Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Dance: Of Memory and What Remains

Looking through Meetup for tonight, I booked for my first event with Free London Events and Talks - Of Memory and What Remains, a contemporary dance performance. On in Bolivar Hall, part of the Venezuelan Cultural Complex. I was there ages ago, for a film.

Well, this turned out to be a busy day at work, and I stayed very late - so it simply wasn't an option to go to this event! Just as well it was free.. and I'll just have to wait a bit longer to meet this group.

Tomorrow night is looking like a film: top of the list is The Look of Silence, a documentary about the Indonesian massacre. I'm sure it's very good: problem is, the most convenient showing is all the way over in Hackney Picturehouse. And it's supposed to be even hotter tomorrow than today - and the last thing I fancy is a long trip by packed Overground in the heat. No, I might just skip it, especially as I'm in the Guildford office again the following day - unusually often for me, this month! So I'm not going out that night, either! Friday, again, it's looking like a film - watch this space for details; that's the day the film listings change.

On Saturday, I'm heading to the Bermondsey Carnival for the first time - never even heard of it before, but it sounds like just the thing for a hot and sunny day. Must try and get a hat & sunscreen in the meantime. The CLOGgies are headed there too, but it sounds a bit complicated to meet them - I've only met this group once, and probably wouldn't recognise them anyway.

On Sunday, however, I'm delighted to be joining the London for Less group again - and officially, for the first time in about a month! For once, I got in on time and booked one of their discounted tickets to the Pop-Up Opera's production of L' Italiana in Algeri, by Rossini.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Italian Swing, Jazz and Rock n Roll

Checking Meetup for today, the stand-out event sounded like the Italian Swing, Jazz and Rock n Roll event, advertised by the World Music Meetup, upstairs at the Ritzy. So off I went, on a brilliantly sunny and warm evening. It's not hard at all to get to, although I was never there before - from Victoria, I took the Victoria Line for four stops to its southern terminus at Brixton, then turned left out of the station and a short walk brought me to the Ritzy. About half an hour's journey, in total.

I've never been to the Ritzy before, although I've threatened to go many times! For a first-timer looking for the upstairs music venue, it's confusing - there's a bar / restaurant to the left, a cinema to the right, and no sign of music. Just as I asked the guy at the cinema box office, I saw the inconspicuous sign - the upstairs bar and music venue are accessed by a flight of stairs squeezed in between restaurant and cinema. One floor up is the upstairs bar - the music venue is one floor above that again. Tickets can be purchased at the upstairs bar - £5 entry, and you get your hand stamped.

I queued for ages at the bar, and while I was doing so, decided to get a drink. Very good value, a large glass of white was just £5.50. Of course, being me, I spilled a decent amount while trying to navigate the stairs, carrying glass, coat, and newspaper. When I got upstairs at last, despite the music having been supposed to start at 8, there was no sign of it. I contemplated taking a seat inside, but honestly, when I saw there was a balcony, it was no contest. So I sat out there, on a lovely sunny evening but in the shade, with a pleasant breeze blowing. And there was somewhere to leave my drink. I did eventually identify the Meetup table, I think, but didn't know anyone at it, and couldn't be bothered leaving my nice perch outside.

So I stayed out there for the act, which came on 25 minutes late. You could hear just fine from where I was. Unfortunately, there wasn't much worth hearing - this was your typical wedding band (and indeed, apparently they are available for weddings). The theme was Italian, and I was familiar with some of the numbers, which were competently played, but dull. After half an hour, things did pick up, and they performed a few good pieces - but when they went off for a break, I took my leave.

Anyhoo, nice to be home in daylight. Tomorrow, I'm off to my first event with Free London Events and Talks; they're off to a contemporary dance event called Of Memory and What Remains. The event is free, as the group name implies - tickets available through Funzing, and it's on at the Bolivar Hall.. I was at a film there once, as I recall.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A Choral Extravaganza Concert

Well, I'm in Ireland this weekend again - flying back in a few hours, actually. When I fly to Ireland, I try to find something to go to on the Saturday night - it's the only one I can manage, what with travelling on the Friday and Sunday. Anyhow, it turned out that Limerick Sings is on this weekend, so I booked for us to go to last night's Choral Extravaganza Concert in St. Mary's Cathedral.

My mother fancied using the occasion to find somewhere different for dinner; now, there are three restaurants across the road from the cathdral, by the river - so we decided to try Azur, which had a menu to suit. On the way in, we stopped for a few bits and pieces at a Tesco Express that we pass; I noticed that what used to be a sports bar near the entrance to the small retail park seemed to have changed hands, and was now going by the name of Sareva Bar & Bistro. Checked the menu, which seemed ok - but she still wanted to head to Azur; since it was so close to the cathedral, we could park for the restaurant and not have to move for the concert.

We parked at the courthouse car park, just down the road from the cathedral and across from the restaurants. Crossed the road, and made our way to Azur - the last of the three restaurants. First was The Locke - a popular riverside gastro pub, where music was thumping out as we passed and the outside tables were full of people. Too noisy, too crowded, and no salmon on the menu. We moved on to Amber, which looked nice, and was much less busy - but that's Asian, and she doesn't eat Asian food any more. And so we came to Azur, and opened the door to go in. 

We didn't get very far - our way was blocked by a waiter, who firmly told us that the oven was broken, and even if they did get it fixed, they were booked up for the evening. So, the most practical thing for parking was to head back to Sareva, which was only a few minutes back along the road. There's no parking right outside, but I let my mother off at the door and parked in the large car park just beside.

When I'd been checking the menu before, I'd had to sit at a table and have one brought to me - there's none on display. I then told the server I'd have to fetch my mother - she must've wondered, in the meantime, what was keeping me! Anyhoo, we took a table in the corner, by the wall, and were soon served - they weren't busy. In fact, although there were some people in the adjacent bar, only one other table was occupied in the restaurant.

We ordered some decent pinot grigio, in rather funky glasses, and perused the menu. There were three menu options; I was too hungry for the "light bites", but didn't fancy a starter - I wasn't quite hungry enough for that. So I passed on the set menu too, and went for the a la carte, where I ordered the chili glazed chicken, on a bed of noodles and vegetables. My mother, surprisingly.. went for the salmon. Sauce on the side.

Despite us both asking the waiter to put the sauce on the side, the sauce came poured right over the salmon. Happens so often. Well, she scraped it off and ate it anyway. My chicken, I soon discovered, was eyewateringly spicy. Yes, I know it said "chili" in the description - but they usually lay off the spice a bit more than this! The noodles were tasty, and came with a kind of chutney that damped down the spice a little. Even my mother's spicy diced potato was too spicy for her. I was glad of the large carafe of iced water they'd left on the table, most of which I drank; it was a relief to get to dessert.

