In any case, herring didn’t form part of the Noddyland meal, which comprised smoked salmon nibbles followed by Janie’s (Daisy’s) famous wasabi beef fillet dish and finally danish apple cake. We hadn’t seen Jacquie and Hils for over a year; it was great to see them again and have a chance to reciprocate Jacquie’s warm hospitality.
As usual, Daisy had massively over-catered, so I was able to lunch on some left over beef, sauce and potatoes couple of times during the week, including Thursday…
…which was probably just as well, given the tardiness of the Cafe Rogues meal in Holborn that evening, at the comedy writers Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner.
To add insult to indigestion, four of us were served our deserts some 30 minutes after everyone else. Jonny escaped this time, but I was caught twice – along with Jasmine, Barry and John for the lengthy dessert desert.
Still, everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Nine of us gathered this time; me, John Random, Jonny Hurst, Jasmine Birtles, Colin Stutt, Hugh Rycroft, Gerry Goddin, Mark Keagan and Barry Grossman.
With Jasmine’s crackers, we played our regular Christmas game of trying to work out the feed line from the punchline of the corny cracker jokes…with limited success this year as the jokes were so corny. Examples:
A. A monkey burp.
Q. What’s silent and smells of banana?
A. Mrs Sippi
Q. Who is the most famous married woman in America?
But John had doctored his crackers with moral maze dilemmas to replace the corny jokes. Example:
Q. What do you get if you cross a sheep with a kangaroo?
A. A series of far-reaching ethical questions that go to the very heart of modern genetics.
Tut tut if you read that question and thought the answer was, “a wooly jumper”.
Traditional quizzing after dessert…or in the case of the four of us sorely neglected souls…during the dessert.
Colin Stutt again did a warm up game, taking the best jokes from the fringe for the last few years and seeing if we could remember the punchlines or construct good/better punchlines ourselves. I reckon I did a reasonable job on 10-12 out of 30 of them, actually knowing the answer to only a couple.
Mark, the holder of the Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Trophy, naturally led the main event quiz. I’m usually in with a chance when Mark writes the quiz but so are one or two other people. In a close run contest this year:
I scored an impressive but ultimately inadequate 55…I coulda been a contender but all I got was a one-way ticket to Palooka-ville;
Jonny Hurst stormed through to take the trophy with a breathtaking 58.
Yes, the place was ridiculously noisy. Yes, the service was poor, except when it was terrible. But at Christmastime, almost everywhere is thus. These Ivan Shakespeare gatherings of good old friends are always lively, witty evenings that make me happy; that is the bit that really matters.
NewsRevue goes back all the way to 1979. When the show turned 25, in 2004, it was awarded the Guinness World Record for being the World’s Longest Running Live Comedy Show. I was there. I’d been there since 1992. This year my involvement with the show turns 25.
Earlier this week, coincidentally, I played real tennis with Chris Stanton (another NewsRevue alum, in his case a performer) at Lord’s. Chris was reminiscing with me about the show, not least because he was rummaging through his old files and found many complete runs of scripts from “our era”, which he was planning to shred. I think John Random might rescue them for posterity.
Chris then gave me a pretty-much word perfect rendering of Brian Jordan’s wonderful Arthur Scargill song, to the tune of My Guy. As John Random later reminisced:
He may not be to everyone’s liking/But as a union leader, he’s striking.
Hearing about Brian Jordan reminded me of my first big hit; The Ultimate Love Song, which Brian made his own for a while and took to Edinburgh (my material’s debut there) in his show “Whoops Vicar Is That Your Dick?” I am so proud to have had my Edinburgh debut in a show with that name.
After seeing Chris, I looked at my file and realised that The Ultimate Love Song turns 25 this week; I copyrighted it 29 February 1992…so perhaps it turns six-and-a-quarter. Anyway, it seemed right to mention it at the Ivan Shakespeare and I was badgered into giving a quick rendering, as much as I could remember.
