Thursday, 29 September 2016

Concert: Talent Unlimited

And so to the final night of Talent Unlimited's Musical Futures festival at Asia House, with the aim of promoting impoverished young classical musicians. As advertised by both Kensington Classical Music, and the London European Club - both events with the same organiser, who's also something to do with the organisation of Talent Unlimited, it seems. We were to buy our own tickets through Eventbrite, and I chose the London European Club to RSVP to. Could've selected both, not really sure why I didn't.

Anyway, I was in Guildford today, and insisted that I get away on time. Still, I wasn't in time to take the bus all the way to Asia House, and was back on the fast option of train and Tube again. The crowds weren't quite as bad as last time.. or maybe it was that I was less stressed. Anyway, I was glad not to be getting on or off at Victoria, given the driver's dire warnings about overcrowding there, or travelling on the Piccadilly Line, given its signalling problems. And at Oxford Circus, I concluded that there was no way of accessing the exit I wanted (?), so I just took the closest exit I could find to where I wanted to be, and crossed the road again.

Wasn't as worried tonight about being late, given that I'd been there before. And I still made it in time, although a little later than last time. Got the same seat again, in what is a very pleasant room:



So, as I pointed out to the lady sitting next to me, tonight - unlike the last concert - we were to have singing. A careful read of the programme told us that there were two sopranos and a baritone, and that there was a male pianist - Dylan Perez - for the sopranos, and a female one, Connie Luk, for the baritone. When they eventually got started, that is - the drinks reception started before the performance this time, and there was a debate amongst the organisers as to how long they should leave it before asking people to take their seats.

First soprano up had an unusual name - Iúnó Connolly, who, like all the others, had a long list of pieces to perform. Her list included Schumann, Tosti, Mozart, Strauss, and Donizetti - lots of German in there, but overall, just a stunning performance. An expressive face, and the most wonderful voice - I could have listened to her forever, and I think for many, hers was the stand-out performance of the night.

Next up was the baritone, Jacob Bettinelli. More Mozart and Donizetti, sprinkled with Brahms, Korngold, and Poulenc - and a practiced, flirtatious air. Had to have sympathy for the guy though - he was sweating in his tux, while the ladies - well, two of them - had sleeveless dresses. They'd looked into opening a window, but were told they couldn't because the noise would disturb the neighbours. Instead, they left the doorway to the reception room open, and windows open there. Indeed, I spied one of the caterers happily watching (and, I guess, listening) through the reception room window..

Last to perform was Nazan Fikret, who turned the emphasis to musical comedy. Hers was the longest list on the programme, but the songs tended to be shorter - Mozart figured again, along with Quilter, Bellini, Sondheim, and Tesori. A trio of childrens' songs by Satie required an introduction, and she also sang a Turkish number by Selman Ada, in deference to her father's background. A fantastic singer, in particular I think her rendition of The Queen of the Night, later reprised as part of The Girl in 14G, will stay with us. And as one of the organisers remarked, she made a flawless transition between opera and musical comedy.

I found the reception afterwards a bit cold, what with the open windows, and kept my coat on. The wine was good though - and heavens, I was the first to the bar! Well, someone has to be.. Another great evening, and goodness, they even found a birthday girl in the crowd, who had three semi-professional opera singers sing her Happy Birthday. And I got chatting to yet another musician - the place was full of them. Jelena Makarova is a professional pianist - I felt quite the under-achiever, given how long ago I gave up the piano.

Took the bus home, and thought to myself how much nicer that is - more character than the Tube, as well as being cheaper (much more so, with the Hopper fare). I had the time anyway, as I'm working from home tomorrow (at last!). Ironically, the thing I specifically went down for today couldn't be done today, but I was damned if I was going down four days in the week. Anyway, working from home will be handy tomorrow for heading to the Emirates cable car, with Mary.

Finally, on Saturday I'm with LDAM again, who - for once - are off to see some Beckett! Hallelujah, he's my favourite playwright - and not theirs, which makes it fun. No's Knife, it is, at the Old Vic..

Concert: Talent Unlimited & Top Secret Comedy Club

Hello, did you think I'd died? I thought I would, on occasion - it's been a helluva week.

Anyway, as previously mentioned, Talent Unlimited are running their Music Futures Festival all this week in Asia House, as advertised by Kensington Classical Music. Actually, it seems that the organiser of Kensington Classical Music has something to do with the organisation of this as well. So I booked - and was there on Tuesday evening, the Crick Crack Club having won over on Monday (sorry, Jessie, but I do love their evenings!).

Never been to Asia House before - it turns out to be north of Oxford Circus - up Regent Street. Wonderful - I have a tendency to get lost there. Anyway, I was working from home, but with a documentation release this week, things have been ridiculously hectic, and I was flat out at it all day. So the quick route to Asia House was required - train to Vauxhall, Victoria Line to Oxford Circus.

I was frazzled from work, and more frazzled by the time I got there. Pushed through crowds at Clapham Junction, pushed through crowds at Vauxhall, pushed through crowds at Oxford Circus. Sometimes you get very sick of the crowds in London. And this wasn't my regular route from Oxford Circus - one day, I may figure out the exits, but what the hey, above ground I knew where Regent Street was. I just had to cross Oxford Circus to get to it.

To the right of H&M then, up the road, past the church:



Carry on up Portland Place, second left onto New Cavendish Street - Asia House is on the right, with a red door. The organiser had said she'd be there from half past - sure enough, she was behind the ticket desk, welcomed me heartily, gave me a raffle ticket (which turned out to be for the free first drink at the reception afterwards), and got me ticked off the list.

Just as I joined the crowd milling around the foyer, the doors were declared open, and we entered the drawing room:



I got a chair near the front, to the side, beside a handy side table that I could leave things on. And so began an evening that comprised quite the loveliest classical program I think I've heard - all as a showcase for talented young classical musicians. We began with Julian Clef, who gave a beautiful rendition of Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2 - and it was as much a pleasure to watch the bliss on one audience member's face as she closed her eyes to listen, as it was to listen to the music itself.