When we drove back to the cathedral, my mother suggested we follow the lead of some people who'd parked in the cathedral grounds. There isn't much space, but people leave their cars along the driveway, which culminates in a little roundabout surrounding a tree. I got a very good space near the entrance, and we sat for a bit - being quite early - and watched people start to arrive. And in no time, arrive they did - in droves! We determined that most had a part in the production, as they were arriving with garment bags - some had already dressed, and there were men in tuxedos and women in long skirts and dresses. Eventually, when some normally dressed people arrived (without garment bags), we decided it was better to move.

There was actually a queue to get in. When we finally did, I located the ticket desk to the right, and was delighted to find she had a pile of prebooked tickets, among which were ours. The end of last week proved so hectic that I'd completely forgotten to print the confirmation email, and the last time I'd prebooked for here, I'd needed it. Hey-ho, we were in with no problem at all, and instructed to take a seat in the centre aisle; the folding chairs on either side (and at the back) were for choristers. Who were thronging the place: in the kerfuffle, I forgot to pick up a programme, but did at the interval.

We got to see the choirs take position on the stand, as we waited - they were seeing whether they'd fit, methinks:

Many audience members around us had a connection to one or other of the choirs, obviously. And we enthusiastically people-watched until it was time for Lorcan Murray of Lyric FM, acting as compere for the night, to open proceedings. He informed us that this is the third year of Limerick Sings, and that they encourage international participation. In such a spirit, the first up was a youth choir from Spokane (which he informed us was pronounced "Spo-Cannes", at which the chirpy musical director nodded vigorously and beamed at him. Twinned with Limerick, apparently. They were almost exclusively girls - one little fellow descreetly positioned up the top corner. And they were utterly charming! They started with a piece by Kantor, then a rendition of the Lake Isle of Innisfree, set to music. (Pity nobody told them the "s" in "Innisfree" is pronounced "sh"..) They finished with When You Wish Upon a Star, and a jazzed-up version of Gaudete.

A choir from Manchester followed, who obviously had some connection with the folks sitting in front of us. There was a folding chair at the end of each row, and we were never quite sure of their purpose; if for overflow, they weren't needed, but they did prove very handy for anyone who wanted to take photos. Like the chap in front of us with the complicated-looking camera. They were followed by a couple of local choirs - the gospel choir had us all clapping along, while the largest group of the night were the Voices of Limerick (pictured), who overspilled the stage and whose sheer numbers meant they produced the fullest sound.

After a short interval, we were entertained by another Irish choir, then back to the American ones: Los Robles, from California, started with an Irish-language piece, Hinbarra. Fair play to them, their pronunciation was spot-on! This choir was followed by another young choir from Washington, the Eastern Washington University Symphonic choir. Same musical director.. they performed yet another Yeats poem, to which music had been set that had been composed by a member of the choir, a student of music composition! For the finale, the first choir joined them for one number.

A great night, and too late home to blog. Pity we couldn't go to their second concert today. Anyway, after taking my mother to Mass today, she fancied going to the Abbey Tavern - they're friendly, the food is good, and we're regulars. They don't start serving until 12.30, but we lasted.. and whatever we wanted that wasn't specified on the Sunday menu, they were happy to provide. Tasty food, and an enjoyable meal.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow - Meetup threw up something interesting just this afternoon. The World Music Meetup advertised an evening of Italian Swing, Jazz and Rock n Roll! I am so there.. £5 entry. Sounds like a plan.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Play: Richard II

So, I'd planned to go to the Science Museum late last night. And then I took Tuesday night off and stayed home, and was looking at what was coming up - and I discovered this production of Richard II, at the church of St. Bartholomew the Great. Ah yes, that kinda trumped the Science Museum.. I wasn't that pushed about it anyway. So I booked! Needed to, it was selling fast.

Now, I'd never been to this church before, but had heard it was near Barbican. O great. A trek right across town. Google Maps suggested I walk from Blackfriars - but when I checked out the walk, although it wasn't too long, it was that bit complicated. See, I love the City, with its complicated, winding, narrow streets and buildings crowded in together - but it can be hard to navigate, if you don't know the way. So I said nuts - closest station is Barbican, I'll head there.

The walking directions given on the church website were horrendously obscure. "The only step-free access from Cloth Fair is through the Elizabethan gateway from West Smithfield." "Access from Cloth Fair through the churchyard is via a steep set of steps without a handrail." "Sometimes, the North door on Cloth Fair is open and this gives access to a steep set of steps, with a handrail." Ay-ay.. could I determine what they meant from Streetview? Not a bit of it. I printed a map in case I got lost on my way from Barbican, and decided the only thing for it was to go and look for myself.

What with Barbican being right on the other side of the Tube network from me, there are several options for getting there. My preferred way is the District Line straight to Edgware Road, then change to either of the other two lines running east to Barbican. Handily enough, a train pulled into Edgware Road just as I got to the platform, and I was in Barbican without too much delay. Talk about pollution in the City though - every time the train doors opened, east of Edgware Road, the stench of diesel nearly choked me. From Barbican, it was an easy walk to the church - turn right out of the station, take the next right, then the next left. Then the second right, onto Middle Street. You can't miss the church after that.

Middle Street soon becomes the aforementioned Cloth Fair, a streetname doubtless stemming from there having been a cloth market here - this was always a thriving merchant community. I walked down Cloth Fair, figuring that since it had been mentioned so prominently in the directions, the entrance must be along here somewhere. I passed what was probably the North door, then came to the churchyard, and an open gate in the fence. Ok.. I passed through, and walked to the other side. When I got there, I could see what looked like an entrance door, at a lower level - they'd explained that this is a mediaeval church, and the ground level was lower in those days. Cunningly placed benches along the edge of the upper-level churchyard prevented people from falling over the edge, as well as giving them somewhere to sit. I figured there must be steps, and sure enough, there were - the aforementioned steep steps without handrail were at the far end.

So I made my way down. And since, for once, I was early - they'd only just opened the doors - I had a bit of a wander. I figured I'd found two of the three mentioned entrances -  where was this gateway? I wandered to the right, into West Smithfield, under an arch, and saw the gateway properly; I'd never have recognised it as such from Streetview:

And then I went in. She ticked me off a list, and I made my way to the Cloisters café:

A pair of rather frazzled, but very nice, ladies were dealing with a large crowd - it was pretty sold out. After a bit of a queue, I checked that I could pay with card. I could. The poor girl was doing her best, pouring wine for two of us simultaneously, and it was just funny to watch. So when I had to move to the side to pay, because the card reader was attached to a cable that didn't stretch far enough - I just laughed.

There wasn't really anywhere to sit, it being so crowded - so I plonked my things on the piano at the entrance, and while I drank my wine I read the history panels on the wall. Well, it's absolutely fascinating! Built as a priory in 1123, it's the oldest surviving parish church in London. It only just survived the Great Fire of London, which stopped just down the road from it. And of course, it's in the area of Smithfield, which saw so much throughout the ages..

