MCC v Middlesex University Real Tennis Club, Lord’s, 16 November 2017

I was delighted to be selected to represent the MCC again against Middlesex University Real Tennis Club. This was to be my third go in that fixture – click here to read about the previous go.

Even more delighted, because I saw that our captain, Josh Farrall, had picked me to partner Chris Stanton. I have known Chris for over 25 years – he was the first professional actor to perform one of my silly songs. In NewsRevue, spring 1992.

So I thought it was to be comedy doubles. Ideally with me writing the script and Chris doing all the work.

John Random, who directed that 1992 show, on learning that Chris and I had been reunited through this strange game, had expressed a desire to see real tennis. So I had the idea to invite John to watch Chris and me play in this match.

Initially John said yes to that idea, but the weekend before the match, he was selected for a Compare The Meerkat advert and had to pull out of the Lord’s tennis spectating role. It transpires that John has previous in the matter of phoney slavic accents and extremely dodgy fur:

Win a one-way ticket to the Gulag if you even think about markets-dot-com

In the end John’s inability to show up at Lord’s was probably just as well. For a start, that Trotsky beard would not have gone down well at The Grace Gate. Further, in any case, Chris Stanton was also a no show on the day – surely not another one summoned to perform with an anthropomorphic gang from the mongoose family?

So, captain my captain Josh Farrall partnered me in the first match. Sadly there are no photos from this match, but there is a stock photo of me playing in a previous match – that isn’t Josh watching me hit the ball all wrong.

A perfect shot of an ever so slightly imperfect shot – photo by Sidney Yankson

Exhausted by our endeavours, I nevertheless volunteered to relieve our captain from multiple duties by taking his slot in the later match he was scheduled to play.

This gave me the chance to partner Nick Evans, who is even more of a novice than me and against whom I was scheduled to play singles the next day, against a delightful Middlesex couple (including the MURTC team captain) who are also more novice than me, although not by much.

The whole fixture was great fun; a lot of people who hadn’t (or had only very occasionally) played matches before, plus a few regulars of old and the odd turncoat, as was the experience in the match against the HAC a few months ago.

It was a superb success as a social evening, with the traditional Lord’s curry going down a treat, washed down with some very jolly wines.

“What was the score?”, I hear the more competitive readers cry. Come on now, I’ve told you before, what happens on the MCC tennis court stays on the MCC tennis court.

I’ll just provide one picture-based clue:

Pears-Pairs-Bagels

Real tennis was the winner, along with conviviality.

Dinner With John White At Galvin La Chapelle, 15 November 2017

This time it was my turn to chose the venue. I did a bit of research and decided that Galvin La Chapelle was conveniently located for John to get home to Saffron Walden and for me to get home after an afternoon in the City.

I’m normally a bit disappointed when choosing City places – usually high prices and not special food – but this turned out to be a very pleasant exception – an extremely good meal. Not cheap, but good value for the quality of food,

My turn to chose the venue meant it was John’s turn to pick up the tab. Many thanks John.

John came round to see 41 Lothbury on the way – he’d not been to our new (not so new any more) offices yet.

Then we wandered in the direction of La Chapelle. I thought we might go to Balls Brothers on Bishopsgate, not knowing that it is now a building site.

So we had a quick drink in the ever-reliable George Pub, on the junction of Liverpool Street.

It was there I told him about Janie’s new hobby, pole dancing. I also showed him the photo Janie had sent me on the Monday.

Daisy Up A Pole

The above news and views seemed to lighten John’s mood considerably.

We then had a lengthy debate about whether we were less than five minutes from La Chapelle (as John thought) or more than that (as I thought). Mr Googlemap said six minutes but John decided that means less than five at our walking pace.

But by gosh it was worth the five-and-a-half minute walk, it really was.

Here’s the menu.

John started with the velouté, while I had a crab lasagne starter. John went on to the mushroom risotto while I went for the duck. John tried the cheeses after, while I tried the cheesecake.

Truly excellent food and (after a slightly slow start) very charming and superb service.

John was a big hit with the waitress who brought the bread, charming her with bread facts, such as:

  • in the old days the bakers’ sweat was part of the enzyme process that brought the yeast to life and thus gave the bread its texture and flavour;
  • the phrase “sent to Coventry” comes from bakers being expelled from their guild and prohibited from practicing within 100 miles of London. This second “bread fact” does not stand up to Wikipedia scrutiny, which prefers the Civil War rationale.

