I DID Want To Go To Chelsea, Gresham Society Visit To Chelsea Physic Garden, then The Other Side Of Hope, Curzon Chelsea, 30 May 2017

When Tim Connell sent round a circular announcing a visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden, I knew immediately that the visit would be a special treat for Janie and guessed that Linda Cook would also be very interested. I was less sure about Michael and Elisabeth; as it turned out Michael was keen.

Janie was very keen and had not yet booked in any patients for that day, so we basically decided to make it a date and took the day off.

A hot date in the Chelsea Physic Garden

There were 25 to 30 of us in the Gresham Society party, I believe. The weather was very kind to us; occasionally the clouds looked a bit iffy, but there was also some sun and certainly no rain.

The Original Sloane Ranger In His Garden

We got split into two groups; our guide was Anne, who seemed very well informed and proved to be good company.

To my mind, the best plant in the garden was Catharanthus roseus (Madagascan or Rosy periwinkle), which yields natural remedies for childhood leukaemia, increasing survival rates by orders of magnitude. Yet the most popular plant amongst our cynical, Gresham Society group seemed to be Veratrum viride (Indian Poke), which induces profuse vomiting and which some native American tribes use to choose their leader; on a “last candidate to throw up” basis. Going back to traditional, natural methods is sometimes a very good idea.

Janie asked Anne zillions of questions, many of which seemed to me to be more about the poisonous, nasty plants, rather than the medicinal, nice ones. Even more worryingly, I thought I heard Janie ask a few of times, “would you be able to taste this if you added it to food?” Perhaps I am mistaken about that. But when we visited the bookshop before leaving, Janie bought a small book on medicinal plants and a larger book on the poisonous ones. I think I’ll eat out for a while.

We enjoyed a spot of lunch/high tea at the Tangerine Dream cafe within the garden, which made for a very convivial conclusion to the outing. We always enjoy spending time with the Gresham Society crowd.

By the time Janie had concluded her book shopping, I thought we might be running a bit late for the movies, but I had sort-of forgotten that the car journey from the Chelsea Physic Garden to the Curzon Chelsea was a very short one.

So we had time to book Janie’s birthday treat (a preview of the new V&A wing) before stepping in to The Other Side Of Hope. We thought this was a great movie – very interesting, at times amusing, at times shocking. It is about a Syrian refugee who lands-up seeking asylum and then working as an illegal in Helsinki.

Here’s a trailer:

Highly recommended.

Then we went back to the flat to round off our very enjoyable day with a dinner of delicious leftovers from the weekend and salad. I prepared it all, not allowing Janie anywhere near the kitchen today, she had done her bit over the weekend.  Continue reading I DID Want To Go To Chelsea, Gresham Society Visit To Chelsea Physic Garden, then The Other Side Of Hope, Curzon Chelsea, 30 May 2017

The Handmaiden, Curzon Bloomsbury, 30 April 2017

So many people told us that we should see The Handmaiden, we eventually put our reservations to one side and made a reservation to see it.

We had previously pencilled in Sunday 30 April for Sense of an Ending, but having taken in a showing along with a Julian Barnes Q&A the week before, it made sense to see The Handmaiden that day.

The Handmaiden is explained, trailed and  emblazoned with cool photos on IMDb – well worth a click-through. Then you needn’t bother to sit through nearly 3 hours of film.

The Handmaiden is everything we were told it would be, hence our reservations about it. Beautifully shot with exquisite settings, absolutely no problem with that aspect.

But the film is extremely long for the relatively straightforward thriller plot (just a few twists and turns) and fairly predictable ending.

The female leads are both very beautiful and the soft pornish love scenes between the two of them are all in the best possible taste, as a well-known arbiter of such matters used to put it.

The torture scene towards the end, which we knew to expect, simply had me looking away from the screen for a few minutes.

We both found the whole experience a bit disappointing, but at least we can now tell people that we’ve seen it, which makes them stop lecturing us on how we would definitely love that movie.

On leaving the movie theatre, I checked the cricket score and it looked as though Middlesex had bowled themselves into a position where they were likely to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Gloucestershire.

So we diverted to Lord’s on the way home and watched the last 90 minutes of the match from the President’s Box (temporary Middlesex Room), witnessing Middlesex then snatch defeat from the jaws of the victory that had early looked like the jaws of defeat.

Here’s the scorecard.

So that was two cringe-making torture scenes in one afternoon; the second of which panned out far more slowly than the first and it would have been a bit peculiar to have looked away from the field of play for the whole of the last hour.

