If It Ain’t Baroque…Don’t Fix It, A Day Out With John Random, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich,18 January 2018

John Random sits on the “Sounding Board” for the Old Royal Naval College. I’m not entirely sure what that means…

…I’m not sure John is entirely sure…

…but one thing it does mean at the moment is that John has the right occasionally to take a guest to tour the Painted Hall Ceiling.

This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the ceiling of the extraordinary painted hall up close and personal, while scaffolding is up as the ceiling is being conserved.

How could I possibly say no when John offered me such a tour?

John dons a hi-viz vest and a hard hat

John went the whole hog, safety-dress-wise, whereas I, on learning that the hard hat was voluntary, declined the offer to wear one of those.

We were part of a small group, led my the intrepid Martina; a young, pint-sized Italian woman who seemed to know an awful lot about the ceiling.

Meet William and Mary

We are very much in the baroque period for the painted hall and ceiling. We are also steeped in the politics of the Glorious Revolution. So William and Mary take centre stage and sectarian symbolism abounds.

Symbolic characters…not the sectarian ones I am glad to say…I should have listened & memorised…River Thames & London I think…

To be honest, the detail was a bit much for me, but the awe-inspiring opportunity to see this extraordinary work up close and learn about the conservation project was extremely interesting and memorable.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit while there is still time – still several months at the time of writing this – I suggest you do it sooner rather than later.

It was a sunny winter’s day, so after the tour we strolled a bit and I especially wanted to see the chapel, where I had attended at least one concert in the past.

Scrubs up nicely, that chapel

The chapel looked especially splendid in the sunlight – I hadn’t seen it on such a day before – plus it had clearly been through a clean up and refurb of its own since my last visit, perhaps 25 years ago.

As an aside, John Random seems to specialise in memorable days in Greenwich – my previous visit to the place, 20+ years ago, was with Janie to meet John and Jenny on an unforgettable day – click here or below:

Lunch With John Random And Jenny Mill In Greenwich, “The Day That Princess Diana Died”, 31 August 1997

John and I pondered whether any royals had (or would) die on the day of this Painted Hall visit. We decided that, if the worst did happen, we really should abandon any future plans to meet in Greenwich.

Next stop, lunch. John said he’d never tried an eel pie place before, so we chanced our luck in such a traditional place – Goddards – click here. The fact that John doesn’t much like mash and had never tried eel before did not daunt him:

John looks very happy with his grub

I personally am keen on eel, although usually in the smoked form…

…indeed as soon as I have finished writing this piece I shall sup on smoked eel and salad…

…so let me press on.

John found the eel a bit difficult to navigate, because the stewed eel served alongside the pie has the bone still in. I told John that I seemed to be managing the geography of the eel pieces better than him, which he found a curious turn of phrase.

I was reminded of Charley the Gent’s nerve-wracking encounter with my smoked eel at Lord’s in September 2015 – written up for King Cricket – click here or below...goodness knows what Chas would have made of it if I hadn’t carefully filleted the smoked eel for him:

Middlesex v Yorkshire at Lord’s – day one match report

Anyway, John and I both found the eel pie shop food a little bland – not least the meat in the pie and the parsley sauce – indeed the eel was far and away the tastiest element.

We thought we might enjoy some tea/coffee elsewhere more than we’d enjoy it in the eel pie house, so we went around the corner to Red Door Cafe – a quirky place which was very much to my taste.

The proprietor, William, played a very interesting and eclectic mixture of music, ranging from Leonard Cohen to Arvo Pärt.

Red Door served a very good cup of coffee and also had an intriguing collection of teas…I sampled the white which was very nice. John tried some cake which he said was also very good. I’d certainly go to that cafe again like a shot.

John and I chatted until we realised that hours had gone by in this jovial fashion, but we both really did need to get on and do some other things before the end of the day.

A very memorable and very enjoyable few hours.

An Amazing Week Of Grazing And Moral Mazing, 1 to 7 December 2017

It’s a cracker

It’s December, so of course the eating and drinking goes into overdrive.

Starting on the very first day of December; lunch with Michael Mainelli, Brendan May and John Lloyd at the Guildhall. Great to catch up with those guys, it brought back to my mind a quite interesting 2003 evening in a TV studio with Brendan and John – now Ogblogged – click here.

