Sunday, 31 May 2015

Opera: Rigoletto

This having been one of my weekends in Ireland, when my mother told me that Rigoletto was playing in the Limetree on Saturday, and I saw we could still get tickets, I booked. The front section was completely booked out, but I managed to get a pair of tickets in the front row of the rear section - Row O, equivalent to her favourite row in the Concert Hall (Row P): has an aisle in front of it, you see, so no heads in your way.

Last time we went to the Limetree, we ate in Quin on the way - and did the same this time. Mind you, having only made the trip once before, I had to look up my route from Quin: but it wasn't as difficult, second time round. The Abbey Tavern was busy as ever, and when we took a seat, we discovered that the owner must've been feeling the cold; the radiators were, as my mother described it, "hopping". We had our usuals, my chicken supreme a bit burnt this time, and didn't feel like dessert. My mother met a neighbour though, and had a good old chat.

What a change in the weather - it had been gloriously sunny all day, but when we went out it was lashing rain. You know, I'd brought my velvet coat to wear, but changed my mind at the last minute when I got an email from the venue that explained that this was a modern production, set in gangland, so I thought it might be overkill, and wore my duffel coat instead. Boy was I glad of that..

It's not too far to the motorway, when you know which way to go, and we were soon there. And then there was a harum-scarum drive down the motorway, visibility very low with both lashing rain, and plumes of mist rising from the road surface as the cars tore along it. I was glad to turn off at last - Junction 4 (Caherdavin), that's what I'd had to look up. Happens along just as you're beginning to get worried you're going to have to pay the toll - it's the last turning before the toll plaza. Then a straight run into Limerick city centre and onto the Dock Road, where I stopped for petrol. It was the handiest, but I was gratified not to find anywhere cheaper since!

We arrived really early, and it was handy to have been before and know where the entrance to the theatre was. As someone remarked later in the evening, this is a really badly designed building - awkward to get where you want to. I went in first, to check whether there were random chairs left around - there is no dedicated seating area here, and my mother couldn't have stood all that time! I spied two chairs, wantonly left unattended in a corridor, so brought her in and nabbed them while she was trying to figure out how to close her new walking-stick umbrella - not easy, as it turns out. (It was still lashing rain, of course.)

After a while, they set up a table on the other side of the lobby, where I bought a programme, and they were also setting up for a wine reception - I was told it was for invited guests, but I might be able to sneak a glass. But we were sat in front of where the bar was going to open at the same time as the reception started, so decided we'd stick with that. When it did finally open, it was an interesting thing to watch - a key operated a switch at the side, which lifted the canopy, and presumably turned on the recessed lights in it at the same time. The workers also rolled out four blocks on castors, and spaced them out in front of the bar. Then one felt underneath the bottom edge of each, for a light switch, as it turned out! Each lit up an image of branches, and also a letter - they spelt "lime", when ordered correctly. And it was handy that the one that said "e" was low enough to be used as a seat. Mind you, we did discover, as we were waiting, that the classrooms are left open, so you could just run in there and grab as many chairs as you wanted.

As we waited, we could listen to the lovely sound of rehearsals from the theatre, whose door had been left open. Until two idiots decided to just walk on in, before the allotted time, and the organisers decided it was better to close the doors. When they did finally let us in, we had a trek through the lobby-ful of people who hadn't realised yet that we couldn't go in - or didn't care. We needed to get around to the other side, you see, to the lift - my mother found it easier than the stairs. Actually, I think they only let people in to the upper level on that side anyway. Again, poor organisation.

After a short wait, we got the lift to the upper level, then had to schlep all the way across to the other side of the theatre again for our seats. It transpires that Row O of the Limetree has a ledge in front of it - not a railing, like the Concert Hall - and my mother developed the impression that her view was being blocked. Not really - just of the orchestra pit, and if you leaned forward you could see them too. But anyway, legroom was decent, and being at the end of the row, she had a large area beside her for dumping bags, coats and walking-stick umbrellas.

When we arrived, a tv onstage was playing ads from the 80s. They quieted down for the safety announcement, then started up again, and I did begin to wonder how long they'd continue for! The stage itself had a boxing ring in the middle, a pool table to one side, portaloos to the other. Plastic chairs were dotted about. The set actually changed very little during the entire show, except that the ropes around the boxing ring were dismantled when the action moved to outside the Duke's court.

The cleverest part of the staging was a large black box, sitting in the ring at the beginning, on which the numbers 1-10 were displayed. These represented boxing match rounds, and counted down for the duration. And just to mark the transitions, swimsuit-clad girls came on at the appropriate times, brandishing large cards above their heads that displayed the round number. As for the black box, it also acted as a projector screen, was lifted out of the way when the raised area (which was sometimes a boxing ring) was being used, and became transparent for a cleverly staged representation of Rigoletto and Gilda (outside the box) watching the Duke carrying on with Maddalena (inside the box).

The other striking feature of this production was - bunny rabbits. Yes, someone involved in the design of this show has a thing for bunnies. Yellow ones. They were everywhere. When people were performing sex acts, they often wore bunny heads. When henchmen were going around in disguise, they wore full bunny suits. When Gilda was shown at home, safe in her room, not only were stuffed bunnies scattered about (and used as a bed), but she was wearing a bunny t-shirt and bunny-ear slippers. If there was a deeper meaning to the bunnies, I think it was somewhat lost in the sniggers of the audience. But whatever.

The performance was in English, with no surtitles, so it was tricky to figure out what was being sung, and we relied heavily on the plot synopsis in the programme. But the music was original, and the singing was glorious. The general consensus was that the darker second half worked better. Kudos to the guy that played both his own role, Marullo, and that of Monterone, when the other singer was taken ill, and whatever people's reaction to the staging, kudos also to Opera Ireland for staging something a bit different. This was the first opera ever staged at the Limetree, and although the Concert Hall has a few every year, they're always Ellen Kent, you always know what to expect, there are always small children and ethnic dancers thrown in for variety. This was something new, and the standing ovation was well deserved. Mind you, it was a relief to stand, after this long show, in a theatre that had no aircon, and was far too hot.

I had to be up early today to take my mother to Mass, seeing as how we were otherwise occupied yesterday evening, so after I'd put in her Tesco order online, and checked her lottery ticket, there was no time to blog. Today, after Mass, we headed to the Peppermill for lunch. We arrived quite early, and parked close to the door - which was a good thing, with the strong breeze that had replaced the rain for now. I had the same as before - white wine and BBQ-marinated chicken - she had pink lemonade and salmon (again), which this time came with a salmon and cod fishcake. And the whole was delicious, after which we just had to have one of their phenomenal range of desserts. She had the raspberry roulade again, and enthused about it. For me, there were no fewer than two different chocolate cakes - I chose the (darker) Death by Chocolate, which is chocolate fudge, rather than the chocolate truffle. I can't recommend the place highly enough - a great range of food, all delicious, fabulous value, and friendly service.

And after we got home, I had errands to run and soaps to catch up on, so no time to blog till I got back to the flat this evening. Tomorrow, I found yet another new Meetup group running something interesting - so I joined and I'm going. The Open Rights Group (ORG) is running a  trip to a talk by, and about, whistleblowers. I don't know whether I'll make it all the way across town in time for 6.15, when they're gathering, but we'll see.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Talk: Crisis in the Mediterranean

Tonight saw me finally go to the Frontline Club, a place I've thought about going to - or meant to go to - a couple of times, but never before made it. Meetup's London European Club was organising a trip to the Crisis in the Mediterranean talk there, and had a discount code. And so I finally booked.

