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.
Beyond the lobby, visitors are not permitted to take photographs, which is a shame really.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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:
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’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).
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…
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.
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.
“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.
One guest today, Escamillo Escapillo, our Lancastrian nephew-in-law. A veteran of The Lord’s Throdkin, he appreciated the slight variation to the recipe from last time and agreed with me that the flavour and texture were somewhat improved. Some conjecture on this point might well follow on Ogblog, King Cricket or both.
There was also some ingratitude in the matter of special cream cheese and its pairing with smoked salmon, about which I intend to publish at length elsewhere.
But other than those controversial culinary matters, the day progressed as only a relaxing day of test cricket at Lord’s could and should.
West Indies chose to bat and struggled through a difficult morning and early afternoon, only to collapse in a heap as the afternoon went on.
Ben Stokes bowled beautifully and deserved the bulk of the wickets:
England found it no easier once they were asked to bat that day.
By that time, Escamillo Escapillo had left early to go to a function with his wife, our niece, Lavender. Daisy had spent the day with Lavender and took pains to bring the young couple together in Marylebone, while also swiping Escamillo Escapillo’s ticket and spending the last 90 minutes or so of play with me.
It got very dark and very cold towards the end of play – so much so that we escaped early, but only an over or two before bad light (even with floodlights) intervened.
The weather forecast was distinctly iffy for Day 2. Brian sent me a “what’s happening if…?” e-mail and I sent my response to him and both of the others. There was general consensus that we go to the ground, hope for some cricket before the rain and see what happens.
Brian came round to my place just as I was finishing the picnic and getting ready to go; we travelled to the ground together. As we were nice and early, I showed Brian the real tennis which immediately grabbed his fascination.
I went off to meet Ian and Graham, leaving Brian with the tennis (at his request), who then joined the rest of us when play started, around 11:15.
But soon after play started, the rain returned, so we all decided to wander round to the dedans to watch real tennis; Brian wanted to see more, Graham had never seen it before and wanted to, the other Ian had seen it before but was happy to see it again.
Brian observed that we had four very similar, uber-English names; Ian, Ian, Brian and Graham. As everyone traditionally has a pseudonym in my cricket pieces, I think we can improve and simplify.
As it happens the other Ian is already “Iain Spellright”; King Cricket has not yet published the outstanding piece about him from 2014, but it does exist. Brian should be known as “Ian Borne” and Graham should be “Iain Insteadman”.
That should make the rest of this piece really easy to follow.
It was clear from the TV screen in the dedans that the rain was getting harder and harder; I went to rescue our picnic around 12:30 in the sodden gloom and felt very little optimism for the prospects of play.
At least we had the picnic, so we tucked into The Lord’s Throdkin with Iain Spellright’s utterly delicious bottle of Barollo. Janie was envious when I told her.
By around 13:30, Ian Borne, being the most sensible of us, concluded that the prospects of play were very poor. Also, having told me excitedly about the interesting projects he’s working on at the moment, I suspect that the lure of those projects was greater than the lure of watching it rain at Lord’s.
However, soon after Ian Borne left, the announcer reported an expected start time of 14:15 and the weather forecast changed from “no hope after 15:00-16:00” to “no more rain expected until after stumps”.
So, we the remaining threesome resumed our seats and hunkered down with a super-sized picnic and several hours of cricket to watch.
Good cricket it was too, with England working hard in still difficult batting conditions to press ahead with a reasonable lead.
We had some interesting number-crunching business, trying to decide what a decent and realistic first innings target might be. Iain Spellright was looking to double the West Indies score, but soon backtracked a little. Iain Insteadman and I thought 50 to 60 would be a decent, admittedly not insurmountable lead. 71 lead was the outcome.
Then England started bowling and very, very soon, Jimmy Anderson took that historic 500th test wicket:
West Indies then batted in the fading light, but not gloom, so the floodlights could keep the show on the road and I don’t think I have ever seen Lord’s looking quite so special at dusk before – aided by the double-rainbow to the south-east as some heavy clouds threatened but passed us by.