The next day, cousins Jacquie and Hilary Briegal came to Noddyland for a late lunch that morphed into early evening. Jacquie couldn’t resist bringing some of her famous chopped herring for us, although, as any fule no, chopped herring cannot take part in “herring of the year” contests, which in any case have to be held at Jacquie’s place – click here for the most recent example.

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.

I reported last year on the ruthless efficiency with which the venue forced us to pre-order and the chaos and long waits that nevertheless ensued. Last year, it was Jonny Hurst who took the brunt of the tardiness, waiting about an hour longer than everyone else for his main course. This year, Jonny was again such a victim, but I too was one of the chosen people for this indignity. Perhaps we weren’t served a full hour later than everyone else, but surely at least half an hour later.

I suppose you can chat, drink and even be ruined while you wait for food

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.

Jasmine and John brought crackers. John Random’s were very special; he had doctored some real crackers, emblazoning them with a picture of Michael Buerk and describing them as Moral Maze crackers.

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”.

Jasmine and John pulled…
…which left Jasmine grappling with a tricky moral dilemma.

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:

Mark had bubble-wrapped the trophy for safe-keeping…
…let’s hope that Jonny also treats the magnificent artefact with the respect it deserves.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll just provide one picture-based clue:

Pears-Pairs-Bagels

Real tennis was the winner, along with conviviality.

Class Of ’92 Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner, Café Rouge Holborn, 5 October 2017

Partly inspired by my chance encounter 18 months ago (and subsequent re-encounters) with Chris Stanton at the real tennis court at Lord’s

…partly inspired by the fact that many of us who gather for these Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinners have been hanging around NewsRevue now for 25 years…

…John Random decided to theme this get together around the notion “Class of ’92”.

I didn’t realise that John had actually persuaded Chris Stanton to come along this time, which was a very pleasant surprise. Chris brought a couple of ringbinder files with scripts from his 1992 runs, including the late Spring run, directed by John Random, in which I (or rather, my material) made its NewsRevue debut:

Seeing those files, it made me realise what a challenging job it must be for performers to do NewsRevue. The sheer volume of scripts, the mixture of sketches and songs, the changes to the show every week…

…Chris showed me one running order, for example, in which there was an unbroken sequence of fourteen or fifteen pieces in which he appeared.

John Random brought along a photo album which had lots of photos of NewsRevue types…even one of me and Janie from our very early days together…most people in the room were represented by at least one photo.

Mark Keagan was there, as was Barry Grossman, Nick R Thomas, Colin Stutt and Gerry Goddin, the latter of whom produced a particularly fiendish version of his “quiz” game and tortured us with it at the end of the evening.

Prior to this evening, when chatting at Lord’s, Chris Stanton had been threatening to have a bonfire of his old scripts. Part of my purpose was to help John Random to rescue this treasure trove for posterity. But by the end of this evening, Chris explained that he did not want to part with his scripts and had no intention of destroying them.

On the way home, my song “Coppers are Dressed as Hippies” popped into my head, as did the notion that I too have a ringbinder file at home with correspondence and one or two old running orders and programmes.

In the morning, I copied/wrote up “coppers” (click link here or above) and found a running order, programme and writers’ newsletter from Paula Tappenden’s summer run; the run that followed the John Random/Chris Stanton one.

In some ways, I thought, I had blooped by not bringing those artefacts to the evening. But in other ways, it seems more fitting that I use Ogblog as a medium, following up on the Class of ’92 evening, to circulate copies of my 1992 artefacts, shown below:

  • the programme for that Paula Tappenden run (late June through August 1992);
  • the running order from week four (late July 1992);
  • John Random’s unusually short writers’ newsletter w/e 31 July 1992…who was your visitor from Idaho, John? Do tell.

Postscript. In response to my request for details on the mystery visitor from Idaho, I received the following beautifully-crafted missive from John Random a week or so later:

…the friend from Idaho was my former flatmate Janet.

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t spend the whole of 1986 simply writing down everything she ever said. Here was comedy gold, narrative gold right under my nose and I didn’t recognize it for what it was.

Without ever trying to be funny, without even KNOWING she was being funny, Janet contrived to be one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. This was chiefly because everyone she’d ever known was either barking mad or the victim of some cruel yet ludicrous twist of Fate.