Mind you, there was a last-minute rush at work, which saw me leave straight from the office, even though it's not that far. Tube to Paddington and a short walk. However, I had a 10-minute wait at Earl's Court - five minutes on the platform waiting for the train and five minutes on the train waiting for the green signal - which meant I was rushing. Then I got all confused upon leaving the station - I'd left by a different exit from the one I'd seen on Streetview, and had no idea which way to go! I finally recognised a scene, headed off in the right direction, and arrived in the nick of time.

They have a restaurant at ground level, but you want the room upstairs. Entry is by a simple black door to the side - there's a desk at the first landing, and the venue is up another flight of stairs. It's quite a small room, filled with folding chairs - I took one at the back. Despite the time, it was another while before we started, with five people occupying chairs on the dais. We were asked to turn our phones off or to silent, and informed that the talk was being broadcast live and recorded.

The subject, of course, was the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean to Europe, often under dangerous conditions. They called it a debate - but it wasn't, actually: not with no dissenting voices. This was a panel discussion. Not that I'm complaining - I agreed with their views, and didn't fancy the slagging match that would doubtless have ensued, had there been opposing voices present.

There were a lot of journalists present - I think this is a journalists' club anyway. One of the panellists is the foreign correspondent for the Guardian, based in Cairo, who was first to speak, and made the first of many interesting points of the evening. At the other end was an Irish lawyer, who was a rather annoying speaker - not because of what she had to say, but because her voice, not that loud to begin with, kept trailing off, and although the speakers on the dais were all miced, her mic was positioned too far away from her mouth, and it was often difficult to distinguish what she was saying.

Several people were taking notes - I almost wish I had. I found out a number of things this evening:
  • Most refugees are Eritrean. Apparently, military service in Eritrea is both compulsory and lifelong, and many are persecuted and flee.
  • It's unpoliceable at source. People buy boats to cross in for cash from fishermen. That's impossible to police, even if the local police weren't taking backhanders. Plus, they're under-resourced.
  • As for the danger, they'd rather die than deal with their current situation. The Guardian correspondent has a Syrian friend who tried to get on a boat that subsequently sank, and is still trying. When asked why, he replied, "If I die, just I die. But if I live, I give my children a future they couldn't otherwise have."
  • If there were the will to deal with refugees, the UNHCR has excellent resettlement programmes that could be utilised. There just isn't the political will, with some governments (including the UK).
  • Merchant vessels are great at rescuing refugees. Unfortunately, the smugglers know this, and are in the habit of throwing pregnant women, and children, into the water, knowing that the merchant vessels will pick them up. Norway has gone so far as to extend training to its merchant seamen, bringing in NGO representatives to instruct them on how refugees are likely to react, how they should be treated. When a similar plan was mooted to the British Home Office, they just laughed.
  • Sweden and Germany are the most hospitable to refugees, taking in more than anyone else. There are more Iraqi refugees in Malmo than in all of the UK.
  • The UK government has been chatting with the Australian government, famous for their harsh treatment of "boat people".
And then there was the stuff they didn't have to tell me - like the reactionary attitude of the majority of the British media. I shop for my lunch in Tesco every weekday, and I pass the newspaper stand and have a glance at the headlines. Over the last while, I've found it quite disturbing to read those headlines. Full of vehement spite, I would call them. Ranting about the EU, ranting about foreigners.. it doesn't paint a pretty picture.

Very different from what one of the panellists tonight had to say about the wonderful possibilities at grassroots level, and what great resettlement programmes are actually in place in the UK - if you can only get past the border.. he had a lovely story to tell, about some people in Edinburgh who asked how they could get permission to house Syrian refugees; they felt sorry for them. Well, no bother at all, they were told - and now Edinburgh is home to a small Syrian community. :-) There's hope yet - don't believe everything you read in the papers!

The most thought-provoking evening I've had in years. Oh, and you can catch the whole thing on YouTube! as with all their talks, it seems. Afterwards, there were free drinks, and somewhere was a Meetup group I could've joined. But I was hungry, and headed away. I'd passed a KFC on the way, and hadn't eaten there in an age, so decided to try it. They were very busy, but trying their best, and I was soon fed. I must give them credit for keeping it clean, despite their busyness at the counter. They did forget to give me a fork for my beans, and I couldn't see any myself, so just left them - frankly, I was getting enough salt from the rest of the meal anyway. It really has been ages since I ate at KFC, and I'm not used to it anymore. The chicken itself was nice, but I didn't finish the rest - it felt positively unhealthy.

Anyway, I managed to walk off a considerable quantity of it, just heading back into the station - down steps, up steps, down steps - it was several minutes before I wound my way to the platform. Tomorrow, I'm back to Ireland for the weekend, and the day after, we're headed to the Limetree for a production of Rigoletto.

Fairytales for Grown Ups: The Liberty Tree

Originally, I wanted to go to a piano recital last night - but it turned out there were only £50 tickets left. It did eventually sell out, but I wasn't sufficiently enthused to pay that much. Instead, I booked with the Crick Crack Storytelling Club (via Meetup) to go to Fairytales for Grown Ups: The Liberty Tree. Certainly cheaper.

I was slightly perturbed that I had to go all the way to Camden. Nothing against the place, it's just a bit of a trek. I decided to go by Overground, which is cheaper than a Tube through Zone 1 - I could also get a direct Overground train there. I decided to go early enough to eat - the show started at 7:30, but the kitchen is open from 6. Unfortunately, this meant I was travelling at rush hour.. at least I (just about) had space to breathe, and just past the halfway point of my journey, I must've sighed sufficiently tiredly, because someone gave me his seat.

It was a relief to get off at Camden Road and breathe (relatively) fresh air. Upon exiting the station, turn right and continue to the major junction, which is also where Camden Town Underground station is. Then take Camden High Street south (careful here, there are a lot to choose from - Streetview is your friend), and a right turn onto Delancey Street. The Forge is unmissable - it's the black building on your left with a sign above it, displaying a prominent "f".

Ah well now, I was immediately impressed. Inside, it's quite modern, a lot of wood and natural light at the back, with a transparent ceiling. The bar is on the left - the tables just inside the door were reserved (it's a small venue and this might be a good idea) but I got a spot on a sofa in the rear, under the natural light. I ordered quickly - I'd already checked out the menu online (the warning about well done burgers caught my attention!). I got my glass of wine straight away, and paid in advance - I'd also been warned to order quickly, so I'd be finished in time for the show.

I settled myself on the sofa, but had to move briefly for them to slide the partition into place - it turns out I was seated in the ticketing area; the entrance to the venue is just at the side. I soon got my (very tasty) chicken burger (which comes well done by default), and was able to watch them set up the ticket desk while I ate. And so I learned that they already had everyone's names on a list - we didn't need to print our tickets - and that once they ascertained we had a ticket, we'd get a stamp on our hands as well. Stickier ink than the last one I got - the trace is still there after washing.

