When I got word that Rich “The Rock” Davis was to be over from Canada for a short while in mid November, I thought I’d probably miss out on the resultant gathering. I explained to John Eltham that I only had the one available evening throughout the period on offer.
But this was one of those occasions when the timings went fortuitously. Not only could I make the appointed day, but it transpired that Nigel Godfrey would be visiting from New Zealand and that Paul Hamer would be visiting from an even more remote and obscure corner of the Great Dominions; Southampton.
Indeed, also by happy chance, Paul Hamer’s earlier engagement in London was in Paddington, within spitting…well, in truth, walking, distance of my flat.
So Paul and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours late afternoon catching up at the flat; it’s only been 37+ years. Chat was interspersed with the odd business call and a short baroq-ulele recital by yours truly, before we journeyed across London to join the others at the Walrus and Carpenter.
It ended up quite a large gathering this time, with a few people I hadn’t seen for decades; in particular Justin Sutton (peering from behind Perry Harley in the above picture), with whom I chatted at some length at The Walrus, plus David Leach, who arrived towards the end of the Walrus session.
I was also graced by a brief audience with Sir Nigel Godfrey at the Walrus and Carpenter. I had always thought that his gong was for services to the beauty pageant industry. I hadn’t realised that he is actually “The Right Reverend Sir Nigel Godfrey”, presumably honoured for clerical services to the New Zealand laity.
Nigel explained how irritating it is for people, like himself, who wish to use multiple titles, that on-line drop down boxes tend to offer only “The Right Reverend” or “Sir” but not “The Right Reverend Sir”. A tad first world, that problem, but I hope I looked suitably doleful and I audibly sympathised.
Once the Rajasthan eating session was in full sway, Nigel also chimed in with a story about a near-disaster with window-leaning and errant train doors on the journey to school, back in the day, before the health and safety brigade quite ludicrously took such character-forming matters out of the hands of school-children. The resulting conversation about such disasters (real, near and imagined) was in the worst possible taste and those of us who were laughing should be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. Really.
I shall also delve into my diaries as soon as I get the chance to recover some other memories of train journeys to school (with Justin Sutton, Andrew Levinson and Rupert Jefferies) and also at least one teenage adventure with the Levinson siblings, coincidentally very near the scene of this evening’s “crime” – the old Billingsgate Fish Market (just across the road). For the latter, I have photographs.
Everyone seemed to be in good form and good spirits; as usual the evening flew by. I should also mention Phil (one of John Eltham’s colleagues, top left in the final photo above) who joined us again this time and is excellent company. Also a thank you to John Eltham for organising, as always.
Plus a massive thank you to Perry Harley – it was great fun sitting next to you again this time, Perry – even more fun watching you deploy your accounting skills so diligently and indeed so very many times over, to avoid successfully the dreaded bodmin, ensuring fair play and fair pay.
Janie, who would have loved to have seen the show, felt that she couldn’t free up the day.
Still, I learned that there were to be several old muckers from Alleyns in Edinburgh that day and also that Marie and Joe Logan (the former being a Z/Yen alum) would at least be able to join us for lunch.
Marie and Joe’s application to become honorary school alumni for the day was unanimously accepted, especially when the gang discovered that Marie is a close friend of Linda Cook’s, as Linda had organised the Z/Yen Board Room gig.
But, when Marie inadvertently mentioned “Old Alleynians” in correspondence, I felt obliged to explain:
…there is one really important point you need to get right.
You are each an honorary Alleyn’s Old Girl/Alleyn’s Old Boy (respectively). Neither of you is in any shape or form an Old Alleynian, honorary or otherwise. Old Alleynians are alumni of Dulwich College, the pathetic, rival school of Alleyn’s.
Let me illustrate with well-known examples:
Alleyn’s Old Boy – Jude Law;
Alleyn’s Old Girl – Florence (and the Machine) Welch;
Old Alleynian – Nigel Farage.
Need I say more?
Mercifully there was no unpleasantness in the alumni-confusion-department on the day.
So I rose about 4:30 (a bit earlier than necessary in truth), setting off on an early flight from Heathrow (thank you, Janie, for the lift all the way to Terminal 5) and then took the tram into Edinburgh.
