Wednesday, 14 December 2016

friars nativity

Yesterday I helped out with Ania and the LCM schools team running a nativity event for Friars Primary School (key stage 2 classes) at St Mary Magdalen Bermondsey. My job was being one of the three dressed-up groups meeting them at various points on their walk to the church and walking with them part of the way. I was with Rosemary and Tim at the first station, in Trinity Church Square, and there a page on the school website about it (including photos, some of which I am in, though I didn't stay for the church part of it, but went back to the office) here.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

a birthday-related post

(I posted this on FB in the small hours this morning.)
Up late, having finished preparing a disastrous 'it's the thought that counts' birthday cake and wrapping some little extra pound-shop presents for the girl who was wanting to wake us up in about three hours time, to match the time of her birth and mark the actual moment when she becomes a teenager. We didn't take her up on this, even though she said we could go back to bed after having done so.
I'm hoping she'll find the cake amusing, with the promise of getting something nicer later.
Doesn't seem thirteen years since I was stubbing my toe going to answer a phone call at 4.18am from the hospital telling me it was time to come in. I got the bus up. I arrived there 4.40am, our daughter arrived not long after.
3lb 14oz.
She's taller than her mum now.
I didn't tell Bethan I'd stubbed my toe. It hurt, but I didn't want to make a fuss. That's just the kind of guy I am.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

the hound of death

On Thursday 18th August I finished The Hound of Death, a short story collection from 1933 by Agatha Christie, which was okay.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

impressionable teenagers

You only describe teenagers as 'impressionable' when they are being taught something you disagree with.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

harry potter and the chamber of secrets

On Friday 4th November I finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling, which was not bad.

virago documentary

I watched an interesting documentary on Virago (the publisher of books by women, predominantly, founded in 1973) which I'd recorded some time ago on BBC4. Three interesting unconnected things:

- One of their early senior staff members said that they published twelve books in their first year, and they were asked in a press conference, 'How are you going to find enough books for next year?'

- There are no on-screen misprints more annoying than those in documentaries about books. Very careless.

- In the section covering the serious disagreement among top-level management at one point about which larger publisher to sell the business to (although the clip doesn't necessarily indicate she was specifically talking about this instance), Margaret Atwood said, 'I had a background in small publishing myself, and the smaller the cheese, the more ferocious the mice.' Which I thought was brilliant, and applies to so many contexts, not least church; I did a Google and it didn't come up as a frequently-used expression, so it may be an Atwood original. Or something only Canadians say.

our spoons came from woolworths

On Saturday 11th May I stayed up late and finished reading Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns. I didn't like it at all - miserable events, horrible people, simpleton narration.

a christmas carol

On Monday 29 December 2014 we went to see a theatre production of A Christmas Carol at the Pleasance, near Caledonian Road. It was pretty good.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

the magic flute

On Saturday 19th November we all went with Hei Mun to Jackson's Lane Theatre for a matinee of The Magic Flute by Hampstead Garden Opera, which we all enjoyed.

morris folk club - november

On Tuesday - a week earlier than expected, for double booking reasons - it was November's Morris Folk Club. Running the risk of outstaying my welcome, I was up four times, but they all went fine I think.

Monday, 21 November 2016

the mikado

On Monday 1 December 2014, while Year 6 were on a trip to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Bethan and I went to see a small-cast production of The Mikado at the Charing Cross Theatre, with tickets which Hei Mun had got at an offer price for us. We enjoyed it a lot.

music for youth proms 2015

On Wednesday 25th November 2015 we went to the Royal Albert Hall (along with Laura) to see Maisie perform in the Music For Youth Proms 2015. (MFY page; RAH page.)

(Yes, I've reached a new layer in my archaeological dig into my pile of stuff to sort through.)

Friday, 18 November 2016

the fifth column

On Monday 28 March we all went to the Southwark Playhouse with Hei Mun to see The Fifth Column. It wasn't great.

leighton house museum

On Monday 28 March - Easter Monday - we went to Leighton House Museum. We got the bus to the north side of Holland Park and walked down through the park - our first time there - with a stop at the surprisingly reasonably priced cafe for lunch (a cafe which had a Gill and an Epstein sculpture in it, which gives you an idea of the area).

We enjoyed the Leighton House Museum - a Victorian artist's specially-built house with an art collection in it - though we were disappointed that some of the usual material was not on display, making way for a temporary exhibition of pre-Raphaelite preparatory sketches on paper. The best of those sketches was the one on the cover of the exhibition guide (King Pelles' Daughter Bearing the Vessel of the Sangreal, by Frederick Sandys); but on the whole we'd rather have seen the usual material. The building itself had some interiors well worth seeing, especially the entry fee wasn't small and it's unlikely we'll go back very soon.

the comedy about a bank robbery

On Saturday 23rd April we all went to the evening performance of The Comedy About A Bank Robbery at the Criterion Theatre, by the same people who did The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong. It was okay, but not nearly as good as those others.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

morris folk choir at the village butty

On Saturday 17th September in the afternoon I was at The Village Butty at the River Lea and Middlesex Filter Beds with Morris Folk Choir, singing at an event called Cut Craft: practical workshops for life on the cut.

the silver pigs

On Saturday 10th September I finished The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis. It was just okay. I'd picked up the first three at the Trinity Square bookstall recently, and got 2 and 3 in case I enjoyed the first one, as they were only 50p. Nos 2 and 3 will be going into the charity bag, unread.

the year of reading dangerously

On Monday 18 July I finished reading The Year Of Reading Dangerously, by Andy Miller, which I enjoyed.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

answer d: I don't know, but it's complicated

A friend asked on Twitter (over two tweets) yesterday, 'will those "Christians" who doggedly pursue wicked modes of thought in the name of Christ be forgiven - given they think themselves right, therefore will never seek forgiveness?!'

I said (over three tweets), 'ah, this is the sort of question twitter was made for. Some answers. a: I don't know. b: "Can"? I'd say yes (but see a). c: "Will?" I'd say it depends (but see a). When I have regained possession of the laptop and the house is abed I may take a longer run at it.'

Sunday, 6 November 2016

a midsummer night's dream

On Saturday 19th June, while Bethan was at a brownies afternoon out in Greenwich, Maisie and I went to the Southwark Playhouse for the matinee of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which we both enjoyed.

through the mill

On Saturday 9 July I  went, at the last minute, to the Southwark Playhouse to see Through The Mill, a new play about Judy Garland. It was very well done.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

marva and iolanta

In between Wonderful Town and Side Show, I went to the opera: on Wednesday 2nd November Bethan and I went to the Guildhall School Theatre to see an opera double bill, Stravinsky's Marva and Tchaikovsky's Iolanta, which we both enjoyed.

wonderful town

On Friday 28th October we all (with granny) went up to Ye Olde Rose and Crown in Walthamstow with Hei Mun to see Wonderful Town, another All Star Production. It was very good.

side show

On Friday 4th November Maisie and I went with Hei Mun to the Southwark Playhouse to see Side Show, which was not bad.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

a post about a poem about a foghorn

This morning a friend inadvertently dredged up a memory of a poem I wrote at university (brace yourselves...).

The key idea in it was that the sound of a distant foghorn echoing through the mist was beautiful, romantic, atmospheric, soft, long and rolling; but if you actually stood beside a foghorn it was loud, short, ugly and rather terrifying (I don't think I used those exact words). And - though I don't remember to what extent I spelled this out - this could be a metaphor for the difference between what you thought having a girlfriend would be like and what actually having a girlfriend might be like. (I was, of course, very familiar with the former, not at all familiar with the latter.) This was not meant to be a humorous poem, by the way.