When we were finally let in, I was impressed again - the venue is quite small, all wood, with a stage, a gallery, and rows of chairs (not all gigs are seated). I took a seat near the front, making sure to shove in all the way to the wall - I suspected it'd be quite full, and indeed we were shortly told that it had sold out. I found myself beside a very friendly woman - there were a few Meetup people there, but I don't think she was one.

The guy that introduces all the club's events took the stage and went through his normal routine: "Crick!" "Crack!" "E-crick!" "E-crack!" "Honour!" "Respect!" Nicely, he gave a bit of an explanation of what he was doing this time - seems someone had been asking. And he introduced our (two, this time) storytellers for the evening, who came accompanied by an array of musical instruments.

Their brief was to tell us stories about, and inspired by, Robin Hood. But my, they did so much more! They interwove the old Robin Hood stories with tales of more recent dissidents, all energetically brought to life, and compared with the man in Lincoln green. And all punctuated with music- drum, tin whistle, recorder, and a metal bowl that was used most eerily to describe a mystical scene. It was a very special evening, and I'm so glad I came. We were transported to another plane.. I bought the cd on the way out. I hope it conveys something of this performance.

I don't expect to enjoy tonight quite as much, although it should be interesting - the London European Club is rounding us up for a talk on the Crisis in the Mediterranean - about the migrants crossing the sea in dangerous conditions, seeking to make their lives in Europe. It's on in the Frontline Club, a place I've often threatened to go to, but never yet have. Apparently, they often have discussions on current affairs. A short walk from Paddington, it's a lot closer than last night, thank goodness! And then I'm back to Ireland for the weekend.. heading to a performance of Rigoletto on Saturday, at the Limetree.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Film: The Falling

So, the Meetup Film Nite group organiser specifically invited me to come see The Falling with them tonight, in the Odeon Panton Street. Maybe, I thought - this is a nice bunch of people, although the film isn't rated too highly on IMDB. So I thought I'd see what else was on. When it was looking like a film anyway, I decided, what the hey, I'm not that pushed about what's top of my list, I might as well go to this.

Now, the organiser of this group is a decent chap, but not the best organiser I've seen. He advertised this as "Free!" But in the next paragraph, he mentioned how cheap the cinema was.. now why would he do that, I thought, if it's free?! So I checked with him, and sure enough, we had to get our own tickets. It was free in the sense that he wasn't charging anything himself.

Could I have predicted the storm my question would provoke? I'd asked, and he answered, on the event page, so other members could see. In a furious exchange today, two members cancelled, as a direct result: one because she had thought it was free, and now felt ripped off, and the other because she hadn't noticed the word "free" till I mentioned it, and although she didn't mind paying, she thought he answered her in a "smart ass" way when questioned about it. O dear. I still intended to go, and booked a ticket - no booking fee, and handier than buying on the spot - and even put the cheap ticket price (£6) on the site to try to mediate, but the damage was done. He really needs to be less ambiguous.

I've been here several times before, but it's been a little while, so I did just need to check which street (Haymarket) I needed to turn down from Piccadilly. Setting out, I just missed a train and had to wait five minutes for another, but it's really not that far, so I didn't worry too much. The Piccadilly Line was as crowded as ever, especially with the deluge that joined in Knightsbridge - and there was an incident at Green Park, where a party got separated, not all able to get on at the same time. One guy tried to get the doors open again, but eventually had to give up. I had to push through a crowd when we got to Piccadilly, and had visions of not being able to get off before the train left again - but I managed.

Amazingly, I found the right exit - initially, take the one for Eros, it branches to give you the one for Haymarket. And you climb out through Cool Britannia - well, it is actually the closest exit. It took forever to cross the road, but I finally made it to the cinema, picked up my ticket, and made my way straight in - I couldn't see anyone I knew. I did later spy the organiser, sitting in the very front row, and another person I knew from the group sitting behind him, but didn't speak to anyone until after.

This film deals with a fainting epidemic in a girls' school in the late 60s. I wasn't expecting too much from it - it has a bad rating on IMDB, and I was dreadfully afraid it was going to be similar to other things I'd seen. I've seen it described as a psychological horror - any horror in it is far too weak to earn it that title. But I am pleased to say that it's not at all as bad as I feared. It's very sensually shot, and there's a very cloying atmosphere to the film, as epitomised by the relationships between the girls. All very touchy-feely, in a way that I found uncomfortable. However, the story does eventually resolve and make sense - it's just a shame they couldn't have got to the point sooner.

Afterwards, four of us met in the lobby. One had left early in the film, and gone to see Whiplash instead! None of us were that impressed with The Falling, which should make the talk about it next week more interesting. (If it happens - I can't find any mention of it now.) Anyway, we moseyed along to a café our host recommended - turned out to be a little Vietnamese BYOB place - Viet Pho. So we B'd our OB, and took a table near the kitchen. It's a tiny place, with hard seats, but decent food at reasonable prices. Family-run, I believe. The conversation was good, and the meal was a great way to round off the evening.

I was back on the Tube with the organiser, and we had a good chat about this and that, but the kerfuffle on Meetup never came up. And, of course, he's already trying to get me confirmed for next week's meeting (which, as I say, I now can't find on Meetup..) Anyhoo, for tomorrow I would've liked to go to a piano recital, but they only had £50 tickets left, and I wasn't THAT pushed. They're sold out now anyway. So it's another Meetup, with the Crick Crack Storytelling Club again. They're meeting in Camden (another long trip) to tell the tale of Robin Hood, and other English tales of dissent..

Monday, 25 May 2015

Film: The Journey (directed by Lance Nielsen)

Spectacularly highly rated, at the top of my film list, was The Journey - 8.6 on IMDB. Having had a look at the trailer, I deemed that, whatever the film was like, it seemed to be heavily influenced by Greece, which would at least make it a nice travelogue. The only hitch was, it was only on in the Arthouse, Crouch End - which is one of those places that's hard for me to get to. Finally I said, sod it, what are bank holidays for? (And I suppose it's appropriate to do a bit of travelling, for a film with such a title.) So I decided to go, and saw from the seating plan that I needed to book a seat - it was nearly sold out. The website helpfully said that all I needed to do was show staff my confirmation email, either printed out or on my phone.

Then, today, I thought I'd like to wear a particular watch, which needed a battery. Which led to two questions: did I have time to go to Westfield, and how would I get from there to Crouch End? There wasn't any point in returning home - I saw that it would take as long from Westfield as from there.. so I spent an age trying to get my sluggish internet connection to show me directions on Google Maps, and then Streetview. Finally, I determined my route, and off I set (phone fully charged).

They took full advantage of the bank holiday, and there were tons of engineering works - thankfully, none that affected me. As I made my way to the station, they were still celebrating in the local pubs - must've been a helluva win yesterday. Getting to Westfield was the easy part - two stops on the Overground. I found the Watch Surgery - a kiosk in the shopping centre - without much difficulty; they charged me £8 this time though, instead of the £5 they charged before. Inflation? Or the type of watch? I may never know.

Anyway, while I was waiting for them to get done, I strolled in the direction the sign told me to go for Wood Lane station - this was the one I needed to start the next part of my journey from. The exit was easy to find. I strolled back and paid for my watch - when I produced a pile of change to do so, she exclaimed that I'd saved the day! They were completely out of change. I replied that she'd saved my wallet..

