Against by Christopher Shinn, Almeida Theatre, 26 August 2017

Unfortunately, this one didn’t really do the business for us.

I said to Janie at the interval, “if this play manages to pull together all of its big and disparate themes in the second half, we’re in for one cracker of a second half.” I didn’t think it would. It didn’t.

Here is a link to the Almeida resource on the play/production.

Strangely, I don’t think we’d ever seen a Christopher Shinn play before. I say strangely, because he has had so many of his works performed at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, which we frequent a lot. Perhaps the subject matter has never appealed to us before.

This sounded interesting from the Almeida blurb and indeed it was interesting subject matter. Too much of it; violence in society, sexual politics, religion, workers’ increasing sense of powerlessness…

…but the performances were all very good. They seemed, to us, wasted on this play.

Tellingly, the Almeida resource does not link to reviews, so here are a few links:

To help rescue our evening, we ran into Jilly Black sitting, with a friend, a few rows behind us. We chatted with them after the show; indeed Janie dropped them at Baker Street giving us quite a bit of very pleasant post show chat time.

It is not very often that we bemoan the extra few minutes journey time to the Almeida; normally that place is well worth the extra few minutes each way, but this piece left us warm to the interesting topics but decidedly cold to the play,

A Long Weekend Catching Up With Long-standing Friends, 6 to 9 April 2017

It was no real coincidence that I worked up several pieces about parties of my youth by way of introducing Rohan Candappa’s guest piece last week. I was due to see the Alleyn’s crowd on the Thursday and several old youth club friends on the Saturday.

Thursday 6 April 2017

The Thursday evening was a semi-regular-style gathering of the old Alleyn’s clan in the City. John Eltham tends to organise it and who would have bet against Johnny being the “get together monitor” back in the school days? He wrote:

here is the plan:

7.00pm Walrus & Carpenter public house- 45 Monument Street

8.30pm wander a whole 10 yards to Rajasthan curry shop  ( our usual)

I pre-announced that I didn’t expect to get to the pub until 7:30/8:00 – as I had long-since arranged a game of real tennis early evening.

Fun, it was, playing doubles with my allocated doubles partner for this season’s doubles tournament – which will be my first go at the trophy – indeed at any physical sports trophy, since my glorious quarter-final fives victory against Johnny Eltham himself in 1975.

So I arrived at about 7:50 to be told by Mr David Wellbrook (who else) that I was late and needed to assume drinks monitor duties.

Fortunately (and quite naturally) it was John Eltham who was holding the float, to which I added my share and then three of us (Ollie Goodwin the kind third) shared the burden of getting the round in.  A small float of “poppadom money” survived the round.

Fifty billion here and fifty billion there soon adds up to real poppadom money

Early April but such glorious weather – we were gathered outside the Walrus and Carpenter enjoying the setting sun and getting a bit cooler, yet not cold.

Indeed it was quite close to 8:30 when Johnny remarked that it was starting to get a bit parky…nippy even…but in any case it was time to regroup in The Rajasthan.

That restaurant runs like a well-oiled machine. Long-used to getting unco-ordinated groups of city folk to gather themselves and place their orders – it all just sort-of happens in that restaurant and it is always a decent (if not exceptional) meal.

My eye was caught by Hariali chicken, which is minimally-described as “Cooked to Chef’s special recipe”. I asked the waiter, who mumbled, “curry-leaf, lemongrass, lots of herbs and spices, very very nice” and I was convinced. Most if not all the others at our table paid far less attention to the detail of their chosen dishes than that.

Most drank beer, but Ollie Goodwin, Lisa Pavlovsky, one other (was it Jerry Moore?) and I formed a small gang of four for white wine, specifically Nika Tiki Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Not the best I’ve ever had but a decent example; I’m sure Sir Nigel Godfrey would approve.

At my end of the table I was within chatting distance of Gavin Hamilton, Martin Brassell, Paul Driscoll, Ollie Goodwin, Jerry Moore, John Eltham and Mike Jones. Sadly I missed out on proper chat this time with Rohan Candappa, David Wellbrook, Lisa Pavlovsky, Steve “Peanut” Butterworth and the late Chris Grant. By “late”, I mean “arrived half way through the meal”. Not “deceased”, nor “arrived at 7:50, roughly the time I said I would arrive, Mr Wellbrook”.

As always it was a very pleasant evening indeed. What a treat to be able to take pre dinner drinks outside The Walrus and Carpenter.