Oh, teenage self, you could be so miserable, you do make me laugh sometimes.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

tracks

On Friday 28th October, in the afternoon before going out, we (with granny) watched Tracks, a film which Maisie had bought in a charity shop a few months ago, and which turned out to be a good choice of Maisie's. It was based on the true story of a woman trekking by herself with camels and dog through a long stretch of Australian desert. It was quite well done. It reminded me of the kind of film I used to go to see in my first few years in London, the kind of independent/niche/arthouse film which would be in a few select screens in London and not make it significantly beyond London, some of which were not very good but many of which were well worth seeing and made you glad to be in London. If we have an evening out now, however, we're much more likely to go to live entertainment, as the cinema is so expensive (and DVDs are so cheap, second-hand or in Fopp).

tate britain

On Wednesday 26th October we all (with granny) went to Tate Britain, the first time in years I've been there, and the first time since their big rehang two or three years ago, which took the apparently radical approach of putting the main collection into chronological, which seems obvious and sensible.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

hercule poirot's christmas

On Monday 24th October I finished Hercule Poirot's Christmas. It was okay.

morris folk club - october

It was Morris Folk Club on Tuesday. It being half term, and my mother being down, we all went.

I sang April Morn and A Sailor's Life, which went fine.

April Morn from the Trio Threlfall's version. April Morn is one of the million variations on Early One Morning. Whenever I think of Early One Morning I think of Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do Ave Em; he sang it, and the association has stuck for ever.

A Sailor's Life from the Fairport Convention version. I did my best to avoid just doing an awful attempted copying of Sandy Denny (which I could have done, with all the long notes and grace notes badly rendered, having sung along with it a million times), by singing it more simply; reducing the number of long notes and grace notes; I was worried it might be a bit bitty, with more space between the lines and phrases than I usually have (partly because of singing it more simply, partly because the Fairport version I know is like that, quite spread out, but Michelle particularly remarked on liking the space in it, which I will bear in mind).

I also sang The Wagoner's Lad in a duet with Tanja, from the Kossoy Sisters' version, which went rather well I thought. I do like singing harmony with others; the choir sang one of theirs, What Will We Do With The Baby-O, and Tanja sang/played at least one more at folk club, so I'd suggested that we could do one together, and that's what we went for.

Best of all, however, was persuading my mother to sing. I haven't heard her sing in public for many years. She sang Milleadh nam Bràithrean, beautifully of course, and to general acclaim. Proud son.

(Full setlist here, on this new page I've set up on the Morris choir's website to save all the setlists.)

Monday, 24 October 2016

girl on a plane

On Friday night I finished reading Girl On A Plane by Miriam Moss, a fictionalised account published in 2015 of her own experience of being on a hijacked plane in 1970, when she was fifteen. It was interesting as an account of the experience - though changed for dramatic, expository and other reasons - but not so much as a book in itself, though it was a quick and easy read.

Monday, 17 October 2016

allegro

On Monday 8th August we all went, with Lientjie, to see Allegro at the Southwark Playhouse. It was okay.

the woman in black; star trek into darkness

On Saturday 15th October Maisie and I started but abandoned The Woman In Black, and watched Star Trek Into Darkness - two DVDs we'd got from the library in a two for one, £1 for a week, rental (that afternoon, on the way home from Draughts, the board game cafe).

draughts - the board game cafe

On Saturday 15th October Maisie and I went to Draughts, the board game cafe in Hackney, 10.20-2.20, roughly, and had a very good time.

Friday, 14 October 2016

titanic

On Monday 1 August we all went in the evening, with Lientjie and Mary, to the Charing Cross Theatre to see Titanic. Well all enjoyed it, I think.

babes in arms

On Friday 29 July in the evening we all, with Hei Mun and Laura, went to see Babes In Arms at Ye Olde Rose And Crown in Walthamstow. It was nicely done, with a few folk we've seen before in off-West End musicals, both in All Star Productions in Ye Olde and also elsewhere (including Ruth Betteridge in the lead female role, who's pretty good). Nothing special to note about it, especially at this distance, just another good production from a pretty reliable production company.

the quarry

On Wednesday 17th August I finished The Quarry by Iain Banks. His last book, written while he was dying and published after his death. I don't think it will be remembered as one of his classics; I found it just okay.

brighton

On Thursday 28 July we went down by train to Brighton (direct from Elephant & Castle) for the day, including going to the Brighton Royal Pavilion. It was quick and easy and good fun, and not too expensive, with something for everyone, and I think we'll do that again.

the bourne identity

In the afternoon on Wednesday 27 July we all went to the Genesis cinema to watch Jason Bourne. We all liked it quite well. (Maisie hadn't seen any before, we'd seen the first two I think, but it didn't matter.) Mostly an assemblage of long and well-done chase/action/tension sequences (if somewhat far-fetched, especially the climactic one) which can be tedious if less well-done and less plot-driven and plot-driving. Nice to see one of these now and again, especially if it's a good one (not nice to see the tedious ones, like a lot of the superhero ones).

in the heights

On the evening of Monday 25 July we all went to the King's Cross Theatre to see In The Heights, the modern musical set in New York. We thought it was okay, but not as good everyone raving about it - and most of the rest of the very enthusiastic audience - thought. And it was too loud.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

the woman in black

On Thursday 21st July - as a kind of forerunner to our activity-filled family week off in London - Maisie and I went to see the matinee performance of The Woman In Black at the Fortune Theatre. It was pretty good.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

not to disturb

Yesterday I finished Not To Disturb, by Muriel Spark. I didn't like it much.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

gloriana

Yesterday evening we all, with Margaret and Jack from church, went to St George's Bloomsbury to see the inaugural concert of a new female choir, Gloriana. They were very good, though I'd have liked it a little better if they'd had a wider range of pieces in their evening of short pieces, straying earlier than the nineteenth century. We went because Mary Reid was accompanying them on harp on one piece, and then also played a solo harp piece. I'd be happy to hear them again, though they weren't cheap. Favourite piece might have been a very recent and atmospheric piece called Northern Lights by Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds.

Friday, 7 October 2016

how the other half loves

On Thursday 18th August, while Maisie went to see Wicked with Susannah and Becky, Bethan and I went to see How The Other Half Loves, the Alan Ayckbourn play, at the Duke of York's in St Martin's Lane. It was okay. It was well written, interestingly structured and well performed (especially Nicholas le Prevost, Matthew Cottle and Gillian Wright). But I was never really at ease with comedy based on infidelity, and suspect I'm even less at ease with it now.

morley chamber choir at st john's waterloo

On Friday 1 July Maisie and I went to see Bethan in the Morley Chamber Choir at St John's Waterloo, doing Haydn's Te Deum and Mozart's Missa Brevis in F (and I think something else slipped in also, possibly by Handel, though it wasn't on the flier). Laura was there also.

They were good, of course; still pretty low on men. The Morley Choral Society also did a Vespers by Mozart, which was an interesting contrast; much bigger, and more of a community choir; less technically proficient, but seeming to be enjoying themselves and rightly pleased to be making a go of such a piece.

gobsmacked

On Saturday 2nd July, in the afternoon, Maisie and I went to see Gobsmacked in the Udderbelly at the South Bank Centre (Bethan spent most of the day at a Brownies sports day). It was a Glee kind of thing - half a dozen singers - one of them a beat-boxer - singing pop songs together in harmony, in a very particular harmonic style. I enjoyed it, and was glad to have seen something like it, but I didn't feel the need to seek out more of it. It was quite samey, and quite mellow, in the same way that pop choirs also end up being, which always seems unnecessary and surprising. Why not take a range of approaches to harmony/arrangement, without even having to widen the range of songs being done (though there'd be no harm in that either).

juliet, naked

On Friday 27th May I finished Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby. I enjoyed it, though it was a familiar structure of obsessive chap neglecting and in danger of losing his long-suffering and far superior partner (although, being a fan of detective fiction and romantic comedy, I'm very much at ease with familiar structures). The copy I had had some annotations in it on the first few pages (mostly just marking the first mentions of characters' names), but nothing beyond the post-it note bookmark very near the start, which suggested the reader was meant to be studying it in some way (book group rather than academic, I guess) hadn't got very far with it.

