and right up our street. Strangely, we have often noticed reviews of Haneke films and thought that they sounded like our cup of tea, but this (I think) is the first we have actually got off our butts and gone to see one.
We’ll be looking out for more Haneke films (including some of his earlier ones) after this experience. We thought this was a really superb movie.
Talk about dysfunctional families – this high-falutin’ French family really takes the biscuit. They reminded me a bit of families you sometimes find in Francois Mauriac novels – just a more modern version.
Haneke tends to work with an ensemble of favourite actors and actresses, so it won’t surprise Haneke fans to see Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant, for example. A nice little cameo role for Toby Jones too.
Janie and I thought the stand-out performance was Fantine Harduin as the little girl, Eve, at the centre of the plot. Remember where you first saw her name!
So why the picture of the rare seven-string bass viol and a name check for Hille Perl, one of the leading exponents of that instrument? Well, it is only a sub-plot but a rather full-on one; it is not all that often that you’ll see the terms sexting and viola da gamba in the same sentence…or in the same subplot. That subplot put the gilt on the gingerbread for early music lovers like me and Janie.
Experimental theatre. Installation theatre. Menippean satire, anyone? Julia Jarcho’s work is hard to categorise, apparently.
But this installation piece won awards in the USA and was chosen by the Royal Court as its pilot piece for a new chunk of SW1 real estate recently acquired sort-of next door to the Royal Court overlooking the tube platform; The Site.
Sounded intriguingly weird and we thought we’d give it a try.
About 20 minutes before the start of the play we were invited in to tour the installation, which was Christmas-themed and included a Christmas tree sales yard, a young woman’s bedroom, a gym, a cordoned-off crime scene that looked seriously grim…about 10 different scenes.
We were offered a cup of mulled wine for this tour, which Janie (Daisy) and I both declined, neither of us liking mulled wine. Several people took and drank the wine, while bemoaning their dislike of the stuff. Some people.
Then the show itself. The main performance space and seating area for the audience was scattered with video screens which could show, via CCTV cameras, the scenes we had toured.
A young woman dressed in some sort of animal suit operated the lights, the cameras the TV screens and even, at a couple of points, a cooker. Despite her pivotal role in the piece, from what I can gather she gets no credit in the programme or on-line at all, which feels wrong.
The three performers were simply superb. It is a very physical piece and the three actors have to keep changing roles – especially the female character who plays four different roles in the 90 minute piece.
Janie and I were really divided on this one.
I thought the piece very interesting and enjoyed its humour, gruesomeness and strangeness in equal measure.
Janie simply found it perplexing.
I felt I was doing fine deciphering the piece until the final part, in which all three actors were, apparently, red pandas, although one of the characters was gnawing away at the bones of (presumably) the murdered humans from the earlier parts and red pandas are strictly veggie, despite being quite closely related to carnivorous scavengers such as raccoons.
Even I struggled to decipher the last part, but I think that was supposed to be the idea.
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, while Janie I think felt she could have done without feeling bemused at the end of a hard-working week just before Christmas.
…on the last two playing days of the 2017 year that role went into overdrive. I had booked to play at 11:00 on Friday 22nd, which was doubles – not what I would normally book but I think it was the only available slot on that last day of 2017 when I booked it.
In the end, though, I was asked if I could fill in at 16:00 on Thursday, then if I could play doubles for 90 minutes before that Thursday singles, then if I could stay on for an hour of “senior” doubles after my Friday booking, which had been switched from doubles back to singles.
In short, it isn’t just my clients who book up too much to do in the run up to Christmas and then cancel at the last minute. The real tennis community are masters at it.
Also, in short, that meant four-and-a-half hours of real tennis in 24 hours. That was a bit mad of me. But strangely it all went OK. In fact I improved my singles handicap by a good few notches during that 24 hours.
The 150 minute marathon on Thursday was a very exhausting idea, especially as the doubles as well as the singles was high grade, above my handicap stuff.
Kristof is a very interesting chap of Hungarian origin who is a fund manager by profession, yet reads books and had even read The Price Of Fish since we last met.