I recall she had a pioneer ancestor who was run over by the very train that brought his family out West to join him. Apparently, he had started the celebrations a little too early and was a little too merry by the time the train pulled in.

Not that this should be taken as meaning she was catty or scabrous. On the contrary, she was a big motherly woman of the sort you might get if you crossed Jenni Murray with Claire Rayner.

Sadly, Janet’s not much of a writer, so I have very few letters of hers, and she seldom even e-mails. However, she recently broke a seven-year silence indicating that she might be coming over in a week or two. I do hope so.

In my grateful reply to John, I described Janet’s interruption to his newsletter writing that week as John’s “person from Porlock” moment.

My own offerings from that Paula Tappenden Week Four are all now up on Ogblog, btw, all clickable below:

If anyone wants a better quality copy of the artefacts, just message me and they can be whizzing your way in next to no time.

Ultimate Love and Happy Tories, Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner, Café Rouge Holborn, 3 March 2017

NewsRevue’s 2004 Guinness World Record for being the World’s Longest Running Live Comedy Show – Gerry Goddin far left, Barry Grossman back left, a wide-eyed me front right

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.

Those of us who wrote for the show in the 1990s still gather a few times a year for Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinners.

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.

I have now upped The Ultimate Love Song in its entirety – together with the tale of its early use – here’s the link again.

Here is a link to Ben Murphy’s rendering of The Ultimate Love Song from 1993.

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.

Below is a picture of John Random and Mark Keagan from the previous Ivan Shakespeare dinner.

Mark was awarded the 2016 trophy, but should he have been? Rumour has it that John might have been handed the wrong envelope…

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.

A Miscellaneous, Mostly Middlesex, Day At Lord’s, 7 April 2016

I’m using some of my own time to help Middlesex CCC with its strategic planning. Richard Goatley, the new Chief Executive thought that AGM day would be a good opportunity to see lots of people, so I blocked out the whole day for Lord’s, starting there at 9:30, after clearing my e-mails and going to the gym.

I could describe the detailed conversations that morning with the MCC and ECB, but they are probably covered by the “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you” protocol. (Unless you, dear reader, are Richard Goatley himself, in which case you wouldn’t need to read it here because you already have notes.)

After a pleasant lunch in The Lord’s Tavern, which Richard spent mostly signing forms for Dawid Malan, we met with Martin Hadland. Martin is doing a closely related piece of work around membership satisfaction and finding ways to boost membership. We went through the results of a members survey and discussed his impending focus groups with members. It all looks very well done so far and promises interesting ideas for improving the membership propositions.

I then had a pesky 90 minutes or so interval before the AGM. I had been expecting that interval, so had brought some reading matter with me. I went to the real tennis dedans viewing gallery. I shall eventually write up my new experience of learning to play real tennis. Suffice it to say here that I thought that I’d both get some reading done and also get my head into the game a little more.

I watched some very good players locked into a tight match. Then, just before 17:00, in walks a familiar face; Chris Stanton. He was in John Random’s Spring 1992 NewsRevue cast and was the lead performer on the first songs of mine that were ever performed there, two of which I have today blogged in honour of the chance encounter:

Chris and I had a very pleasant but brief chat, as his opponent turned up shortly after. I watched Chris play for a while, then left the viewing gallery to whizz through my e-mails before going to the meeting. Strangely, John Random had e-mailed one of his “Where Are They Now” messages to his NewsRevue alumni circle earlier in the day (Sarah Moyle spotted on the TV), so I e-mailed back to let everyone know that I had just seen Chris Stanton face-to-face!

Doubly ironic happenings, as real tennis is such a weird game, the rules could easily have emanated from a John Random sketch describing a fictitious game of John’s imagining. Richard Goatley doesn’t even believe that the game exists, despite the proximity of the Lord’s real tennis court to Richard’s office – like, next door!

I subsequently received the following missive from Random:

What a great idea. Real tennis is presumably the one where you don’t use the same prescriptions as Maria Sharapova.

 

My reply:

Absolutely not the same meds as Maria – she took Meldonium.  The performance enhancing drug of choice for real tennis is Sanatogen.