Having dipped my toe into Wikipedia editing, I was amused to be struck by what appeared to be the inauthenticity of the fictional Wikipedia entries in the book, which contained much material which would have been edited or deletd as being too much 'point of view'.

First line: They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.
Last line: Dear God.
Dedication: For Amanda, with love and thanks

The cover design is interesting, in that one on level it's not very remarkable - it's a soft cartoonish illustration with soft lettering, all somewhat retro (and the photo I took of it is appropriately soft-focus), but incorporating bits of photos within the illustration - but then it struck me that it looked like the kind of cover you'd get on light fiction aimed at women (at first glance, at least, without the photo insert/collage effect), and I wondered if it was a conscious effort to make it look less like a 'book for men', more about relationships than a male obsession such as music or football. (And, of course, Nick Hornby writes well about both relationships and the obsessions of men.) On the other hand, reading in general is reckoned to be more of a female than a male pursuit, so you might think they would make it look more like a 'book for men' so that men would think it's okay to buy it. But then, also on that hand, perhaps more women buy fiction than men.

dubai

We went to Dubai for February half-term - flew out on Monday 15 February, flew back on Sunday 21st February - to visit friends. It was good to see them.

the global language

British people are able to go pretty much anywhere in the world and be fairly sure that the only language we speak will be one of the several which most of the people we need to interact with will be able to speak. The important thing is to remember that this doesn't make us better than them, but not as good as them.

the sea in which we all swim

How offended some are at the rare sight (in print or on screen) of a fish they think has a 'pro-life bias' in the 'pro-choice' sea in which we all swim.

Monday, 3 October 2016

tooting folk club - tim jones and the dark lanterns

On Saturday 1st October I went down to the Tooting Folk Club (in The Selkirk pub, near Tooting Broadway) to see Tim Jones and the Dark Lanterns. A bit unfair asking them to follow The Beatles, whose live documentary I'd watched in the cinema that afternoon. I'd seen them in full performance before at the CD launch, when Morris joined in with St Giles Bowl, but they're a smaller band at the moment - Tim, Ted Kemp (on concertina) and Karen Phillips (on fiddle). Tim and the band went down very well, deservedly so; Karen soldiered through the second set with just three strings.

the beatles: eight days a week - the touring years

On Saturday 1st October I went to see The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years, which is a rather unwieldy title. I saw it in an afternoon showing at the Picturehouse Central, which is the former Trocadero cinema near Piccadilly Circus, having been bought and given an overhaul. The ground and first floor are completely revamped (in fact there didn't used to be a ground floor), with cafes, bars and a new entrance to the street, but once you get to the escalators up to the cinemas you are in familiar territory.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

travesties

On Friday 23rd September I went with Hei Mun to the Menier Chocolate Factory to see Travesties. I'd read it a few years ago, but had never seen it. I had remarked earlier that with Tom Stoppard you get jokes, things to think about, and jokes to think about, and that was borne out. I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd expected to, although it was well done; partly I think because I was tired, and partly because you could see why some people might think it 'too clever for its own good'. Tom Stoppard and Patrick Marber, the director, were both in the audience, and I saw in the programme that Tom Stoppard was very involved in the production, working with Patrick Marber, and drawing in old material and doing rewrites. It was a preview, so I'm sure they were still doing work on it, and there were a couple of hesitations in delivery. It was sold out, and I was very grateful to Hei Mun for being sufficiently organised, as she often is, to get tickets.

morris folk club - july, august and september

On Tuesday 26 July - after we all had a day walking from Kingston to Richmond, along the river - I went to Morris Folk Club (full setlist here). I sang I'm Free From The Chain Gang Now (which I know from Jimmy Rodgers, and which involves yodelling, but I got everyone to join in with that, so no one is innocent) and Wallet (the Regina Spektor song). Re the latter, as I said at the time, if a song that mentions an industry from days gone by is a folk song, then this is a folk song; the industry in this case being video rental shops.

We got back from Greenbelt on Tuesday 30th August in the afternoon, and in the evening I went to the Morris Folk Club (full setlist here). I sang Derwentwater's Farewell and (in tribute to my first experience at a music festival) The Rutles' Nevertheless.

My introduction to Nevertheless was, inevitably, longer than the song itself. I love Nevertheless, though it doesn't exactly represent my world view, but that's true of many folk songs; and if you had to precede them all with a disclaimer then in the preceding week alone I'd also have had to say that I am not committed to the restoration of the Stuarts to the throne, I have not lent my wife to someone for an hour and a day, I am not in fact dead, and I do not fear dying an old maid in a garret.

At the September Morris Folk Club, on Tuesday 27th (full setlist here), I sang Good King Wenceslas (hey, it's clearly a folk song, and a good song's a good song any time of year, no?) and Randy Newman's Losing You. I didn't tell the story of the inspiration for the latter, as it's a powerful story that would overwhelm my singing of the song, but here's Randy telling it.

I think I did alright on each of the nights.

we need to talk about kevin

I decided to bail out of We Need To Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. I read about a quarter of it, mostly on holiday earlier this month when I picked it up secondhand, but it wasn't quite what I'd expected. I'd thought it was about the aftermath of a school atrocity, and its impact on a family and a community, which it was to an extent, but it was much more a detailed analysis of the relentlessly awful child Kevin's family's life from before conception to the atrocity, as if trying (without expectation of success) to understand or explain how and why he had turned out as he did. It was perfectly well written, but I just wasn't that interested in or desirous of reading such an account. A quarter of the way in he had just been born, and by then it had become clear the book was going to go through his whole life - and that of his family - in grim detail, and I thought to myself that I really wasn't up for that. I picked it up again last night for the first time since the holiday - and it's notable that I hadn't been inclined to pick it up at all since then - and quickly knew that I couldn't face the slog. I had a flick through, and a look at the end; and I looked at the plot summary on Wikipedia. It's bound for the charity shop bag now, and I am content.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

the essex serpent

On Sunday 18th September I finished reading The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. I'd got fed up of having to avoid learning too much about it before the paperback came out, so I ordered it from the library. It was very good; among the best books I've read for quite a while.

Friday, 16 September 2016

finding dory

On Thursday 25th August, during the day, Maisie and I went to the Genesis cinema to see Finding Dory, which was very good.

punk exhibition; what we did on our holidays

On Friday 19th August, after we saw Susannah and Becky off at King's Cross, Maisie and I went to the British Library, where we saw the free exhibition on Punk, which was more interesting for me than it was for her. I was reminded by one photo how taken I was at the time with Poly Styrene, of X-Ray Spex, and Germ Free Adolescents.

After we got home we watched a film on Netflix, which Maisie was very keen to do; we eventually found one we both wanted to see, What We Did On Our Holidays, and that turned out to be pretty good, rather better than I'd expected.

a day in town; lincoln

On Friday 5th August Maisie and I went into town. We went to the Photographers Gallery (my first time in its new location, just south-east of Oxford Circus), in the morning so we got in free. They had an interesting Terence Donovan exhibition on. We had a Costa lunch, then went over to the Handel and Hendrix House Museum, which was less busy and more interesting than I expected, and did give you a sense of the home surroundings of both of those musicians. We began meandering down, and hit the back of Sotheby's, which had a big sign about the Bowie Collector exhibition, which I'd forgotten about - they were auctioning off his art collection, and you could go in for free to see some of it in advance of the auction. So in we went, and it was interesting to see; he'd made some good purchases.