When he arrived at the Ladbroke Arms, Kristof immediately apologised for his appearance. He was wearing a leather jacket, jeans and a dark-coloured beanie hat. Kristof explained that he was going to a punk party after our drink. I explained that his appearance was not entirely dissimilar to mine, which I consider to be normal attire for meeting a friend in a local pub. Here is a reconstruction of the look, taken by Daisy a couple of days later in Victoria:
We talked about life, the universe and just about everything. Topics (beyond The Price Of Fish) ranged from Brexit to the writings of George Mikes to our life stories & therefore (naturally) Ogblog.
But, sadly, Kristof and I failed to solve the world’s most wicked problems over a couple of small glasses of wine before Kristof went off in his “costume”. Must have been that extra 90 minutes or so of real tennis doubles that dulled my thinking that evening. Hopefully we’ll try again some time soon.
Back to Lord’s the next morning for a couple of hours more tennis. Bizarrely, the MCC now live streams and saves the games some days, so if you want a quick (or slow) butchers hook at this stuff, here is the stream of my Friday marathon – just the two hours from c2:02 (warming up for singles) until c4:05. The “senior doubles” after our hour of singles (we both stayed on) is with gentlemen who are both just over or approaching 90 years of age.
Unfortunately, the sound stream wasn’t working that day. so you can’t hear all the moaning and groaning – mostly from my opponents, naturally:
As for reflections on my 2017 progress; numerically it all looks and feels a bit strange. I got my handicap down to 60.9 by June, then it flew back up again for three months and then I whittled it back down to that 60.9 figure by the end of the year.
Apparently this pendulum thing happens; partly natural volatility, partly (I suspect) a bit of a seasonal effect but mostly because performance actually does plateau or even go backwards while you try to progress to playing “proper” shots rather than simply getting the ball back.
More importantly, I’d had lots of fun and continue to really enjoy my real tennis. Ogblog highlights of the year include the following, the first two of which have some very short video clips with sound. If you persevere you’ll encounter some real stars, including Rob Fahey (real tennis’s equivalent of Rod Laver) and even Paul McCartney:
I am now in the 53rd percentile of all players worldwide who have ever been logged on the system (over 10,800 of them). More realistically, I am now in the 67th percentile of those who play regularly. That makes me about one standard deviation from the norm. Let’s hope no-one latches on to “Standard Deviation” as my nickname. I think I’d sooner be the Galloping Bard or the Flying Ferret.
The story/scenario is an interesting and potentially moving one. But I struggled to put aside the foolishness of the protagonist; the way she went about her protest being destined to fail in so many ways. I even struggled to suspend belief and roll with the plot line.
It was very well acted and the sparse design/setting, performed in the round, suited the piece very well.
Z/Yen returned to the scene of last year’s “crime” to take our seasonal team repast at Watermen’s Hall again.
Last year the Ogblog report of the event was combined with a couple of other events of mine. If you want to compare, you can read all about the 2016 happenings by clicking here or through the link below:
There was a very enjoyable pre-lunch Champagne reception, as last year, with everyone who is dining at Watermen’s having a chance to mingle. This year, coincidentally, one of the guests (at one of the other tables) is Kit, who lives in Janie’s former street and is an old friend of ours – small world, eh?
But soon we move on to the five course meal. The menu will be revealed along with this year’s song lyric further down this piece.
The main course, the goose, shown below, was the third course.
I sat opposite Shivangee, who politely told me that i have been pronouncing her name wrong all the while. She looks surprisingly perky in the following picture given those circumstances:
We swapped rural India stories and I promised her I’d link her through to the most bizarre thing that ever happened to me in that part – here and below is that link:
But if Shivangee thought that I could talk plenty over lunch, she was soon to meet a real pro in the commissionaire at the Cinema Museum – more on him later.
In fact there is a very jolly, convivial, chatty atmosphere at Watermen’s. The alcohol flows lavishly through the courses, with a very interesting white port aperitif, white wine, red wine and the more familiar ruby port at the end of the meal.