I didn't have long to drink my wine, and gulped down most of it - the house was open, and I wanted to get a good seat. So I moved through to the main part of the building. Oh, it's gorgeous, all that exposed stone..

I was so glad my phone camera lasted - the battery was nearly out, and it just had enough power to snap these shots and upload them. Anyway, I took a seat in the front of the three rows of seats that had been laid out on either side of the nave. There were piles of blankets at the entrance, in case you felt chilly - but I was ok. Mind you, if I went again, I'd take one as a cushion - the seats aren't upholstered.

And we were off! It's great, I hadn't even seen Richard II before, and here I was in one of the best settings for it. How atmospheric, the actors in mediaeval costumes moving through the stone church, sumptuous costumes inches away from us, sweeping along the side aisles behind the stone pillars. This church has apparently been used in several film and tv productions - justifiably. It was enchanting. And I have to give equal credit to the theatre company - they played up the mediaeval atmosphere, starting and ending the performance with Miri It Is - it's years since I heard that. Moody, mediaeval-appropriate music played before, and at the interval. And at start and end, again, the actors performed a few steps of a minuet.

Not to mention the excellent casting - Richard II is as weedy and incompetent as you'd expect, Henry Bolingbroke heftier and brooding. I do have one bone to pick - but it's with Shakespeare's interpretation, which takes liberties with the truth in one respect: the Queen was only 10 years old when Richard was deposed (6 years old when he married her) - so any suggestion of a sexual relationship between them is a bit creepy. But that's just for those of us who pay attention to these things..

This is a terrific production, very highly recommended for anyone with a love of Shakespeare. Or of history. Running as part of a Death of Kings series, alternating with performances of Edward II. Only two performances left of Richard II - this Saturday, and the following Friday. Go see..

Leaving drinks tonight for someone from the office, and tomorrow I'm back to Ireland for the weekend. Heading to a concert in St. Mary's Cathedral in Limerick on Saturday, part of the Limerick Sings choral festival.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

West End Live, Restaurant: Garfunkels, & Opera: Don Giovanni

Oof, whatta couple of days! So, on Sunday I spent the afternoon at West End Live. Apparently, it's the 11th year of this.. how did I miss it before? Maybe it was on a weekend I wasn't here, and I just didn't pay attention. Anyhoo, what it is, is a couple of weekend afternoons of West End stars performing live snippets from their shows, about 20 minutes each, on a stage in Trafalgar Square. And the day dawned bright and sunny, so I packed a backpack and off I went.

Trafalgar Square isn't on a Tube line - I usually go via the District Line to Embankment and walk, but the District Line was closed through that section this weekend, for planned engineering works. Never mind - Leicester Square station turns out to be just as close, and I took the Piccadilly Line to there and walked. It's an easy walk, not five minutes - just turn left from Exit 1, down Charing Cross Road. You can't miss it!

The entrances were on either side of the North side of the square, and it didn't take me long to get in. I kind of missed the first act - What's It All About? Bacharach Reimagined - and found myself listening to an annoying pair of MCs touting MasterCard (the main sponsor) and the Fortnum & Mason stalls, selling water and ice cream. That's another thing - where were the food stalls? I've never seen an event like this without catering! So I realised I'd have to leave the venue for lunch, and identified a block of the schedule I wasn't interested in, during which I could do that.

Meantime, there weren't many good vantage points to sit, so I stood for a lacklustre performance from The Lion King, whose cast gave just one number and weren't much appreciated. The Commitments, on the other hand, had everyone bopping along, and I made my way over to the other side of the venue for Stomp, always good crowd-pleasers. Oh, and naturally there was at least one ticket booth in the place so you could buy tickets to all these, along with various promotional tents from people like Picturehouse, Forbidden Planet and Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

But, as I say, no food - so after Stomp, I headed off in search of some. Heading down Northumberland Avenue, there's a Prezzo on one side and a Garfunkel's on the other - you know, I have had consistently good quality from Garfunkel's, so I chose them - generally much tastier than my experience of Prezzo. I was quickly seated, and generally well served, despite them being rushed off their feet.. I had garlic bread to start, which comes as a flat loaf, accompanied with a little jug of garlic sauce in case you want more. And I chose the carbonara for a change.. the sauce was a bit indifferent, but the chicken and bacon were delicious, and it filled a spot. And the (very good) wine arrived promptly - glad to see that, they used to take forever with drinks. Dessert was a chocolate fudge cake (natch), which I asked for cold, and which did arrive unheated - but not exactly cold, as it was on a warm plate. Ah well..

Rested and revived, I returned to the square. I'd missed Memphis the Musical for that chocolate cake, but never mind. I joined the long queue snaking down the road. Unfortunately, if you enter later in the afternoon, beware - the queue is much longer, and this time I was queueing for 35 minutes. During which time we were, at least, entertained by the strains of L' Amour est un Oiseau Rebelle, from Carmen. And some stuff from Jersey Boys. And finally, we were in..

I headed to where I'd been last, with the stage to my right. I'd determined that there was no point in trying to see the stage directly - the fountains are in the way, the area in front of the stage is too crowded, and there are large video screens either side anyway. I also quickly determined, with the sun as hot as it was, that I'd better sit. So I did what many around me were doing, and plonked myself on the concrete, somewhere with a decent view of the screen on my side. Sat on my coat, and when I got stiff doing that, lay down with my bag as a pillow. The weather was what you might call variable - clouds scudded across the sky, and when the sun disappeared behind them it turned cool and breezy. When the sun reappeared though, it was like an oven.. and I quickly got a bit burnt.

Dusty was scheduled to make an appearance, but doesn't seem to have - we got a medley of random show songs from somebody I didn't recognise instead. Let It Be, the tribute musical to The Beatles, was full of catchy Beatles numbers, of course - but the guys playing the band themselves didn't excite. They seemed a bit too old, honestly - and somewhat lacking in enthusiasm, I thought. Ah well. This was followed by a number of West End kids acts - which were excellent - a performance from American Idiot the Musical, which made me wonder why anyone would bother seeing this when they could just go listen to Greenday's albums, and a performance from Avenue Q, the puppet show. Surreal. The little girl near me kept time to the music by swinging her Elsa doll around by the long veil she wears. Excellent use of it, that!

The show I saw last year, which returns this year - Briefs - made an appearance, with the obligatory striptease! They kept their briefs on, appropriately. Showstopper! The Improvised Musical did a decent job of constructing an impromptu musical from audience suggestions. Then we were into a cabaret section, where a lineup of stars did a rendition of songs that people had voted for, and which hadn't been featured already that day. Notable in this section were Don't Stop Believing and Memory.. gee, I'd forgotten how much I love that. It brought a tear to the eye. And the show was rounded off, as was the day before, by Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games. Which also involves some disrobing, it seems.. and it seems that long hair for women is in the job spec. Spectacular moves, though.