No break until the end - after him, we were straight into the next performance. Which was to come as something of a surprise - the flier we'd been handed as we came in promised a violinist and pianist, playing no fewer than five different pieces. Well, sure enough, Yume Fujise came on with her violin, set up her stand and all, while we wondered where her accompanist was. She finally explained that they weren't going to play all of the pieces listed, which would take 2.5 hours - no, just the last one. But first, she was going to play something completely different. Ok so. I don't remember the composer, but I think the piece was called Meditations on Childhood.. which she played with a most determined expression. Finally, Maria Tarasewicz emerged, took a seat at the piano, and they played Faust Fantasy, by Wienaswski.

The evening ended with the most gorgeous set of pieces, played by Amiran Zenaishvili - Au Lac de Wallenstadt by Liszt, Two Rhapsodies by Brahms, and Scherzo a la Russe by Tchaikovsky. Only thing was, he didn't take applause between pieces, so I think we all got a little lost as to which he was playing! Well, until the Scherzo a la Russe, which couldn't have been anything else but Russian.. An absolutely delightful evening, and mostly pieces I hadn't heard before. I was so glad I came! And then a pleasant drinks reception afterwards (first drink free with the raffle ticket), where you could meet the musicians, if you so chose. And my outift was complimented, which was nice. And I got dragged into the group photo at the end - ah well. Glad it didn't last too late - I was exhausted, and still had stuff to do for work.

I was booked to go last night too, but well, the Man with the Hat intervened again. Sorry again Jessie, but this is something I try not to miss. So, London for Less Than a Tenner was off to Top Secret again. And I got delayed at work - so the quick option it was again, train to Waterloo, bus to Holborn. Got there at abt 7:50, for an 8:15 start. Got my hand stamped with some ink that still hasn't come off:




Queued for a very much-needed drink, turned around, met the Man with the Hat - who does seem to be everywhere at once. And who led me to a seat - front row, on the side. Quite a good one actually, good view of the stage and the performers heading to and from it, and I don't know whether it was the seating or the general conditions, but this was the first time I've been that the place wasn't stifling hot! A great improvement.

Mercifully, the MC didn't do the one about having been dumped by his girlfriend, which has become a staple of his routine. We were to discover that he now has a new one.. I suppose we can expect jokes about her for the next while. Anyway, I'm having a good run of events this week - this was the best night that I've had at Top Secret!

Starting proceedings was Brendon Burns - a foul-mouthed and hilarious Aussie, who spent his time insulting the audience, and picking on Donald Trump. Both of which went down a storm with what was quite a boisterous audience. To be followed by Steve Bugeja, with a much more sedate set. The first break saw me needing another drink, and the Man with the Hat moving me to a better seat - fair enough. And it was still cool there.

After the break - at the end of which the MC singularly failed in getting someone to take her feet off the stage - were two Canadians, Bobby Mair and Dylan Gott, then another break and the night was finished by the only comedian I'd seen before - Josh Robertson sent us laughing into the night, also showing us he was well able for hecklers. A pitiful turnout for the pub after - hey people, I know it's a Wednesday, but come on! Well, we three had a grand old time, and yes, I was to bed too late (given that, counter to plans, I had to come to Guildford again today). What the hey, I'll get some sleep eventually..

Perhaps tonight, in fact! Not only has the back of my work been broken at last (touch wood), but it's another night at Asia House tonight, and hopefully not a late one. Advertised in both Kensington Classical Music and the London European Club, and another sell-out, I believe. For a change, I signed up with the London European Club with this one, and bought my ticket on Eventbrite.

Meeting Mary tomorrow for the Emirates Cable Car. She's been before, loved it, invited me. Must make sure my phone is charged. Gosh, d'you know, if it's not on the Meetup calendar, I can forget so easily.. This was the first date I was free!

Finally, on Saturday I'm with LDAM again, who - for once - are off to see some Beckett! Hallelujah, he's my favourite playwright - and not theirs, which makes it fun. No's Knife, it is, at the Old Vic.. Hmm, I seem to remember looking forward to when the Meetup groups got busy again. Be careful what you wish for..

Monday, 26 September 2016

Storytelling: The Girl Who Married a Dog

I was originally supposed to go to a classical concert tonight - Talent Unlimited have a Music Futures Festival at Asia House all this week, and Kensington Classical Music advertised it ages ago. I knew only too well that I wouldn't be able to make a full week of events - sure enough, the Crick Crack Club started their autumn season tonight. Well, I wasn't missing that - booked straight away, because they always sell out.

I was in Guildford today, but still managed to get back in good time - luckily, because the morning journey was something of a nightmare. Which meant I could try, yet again, to do the whole trip to Soho Theatre by bus. I was a bit dubious, but consoled myself with the thought that the last time I tried, the show was starting an hour earlier, meaning I hit the worst of rush hour.

Same (intended) route as before - wander up to Battersea Park Road to catch the 44 to Victoria, then ahead and around the corner to catch the 38 to Chinatown. First plus point - this 44 really was going to Victoria! (Despite a "two-minute" break for the driver, which turned into five.) And this time, we whizzed through the traffic - it's amazing what a difference even an hour can make in the congestion. Not long to wait for the 38 either.

And not only did I, therefore, catch the cheapest transport possible - made even cheaper by the hopper fare - but also the most atmospheric! It's lovely, driving through the lights of the West End - and you wouldn't see a sight on the Tube like that of the middle-aged Indian couple who hopped on the bus to go see Phantom of the Opera, and not only asked directions of the driver, but the husband stayed up front chatting to him the whole time.. And they would've made their show in plenty of time, I daresay.

So did I, getting off the bus just across from Chinatown, to a delicious whiff of Chinese food. Damn, it's been ages, and I'd have loved to have had a Chinese right then - but I didn't have time for that. However, after getting my ticket, I did have time to nip up to the Tesco up the road and nab a hot steak slice, which I ate on the pavement outside, while looking at the photographic exhibition on the adjacent construction hoarding - unusual for me to have time to eat hot food before a show, and very welcome. I used to get these all the time when we still had a London office, which was near a Tesco. (This particular steak slice was a bit burnt, mind..)