After changing watches, I headed in the direction of Wood Lane. It's really easy to find - just follow the signs. Then take the Tube to King's Cross St. Pancras. Two lines run through Wood Lane - either will do, long as you're headed east. And on the journey, I had the pleasure of watching a lady sitting opposite, who had a teeny little black poodle, dressed in a knitted coat. Aww.

Google Maps had suggested several routes onward from King's Cross, but I chose the easiest - a direct bus, no changes. I'm quite familiar with King's Cross, from going to things in the area, so I readily found the bus stop, around the corner in York Way. It's a busy stop - but I didn't have too long to wait for the #91 (they seemed to come at five-minute intervals), and sat upstairs; I'd have a better view of an area I didn't know well, and I knew mine was the last stop anyway.

I was on the bus for about half an hour, and I can't say it was exactly scenic. We passed near no fewer than two prisons - Pentonville and Holloway. Not quite the tourist route. And after about half an hour, we reached the terminus - right across the road from the cinema, as promised on Streetview.

The traffic obligingly stopped for me and an old man crossing the road, and I entered the cinema just as they were yelling that the film would start in five minutes, and would we PLEASE take our seats! There's a bar in the lobby area, which was really crowded. I hurriedly fetched up the email on my phone, and showed it to the guy who'd been yelling. Yep, no problem - except I needed to go to the door on the other side of the bar: left for downstairs, right for upstairs. Through there, take the door on the right (not the one marked "MEN") and take the stairs to the upper level. I found my seat without difficulty - the place isn't huge.

I think there's only one screen, which seems to take up pretty much the entire building. The seating is old and creaky - several seats had cushions on them, probably to save repairing them, and I was quite dubious about the sturdiness of my own! Anyway, we all survived. Despite the glares being thrown at the girl beside me, who was eating a bit noisily, by the elderly woman in front. Oh, here we go again.. I think the three in front were Greek, actually - they were trying to pick places out during the film, you could tell.

It is a very good film indeed. There was a Q+A afterwards, with the writer / director and some of the cast, in which he explained that it was made on a budget of £10k. That doesn't detract in any way from the stunning scenery or the stunning cinematography. To be fair, they did shoot on location - three islands quite near Athens, as he later explained, so they'd be near help if anything broke down. They made sure to take full advantage, though - all beaches, mountains, sunrises and sunsets over the hills, with the harbour at the bottom. People windswept by balmy breezes while standing atop a hill in front of picturesque ruins. I'm now seriously considering retiring here..

The story revolves around three (well, four) men who've lost someone - a wife or girlfriend - and feel that life has lost its meaning. They find a new meaning in Greece. That's the short version. But what makes the film stand out is that it's so raw - I had tears pouring down my face for much of it. You really feel for these guys, and when one of them, who's been obviously depressed and holding it in for the whole film, finally breaks down and wails, all alone on the beach - well, it's heartbreaking. (This character was, apparently, based on the writer/director himself, whose loss of his own girlfriend under identical circumstances was the basis for the film.)

I wasn't initially sure what to make of this, but came away really impressed. It's got a clever twist at the end, and throughout is compelling viewing. I do recommend it, if you get a chance to see it.

Coming home, I got another bus from the next stop along, and while I was waiting, had time to contemplate the rundown area around the cinema. The #41 took me to Turnpike Lane Tube station - well, Google Maps said to get off at the stop before, Wood Green High Street, which I did, encouraged by the fact that the person sitting inside me was getting off there too. They were probably right - it's quite close, and saves you potentially being stopped at the lights as the bus turns at the major junction there. Pedestrians can use the underpass, which is very handy, despite the strong smell of urine. The station itself was very rundown, plaster peeling and generally scruffy - despite, apparently, being a listed building.

After that, it was a long, but direct, trip back on the Piccadilly Line, my ears popping as usual as the driver raced through the out-of-town sections. Hang on to whatever you can at this stage! I was glad to get back to leafy west London. I hadn't seen anywhere to eat on my travels, so when I got back, I headed straight for my local Chinese, Taiwan Village. It so happened that I was lucky to find them open - they're on holiday for a week, starting tomorrow, and trying to get everything ready tonight. So service was even more sluggish than usual.. they had to replace my tablecloth, left me waiting for ages to have my order taken.. I always ask for a knife and fork anyway, which they brought, and had to remind them to bring a spoon for the main course - but I never did get a napkin. Still, I'll forgive them - the food was as delicious as ever. And I hope they have a nice break.

For tomorrow, with nothing that enthused me more, I caved in and agreed to tag along with the Film Nite group to see The Falling. Hope it's not terrible. Funnily enough, on the event page, it's described as "free" - I checked, and yes, you do have to buy a cinema ticket. As someone commented - "So what's free, exactly..?"

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Play: Communicating Doors

Meetup offered several interesting walking options for today, but it was promised rain, so I passed. Not that I've seen any rain so far, mind - but anyway, instead I had a look at what was going on in other Meetup groups - that I'm not a member of - and discovered one that was headed to a play called Communicating Doors, at the Menier Chocolate Factory. RSVPs were closed by this time, so I just booked a ticket myself; with limited availability, I chose a central seat rather than a near one. I know this theatre, and with only nine rows, a seat near the back was still going to be plenty close.

I stayed up really late last night.. for those who might be interested, I've found a fantastic channel on YouTube by a guy that makes short films. Look for Pony Smasher. He and his wife (both Swedish) have filmed some terrific short horror films - really inventive, and just a few minutes long each. They also have fascinating making-of videos. Anyhoo, with one thing and another, the birds were twittering by the time I got to bed, and I slept soundly (horror actually makes me sleep sounder, I think) until about lunchtime. Which still left me time to get across town, but not really to have a proper brunch. Breakfast consisted of my last Yorkie.

I did set off in decent time, mind you. At the station, I was greeted to the sound of (very tuneful) singing by Chelsea fans - there was a match today, and I'm just up the road from their home ground. Two policemen watched benignly from the upper level as a raucous group of fans on one platform united in song, apparently directed at someone on my platform. What the hey, it was all in good spirits, and no-one was bothered. Soon enough, my train came. And you'd think there was a go-slow, we waited so long at Earl's Court! Changing at Westminster, I was asked by a confused foreigner whether the train went to Bond Street.. unfortunately not. Right line, wrong platform - trains from any platform all go in the same direction, you know! I sent him the right way, but he was dubious..

At London Bridge, it's so easy once you know how - I really can't imagine how I always used to come out the wrong way. In this case, look for the exit for Borough Market.. and the East Side exit gets you on the right side of the road. This is literally the first time I haven't had to rush here - I usually feel as though I'm going to have a coronary, dashing down this road.. this time, I had time to look around:

(This is Borough Market.) Anyway, turn left from the station exit, cross at the next junction and take the road you're now on the left of, to the theatre, which is on your left. Careful of the steps - this is an old warehouse, and the steps are uneven. You enter by the café - she asked me what she could do for me, so I told her I had a ticket for the matinee and she directed me to the back. Where I had time, for once, to pause and look at the historical display.