Then in the evening we all watched the Spielberg/Day-Lewis film, Lincoln, which I enjoyed a lot, and certainly more than my compadres. It was a wordy history lesson, but I was up for that.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

foreign secretary

Perhaps a charming liar is ideal foreign secretary material.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

tate modern extension

On Thursday 4th August Maisie and I went to the Tate Modern's new Switch House extension. Modern art really is the perfect combination of absolute con and absolute racket.

savoy tup session

On Tuesday 2 August I went to the first of Tim's Savoy Tup Sessions. I took my guitar to join in, in one-chord fashion, with tunes, but we also ended up going round singing some songs. I hadn't quite expected that, for some reason, but I went to my core Corries repertoire and sang Highland Lament and Cruel Brother. I enjoyed playing along with people who could play properly, and hope to do so again.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

what the composer was thinking about

'It matters enormously to the composer what he was thinking about when he wrote a particular work; but to no one else in the world does it matter one jot.'
- Ralph Vaughan Williams, in a letter, quoted in the September 2016 BBC Music magazine in an article about the 'meaning' of his Third Symphony

Thursday, 11 August 2016

jewish history museum

On Monday 25th July we went to the Jewish History Museum in Camden, which was well worth a visit. (We were thinking of museums in London we've never been to that we could go to, and this was near the top of our list.) We had a bag search even before we got into the building, as of course it is a potential terrorist target.

eynsford to shoreham

On Saturday 23rd July - the first day, essentially, of our week's holiday together at home in London - we got the train out from Elephant and Castle to Eynsford, walked to Shoreham (along the river valley essentially), and got the train back from there. We had looked at the train timetables/routes to see where we could go directly from Elephant & Castle station and do a station to station walk, and that looked pleasant on the map; we could have done two stations, Eynsford to Otford, but I'm glad we went for the more leisurely option. It was a warm, sunny day, and quite a few folk were out walking. We didn't go into anywhere we could have paid to go in - Lullingstone Roman villa or Lullingstone Castle, most notably - but we did pop into a lavender farm shop and had a little wander and a tea room stop in Shoreham (we'd taken meal deal lunches which we'd eaten by the river).

star trek beyond

On Friday 22nd July Maisie and I went to an afternoon showing of Star Trek Beyond at the Genesis Cinema. We both liked it. (We hadn't seen Into Darkness, the second of this reboot series, but of course it didn't matter.)

morris folk choir gig

On Monday 18 July we sang at the Shacklewell Community Choir's summer concert and barbecue. We just sang four or five sea songs, and they went pretty well. Our only proper gig so far this year, given Michelle's personal production of Joe, but the first I created a Songkick listing for. I felt a little underprepared, as I hadn't been sure I'd get along, but I got away with it.

(Since Facebook Events are getting less user-friendly for non-Facebook-users, I was looking for alternative places to list/advertise events, and Matt suggested this. Although Songkick itself is designed primarily for registered users, the artists and events listings do seem well visible to the general public. We had an artist page there already, since our Daylight Music concert had been listed by someone, but I was able to 'assume authority' for the artist page surprisingly easy.)

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

ghostbusters; whitechapel art gallery; embankment summer market; hattie briggs

On Saturday 16 July we all went to the Genesis cinema in the morning to see the new version of Ghostbusters. We all enjoyed it. I saw the original when it came out, and possibly not since then, but my memory of it has always been that I didn't think it was as great as all that. And I'm absolutely sure that had I not been aware that there was a huge and unpleasant online fuss about this being an all-female remake, I wouldn't have given its all-femaleness a second thought.

Friday, 5 August 2016

twenty greatest symphonies

The September issue of the BBC Music magazine (to which I bought a sub with Tesco vouchers) has a Top 20 Symphonies list, voted for by 151 conductors. The list:

Thursday, 7 July 2016

a morning in london

In advance of its impending demise, this morning I made a trip up to BHS, purveyors of trousers to Iain MacDonald for many years, and bought in its closing down sale enough trousers to last me for - I was going to say 'twenty years', and then realised that that's now synonymous with 'the rest of my life'. Which is a sobering thought.

It does mean I can now put on no further weight for the next twenty years/rest of my life. (Indeed, it would do no harm to lose a few pounds.)

I got off the bus home at Parliament Square because I saw on Twitter there was a march going on in support of Andrea Leadsom, and I thought seeing such a thing would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I missed it, sadly, but I did decide to go into the House of Commons, on a whim, where I saw most of the business questions to leader of the house (which all seemed to go, essentially, 'can we have a debate on X?', 'we'll see'), the 'Select Committee Statement on the publication of the First Report from the Defence Committee, Russia: Implications for UK defence and security' and attendant questions (which was interesting), and the opening of an Online Abuse debate.

(Meanwhile, Bethan's frittering away her time at No1 Court; I ask you.)

After I came out I did see a cheerful man with a cardboard handwritten sign saying 'Vote Leadsom or fight the country'; 'the whole country?', I nearly asked him; 'one at a time or all in one go?'. (Still not really sure what he meant. Countryside Tories?)

I love living in central London (and working part-time).

Saturday, 2 July 2016

life is a banquet

On Wednesday 22 June I finished Life Is A Banquet, Rosalind Russell's autobiography (cowritten with Chris Chase). I bought it secondhand off Amazon, a 1p plus p&p job from a seller in the US. I bought it because I'd seen a couple of quotes from her here and there and she seemed intelligent, witty and self-deprecating. It was an enjoyable read, which lived up to what she'd seemed. She claims, plausibly, to have had a hand in contributing lines to both her biggest hits, His Girl Friday and Mame.

First line: For a long time I didn't want to write a book.
Last line: I've had a good ride.
Dedication: To my son Lance and my new daughter Patricia With love

The cover of my 1979 Ace paperback US edition is a fairly typical mass-market actor autobiography; if anything's unusual it's that the photo (which I'd guess is Mame era rather than His Girl Friday era - the title is a quote from the former) seems a little soft and small. The quote is from Frank Sinatra, who the cover makes clear was a close personal friend. (The copyright line indicates that it was published - in 1977 - after her death.) Title in inlaid gold, author in red signature. Publisher, book no and price on the front; don't know how unusual that would have been.

twilight: eclipse

On Wednesday afternoon, Maisie having got back from school early after sports day, we watched the third Twilight film, Eclipse. It was okay, like the others - I've had to watch far worse.

Friday, 1 July 2016

behind the scenes at the museum

On Thursday 19th May I finished Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson, which took me longer than I expected and which I enjoyed less than I expected.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

morris folk club - june

At Morris Folk Club last night (full setlist here) I sang two short songs of hope and friendship together, Dear Friends and The Way Old Friends Do. I didn't *immediately* say they were by Queen and Abba respectively, but I like to think they didn't sound out of place in a folk club.

In the second half I reverted to folk club type and sang The Haughs O' Cromdale, very much not a song of hope and friendship. I know it from the Corries, of course, and can still remember talking to Ivor about it in Bayble School; I liked it not least because it mentioned my surname, which is the kind of thing that appeals to small boys, as well as being a song about two battles, of course.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

key largo

This evening we all watched Key Largo on DVD, with Humphrey Bogart, Edward G Robinson and Lauren Bacall (and Claire Trevor, winning the 1948 best supporting actress Oscar). I'd seen it before, many years ago, and it was as good as I remembered it, and we all enjoyed it. Continuing my campaign of watching ancient films with the younger generation (becauses they're great, and because I think that so many classic old adult films are more suitable (in quality and worldview) for children her age than a lot of films made for children her age today); she likes some more than others.