Against all the odds, we got a more than decent day’s play; very relaxed, relaxing and enjoyable. I think this was the latest test match finish I have experienced live; 19:30. After saying goodbye to Iain and Iain, I (Ian) walked home.
Day Three – 9 September 2017
I stayed at the flat overnight and got my few bits and pieces together quickly and easily enough – Daisy was doing the main picnic.
That’s three days at Lord’s for Janie this year – all three being days when England won the match at took the ceremonial plaudits. Daisy must be a lucky mascot for England when she’s in that new stand. She should visit more often.
It’s years since we have been to the proms. I used to go regularly, even before I met Janie.
Then in our early days together…indeed for many, many years, we would take The Duchess (Janie’s mum), as she liked the place and the concerts. But once the Duchess went off the idea of going out to concerts, we focused our concert-going on smaller, more intimate venues such as The Wigmore Hall and St John’s Smith Square.
Anyway, Janie called me excitedly earlier in the week, as she was with Joyce Ma, who had excellent tickets for this concert and couldn’t use them. Would we like them?
It was hard to say no to such a kind and generous offer. We both love Bach and we both thought it would make a real change for us to visit the Proms again.
This concert was the very first time that the whole of Book One of The Well Tempered Clavier had been performed at the Proms. Interesting choice for a late night concert, as the 21:00 start meant for a 23:00 finish.
Imagine my delight when we entered the hall and I realised that Joyce had chosen pretty much exactly the seats I would have chosen myself “back in the day”, when I used to choose my seats with a connoisseur’s precision.
András Schiff performed the whole of The Well Temered Clavier Book One from memory, which seemed the most extraordinary feat in itself to me. He also performed with a wonderfully light touch and supreme confidence.
Both Janie and I nodded off at times – that is a compliment in a way because the music was so relaxing. In truth, The Well Tempered Clavier is not, to my taste, the most interesting work for listening rapt with attention. But it is delightfully easy on the ear if you listen to relax. This performance was a classic of a classic; it was just wonderful to end our day with it.
Janie took her own photos when Schiff took his well-deserved standing ovation and bow:
To Islington for a Dedanists’ Society fundraising event to raise funds for the The British Real Tennis Academy.
The event was held at The Estorick Collection…
...housed in a Georgian villa set in its own garden. The galleries and garden will be open to all. On show will be a new exhibition of the graphic designs of Franco Grignani (art as design 1950-90) and the gallery's standing collection of early 20th century Italian art.
Janie took most of the photographs. The tale of the evening is mostly well-told in pictures.
Toni Friend (not to be confused with her realist/dedanist/husband Tony Friend) joined us for the evening, which was most enjoyable.
Actually we spent the first hour or 90 minutes of the evening not looking at the art at all – the evening was blessed with fine late summer weather, so we spent plenty of time early evening in the garden chatting with Dedanists – many of whom I know from the short time I have been playing real tennis. An interesting and pleasant group of people for a party.
There was fizz and some very tasty nibbles – prosciutto wrapped around grissini sticks and some buffalo mozzarella with tomato nibbly-things to help soak up the grape juice.
After surveying the galleries and chatting with people some more, we ventured back into the garden after dark, to find the look of the exterior of the house and the garden even more magical in artificial light. The last few photographs, which we took just before we left, show that magical quality
After dinner, back to Noddyland for a baritone ukulele recital and some more chat before bedtime.
We also had a rare opportunity to chat some more in the morning before John and Mandy set off on their way. It had been a really enjoyable get together – let’s hope we can do something along these lines again quite soon.
Unfortunately, this one didn’t really do the business for us.
I said to Janie at the interval, “if this play manages to pull together all of its big and disparate themes in the second half, we’re in for one cracker of a second half.” I didn’t think it would. It didn’t.
Strangely, I don’t think we’d ever seen a Christopher Shinn play before. I say strangely, because he has had so many of his works performed at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, which we frequent a lot. Perhaps the subject matter has never appealed to us before.
This sounded interesting from the Almeida blurb and indeed it was interesting subject matter. Too much of it; violence in society, sexual politics, religion, workers’ increasing sense of powerlessness…
…but the performances were all very good. They seemed, to us, wasted on this play.