A good day, all in all. But do try and bring food. And a folding chair would have been lovely - I saw some, and was quite jealous. Me, I'm still a bit stiff from sitting / lying on that concrete all day..

That night, I started this week's film list and didn't have time to blog. Well, I was in Guildford yesterday anyway, and not expecting to go out.. except then, the training course I was on finished early, and there I was with no laptop, and nothing to do save go home! Early. So.. I decided to follow London For Less! again - they were off to Don Giovanni in the Opera House, which you'll remember I wanted to go to on Saturday but couldn't get a ticket for. Well, I managed one for last night - booked a seat slightly to the side in the Lower Amphiteatre. Makes a big difference, being in the lower part - you feel much closer, and the view from the seat was fine. Love that feature of providing a photo of the view from every seat..

So, I had time to eat at home before I headed in. My seat was at the edge, so I could lean out over the balcony to see the obscured corner of the stage. Nice, velvety covering on the balcony too - and a nice little ledge for the castlist (they object to you putting anything heavier on it, in case it falls). The guy on my outside was a real Mozart buff, telling me how he'd seen this in practically every major opera house in the world. Playing imaginary piano during the arias. You know, it's lovely to see someone who gets such pleasure from a performance!

I agree with him - this performance was a treat. This is an opera I haven't seen before, but this was a great introduction to it - the music is gorgeous, and was most beautifully sung. The packed house erupted in cheers and applause several times - and I was frequently carried away by the sheer beauty of the piece. The costumes were stunning, and the action played out cleverly on a revolving stage, with clever visuals that projected on the walls the names of the title character's numerous conquests. And other visual treats. Wow, what a production! A long one, but I enjoyed every minute. Only three more performances - this Thursday, and Wednesday and Friday of next week. As I look, there are 69 tickets available on the official website for Thursday, 8 for Wednesday, and the "last few" for the last performance. Get onto it, if you're interested!

I'd messaged the London For Less! organiser to say I'd be there and it'd be nice to meet the group, and he told me they were planning to be in the Amphitheatre Bar at the interval, and in The Globe pub across the road afterwards. Well, the bar was as crowded as ever at the interval, but I did spot his distinctive cream baseball cap. But he was way too busy to chat, occupied as he was with sorting a refund for someone. I didn't know anyone else there last night, and the bar was too crowded to get to know them, so I left them to it. The Globe is quite easy to find, and I did head there briefly after, but didn't see anyone I recognised. Knowing how long he takes to leave venues, and since I was tired, I headed home - meeting a couple of ladies from the office on the way! Apparently they'd been at the same thing - this is the second time I've met them at the Opera House..

After such a long show, there was no time to blog last night either. Today, I finally finished the film list - but nothing enthuses me for tonight, and although it's Film Nite's last Meetup before summer, they're headed to something I couldn't get to in time from work. You know, I might just stay in.. tomorrow, I've booked for a Science Museum late. The Art & Science group are headed there.. anyway, it's free and I'll see how I feel. Leaving drinks for someone from work on Thursday, and I'm back to Ireland for the weekend..

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Dance: Choreographics

As I mentioned yesterday, I'd really have loved to go to Don Giovanni in the Opera House today, but I couldn't get a ticket anywhere, at any price. That's the thing about London - it's tricky to be spontaneous. Instead, I bought myself a ticket for Choreographics, at the Lilian Baylis Studio. Two nights in a row for Sadler's Wells then! Except last night I was in the back row, and this afternoon I was in the front.

I'd never actually been to the Lilian Baylis Studio before, but a check of the website confirmed that it's round the back of the Sadler's Wells Theatre. Slightly awkward to get to, this - I always end up on a bus for the last part of the trip. Usually, I get a Tube to somewhere like Monument, and get a bus from there - but the District Line is mostly down this weekend for planned engineering works, which Google Maps is au fait with. So they sent me on the Piccadilly Line to Holborn instead, there to catch a different bus. Funny thing with them - they only suggested one bus number on the outbound journey, but two on the way back. A quick check of the routes listed on the bus stop I had to start from (thanks, Streetview!) confirmed that both routes run in the outbound direction too. So I had a choice of the #19 or the #38.

What with both District and Circle (via Victoria) out of action, the tourists were mainly pushed onto the Piccadilly Line, which was crowded nearly to rush-hour levels! That's pretty bad, let me tell you. Mind you, they all crowded around the doors, which meant that if you pushed to the middle of the carriage you had some breathing space. And I did finally get a seat, just over halfway there. Holborn Station has two exits, but they're just around the corner from each other and it doesn't matter much which you take - just head right up Kingsway, then left on Bloomsbury Way to Bus Stop F, on the other side of the road.

The chaos of the Underground seemed to have spread to street level. Before I got to Bloomsbury Way, I had to cross High Holborn - and I despaired of ever doing so! Traffic was backed up in all directions - police vans kept screaming past too, sirens whooping and lights flashing. Must have been some trouble, I guess. Even when the pedestrian lights went green, and we'd waited for the emergency vehicles to pass, the traffic waiting to come round the corner was bumper to bumper, so close together we couldn't get through and had to wait for the next change in lights!

I was beginning to worry I'd be late - and me in the front row, too. Anyway, I finally made it across there and up to Bloomsbury Way. Got halfway across and was stopped by traffic again - and looking left, I could see my bus stop - and the #19 pulling away from it. Fortunately, there was a #38 pretty much right behind it - I'd just had time to read the timetable, which promised it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to Sadler's Wells. If the traffic was reasonable. So now I had to worry about that.. but it was a minute to showtime when we pulled up at the bus stop, right outside the theatre.

Mercifully, I'd seen on Streetview exactly where I needed to go, so legged it down to the end of the building, where there's a separate entrance. I'd prayed they'd have their own box office and I wouldn't have to go into the main theatre for my ticket - and so it proved, and I grabbed it and raced into the studio. Climbed down the stairs all the way to the front row - and the advantage is, there isn't a stage as such here, the front row of seats is level with the performance area. So you don't have to disturb anyone as you take your seat! I was settled nicely before the lights went down - and I wasn't even the last person to take their seat in the front row.

I hadn't come across a programme, although the folks on either side of me had printed ones from somewhere. We really didn't need one though - the event started with someone explaining that this was a showcase for dancers in the English National Ballet to demonstrate their choreographical skills. This year, for the first time, they invited outsiders to take part as well. And the theme was postwar America. The first piece, he informed us, was the winner, and was called Babel. The others were each introduced with a short video clip, projected onto the rear wall, so we had some idea what we were looking at.

Babel comprised four male dancers, posturing individually, and when they did interact, it was with mild aggression. I took it to be an observation on loneliness - mind you, it took me a while to figure it out. As with modern dance in general, though, it might be confusing, but it's beautiful to look at! Speaking of which, the second piece was a joy - perhaps because of the emotive music though. The theme was something to do with Death Row. The third piece was an observation on the futility of war, featuring twins, one of whom is killed while the other survives. They might indeed have been twins, they looked so alike. And the final piece before the interval was a take on a film noir, or all things - a representation in dance of The Lady from Shanghai, made in 1947, with Orson Welles and Rita Heyworth.