When the same waitress turned out to be the cheese waitress, John considered mugging up on some cheese facts as well, but I suggested that it would be a better, more self-effacing ploy to admit to knowing little about cheese. This tactic did seem to work pretty well and the waitress confessed that she too was new to the cheese duties, but then went on to explain the cheeses in great detail.

You get the picture; it was a fabulous meal and I always enjoy such evenings with John even when the food is less fabulous. So this one was well-memorable.

Rock ‘N’ Rajasthan Evening, Mostly Alleyn’s Alumni, 14 November 2017

When I got word that Rich “The Rock” Davis was to be over from Canada for a short while in mid November, I thought I’d probably miss out on the resultant gathering. I explained to John Eltham that I only had the one available evening throughout the period on offer.

But this was one of those occasions when the timings went fortuitously. Not only could I make the appointed day, but it transpired that Nigel Godfrey would be visiting from New Zealand and that Paul Hamer would be visiting from an even more remote and obscure corner of the Great Dominions; Southampton.

Indeed, also by happy chance, Paul Hamer’s earlier engagement in London was in Paddington, within spitting…well, in truth, walking, distance of my flat.

So Paul and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours late afternoon catching up at the flat; it’s only been 37+ years. Chat was interspersed with the odd business call and a short baroq-ulele recital by yours truly, before we journeyed across London to join the others at the Walrus and Carpenter.

Paul Hamer, top left, a few hours after the baroq-ulele recital, still visibly, profoundly moved by the heavenly harmonies, while those who sadly missed out on the music are smiling in blissful ignorance

It ended up quite a large gathering this time, with a few people I hadn’t seen for decades; in particular Justin Sutton (peering from behind Perry Harley in the above picture), with whom I chatted at some length at The Walrus, plus David Leach, who arrived towards the end of the Walrus session.

A rare sighting of David Leach, third left, on the “water polo quartet” side of the table

I was also graced by a brief audience with Sir Nigel Godfrey at the Walrus and Carpenter. I had always thought that his gong was for services to the beauty pageant industry. I hadn’t realised that he is actually “The Right Reverend Sir Nigel Godfrey”, presumably honoured for clerical services to the New Zealand laity.

Nigel explained how irritating it is for people, like himself, who wish to use multiple titles, that on-line drop down boxes tend to offer only “The Right Reverend” or “Sir” but not “The Right Reverend Sir”. A tad first world, that problem, but I hope I looked suitably doleful and I audibly sympathised.

A characteristically low-key appearance by The Right Reverend Sir Nigel Godfrey, third left in the above photo (half-tucked behind Rohan Candappa) and (in theory) third right in the photo above that, entirely obscured by Leigh Parkes.

Once the Rajasthan eating session was in full sway, Nigel also chimed in with a story about a near-disaster with window-leaning and errant train doors on the journey to school, back in the day, before the health and safety brigade quite ludicrously took such character-forming matters out of the hands of school-children. The resulting conversation about such disasters (real, near and imagined) was in the worst possible taste and those of us who were laughing should be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. Really.

There was also a fair bit of reminiscing about Andrew and Fiona Levinson (more “Andrew” at the Lisa Pavlovsky end of the table, more “Fiona” at the David Wellbrook end), which encouraged me to up a charming video of the three of us (me, Andrew and Fiona) when we were very little indeed – click here.

I shall also delve into my diaries as soon as I get the chance to recover some other memories of train journeys to school (with Justin Sutton, Andrew Levinson and Rupert Jefferies) and also at least one teenage adventure with the Levinson siblings, coincidentally very near the scene of this evening’s “crime” – the old Billingsgate Fish Market (just across the road). For the latter, I have photographs.

Everyone seemed to be in good form and good spirits; as usual the evening flew by. I should also mention Phil (one of John Eltham’s colleagues, top left in the final photo above) who joined us again this time and is excellent company. Also a thank you to John Eltham for organising, as always.

Plus a massive thank you to Perry Harley – it was great fun sitting next to you again this time, Perry – even more fun watching you deploy your accounting skills so diligently and indeed so very many times over, to avoid successfully the dreaded bodmin, ensuring fair play and fair pay.

Heather by Thomas Eccleshare, Bush Studio, 11 November 2017

This made it two out of two excellent short plays at small theatres this weekend, after the stunning Suzy Storck at The Gate the previous night.