Tellingly, the Almeida resource does not link to reviews, so here are a few links:
To help rescue our evening, we ran into Jilly Black sitting, with a friend, a few rows behind us. We chatted with them after the show; indeed Janie dropped them at Baker Street giving us quite a bit of very pleasant post show chat time.
It is not very often that we bemoan the extra few minutes journey time to the Almeida; normally that place is well worth the extra few minutes each way, but this piece left us warm to the interesting topics but decidedly cold to the play,
Janie, who would have loved to have seen the show, felt that she couldn’t free up the day.
Still, I learned that there were to be several old muckers from Alleyns in Edinburgh that day and also that Marie and Joe Logan (the former being a Z/Yen alum) would at least be able to join us for lunch.
Marie and Joe’s application to become honorary school alumni for the day was unanimously accepted, especially when the gang discovered that Marie is a close friend of Linda Cook’s, as Linda had organised the Z/Yen Board Room gig.
But, when Marie inadvertently mentioned “Old Alleynians” in correspondence, I felt obliged to explain:
…there is one really important point you need to get right.
You are each an honorary Alleyn’s Old Girl/Alleyn’s Old Boy (respectively). Neither of you is in any shape or form an Old Alleynian, honorary or otherwise. Old Alleynians are alumni of Dulwich College, the pathetic, rival school of Alleyn’s.
Let me illustrate with well-known examples:
Alleyn’s Old Boy – Jude Law;
Alleyn’s Old Girl – Florence (and the Machine) Welch;
Old Alleynian – Nigel Farage.
Need I say more?
Mercifully there was no unpleasantness in the alumni-confusion-department on the day.
So I rose about 4:30 (a bit earlier than necessary in truth), setting off on an early flight from Heathrow (thank you, Janie, for the lift all the way to Terminal 5) and then took the tram into Edinburgh.
In schoolboy mode for a meet up with old school muckers, I got very excited with my smartphone when I realised that there was free wifi on the tram, sending Janie a picture and a sound recording of the Chigley-like tram sounds.
Janie messaged back to say that I’m a big kid.
Then a solo stroll through Edinburgh from New Town to Old Town…
…towards The Counting House…
When I arrived, only Rohan was there – John and Steve were out soliciting trade…for Rohan’s show, readers, control yourselves…
…but soon after I arrived, there was a surprise (to me) arrival – Claire Tooley (now Claire Brooke) – a very pleasant surprise indeed. Even more pleasantly, Claire was able to join us for lunch after the show.
I thought the performance was very good. Rohan hasn’t changed the show much since the pilot, but he has tightened up the script and his delivery has some lovely pauses and nuances that have clearly evolved with practice and experience.
It was a pretty full house, which at 11:00 in the morning on the Free Fringe I reckon is a big win. Certainly there seemed to be little activity for the other morning/lunchtime shows at The Counting House.
The audience was very receptive, I thought, although those who had attended performances earlier in the week thought that the laughter was slower to build that day, but the attentiveness, reaction and laughter as the story built ended up better.
We strolled to Spoon to meet Marie and Joe. Apparently this place is an old haunt of JK Rowling’s, so well suited to an arty gathering.
Like a fool I neglected to take any pictures in Spoon, but we gathered as nine: me, Steve Butterworth, Rohan Candappa, Paul and Cathy Driscoll, John Eltham, Claire Tooley-Brooke, Marie and Joe Logan.
One coincidence about this event, I realised, is that this season is the 25th anniversary of my own material premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe. In 1992, Brian Jordan brought The Ultimate Love Song – click here to Edinburgh in his wonderfully-named show “Whoops Vicar, Is That Your Dick?”.
When I mentioned this coincidence, Rohan (naturally) asked me to give an acapella rendering in Spoon, which I did as best I could – not very well. You can hear Ben Murphy’s excellent recording of the song below:
But back to Spoon. The food was good, the chat was jolly. People drifted away as journeys home or appointments with other shows approached, but we were a pretty lively group for a couple of hours at least.
Eventually, when it was just me, Marie & Joe left, we went for a stroll around town to see what we might find for the remaining couple of hours, before I needed to head for the airport.