Thank goodness the interval came when it did, because the seats aren't the most comfortable for long stretches, and my bum was numb. Mind you, we did have the interesting interval distraction of a camera being set up on stage, where interviews were conducted with the choreographers of the pieces we'd just seen. Apparently, the event was being streamed live. Kudos to the interviewer - she must really have been projecting her voice, because hers was the only one we could hear from where we were sitting (the camera could have heard them all, because they had a mic).

The second part included three pieces, making seven in total, although he'd told us there'd be six. It started with Trauma, a more successful anti-war piece, showing a woman who's lost her partner in war and falls asleep holding his picture. He then comes to her in a dream, or vision. The last two pieces were essentially pas de deux - which are very nice, but when you see so many of them.. anyway, as I was leaving, the camera was setting up for the last set of interviews.

Boy, was I glad to be standing! I was hungry too, but wanted something more substantial than the offerings of the studio café. So I headed left from the building, to the end of the road, where I remembered a decent Thai restaurant. But it's more than a year since I've been here, and now it's Niche - a café restaurant. The menu looked comprehensive enough, so I asked for a table. After some humming and haw-ing, I was seated just inside the door. I was lucky to get a table at all - several parties without a reservation were turned away while I ate.

I decided just to have a main course - and the minute steak, at just 5oz, looked about right, and came with all the sides. Wine is offered at 125ml and 75ml (!), but the glass of Pinot Grigio that he brought me looked more like 250ml. Which is just fine by me. Really good wine, too! The steak, when it duly came, was tiny, but that was all I wanted. I'd ordered some peppercorn sauce as a side, which costs £1 extra. That came in a little glass container on the plate, which also housed a huge slice of tomato (which I didn't eat, because I'm allergic), a huge Portobello mushroom, and a dinky little wire basket of rather burnt-looking chips. Shortly, the waiter reappeared with a little plate of misshapen onion rings and the chef's apology - he'd forgotten them. Where he'd have fitted them on the main plate, I'm not sure..

The steak was chargrilled and delicious. The sauce was good, but had the consistency of butter - when I tried to pour it on the steak, it all came out in a lump! I ended up scooping a lump of it back into the glass container with my knife. The mushroom was good, the onion rings were really tasty, although the coating was so hard I couldn't cut it and had to eat them with my fingers. And the fries were tasty, if a bit soggy. All in all, a tasty meal though. I had a chocolate tart for dessert - which was literally a tart, in a pastry case I could have done without. And I'll know in future not to order the salted caramel ice cream they put with it - it was ok, but salt and sweet don't mix, in my opinion.

While I'd been eating, some of the male dancers had passed by - I recognised them, and certainly you'd know them as dancers by their gait. This was some time before the heavens opened, and I hope they'd got to where they were going by then. You know, when I was leaving the house, it didn't look like rain and I hadn't been dressed for it - but then I saw someone pass with their umbrella up, and I went back and changed. Boy, was I glad of it now - it was chucking it down.

By the time I'd got back to the bus stop, my shoes were soaked, even though I'd avoided the worst of the flooded pavement. Luckily, my bus arrived just as I did. I got pretty soaked on the walk from the bus stop to Holborn Station - particularly as I didn't realise that the High Holborn exit, which I'd made for because it was closer to me, is exit-only. So I had to go out again to the other one. At least I got a seat after the first stop. Then, when I got off at Earl's Court, hoping to get a District Line train one stop more (that bit of the line wasn't closed), there was no train information, so I didn't know how long it'd be. So I walked the ten minutes home. Which is why my coat got soaked through, and I had to change everything I had on when I got in.

It's stopped now, and forecast not to repeat itself tomorrow. Which is a good thing, because I'm planning on going to West End Live in Trafalgar Square - an outdoor, free, showcase of West End shows. Must have been an absolute washout this evening. Anyhoo, I'm officially going with a new Meetup group - London Musical Theatre Review. I doubt I'll actually meet any of them there - only two of us are supposed to be going tomorrow, the main Meetup was today. Then on Monday, I'm off to the Guildford office again, so no going out that day..

Friday, 19 June 2015

Circus: Traces: The 7 Fingers

Searching for something for tonight, I came across a Meetup group that were going to Traces - The 7 Fingers: a circus act. And I do love my circus! I was too late to get one of their discounted tickets, but upon checking the official website, I discovered the tickets in the rear stalls were cheaper than those discounted ones anyway! so I booked. It's at the Peacock, and I know the rear stalls there are just fine.

The nearest Tube stations to the Peacock are Holborn and Temple; well, Temple is on the District Line and I can get a direct train there, whereas Holborn is on the Piccadilly Line, so I'd have to change. So I went for the District Line - a decision I came to regret (as usual) when we stopped not once, but twice between stations: first to "even out the gaps in the service", the second time because there was congestion ahead of us. So, even though it's not far from Temple to the Peacock, I found myself rushing. As usual.

The roadworks are still in place on Arundel Street, I see - so you're still advised to take the zebra crossing to the left of the station exit. This puts you on the side of the road you need to walk on. At the end of this street, a complicated crossing takes you to Aldwych, which you follow around to the left until you get to Kingsway. Turn right up Kingsway, and you'll soon see the Peacock on the right hand side - the entrance is down the side street here. When I got there, the performance hadn't yet started, but I was in the unenviable position of being behind the crowd - no-one else was making their way in. Anyway, she got my name before I even got to the ticket desk, quickly asked my postcode, and I had my ticket. And made it to my seat and was turning off my phone when the lights went down.

This is an anarchic performance, starting with the safety announcements, which are all wrong. And right after that, you're into the main body of the show, with a thumping (and rather excellent) rock and pop soundtrack. Warning: there's a fair bit of strobe lighting in this. The "7" in the title refers to the seven performers, who take us through an evening with a bit of everything, really. A spectacular acrobat number opens the show, but then it cools down - there are only a few numbers where everyone does something dramatic. These are interspersed with quieter pieces, with only some, or even none, of the performers doing anything acrobatic. Those who are not might be singing, drawing, playing the piano - which it seems most of them can do.

After I'd booked this, it occurred to me that I'd probably seen it before, and I still think I have. However, I was fuzzy on the details. It's a highly varied show - the acrobatic numbers are spectacular, the quieter ones inventive, and very funny. We get the basic details (and some photos as children) of the performers. And it's appropriate that it's held in a dance theatre - this show mixes art very successfully with circus - well, it is based in Montréal, which also gave birth to Cirque du Soleil. Continuing the local tradition, two of the members are Québécois.