Saturday 8 April 2017

Let’s gloss over the Friday, which I had intended to be a “do my own thing/get some blogging done” day but which turned in to a mostly work day. Bitty, stressy work at that, with a shocking game of real tennis thrown in mid-morning.

Saturday, the weather was truly glorious, although Janie and I weren’t really able to take full advantage of the weekend’s exceptional weather until the Sunday.

Still, it enabled us to start our evening with friends at the house in the garden terrace, which is a bonus in April and was a very pleasant way to start the evening. Our record for this feat is a mild 7 January evening with David and Steph – click here, but this April evening in the garden had the added benefit of enjoying light in the earlier stages of the evening and thus enjoying the sunset.

The guests were Jilly Black, Andrea Dean, Simon Jacobs and Wendy Robbins; all originally friends of mine from BBYO, i.e. going back to when we were teenagers. It is a testament to Janie that she gets on so well with all of them and likewise they have all taken Janie to their hearts.

It wasn’t long-planned as precisely this group of six, but we had wanted to invite Jilly for ages and she had particularly mentioned that she regretted not being able to see Andrea and Wendy at the party, which Jilly missed, last May.

Then, when I saw Simon in January, around the time we were setting this evening up, realising that he knows and likes all of these people, it seemed only sensible to ask him too.

It might seem a bit drawn out to some readers, inviting people in early January and setting a date for April, but by our (admittedly rather low) temporal standards, I think we got the gathering planned and implemented pretty quickly.

And everyone turned up.

Janie went to town with exotic nibbles; thai-style fish cakes, some flaky-pastry-meaty-parcels and a wonderful chicken liver pate on toasted french stick.

Between the nibbles and the main course I tried to pacify the guests with a few numbers on Benjy the Baritone Ukulele.

Andrea and Wendy, who are dear, dear friends of mine, appreciative of, but not experts on, music, declared that I have truly mastered the instrument. Jilly and Simon, who are also both dear, dear friends of mine, fine musicians to boot, were both clearly so moved by my performance that neither of them was able to add to Andrea and Wendy’s judgement. I think that says it all.

It did get a little chilly by the time we went inside. Some might even say “nippy” or “parky”. Anyway, inside we went.

The centrepiece of the meal was Janie’s signature beef with wasabi sauce dish, which works so well for gatherings of this size and which we knew would be novel to our guests. We’d have to eat it very often indeed to tire of it.

After the main course, chocolates, tropical fruits etc.

What did we talk about? All sorts.

Old times? – not all that much.

What people are up to now? – much more.

The difficulties involved in grown-up dating and some very funny anecdotes from some around the table reminded me and Janie of the film Through the Wall, which we saw in December – click here.

Less Trump/Brexit talk than usual these days – which was a blessed relief really.

Wendy told us the story of her recent visit to Downing Street, which really needs to be an episode of a sit-com, rather than an after dinner anecdote.

It was really nice to see everyone and (cliche alert) the evening flew by.

We could do nibbles on the patio again this evening, Sunday – the weather remains glorious. As I write, the sun is still streaming in through the window of my little man cave here in Noddyland.

Nibbles in the Noddyland Garden. Janie took the picture so once again she isn’t in it!

Postscript

While I was posting this piece, Simon Jacobs uploaded a couple of tracks from his forthcoming album. It was possibly one of those Brian Wilson/Lennon-McCartney creative tension moments after hearing my exquisite baritone ukulele playing last night. As Simon himself says on Facebook:

After 3 decades of procrastination, I’ve finally recorded some of my own songs – and now the first two of them are on YouTube (one of them even has a video!)
So please take a listen, subscribe, share with your friends and post your comments… Then, sometime in the summer I’ll release a whole album through the usual channels, tour the world and then of course there’ll be the drugs and the groupies, the breakdown and rehab, the bizarre plastic surgery, the invitation to be an X Factor judge – all the usual humiliations.

Ogblog readers might well enjoy one or both of these tracks:

Dinner With Jilly Black At Barshu, 11 March 2015

After Jilly’s super party back in January – reported here – I wanted an opportunity to return her hospitality and also to catch up properly; it’s never sensibly possible to do that with the host of a party at the party itself.

So we arranged to meet for dinner a few weeks later, settling on Barshu.  Jilly’s always liked my taste in oriental food and I thought top notch Sichuan food might be novel to Jilly and make a change for me.