And so back to the theatre to wait for the doors to open. I considered getting a drink, but was on my own and didn't really fancy it - I had noticed the group organiser at the ticket desk when I was there, but by the time I'd concluded my business she'd vanished. Anyway, not too long to wait, and I was soon slogging up all those stairs, to the upstairs theatre.


We were asked not to leave empty seats - predictably, it was sold out. And wandering around the edge, waiting for us to take our seats, was Nell Phoenix. The Girl Who Married a Dog, it turned out, was a collection of Nordic stories. And when she got going.. well, I heard some things that were familiar from other meetings. Like tales of Wolverine, and Otter, and Bear. (I do think I've heard the one about the bear's head before.)

But mostly, as also always happens at these things, most of the stories were new to me - and told with a terrific freshness, and in a wonderfully childlike way, by our storyteller. I do keep trying to explain this to people who've never seen it, and I'm not sure how much they believe me - but there's a terrific art to good storytelling, and I think tonight we saw some of its best. It takes a good storyteller to make each scene, each character, come to life - and tonight, she lived and breathed these characters.

So, we got to feel what it was like for them - and we got to witness their different personalities. Mixed up with a good deal of humour - definitely not kids' storytelling this, the themes could be quite adult. And not a single prop used - no music, no furniture, just her, moving around the stage, acting out the parts when the moment was right. Fantastic stuff - I was torn between listening to the story, and watching a master at work.

Oh, and that girl who married a dog? Her father didn't approve - didn't end well..

I seriously recommend these - I do get to as many as I can, although I have seen a couple that are coming up. Still, already looking forward to my next one! Afterwards, there had been talk of meeting in the bar, but I was tired - and busy - and delighted that the show had finished so early - so when I didn't see any obvious gathering, I took myself off.

I easily found my stop, and although I had a choice of buses, as it happened, I ended up taking the same buses home. Got off one stop too early, but never mind..

Tomorrow and Thursday, I am making it to Asia House - barring last-minute better offers!

Wednesday, the Man with the Hat is taking London for Less Than a Tenner to the Top Secret Comedy Club.

I've arranged with Mary (another regular of the Man with the Hat's) to go on the Emirates Cable Car on Friday. She's been, loved it, invited me. Gosh, d'you know, if it's not on the Meetup calendar, I can forget so easily.. well, now there's a record of it here. This was the first date I was free!

Finally, on Saturday I'm with LDAM again, who - for once - are off to see some Beckett! Hallelujah, he's my favourite playwright - and not theirs, which makes it fun. No's Knife, it is, at the Old Vic.. Hmm, I seem to remember looking forward to when the Meetup groups got busy again. Be careful what you wish for..

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Pub: The White House

It's a sad thing when people you work with, who've made your day better, move on. Even when you know they've made the right decision, and that they'll be happy. And so it was this evening, at the leaving do for one of them.

But hey, such is life. Anyway, we met at the White House pub, him late(-ish!) as usual. I fancied food, ordered a chicken satay starter, chicken main course as well. Have to say, the chicken was excellent! Both starter and main. Just wouldn't recommend the satay sauce, which was a bit odd. But the main course was terrific, would definitely have that again. 




Called it a night a bit early, I'm wrecked. And to be honest, Guildford is not my 'hood, y'know? Nearly did forget my laptop, as someone predicted. Nearly. Yeah, really do need a break.. Had Streetviewed the (quite short) walk to the station, and made it safely home. Sayonara, senor. Best o' luck.

Tomorrow, I'm back to Ireland for the weekend, and a well-deserved rest..

Before next week! Monday sees the long-awaited return of the Crick Crack Storytelling Club, who are at Soho Theatre with The Girl who Married a Dog.

Tuesday, I'm back with Kensington Classical Music, for a concert at Asia House - part of the Talent Unlimited Music Futures Festival, for young performers, which runs all week.

Wednesday, the Man with the Hat is taking London for Less Than a Tenner to the Top Secret Comedy Club.

Thursday sees my second outing of the week, with Kensington Classical Music, to Asia House, for that Talent Unlimited Festival.

I've arranged with Mary (another regular of the Man with the Hat's) to go on the Emirates Cable Car that Friday. She's been, loved it, invited me. Gosh, d'you know, if it's not on the Meetup calendar, I can forget so easily.. well, now there's a record of it here. This was the first date I was free!

Finally, I start next month with LDAM again, who - for once - are off to see some Beckett! Hallelujah, he's my favourite playwright - and not theirs, which makes it fun. No's Knife, it is, at the Old Vic, on 1 October.. Hmm, I seem to remember looking forward to when the Meetup groups got busy again. Be careful what you wish for..

The Great Day Out!

So, Helen had a birthday - and a landmark one. And that wasn't going to go unmarked - so, although she had a party last month (a joint celebration, to mark her wedding anniversary as well), what with yesterday being her actual birthday, she came up to London (with her sister-in-law), I took the day off - and we went on the town.

She gave us a shortlist, I gave my opinion, and we confirmed an itinerary - I left the details to her, although I did check transport routes, just in case. My basic task was to be in Waterloo for 11:40 - however, on the day, that was somewhat scuppered by the electricity meter needing topping up. I awoke to hear it beeping away at me - honestly, how annoying it is; although everything is included in the rent, we have to top up the meter manually, then deduct it from the rent. Which meant a trip to the post office. I'd been up late blogging the night before, so had woken late, and now wouldn't even have time to walk up there - I had to drive (to Asda, the post office has no parking). Mercifully, there was no queue, when I was finally ready for a train, I got one pretty much straight away, and I wasn't that late. No time for breakfast though, which ended up being a packet of Minstrels I got in the station while I was waiting for them.

