But this year, several key people were unavailable for the Middlesex v Surrey T20 fixture whereas, unusually, most people were available on 3 August for the Middlesex v Hampshire game.
Our Z/Yen contingent contained representatives from across the globe, ranging from “home of cricket” places such as India and Middlesex, through moderately-cricketing places such as Nepal to places where cricket is a rarity, such as the USA, Greece, Germany and Surrey. (I couldn’t help myself).
On this occasion, pretty much everyone got behind Middlesex (why not) although Linda, with her Southampton F.C. connection, felt torn between the two sides.
There was a good crowd at the match and a very jolly atmosphere. Unlike last year’s good close match, Middlesex, a depleted side by this stage of the tournament this year, didn’t put up much of a fight – click here for scorecard.
Possibly the most interesting moment on the field of play was towards the end, when a fox invaded the pitch. How it got through Lord’s security without a ticket and (worse) entered a hallowed part of Lord’s inappropriately attired is anybody’s guess.
But in many ways these outings are as much about being convivial team picnic outings as they are about the cricket. The weather smiled on us; a mixture of sun and clouds, but no rain. The Lord’s experience is always charming and special – and because we chose to come a bit later in the season than usual, Z/Yen people got to see Lord’s properly under lights when it got dark, which is differently special.
Brian Eno Singsong and Party, Brian’s Studio, Tuesday 13 December 2016
The first of my “three dos in four days” was at Brian Eno’s place – I have been invited to such dos on several occasions now, often but not always at this time of year. I have known Brian from the health club (BodyWorksWest, formerly known as Lambton Place) for quarter of a century or more.
The party is combined with Brian’s a capella choir gathering, allowing neophytes and bathroom singers like me to have an occasional go.
I thought I arrived in quite good time on this occasion, but the singing was well underway when I arrived; the regulars presumably having made a punctual early start.
The songs chosen were quite relentlessly morbid at first. There is usually a fair bit of spiritual blues material, but this set seemed especially bleak, with unfortunate folk being hanged for crimes they didn’t commit and all sorts. It wasn’t too difficult to pick up on the tunes quickly enough – I suppose that’s why they choose this material for the more open sing-song, but it didn’t feel much like party music at first.
The last couple of numbers were a bit more lively – not least All I Have To Do Is Dream at the end, sung in a doo-wap style. It helped me that I was standing next to a couple of very able, presumably professional singers, upon whose rhythms and harmonies I could latch. A few people afterwards asked me if I was a professional singer, but I’m sure they must have been hearing the sound emanating from those guys, not me.
Brian said that he couldn’t hear me this time, which is a good sign; presumably therefore an improvement on last time. But perhaps he also was deceived by my co-location with the professional-sounding guys.
Anyway, as on previous occasions, I also found the rest of the party great fun, meeting and chatting with several very interesting people. I also danced a bit to some excellent party mix music, well designed for the purpose (mostly 1970’s dance, with some earlier and later stuff thrown in).
I didn’t stick around until too late – I had a scheduled client call quite early the next day – so (as on every previous occasion) I missed the blood, guts, ambulances and police cars stage of the party. Brian subsequently told me that the emergency services stage failed to occur this time, to his intense disappointment.
Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner, Café Rouge Holborn, 15 December 2016
Since around the turn of the century, when fellow NewsRevue writer, Ivan Shakespeare, tragically keeled over and died while jogging, several of us have gathered a few times each year to keep in touch and reminisce about our NewsRevue days. Just before his death, Ivan e-mailed a few of us suggesting that we should regroup for that purpose, but never lived to see his idea to fruition.
Quite early in the life of this occasional gathering, it became part of our tradition to play a comedic quiz or two towards the end of the evening. I think it was John Random who initiated that idea, but several other people, occasionally contribute a quiz. Gerry Goddin latterly contributes a variant in which we all have to try to write jokes on suggested themes and Gerry allocates points (or deducts points) based on how well the jokes go down, his perception of each joke’s quality and/or Gerry’s authoritarian whim.
For the December gathering in 2002 (I’ll get around to Ogblogging it in the fullness of time no doubt) I went into a local tourist gimcrack store and bought the cheapest, tackiest piece of porcelain royal memorabilia I could find; then I emblazoned it with a legend declaring it to be the Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Trophy. Since 2002, that trophy has been played for earnestly each year. Nine different people have held the trophy over the years; I am proud to be able to state that I was the 2004 winner.