We ran into Brian and Judy as we were leaving, so at least we had a pleasant chat with friends before departing the day’s second torture scene.

Letters From Baghdad Followed By Panel Discussion, Curzon Soho, 27 April 2017

Janie and I were particularly keen to see the movie Letters From Baghdad – click here for IMDb listing – and were motivated to put this Thursday evening aside as there was to be a panel discussion, organised by the producers Bird’s Eye View,  after the film’s showing at the Curzon Soho.

18:25 in Soho is a bit early for us mid-week and seemingly was a bit early for everyone else – while we made it on time there seemed to be no rush to start the showing on time.

Still, what that did mean was that we did have time for a drink before the show and ended up chatting with one of the panellists, Joan Porter MacIver, who heads the British Institute For The Study of Iraq, aka The Gertrude Bell Memorial. In truth, by far the most interesting aspect of the panel discussion for us was the chat we had with Joan before the showing.

The film itself was fascinating. Gertrude Bell was a most unusual woman for her era and was hugely influential in early 20th century Arabia as the Ottoman Empire collapsed and The Great War settlement came into play. The movie is basically dramatised letters and archive papers by and about Gertrude Bell.

The panel discussion was a bit of an anti-climax. Mia Bays from Bird’s Eye View hosted the discussion. The other panellists were Joan Porter MacIver (which made perfect sense) and Paul Hilder, for reasons which seemed hard to fathom at the time and in retrospect…seem equally hard to fathom. Hilder seems to be a self-appointed doyen of “new politics” and did, in 2005, co-author a paper on the Iraqi liberation, although this last fact was not mentioned during the discussion.

Each panellist asked a very open question about the film’s topic and the audience were asked to comment or ask supplementary questions of the panellists. I remember very little of what was said, other than the very obvious points about the male-dominated society in which Gertrude Bell operated more or less omitting her from the historical record for decades after she died.

Still, we were pleased to have seen the fascinating film and would have wondered about the panel discussion had we not attended that night. But we won’t be rushing to panel discussions in future unless we know the panellists and/or the nature of the proposed discussion ahead of time.

Janie (no Gertrude Bell), trying to endear herself to the locals in Palmyra, 1997.

The Sense Of An Ending, Movie Showing And Julian Barnes Discussion, Tricycle, 23 April 2017

We’d provisionally planned to go and see The Sense Of An Ending movie the following weekend, but on Tuesday I received an e-mail from The Tricycle promoting this film and discussion Sunday afternoon event.

“What do you think?”, I texted Daisy. “Go for it”, she texted back.

I had read The Sense Of An Ending soon after it came out – my signed hardcover merely boasting that it had been shortlisted for the Man Booker. Indeed Janie recalls me reading it on holiday in Vietnam – February 2012.

I thought I owed it to myself and to Julian to read the book again before Sunday. Indeed, I found it such an easy read second time around I was done by Wednesday morning.

Available in all good bookshops as well as clicking through to Amazon on the above image

Come Sunday, after tennis and a quick snack lunch, off we went to Kilburn to the Tricycle.

First up, the film – see IMDb details on the movie here.

Both of us really liked the film. I’d heard so much about the film being different from the book, I was actually surprised at how close the film stuck to the main story. Yes, there were some film-specific subplots such as the Webster daughter having a baby and some business around Tony Webster having a little camera shop like a 20-teenies version of my dad’s emporium:

Dad’s shop – a bit bigger, a bit more old-fashioned

Anyway, after the film there was a short break to set up for the discussion. Daisy and I popped to the bar to get a glass-of to share and ran into Julian Barnes himself chatting with the interviewer. It all felt rather local/folksy/book-festivalish.

The audience seemed a well-informed bunch on the whole and most of the questions were pretty sensible. I got mine in early – about the significance of the Severn Bore imagery in the book and how Julian felt about its absence from the film. He answered both parts of the question masterfully.

One rather silly woman said she didn’t think she’d read the book but on seeing the film thought the book ought to be titled The Sense Of A Beginning instead of The Sense Of An Ending. Julian Barnes patiently explained one or two of the differences between the film and the book, then gently stated that he thought the title of the book was ideal.

Janie and I both felt that Julian Barnes came across very nicely, speaking with great eloquence and insight about the book/film. It was a great opportunity for us to see a movie and hear Julian Barnes talk about it at such a convenient time and location.

How lucky we are to be able to take advantage of such opportunities.

The Eagle Huntress, Curzon Bloomsbury, 1 January 2017

If only I could hold sway over Dumbo-pan (above) and Daisy-pan, the way that Aishol-pan the Eagle Huntress can control her horse and eagle.