Mark Keagan was at the Ivan Shakespeare dinner; he’s one of the more regular attendees. He mentioned that his father-in-law and former home secretary, David Waddington, sadly passed away last week. Which reminded me that I did once write a song with a verse about Waddington; again nearly 25 years ago. We all (Mark included) agreed that the song might come in handy for him over the coming weeks…well you never know…so I have upped that one too. Happy Tories it is called – also about Maggie Thatcher and Chris Patten – click here.
Gerry Goddin and John both produced quizzes. Gerry’s was infernal as usual; I did well at first but tailed off at the end, letting Barry Grossman take the honours at the line. John’s was suitably silly and superficial for my mood – a small collection of “shock and awe” pun headlines to unfathom. Perhaps naturally, I won that quiz.
As always it was good to see the gang – a slightly depleted gathering this time but at least when that happens you get a chance to have a proper chat with everyone.
I define daytime television as programmes that are designed for a daytime audience and regularly, probably exclusively, broadcast during normal working hours. Catching up on TV news while I am at the gym or following cricket matches during the day through the TV don’t count as daytime television by this definition.
So, in the five years 2012 to 2016, I guess I had watched daytime television twice.
The first instance was around 2012 or 2013. Hugh Rycroft, one of my old writer friends from NewsRevue, who now devises quiz-based game shows, mentioned to me at one of our Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinners back then, that he had devised a new show, Tipping Point, a daytime quiz, being broadcast on ITV.
“I’ll take a look at that”, I said, meaning it. “I don’t think Tipping Point is your sort of quiz show”, said Hugh, meaning it.
I looked up the timing of the show and resolved to watch it the next time I was at the gym in the afternoon at that hour. Thus I took a look at Tipping Point, as promised. Hugh was right; it’s not my sort of quiz show. The conceit of the show is a facsimile of a coin pusher arcade machine, for which contestants win tokens to play and from which they get (or fail to get) prizes.
My second instance of watching daytime TV in recent years was Bargain Hunt in 2014, when Z/Yen’s practice manager, Linda Cook together with her friend and Z/Yen alumna Marie Logan, appeared on the show. We wrote this big moment up for the Now and Z/Yen blog – click here. As it happens, this programme’s momentous first broadcast was on a Friday when I had no meetings, so I actually watched the programme when it was first shown.
I don’t think Bargain Hunt is my type of programme either, although it was great to see people I knew so well on that show.
But let’s be honest, whether or not these programmes are my kind of show is rather beside the point. They must be a lot of people’s kind of show, because they are phenomenally successful. According to Wikipedia at the time of writing (January 2017):
Tipping Point had 10 series and 508 episodes (at 6 January 2017);
Bargain Hunt had 39 series and 1264 episodes (22 January 2016 figures).
“I’ll take a look at that”, I said, meaning it. Indeed, I intended to watch it on that Bank Holiday Monday.
Come Tuesday evening, after finishing work, I was pondering my evening (probably planning to do some Ogblogging), when it occurred to me that I had clean forgotten to watch Impossible; indeed I hadn’t even set the vid to record it.
But these days, what used to be impossible (seeing a programme despite such neglect) is now more than possible, thanks to iPlayer.
Thus I spent a chunk of Tuesday evening watching daytime television.
The conceit of the show Impossible is that all the quiz questions are constructed to have three rather than two types of answer: correct, incorrect or impossible. Impossible answers fail some aspect of logic in the question. For example, the name of a British film star would be an impossible answer to a question starting, “which American film star…” Impossible answers get contestants eliminated or make them lose their accumulated winnings, adding an additional dimension of pressure to a time pressure-based quiz.
Surprisingly, I rather like Impossible. As I said to Hugh in a congratulatory e-mail:
…I liked it and enjoyed watching it far more than I can ever remember enjoying watching such a programme.
The format is clever without being too clever. I am tempted to watch it again…
Hugh seemed pleased with this note and even suggested that he plans to use the phrase “clever without being too clever” in his elevator pitches henceforward; which surely means that I get a significant share of the (presumably substantial) earnings from successful “clever without being too clever” programmes, for ever.
Joking apart, my fear, though, is that the very fact that I liked Impossible might be the kiss of death for it. I don’t suppose I am a barometer for successful daytime TV shows; I might be an anti-barometer for them.