With all of those courses, a room full of dinners and an appointment at the Cinema Museum to get to, we broke with tradition and decided to sing the Z/Yen Christmas song at the Cinema Museum instead.
But before that, secret Santa was a must at table. I was given some pencils with negatively-motivational messages on them. Is someone (Santa) trying to tell me something?
The Z/Yen staff also each got a Raucherman – one of those artefacts that you didn’t know existed until you were given one, then you realise that your life has previously had less meaning and that now, with your Raucherman, you are that much closer to being fulfilled.
We arrived at the Cinema Museum some while after the originally appointed hour, but still were asked to wait a while so that the head honcho, Martin, might address us (and take our money) before handing us over to commissionaire Maurice, who told us all about it and more besides.
So while waiting, we sang the Z/yen Christmas song. A delightful Egyptian lady, Meena, was joining our tour and joined us in song as best she could:
WATERMEN AND LIGHTERMEN AND Z/YEN – 2017 Version
(A seasonal song to the tune of “Winter Wonderland”)
VERSES ONE AND TWO
Parsnip soup, fit for galleons,
Salmon soused, in medallions;
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.
After eating goose with Christmas trimmings,
We’ll tuck in to Perouche cheese with pear;
After Christmas pud, you must be kidding,
With rum sauce that could be a warning flare.
Then in Lambeth you’ll see ‘em,
Tour the cinema museum;
The Z/Yen team en masse, with guts full of gas;
Walking off their lunch from Watermen’s.
(RISING/ROUSING FINALE): Let’s hope walking makes us Lightermen!
Z/Yen Group 2017 Christmas Lunch at Watermen’s Hall
(The Company of Watermen and Lightermen)
Parsnip & Chestnut Soup
Medallion of Scottish Salmon, Champagne Sauce
Roast Breast of Goose & Confit of Leg, Tarragon & Ginger Crust, Red Currant Jus, Chateau Potatoes, Sugar Snap Braised Red Cabbage Broccoli & Baby Carrots
The Cook & The Butler World Famous Traditional Christmas Pudding, Christmas Pudding Ice Cream, Oranges in Caramelised Oranges, Rum Sauce
Once we were in the extremely talkative and capable hands of commissionaire Maurice, we were soon singing again – this time the ABC Minors Club Song.
The big thing about that site for the Cinema Museum is that it is the site of a workhouse in which Charlie Chaplin lived briefly as a kid. Sadly the site is being sold and the museum is at risk, unless its joint bid with the Peabody Estate sees off the hard-nosed commercial interest in the site.
It was a quirky tour but very interesting. I remember some of those old cinemas, not least the ABC in Streatham Hill, the Odeon a bit nearer Streatham proper and the Granada across the road from dad’s shop on St John’s Hill. Linda remembered similar from her youth. Maxine and her friend, who came along just for the tour, must have wondered what on earth Maurice was talking about half the time.
A few of us retired to the Old Red Lion in Kennington for a drink and a chat after the tour. James Pitcher proved very good at asking and Alexandra proved very good at answering pub quiz type questions such as “which two tube stations have all the vowels in their names” and “which tube station has six consonants in a row in its name?”. We spent quite some time trying to solve the mystery of the beautiful film starlet whose picture we couldn’t identify. James “phoned a friend” who rather brilliantly responded Pier Angeli rapidly and correctly. Respect.
We drew the line at playing the truth game and at that juncture decided to draw stumps on a hugely enjoyable Z/Yen Christmas event.
…I had no idea where it would lead. But I was much taken by their encore song, Innsbruck, Ich Muss Dich Lassen. I found a simple chord version of the song and started strumming it out on my baroq-ulele.
Once I learnt that the piece probably had a strong temporal connection with Sir Richard Gresham’s birth year and the start of the Tudor period, I resolved to prepare that song for the next Gresham Society soirée by learning how to play it “properly”.
Ironically, I found my source of serious early music learning through a comedic spoof shared on the Early Music Facebook Group on the 1st of April:
I tracked down Early Music Muse, who is a delightful musician, music teacher and expert on early music named Ian Pittaway, based in Stourbridge in the West Midlands.