As a novice, I am sometimes asked to play with some of the more senior members – one pair I was up against when learning doubles had a combined age of around 178 and they are determined to still be playing next year as the world’s first ever nonagenarian tennis pair. Their secret simply has to be Sanatogen.

Next stop, the AGM. The formal part is covered by the aforementioned “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you” protocol. Believe me, the substance of a Middlesex AGM is not worth dying for, nor even worth the effort to attend were it not for the subsequent elements to the evening.

Suffice it to say that new Chair, Mike O’Farrell, while not as funny as outgoing Chair, Ian Lovett, ran a tight ship for the AGM, getting through the meeting with all business thoroughly covered and in record time. One type of gem replacing another type of gem in the chair; that’s my view.

The AGM is always followed by a very interesting pre-season forum; this year Angus Fraser, Dawid Malan and Richard Scott joined Richard Goatley on the panel for a very interesting discussion about cricket. Apparently Middlesex is a cricket club. I wish I’d realised that when I started work on the Middlesex strategy. Oh well.

Then a very enjoyable party for those members willing to stump up an ayrton for wine, cheese and a convivial opportunity to catch up with friends, grandees and friendly grandees. After the party, the conviviality was set to continue in the Tavern. Tired, I attempted to make my apologies, keen not to become both tired AND emotional. I explained that the metaphorical umpire’s finger had been raised, so I had no option but to go. It is very hard for cricket lovers to object to you going, when you put it like that.

A fruitful day, a lovely chance encounter and a most enjoyable evening.

 

Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner, Café Rouge Holborn, 4 June 2015

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 have explained the background to Ivan Shakespeare memorial dinners sufficiently elsewhere – e.g. click here and look at the second of the three events.

I don’t remember a great deal about this June 2015 gathering in particular. After the event John wrote:

I believe I speak for all when I say that the new venue (Cafe Rouge, Kingsway) was well-liked, so all being well, we’ll be going there again some time in the early autumn…

…I would also like to thank Gerry, Mark and Colin for their quizzes.

A three quiz evening. That’s big.

 

Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner, Pizza Express Charlotte Street , 19 February 2015

I think I have explained the background to Ivan Shakespeare memorial dinners sufficiently elsewhere – e.g. click here and look at the second of the three events.

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:

John

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.

With very best wishes

Ian

It reminds me that there was another curiosity about the John Random/Rohan Candappa evening a couple of weeks before – click here.

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.

Lunch At Harry Morgan With Richard Goatley, Dinner At Mine With John Random and Rohan Candappa, 5 February 2015

Things were different back then, I realise at the time of writing (January 2017).

For a start, Harry Morgan was on the list of places I definitely wanted to eat, rather than (as now) a place that has gone downhill but still is my last local source of Jewish-style chicken soup and chopped liver, both of which they still do reasonably well.

Secondly, meeting up with Richard for lunch back then was simply a general catch up and chat during the cricket off-season. Richard was Deputy Chief Executive of Middlesex then and little did any of us know that he would find himself in the hot/top seat just a few months later. It’s hard to recall what we discussed; probably some aspects of the team and the clever new commercial arrangements with the MCC, which seemed to me (still seem to me) hugely beneficial for both clubs.

Update:

I now realise that the above lunch was postponed and took place on 12 March before dinner with John White – click here.

I had considered buying some “Jew food” for John and Rohan, but thought that twice in one day might be a bit much for me…and possibly that once in one day might be a bit much for them. Chopped liver is a wonderful, heart-warming dish for the initiated but can seem like a rather crude pate to the uninitiated.

So, even before Richard cancelled, I planned instead to serve them food from Tavola, Alistair “Big Al DeLarge” Little’s splendid deli. I guess I went on my way home from the gym, buying enough tempting Italian dishes, making the meal extremely quick and simple to prepare (once Al and his team have done almost all the hard work).

I know John Random from comedy writing at NewsRevue, i.e. since I was in my late twenties. I know Rohan Candappa from Alleyn’s – i.e. since I was eleven. They are both very good, very funny writers. Both are at stages of their lives/careers where the writing has taken a bit of a back seat, perhaps for too long, while providing for themselves and their families comes to the fore.

I simply thought that these two ought to know each other, without any particular agenda or ideas about why they should or what they might do about it. I also thought that it would be a pleasant evening for the three of us.