And so to Bethnal Green, where the V&A Museum of Childhood is running a Clangers and Bagpuss exhibition. Part of their childhood, not mine - although I had heard of Bagpuss before - but fear not, there's a tv room, complete with comfy sofa, where the episodes are showing on a loop, so I could be educated. Excellent idea! which attracted some children - but we'd already bagged the sofa. ;-)

After that, we strolled through the exhibition, housed in a temporary construction to the side of the lobby, and which shows the various models, with a history of their development, and that of other characters. After which we strolled through the toy display on the upper level. Well, I have to say, what a fantastic place! Trust the V&A - this is great fun! Blasts from the past, with toys we used to play with.. beautiful examples of antique toys, or those presented to dignitaries, and obviously not intended to be actually played with:



..and some interactive ones - although none of us really wanted to start up this guy, as the sign encouraged us to do:



More photos of the whole day here.

Along the way, we ran into a school group - and, with so many interactive displays especially, what a great place to bring them! Beautiful building too, and we had lunch before we left. Terrific place: that exhibition runs until the 9th, but this is a venue always worth a visit, I think.

With all the time we spent there, we ended up not having much spare time before our chocolate afternoon tea, and decided to go straight there. Another trip across town, and we did have time for a stroll through Borough Market, which the restaurant backs onto. A stroll for the nose, it was - this is a food market, and we were assailed with smells of cheese, of fish.. This was rapidly becoming a foodie day. And thus we came to Rabot 1745, heading upstairs to the restaurant, where she checked our names off the list, and gave us the option of sitting inside, or on the balcony overlooking the market. Well, it was a pleasantly mild day, and apart from it not raining, and the market being covered anyway, the balcony is covered with umbrellas, giving it a nostalgic, colonial feel.

For afternoon tea, they were careful to ensure that we didn't have any allergies, and having had that confirmed, they duly threw the lot at us:



To be fair, that drink was an optional extra - included in the price, though, and despite all the other chocolate on offer, when I saw iced chocolate as a drink option, I had to have it. It's been years since I last had - and this was delicious, made with really good, dark chocolate. Well, I'd expect nothing less - this establishment is run by Hotel Chocolat. We were soon to regret our lunch, though - they've chucked chocolate into pretty much everything.

The sandwiches had chocolate in them - I didn't bother with them, and to be fair, my companions found them "rather strange". The scones went down best - a choice of cinnamon scones, scones with sultanas, and viennese slices with lemon buttercream, they were almost all polished off. Not to mention the three little jugs of things to spread on them - one of cream, one of jam, one of 70% chocolate ganache.. the top tier had tasting chocolates, and would you believe, although everything was delicious, we hardly made a dent in that layer, we were so stuffed! Helen filled a "doggy box" with them. We did make room for the sorbets, though - visible in the tall glasses on the top tier, they were absolutely delicious..

This is the place to go for chocolate afternoon tea, no mistake. And while we could barely move, we did manage to drag ourselves across town again - well, of course we did, we were off to Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium!



We were a bit early, and had a stroll down Brick Lane first, passing the Cereal Killer Cafe, about which I've heard so much. By the time we got back to Lady Dinah's, a small crowd had gathered, and they duly opened up for us. They have strict security here, and we were made to enter an anteroom first and wash our hands - and then we entered the Land of the Cat!



You can get different packages, depending on what you want to eat - we were stuffed, and glad just to have the "kitten" package, which just includes a drink. Of course, this is a colouring session, so we were also provided with colouring books (with a cat theme), and a large jar of colouring pencils and felt-tip pens.

But none of us would be here without the cats. Standard rules apply - as anyone with experience of cats will know, you don't disturb them when they're sleeping or eating. The cafe also has the rule that customers don't pick up the cats - they aren't used to you, and could get spooked. And how, in fact, did the cats behave? Typically - completely uninterested in us. It was funny, actually, to watch all the obedient customers - obviously dying to fuss over the cats, but acting nonchalant as the cats.. slept. Fortunately, the people at the cafe are used to their cats, and the "cat carers" know their personalities, and did finally manage to get them up and about, and playing:



Beautiful cats, obviously well cared for, and living in cat paradise. We had a terrific time.. and I seriously thought I'd never get my companions out of the shop afterwards, where you can buy cat jumpers, cat badges, cat pendants, cat pencils, cat cards.. not to mention all the patrons sentimentally showing each other cat photos. Cat fanciers be aware, you'll love this place.

Kudos to Helen, this was a great day! A great mix of events, and just nicely packed. Straight home then, but too late to blog, as I'm in Guildford today. Tonight is a leaving do at work - taking place at The White House, in Guildford. Tomorrow, I'm back to Ireland for the weekend, and a well-deserved rest..

Before next week! Monday sees the long-awaited return of the Crick Crack Storytelling Club, who are at Soho Theatre with The Girl who Married a Dog.

Tuesday, I'm back with Kensington Classical Music, for a concert at Asia House - part of the Talent Unlimited Music Futures Festival, for young performers, which runs all week.

Wednesday, the Man with the Hat is taking London for Less Than a Tenner to the Top Secret Comedy Club.

Thursday sees my second outing of the week, with Kensington Classical Music, to Asia House, for that Talent Unlimited Festival.

I've arranged with Mary (another regular of the Man with the Hat's) to go on the Emirates Cable Car that Friday. She's been, loved it, invited me. Gosh, d'you know, if it's not on the Meetup calendar, I can forget so easily.. well, now there's a record of it here. This was the first date I was free!

Finally, I start next month with LDAM again, who - for once - are off to see some Beckett! Hallelujah, he's my favourite playwright - and not theirs, which makes it fun. No's Knife, it is, at the Old Vic, on 1 October.. Hmm, I seem to remember looking forward to when the Meetup groups got busy again. Be careful what you wish for..

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Play: The Greater Game

Honestly, I wouldn't have gone to tonight's play if the Man with the Hat hadn't been involved. Football? I can take it or leave it, generally. Jingoistic nationalism? I can definitely do without. What the hey, I said I'd give it a shot.

I was working from home today, which allowed me time to take my watch in to get a new battery. The chap said it'd be ready around six - that was when I was planning to leave for Southwark Playhouse, but ok. Of course, when I went back to collect it, he was on a break till 6:15, which would be a bit late - I decided to leave. I made my way to the closest stop for the 344, which has a display showing the next buses due - when I saw that mine wasn't due for 15 minutes, I thought I'd make my way back again to wait for my watch.. on the way, I met a 344.. which I just caught. It'll probably be Friday now till I can collect the watch, but what the hey (again).