Our original plan had been to see this movie on Boxing Day, but the excesses of Christmas Day – click here – encouraged us to defer the visit.

The next convenient slot for us was New Year’s Day itself. I didn’t book the tickets in advance of the day – that would have been tempting fate. But our restful Twixtmas and New Year’s Eve – click here – meant that we were fit as fleas and raring to go to the movies.

So, early morning, before being thrashed on the tennis court by Janie- click here for that Twixtmas link again, I logged on to the Curzon site to grab the best seats. After all, who books for afternoon showings of movies that far ahead? Turns out, quite a lot of people do for New Year’s Day; there were not all that many seats left. I grabbed two good ones in the middle of the penultimate row, having missed out on our favourite double seats at the very back.

We went in my car, Dumbo (above), or Dumbo-pan as I was calling him by the end of the outing. It was bucketing down with rain that afternoon.

In the downstairs lobby we immediately run into George Littlejohn and his good lady. I have known George since 1994 when we met, for reasons that will only be explained to you if you click here, at the 1994 inaugural Accountancy Awards. Janie and I have bumped into the Littlejohns at cultural events before, not least a grim evening at Pains of Youth in 2009 (grim by virtue of the show, absolutely not grim because we met the Littlejohns) – click here.

Anyway, it turns out that George is precisely the sort of person who books his cinema tickets earlier than sparrowfart on the day of the viewing – he’d booked their seats the evening before. Naturally, George had booked “our” favourite double seats. This sorry tale disproves the adage that the early bird always catches the worm. The early bird only catches the worm if the late bird hadn’t caught that worm the night before.

Which brings me neatly back to the subject of birds hunting for live prey. i.e. the film, The Eagle Huntress; that’s why we were all at the cinema.

The Eagle Huntress is about an ethnic Kazakh girl in Mongolia, Aishol-pan, who has an extraordinary aptitude for and love of eagle hunting, the traditional (male) sporting/lifestyle/survival activity of her tribe.

There is a good IMDb entry for this movie explaining it all, so why should I replicate or  try to improve on it? – click here.

It turns out that George has been in Kazakhstan recently, helping to get a new financial centre properly established there. He showed me a picture of himself trying on a Kazakh hat; a spectacular-looking piece that apparently comprises several dead animals, which George  (wisely) declined to purchase. I showed George a selfie (shown below) sporting my comparatively modest-looking but animal free Vermont from Locke & Co.

Despite appearances to the contrary, no animal suffered in the taking of this selfie.

Anyway, we all enjoyed the film very much. Some of the sequences seem a little set up, such as the snippets of old eagle hunters complaining that eagle hunting is not suitable activity for a girl. The music was more blockbuster than art-house movie style.

But you’ll probably forgive this film its attempts to commercialise the story, because it is a true story and it does show a truly remarkable talent in a young girl and the setting is simply stunning. At times it seemed anathema to be hearing Daisy Ridley’s dulcet tones narrating, because those types of wildlife and landscape scenes have to be narrated by David Attenborough. Isn’t there a law about that?…there should be.

I don’t often implore people to “go see a movie”, but this one really is 90 minutes or so well spent. This is not the sort of film that I would choose to see on reading what it is about, so I’m really glad that Janie (Daisy-pan) nagged me into seeing this wonderful, life-affirming movie.

Mercifully the rain was relenting when we left the cinema and waved goodbye to the Littlejohns. I tried calling “Dumbo-pan” and “Daisy-pan”, but I have no sway over the untameable. Probably just as well.

Through The Wall, Curzon Bloomsbury, 23 December 2016

We really liked this movie. Here’s a link to its IMDb resource. Janie and I both heard a Radio 4 interview with the director, Rama Burshtein and thought we liked the sound of it. 

When we learnt that it was on at the Curzon Bloomsbury at a suitable time on the Friday evening before Christmas…no brainer!

Basically, it is a simple rom com story, set in an Haredi Jewish community in Israel.

An unconventional yet ultra orthodox young woman who runs a travelling petting zoo for children, after being jilted by her fiancée, decides to set up a wedding day and hope for a groom to appear by the deadline. Given her track record of matchmaker-arranged dates with Haredim, the new strategy seems no less likely to work than the more conventional approach.

It’s quite a long film given its slight plot, but it is utterly charming, quirky, laugh-out-loud funny in parts and very watchable throughout. Janie was mesmerised by it, not least the “beautiful looking people/eye candy in the movie”.

We were blessed with a delightful Muslim family, three generations at least, taking up the whole row in front of us. (Well, we weren’t going to get Orthodox Jews on a Friday evening).