As I say, the acrobatics are spectacular, but between the thumping soundtrack and the continuity between pieces, it's easy to forget to applaud at all, and hard to find a moment to do so when you do think of it! Which isn't to say that we didn't, but it kind of felt like an intrusion. But the whole thing was an absolute delight. I also find it interesting to note that, with so many circus acts pushing the limits of their abilities, and the tricks getting more and more complex, it's become more common to see them making mistakes during performances. The norm now seems to be - if this happens, there is scattered applause at the attempt, then they try again and when they do succeed, the applause is thunderous. Very healthy! A standing ovation at the end was well deserved, and enthusiastically given. Runs until the 12th - highly recommended.

Not sure whether the lady beside me enjoyed it, mind - she didn't applaud much, and left at the interval; she might just have sat further down though, there were some free seats. Plenty of latecomers, who were allowed in at suitable moments. And at the interval, I think I spotted that Meetup group - there was a row of adults, further front than I was, most of whom stood at the interval, not leaving the row, and chatted to each other. Very Meetup-ish.

Tomorrow, I'd have loved to go to Don Giovanni at the Opera House - but try as I might, I couldn't find a ticket for tomorrow's performance anywhere. Instead, I'm headed to Sadler's Wells again - this time to their other venue, the Lilian Baylis Studio, for Choreographics, a showcase of choreography created by dancers in the English National Ballet. And on Sunday, I'm headed to West End Live - a showcase of West End shows, running all afternoon in Trafalgar Square. And it's free, too! Should be a good day out, with a low likelihood of rain. Came to my attention via another Meetup group - London Musical Theatre Review. Dunno whether there's a plan to meet at it though - only two of us are listed as going, and it'll be crowded. We'll see. Then on Monday, I'm in Guildford again, for a one-day training course..

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Restaurant: The Stag

I was in the Guildford office today, because a leaving lunch had been organised for one of our colleagues who's off to pastures new. Some discussion ensued, to try and avoid the trend of overpriced food nearby - and we decided on The Stag, with a lovely riverside setting.

Round these parts, of course, a car is necessary, and we piled into two for the trip. An awkwardly narrow approach road leads to the car park in front of the pub. where we found a space at the edge, somewhat in the shade - on what turned out to be a very warm day. After we'd got our drinks, we headed for one of the tables outside, in common with pretty much everyone else there. We found one with an umbrella to give us shade, though.

Among us, we duly ordered three burgers (they only do one kind), two fish n chips, a duck and a chicken (me). When the food came, we were intrigued to observe that the burgers came with skinny fries, the fish n chips with chunky ones.. and those of us who hadn't ordered the fish n chips were mighty jealous - it looked gorgeous.

My chicken was served with crispy parma ham, asparagus (which I'm not keen on, so I didn't eat), and sweet potato fritters - which someone thought looked like scotch eggs. And I must say they were delicious. The ham was as dry as a crisp, but very tasty when I broke some off to eat. The chicken.. was miniscule. Which was probably just as well, as it was completely bland. I wouldn't have it again, and don't recommend it.

I'm sure there are better choices on the menu, service is good, and the setting is gorgeous.

And tomorrow I'm off to the circus! Traces: The 7 Fingers is playing at the Peacock..

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Film: Divorce Iranian Style

Ah, another Tuesday, another Film Nite. Sad that we're breaking up for the summer - this is the Meetup group I attend most. Anyway, last night was a talk entitled Divorce Iranian Style - sounded interesting, so I confirmed my attendance. And it was free.. unusually for Film Nite talks. A special for the end of the season, perhaps?

Now, yesterday I had the most rotten stomach ache, so my attendance was in doubt. But, well, it was Film Nite, and the group is the most fantastic company! I wasn't too bad, so I bravely headed out - slightly late, after Skyping my mother. Unfortunately, I got to the station just in time to see a train pulling out - a few minutes to wait for the next one. During which time I discovered that standing is not the best thing for a stomach ache. Pity, because I ended up standing all the way to Leicester Square - and crammed into a corner as far as Piccadilly Circus.

Really, by the time I got off I was feeling quite unwell. I also knew I was going to be slightly late, which made the long, long escalator ride quite tortuous. And what was going on in the area last night I don't know, but I have never seen so many people exiting the station - or so much traffic, backed up waiting to turn onto Shaftesbury Avenue. After a two-part well timed dash across the road, I finally got to Soho House - where I climbed six flights of stairs without collapsing (also without being approached, for once, to know what my business was), and pretty much collapsed into one of the cinema's comfy seats.

Well, the organiser had started talking, but I don't think I'd missed much. Turned out - as he'd warned might happen - Kim Longinotto wasn't there (although he didn't know why). It also transpired that Divorce Iranian Style was the name of a film of hers, filmed in and around a family court in Tehran. And the format of the presentation was to watch the film - paused at key points so he could ask us how we were finding it so far, and suggest to us various things we might not have picked up on.

Now, as the film progressed, it started to look increasingly familiar - and I realised that I had seen it before! years ago though, and I remembered absolutely none of the storyline. So that was fine. And I agree with his assessment - this is a fascinating insight into a culture and a place that few, if any of us have visited. As the stories develop, you notice less the chadors that the women are obliged to wear on the premises. Instead, you begin to get to know the characters as they argue their cases.

It can be quite shocking to Western eyes. Inevitably, we are shocked by the dress code, and the traditions required of women in this society - they are not supposed to leave home without permission, talk to a man who is not a relative without permission (even on the phone), study without permission: the last significant, given that a couple of women in this film were married at the age of 14. And although these cases involve divorce, women can't initiate it - it's always the men. Mind you, someone present who is familiar with sharia law explained that there is a form of divorce that can be initiated by women- just with a different name.

And, as with all good documentaries, it's not all doom and gloom. Comedy is provided by the clerk's little girl, who comes there after school and plays around the court. And indeed, the women themselves, as remarked on several times by members of the audience, aren't as downtrodden as you might expect - no indeed, they're feisty ladies, determined to get their way. Which they often do.. eventually, and perhaps by means of cajoling, rather than through standard legal channels. Mind, whatever concessions they do receive don't tend to include money - this tends to be where the husbands draw the line.

A fascinating fly-on-the-wall look into the Iranian court system. Recommended, and available cheaply on dvd from Fopp in Covent Garden, I believe. Or slightly more expensively on Amazon.

Afterwards, I needed desperately to go to the loo - so I ran downstairs to do that, then trotted back up again, because I knew they wouldn't have left yet. I was right. And we all eventually made our way to The Spice of Life, which I might finally be able to find my own way to! By the time our group of four had got drinks though, there wasn't any room with the rest of the group, so we sat at a nearby table, and made our way closer when another table came available. And the chat was good, the topics ranging from films, away to social issues, and back to films again. Typically for this enthusiastic group, we were there till closing - do NOT expect an early night if you accompany them to the pub after. We're heading to a film next Tuesday before we break up for the summer, apparently - which one not yet decided.