A much less eventful journey than last night - in fact, rather than prevent people from getting off, this was one of the drivers that stop at every stop, just on the off-chance! Possibly, he had one eye on the heavy traffic..



I've often thought how handy it would be - for me, at least - if Southwark Playhouse lay on the other side of Elephant & Castle, which takes a solid five minutes (minimum) to drive through. I've also thought how much time I might save by getting off a stop early, on the other side of the roundabout. Haven't done it yet, mind.

No matter: Let's Do London - for Less! were still keeping the back of the bar warm when I went in, stole a seat and went to get a drink. And although an announcement was made when the house was open, we reasoned that we had allocated seating, and pretty much ignored it. We moved when they made a second announcement. And found ourselves sat in front-facing seats, all more or less together - interestingly, I ended up having conversations with people both about how comfortable, and uncomfortable, the seats were. 'Tis all relative.

The Greater Game is based on a book that tells the story of how a London football team signed up for the Great War. And my, but I had several problems with the first half, in particular. The football bit was fine - it served to show the camaraderie, and these characters are beautifully developed and acted: talk about making you care for them! No, it was the "patriotism" that irritated me:


They were so gung-ho, you know, about joining up "for king and country". And I don't doubt it was true to life - but when they had done so, and the commanding officer came on, cap and all, my immediate reaction was hostile. I'd make a terrible soldier.

So I couldn't sympathise in the slightest with their noble aims, nor with their patriotic statements about doing their duty. I wonder how many in the audience could - not everyone stayed for the second half. But - to my relief - the second half was really moving, as they started to fall, and those left started to question the wisdom of what was happening. Certainly, this is well played - I believe there are a couple of famous people in it, but that went right over my head. And I can guarantee you'll recognise the songs - funny how they've lasted.

Aside: One small problem for me, with the snippet from "Keep the Home Fires Burning": the last time I heard this was in the last scene of The Plough and the Stars, at the National. It's interesting to compare them, because they are both set at the same time - the centenary of the Battle of the Somme is also the centenary of the Easter Rising. In fact, the rising was timed to coincide with the worst of the war in Europe, when Britain was engaged elsewhere. Anyway, thing is, in that last scene (spoiler), a woman has been shot dead, by mistake, by British troops who took her for a sniper. A couple of them come to investigate, there's some conversation with those in the room, who are then dispatched about their business, leaving the soldiers alone with the dead woman, who has been covered by a sheet. The soldiers, seeing a boiling kettle, decide to have a cuppa. And then start to sing "Keep the Home Fires Burning", as the flames of the burning city glow in the window. Very, very shocking, that scene left the whole audience agape. Frankly, I'll never listen to that song in the same light again.

Anyway, tonight's production is very well done - the actors are a delight to watch, and it was, as usual, lovely to see them chilling in the bar afterwards, at this most informal of venues. Booking until the 15th.

Yep, some of us hung on pretty late in the bar - interestingly, not the usual suspects, but I didn't lack for company. And entertaining company, too - and yet again I had cause to reflect what a lively crowd this group attracts.

Tomorrow is Helen's birthday, I've taken the day off, and a few of us are headed for a full day of merriment. The plan as it stands is to start with the Clangers, Bagpuss & Co. Exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood, then we've booked a chocolate afternoon tea at Rabot 1745, followed by an evening of Colouring with Cats at Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium.
Thursday is a leaving do at work - taking place at The White House, in Guildford. So I'll take the train to work that day, for once.

Then I'm back to Ireland for the weekend, and a well-deserved rest..

Before next week! Monday sees the long-awaited return of the Crick Crack Storytelling Club, who are at Soho Theatre with The Girl who Married a Dog.

Tuesday, I'm back with Kensington Classical Music, for a concert at Asia House - part of the Talent Unlimited Music Futures Festival, for young performers, which runs all week.

Wednesday, the Man with the Hat is taking London for Less Than a Tenner to the Top Secret Comedy Club.

Thursday sees my second outing of the week, with Kensington Classical Music, to Asia House, for that Talent Unlimited Festival.

I've arranged with Mary (another regular of the Man with the Hat's) to go on the Emirates Cable Car that Friday. She's been, loved it, invited me. Gosh, d'you know, if it's not on the Meetup calendar, I can forget so easily.. well, now there's a record of it here. This was the first date I was free!

Finally, I start next month with LDAM again, who - for once - are off to see some Beckett! Hallelujah, he's my favourite playwright - and not theirs, which makes it fun. No's Knife, it is, at the Old Vic, on 1 October.. Hmm, I seem to remember looking forward to when the Meetup groups got busy again. Be careful what you wish for..

Monday, 19 September 2016

Play: Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2, 3)

London Dramatic Arts (LDAM) and I may have had our differences of opinion, but I do still like to see what they're going to. It's usually interesting, and sometimes they even have the cheapest tickets. Tonight, they were headed to the Royal Court Theatre for Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2, 3) - and this theatre has cheap tickets on Mondays (only if you buy them in person). Which is obviously what the organiser of this group does, selling to the group members more expensively. And you know, that's absolutely fair enough, and I'll buy them if I can't get cheaper - on this occasion, I was just too late to get the very last cheaper ticket, and faced with the prospect of buying one for the same price, I figured it made more sense to buy from the group - I wouldn't have to avoid them then, would probably get a better seat, and might just get some decent company (honestly, doesn't always happen with them).

This was the very first venue I ever met this group at, and I remember some scintillating conversation afterwards, on that occasion. Shame I haven't seen most of those people since. Anyway, this was the first time I'd been there since moving house! so I needed to sort out a new route - I wouldn't drive up here, parking would be horrendous. It used to be really handy by Tube, being right beside Sloane Square Station - turns out to be nearly as handy by bus from Clapham Junction, as I can get the 319 straight to and from the end of my road.