I'm not used to picking tickets up here - I usually print at home (i.e. the office), but since I'd have had to print at home for real this time, I decided it was handier to pick it up instead. So the first thing I had to do was locate the box office! (It's to the left of the bar area.) Having collected my ticket, and with half an hour still to kill, I decided to have a liquid lunch. The obliging (and probably slightly bored) barman informed me that they had four white wines, and produced one for me to taste. "Yes please," quoth I. And so I came to have a glass of wine that was quite lemony (I wish I'd made note of the brand, think it was one of the Torres range but I'm not sure), and far too nice, while sitting on the bench at the entrance - the place was starting to fill up.

They should really have let us in earlier - there was quite a crush by the time they did. A lot of Americans, by the sound of it. And yes, nice wines can be dangerous. Especially on an empty stomach. I was quite giddy by the time I got through the generous portion he gave me, and decided to take my seat. In my efforts to find somewhere to perch my empty glass, somehow I misplaced my ticket. It was an anxious moment before I realised I must have dropped it, and lo! there it was at my feet. Dearie me. Actually, it wouldn't have mattered really - I remembered my seat number, and there wasn't a ticket check.

My seat was on the centre aisle, second row from the back. It's bench seating, and they seem to have reupholstered since I was here last - the benches are now multi-coloured. Mine was the last row to fill, and it was handy to be on the end - I could just swivel to let people past. I daresay it was sold out - I didn't see any free seats.

The set was decorated as a comfortable living room, with a bathroom off of it - it turned out to be a hotel suite. Now, I knew this was a comedy - I hadn't read closely enough to realise it involved time travel! So things were progressing reasonably enough, and then someone figured out that you could travel through time using the communicating door with the storeroom. Hmm - I didn't quite know what to make of that! But I decided to hang in there and see how it progressed - unlike a couple in my row, who left at the interval, and one woman who left as soon as time travel was mentioned.

It did progress decently cleverly, and I quite enjoyed it. I did like the way the script made use of the idea that changing something in the past changes something in the present, in unexpected ways. Recommended. Runs until 27 June - booking advised.

I might've eaten in the café on the way out, but it turns out they close early on Sundays! So I made my way home instead. There was more chanting somewhere on the platform when we stopped at South Kensington, and the local pubs had Chelsea fans spilling out all over when I got home. Still singing - they only just stopped a short while ago. Seems they won. Indeed, there was a great queue in the local shop, with at least some people stocking up on booze..

Tomorrow, it was a toss-up between Gypsy, with Imelda Staunton, or a film. Top of my film list was The Journey, directed by Lance Nielsen, and that sounded really good. Thing is, it's only showing in the Arthouse, Crouch End. I've never been there before, and when I looked it up, it turned out to be about an hour away. So I hummed and I hawed, and finally I said, sod it, I've travelled that far or more several times before. And I've often gone by both Tube and bus! So I decided to book it - I needed to, there aren't many seats left. Great thing is, if it weren't a Bank Holiday tomorrow, I couldn't manage it.. And on Tuesday, the Film Nite people are trying to persuade me to go see The Falling with them. Thing is, it's not supposed to be great. Well, we'll see!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Concert: The Sparrows of Paris

With Ireland not having qualified for the Eurovision final, I wasn't interested in watching tonight. Fortunately, there was something in Meetup - the World Music Meetup was advertising The Sparrows of Paris, a group singing retro French songs. And what's more, it was on in The Troubadour, which turns out to be just down the road from me! So I booked.

The event page advertised the band as being on at 10, but it turned out that the first act of the evening was at 8. Now, I needed to decide where to eat beforehand, so when someone in the group asked whether anyone was interested in eating, I replied in the affirmative, and we two arranged to meet outside at abt. 7.30 and see whether there was room in the restaurant. As I was waiting for her, an elderly lady carried in an enormous instrument case, and I wondered whether she was one of the Sparrows..

When my companion arrived, we checked out the "upstairs" restaurant. "Upstairs" here means ground level (the music venue is in the basement), and there were some free tables. There was a suggestion that we could eat in the garden at the back, but it was a teensy bit cold, so we didn't - we sat inside, near the back, instead. And a quirky venue it is, full of little design touches; I was particularly struck by the large photo of Jimi Hendrix that stared right at me all through my meal. As I was by the charming - and pointedly French - waiter. Sadly, I was less struck by the meal itself; I had a rather bland lamb shank, with mash. Why is it that there are qualified chefs who haven't grasped the value of flavouring their dishes..? I believe my companion's eggs Benedict were nice, though.

After an adequate meal, and an interesting chat, we made our way down the stairs just behind us to the music venue. I could've paid on the door, and probably should've - I was praying my phone battery wouldn't die (it's charging as I write). It was my only proof of payment, as I could bring up the confirmation email. Well, the battery lasted, and a good thing too - he took down an amount of information from that mail. As he dealt with us, he shushed us, so we didn't disturb the act currently on stage. And he gave us rather cool entry stamps on our wrists ( I like the logo):

We asked about the table Meetup was meant to be booking, and he gestured behind him - to the table absolutely festooned with Meetup signs. Ah, right! Unfortunately, it was oddly positioned behind a wall, where all you could see was the bar at the back of the room. There was no-one sitting at it. We took one look and found a table round the other side, where we could see the stage. I got a wine from the bar, and discovered that the house white is as nondescript as the Spanish white I'd had with dinner. Oddly, considering they also seem to have a wine store next door.

First up was a young lady with a guitar, and her name was IsseyCee. I loved her voice - it had an edginess that's popular right now. She wasn't really unique, but I did enjoy listening to her, and her choice of Loving You as a cover was both brave and apt. She was followed by Flora Cook, another solo lady with a guitar - more of a freewheelin' soft rock act. Another great voice, and the kind of music that makes you think of driving on the wide open road.

The third act was a duo - a guitarist/beatboxer, and a female singer that was the third in a row with a mane of blonde hair! Kalina and Gael, they were called. Essentially a cover band with beatboxing, they had one original (instrumental) number, which the guitarist/beatboxer introduced partly in Spanish, for the benefit of his mother, who was in the audience, it seems. Meantime, we spied two people at the Meetup table, whom we invited to come join us, as there was room - and they could see the stage from where we were.

The act we'd come to see was up fourth. The singer was the organiser of the Meetup, and we'd seen her around through the evening, dressed in a vaguely retro manner that made us think she might be in the band. (And yes, that elderly lady I'd spied earlier was in the band too, playing that enormous double bass she lugged in while I was waiting.) The band was completed by a guitarist and an accordionist. And they were truly lovely, and transported us back to Paris in the first half of the 20th century.. or they would have, if we could've heard them! By this stage, I think the crowd had started to arrive for the final act - the place was crammed, and the din from the bar threatened to drown out the performers. So much for telling people to shush! The singer had to tell them to ramp up the volume, and the poor lady pretty much had to yell into the (old-fashioned) microphone for the 45 minutes or so they were on stage.

Well, the act also included several Javas - a kind of French version of the waltz, quicker and designed for confined spaces (appropriately). And for each one, she grabbed a gentleman from the audience, gave him a flat cap for authenticity, and danced with him a bit, in that style. Highlight of the night though, and the one that got the crowd singing along, was La Vie en Rose.

