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:

Alleyn’s Alum Gathering, The Fine Line & The Rajasthan, 4 March 2010

With thanks to Paul Deacon for this and the following photos.

In truth, until this event, I had been pretty rubbish at keeping in touch with people from school.

I’d certainly avoided formal gatherings over the years, relenting just once for a Saddlers’ Hall do a few moons/years before this event, which I shall write up for  Ogblog in the fullness of time.

But this one grabbed my attention, not least because one of the ringleaders was John Eltham (with whom I had already re-established contact through quasi-business stuff).

Also because it was billed as an informal gathering of the “Class of 1980”; a rehearsal for some formal thing that was coming up that summer (which I resolved not to attend).

Also because Paul Deacon (one of the few people with whom I had kept in touch over the years) pipped me an e-mail letting me know that he’d be there and hoping that I’d be there too.

I have “borrowed” the photos from Paul’s Facebook postings – which can be seen in their original splendour by clicking here if you are a Facebooker – ahead of asking Paul’s permission to replicate them.

Please my I borrow your photos Paul?

So, if all the photos have disappeared from this Ogblog piece before you read it, that means that Paul has said no to my request and I have zapped his photos. But if the photos are still here, thanks Paul, for the photos.

Now where was I?

The Fine Line in Monument Street, that’s where. At the time of writing (and linking) I believe it has been renamed The Hydrant.

I remember taking along a couple of pieces of memorabilia which caused some mirth; namely my slide rule and a pair of sports socks into which my mum had sewn little patches with my name on them. The slide rule is no longer much use to man or beast (apart from explaining to youngsters how lucky they are to have computers doing all that stuff for them). The socks might come in handy as I approach the other end of my life – e.g. if I start to forget my own name.

I remember meeting Susie Schofield, who was then the new alumni person, chatting with her for some time. I’m not sure I let on that I wasn’t really the most alumni-amiable person at the event…in fact I think I got away with it.

Milk, Peanut, the nicknames all came flooding back…

It was a very convivial gathering and I got to chat with lots of people. Lots of people got to chat with lots of people. Convivial gatherings tend to be a bit like that.

Why I cultivated the most pompous face on earth for this photo is anyone’s guess…perhaps because I appear to be balancing a speaker precariously on my head, to the amusement of Paul Deacon, David Wellbrook and Facebook commentators at the time

I know this next bit sounds almost unbelievable to the uninitiated, but after the drinks, many of us ended up a few doors away in The Rajasthan for a curry. Yes, really.

You want evidence?

The Rajasthan…evidently.

I tried to settle my account with a fifty-billion dollar financial instrument. Yes, really.

You want evidence?

50 Billion here and 50 Billion there soon adds up to real money.

I look a bit tired and emotional in that last photo; parting company with money sometimes has that effect on me. But in truth I had very much enjoyed that evening, which in many ways kicked off my rejoining of the fold and joining in many subsequent convivial evenings with the old school clan.

Twelfth Night, Alleyn’s School, 12, 14, 15 & 16 December 1978

Squeaky Newton (John Newton, the Deputy Head) tapped me up for this production, but I didn’t want to act again after the Andorra experience, which I had enjoyed but which had convinced me that, while I loved theatre, the boards weren’t really for me. But Squeaky persevered and suggested that I help with the production behind the scenes. I realised that I wanted to do that. He also suggested that I take a small part, Valentine, otherwise I’d feel a bit spare on the nights of the actual show.

Then, with various droppings out (Mark Stevens was originally cast as Antonio) I ended up with two parts and a fairly sizeable one in Antonio with only about four week’s notice for that one.

Meanwhile, I was so blasé about this production I didn’t mention it in my diary at all until a passing mention of “rehearsal” on Friday 17 November before going on to the grandmothers’ (yes, that apostrophe is in the right place, I did the rounds that night, “G Jenny for dinner, then on to G Anne”) places.

Occasional mentions of rehearsals for the rest of November, then best part of 2 weeks with no diary entries at all – very rare – but I guess the play and my other commitments were keeping me a bit too busy.

Next entry is 8 December “rehearsal for play till late”, then:

  • 10 December “dress rehearsal went quite well for 12th Night”,
  • 11 December “day of ignoring school play completely” (not really completely, because I mention the play in my diary entry),
  • 12 December “12th Night matinee then on to BBYO (youth club) with makeup on still”,
  • 13 December “day off from play”,
  • 14 December “12th Night first proper night, very good”,
  • 15 December “most important night of play – went brilliantly”,
  • 16 December “went to school with Julie – last night of play – party afterwards which went on until one”.

Two more recollections about the production itself.   Neil Kendrick, who was one of the officers, discombobulated one night and forgot to say the “away sir”…or whatever line it was that got Paddy Gray, me and him off the stage. I recall that Paddy and I needed to concoct some ad lib business to get the three of us the heck off the stage that night!!

Because I was late to the part of Antonio, I had limited time to learn lines and rehearse the part. Squeaky had also choreographed a brief sword fight with Sir Toby Belch (Chris Grant) before the law arrives, for which Chris and I were under-rehearsed.

One night, I think the first proper performance, unsurprisingly the fight went awry. Perhaps I got over-excited and forced too hard, or perhaps Chris wasn’t holding on tight enough to his sword. It’s too late now for blame or recriminations. Chris went on to be head boy and on the Board of Sport England, so let’s guess it was my fault.

Anyway, Chris’s sword flew out of his hand and over the edge of the stage. I remember listening out for a yelp from an impaled member of the audience, but I don’t think the sword had actually gone very far. Still, there we were, Chris and me, all dressed up, no place to go with our fight. The law weren’t expecting to come on to stop the fight for another 30 seconds or so. Another ad-lib classic, mercifully lost to posterity.

With many thanks to Mike Jones, who somehow survived being my form master and teaching me geography in the third year, preserved the programme and uploaded it to our Alleyn’s Facebook Group.

Twelfth Night Page One Twelfth Night Page Two Twelfth Night Page Three Twelfth Night Page Four

I also have a small recollection of the after show party and its impact on the rest of my life – to follow/linked here.