Google Maps said I needed to trot up the road to the next stop - rubbish, said I, and checked the TFL website. Sure enough, the stop at the end of the road would do fine - Google Maps are great, but don't take their word as gospel. I started out a little early - always advisable, with buses especially - and wouldn't you know it, with a little judicious jay-running, I just managed to get to the stop as the bus pulled up. And it only took us about 20 minutes to get to Sloane Square.

Straight ahead to the theatre, visible on the other side of the square. The organiser had said we'd meet in the downstairs bar, so I made my way down there and got a drink - service was quite quick, despite the crowd. Had a look through the bar - she hadn't said whereabouts exactly she'd be, and may not in fact have known where the table she was reserving would be - and caught sight of her, and a couple of others, just taking their seats at a table near the door. Well now, and it wasn't yet even the appointed time! This must be a first - she's usually late.

They were ordering food, which I thought a good idea - I'd been in Guildford, and hadn't had time for dinner. I do hate rushing though, so was only going to have something small - soup of the day, pumpkin and mushroom, sounded interesting, so I ordered that. And I was glad that was all I'd ordered - one person had great trouble finishing hers in time. And while the food was served reasonably quickly, it's definitely quicker to order drinks from the bar. The soup, when it came, was lovely, by the way - a little spicy, served with some nice, crusty white bread and butter.

The bell had rung by the time we got up to go, and they were making the final call by the time we made our way upstairs - despite this being in the downstairs theatre, we were in the circle, which is at ground level. Then there was some fun with the seating - I counted the rows down to Row A, the front row - someone was blocking the seats to my right, so I checked seat numbers to my left, and sat in there - #12. After a bit, I noticed that I was in the Slips.. now, the others had waited for that person to finish her meal, it seems, and when I saw them file in, they were all in the middle! So I checked, and there was another #12 in there. You have been warned..

So I ended up with a lovely, central seat, and it's been so long that I'd forgotten how comfy the leather seats are in this theatre. We also had some unexpected entertainment - a bluegrass guitarist sat onstage for literally the whole show, playing for us before the start and at the interval. This is set in the Southern United States, and the music fitted perfectly, and was applauded when we got a moment.

The play takes the form of three mini-plays, concerning a black slave coerced by his master into fighting for the Confederates in the Civil War. Thing is, he's been promised his freedom in return for cooperation - but knows himself to be fighting on the wrong side. Part 1: Will he, won't he? Part 2: The war. Part 3: The aftermath, and the folks waiting at home.

Unusually, we all seemed to agree on tonight's play, and when we discussed it afterwards, we all decided that the first part dragged a bit. The accents, the behaviour of the characters, did seem a bit stereotypical, and as the organiser said, it could probably have done with being chopped a bit shorter. However, we were all blown away by the second part, where we finally meet the "boss-man" of whom we've heard in the first part, and there's a confrontation in the wilderness, away from the battlefield, involving him, the slave (no big spoiler to say he does eventually go), and a captive Yankee with secrets of his own. Finally, after the interval, the style completely changes, and we get a most surprising aftermath scene, with a very 60s vibe of freedom and change, and some stunning plot twists!

More than anything else, it's a very thought-provoking play, and raised many questions, even among the brief period for which we discussed it tonight. The nature of freedom, the nature of slavery, the meaning of loyalty - these would have to be described as the major themes. We had an interesting discussion, for example, over some expensive ice cream at the interval, about why they wouldn't all necessarily have wanted to be free, and what advantages there might have been to slavery - freedom from want, for instance, a roof over your head, food, and "honest work", as one character describes it. One of the more interesting quotes runs "Seems like the worth of a colored man, once he's made free, is less than his worth when he's a slave".

Definitely worth a look - stick with it, that second part is stunning, and the third part sets it up very well for a sequel - I believe, in fact, that the formula is to be repeated twice more, making nine plays in total, to take the story of a single family up to the present day. Could yet be very interesting, and written by a Pulitzer Prize winner. This production runs until 22nd of next month.

Pity my snuffly nose started at the interval and continued to irritate me throughout the last part. Pity also that a couple of our group were disturbed by an annoying woman beside them, who spent the whole show insensitively glued to her phone. Still, there were plenty of free seats beside me, so they just spent the latter part of the show there. We didn't feel like drinks after, but did spend an age chatting in the lobby - although they were turning off lights and locking doors all around us, the guard reassured us that they weren't going to chuck us out while the bar was still open!

When the remaining five of us did leave, it was two to the Tube, two to the taxi rank, and me to the bus stop, just over the road. (Nearly got run over crossing the road, mind - it's not clear there that it's road, not pavement.) While my bus was a while in coming, the driver made up for it.. this was to be one of those interesting journeys that tend to happen mostly at night, with a driver who's probably anticipating the end of his shift. For a start, his card reader was playing up, and he didn't seem to give a fiddler's - I had to try twice before my card worked, and lots of people seemed to get on without paying at all.

But the real fun came as he tore through town, swinging dramatically around bends - must've been fun for passengers sitting upstairs. And he had a real reluctance to let people off - he zipped through one guy's stop, and mightn't have stopped at the next, but that the chap went to the front to suggest to him that the buzzer mightn't be working properly! One lady, having requested a stop, found that he stopped there to let someone on, but completely failed to open the centre doors, even after she pressed repeatedly - she irately pushed her way off at the front, despite him trying to close the doors as she was leaving. I was lucky when it came to mine - he'd stopped at the one before, so hadn't gotten up too much speed, I lurched to the door while pressing the button, as he swung around the bend, and there was someone getting off from upstairs, who pressed it repeatedly, obviously very concerned that the driver would never wait for him to climb down. Plus I think someone was getting on - and at least this driver stopped for those. It was a relief to get off, finally.. I have complained him.

Tomorrow, the Man with the Hat is taking Let's Do London - for Less! to Southwark Playhouse for another wartime drama. This one is The Greater Game, based on the true story of a football team, all of whom signed up to fight in the First World War. Bus again, hopefully less dramatic than tonight!

