Birthday Dinner With John and Mandy At Chelsea Physic Garden, 29 August 2017

There was a time when John White and I (together with Mandy and Janie) would celebrate our birthdays together quite regularly. I am was born 28 August and John was born a day later, 29 August.

This age difference (of one day) entitles me to describe John as “young John” and say things like, “when you get to my age, John…”

Anyway, this year the stars aligned well for us to celebrate the birthdays together for the first time in years.

Janie’s membership of Chelsea Physic Garden had already come in mighty handy three week’s before, 8 August 2017, when she and I went there to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our first meeting.

Actually this day, 29 August, was also the 25th anniversary; in this case of our first proper date. So it was, in a way, a triple celebration; two birthdays and an anniversary.

John and Mandy had arranged to stay with us in Noddyland after dinner, so they came to the house first.

Noddyland Garden could easily be mistaken for the Chelsea Physic Garden

The above photo, btw, was the very first picture I took with my new Snap Polaroid camera, a birthday gift from Kim.

Then off to the Chelsea Physic Garden. The tale of the evening is best told mostly in pictures.

The full deck of pictures can be found on Flickr in this album – here.

Highlight pictures tell the story below.

On arrival, we have a drink and a stroll around the garden
Janie asked us to look animated – there are several attempts at this one
Then we sat down to these starters
Three of us went for this excellent Ligurian fish stew
While Mandy went for the contrarian confit of duck
I couldn’t get the Snap to flash in fading light…
…so Janie let me use her smart phone instead!
The birthday boys…
…with illuminated death by chocolate birthday desserts

After dinner, back to Noddyland for a baritone ukulele recital and some more chat before bedtime.

We also had a rare opportunity to chat some more in the morning before John and Mandy set off on their way. It had been a really enjoyable get together – let’s hope we can do something along these lines again quite soon.

A generous gift of flowers and chocolates arrived before the end of the week.

A Musical Jam Followed By Dinner At Babylon With John and Mandy White, 17 September 2016

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We had so much fun last time John and Mandy came over with John’s cajón, we thought we must do it again this time. Between-times, I procured (at enormous expense) a tambourine and a pair of maracas, which I thought might work better than the spoons and ashtray percussion the girls provided last time.

I also had an exchange of correspondence with John, asking him to make some song choices for me to prepare.

Any Leonard.  Ruby Tuesday by Melanie.  Going to a go go by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles…

…John replied.

I especially liked that final idea. Very easy chords for me, too. Ruby Tuesday’s a bit slow for percussion, as is most Leonard (Cohen, John means). For some reason, I thought we might be able to speed up Sisters Of Mercy with its waltz rhythm. I also recalled that John knows all the words to Suzanne, so mugged up on that one too.

I prepared a few others, not least Give Peace a Chance, which Janie and I had seen at the Revolution Exhibition the previous week and which I had twigged was simple and very percussive. That worked very well.

As it turned out, Janie decided after a couple of the slower ones, to put on the 60s Tropical/Latin/Jazz set from the party for us to accompany, so for a while I had to try to work out keys, chords, words and rhythms without preparation and at speed. I didn’t do well at that, but it didn’t really matter; those lively tunes certainly suited the percussion instruments and at times I simply used Benjy the Baritone Ukulele as a percussion instrument myself.

Soon we realised that this music making was quite a workout; indeed John and Mandy jokingly complained that they were all dressed up for the evening but now wanted to shower and change.

But they didn’t do that; instead we all went off in John’s motor to Kensington, towards Babylon at the Roof Gardens. Bit risky booking that place in mid September, as a great deal of the charm was the idea of pre dinner drinks and post dinner digestifs on the balcony/terrace overlooking that beautiful garden. But we needn’t have worried, because the autumn weather smiled on us wonderfully that night.

On the balcony/terrace
On the balcony/terrace

Strangely, despite the gloriously mild evening and the fairly heaving place, not so many people chose to use the balcony/terrace, so we were able to chat and enjoy the atmosphere and the stunning view in relative peace. The restaurant itself was quite noisy. The food was good without being in any way exceptional. The staff were friendly and attentive; much better than most such gastrodome-type places.

On the balcony/terrace
On the balcony/terrace, this photo courtesy of the nice waitress

We didn’t stay on too late; John and Mandy needed to get back to Saffron Walden, otherwise we might have all tried the club. But I’m pretty sure that club wouldn’t have been our scene. Bring back the old Town and Country.

In short, we had a great time – what else is there to say? We always enjoy spending time with John and Mandy; we’re already looking forward to doing so again.

Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall and Dinner With John & Mandy at The Tickell Arms, 15 May 2016

Janie and I arranged to see John and Mandy in their home town of Saffron Walden. They were keen to show off their new Saffron Hall. Luckily, we were able to find a suitable Sunday for all of us, with an appealing afternoon concert scheduled that day.

Saffron Hall 15 May 2016
Saffron Hall Addendum

Janie and I played tennis in the morning at 9:00; an hour earlier than our usual Sunday slot. I was hoping to get away at 12:00/12:15, which didn’t seem too ambitious in those circumstances. Anyway, we set off just after 12:30 hoping the traffic wouldn’t be too bad. It wasn’t.

We checked in to The Cross Keys, where I had booked a luxury room. We parked Dumbo a bit awkwardly on arrival, as a large group of cyclists/diners had taken up one of the few proper parking spaces. When John & Mandy arrived, I managed to persuade one of the group to help me by moving the bikes a little so I could park properly, which she kindly did.

John whisked us off to Saffron Hall, which is in the grounds of the County High School. We hadn’t expected quite such a large and splendid hall in the circumstances; it can hold 740 people and has been designed in a modern, acoustically excellent style.

We were warned on arrival that Alice Coote, the intended soloist singer, was ill, so had kindly been replaced at short notice by Ruby Hughes. I think we have heard Alice Coote at the Wigmore Hall more than once; her CV is hugely impressive and her voice superb.

I looked at the addendum piece of paper (see above), half expecting it to say that Ruby Hughes is one of the better singers in the lower sixth, who has almost managed to get through Dido’s Lament without pausing for breath or singing too many wrong notes…

…but actually Ruby Hughes also has a most impressive CV and her voice was also superb. There was a small change to the programme, so we got the pieces shown on the scanned piece of paper above; similar to the original programme really.

It was a bit of a Wigmore Hall outreach gig, as Mahan Esfahani played the harpsichord in the Bach Keyboard Concerto (probably our highlight) and directed the Britten Phaedra (probably our lowlight). Janie and I are seeing one of Esfahani’s recitals at The Wig next month.

We also got two encores:

  • an orchestral version of a Bartok Romanian Dance
  • a version of a Chinese Fishing Song, orchestrated by someone who works in the Britten Sinfonia office, apparently.

The Britten Sinfonia had just returned from touring China. Slightly ironic, as John and Mandy were hoping to hear from Yining (their informal protectee) who is currently in Hong Kong trying to get back to Europe from China.

After the concert, we went on to The Tickell Arms for a really pleasant early dinner. Really good food and an interesting Languedoc-based wine list. A great opportunity to have a proper catch up and chat. Highlights were a pea and rocket soup and a superb roast pork dish. Mandy started with scallops and had room for some cheese as well; good for her. John was supposed to be on an alcohol holiday but the smell of the beer in The Tickell soon tempted him to break his fast.

After dinner, we showed John and Mandy our super room at the Cross Keys, then parted company reasonably early (perhaps 21:00 or so). I played Benjy the baritone ukulele briefly and then put on some 60s music, at which point Janie and I both fell asleep. I woke up at gone midnight to realise, to my horror, that the rather loud music was still playing. Just as well that luxury room of ours is quite isolated from the other rooms.

Monday morning, we had a superb breakfast at the Cross Keys and then, following John and Mandy’s advice,  took a stroll around the stunning Bridge End Garden to walk off our breakfast. We even succeeded in entering and escaping the maze. What a pair of troopers. We won’t mention that the maze isn’t at all difficult, nor that we had to ask a couple of gardeners the way to find the maze in the first place. I admitted to one of those gardeners that needing directions to the maze is not an ideal qualification for a budding maze explorer. He replied, with a smile that “where is the maze?” is the most frequently asked question in the garden.

Enough excitement for one day – we headed back to London and spent the rest of the day picking up some items we need and sorting out some things that only seem to get sorted when you have a day off.

A delightful mini break.

Dinner At John and Mandy’s House In Saffron Walden, 5 April 2008

All the diary says is…

6:00 John and Mandy

…with their Saffron Walden telephone number. Nothing on the e-mail about it.

So I think this must have been the occasion we went to their house in Saffron Walden for dinner, probably the first time, without arranging to stay anywhere.

I think Janie volunteered to drive home but afterwards said that she was through with night driving on unfamiliar country roads – don’t blame her – so we have always made an overnighter of it since.

On arrival, I seem to recall that we got a guided tour of the estate, several elements of which I seem to recall were still up for debate at that time – e.g. where would John locate his drum kit and where would Mandy locate her professional practice room.