This family seemed to be enjoying the film enormously – one lady from the group shouted out at the screen a couple of times to very amusing effect. We chatted with the whole family afterwards, agreeing that we had all enjoyed the film; youngsters and oldsters of various creeds alike.

Janie had pre-set a wonderful spread of rillettes and cheeses at the house to round off our week/evening in excellent style.

I, Daniel Blake, Gate Picturehouse, 23 October 2016

Superb movie, this.  I, Daniel Blake – click here for IMDb entry.

Janie and I had both been tracking this one for a few weeks. Our original plan was to see it at the Curzon, but the nifty timing of 15:20 at The Gate, together with the chance to pop in to the flat afterwards to pick up one or two things, won it for the Gate Picturehouse.

What we didn’t know when we bought the tickets online was that the heating in the Gate had broken down, making the experience doubly bleak.

I mean, you don’t go to a Ken Loach film for heartwarming, do you? You go for bleak. Still, you don’t actually need to feel physically cold and experience personal suffering to empathise with victims of our country’s heartless benefits system, in chilly Newcastle.

So, Janie and I suffered for our art, but it was worth it.

The movie especially highlights how inflexible our state bureaucratic systems are, so if you fall foul of them or make a mistake or have a mistake made about you when you are in an especially vulnerable position, matters can spiral out of control and out of hand so easily.

It also highlights how very dispossessed are those people who do not have ready access to on-line facilities and/or do not have the skills to use information systems.

Ken Loach has previous at highlighting big social issues and making things happen about them; Cathy Come Home being perhaps the most memorable example. I hope there is a reaction and some social change on the back of I, Daniel Blake.

Not as relentlessly grim as some Ken Loach films, as there were glimpses of humanity throughout the film. The kindly job centre employee being reprimanded by her boss for trying to help Daniel…”I’ve told you before, it might set a precedent…” was especially chilling. A scene at a food bank was heartbreaking.

I don’t often implore people to see stuff, but this really is one of those films that ought to be seen by as many people as possible. The film is also an excellent piece of drama. Go see it.

Julieta, Curzon Mayfair, 10 September 2016

After my first international representative appearance for the MCC against the visiting Australians at Lord’s, Janie and I went on to the Curzon Mayfair to see the new Almodóvar movie, Julieta.

We thought it was an absolutely excellent movie; interesting story, beautiful cinematography, fine acting, the lot.

If you want to know all about it, here is the IMDb entry for the movie.

It has received very good reviews on the whole:

I guess Almodóvar movies aren’t everyone’s style, but when he’s on form we love his movies. This one was just the ticket for us that evening, rounding off a thoroughly enjoyable day.


Meet the Patels, Curzon Bloomsbury, 2 January 2016

You could be forgiven for assuming that we spend half our lives at the cinema (indeed the Curzon Bloomsbury) if you simply look at the recent posts on this blog.  Four of the last five things we have done being visits to movies at that place.

In reality, we haven’t tended to go to the movies all that much, but over the festive season we usually go at least a couple of times.  Not least, to catch up on the handful of art house films to our taste that come out over the autumn which we don’t get around to seeing until Christmastime.

The difference this year is that the new Curzon Bloomsbury really is specialising in such films and is very convenient for us to visit at holiday time.

This movie, Meet The Patels, is well documented on IMDb (and indeed elsewhere) so really doesn’t need our two-penneth. Suffice it to say that you learn more about ethnic arranged marriages/parental pressures and the like in 90 minutes than most people in the west get to experience in a lifetime. It is a heart-warming and genuinely funny movie.  Just what Janie and I needed towards the end of another traumatic “mother in hospital over the festive season” variety.

Could next year be a hat trick of those for us?  Who knows, but for 90 minutes we could laugh and cry with the young Patel siblings and their parentally-challenged search for love. Highly recommended.

Listen To Me Marlon, Curzon Bloomsbury, 1 January 2016

We’re back at the Curzon Bloomsbury again today, our first cinema visit of the year and I am now a proud member of the Curzon for 2016. I would have saved a bob or two had I joined before we started this season’s film feast.  Never mind.

This documentary is well explained on IMDb, so I won’t repeat the stuff that is so comprehensively reported there.  Suffice it to say that this film is long but fascinating throughout and well worth seeing.

Janie and I both subscribe to the camp that believes Brando to have been a fine actor. We neither of us realised how many lemons he made along with the great performances. We also didn’t realise quite what a mess he made of his life, despite (or perhaps because of) the fame and riches. He did support and work hard for many good causes, however, which is always a redeeming feature in our eyes.