After that, the crowd started to gather around the stage for the final act, Ballin' Jacks. Standing room only by this point, and so they stood and we couldn't see unless we did too. This was also the loudest act of the night by far - an odd combination with the acts that went before. So I left - I'd had enough. and it was late anyway. Not terribly impressed with the venue. But the acts that went before were good, and the company of my fellow Meetup people was excellent - I hope to meet them again, perhaps somewhere we can actually hear each other. Oh, and there were lots more Meetup people there, apparently, whom we never met. Not an easy group to meet people in - they don't put much emphasis on that.

Tomorrow, lots of interesting walks are planned, but it's supposed to rain, so I passed. However, a Meetup group I hadn't heard of is headed to a spy comedy called Communicating Doors, at the Menier Chocolate Factory. RSVPs are already closed for it, so I booked my own ticket again - on the venue website, as the few tickets available elsewhere turned out more expensive! It's a matinee, but I should get enough sleep in..

Play: The Beaux' Strategem

Looking for something to do last night, nothing appealed in the Meetup groups of which I'm a member. So I had a look at the film list - but what appealed more was The Beaux' Strategem, a play running at the National, and being attended by one of those theatre Meetup groups that charge a membership fee. So I booked my own ticket - at the venue website, seeing as they still had cheap £15 tickets available, and no booking fee.

I left yesterday evening in good time. As it's a Restoration comedy, I felt justified in unpacking my velvet coat - a little decadence is permissible on such occasions, I think! The first Tube wasn't heading into town - but oh! it's lovely not to have to rush, and I was in no great hurry. Neither was I perturbed as it chugged slowly along, or pushed about dashing up the steps onto the bridge. Indeed, I arrived about half an hour early - how unusual, for the National! and treated myself to a tasty, if overpriced, chocolate ice cream. Which I ate on the terrace outside the café, on that level between the Olivier Stalls and Circle. The café was practically deserted, and I had the terrace entirely to myself, with most people milling about outside either the Stalls or Circle themselves. And it was a lovely evening to sit and gaze.

My seat in the theatre was to the side - but no harm there - second row from the front of the Circle. And I do believe the performance was entirely sold out, from what I could see. There was supposed to be music playing when we came in - the person I got my ticket from had said as much to the person in front of me in the queue; she was getting headphones, and the box office person suggested that she could try them out on this pre-performance music. They must have been tired of playing though - although I could see the band, perched on a ledge opposite where I was, and dressed in period costume, they were silent for now.

The set is split-level, stairs connecting the levels and allowing the actors to run up and down. There's a lot of running around in this, and a lot of tomfoolery - typical of the period. It's the story of two personable but impoverished young gentlemen, who have travelled to a small country town with the aim of marrying money. It's slow to fire up, but hang in there..

It is hilarious! The text seems original, and has lost some of its comic appeal over the centuries, but the comic genius is in the direction - a wry look here, a staging trick there. Whenever a character takes a fancy to burst into song - which happens from time to time, particularly in the second half - it's preceded by the appearance, on the top level (unexpected by the characters) of one or more of the musicians, as accompaniment. So you have a pause, and then a banjo-player (for instance) pops up upstairs, sporting a big grin. And then we can start.

Comic star of the night is the manservant called "Scrub", who speaks with a Northern English accent and plays the whole thing completely deadpan. He had us rolling in the aisles. It's really enjoyable - the only blot on the evening for me was the return, for the second half, of the stomach pain I'd had earlier, which I'd thought was gone. I am glad I lasted, because I'd have hated to miss this. Runs until 20 September - a long show (nearly three hours, including interval) but highly recommended. (Even with the inclusion of the Stage-Irish persona, and the description of the Irish as "bog-trotters". Forgivable for the times.) Booking advisable.

It was an unpleasant journey home, what with the pain in my stomach. (By the way, if you need the toilet at the National, I recommend the one at the back of the café - less crowded than the others.) I was glad to arrive at West Brompton, only a couple of minutes' walk from home - until I saw my way blocked by police tape! There'd been some incident outside one of the local pubs, and our way home was blocked - leading to a long walk around. At least it meant I got to go by Tesco, which was handy because I needed some groceries. And a man who lives near me accompanied me, and was good enough to carry my shopping all the way back - and a long way it was. And wouldn't you know it - by the time we wound our way back to the other side of the police tape, they were letting pedestrians through..

So I went straight to bed - hence no blogging. Better again today - long may it last! Tonight, I'm off to a meeting of the World Music Meetup: The Sparrows of Paris - Vintage French Chansons. And what a great location - The Troubadour, under 10 minutes' walk from where I live! (Assuming no further police incidents..)

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Concert: Spring Extravaganza

The Meetup group calling itself London European Club had cheap tickets for a Spring Extravanganza concert tonight, so I bought one. Not that it was that easy - I had to confirm I was coming, then email the organiser, who would email me back the bank details for payment. Then she thought I hadn't, so I suggested she check her spam folder. I did finally get to pay!

St. James' Church Piccadilly turns out to be really close to Piccadilly Circus - you just have to make sure to turn down Piccadilly. Amazingly for Piccadilly Circus Station, this turned out to be quite easy - as you exit the barriers, a sign pretty much straight ahead directs you to "Piccadilly (South Side)". After a moment's thought, I decided that the South Side was where I needed to be - and lo and behold, when I exited at street level, I was in exactly the right place!

The church is a little ways down on the left. When I got there, I discovered a covered market in the courtyard, and remembered when I was last down this street, years ago, and came across the same market. Tonight, they were just closing up. I made my way into the church, keeping my eyes open for a group - I didn't know what the organiser looked like, but anyway, there wasn't anyone I could identify as part of a group, and after posting on the event site to ask whether anyone else was there (and getting no response) I made my way over to the ticket desk and told her whom I'd booked the ticket with. She got all flustered, and said I should talk to the lady over there.

Which was how I met the organiser. I remembered her from last night - she'd been sat in front of me, scribbling furiously in her notebook. She told me I needed to get a ticket from the desk, and I explained how they'd sent me to her. So she came and got me one herself. Then she was asking me about last night - she'd come with someone else, who wanted to leave at the interval, and she was curious to know what she'd missed in the second half. I started to tell her how I'd left myself at the interval, but we were interrupted by the arrival of another couple. And she told me to make my own way in, and sit anywhere.

Right! That was the last contact I had with anyone in the group. There was no effort to gather us together - perhaps they were a bit more sociable in the reception afterwards, but I'd had no interest in paying an extra £15 for wine, canapés, and a chance to meet the performers. Hell, I was even too cheap to pay £1 for the programme. I didn't regret it - I wasn't familiar with most of the pieces, as it turned out. And I can Google the rest.

I took an aisle seat, near-ish the front. It's an Anglican church, and pretty enough, but to someone used to Catholic churches, rather sparse:

I overheard the woman who, with her partner, had interrupted my chat with the organiser. They were wondering where to sit, and she pointed me out to him, but he wasn't keen - wanted to sit over the side for a quick getaway. So I sat alone. Well, amongst people I didn't know - it was quite full by the time the concert started.

The host wasn't familiar with the use of a microphone. She got that she had to pick it up, but completely forgot about it after that, waggling it all over the place while she was talking and most people couldn't hear what she was saying. Even after people yelled at her that they couldn't hear, she was still waving it somewhere over her ear as she spoke.