Anyway, it seems to be getting harder and harder to find a venue that operates flexibly enough for a rather haphazard bunch of former (and in some cases current) comedy writers to gather in mid December. Café Rouge Holborn has become the regular venue for the past few visits, but it seems they tried to impose a Christmas season “pre-ordering” regime on us, which was somewhat beyond the capabilities of John Random’s organising and our ability to be organised by anyone or anything.
So, half-a-dozen or so of us had pre-ordered and Café Rouge assumed that there would only be half-a-dozen of us (despite John booking the table for 10); which proved problematic once the eighth and especially ninth person showed up.
To be fair the staff tried their best in what seemed to be chaotic circumstances and did relocate us to a table for 10 quite quickly.
But poor Jonny Hurst ended up waiting for best part of an hour before any food was brought to him at all, at which point a starter and two main courses all turned up at once. I was half-hoping that Jonny would say, “do you know who I am? I’m Jonny Hurst, the chant laureate, that’s who”. Jonny might even have been forgiven for “doing a Jeremy Clarkson”…but Jonny is far too mild mannered and polite for any of that, even when he has a real hunger-on and everyone around him is tucking in. Respect.
Eventually we played the quizzes. Colin Stutt offered a small quiz to warm us up, but the main quiz, for the trophy, was a very imaginative effort from John Random which comprised 10 maps, each of which had a location marked with a year. We had to name the movie that was made in that year set in that place.
I was pleased with my 7 out of 11 (one map had two years and therefore two movies and two points) but Mark Keegan pipped a couple of us 7-istas with 8 out of 11 to claim the trophy yet again – his fourth victory in 15 years. Respect.
Gerry Goddin ended the evening with one of his joke-fest games with some especially harsh marking and the predictable result that Barry Grossman’s jokes pleased him more than anyone else’s – it is nearly always Barry who wins, very occasionally me.
A most enjoyable evening.
Z/Yen Group Christmas Lunch at Watermen’s Hall, 16 December 2016
For the first time in Z/Yen’s 23 Christmases, we decided to do Christmas lunch rather than dinner this year.
Linda and Michael conspired to find a five course extravaganza of a lunch at Watermen’s Hall, which seemed just the ticket in the circumstances. It’s a comparatively intimate and relaxed atmosphere for a guild’s hall; but now that Z/Yen is that much smaller, our group wouldn’t completely dominate the room.
But before exercising our lungs, we ate the following excellent five course meal, washed down with some fine wine and (for some, not me) port.
Z/Yen Group 2016 Christmas Lunch at Watermen’s Hall
(The Company of Watermen and Lightermen)
Torched mackerel, pickled and salt baked beetroot, horseradish crème fraiche
Smoked ham hock and chicken terrine, pickled apricots, watercress salad
Butter roasted Norfolk turkey, sage and apricot stuffing, bacon wrapped sausages, brussels sprout choucroute with chestnuts
Star anise poached pear, almond crumb, whipped clotted cream
Christmas pudding, brandy sauce
Michael kept me and Xueyi talking about GeoGnomo for a fair chunk of the meal, but otherwise we managed to steer clear of work chat.
Michael was also keen not to torture too many people with our song, but once there were only a few stragglers left (apart from we Z/Yen folk) we found a surprisingly receptive audience; indeed those Watermen and Lightermen joined in the singing with us, rounding off a fine afternoon.
♬ WATERMEN AND LIGHTERMEN AND Z/YEN ♬
(A seasonal song to the tune of ♬”Winter Wonderland”♬)
VERSES ONE AND TWO
Mackerel torched, beetroot pickled,
Ham terrine, we’ll be tickled;
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 turkey laced with trimmings,
We’ll tuck in to star anise poached pear;
Christmas pud as well, you must be kidding,
The brandy sauce could be a warning flare.
Head for home, very slothfully,
On the trail back to Lothbury;
Let’s hope that we scoff…ing walk our waists off;
Walking all the way from Watermen’s.
(RISING/ROUSING FINALE): Let’s hope walking makes us Lightermen!
As a Tate Modernista, Janie gets invited to previews and we are keen to take advantage of those when we are able. For that reason, we had booked out this particular afternoon, which also turned out to be the one date that worked for several Z/Yen alumni for a gathering.
It wasn’t complicated; we decided to combine both, making the timing of the Tate Modern visit fit nicely into that late afternoon slot.
It is an eclectic but fine collection; I very much enjoyed seeing the many Man Ray and André Kertész examples (I’ve long been a fan of theirs), but was also especially taken by the Dorothea Lange portraits, which I thought were especially good and with which I was not so familiar.