Indeed, on reflection, I’m not sure that Hugh should want his shows to be “clever without being too clever” at all. The phrase reminds me of Spike Jones’s explanation for why his hugely talented comedy orchestra was not more successful:
“We’re too sophisticated for corny people and too corny for sophisticated people.”
Still, I am rooting for the TV show Impossible. I sincerely hope it gets the hundreds or thousands of episodes it deserves.
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!
When Alex Ferguson coined the term “squeaky bum time” he was probably referring to a brief period, perhaps several minutes, while a really tight, crucial (in his case, football) game unfolds.
In Middlesex’s case at the end of the 2016 county championship season, squeaky bum time lasted several days during the last match; arguably several weeks during the last few matches. Personally, I was fortunate enough to take in a good deal of that squeaky last quarter of Middlesex’s county championship:
a fair chunk of the final match, at Lord’s against Yorkshire, covered below.
Tuesday 20 September
Charles (Charley “The Gent” Malloy) Bartlett joined me for the first day’s play; a more or less traditional meet for a day of the last Lord’s match of the season. Janie was to join us later in the day and all three of us were to attend the sponsors’ evening that night. Janie was hoping that Dot would join us too, but she really doesn’t care much for the longer form or that sort of party, apparently.
Chas let me know that he was running a little late, but I soldiered on as planned to ensure that I was on death row before the start of play, securing a couple of good seats. We stuck to those excellent seats all day, much against the better judgement of our aching backs and limbs. I made a scaled down version of Chas’s favourite picnic, with smoked Alaskan salmon bagels as the centrepiece. We went dry during the hours of play, as Chas had a medical appointment the next day. Shame, as I had tracked down his favourite Villa Wolf Riesling.
Middlesex had been inserted under leaden skies and I thought did pretty well to avert disaster. Nick Gubbins in particular batted like the emerging star he undoubtedly is, surviving the day.
Janie (Daisy) turned up a few minutes after tea, but only got to see 10 or 12 overs before it got gloomy, so an hour or so of play was lost to bad light. Many eyes were on the Somerset match (the third team still in contention for the trophy), which initially had looked like it was going the maximum points route for Somerset until they collapsed late in the day.
After watching some of the interviews on the outfield…
…we sauntered over to the party, which was a very jolly wine and cheese affair. Ryan Higgins, who was our sponsored player this year, took the trouble to seek us out and chatted with us quite a bit. I also got a chance to chat with quite a few of the regular Middlesex folk, all of whom seemed to be feeling as squeaky as me. Surprise surprise.
Wednesday 21 September
I don’t know what sort of idiot organised a Z/Yen Board meeting and lunch on such a crucial day of the County Championship. I tried to keep an eye on the score discreetly and as many brain cells as possible focused on the business at hand.
When I finally got away, soon after three, I guessed that I’d catch most of the last session, as the weather/light looked much better today. So it proved. I enjoyed that two hours or so in the Committee Room. Middlesex had taken several early wickets, but were finding it increasingly hard to take more. I witnessed a couple that evening and/but we were all hoping for more. The game seemed poised at stumps, perhaps starting to tilt Yorkshire’s way. Somerset were on the way to a 23 point win, so Yorkshire would need to score 350 or more runs in their first innings to stay in the hunt.
I walked home and made a light supper of smoked trout, prawns and salad. One or more of the prawns sought revenge overnight; more leaky than squeaky…with hives thrown in. Yuk.
Thursday 22 September
I thought best to rest off my condition in the morning, getting some work out of the way gently while following the match from home. I was due to play tennis at 14:00.
The morning went worse for Middlesex than the night had gone for my guts; Yorkshire edging towards that 350. I set off for Lord’s during the luncheon interval, intending to watch for about half an hour before changing for tennis. Yorkshire continued edging towards that 350 mark as I watched from the Upper Allen.
I needed to change – surely it would be on the TV in the dressing room anyway. It was. My opponent was also interested. With the score tantalisingly poised at 349/9 both of us left the dressing room with some reluctance. I wasn’t even sure whether I wanted Yorkshire to score that extra run or not. Earlier in the day, of course, I had hoped for them to subside below Middlesex’s score of 270. But now they had gone that far past, it seemed Middlesex’s only chance of a win would be for Yorkshire to still be in the hunt needing to chase runs on the last day.