In schoolboy mode for a meet up with old school muckers, I got very excited with my smartphone when I realised that there was free wifi on the tram, sending Janie a picture and a sound recording of the Chigley-like tram sounds.
Janie messaged back to say that I’m a big kid.
Then a solo stroll through Edinburgh from New Town to Old Town…
…towards The Counting House…
When I arrived, only Rohan was there – John and Steve were out soliciting trade…for Rohan’s show, readers, control yourselves…
…but soon after I arrived, there was a surprise (to me) arrival – Claire Tooley (now Claire Brooke) – a very pleasant surprise indeed. Even more pleasantly, Claire was able to join us for lunch after the show.
I thought the performance was very good. Rohan hasn’t changed the show much since the pilot, but he has tightened up the script and his delivery has some lovely pauses and nuances that have clearly evolved with practice and experience.
It was a pretty full house, which at 11:00 in the morning on the Free Fringe I reckon is a big win. Certainly there seemed to be little activity for the other morning/lunchtime shows at The Counting House.
The audience was very receptive, I thought, although those who had attended performances earlier in the week thought that the laughter was slower to build that day, but the attentiveness, reaction and laughter as the story built ended up better.
We strolled to Spoon to meet Marie and Joe. Apparently this place is an old haunt of JK Rowling’s, so well suited to an arty gathering.
Like a fool I neglected to take any pictures in Spoon, but we gathered as nine: me, Steve Butterworth, Rohan Candappa, Paul and Cathy Driscoll, John Eltham, Claire Tooley-Brooke, Marie and Joe Logan.
One coincidence about this event, I realised, is that this season is the 25th anniversary of my own material premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe. In 1992, Brian Jordan brought The Ultimate Love Song – click here to Edinburgh in his wonderfully-named show “Whoops Vicar, Is That Your Dick?”.
When I mentioned this coincidence, Rohan (naturally) asked me to give an acapella rendering in Spoon, which I did as best I could – not very well. You can hear Ben Murphy’s excellent recording of the song below:
But back to Spoon. The food was good, the chat was jolly. People drifted away as journeys home or appointments with other shows approached, but we were a pretty lively group for a couple of hours at least.
Eventually, when it was just me, Marie & Joe left, we went for a stroll around town to see what we might find for the remaining couple of hours, before I needed to head for the airport.
Perhaps this illustrates the popularity of Rich “The Rock” Davis, who was visiting from Canada for the first time in a while and around whom the event was planned. Organised by Johnny Eltham – who else? – based on an original idea by David Wellbrook.
Or perhaps the high turnout was simply relief that, for once, our guest of honour visiting from the great dominions was not Sir Nigel Godfrey.
The plan was…the usual. 7.00pm Walrus & Carpenter, 8.30pm Rajasthan curry shop. I was fashionably late again this time, arriving just before 8.00, with no real excuse other than getting bogged down in whatever forgettable thing I was doing late afternoon.
Another glorious weather evening so everyone was drinking outside the Walrus and Carpenter. I got a chance to chat with Rich on arrival; also Paul Driscoll and Perry Harley. The conversation soon got to Brexit and how Britain is increasingly starting to resemble Weimar Germany. Soon after that I was tapped up for the drinks float.
The drinks float is a great idea. It discourages late arrival – the price is fixed – £20, not ℛℳ500,000,000 in case you were wondering – and if those arriving late, like me, don’t drink their portion, the remainder of the drinks float becomes a bodmin-avoiding contribution towards the dinner. You can tell that some fine economic brains have got to work on this one over the years.
Soon enough, Johnny Eltham commandeered two or three of us to form an advanced party to seize vital territory in Rajasthan. This we were able to secure without bloodshed or unpleasantness. In fact, the Rajasthanis greeted Johnny like an old friend and welcomed us to the downstairs area, which to all intents and purposes became our private room for the rest of the evening.