Then on to The Phoenix on Throgmorton Street, via the office. When we arrived, Linda was worried that it might just be we three, but I think she was just fretting a little because one or two people had to drop out at the last minute. Steph, Mary, Richard, Elisabeth and Christiano all turned up, which made a good size of group.
Janie and I didn’t stay all that long; Janie had booked early work for the next morning and was starting to struggle a little with a niggling abscess. So I took her home, cooked some pasta with one of Alistair Little’s ragus and put the wee bairn to bed early.
An early visit to the gym, then back to the flat to allow in Steve the window cleaner while I did my month end paperwork, cleared my e-mails and stuff. Then to the house to pick up Janie and off in the direction of Brighton.
A relatively event-free journey until we get very close to the Hotel Una indeed, when we hit gridlock on the sea front road. We can hear sirens and nothing moves for ages. In the end, we turn off the main strip and I drop Janie near the hotel, where she can walk one minute round the corner to Regency Square, while I can turn around and drive back out of town to the University to be sure I’m there on time.
The seminar is a rather academic-oriented affair organised by the Department of Philosophy, although I am one of three guest speakers from the world of commerce. We try to cover rather a lot of ethical ground in one afternoon, perhaps a little over-ambitious, but no-one seems to mind, especially once the wine and nibbles arrive.
I abstain from the wine but (having skipped lunch for a small snack before departure from London) indulge a little in the nibbles and some juice before making my excuses and heading back to the hotel.
Rather a rapid turn-around at the hotel, which made the luxury of the place seem somewhat surplus at that hour, but then we went round the corner to the Salt Room, where Sidney and Joan had already made a start on a bottle of very jolly Sauvignon Blanc.
It was lovely to see them both. Sidney had very kindly brought me as a gift a couple of his very beautiful old books on London. We chatted about all sorts of things, tried not to get too grumpy about politics and enjoyed a very good meal.
We didn’t have starters (except Joan who made a main course of two starters). Sidney and I both had a delicious skate wing dish, while Janie had partridge, which she described as lovely. Some good sides and some more of that Sauvignon Blanc. The maître d’ brought us some fish croquette balls to share while we waited for our mains, which was a nice touch. Our French waitress was delightful too.
Sidney and Joan shared a desert, as did Daisy and I. I also ordered some amazing chocolate pebbles which I remembered from the previous visit.
After dinner, we strolled round to the Hotel Una and showed Sidney and Joan the bar, the breakfast rooms and our bedroom. I demonstrated my ukulele skills; pleasent enough but rather a come down from our family’s profound talent with the violin, Sidney and I both felt.
The plan had been to get Sidney and Joan a cab from the hotel, but with a second wind they decided to stroll to the bus stop (we walked with them) as they live but one stop down the road.
I then buried my nose in the books Sidney had given me, until Janie reminded me how tired I must be.
I think it went OK. I said what I really feel AND they let all four of us panellists go after the hearing, rather than “taking us by boat to the Tower”, so by that criterion I think it went really well.
Back home to clear my backlog of messages and the like, then after a quick bite of lunch on to the other Lord’s to play real tennis. Perhaps liberated from the fear of noble shackles, I played well today, in contrast with the shocker I played yesterday.
I was due to have a jam with DJ this evening, but he deferred to another date as he is a little poorly. So I ended up having a quiet pasta supper and an early night – probably just as well as I was very tired and had another busy day lined up for tomorrow.
For several years now, it has been a Z/Yen tradition for a dozen or so of us to visit the Middlesex v Surrey T20 match at Lord’s. For several years, the tradition was also to witness Surrey thrashing Middlesex and for the assembled throng to try consoling me and Jez with “maybe next year” platitudes.
But last year, for the first time in yonks, Middlesex won the match. Better yet, this year Middlesex were sitting a bit higher in the table than Surrey ahead of the fixture, with both sides desperate for the points to help achieve knockout-stage qualification. A big game.
However, I had some difficulty persuading Xueyi to attempt watching cricket again. Her previous visit (two years ago) had left her cold in several respects; not least the chilly weather but also finding the cricket hard to fathom and finding the “M&S picnic nibbles” not quite to her taste. I suggested that I might take a trip to Chinatown and stock up with Cantonese bakery delicacies as the centrepiece of the picnic if that might persuade Xueyi to join us. She said it would.
I was working from home that day, so I chose to make my Chinatown hike reasonably early to be sure of a good stock of the day’s bakery delights. I googled to see if my old stomping ground was still top notch for this purpose and discovered that, indeed, Kowloon in Gerard Street is still highly regarded, especially for its massive cha siu baos and gai mei baos. I was introduced to that place in the late 1970’s/early 1980s when doing holiday jobs for Newman Harris in Cavendish Square; the Chinese Malaysian trainees and I used to make a lunch of those big tasty buns. It must be a good 25 years since I last went there, though.