This was a very enjoyable family meal with the girls there as well (perhaps Lydia only joined us later in the evening, or perhaps I am now confusing two such evenings). For sure John cooked a blinder (he always does), I suspect it was loosely based on Indian cuisine but not too hot and spicy as he knows that Janie only enjoys spices if the food is not too hot.

John might remember the exact details of the meal; if so, with a bit of luck, he might be persuaded to chime in with a comment to flesh out the delicious details.

An Evening With Janie, John & Mandy; Death And The Maiden by Ariel Dorfman, Royal Court Theatre at the Duke of York’s Theatre, 17 October 1992

I believe this was the first time that either John or Mandy met Janie; Janie and I had only been going out together for a few weeks by then.

This was also only the second time that Janie and I went to the theatre together – the first time having been our first date; The Street of Crocodiles.

My diary is a bit of a confusion for that evening – indeed all that it reads is “Madness”…

…which I’m sure means “The Madness of George III”. But my theatre log is very clear that 17 October was this particular evening with John and Mandy and my diary also shows that “George III” reigned on 30 September for me:

What I think happened was that Bobbie, once again, could not make the planned theatre visit to see Madness of George III on 17 October, but was very keen to see that play. I vaguely recall Bobbie arranging a ticket swap with friends so that she/we could see “Madness” midweek a couple of weeks earlier and her friends got the prized Saturday night tickets that I had procured.

That freed up the evening of 17 October for Janie to meet John and Mandy and for all of us to see Death And The Maiden, which was still one of the hottest tickets in town that year, even though Juliet Stevenson (who had wowed audiences as the lead) had moved on.

Penny Downie played the lead in the cast we saw, which, as super subs go, is pretty darned super. Danny Webb and Hugh Ross played the male parts.

Janie and I are struggling to remember what other arrangements we made with John and Mandy around this evening. I think we might have had Chinese food in Soho with them before or after the theatre. Perhaps Mayflower? Or Joy King Lau in those days?

I also realise that my diaries at that time are littered with clues that John and Mandy must have recently moved house around that time:

Guessing that John and Mandy moved to Dangan Road that August, hence the address and phone number scrawled on 12 August…
…did I really escape the carnival 30 August to join John and Mandy in the George at Wanstead 30 August? Guessing that “birthday thing” 28 August would have been with my parents, but I’m not entirely sure about events of that weekend other than the 29 August hot date with Janie.

Anyway, on the day I am writing this up (29 August 2017), we shall be seeing John and Mandy later in the day, so I’ll pick their brains on these matters this evening and update this piece accordingly.

Back to Death And The Maiden.

The play is set in an unspecified nation emerging into democracy from brutal dictatorship. Ariel Dorfman was a Chilean exile during the Pinochet years and the brutal regime is clearly based on that one. It is one of those hugely affecting plays about torture and the abuse of power. It brings to mind also One For The Road by Harold Pinter and Fermin Cabal’s Tejas Verdes.

I’m sure we did something after the play – perhaps we did eat afterwards. For sure we’d have needed a drink. For sure we found a way to discuss and decompress together for a while.

I remember being very pleased that John, Mandy and Janie all seemed to get along so well; in that regard alone the evening was a tremendous success (to use John’s favourite adjective). But it was also an excellent evening of theatre and I’m sure we must have eaten and drunk well…if only Janie and I could remember those details too.

Huis Clos by Jean-Paul Sartre, Lyric Studio, 5 August 1989

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John White loves a bit of existential angst, so what could be a better choice for a Saturday night out than Huis Clos? Mandy was up for it. Annalisa was up for it. Off we went to the Lyric Hammersmith – the small Studio theatre there.

The play is set in hell, which is said to be a hot place.

It really was o-t ‘ot that evening. Clammy August and naturally the air conditioning system in the Studio wasn’t working.

Here’s my database/diary note for this evening:

The air conditioning had broken down on one of the hottest days of the year.  The Lyric gave us all free squash in the interval because it was so bad.  It did make the play about hell truly multi-sensory.  The line “it’s so hot in here” had the whole audience in stitches.

You don’t need to take my word for this. Here’s a link to a review from “The Stage”.  As Maureen Paton puts it in that review:

…the oven-temperature heat in the Studio does the rest. Hell is too many other people in the audience on a hot night.

Still, we had a good evening as far as I can recall and all four of us dined out on that story for some time. Indeed John still seems to be talking about it as I write in October 2016, as John’s comment on my piece about I, Daniel Blake – click here – confirms.

The rest of the programme follows – heck it was quite a job this evening to dig it out, so I thought I might as well scan the lot while I was at it.

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