I have now had several fascinating Skype-based lessons with Ian, a couple of face-to-face lessons and lots of practice in-between. Ian also transcribed the Innsbruck song for me into Renaissance-style tablature.
Roll the clock forward some months to the day of the soirée. Despite several explanatory exchanges of e-mails, Professor Tim Connell remained convinced that I am dead-panning a joke rather than REALLY preparing to play something serious. Fortunately he was at our offices that afternoon, so, on the way to Gresham College from Z/Yen, I had the opportunity to persevere with him and get him to amend his introduction.
In fact I bundled out of the cab before Gresham, to pop in and see John White, to drop off some gifts from Thailand and from the Chelsea Physic Garden in the summer, all of which I keep forgetting to take with me when I see John. He and his work team were finishing their Christmas lunch in Vivat Bacchus. The team, who are a very jolly and friendly bunch, asked me to play my Renaissance song for them. I attempted to play it, but frankly the place was far too loud for anyone to hear me…
…which was just as well, as I soon realised, once I got to Gresham to warm up, that my baroq-ulele was monstrously out of tune. Something to do with tube train vibrations that doesn’t seem to happen in the car. I spent most of my warming up time desperately trying to tune my instrument. In desperation, I even got the screwdriver out at one stage – really.
Meanwhile Michael Mainelli was also in the green room warming up his bagpipes and trying to “sooth my nerves” by challenging my pronunciation of every German word. As Elisabeth (Michael’s wife, who hails from Germany) put it, rather sharply, when I asked her, after the performance, about this pronunciation point, “what would Michael know about German pronunciation?”
The soirée was scheduled differently this year, with the buffet served before the show, then the first half of the soirée was professional musicians showing us how it should be done.
David I/we knew well from previous soirées – he was my “partner in crime” at the event a few years ago in my rap version of Any Old Iron (to be Ogblogged in the fulness of time).
But don’t be deceived by the limitations of David’s bit-part roles in my slapstick comedy performances; David is actually a fine pianist and has an excellent baritone voice in his own right. His rendition of Tom Lehrer’s The Elements is always a bit of a highlight of soirées, but this year he did also sing some charming songs, such as Copeland’s Long Time Ago and Novello’s My Dearest Dear.
Sian Millett charmed us with arias spanning the centuries, from Ombre Mai Fu (Handel) to Secret Love (from Calamity Jane) via the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen.
After a short break, the amateurs took over the programme, including my rendition of Innsbruck, which I billed as the Sir Richard Gresham Nativity Song.
I don’t have a recording of the performance but I do have a rather rudimentary vlog of my dress rehearsal at home on the day of the performance:
After my little performance, the highlight for me was Anthony Hodson’s bassoon performance (with David on “harpsichord”), Telemann’s F minor sonata. Those two also performed The Teddy Bears Picnic (which looked equally challenging for bassoon) – I could have joined in and even sung my Coppers Are Dressed As Hippies version of the tune had I known in advance…probably for the best that I didn’t.
There was also a comedic poetic tribute to Dawn who was sitting in front of me, looking amused and embarrassed in equal measure. Finally, of course, the traditional Professors’ Song as the closing number, captured this year on vid by Georgina – shared through this link, with thanks to Georgina.
I got very kind and pleasant feedback on my piece from lots of people over drinks after the show. But the icing on that particular post show cake was feedback from Frieda, one of the Gresham Society regulars, who explained to me that her mother is from Innsbruck and used to sing that song to Frieda when she was a little girl. Frieda seemed almost overcome with emotion telling me about it.
I asked Frieda if the song had sounded alright to her in my attempted German voice and in the early music style; she said it had. I told her that she had really made my evening with her feedback, but she insisted that hearing the song at Gresham had made her evening.
As always with Gresham Society, there were lots of interesting people to chat with before and after the show. I suggested to several people that I would revert to silly stuff next time, but detected a groundswell of enthusiasm for a more serious piece. We’ll see.