Wednesday is Helen's birthday, I've taken the day off, and a few of us are headed for a full day of merriment. The plan as it stands is to start with the Clangers, Bagpuss & Co. Exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood, then we've booked a chocolate afternoon tea at Rabot 1745, followed by an evening of Colouring with Cats at Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium.

Thursday is a leaving do at work - taking place at The White House, in Guildford. So I'll take the train to work that day, for once.

Then I'm back to Ireland for the weekend, and a well-deserved rest..

Before next week! Monday sees the long-awaited return of the Crick Crack Storytelling Club, who are at Soho Theatre with The Girl who Married a Dog.

Tuesday, I'm back with Kensington Classical Music, for a concert at Asia House - part of the Talent Unlimited Music Futures Festival, for young performers, which runs all week.

Wednesday, the Man with the Hat is taking London for Less Than a Tenner to the Top Secret Comedy Club.

Thursday sees my second outing of the week, with Kensington Classical Music, to Asia House, for that Talent Unlimited Festival.


And while I think of it, I've arranged with Mary (another regular of the Man with the Hat's) to go on the Emirates Cable Car that Friday! She's been, loved it, invited me. Gosh, d'you know, if it's not on the Meetup calendar, I can forget so easily.. well, now there's a record of it here. This was the first date I was free!

Finally, I start next month with LDAM again, who - for once - are off to see some Beckett! Hallelujah, he's my favourite playwright - and not theirs, which makes it fun. No's Knife, it is, at the Old Vic, on 1 October..

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Open House: St. Mary's Church Battersea

Open House again today. Ken's Events and its spin-off, London Arts, Comedy & Culture Lovers, were doing their thing in town, charging £3 to view the buildings that are not normally open to the public, but open their doors for free on this September weekend. So I did my thing, stayed local, and strolled up the road to St. Mary's Battersea. Completely for free.

They weren't even open till 1, which meant a relaxed start. Straight up Falcon Road, then Battersea High Street, eventually turning onto Battersea Church Road. Can't miss it. 20 mins in total from my house, walking slowly. I'd never been to Battersea High Street before, which I notice has quite a few eateries, were I so inclined. And a very old school:


It's great to have an excuse to explore your own area, which I don't tend to do. I duly came upon the church, with a cheery "welcome" banner across the gate. More photos here, in the same folder that has yesterday's photos.

It's a very pleasant, Georgian building, with a very pleasant riverside setting, and some lovely staff - or volunteers, I don't know - who were only delighted to welcome all comers, and give us information leaflets. Honestly, I hadn't been expecting much from this visit to a local church, but would you believe, the place was full of surprises!


For a start, although this building dates from the early 1700s, there's probably been a church on the spot from Saxon times. There's an accompanying manor house, long owned by the Spencers. Turner used to sit in the vestry window and paint river views, and William Blake was married here. (There are stained glass windows dedicated to both.)

They have some gorgeous, embroidered kneelers:


And a rather unusual, large stained glass window over the altar depicts, not saints, but Henry VII, his mother, Margaret Beaufort, and his granddaughter, Elizabeth I. Another fascinating snippet from the information sheet described how the dove window to the right was destroyed by a bomb in 1941, but devotedly restored from the fragments in 1946:


Truly, this was a fascinating trip, and more than enough for the day. I love that about Open House - they get you not only to explore new buildings, but also new parts of town - even those just up the road, that you've never before gotten around to.

Handily, Tesco was on my way back, so I bought dinner, and am having a wonderfully quiet evening in. This week is pretty busy - tomorrow, I'm back with London Dramatic Arts, for Father Comes Home from the Wars. A trio of short plays about a black man fighting for the Confederates in the American Civil War, it's a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and showing downstairs at the Royal Court - the very first venue I ever went to with them, as it happens.

On Tuesday, the Man with the Hat is taking Let's Do London - for Less! to Southwark Playhouse for another wartime drama. This one is The Greater Game, based on the true story of a football team, all of whom signed up to fight in the First World War.

Wednesday is Helen's birthday, I've taken the day off, and a few of us are headed for a full day of merriment. The plan as it stands is to start with the Clangers, Bagpuss & Co. Exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood, then we've booked a chocolate afternoon tea at Rabot 1745, followed by an evening of Colouring with Cats at Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium.

Thursday is a leaving do at work - taking place at The White House, in Guildford. So I'll take the train to work that day, for once.

Then I'm back to Ireland for the weekend, and a well-deserved rest..

Before the following week! Monday sees the long-awaited return of the Crick Crack Storytelling Club, who are at Soho Theatre with The Girl who Married a Dog. Back at last..

Tuesday, I'm back with Kensington Classical Music, for a concert at Asia House - part of the Talent Unlimited Music Futures Festival, for young performers, which runs all week.

Wednesday, the Man with the Hat is taking London for Less Than a Tenner to the Top Secret Comedy Club.

And Thursday sees my second outing of the week, with Kensington Classical Music, to Asia House, for that Talent Unlimited Festival.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Open House: Custom House & Senate House

For today, Meetup's most interesting suggestion was from Ken's Events (and its spin-off, London Art, Comedy and Culture Lovers), who were doing Open House. This is where buildings not typically open to the public are open to the public for one weekend of the year, for free. So naturally, the above groups charge £3. So I decided to do it on my own. And then Helen got in touch to ask whether I'd be interested - so that was handy!

Well, she sent me a shortlist of buildings, and boy was I glad I didn't go out last night, and had time - among other things - to work out the transport connections between them (handily, as it turned out, because she - and her husband, who came too - hadn't had time to do so). The most interesting to me was the Custom House, firstly because it's in the oldest part of town, and more importantly for the detector dog displays. :-) So we decided to meet in time to make the 1:30 display.

I fully meant to take the bus to Waterloo, and as usual, approached the stop just in time to see the one leave that I should've taken. Now, bus does take longer than train - and although I was too early to take the train, I was now too late to take the bus, and doing anything else while I was waiting would've made me late, overall. I took the train, occupying myself at Waterloo by buying a drink - from the kiosk, rather than the shops - and finding a seat.