The concert programme comprised songs from musicals, as it happened. Ironically, for a concert to promote two young singers, one couldn't make it. Alison Langer has tonsillitis, it seems - poor lass. Lawrence Thackeray was there though, and in fine voice, as was Alison's replacement. The other girl was the weakest of the singers, but had it been a dress competition, she'd have won hands down - she wore a stunning black lace number (Catherine Walker, I believe), backless, with the most enormous train. Really, I pitied anyone having to walk behind her! The train took a few seconds to follow her around..

I find it a bit twee, listening to songs from musicals out of context. Still, by and large the singing was lovely - and being filmed from the side. It occurred to me to pity the poor young musicians, having to parade themselves at a reception afterwards. We had been instructed not to clap at certain intervals between songs by the same composer, but most people blithely ignored that and clapped away anyhow.

There was a 15-minute interval, after which the elderly lady in front of me suddenly became quite cranky. I started to wonder whether she had Tourette's. First, she was vexed by the woman in front of her, who was moving her head. Now, my mother becomes terribly vexed by girls tossing their long manes of hair about, like horses - that's not what this was, the lady in question was middle-aged and didn't have much hair to toss. But she was one of those people who tend to move their heads a bit. In time to the music, at least in part. The elderly lady kept darting her hand to her and pulling it back - I really wondered what she was up to. Finally, she tapped her on the shoulder and asked her to stop it.

Next, she became vexed by creaking. We were all sitting on wooden pews, and they do tend to creak, you know. Well, unfortunately, she blamed the whole thing on me. Any time anyone moved, she darted a glare at me, behind her. Me, quiet as a churchmouse and twice as still! Apart from her husband, there were three other people on her pew, but somehow I was supposed to be making it creak. Indeed, there were times she glared at me when I couldn't hear anything at all, and I wondered whether she was hallucinating. She banged her seat. She jumped in it - you know, as you might if you were trying to get someone to stay still without saying it. At one point between songs, she glared back at me and snapped, "Oh, won't you just keep still!" At which point I caught the eye of the lady sitting nearest her in her pew, who smiled sympathetically.

Not a great experience, then. But the singers acquitted themselves admirably, and I did get a cheap ticket. I was glad to get out of there, and again, home nice and early.

For tomorrow, I checked the films, but more interesting than what's top of the list is a play that one of those Meetup theatre groups is going to - one of the groups that charge a fee for the privilege of going with them. So I booked my own ticket, to The Beaux' Strategem, at the National. It's a period farce about two young men who seek to make their fortunes by marrying for money. Cheapest tickets available on the venue website, since they don't charge a booking fee.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Talk: Ireland - Facts and Experiences and Opinions

Actually, there was a classical concert on the Meetup list for tonight, and if I'd seen that first I'd probably have gone to it. But what I saw first was this talk about Ireland, so I said - what the hey! and I booked for that. Not that we had to pay, but we did have to RSVP.

It was held in the function room upstairs at the Devereux pub, in the historic Temple area. Not familiar with the venue, but well familiar with the complexity of the narrow, winding old streets there, I took myself straight to Google Maps Streetview, which showed me exactly how to get there. It was explained on the event website that the event was to start at 7:30, but we could arrive any time after 6:30.

And so it came to pass that I headed off, getting the Tube to Temple. Now, Streetview, for some reason best known to itself, had me heading to the embankment and winding my way around. Nonsense! Quicker to climb the steps, to your left as you leave the station, then head right along Temple Place to the corner, where you intersect with the Streetview route. You need to cross the road, and it's funny how, just at the top of the aforementioned steps, where there's a junction with Arundel Street, there's a zebra crossing on one side, where traffic has to give way to pedestrians - and a light-controlled pedestrian crossing on the other, where pedestrians are supposed to wait for the lights to turn in their favour. Turning to the right, it's the light-controlled crossing you come across; but the traffic from Temple Place (which is one-way) is held at the zebra crossing anyway, so it's just the traffic from Arundel Street you have to watch.

Having crossed successfully, I came across the beautiful building at 2 Temple Place:

At the corner, I knew I had to turn left, into a pedestrianized street - the end of Milford Lane:

And then I proceeded up the flight of steps directly in front of me, to take me onto Essex Street:

Head along to the pub on the corner, turn down the laneway and The Devereux is a little ways down on the left. It didn't take long, and I got there at about 20 past. Now, The Devereux is more than a little confusing. I knew I had to go upstairs, but on my first pass I couldn't see a way there! I tried again, and finally, at the back of the pub, came across a door marked "Restaurant". I knew the restaurant was upstairs, so thought this would be a good bet. Upon climbing the stairs, I came across the restaurant, with tables packed with people. I couldn't see anywhere else, and when I saw a screen displaying a slideshow of what looked like images of Ireland, I figured I was in the right place. Mind you, it did occur to me that it must be awkward trying to eat here, if the restaurant might on any given occasion be booked by a private party..

I should probably have come earlier - pretty much the only seats left faced away from the screen. I had to swivel around in my seat to get a view. As the talk started, one guy's food arrived - you had to get drinks downstairs though, and bring them upstairs - I didn't bother.

The talk was given by a soft-spoken German. Very softly spoken - it occurred to me how many people who are to give presentations put so much thought and effort into slides (or film clips) but so little into what they're going to say, or how they're going to say it. Frankly, he nearly put me to sleep. Still, I have to give him credit - although he admitted his research was on Wikipedia, it was quite extensive.

He started by asking whether there were any Irish in the room. Well goodness, there were a bunch of us! He was impressed - said there'd been no Swiss people at the talk on Switzerland. Yes, well, that's the Irish for you.. It soon became apparent that he was focussing on the history. Mind you, it was a bad sign that he chose to start with the English invasion of 1169. He did pay lip-service to the fact that there was loads of history before that, but well.. he was starting there, and that was that.

After meandering through to the 17th Century, he had some facts clarified by an elderly Irish gent down the back, who pointed out that although Cromwell did massacre many in Ireland, it was royalist supporters he was targeting, and many of those killed were Protestant, English settlers who supported the king. But things didn't really start to warm up until he got up to the Troubles.

They say the tragedy of the English is that they never remember, and the tragedy of the Irish is that they never forget. Well - predictably, really - there were a lot of people in that room with a great capacity not to forget. They soon commandeered the discussion, which became all about the North. And the British Army (Northern Ireland is their longest foreign assignment, you know - by a mile). And the hunger strikes. And so on - and on - and on..

There were some interesting asides, for instance by the Englishman sitting beside me, who described how, as a kid in London, he was terrified to get on a train because of all of the talk of bombs. Or the woman in front of me, from an Irish family but who grew up in London, who remembers the racism of the 60s - "no blacks, no Irish, no dogs", said the signs in boarding houses. See, these are perspectives I haven't heard done to death.

But the discussion for most of the night was just plain depressing, and when he announced a 15-minute interval, for people to get drinks and such, I knew I was leaving. They might have struck a lighter note after I left, but I wasn't willing to risk it. I wasn't the only one - I overheard a couple who left just in front of me also complaining that the discussion had been hijacked. By the sort of people who would never let it go.. ugh. Let them at it. Ironically, I love history - in general. But Irish history has a terrible tendency to turn into a melancholic sinkhole. I climbed out.

Nice to get home early, too. Tomorrow night, I'm joining the same club - but this time, it's for their Spring Extravaganza concert, to promote two young Irish opera singers: Alison Langer and Lawrence Thackeray. And has a different organiser. And, hopefully, NO history.

