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:

Elvis Costello And The Attractions, Hammersmith Odeon, 27 March 1981

I did a holiday job at Newman Harris that first Easter holidays of my Keele life.

My motivation for working was purely financial. I was enjoying/wanted to enjoy my time at Keele. The student grant only went so far. There was no bank of mum and dad (BOMAD) for me. Getting into debt was anathema.

I hadn’t worked for Newman Harris since 1978 – that first experience being a subject I shall most certainly Ogblog in time. (I had worked full time during the summer of 1980, for BBYO – which should be another rich seam of Ogblogging once I get my head into that topic.)

The Easter 1981 vacation was the first time I worked for Stanley Bloom; he wasn’t at the firm in 1978. Yes, that’s right pop-pickers:

I got a job with Stanley, he said I’d come in handy.

Anyway, here is my diary from the first couple of weeks of that experience.

Graham in this instance must be Graham Greenglass. We were going through a process of swapping music on cassette at that time. Coincidentally, Graham furnished me with a fair smattering of Elvis Costello material, including rare groove such as Hoover Factory.

Jimmy (Bateman) was a friend from Alleyn’s. I wonder what has become of him? We met up a lot when working the University holidays those first couple of years at least.

David Robbins is Wendy Robbins kid brother. No longer a kid of course.

Caroline Freeman and I lunched and dined a lot in the holidays back then.

In fact, if my older adult self might be so bold as to observe my young adult self, according to that diary page, there seems to have been a heck of a lot of lunching, dining and going out generally. As a result, I’m not sure that the bank balance replenishment exercise could possibly have gone as well as I had intended. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t work Easter holidays again after that first year. But heck, I was having a good time.

On Friday 27th, a meal at Borshtch N Tears (posher and pricier now, I’d guess) followed by Elvis Costello and the Attractions at the Hammersmith Odeon, with Anil Biltoo (my friend from school, with whom I went to Mauritius in 1979), Caroline Freeman and Simon Jacobs, who I met through BBYO but with whom (and indeed through whom) I went to Keele.

Simon always claims not to remember anything from those days, although he might make an exception for Elvis Costello. Example: which tracks did Elvis play that night, Simon…

…and before you say, “don’t be ridiculous, I don’t remember stuff like that”, actually we don’t need your help with that question; Mr Google came up with the answer for us – click here…

…or if that link fails, I have scraped the answer to here.

Much of the material in that gig came from Trust, which was the latest Elvis Costello album at the time…

…and before Simon claims that he cannot remember exactly what he thought of Trust at that time, here is a link to Simon’s whole page review of Trust in Concourse, the Keele SU newspaper.

How Simon got allocated a whole page for an album review is anyone’s guess, but let’s just note here that the Concourse editors were sacked before the next edition went to press. That edition had to be cobbled together at the last minute by me and Dave Lee, with predictably hilarious results, which I shall write up soon enough. Simon got a regular-sized column that time.

Anyway, we must have really enjoyed the gig because we went back for more Elvis that summer; at least I know I went back with Simon for a second go and I think Caroline also joined us in the summer.

Anil, I think, was less sure about the gig. I’m not sure he had recovered from our evening watching his big sister Bi perform in The Sound the previous year.

Here is a great vid of Clubland (from Trust) to give you a taster of the gig, although the Hammersmith Odeon didn’t look like the vid as far as I can recall…

…Simon will simply claim that he can’t remember:

With Wendy Robbins On Westminster Bridge, Guessing 26 September 1979

While rummaging for something completely different…

…like, totally different…

…I came a cross this lone, stray photograph:

Me And Wendy Robbins On Westminster Bridge

There am I in my Alleyn’s School three-piece suit, which played an unlikely part in a subplot to a Manchester visit, probably a few months later, in which Mark Lewis and family mistook me for a toff:

A Weekend In Manchester Straight From School, 7 to 9 March 1980

So when might this photo have been taken and how did I end up with this single, stray picture?

Well, I cannot be 100% sure, but that particular suit limited my diary search to term-time, midweek evenings in my final year of school…

…I didn’t get too far into my search when I found the following:

Wednesday 26 September 1979 – went to Hillel in afternoon. Met Wendy. Showed Stuart (USA) around London in eve.

I’m not too sure who Stuart (USA) might have been, but I’ll guess he was a visiting dignitary from the BBYO International Executive or one of the big American District Executives.

I’ll also guess that Stuart had a camera with a flash and colour film in it – plus the kindness and decency to send us a photograph in the aftermath of our hospitality/informal evening tour.

I remember precious little about the evening. Perhaps Wendy remembers it clearly. Perhaps Stuart remembers it, but he might take some serious tracking down.

Wendy and I look a rather dapper pair on that occasion, I have to say. Indeed, in my case this might be the sole piece of photographic evidence I have from my teenage years that I could, on occasion, scrub up quite well…

…at least I could with the help of my Alleyn’s School uniform.