Yes, I was in plenty of time, and when they arrived, we confirmed that yes, we were off to the Custom House, and yes, by bus (I'd also prepared the Tube option). Off, then, down the steps to Stop W, and one came nice and early, leading us on an interesting route through the backstreets south of the river (bit bumpy, too). Helen remarked that it was nice, travelling by bus and getting to see something of the city above ground - and we agreed that the display that tells you what stop is coming up just makes the whole thing very easy. I couldn't agree more - I love it. Across London Bridge, past the Monument, and traffic was so terrible on Great Tower Street that the driver let us off where we were - I do believe we'd have been late, otherwise.

Ahead, around the corner, and cross the road - you couldn't miss it. We weren't sure where to go in, until we saw the crowd.. beckoned in by a lady with an excitable dog. Yes, this was the place, and we were advised to go straight down and nab a good spot to see the display, which would be starting shortly. So we zipped through the old corridors of the building, passing several enthusiastic volunteers, some of whom were slightly dismayed that we were passing them by. We promised them we'd be back.

And so out to the car park, where we got a good vantage point overlooking the arrangement of luggage laid out in a large ring. We had one of the senior handlers explain to us how the star of the show - Teddy:


.. (the enthusiastic dog at the gate) would demonstrate how he could detect drug traces in one of these suitcases. (More photos here.) Or hopefully he would, since he'd only been in training for a week! Naturally, he played a blinder:


It was also interesting to hear how the dogs could be used to sniff out animal products, or even money. And the meet n greet with the dogs afterwards was very popular!

Several more interesting displays awaited us - a display on diesel smuggling, a table with examples of bomb components, a demo of how to disarm someone, a room full of examples of illegal animal products from endangered species. In one room, a hugely enthusiastic presenter made the talk about money laundering that much more interesting. I have to say, the friendly and welcoming atmosphere here made it a must-see destination for Open House, and there has to be something for everyone. Highly recommended.

Next on the list was the Senate House, so back to Great Tower Street, and a two-bus combination to Tottenham Court Road - the 15 and the 25. (It wasn't going to take much longer than the Tube.) Actually, I'd forgotten that the 15 is one of the great regular bus routes for sightseeing, and we got some great views of St. Paul's as we passed right by - I've been here a lot this week!

Now, I can't seem to reproduce the directions that Google Maps gave me yesterday, but I swear it said to change at Fetter Lane, direct from one bus to the other. The first piece of fun was when our driver passed that stop entirely, and we had to walk back. The second was when the 25 turned out not to stop there at all - we walked up Fetter Lane, turning onto High Holborn, and found a stop there to catch the 25, which, handily enough, was just coming.

All's well that ends well, and we made it to the Senate House soon after. I did remark on the difference between the neighbourhood we'd left and where we now were - so much more genteel. Anyway, the Senate House is the administrative building for the University of London, and an imposing, art deco building, apparently used as the backdrop for sundry films:


We didn't see much by way of definite guidance in there, although the advertising for the Shakespeare exhibition is prominent:


We did find a film, showing on a loop, made of archive footage of the laying of the foundations of the Senate House - which was interesting, and the architecture is gorgeous, the rooms stately, with more upstairs. As we felt we'd seen enough, and were making for the exit, someone working there advised us to go up to the exhibition - we took the lift up, only to be greeted immediately with the announcement that "Open House is closed - you can't go into the exhibition, and they shouldn't have told you that". Ah well.

The other locations were within walking distance, but it was getting to closing time by now, and we didn't feel like the walk, and were hungry. Helen, who used to work nearby, remembered a good Italian - and so we came to Olivelli's, a short walk down Store Street. Apparently run for a long time now by a Sicilian family, service is friendly, and the food is somewhat spectacular. For my part, excellent garlic bread - and a generous portion of it - was followed by a great saltimbocca, but the absolute highlight for me was the "torta paradiso", a house specialty, including a layer of hazelnut praline that I just couldn't resist. Not cheap, but this was the best meal I've had in an age. Memorable, and recommended. And the snipe of limoncello offered at the end was much appreciated!

I'd been too tired to research the bus route back from here to Waterloo, so we just took the Tube, Helen remarking that she was glad we hadn't been doing that all day, it was so hot underground! It was a good day though, good to catch up, and good to see these new places. And I now know of another excellent restaurant - for special occasions.

Tomorrow, those Meetup groups (and some others) are doing Open House again, and I'm going local with it - keeping it nice and simple. Locally, only one location is open tomorrow - St. Mary's Church, Battersea - so that's where I'm going. And it's close enough to walk. Could do with simplifying my life.

Next week is pretty busy - Monday, I'm back with London Dramatic Arts, for Father Comes Home from the Wars. A trio of short plays about a black man fighting for the Confederates in the American Civil War, it's a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and showing downstairs at the Royal Court - the very first venue I ever went to with them, as it happens.

On Tuesday, the Man with the Hat is taking Let's Do London - for Less! to Southwark Playhouse for another wartime drama. This one is The Greater Game, based on the true story of a football team, all of whom signed up to fight in the First World War.

Wednesday is actually Helen's birthday, I've taken the day off, and a few of us are headed for a full day of merriment. The plan as it stands is to start with the Clangers, Bagpuss & Co. Exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood, then we've booked a chocolate afternoon tea at Rabot 1745, followed by an evening of Colouring with Cats at Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium.

Thursday is a leaving do at work - taking place at The White House, in Guildford. So I'll take the train to work that day, for once.

Then I'm back to Ireland for the weekend, and a well-deserved rest..

Before the following week! Monday sees the long-awaited return of the Crick Crack Storytelling Club, who are at Soho Theatre with The Girl who Married a Dog.

Tuesday, I'm back with Kensington Classical Music, for a concert at Asia House - part of the Talent Unlimited Music Futures Festival, for young performers, which runs all week.

Wednesday, the Man with the Hat is taking London for Less Than a Tenner to the Top Secret Comedy Club.

And Thursday sees my second outing of the week, with Kensington Classical Music, to Asia House, for that Talent Unlimited Festival.