Friday, 17 June 2016

the listerdale mystery

On Sunday 5th June I finished The Listerdale Mystery by Agatha Christie. It's a pretty good short story collection; I thought I hadn't read it before, but realised pretty quickly that I had, so I whizzed through it somewhat.

morning glory

On Wednesday 8th June we all watched Morning Glory, a 1933 film for which Katharine Hepburn won her first Oscar. It was quite good, and quite interesting.

speaker for the dead

On Saturday 30th April I finished Speaker For The Dead by Orson Scott Card. I enjoyed it; an interesting and thoughtful novel.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

sharp's in may

On Tuesday 24th May we didn't have a Morris Folk Choir rehearsal, but instead went along to the singers night at Sharp's Folk Club in Cecil Sharp House. About a dozen of us went, and half a dozen of us sang - Tim, Jen, Brian, Tanja & I, Mark, Tim & Jen, and I.

Monday, 6 June 2016

rosalind russell meets winston churchill in 1938

I put on my long white gloves and off I sailed [to a dinner at the American Embassy in London, in 1938]. The Kennedys were charming to me, and during the cocktail period (we weren't really given cocktails, only a glass of sherry apiece) Rose Kennedy brought a cherubic-looking gentleman over to meet me and said he would be my dinner partner. She introduced him as a Mr Churchill, there was no Sir Winston about it. In fact, Churchill wasn't much in favor then. When people looked at him they tended to have this "remember the Dardanelles" expression on their faces.

Monday, 23 May 2016

death of a doxy

On Saturday 7th May I finished reading Death Of A Doxy by Rex Stout; it was quite good.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

the awful truth

On Saturday 7th May we watched The Awful Truth (IMDB, Wikipedia), from 1937, which was pretty good.

I got it and a number of other old Hollywood films for my birthday, as it's my solemn intention to force my womenfolk to watch more of these old films with me - often undeservedly forgotten, having been popular and award-winning in their day, and with very good scripts and performers, and usually quite cheap when you can find them on DVD (or lurking in a daytime schedule). Cary Grant in this one doing his stuff (the Wikipedia entry suggests this film marked the appearance of his 'light comedy persona'; Leo McCarey won the Best Director Oscar for it (Irene Dunne and Ralph Bellamy were nominated for best actress and supporting actor respectively).

Saturday, 14 May 2016

bletchley park

On Monday 2nd May - a bank holiday - we went up to Bletchley Park for the day, which was well worth a visit. We didn't do it all, and may go again, courtesy of our Gift-Aid-enabled year-entry pass. Lots to read, and a good audio guide.

One of the things that struck me was for all the idea people have of them being unsung heroes, for a large number of them their work was very routine and wouldn't have felt heroic at all - particularly the women taking down encoded morse code messages all day, or the women doing essentially mechanical tasks in the running of the 'bombe' machines, and particularly those among them (and others) who deliberately were not given a full picture or understanding of what was actually going on and what they were doing.

One of my favourite Bletchley stories is a newspaper letter I saw on Twitter a year or two ago from someone who was on a tour at Bletchley and it became apparent that an old married couple on the tour had both worked there but never told the other (it was a big place). People kept the secret very thoroughly until the last 10-20 years.

I worked in Bletchley for a couple of years, around 1995-97. I knew about Bletchley Park then, but it wasn't really very widely known - the flood of books and documentaries and films came later. At that time it was only open every second weekend, and I'm certain there wasn't as much there then as there is now; having made the commute Monday to Friday, I never did it again on a Saturday.

If we do go back to finish off, and have more time, perhaps we'll go the other way from the station into Bletchley to see the old office and high street again. (I didn't have a sense of recognition at the station at all, until we were going back to the platform across the bridge to get the train back home.)

We got home too late to watch The Imitation Game that evening, as Maisie had hoped, but she and I watched it last night.

the imitation game

Last night Maisie and I watched The Imitation Game, on a DVD which she'd got as a wishlist present in December. Bethan was on a train to Shrewsbury. It wasn't bad, but not as good as it could have been.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

serpentine sackler gallery

On Saturday 30th April we went, for the first time, to the Serpentine Sackler Gallery - I still haven't been to the Serpentine Gallery. They're both free, and the Sackler is newer (opened in 2013, according to Wikipedia, in an old magazine building). We were there because we'd gone up to Hyde Park to use the hire bikes, as we've done before; last time we did it we were quite near the SSG, since there's a hire rack near it, and we had time to do it this time.

It was interesting to go in, but it wasn't a great exhibition - just another modern art exhibition, this one from Das Institut collective. The most pointed thing in it was the re-use of some old stained glass in some modern glasswork, which showed a great contrast in artistry and craftsmanship between old and new, which you think would have made the artist ashamed.

Friday, 6 May 2016

a misalliance

On Thursday 7th April I finished A Misalliance by Anita Brookner. I was somewhat disappointed.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

james nesbit on his religious upbringing

[of the cultural setting of the TV true-crime drama (murderous Northern Ireland Baptists) he's appearing in:] It’s a Christian culture that Nesbitt knows very well. “It was in my home,” he says. “My family were Presbyterians. A lot of people say ‘God-fearing’, but I always thought that I came from a very God-loving background. It was a close community, though not as close as the Baptists, but they were Christian, charitable and would go out of their way to help you. I went to church and Sunday school. We used to sing hymns around the piano on Sunday nights, which sounds extraordinary, so quaint and bizarre.”
... Nesbitt’s Howell is jolly as well – when not planning and committing murder he leads praise-giving sing-alongs on his guitar and takes the Church youth club on outings. Ask Nesbitt if he still believes in God and he says ”I always liked the gospel teaching, but the rest of it I’m not so sure about. I don’t know if there’s a big man in the sky. It was never forced upon me and I didn’t ‘move away’ from it in a kind of rebellious act. It was just that over the years its hold lessened. The world was changing, and we changed with it.”
- From an interview with James Nesbit in the Radio Times of 23 April (also online here):

Monday, 2 May 2016

morris folk club for april

It was the Morris Folk Club for April last week, on Tuesday 26th. I sang The Model Ship, Death of Queen Jane, and (literally to fill in some time until the next singer reappeared - I haven't escalated my demands to three songs a night) Lowlands Away. Went okay, though I don't think The Model Ship is going to become a folk standard anytime soon.

(I woke up on Sunday morning with Kraftwerk's The Model in my head and a conviction that it could work as a sea shanty. I made up a couple of refrains for two of the instrumental bits, and we gave it a go...)

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

taken at the flood

On Tuesday 12th April I finished Taken At The Flood by Agatha Christie. After a run of disappointing ones (aside from Ariadne's appearance in Dead Man's Folly), it was a pretty good one, although a couple of things at the end let it down.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

hamlet - nicholas limm, ilissos at the cockpit

On Friday 22 April I treated myself to another Hamlet, at the Cockpit Theatre by Ilissos theatre company. It was based on the First Quarto version, which was quite interesting, and on the whole fairly well done.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

the simpsons movie

Maisie and I watched The Simpsons Movie (on DVD) yesterday afternoon. It was okay; it was just like a long episode of the tv series, and as such felt rather pointless (just financial, I guess), particularly so long after the height of the series' popularity. You did realise how many ongoing characters they have when you realised how little (if any) time many of them were featured in the film for.