Too late to blog when I got home, of course. Now, tonight I'd confirmed for a concert by the Trans Siberian March Band with the World Music Meetup. But you know, my stomach is still acting up - and then I thought to check, and the concert is standing only. So I'm passing - another quiet evening online beckons! Tomorrow, I'm in the Guildford office, and I'll be too tired to go out tomorrow evening. For Friday though, I saw a group heading to the Traces: The 7 Fingers circus show at the Peacock. And I do love my circus! They have discount tickets, but I was too late to avail of that offer. But you know, I nabbed a ticket for myself in the rear stalls that's even cheaper! ;-) Check out the official website - rear stalls here are just fine.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Talk: The Running Man (Richard Bachman)

So, tonight I had booked to attend my first Meetup with the Post Apocalyptic Book Club - a talk about The Running Man, by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman). It was scheduled for The Star of Kings, which turns out not to be too far at all past King's Place, where I've been to concerts a couple of times - just take a left from King's Cross, up York Way.

But you know, it was a hard day at work today. And it's a reasonable distance to King's Cross - and it occurred to me to wonder how much I'd get from a book club discussion about a book I haven't read for years! (I wasn't able to find it over the weekend.) So I cancelled, and am having what passes for a relaxing evening, for me - at home!

Anyhoo, I'm booked for Meetups for the next two days. Tomorrow, I'm off to the last Film Nite gathering of the season - a talk entitled Divorce Iranian Style, given by a documentary-maker who focuses on women's issues, if she's available - or by the organiser, if she's not. It's in Soho House again - and unusually, it's free! Either it's because it's the last of the season - or perhaps because I was the only Meetup member to go to the last talk! Then on Wednesday, I'm meeting the World Music Meetup for the first time in ages, to go to a concert by the Trans Siberian March Band. Watched them on YouTube, they look good. Anyway, it's also free, which is nice.. and on Thursday, I'm off to the Guildford office for the day, so I'll be too tired to go out that evening.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Concert: Ashkenazy Sibelius Series

So, I headed along to the Royal Festival Hall last night (very close to where I was the night before) to a Sibelius concert by the Philharmonia. (Seems it's the 150th anniversary of his birth.) There was a Meetup group going, but I'm not with them, and just went on my own. Booked one of the cheapest seats in the house - back row of the stalls, where I've been before and which I know is fine.

So off I went, on a lovely warm and sunny evening. There's a "Festival of Love" at the Southbank Centre at the moment (of which the Royal Festival Hall is a part), and I had to skirt a kind of maze folly to get in. The lobby was quite fetchingly attired, with coloured strings hanging from the ceiling and blowing in the breeze. Also part of the festival, I believe. Anyway, I already had my ticket, so I checked (blue or green - I was blue) and headed over to the blue section, which is at the far side of the building, picking up a free performance schedule at the programme desk as I passed. I skipped taking one of their mints though - thought that might be a bit cheeky when I wasn't buying anything.

Now, my ticket also helpfully informed me that I was to go to Level 5. Bummer - I was only on Level 2. And then, just beside the foot of the stairs, I noticed a lift. Lovely - I wasn't sure whether there was one on this side. And this one was glass. So I waited, and piled in with a whole load of other people when it came. Turned out it was going down first-  well, no problem. Except there was something funny.. and when we started going up again, it was confirmed. Yes, the lift was singing to us. The tone went down as the lift descended, and up as the lift climbed again. And when we got to a floor - yes, the lift sang merrily Level Five.. or whatever.

It's quite an easy building to navigate - the doors are all lettered, and well signposted. The ushers had performance schedules too. So I moseyed on in and took my seat, munching on the cashew nuts I'd bought in the lobby café. Perfectly fine seat, good view. However, there were several spare seats, and most people near me decamped closer to the stage. I was quite glad of this after the interval, when the rather tall people in front of me vanished, and now I didn't have to lean to see everything!

The concert was preceded with a trailer for a film they've made about Ashkenazy, who was conducting last night, travelling to Finland to learn about Sibelius. This was displayed on a screen that dropped at the back of the stage, which must have been awkward for those sitting in the choir. Anyway, we were soon into the music.

I have never been that familiar with Sibelius, but liked what I had heard, so said I'd give it a shot. Well, I was not expecting it to be this good! I was blown away.. lyrical tunes developing into sweeping, dramatic scores. The concert opened with four movements from the Pelléas et Mélisande Suite, each more dramatic than the last. A singer came on for several numbers - I liked these somewhat less, mind.. and it didn't help that the surtitles were tiny enough from where we were that we had to squint!

What the hey, the second half was the highlight of the evening, with his Symphony #2 in D wafting us on a wave of drama and emotion. Really, I'm planning on adding some of these to my music collection. The standing ovation at the end was well deserved, although I didn't join in, conscious that what I had enjoyed was hearing the composer's work - and he wasn't there to witness my standing ovation. I did clap until my hands stung and my arms ached, though - the hardest I've ever clapped, I believe.

Coming down the stairs to avoid the crowds in the lift, I came across another Festival of Love exhibit - some rather cool, enormous, fake lotus flowers with LEDs wrapped around them and palm-shaped handrests at the bottom. The idea was, you put your palm to the handrest, and the LEDs pulsed up the flower to match your heartbeat. And if two did it at the same time, it synchronised their pulses. Looked very cool - there were several!

And home quite early - but there was still enough other stuff to do that I didn't get time to blog! What the hey - better late than never. Off to Ireland tonight, back on Sunday. And on Monday, I'm headed - with a little trepidation - to my first Meetup with the Post Apocalyptic Book Club, who are discussing The Running Man by Stephen King/Richard Bachman. I love the story - with not enough time to dig it out again before then though, I'll have to grab as much info as I can in the meantime.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Circus: Beta Testing

Yes, the London for Less Meetup group did it again - taunted me with an interesting event, and dashed my hopes by having it be sold out by the time I got around to it. :-) Well, that didn't stop me buying my own ticket to Beta Testing by Circus Geeks, part of the Udderbelly Festival - I do love my circus! Mind you, I was a bit miffed to discover, after I'd bought my ticket, that I could've got it cheaper on lastminute.com. Never mind..

I made my leisurely way in, in good time - a good thing, given that I had to change at Earl's Court, where the direction board was positively schizophrenic. It was a lovely sunny evening, if breezy, and it didn't take too long to get to the upside-down, purple cow for which the Udderbelly is famous. I pretty much immediately saw my group when I went in (well, not officially my group last night), what with the organiser's trademark cream baseball cap. They were second row from the front in the centre section. Honestly, you wouldn't have had trouble finding anyone in there - it can't have been as much as 1/3 full.

So I went and sat in one of the several empty seats behind them (seating was unassigned), and said hi. I was introduced to the other people there, one of whom I recognised from Saturday's event. And when they saw where I was sitting, there was a mass uprising (literally) and they almost all decamped to my row - slightly elevated, it gave a better view over the front row.