By my reckoning fifteen of us sat down for dinner; Chris Grant, David Wellbrook, Ben Clarkson, Martin Cook, Simon Ryan, David French, John Eltham, Ollie Goodwin, Paul Driscoll, Rich “The Rock” Davis, Paul Spence, Nigel Boatswain, Perry Harley, Steve “Peanut” Butterworth…and me.
If you are struggling to imagine what this gaggle might look and sound like, struggle no more. David Wellbrook shot a nifty ninety second vid while no-one was looking and posted it on Facebook – it is embedded and viewable below:
I had no idea that I wave my arms around quite as much as that. It’s a miracle that I don’t send food and drink flying.
As fortune would have it, I was sitting near Steve Butterworth, Perry Harley, Paul Spence and David French – all of whom are people I either haven’t seen in ages or didn’t get to speak with properly on previous occasions. It was really good to catch up with them properly after all this time. I had a brief conversation with Paul Spence about nuclear power, which led to this recollection and Ogblog post about Ringroad revue – click here.
Returning briefly to earlier in the evening…although I was late, I was not the last to arrive. Chris Grant and Nigel Boatswain turned up after me. Soon after their arrival, Johnny Eltham came up to me and said, “have you seen what Nigel is wearing? That jacket…those trousers…they look like a pyjama suit…you’ve got to write about it on your blog”.
I explained to Johnny that I don’t notice what anyone is wearing, so any sartorial references on the Ogblog would, to the regular reader, e.g. Janie, quite obviously not be mine.
“Oh that’s easy”, said Johnny, “it was David Wellbrook who spotted it and asked me to tap you up”.
“Ah yes,” I said, “as long as I make that point, all will be explained. I’ll need to take a photo of the outfit with my iPhone, though, it almost defies description.”
As the evening wore on, I was surreptitiously asked a couple of times when I was going to take the photo. Johnny even offered to provide cover, pretending that I was taking a group photo while in fact taking a photo of just Nigel and his pyjama suit.
I quietly suggested to Johnny that Nigel, as an Apple bigwig, would probably have the savvy to know what sort of photo was being taken with an iPhone (other brands of smart phone with camera are available) and in any case I would only blog a photo with Nigel’s explicit consent; I certainly don’t want the full weight of Apple’s legal department on my case.
“Just leave it with me”, I said.
So late in the evening, I told Nigel he had won a sartorial award for the evening and asked if I could take a photo for Ogblog. He giggled and said yes.
A few minutes later, as Nigel and I parted company at South Kensington tube, I thanked him once again for the photo and assured him that he would enjoy the blog piece. “Oh gawd, what have I done?” was Nigel’s reply.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Formal school alumni dinners are not really my kind of thing, nor are they Janie’s kind of thing. Indeed, both of us have managed to reach a fairly ripe (if not actually old) age without ever having attended such an event.
Until this event.
This event was going to be different. Why? Because Chris Grant was the President of the alumni club this year and he wanted to make the event different. In any case, you turn up to events like this to support your friends when it is their gig.
I explained to Chris that I don’t do weekend stuff without Janie, but that notion only reinforced Chris’s view that this year the dinner should be different and that he would actively encourage people to bring their partners.
To add to the “making it different” motif, Chris engaged Rohan to write and perform a short monologue for the pre-dinner reception. Chris also asked David Wellbrook to act as Master of Ceremonies for this additional feature.
The long and short of it was, I ended up being a bit of a cheerleader for the event amongst our generation – although it was naturally down to John Eltham to act as gang-leader for those of us from our era to book and sit as a gaggle.
We’re On Our Way
It seemed strange arriving at the school gates with Janie, but we had the good fortune to run into John Eltham and Steven Butterworth as we were walking in. The pre-dinner function was in a new Edward Alleyn Building, which didn’t exist when I last visited the school, many years ago.
Our rabble-rousing had born fruit, so I chatted briefly with several people from our era; David French, Paul Driscoll, Nick Jarmany, Nick James, Tim Moulson, Tim Church and several other people at that reception.