Monday, 18 April 2016

out of this world

On Friday 15th April we all (with Hei Mun, Laura and Margaret) went to Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre in Walthamstow and saw the London premiere production of an old Cole Porter musical, Out Of This World. It was fine, but not a lost classic by any means.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

jane eyre

On Sunday 3 November 2013 - aided by two long bus journeys to and from the LGQ involvement in a church service in Whetstone - I finished, at long last, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I didn't like it very much.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

coping with change

Last night I finished reading Coping With Change, a commentary on Ecclesiastes by Walter C Kaiser Jr (published by CFP, a one-off rather than part of a series). It was fine, but a bit heavy going - I didn't really get much from it as a read. It might be more useful to refer to for info on particular verses or issues, although it was presented more as a commentary you could read through (and I have got more from commentaries which you aren't supposed to read through, like the Tyndale ones). A little disappointing, therefore, but just might not have been the book for me at this moment.

First line: No book of the Bible has been so maligned, and so misunderstood, as the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.
Last para: What a book! What a good God! What a life! And what a plan!

An interesting cover, having an upside-down photo of an evening sky with an outline triangle on it, suggestive of various interpretations relating to relationship with God, direction of communication, understanding of life, reversed priorities and perspectives, etc... and, of course, coping with change, as per the title. An unusually thin author typeface. Interesting that they didn't put Ecclesiastes on the spine; but I guess predicting that it'll be shelved with the commentaries anyway, and the non-Bible-book title will make it stand out.

Friday, 8 April 2016

egyptology exhibition at two temple place

On Thursday 7th April Maisie and I went to Two Temple Place to see a free exhibition of Egyptian archaeological finds, Beyond Beauty: Transforming The Body In Ancient Egypt. It was an interesting exhibition, and an equally interesting building.

the princess diaries 2

This afternoon Maisie and I watched The Princess Diaries 2, which - let's face it, like most sequels - wasn't as good as the first one. The Wikipedia entry quotes Rotten Tomatoes' summing up of it - 'Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews bring charm and elegance to the movie, but there's not enough material for them to work with in this sequel' - which describes it perfectly well.

to sea in a sieve

On Friday 1 April I finished To Sea In A Sieve, a wartime memoir by Peter Bull, who was a minor actor. I like unassuming but well-written accounts of lowly wartime service, and this fitted the bill quite well. It didn't all live up to its rather good opening page, and the bits where nothing much was happening in his war were less interesting than they might have been (it needn't be a direct correlation).

Thursday, 7 April 2016

new moon

This afternoon Maisie and I watched the second Twilight film, New Moon. The star-crossed lovers elements were much more tedious than in the first film, but I still enjoyed the background vampire/werewolf large-scale story elements; I'm not sure they wholly made up for the former, and I wouldn't particularly recommend the film to anyone. Maisie wanted to kick on straight into the next film (we got the first three in a £1.50 secondhand set), but I wasn't up for that.

they do it with mirrors

On Sunday 3rd April I finished They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie. It was okay; I wouldn't specially recommend it to anyone as a good read or an ingenious structure/plot/solution.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

who framed roger rabbit?

We watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit? on DVD on Saturday 25 January 2014. It was pretty good, about as I'd remembered it. My favourite bit will always be where Roger and Bob Hoskins are handcuffed together and Bob is trying to get them free, possibly by cutting the handcuffs off. At some point in the proceedings Roger comes out of his handcuff in order to hold them steady while Bob cuts them. Bob eventually realises what Roger has done. 'Could you have done that at any time?', he asks, crossly. 'Only when it was funny,' replies Roger.

tinker tailor soldier spy

On Saturday 5th April 2014, having visited Bekonscot Model Village earlier in the day (model villages leave me cold; I just don't see the point or the attraction; see also waxworks), we watched in the evening a recording of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the recent film version starring Gary Oldman. It required concentration, but it was worth it.

eddie the eagle

On Friday 1 April Maisie and I saw Eddie The Eagle at the Genesis cinema. I thought it was quite charming and appropriately low-key. It did make me wonder to what extent the story was the true story; it was quite black and white particularly in the opposition and disapproval, and a quick look online suggests that of course the story wasn't quite as depicted, but if you accept that and go with the feel-good triumph over adversity cliches, it's good. The central performance in particular was I thought pitched just right, charming, unassuming but determined; an impressive spread of good actors through the cast too; it's funny in that it feels like a small British film (in a good way) but has a big hitter like Hugh Jackman in a lead role (and Christopher Walken, though in a much smaller role), but that doesn't unbalance it.

hail, caesar!

On Saturday 27th March we all saw Hail, Caesar! in the afternoon at the Odeon Covent Garden. We all enjoyed it; I liked it a lot. I like the Coen Brothers, generally, and I like films about film-making. Of their own films, it reminded me most of O Brother Where Art Thou; witty, episodic, and featuring something they clearly have a lot of affection for.

Friday, 1 April 2016

city of london day

Yesterday, it being the Easter holidays, Maisie and I had a day in the City together. We did a couple of free things we've done before - The Bank of England Museum (which she likes, especially for the interactive activities) and the Guildhall Art Gallery and Amphitheatre (which I like, especially for the Preraphaelite art) - and then a London Walks walk we hadn't been on before, on the theme of crime and punishment, which started at St Paul's tube and went west and east of the old Fleet river, including Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell and Smithfield. We enjoyed all these things, plus the light lunch at Costa.

Morris folk club in March

Another Morris Folk Club, on Tuesday. I sang Angel Band (I thought I should learn a Christian song, it having just been Easter; I know surprisingly few; I just learnt it over the weekend, but it's short and I was pretty familiar with it anyway, from the Stanley Brothers' version known from O Brother Where Art Thou) and April Come She Will (it's been on my 'ready to sing' list for so long, I thought I'd better take the plunge; the pitching was the main thing that put me off, not sure whether to go high with Art and if I did whether I'd get enough volume and nervelessness; I got away with it, more or less).

And Tanja, Ginny and I sang a three-part Parting Glass (based on the Voice Squad version), which I thought went rather well (though of course happily for me I could hear Tanja and Ginny better than I could hear myself). We had done it as a small group for the drinking songs concert, with a number on the tune and Ginny and I doing a harmony each. Tanja suggested doing it at the rehearsal the previous Tuesday, but Ginny wasn't there; Ginny was up for giving it a go, and we just had a quick practice before the folk club got under way.

Full running order here.

Friday, 25 March 2016

after me comes the flood

Having mentioned Sarah Perry in my Virgin Suicides post, I should write up my post about having finished reading After Me Comes The Flood around Wednesday 9 July 2014. (Yes, I do have quite the backlog, thank you for noticing.)

Thursday, 24 March 2016

murder on a honeymoon

On Wednesday 26th February 2014 we watched an old, short Hollywood movie (a B movie, I presume), Murder On A Honeymoon (1935). It was a pleasant enough, if unremarkable film, very much of its time in it acting style, and the best thing about it was, I seem to remember, the interaction between the police detective (James Gleason) and the old lady amateur sleuth, Hildegard Withers (Edna May Oliver). There's a surprisingly detailed Wikipedia entry on the film and associated films - it was part of a series, but I don't feel the need to seek any more of them out specially, though I wouldn't turn my nose up at them, or seeing Edna May Oliver and her idiosyncratic face and manner again (Wikipedia: 'When asked why she played predominantly comedic roles, she replied, "With a horse's face, what more can I play?"').

martin carthy

On Friday 21st March 2014 Bethan and I went to King's Place for the first time, for an anniversary outing to see Martin Carthy in Hall Two.

the virgin suicides

On Wednesday 23rd I finished The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. The writing was good and enjoyable, up to a point, but the story was unsatisfying; atmospheric, but punctured by droppings of the suspension of disbelief. Ultimately, disappointing.