Presentation on Gone Girl (Book and Film)

I love Gone Girl - book and film - so this presentation was a no-brainer. Mind you, Film Nite events - based on my experiences so far - are scattilly organised. Again, no PayPal link was immediately available - I messaged the organiser, and he put one up.

At least this time, I knew my way to Soho House! Well, roughly - I looked up Google Maps Streetview to remind myself of the exact location, and get suggestions on the best way to walk there from Leicester Square. They had different suggestions, but I decided to go with my most familiar route: to the Curzon Soho (before they demolish it for Crossrail), then turn right and take the next left onto Greek Street.

I soon found my way to Number 40, and buzzed for them to open the door. Up the scruffy stairs to reception, where I told them I was headed to the Film Nite event. No reaction. Okaay.. I climbed to the second floor, headed left (threading my way through restaurant tables), and blithely entered through the door with the red light shining over it, and a sign that said not to proceed if the red light was showing.

I was about the third person to arrive, apart from the presenter (John). One of the others waiting introduced himself - turned out he was another Meetup person. As the venue slowly filled, John nearly gave himself apoplexy handing out bundles of handouts.. I have never seen so many at one talk. I still haven't had time to go through them all, but they include a Gone Girl film poster printout, a printout of a Gone Girl Vogue cover, a Times review of the film, a couple of scholarly articles about it, by the look of them - and a fascinating reproduction of one of the Amazing Amy books. For those who don't know, Amy is the "Gone Girl" of the title, who's gone missing - and Amazing Amy is the title character of a series of children's books written by her parents, both child psychologists, and based on her. And real Amy has always resented Amazing Amy, and having her life publicised and exploited like that, and having been expected to live up to her.

The presentation started with this shot. John then proceeded to show us lots of clips from older films that had similar scenes, or plotlines, to Gone Girl. Missing women, main characters that disappear near the beginning of the film, blonde ice queens, femmes fatales. He did make some interesting points about shots of deserted landscapes, intended to enforce the sense that our main characters are isolated. But honestly, his talk lacked focus, and while I got the similarities, I failed to see the point of just trotting out scores of old films. Apparently he's a lecturer by profession - as a former lecturer myself, I'd have expected more structure to his talk. As the lady sitting on front of me asked, "Why are we watching this?" No explanation, y'see. He also suffered some delays in waiting for the projectionist, in the screening room, who didn't always seem to be on the job. Hence the problem with using traditional film reels, rather than just running the whole thing from a laptop, as with the last talk.

We were treated to two talks for the price of one - a lady who seemed to be a friend of John's, and doesn't work in film at all, but is really enthusiastic about this film, spoke when he was done. She isn't a professional presenter, and her talk was enthusiastic, but all over the place. She mentioned all these things she loved about the film: the music, the characterisation, the acting; however, she didn't go into enough detail about any of these things, then ran out of things to say, and ended up repeating herself. Still, fair play to her for having a go!

When the talk ended, the organiser namechecked who'd shown up. Turned out that all of us three Meetup people were there, but only one of the 11 Soho House members who'd said they'd come! Well, more space for us then! Just as well one had come though - technically, to come to Soho House, you have to be a member, or in the company of one.

A lively discussion erupted down the back as we were leaving - by the other entrance, interestingly - the one that was signposted as being closed when I was here last. A much more presentable entrance and staircase, I might add. We took our discussion to a local pub, The Spice of Life, not too busy midweek, and we got enough space for all of us to sit together. This is where most of the group congregated, to chat about the film, films in general, cinemas in general.. But this is a lively, fascinating group, filled with people with a common passion. Meetup at its best, in fact! The conversation ranged far and wide, and right up to closing. I was plied with drink, and sorry when it ended, and I'll be delighted to go to another of their events. Of course, by the time I got home, blogging wasn't really on the agenda.

Tonight, I'm off to the first of two meetings with the London European Club - and tonight, it's a discussion on Ireland. So I've donned an Irish t-shirt that I found at the weekend. It's in the Devereux, a pub tucked away in one of the back alleys around the Temple district. Thank you, Streetview! And tomorrow night I'm with the club again, for the Spring Extravanganza - a classical concert to promote two young Irish musicians: Alison Langer and Lawrence Thackeray. 'Tis an Irish week - let's just hope we get through in the Eurovision semifinal tomorrow night!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Story: Crow Dog

The week of Meetups is upon us! Tonight was #1 of four - a story called Crow Dog, presented - of course - by the Crick Crack Storytelling Club, and taking place at Soho Theatre. Now, I joined this club because I love a good story, so I was up for this, and decided I'd better book, since the organiser said it would book heavily.

It didn't start till 8, so I had plenty of time. Which meant I ended up rushing, of course. Anyway, the Tubes happened along nice and promptly. Mind you, as I got off a District Line train at Earl's Court to change to the Piccadilly Line, I heard the District Line driver announce that there'd be a slight delay. As usual. So I was glad to be changing.

I used to walk from Piccadilly Circus to Soho Theatre. I was almost always late - I blame this on the crowds on Shaftesbury Avenue. These days, I find it much better to travel one stop further on, to Leicester Square, and approach the theatre from that side - not only do you avoid walking along Shaftesbury Avenue, but the station has only one escalator, instead of the two in Piccadilly Circus. So it's faster to get out.

Indeed, it feels like half the journey. Even Dean Street was a bit easier to navigate this evening, and I hardly had to spend any time walking on the road because of crowds spilling out of pubs. So I arrived at the theatre with minutes to spare - a good thing, considering we were on the third floor ("Soho Upstairs"). On the second floor, hearing a hubbub upstairs, I paused for breath and to blow my nose, and thus appear somewhat presentable.

The theatre was pretty full when I arrived, although it never did fill completely. We were asked to take seats over the far side, so I tucked myself in a corner. A man with a vaguely American-Indian vibe was strumming softly on the guitar centre-stage as we entered. And when they determined that everyone had arrived, the door closed and that dapper gent in the black suit, with the little hat, was back to lead us in a chant of "Crick!" "Crack!" "E-crick!" "E-crack!" "Honour!" "Respect!"

He then introduced our storyteller for the evening, who glories in the name of TUUP - The Unorthodox Unprecedented Preacher. He was raised in Acton, it seems, but for this evening he adopted the persona of an African American of the 19th century, telling us how Crow Dog was fleeing on the Underground Railroad when they were attacked and he hid, being taken in by the Seminole Indians. And the legends that followed him after that.

The whole thing was accompanied by the guy on the guitar, and by the storyteller himself banging on a drum occasionally - I'm sensing a common M.O. among storytellers. It was a lovely tale, and a lovely evening - although my back was killing me. And far from being 60 mins plus interval, it was more like 90, and there was no interval. But I was well satisfied, coming home via Piccadilly Circus, as is my wont.

#2, tomorrow, is a discussion about the film Gone Girl (which I loved), held by the Film Nite group at Soho House again. Then the next two are with the London European Club - on Wednesday, a talk about Ireland, and on Thursday, a Spring Extravanganza concert. I got a cheap ticket by booking early, and the event, it seems, is to promote two young Irish opera singers - Alison Langer and Lawrence Thackeray. Well - happy to help!