This one, in the Bush Studio, was a two-hander with just a table, two chairs and two mikes as props. It was extraordinary how much “magic” the excellent performers manage to get out of that low-key set.

The play is about a reclusive but massively successful author of children’s fiction.

The Bush resource on this play/production is comprehensive, explaining the play, production etc. – click here.

Here is a link that will find you reviews and things – click here.

Deservedly good reviews and another short play/production that deserves a wider audience than The Bush Studio – I do hope it gets a transfer and/or tour.

Below is the trailer:

Suzy Storck by Magali Mougel, Gate Theatre, 10 November 2017

This was a very affecting piece. An unusual piece of writing; brilliantly acted, directed and produced.

Another mini triumph for The Gate Theatre since Eileen McDougall took over as artistic director recently. We also much enjoyed The Unknown Island – click here – recently – indeed for Suzy Storck we found ourselves again inadvertently at The Gate on a Young People’s night. Must be some sort of type-casting for me and Janie.

The story is a shocking one, about a young woman entirely dissatisfied with her life, suffering from post-natal depression and getting neither help nor sympathy from her man, mother or anyone else.

All of the acting was top notch, but particular praise goes to Caoilfhionn Dunne, who we saw in another stand out performance not so long ago in Wild at The Hampstead – click here.

“Caoilfhionn” is pronounced “kay-lean”, btw, an Irish shibboleth of a name if ever there was one.

The Q&A afterwards was attended by Theo Solomon and Jonah Russell. Young People’s night was not so heavily populated with young people this time. It was a very jolly mixture of people who stayed on for the Q&A and who asked sensible questions of the team, hosted by Daisy Cooper from the Gate’s production team.

Here is a link to The Gate’s on-line resource for this play/production.

Here is a link to a search term for reviews and stuff – the reviews are deservedly very good indeed.

This piece and production really does deserve a wider audience, both for the quality of the drama on show and for the issues covered in a shocking yet subtle way. I do hope it gets a transfer.

Below are links to four YouTubes: the show’s trailer and then a fascinating three-part interview with the extraordinary director Jean-Pierre Baro:

The Firm by Roy Williams, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 4 November 2010

We usually really like Roy Williams’s plays – in particular we loved Fallout, Clubland and Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads, but the last couple of times we haven’t been so impressed.

They are always a bit laddish; this piece especially so.

Janie really didn’t like it at all and let the extent of her uninterest show, in the form of nodding off to sleep a few times.

I simply felt that it was lesser Roy Williams but still enjoyed the piercing wit in some of the bants and the way Williams gets the mood in potentially tense situations to change with great rapidity and skill.

For example, I thought the scene in which Selwyn “loses it” and Trent helps him to calm down was very well done.

But in the end, it did all feel like more of the same from Roy Williams and I’m sure that he is potentially better than this as a playwright. We’ll probably think at least twice before booking his next one. Or I might see it on my own.

A light supper of avocado and prawns when we got home; Daisy’s good mood was easily restored with that and a nice glass of white wine.

What Listening To 10,000 Love Songs Has Taught Me About Love by Rohan Candappa, Cockpit Theatre, 31 October 2017

Ahead of the performance, I went to Don Pepe, where several of Rohan’s friends, but none of the Alleyn’s crowd other than me, were gathering; on my recommendation.

Nick Primmer appeared to be the ringleader of that group; a really pleasant bunch of people. (When have I ever met unpleasant people through Rohan?) We ate light – just a few tapas between us – we hadn’t allowed much time. Then we navigated an inverse Bodmin (everyone wanted to overpay) before heading towards The Cockpit.

I joked that Janie’s and my visit the night before for the jazz – click here – was essential reconnaissance for Rohan’s evening. Strangely, it did help, because approaching the theatre from the north-west side, you need to climb a rather unusual staircase/walkway, which I think the others might have missed but which I realised must be the right way from the previous night’s loop round the estate to get out.

So we were in good time…

…but perhaps Rohan wasn’t. At least, he seemed in no rush to start. We waited for one or two latecomers, getting our number up to perhaps 30 people. Then Rohan said, “I have one or two things to do, so I’d like you all to discuss in pairs the question, ‘what is your favourite song?’, before I start.”

Of course this was a ruse to warm us up.

I was sitting next to John Eltham and Ben Clayson. We decided to break the rules and work as a trio. We quickly concluded that it is impossible to name one favourite song. John suggested that we name a current favourite, or perhaps the song that is occupying our minds most of the time at the moment.