We had plenty of time to think about it. Soon after we started playing tennis, we heard rain on the roof and soon quite a crowd gathered in the dedans gallery. “Is the score still 349/9?” I asked. Several people nodded.
Our tennis must have been quite stunningly excellent, as most of our crowd sat in stoney silence throughout the hour. I spotted Ed Griffiths in the dedans gallery too, although mercifully he seemed more interested in his conversation than observing the finer details of my sporting talent.
We came off the court to see (on the TV) that the score was still 349/9 and that play had just resumed. Ryan Sidebottom duly hit the run that kept Yorkshire in the hunt and then helped take them yet further beyond the Middlesex score.
I was feeling quite drained, so decided to walk/tube it home and catch the end of the play on the TV. I ran into Angela Broad on the tube, so I was able to show her in actual use the marvellous tennis racket bag she handed down to me when I took up real tennis.
Closing the day just two wickets down and getting closer to parity, I felt that the final day could still turn out to be a corker, as long as Middlesex were to bat well in the morning.
I had a rest, then went out again to Holborn for an Ivan Shakespeare Memorial dinner with the old NewsRevue crowd. Only about half-a-dozen of us this time, but great to meet up as always. I decided to stay dry and eat a simple, chicken meal. A very light, cautious supper by Ivan Shakespeare Dinner standards. I probably looked and seemed both peaky and distracted. I was.
Friday 23 September
What a day.
I was scheduled to play tennis at 10:00. I made a bit of a mess of getting away in timely fashion and the tube wasn’t at its best that morning, so I jumped in a cab at Edgware Road and cabbed it the last mile to be sure not to be rushing.
Now in good time, I had a chat with Joe on reception, who was quite gloomy about Middlesex’s prospects and seemed surprised that I really thought we still had a reasonable chance, albeit an outside one.
I played a really good game of tennis today; my opponent (whom I had played a few times before) correspondingly had a poor match; we’ll rematch soon I’m sure, as we now play level and it is normally a very good match when you play people whose handicap is level (or all-but level) with one’s own.
Anyway, after changing, I felt like superman and went to try and find a seat on death row for a while. I spotted Westy, who was able to make room for me, just about, with thanks also to the very pleasent vicar from Skipton who also made space for me and interesting conversation with me.
Westy pressed me to join him and others in the Committee Room just before lunch; due to the match position they had (uncharacteristically for the last day) ordered a heap of lunches and probably now had fewer takers than lunches.
So, I quite unexpectedly enjoyed a splendid Committee Dining Room lunch. We saw Messrs Gale and Franklin in conversation outside the doors of those official dining rooms; clearly keen to make sure that any negotiations they were undertaking were visible and reported to the authorities.
We had a grandstand view of the large crowd perambulating before we sat down:
Very pleasant company at lunch, both Yorkshire and Middlesex. Then an opportunity to see some cracking good cricket from that wonderful vantage point, just above the away dressing room. What an honour and privilege on such an auspicious day :
Then the declaration bowling, then an early tea with the season set up as a 240/40 run chase. If Yorkshire got the runs, they would be county champions, if Middlesex bowled them out, Middlesex would be champions, if the game ended as a draw (the light might have seen to that) then Somerset would be champions.
Perhaps a final 150 minutes or so of squeakiness ahead of us.
We returned to the Committee Room itself to watch events unfold from there.
I had texted Janie about 14:00 to suggest that she leg it to Lord’s. She demurred, something about banking her cheques. I tried to persuade her that just occasionally there are more important things in life than doing one’s bankings.
Events unfolded. Middlesex seemed to be chipping away at the wickets, but we knew as the ball got older it would be harder to force wickets. Still, the consensus among the Middlesex folk was that the declaration had been very generous; among the Yorkshire folk that it had been mean and very challenging. I entertained the possibility, in those circumstances, that the captains might pretty much have got it right.