On the way, I recalled that the place used to be cash only and made sure I had drawn enough money just in case. Indeed, the place was utterly unchanged including the hand-scribbled order ticket and the cash only payment desk. I went a bit mad buying lots of baos, plus some cha siu pastry ones and some sweet melon pastries too.
I called Xueyi to let her know that I had bought loads of food and also to ask her to let Linda know that we wouldn’t need much else for the hoards, but Xueyi clearly had other ideas, not least a fiendish plan to get some smaller delicacies from her favourite dim sum joint; Orient London. Like me, Xueyi went a bit mad getting loads of cha siu pastries (smaller than the Kowloon ones, but, frankly, much finer) and also some very juicy and delicious prawn spring rolls, which were surprisingly good cold. Also some Cantonese brisket beef slices.
In her fervour, Xueyi neglected to pass on my message to Linda, who went down to M&S and bought a fair selection of nibbles just in case my Chinese food idea didn’t go down well with everyone.
Anyway, to cut a long story short the Chinese delicacies went down very well with our team and there were plenty left to feed other spectators sitting near us and Linda had lots of M&S food to take home with her for the weekend.
Why were we there? Oh yes, a cricket match.
Barmy Kev came and sat near us but for some reason chose not to join us when invited. Perhaps he thought we might have designs on his bottle of wine (as if we didn’t have plenty of that too). But soon Kev realised that he had no corkscrew, so (not for the first time in my life and surely not for the last) begged the loan of a corkscrew from me and then demonstrated for about 5 minutes how very bad his screwing technique is for one so experienced as he – Kev’s MTWD write up, here, does not do his demonstrable incompetence justice. There was a big crowd cheer when he eventually withdrew the cork.
Meanwhile, Xueyi (from Nanjing, China) and Ashley (born in Jamaica but raised in the USA and therefore strangely aware of but not well versed in cricket) asked quite a lot of sensible questions about the game and then settled down to finding pokémons in the crowd, which they seemed to be able to do with little difficulty and much delight (see photo).
Marc (sitting next to me) tried to argue a social justice case for Surrey to win the match because Middlesex won last year; this was about as convincing to me as his “Brexit leave” arguments.
Regardless of whether they focus on the eating, drinking, pokémons and/or cricket, the Z/Yen team always seems to enjoy this outing. There was a record crowd for a domestic T20 cricket match in England that night 27,000+, so it seems that we’re far from the only bunch that finds these T20 evenings a fun and enticing proposition.
I know from my own years editing the Middlesex Till We Die (MTWD) website that one of the toughest jobs is getting enough articles for the winter. Sportnetwork require regular editorial material as the quid quo pro for providing their site and system.
So when I chatted with Barmy Kev in the autumn, explaining to him what Ogblog is about and offering him some ideas for pieces, the answer was, “I could do with some stuff for after Christmas”.
Unusually, I spent Thursday night at the house, as the kitchen ceiling at the flat was being done over the Thursday/Friday.
I spent a couple of hours first thing, working on my latest “why Brexit would be an act of collective commercial and geopolitical seppuku” article.
Then I set off by tube for a mixed day of peripatetic work and leisure. First stop; Lord’s for a game of real tennis. I thought I played well again today; perhaps starting to get my head round some of the tactics needed to win big points and close out games.
I didn’t hang around too long at Lord’s, as I wanted to visit Lock and Co. before meeting Chris Harrison for lunch. My beaten up old Chepstow trilby really had become an embarrassment and yet was still a favourite hat; I probably wanted a direct replacement. I tried a few different ones, but basically concluded that in the Chepstow “I look like me” so went for it.
About 150 yards down the road, as I was walking past St James’s Palace, I walked past two young American women, one of whom said to me (without pausing for breath in the middle of her conversational sentence with her friend), “I really like your hat”, which I felt endorsed my buying decision.
Another 150 yards towards Chris’s offices, I am crossing The Mall at the pelican crossing there and I see a cyclist, who has stopped for me at the lights, who looked the spitting image of Boris Johnson. On closer inspection, I realised that it WAS Boris. “You’ve made a really bad call to go for Brexit, Boris”, I said, “a shocking and dangerous decision. Think about the geopolitics of it. Think about the world”.
“No I haven’t, no it isn’t” mumbled Boris as we parted company. I wonder whether I made him think at all? I wonder whether he liked my hat?