Monday, 21 March 2016

the titfield thunderbolt

On Saturday 27th February - at the point between setting up the new TV and set-top box and getting them to work fully, when we fancied watching something but could only get a DVD to be watchable, as happily I had managed to set that up - Bethan and I watched The Titfield Thunderbolt in the evening. We were looking on her Ealing boxset for a light film which we hadn't seen before, and that was it (we'd seen most of the good/light ones). It was really quite disappointing, and not up to much, which was surprising, and its name had endured enough to be very familiar.

miss atomic bomb

On Saturday night Bethan and I went to see Miss Atomic Bomb at the St James Theatre in Victoria. It's had 'mixed' reviews, we hear, but we both enjoyed it, to different degrees.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

maisie on anarchists

Maisie was asking about what anarchists were this afternoon. I said, roughly, that they believed that nobody should be in charge and that people should do what they liked. Maisie thought this was very naive. 'Have they *met* people?', she said.

She said that when you see how people break the law even when they might be punished, think what they would do if there was no punishment. That's very well put, I said. 'I'm well known for the putting of things,' she said.

death of the digibox

When we came back from our half-term holiday, we found that not only had our digibox (which is what we've always called it, but I see now everyone knows as set-top boxes - the box which gave us Freeview and recording facilities) not recorded most of what we'd set it for while we were away, but that it wouldn't stay on for more than a minute or two before going dead, and before too long wouldn't come back on at all. It had always been a bit glitchy, but this seemed to be the end of the road.

tales of the city

On Wednesday 16 March I finished Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. Well-written, but - I think unintentionally - depressing, to me at least.

epigraphs and dedications

Having decided to note first and last lines, I'm thinking I'll also start noting epigraphs and dedications, which can be interesting. I have often thought there would be an interesting biographical article in going through Agatha Christie's dedications, for example; I don't know if she's unusual in one who wrote so many books, in giving dedications so often, perhaps always.

Of the books which I've done first/last lines for, then, here are the takings:

Stewart Lee, How I Escaped My Certain Fate:
Dedication: To Ted Chippington [inspirational comedian mentioned in the book]

Agatha Christie, Dead Man's Folly:
Dedication: To Humphrey & Peggy Trevelyan [Cornish surname, so perhaps someone local to the setting of the book]

Friday, 18 March 2016

half of st matthew passion

This evening Maisie and I went to see Bethan in her new choir doing Bach's St Matthew Passion at St John's Waterloo. As is not unusual, we didn't stay for the whole concert but left at the interval; it started at 7, because it's 2h30 (possibly without the interval, not sure), and we left what I presume was towards the end of the interval, about quarter to 9.

twilight

This afternoon Maisie and I finished watching Twilight, which we'd watched a bit of on Wednesday. She/we hadn't read the books, but I had a pretty good idea of the general story (we're well behind the times with this one). It's an interesting combination of genres, primarily vampire and love across a divide, and if you think about it a lot there are some odd features to it (which I'm sure are explored more thoroughly in the books), but the film was pretty well done, and I'll be happy to watch on. (I got the set of the first three in Cex a few weeks ago for £1.50.)

the young visiters

On Saturday 12th March Maisie and I went to the 4pm matinee of The Young Visiters at The Tabard Theatre, which we both enjoyed.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

star trek

I watched Star Trek, the 2009 movie, again last night, with Maisie. I didn't give it my full attention, as I'd seen it before, but it was better than I remembered, and certainly I preferred it to any of the films in the first two volumes (originals and Next Generations).

Given that I enjoyed The Force Awakens better than any since the first (possibly including the first) Star Wars, perhaps it's JJ Abrams' magic touch.

I didn't stick with Lost, however, once I began (quite early - I didn't watch to the end of the first series) to believe that there was going to be no proper resolution or explanation for everything being thrown at us (or that those things lay very far in the future), which I find very frustrating and unsatisfying. I got the impression from what I picked up subsequently that I may have been right, though there were six series in all.

quartet in autumn

On Thursday 10 March I finished Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym, which I enjoyed very much. It was one of a batch of small - well, what used to be just normal size, my preferred size, the size which fits nicely into a coat pocket - secondhand paperbacks I got at Kirkdale Books in Sydenham last Saturday (nine for £15.50, something like those numbers I think), in advance of our meal out with Marina.

Friday, 11 March 2016

the case of the borrowed brunette

On Monday 7th I finished The Case of the Borrowed Brunette, a Perry Mason novel by Erle Stanley Gardner.

I see when I blogged about reading The Case of the Lame Canary I didn't think I'd read any Perry Mason before, but that when looking at a list of them the Borrowed Brunette rang a bell; I suspect it rang a bell because I'd bought it, and bought it for Bethan, because I hadn't written my name in it (and ones I've bought for Bethan are the only ones I tend not to write my name in).

There's a good review of it here (which looks like an interesting blog) - good, in that I largely agree with it on both the pros and cons. I preferred it to the Lame Canary, but it was just 'not bad'. It was pretty convoluted, and a bit stretching of credulity, not just in plot but in Perry Mason's behaviour and what he got away with (although within that there are interesting insights into criminal law and the courts, the author being a lawyer himself). The perfect, devoted secretary is underwritten and notably old-fashioned (first published 1951). The dialogue in particular is very 'written', with people continually telling each other things they know already, overelaborately explaining what they're talking about for the benefit of the reader; all dialogue in plays and novels is unrealistic to an extent, but this was particularly so.

Again, I won't be seeking out any more Erle Stanley Gardners.

First line: At this hour, Adams Street was a pedestrians' no man's land.
Last line: 'At that, next time I run across anyone who is borrowing a brunette, I'm going to let him keep her!'

The cover. The warm green of the cover hasn't come out, though I tried a couple of times. That's phones for you. It's the classic Penguin Crimes cover, though they don't always have either a tag line (a way to get Perry Mason's name on the cover?), and certainly don't always have a 'complete and unabridged' line, both of which reduce the cleanness of the design. I don't know if they always have a price on the cover, though - possibly? I wonder how the cover-price practice varied across time and publisher. You don't tend to see prices on any covers now, although sometimes they might be on stickers (more likely in supermarkets than bookshops, I'd guess, though they latter would have '3 for 2' or 'buy one get one half-price' kind of offer stickers).

Thursday, 10 March 2016

morris's february folk club

The Morris Folk Club for February was on Tuesday 23rd. I sang California Earthquake and Peggy Gordon.

Here's the Club Facebook post with the playlist for the night.

When I shared that post on Facebook I said, 'Who couldn't love a folk club where song sources include Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Mama Cass, Taylor Swift, The Levellers and The Specials, and none of them sound out of place alongside the more typical folk songs. (I sang California Earthquake - it was I who brought Mama Cass - and Peggy Gordon.)'

When I commented on that Club post, I said, 'So many highlights last night, seems invidious to mention any in particular - but Jonathan's Gangsters and Tanja's Oj Javore sounded like they were written to be performed that way (I don't know if banjos are big in Croatian folk), and Suzanne's Boatman and Anja's Bella Mama round were lovely, and the communal singing was great.'

first and last sentences

One Instagram account which posts photos of books also posts the first sentence of the book, which I thought was interesting. I don't think I'll do that on Instagram, but when I remember I will do that here in the posts about books I've read. I think I'll also include the last sentence, if it doesn't give anything away.

Here's a catch-up from books in the charity shop bag (I'll probably go back and drop them into the related posts too).

Stewart Lee, How I Escaped My Certain Fate:
First line: I never wanted to be a comedian.
Last line: And that's how I escaped my certain fate.