In due course, the show started. Three jugglers, in short. Now, I recognise that people in this business have to keep their acts fresh and interesting - hence the twist to this show. As the group name implies, this started geeky. We literally had a 20-minute lecture on the science of juggling, with some practical examples. And honestly, I wasn't sure what to make of it, or whether it really worked. Certainly, the little girl two seats down from me wasn't impressed - she remarked to her father, sitting between us, "Daddy, this is boring!"

And then there was this extended routine that they "couldn't" get right. I thought it dragged on a bit too long - but the little girl perked up remarkably! And for sure, the show improved after that, with some impressive juggling, and in particular a spectacular visual display at the end, superimposing film taken of them on stage, on a transparent screen behind which we could see them in "real life". Slightly headwrecking, and very visually impressive. They've definitely found a new take on juggling - I'm just not sure the kiddies are the best audience. Anyway, runs until 21st - tickets available every day except next Monday and Friday, and they also have weekend matinees.

One of our group was definitely not impressed, and left as our organiser was finding us a space in Le Pain Quotidien, just on the other side of the bridge. The rest of us took the end of a long table, and treated ourselves to most excellent desserts and drinks - the strong recommendation from one of the group was for the cheesecake, but I've had their chocolate bombe before, so bucked the trend there. Someone had tarte tatin. And I can testify that the pinot grigio is excellent.. and the chocolate bombe as chocolatey as ever. I was in chocolate heaven - despite the cocoa powder coating getting all over my top. Only recommended on its own though - not with a meal, it'd be far too much.

The chat was excellent, we had what you might call a rare old time, and I was delighted I'd come. On my own tonight though - another of those Meetup groups I'm not a member of is off to hear the Philharmonia play Sibelius in the Royal Festival Hall. So I booked myself one of the cheap tickets in the rear stalls. Tomorrow, I'm off to Ireland, and on Monday I'm breaking new ground again - another new Meetup group, would you believe! The Post-Apocalyptic Book Club is meeting to discuss The Running Man, by Stephen King, writing as Richard Bachman. I don't have time to dig it out again in the meantime.. must try and revise as much as possible though!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Play: King John

Again, I find it amazing that I didn't see the Meetup group London for Less before - considering that they both seem to share many of my interests, and have discount tickets. Not that they had any left for last night, mind - but considering what it was (the Shakespearian play King John) and where (the Globe).. I was in! The official site was also sold out, but I got a ticket from the ever-reliable LoveTheatre. They always have good seats, and I've been in the Upper Gallery before, so knew that would be ok. And when I had my ticket, I contacted the London for Less organiser, who let me know where they were headed for drinks after, and I said I might join them.

I headed out in unusually good time, for me, and arrived at Mansion House just after 7. It's weird how the sign for the Globe tells you to turn left out of the station - I find it much quicker to turn right and cross Southwark Bridge. And what a joy it was, to cross at a leisurely pace and enjoy the view of the Globe as I approached. As I walked along the South bank to the Globe, I passed The Real Greek - which, unfortunately, had something like a wok of hot food outside to entice customers. And I hadn't had time to eat much, and was hungry..

Anyway, I survived as far as the Globe, and picked up my ticket - another handy thing about LoveTheatre, I just had to give my name, and my ticket was waiting at the box office in an envelope. I had 10 minutes to go, and just made my way straight in - and up all the stairs to the top. The flights are short, though, and it's quite doable - it's not a very tall building. My bay was just at the top of the stairs - with just a slightly off-centre view of the stage - and my seat was in the very front row. Thanks, LoveTheatre! as usual. I had free seats on either side, too, which was handy for leaving my stuff.

I snapped an illicit photo..

(You're not supposed to take photos until the performance is over, but no-one was policing the Upper Gallery.) And shortly, the performance began. As ever with the Globe, music featured prominently, with musicians on both sides of the stage - and from my bird's-eye view, I could see all the comings and goings of the actors, who come in by outside doors and make their way past the crowds in the pit, to climb steps to the stage.

I love the Globe. There's a terrific atmosphere - they always have music, they always have comedy, and they always have a bit of crowd interaction. And you don't feel out of it at all, even up where I was - well, certainly not in the front row. One act had one of the actors delivering his lines from the Middle Gallery, one level down from me and slightly over.

The play itself - which I'd never even heard of, never mind seen - deals with the reign of King John. I'm familiar with the history, so was ok with the plot, which pretty much covers his entire reign. Mind you, the American couple behind me were remarking to each other, at the interval - "Did they just run through Acts I, II and III?" So I think it may have been slightly abridged.

It had a bit of everything - pomp and ceremony, sweeping costumes, dramatic speeches, a risible rendition of the King himself. The music adapted to ominous tones during the scary bits. And I loved it all. The odd bird that flew in through the open roof did give me pause as it swooped past me.. and as time passed, it got colder and colder. This was perhaps the only disadvantage of the Upper Gallery - we were the first to get those icy breezes.

At the interval, I spied some members of the group, pretty much right below me in the pit. I'd eaten a snack I'd brought in my bag - they don't mind you eating in this theatre. So I wasn't that hungry any more. But for the second half, I regretted not doing as some around me did, and hiring one of the available blankets. Next time, I'll know better..

At the end, I met up with the group outside, and we had a cold, cold wait to see whether anyone else was joining us for the pub. Some left - probably because we hadn't moved yet - and in the end, out of 40 that booked, apparently, only five of us went. And I wasn't even officially attending as part of this group! Well, probably had a lot to do with the weather.

We trotted off down the road - it was much warmer, walking - to the Founder's Arms, right in front of the Tate Modern. Got a table - it wasn't that busy, being midweek - and had a lovely chat amongst ourselves. I'd asked for a white wine, and she'd asked whether I wanted Rioja. For future reference, don't get it! It was the most insipid wine I've had in a long time - more so than the one I normally get in Tesco, a bottle of which costs less than that glass. But at least, unlike the last place we were, a bell was actually rung at 10.45 for last orders, before they stopped serving at 11!

Too late home to blog, of course. And finally, finally, I get it done! Turns out today that a couple of ex-colleagues were also there last night - pity I didn't know. Anyway. Now, as it happens, that same London for Less group is going to something interesting tonight - a show called Beta Testing, by the Circus Geeks, at the Udderbelly festival. Not that I'm stalking them or anything, but I do love my circus. Again, London for Less was sold out, so I booked my own (and now I see they're available really cheap on lastminute.com! Ah well). So again, I contacted the organiser, and he explained that they haven't made a decision on where to go tonight - we'll decide on the spot. And he's added me to the list. :-)

For tomorrow night, surprisingly, I'm not going with London for Less - another group, which I'm not interested in joining, was headed to a performance of Sibelius by the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall. So again, I booked my own ticket for that - a cheap-as-chips one up the back of the stalls; I know the view is fine from there. And then I'm back to Ireland for the weekend.