A delightful lunch with Chris, at which I handed over his ticket for Friday at the test. A small family-run Italian place near his offices; I had a very tasty seafood pasta. Good strong coffee afterwards too. I had texted Janie to let her know that I had accosted Boris in the street, so she phoned to make sure that I wasn’t joking and/or hadn’t had a psychotic episode. Chris and I wondered why Boris was cycling away from the Commons at lunchtime and where he might have been going.
After lunch, a tube ride to Hammersmith and time to do a spot more on the Brexit paper before my one client meeting of the day, which went very well. Then a simple tube ride back to North Ealing, beating Janie back to the house by a good few minutes.
After clearing my e-mails, it was time for a little ukulele practice with Benjy the Baritone Ukulele, who thus photo-bombed the above picture of me sporting my new hat. Janie and I then enjoyed an unusually early Persian food supper from Boof, a very good local Persian place.
Ant Clifford and his Creative Stream Team have been partnered by a client with me and the Z/Yen team for an interesting piece of joint work. We’ll mostly be working remotely and indeed had already made virtual progress through Skype, but Ant and I wanted a bit more face-to-face time after the first actual meeting in London.
We hatched a plan to have an early evening meal between the meeting and Ant’s 19:55 train to Sheffield. I summarise the e-mail exchange that hatched the plan:
Ian: What sort of food do you like? I’ll muse a suitable venue once I know a bit more about your preferences.
Ant:I have no particular preference but love different experiences with food! Anything interesting is great!
…so much, so straightforward. A few ideas for dining without preconditions around the Bloomsbury/Euston/Kings Cross/Clerkenwell areas start formulating in my mind.
Ant: I’ve just realised that, with horror, I am on a gluten-free diet for 2 weeks for a…documentary! I realise that may reduce our options significantly!
Perfectly understandable, this; happens all the time. I often suddenly realise that someone is making a documentary about me and I’m sure most people cannot remember from one week to the next who is making what documentary about them upon which subject. It’s hard to keep track.
Ian: Indian food is a good bet for gluten–freemen – as long as they like Indian food. Here’s one near St Pancras, Indian Lounge, which I’ve been meaning to try as it has good reviews…
…I made a couple of other suggestions too…
Ant:That’s great – the Indian sounds awesome!
So, Indian Lounge it was to be. We had a really good meal, which I have reported on TripAdvisor here. We had a great chat about all manner of subjects, from Ant’s family and interesting collection of pets/livestock, to music, not least our shared interest in baritone ukuleles, although Ant is really an accomplished guitarist/musician rather than a hobbyist/tinkerer like myself.
When the food arrived, Ant took out a packet of white powder. “These creative types have become even more brazen as the years have gone on”, I thought to myself, trying not to look disapproving.
“The powder might or might not be gluten; it’s a double-blind trial,” said Ant, perhaps observing my expression, “shame to throw this powder all over such a nice dish. Would you mind filming me doing the sprinkling?” asked Ant. “Naturally”, I said.
The waiters seemed completely unperturbed by a diner sprinkling white powder all over their food, smiling and laughing, while another diner films the act. Perhaps it is commonplace in the Indian Lounge – we are in Kings Cross after all.
The meal was most enjoyable and the time passed quickly. A couple of times I said to Ant “keep an eye on the time”, then the third time I said, “I’m not trying to get rid of you, but there’s now only 12 minutes until your train.” Hurried goodbyes, a decision to do it again sometime and Ant dashes off for his train. Before I have even finished settling the account, I receive a reassuring text to let me know that Ant made his train just in time.
By the time Janie had waded through the materials from Kim’s very generous membership birthday gifts, which included membership of the Tate, she realised that she/we had missed the previews of this exhibition but there was still one members evening left, so we arranged to meet at the tate Modern early evening.
Then to the office for a few hours to clear some stuff before wandering over the (formerly wobbly) bridge to the Tate. It all felt a bit different, doing the members evening thing. As it was relatively late in the exhibition, this members evening was not so crowded and really did feel like an opportunity to see a popular show in quieter circumstances.
It wasn’t quite as much fun as the stub makes out. Some elements were really good fun, but there was also a lot of agitprop art and swathes of grim as well as swathes of lighthearted, colourful stuff. As usual, we were quite selective, spending longer in rooms that interested us and skimming stuff that did less for us.
Janie bought me a couple of really snazzy ties in the Tate Modern shop that evening; these weren’t directly connected with the show but did have a sort-of pop art look about them. I have had more positive comments about those ties than any others in my collection, but sadly the Tate modern subsequently seems to have fallen out of love with ties.