I chimed in with, “in that case, for me it must be Innsbruck Ich Muss Dich Lassen, the Renaissance song I am currently trying to work up to performance standard on my baroq-ulele for the forthcoming Gresham Society soiree.”

That pronouncement seemed to put an end to the conversation in our trio for some reason. Heck, it is a love song, you know? Still, as John said afterwards, “only Ian would say that his favourite song of the moment is a 15th century song.”

Fortunately, around that conversation-stopping moment, Rohan decided that we were all warm enough, so he started his performance.

Gram-o-phone, grandad?

The performance started with Rohan computing that he (and therefore all of us of a similar age) have probably listened to about 10,000 love songs.

Rohan then takes us on a journey through his own coming-of-age and rites-of-passage, using a few well-chosen love songs to illustrate his stories.

I’m tempted to describe it as a sort-of autobiographical cross between a Bildungsroman and Desert Island Discs. But that sounds like a prelude to damning the piece, whereas it is my intention to praise it very highly indeed.

It reminded me a little of Every Brilliant Thing, which Janie and I thought was quite magnificent but when I tried to describe it,  the piece sounds ordinary – click here.

Not that Rohan’s piece is as tight and polished as Every Brilliant Thing…yet.

Anyway, the record in Rohan’s head for his first kiss (and therefore the first record he played to us on the evening) was Heart Of Glass by Blondie.

Rohan explained the Triangular Theory Of Love through the use of Toblerone, so I think that means that the advert I recall saying “do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo?” should really have been a question about your last piece of Toblerone.

While Rohan handed around the Toblerone to the audience, a riot broke out.

No, the riot wasn’t a scrap for chocolate-based food amongst a feral, hungry audience; but something seemed to be kicking off on the local estates around the theatre.

“Standin’ at the door of the Pink Flamingo cryin’ in the rain…”

Meanwhile, Rohan pressed on. Say Hello, Wave Goodbye by Soft Cell for an unrequited love episode…there’s a lot of 13th Century troubadour material on that subject, Rohan, if you would like me to dig some out for you…

…and a couple of left-field choices which, very strangely indeed, also coincide with my own coming-of-age stories:

I don’t know whether Rohan’s piece brought floods of memories to other members of the audience to the same extent as it brought such floods to me, but I have now written some 3,500 words of memory pieces since the show in order to capture those recovered memories while they remain fresh in my mind.

Like any good Bildungsroman, Rohan returns to his adult self and thoughts of his parents at the end of the show, with their favourite song, Moon River, proving that you can’t keep a good love song down; be it 56 or 532 years old.

By the time we’d cleared up the room, only a few of us retreated to The Globe pub, but a delightful small group of people it was. A very substantial police presence protected us for the 200 yards or so between the theatre and the pub. Many police in high viz flak jackets felt a little more robust than the theatre’s security; the solitary figure of John Eltham with a label/badge which reassuringly read “security”.

Anyway, a chance to say hello properly to Jan and also to meet Julie, aka the character “Croissanita” from Rohan’s previous show, How I Said ‘F*** You’ To The Company When They Tried to Make Me Redundant – click here for the pilot review of that one.

Ollie Goodwin and I were the last to leave the pub, although most of us left roughly at the same time.

When I got home I felt hungry. All could find easily to hand was a croissant on the breakfast bar and some salami in the fridge. I thought the croissant was most apt, given that I had finally met Croissanita that evening:

But the last word should go to Ollie Goodwin, who has e-mail circulated the following review, which in many ways says as much in 11 words as I have said in 1000:

This piece will resonate with everyone who has ears and genitals

Nightmare In Noddyland, Halloween Night, 31 October 2017

Here in the Hanger Hill Garden Estate (also known as Noddyland) polite children with polite parents dress up and come around “trick or treating” for Halloween, but in truth it is all smiles and treats, no tricks…

…or is it?

The Noddyland Witch Starts Scheming Early For Halloween

Here is the sound of the Noddyland witch preparing for Halloween:

Janie loves Halloween and plans for it well ahead of time.

No Jack O’Lantern Here: Janie Made A Very Girly Jackie O’Lantern

Even our pink flamingo, Flossie Pom Pom, wants a piece of the action.

Flossie Pom Pom, our pink flamingo, getting ready for Halloween…

So keen was Janie to participate in the local Halloween fun, she rejected the opportunity to see my good friend, Rohan Candappa, pilot his new performance piece at The Cockpit Theatre – for the review of my evening click here.