Rohan’s short monologue was good fun. A meander around the theme “South London, Nah Nah Nah”. The talk included some navel-gazing around the word south itself. Should it be pronounced “sarf” or “sowf” rather than “south”, for example. Is it merely convention that south is shown below north – after all, the world is a globe? Rohan’s conclusions or central theses (I am truly bigging up this talk, aren’t I?) were that:
South London is an edgy underdog that deserves our affection and support, even if some of us have long since migrated north,
we Alleyn Old Boys (at least the cohort from our era) formed exceptionally strong bonds of friendship which have kept us together and/or brought us back together across many decades and in some cases vast geographical spread.
Rohan teased us throughout his talk about a blue joke that David Wellbrook wanted to tell, much against Chris Grant’s better judgement. Rohan then nearly told the joke through audience participation, but concluded that South Londoners do not need to be told the punchline of the joke; they are edgy enough to work it out for themselves:
Then across to the school dinning room for the dinner. It seemed strange to be fine dining in that place, all done up to look sprauncy. Chris had chosen a very imaginative meal, based around curry, to symbolise the friendly informal meet ups that invariably end with a curry.
But this was a posh curry-based meal. A starter of slightly spicy scallops, enough to tell you that the meal was posh, that being the first of three interesting courses. Then cheeses, then coffee and petits fours. A well posh curry-based meal.
There were several toasts, speeches and club business in-between, mostly based on the traditional/regular/formal format of the club, I suppose.
Janie and I were honoured and indeed privileged to be seated next to Sir Nigel Godfrey. Sir Nigel, apparently, has recently received a gong for services to the New Zealand beauty pageant industry.
Sir Nigel was wearing his Broach of Honour with pride that evening, but sadly he seemed to keep it covered up whenever Daisy was nearby with her camera. Perhaps he thought she might swipe the bauble if he left it unguarded even for a moment. How does he know that Daisy is such a scallywag?
Daisy was also sitting next to Mr Wellbrook, who had been Master of Ceremonies earlier. I asked Chris Grant, “what did Daisy and I do to deserve the honour of sitting next to Sir Nigel and Mr Wellbrook?”, but I think Chris must have misheard my question, because he merely said, “there’s always one short straw”, which seemed to me to be an answer to an entirely different question.
Then Chris Grant made a short but touching and excellent speech, continuing the themes of edginess and especially the theme of enduring friendship.
The audience was then subjected to the Headmaster’s Savage response…
…correction…I never was much good with grammar, I should have paid more attention in English lessons…
The audience was then subjected to the Headmaster, Dr Savage’s, response. Dr Savage seemed keener on the friendship theme than the edgy theme. That is understandable really. Can you imagine the mischief that might kick off in the school and end up with pupils sent to the Headmaster’s Study, only to get the phrase thrown back by the miscreant, “but Sir, you told us that it is a good thing for us to be edgy”?
Dr Savage spoke very well and quite wittily, although I did think he missed a golden opportunity to pun on the pronunciation of Suffolk (from whence he hails) and Southwark, the borough in which he now heads a school. After all, the two place names, at least when pronounced by a native of the latter, are indistinguishable. (I think he might have been trying to make such a joke, but he got a bit confused and mentioned Norfolk, for seemingly no reason.)
In short, Savage is a talented speaker who prepares diligently, but he lets himself down at times through hurried delivery and under-rehearsal of the humorous lines. A-, could do better than this.
We thoroughly enjoyed our evening. Janie found the company delightful, both the old boys and their wives/companions, such as Lenneke (Chris’s partner) and Emma Jane Moulson. Similarly, I enjoyed chatting briefly with those two and at greater length with Victoria (Oliver Goodwin’s partner) as well as chatting with old school friends.
My only regret is that I barely got a chance to chat with some people I would have very much enjoyed catching up with properly, such as David French, Paul Spence and Nick Jarmany. Perhaps next time, although I hope our next time is a less formal gathering.
Next morning, there was no respite. Daisy and I got up to play tennis in our usual Sunday morning slot. Half way through the game, I realised that I had subconsciously donned a purple top and a purple bandanna. Purple. The Cribb’s House colour. Steeled by my renewed sense of tribal purpose, I naturally went on to win the set.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I tried to settle my account with a fifty-billion dollar financial instrument. Yes, really.
You want evidence?
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.