Jilly left it a bit late to respond to a few choices I put to her:

You’ve guessed correctly. I think I’d prefer Chinatown rather than City, and the Sichuan does sound intriguing, but if it’s that good, I understand that it may be already booked.

It wasn’t already booked so I booked it.

The e-mail trail also informs me that Jilly was running a little late:

If you get this message, forgive me, I’ll be a little late. Running time of No 55 somewhat/entirely misjudged…?

I like the penguin.

I think I got some reading done while waiting and I don’t remember waiting all that long.

We talked about all sorts of things, but of course a major topic was the parent situation; all past tense in my case, some past and much still tense in Jilly’s.

The evening flew by, like it does, very pleasurably. The food was excellent; it always is in Barshu.

Jilly and I agreed it had been too long since we last had a meal and a chat. We agreed not to leave it so long again next time; which we won’t, but still we’ve left it longer than we’d ideally have liked. That’s what grown-up life does to us all.

 

Jilly Black’s 50th Party, 18 January 2015

Jilly inferred informality but some semblance of dress sense in her invitation, which was a non-electronic thing that came through the post in October but is now gone – hence my inability to state exactly where the party took place…

…update!! Jilly has subsequently sent me a copy of the invitation and some photos, so here is the invitation with the venue details, while I have subtly redacted Jilly’s personal contact details with a picture of Jilly:

I responded in October by e-mail:

Jilly

I think your invitation infers that we’d need to be out of our minds to say yes, but we are quite crazy so we are coming to your party anyway.

Many thanks for inviting us and looking forward to seeing you on the day.

Lots of love

Ian (& pp Janie)

PS I’ll need to invest in a pair of gardening jeans in order genuinely to abstain from coming to the party in same.

Here is Jilly’s response to my response. I should make clear that I am not Jilly’s uncle, but Jilly has called me uncle pretty much since I met her, when I was about 16 and she was about 14:

Dear Uncle,

I was fairly confident you were mad enough to come when inviting you, so really glad I didn’t get that completely wrong, and that you are indeed coming. Excellent news.

You could also just wear any pear of jeans but sit in a muddy field in them beforehand (there are a few close to the hall) if you wanted that kind of look, but could you just let the mud dry before you arrive?

Marvellous.

Look forward to seeing you.

Me xxx

Janie and I ended up sitting at table with several BBYO alumni, not least Sue Jacobs (Simon Jacob’s sister), who sat next to us and was excellent company. We talked cricket a lot, not least because one of Sue’s daughters is very keen. We also sat with some other people we hadn’t met before, who were also very good company. One or two of those people I think we had sort-of met before at one of Jilly’s house parties, but we got to know them better this time.

I’m sure Janie isn’t normally out of focus – she must have been violently agreeing with Sue, nodding her head at great speed…
…Sue, by contrast, looking very focused…
…while Jilly looks very happy, as well she should have done, hosting such a super party. Many thanks to Jilly for these pictures

It was also good to see Jilly’s sister Caroline (known to me as Frog) again. Also Jilly’s mum, who sadly has dementia now but is able to disguise it for a while.

It was less than a fortnight since my mum died and only a few days after the funeral, but actually it wouldn’t have occurred to me to miss this party. Indeed, from my point of view it proved to be a real tonic and Jilly seemed to be having a wonderful time with so many of her good friends around her in one go. It was a really jolly event, held in a rather quaint village hall, with a very informal atmosphere and lots of nice people.

Update: Jilly has now kindly added details, such as exactly where the party was held, otherwise that type of detail might easily have got lost in the mists of Ogbloggy-foggy-time.

Jilly is also questioning some of my above details, such as exactly how old we must have been when we first met, but that is subject matter for further discussion and future Ogblog postings!

To Moro, To Moro…, Dinner With Jilly Black And Friends, 15 January 2014

I have found an unfeasibly long trail of messages on Facebook messenger between me and Jilly simply to arrange for me and Janie to join Jilly and friends at Moro in Exmouth Market for Jilly’s sort-of birthday thing.

Not a big thing like her 2015 do – click here.

But still a thing.

It had been quite a while since I’d last seen Jilly, for no apparent reason other than general busyness, mutual social laziness and dates/lives not coinciding.

I have always liked Moro – click here – but hadn’t eaten there for some time, life not really taking me to Clerkenwell all that much now. I think it might have been a first time for Janie. North African Spanish fusion was bound to be her taste and indeed was.

Jilly’s friends are reliably good company and this occasion was no exception.

Janie and I very much enjoyed the evening, as did Jilly, by all accounts.