I think the rest of the story is told better with pictures than words – with thanks to Janie and local parents for these pictures.

Matching witch hats
Scary little visitors
Coral hair?
Do you want something, children?
Ah, yes, of course, sweet treats
Forming an orderly queue?
The Noddyland witch with some sweet children…
…and finally with some scary creatures of the night

Jazz In the Round, Sam Barnett Quintet & Interchange, Cockpit Theatre, 30 October 2017

While Waiting For Action

This was a well cool evening of jazz.  An exciting new 10 piece (dectet) of female jazz players supported by a quintet of extremely talented teenagers.

It is all explained in this Jazz In The Round at The Cockpit link – click here.

Just in case they aren’t so good at archiving at The Cockpit, I have scraped the raw HTML so you’ll still be able to read the text at least here.

I happened across this pretty much by chance. Rohan Candappa is going to try out a new performance piece at The Cockpit 31 October, so I looked at the website for the place, as I didn’t know it, although it is more or less “on my manor”.

I spotted this concert and checked out a couple of YouTubes and audio links  for the performers. I liked what I saw and heard – Janie did too – we booked it.

This is the YouTube I checked out for the Sam Barnett Quintet:

I found the following Spotify link for the Interchange/Issie Barrett stuff – click here or below.

First up, the youngsters. Jez Nelson from Jazz FM introduced the acts:

Jez Nelson with the Sam Barnett Quintet

All good musicians, but Sam himself plus the drummer Zoe Pascal were the standouts:

Janie felt that the Sam Barnett compositions were too reminiscent of the greats, e.g. Miles Davis. “Not original enough”, she said. “He’s sixteen years old for goodness sake” was my response to that.

Composing Their Own Stuff

The Interchange dectet also compose their own stuff; not just Issie Barratt but all of them compose. We heard five pieces by five different members of the ensemble. The standout piece for us was Palmyra by Shirley Smart the cellist. All ten are superb musicians. The standouts for me are the multi-instrumentalists Yazz Ahmed, Helena Kay & Tori Freestone, plus the percussionist Katie Patterson.

To add to the arty coolness of it all, Gina Southgate was there, right behind us, painting the ensembles as they played:

Gina Southgate’s jazz art

Slightly to detract from the late-nighter coolness of it all, I was well tired after a weekend of outings and I’m back here again tomorrow, so I fired up my smart phone and pressed the “come and get me” buttons as soon as the gig ended, which slightly curtailed Janie’s chat with Gina Southgate.

Anyway, we’d had a great evening, which we rounded off with some smoked fishes, salad and wine back at the flat, before flaking.

The Alehouse, Bjarte Eike & Barokksolistene, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 29 October 2017

We liked the sound of this 17th Century alehouse music concert, described thus:

They will transform our candlelit space into something close to a 17th-century alehouse, with a menu of highly entertaining, touching and beautiful folk music.

So we awaited the concert with rapt attention:

Rapt attention considering the show hasn’t yet started
A Shakespearean pre-show double-selfie

In the first half Bjarte Eike explained the 17th century alehouse music phenomenon to us and demonstrated the fusion of serious and folk music through the material played – several pieces of Purcell for example. Some with Shakespearean themes to make us feel at home; Timon Of Athens, Midsummer Night’s Dream, you get the idea.

In truth, we found the first half of the concert far more to our taste than the second half. The first half had a bit of audience participation with a sea shanty and stuff, but the second half seemed to weird out completely, seeming more like a bawdy modern Gaelic cèilidh than a 17th century alehouse.

Of course this was never really meant to be a truly authentic depiction, but we felt the project must have run out of material that related to its purpose, or simply found that they could only get the audience going by playing more familiar stuff.

It just felt a bit gratuitously bawdy at times and bit of an ego trip for some of the performers to show off their favourite tricks.

Here is a link to the Shakespeare’s Globe page on the event we attended.

Below is a video of the performers taken recently.

This search term – click here – should tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about them, even if you have been afraid to ask.

I must say The Globe rather irritates us now. The bars and other audience facilities are very utilitarian and the bars always seem to have just run out of the thing you want. There’s something a bit amateurish and/or touristic about the whole set up; the prices are far from amateur.

But the setting is superb and was ideal for this concert – or at least what this concert was purported to be.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse; an ideal setting for Alehouse music

We enjoyed our evening but we won’t be rushing back, either to Barokksolistene or The Globe.