After what seemed like hours while still four down, I decided to take a strategic “leg stretch” and was delighted to hear a massive cheer just as I came up the stairs to return through the Long Room to the Committee Room; Tim Bresnan was out LBW. “Why didn’t you go earlier?”, asked one Middlesex notable. “Go again”, suggested another.
I started to get occasional texts from Janie saying she was on her way, looking for somewhere to park etc.
Then the flurry of wickets to end the season. I knew Middlesex had taken three wickets in three balls at the very end (Finn, then two for Roland-Jones) but none of us at the time realised that the denouement was also a hat trick for Toby Roland-Jones.
In any case, we were in a euphoric state. Celebrations on the outfield. Players coming through the Long Room to uproarious applause and cheers. Players going back out again.
Janie turned up, took some photos and joined in the celebrations.
It’s a bit difficult to explain how this all felt and feels. I’ve left it nearly a week before writing up this piece, but there’s no sense of distance from the extraordinary events yet in my mind. As much as anything else, we have the end of season lunch (tomorrow at the time of writing) and members’ forum (Monday) to look forward to, so it still feels alive.
Then back to the reality of trying to see through the Middlesex strategy and build that medium to long term future for the club. Success should, of course, make some aspects of the strategy easier to implement, as long as we can avoid the complacency that sometimes comes with success. I think we have a good chance of going from strength to strength; there are enough wise heads around and the club seems hungry for more success.
For pity’s sake, Ged, live in the now for once. What a day. What a week. What a month. What a season.
A first time for the Ivan Shakespeare memorial dinner crowd at a new venue, which seems at the time of writing (January 2017) to be our gathering’s new home. John Random circulated us a couple of weeks before:
In response to popular request I have taken the decision to change the venue to the Cafe Rouge at 77 Kingsway.
I’m pretty sure we were still going to the now defunct Café Rouge in Maida Vale the previous autumn and I missed the 2014 Christmas bash, which had been a bit shambolic by all accounts, ending up in Pizza Express Charlotte Street.
This February evening was therefore my one and only visit to that Pizza Express.
My post evening note to John Random was the following:
Good to see you and the gang last night.
Many thanks for that wonderful-looking bottle of wine. Extremely generous of you and quite unnecessary.
Janie and I will save it for a special occasion and enjoy it then…unless the Bulgarian merlot runs out and we need an emergency bottle in a hurry.
John, knowing little about wine, grabbed a rather long-in-the-tooth bottle of Bulgarian Merlot from his home and brought it for that 5 February evening at my house. We all agreed that the bottle was undrinkable and offered the bottle’s contents to the kitchen sink drain gods.
Being John, he wrote me an own-liver-eating e-mail the next day, also agonising about the fact that he didn’t know that my mum had recently died until some way into the evening.
I responded, amongst other stuff 6 February, specifically on the Bulgarian Merlot:
It was good to see you and do stop fretting about the wine. But on that note, I do recommend the film Sideways, if you haven’t seen it, a very funny sort of road movie about an introverted wine snob on a California wine tour with his extrovert actor mate. The wine snob has an irrational thing against the Merlot grape, btw, which happens to have been the grape variety in your Bulgarian curiosity.
So, again being John, he brought me a rather splendid bottle of wine when we met at the Pizza Express for the Ivan Shakespeare 19 February.
The only other matters of note, which emerge from John’s post evening messages, are:
Gerry did the quiz;
John approved of Pizza Express, but the venue did get moved the next time. That might have been down to Tottenham Court Road Central Line closure more than the venue itself;
We all recorded birthday messages for Laurie, John and Jenny’s son, just ahead of his 15th birthday, which Laurie apparently appreciated very much.
Always good fun, Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinners.
Just like to extend a heartfelt thanks to all those who came to the 32nd Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner – actually I don’t know if it is the 32nd but we’ve been doing an average of four a year since the year 2000, so it sounds plausible. Those of you who weren’t there, whether in Africa, America, Ireland or some oil-producing nation such as Harpenden you were all sadly missed, You missed a great quiz from Gerry, and the surprise (and welcome) re-appearance of John Cowen. Special guest Neil Watson brought a touch of class to the proceedings.