It was.

I especially recall one bit of the conversation when Rohan and I reminisced briefly about a big sporty lad at school known as Jumbo Jennings. Seemed able to turn his hand to any sport. Terrifyingly quick and bouncy bowling, I especially remember. Fiendish fives player too. John remarked that they didn’t have schools like Alleyn’s in Hartlepool, but he had always imagined that nicknames such as “Jumbo Jennings” were more the stuff of fiction than reality.

I should have instantly retorted that I’d always imagined that disappearing acts like that of John Darwin, the Hartlepool Canoe Man, were more the stuff of fiction than reality, until that fraud was exposed and we learned that John Random’s cousin was the subject of that proto fake news story.

I’m getting my witty retort in nearly two years late, aren’t I?

There was also some business with John’s bottle of Bulgarian Merlot, which I have documented in my Ivan Shakespeare note from a couple of weeks later – click here. 

Lunch With John Random And Jenny Mill In Greenwich, “The Day That Princess Diana Died”, 31 August 1997

I remember this day very clearly, although I am sure there are many details the others can add. It would be super if John and Jenny were to chime in with their recollections.

Janie and I had arranged to meet John Random (a fellow NewsRevue writer) and his partner, Jenny Mill, in the Trafalgar Tavern for lunch. I suspect that plan was hatched when we gathered at the Canal Cafe a few weeks earlier – click here.

Janie and I had planned to take public transport to the north side of the embankment on the Isle of Dogs and walk the Greenwich Foot Tunnel – I think it had recently reopened after refurbishment back then.

But while we were preparing to go out, the phone rang. It was my mum. My mum never used to ring on a Sunday morning – she would almost always wait for me to ring her.

Mum sounded distressed.

“It’s so awful, a tragedy,” mum said, through tears of anguish.

I thought something must have happened to my dad or some other close relative/friend.

“What’s happened, Mum?”, I asked. “Try to gather yourself and speak slowly.”

“What do you mean, ‘what’s happened’? You must know what’s happened. I know you don’t care much for the royal family…”

“…Mum, we’re going out shortly, we haven’t seen the papers or switched on the TV or radio this morning; just tell me what’s happened.”

Mum told me. Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed had died in a car crash overnight.

I told Janie.

Janie turned on the TV.

Time passed.

We set off for Greenwich much later than we’d intended – so the idea of using public transport and a stroll through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel went out of the window.

Plan B was to revert to the Janie norm – we got into the car and drove to Greenwich. By the time we found somewhere to park (we hadn’t thought about that bit)…eventually finding a place near the market but some way from the Trafalgar…then walked from the parking place to the Trafalgar…we were quite late.

John and Jenny were neither fazed nor surprised that we were a bit late in the circumstances.

I remember John and I bemoaning the fact that a rich seam of our topical comedy for NewsRevue had died in that car crash along with the victims of the tragedy. We also had one of those, “when, if ever, will we be able to make Princess Diana jokes again?” conversations.

We had a very good lunch and talked about much else besides the day’s news.

I recall the four of us having a bit of a stroll after lunch.

After we parted company with John and Jenny, Janie and I wandered around Greenwich market for a while, as the car was parked near there and we were in no rush to get home.

I remember buying a dozen or so CDs that afternoon, more or less doubling the size of my CD collection. I had only bought a CD player for the first time a year or so earlier. Being a reel-to-reel and records dude, I was wicked-late to CDs. I bought mostly sixties compilations that day, plus a few iconic albums; Pet Sounds (Beach Boys), Gift From A Flower To A Garden (Donovan) and The Harder They Come (Jimmy Cliff and others) to name but three.

I remember saying at the time (1997) that my previous visit to Greenwich was with my parents and must have been about 20 years earlier, but I was surprised and chuffed when I looked it up this morning (31 August 2017) and realised that my previous visit was exactly 20 years earlier; 31 August 1977. I have written up that mini break with my parents mostly as a photo piece – click here.

No pictures from the day that Princess Diana died, but here is one from the 1977 set. I couldn’t possibly have imagined what I’d be up to 20 years later, let alone 40 years later, when the following picture was taken.

Time Traveller. Me at the Greenwich meridian line 31 August 1977