Dylan Thomas, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog:
First line: The grass-green cart, with 'J. Jones, Gorsehill' painted shakily on it, stopped in the cobblestone passage between 'The Hare's Foot' and 'The Pure Drop.'
Last line: The light of the one weak lamp in a rusty circle fell across the brick-heaps and the broken wood and the dust that had been houses once, where the small and hardly known and never-to-be-forgotten people of the dirty town had lived and loved and died and, always, lost.

Edgar Wallace, Flat 2:
First line: A shot rang out sharply, and Captain Hurley Brown did not need the direction of the sound to guide him to Robert Weldrake's door.
Last line: God bless you!

Agatha Christie, Dead Man's Folly:
First line: It was Miss Lemon, Poirot's efficient secretary, who took the telephone call.
Last line: 'There are some things that one has to face quite alone...'

Edgar Wallace, The Joker:
First line: Mr Stratford Harlow was a gentleman with no particular call to hurry.
Last line: He was an excellent judge of human nature.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

recording with the deutscher chor

I don’t seem to have blogged about our recording experience with the Deutscher Chor London last summer. They were recording a CD of arrangements of German folk songs, and thought it would be good to make it a double CD, with the second CD made up of other guest choirs from London singing an English folk song, and then the other choirs invited to join in the recording of a commissioned setting of a German folk song, Der Monde ist Aufgegangen. As the Morris website says, 'It's fair to say we were the least classical choir involved in the project! We were very pleased to be invited to be part of it, and think it turned out pretty well.'

ceri james videos

I’ve blogged about the Ceri James recording before, but since then they’ve put two videos of it online - the video of the live recording evening in the St Barnabas Mission hall where we practise, and a studio version video (which we are on in the background, from takes done earlier in the evening before we sang it with the band). As it says on the choir website, 'It's not typically us, but we're up for anything, and a good time was had by all! Our thanks to Ceri for inviting us to join him.'

morris folk choir railway songs concert in November + two more in December


On Saturday 28 November Morris Folk Choir had our Railway Songs concert in St Barnabas Mission. It wasn’t as packed as the Drink concert, but was still pretty full, and went pretty well, I think. (Although I did make a hash of one of our small group songs’ verses, for which I apologised to my fellow group members, but they were very generous and said it was a collective effort.) I also played an instrument on one of the songs for the first time, simple rhythm guitar alongside Tanja’s banjo on Old Reuben/900 Miles (which I’d asked if I could do, as I was keen not to sing that particular song (trying to minimise singing words I’m not comfortable with singing), and was very graciously accommodated; it’s good to have a range of instrumentalists to draw on, so that the load isn’t too much on the same people all the time).

four choirs

[another draft post from last year which was pretty much finished]

Saturday 25 April 2015 was a day of music. We all went to the Museum of Childhood for the afternoon, where they were having a day of St George's Day celebration music. We heard the Sea Shanty Choir (which Fiona is in) and the Cecil Sharp House Choir (which I was in for a term at the start in its earliest form as a community choir, and which Julia who used to be in Morris is in), and also the Becontree Brass Band and Hedge Pigs. While the other choirs were enjoyable, it affirmed to me that I was in the right choir for me.

In the evening the others went to an election hustings in Southwark Cathedral and I went to St Barnabas' Church for a late afternoon/early evening performance of the Morris Folk Choir along with the Shacklewell Community Choir (we sang separately, and Freedom Train together). We were a relatively small group, but it went fine; again, I think an indication of the increased confidence Michelle has given us that we feel at ease performing in much smaller numbers.

Monday, 7 March 2016

dead man's folly

On Thursday I finished Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie. It was fairly good, though, as is regularly the case, I found the ending unsatisfactory, being pretty preposterous and with a solution containing elements which would have been I think unreasonable for the reader to deduce from the story as recounted (and unsatisfactory in that I think several other solutions could have been equally (im)plausibly presented, which I always think is an admission of failure - you want at the end to think yes, I see now, that's what happened and that makes sense, and I see how that's evident from what I've been told and shown). The journey is enjoyable, but the destination/explanation/resolution/denouement is unsatisfactory. That this is true so often in all kinds of fiction demonstrates how hard it can be to write a good ending, even when your book is full of good ideas.

First line: It was Miss Lemon, Poirot's efficient secretary, who took the telephone call.
Last line: 'There are some things that one has to face quite alone...'

Sunday, 6 March 2016

murder is easy

[found this saved as a draft just now, from Wednesday 9 July 2014. I'm not sure what else I had thought I might add that made me not post it at the time.]

Around Tuesday 20 May [2014] I finished Murder Is Easy by Agatha Christie. Not a great one, of the kind that I don't like - amateurs unnecessarily taking it upon themselves to investigate a murder and putting themselves in danger to do so, long stretches of hypothesising about possible murderers, means and motives which are just a waste of time (but also often equally as plausible as actual solution, which always feels like cheating).

The Wikipedia entry is unusually long, with a very detailed plot summary (including ending), and extracts from several reviews, the first, most negative of which is the one I most agree with (others saying it's among her best just go to show there's no accounting for taste).

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

portrait of the artist as a young dog; instagram

On Saturday 9 August 2014 I finished Dylan Thomas's book Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. I'd picked up an old paperback of it - a Guild Books paperback reprint of 1956, 2 shillings (first published in 1940) - and was intrigued, as I'd never heard of it; in fact I didn't realise he'd written any prose apart from Under Milk Wood and A Child's Christmas.

Its title obviously alludes to James Joyce's book, and is a little reminiscent of that. It's a collection of shorts stories which feel like a sequence of autobiographical episodes. It was okay but pretty unremarkable; not a hidden gem or a lost treasure undeservedly forgotten. At this remove, I can't remember anything particular about it beyond that.

First line: The grass-green cart, with 'J. Jones, Gorsehill' painted shakily on it, stopped in the cobblestone passage between 'The Hare's Foot' and 'The Pure Drop.'
Last line: The light of the one weak lamp in a rusty circle fell across the brick-heaps and the broken wood and the dust that had been houses once, where the small and hardly known and never-to-be-forgotten people of the dirty town had lived and loved and died and, always, lost.

It's a nice little edition, small format and only 128 pages long. In fact what prompted me to pull it off the shelf of 'books I've read and have to blog about before reshelving or discarding' is that I was thinking of taking a photo of it for Instagram.

I signed up for Instagram just last Friday, after a conversation with Marianne, mainly with the idea of seeing photos by my friends, rather than posting up photos of my own. I did think I should use it for something, however, and, prompted by the idea of the combination suggested by the name of a visual telegram, I thought of photos of things which incorporated words. In the first instance, then, book covers - not necessarily ones I've read, but ones which are well or interestingly designed. I thought of album covers also, although a glossy CD reproduction doesn't have the character of a battered old vinyl sleeve (and I really don't want to get into buying secondhand vinyl just to take a photo of the cover; could maybe sneak photos in charity shops...); but I may still go for that. And there's also dates on buildings, which I had a phase of taking photos of some years ago but which I never did anything with.

My instagram account is here. I started off with a username relating to my email address, but managed to change it to iainphotos. Anotheriain is taken already, apparently, although whoever's taken it doesn't seem to be using it.

I am still exploring how to use it - appropriate ways to tag and comment and like, appropriate ways to follow. A number of my Facebook friends are on it, for example, but mostly showing the kind of photos I can see from them on Facebook. I'm not sure what kind of accounts people follow, or for what reasons; but I don't just want to replicate other things I'm already doing. We'll see how it develops.

I posted my first Instagram on Saturday, the cover of Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie.

Later: here's the Instagram of the cover of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. It's a lovely old illustration, possibly deliberately putting one in mind of Under Milk Wood; nice lettering too.

Much later: the Instagrammed image now posted here:

Thursday, 11 February 2016

richard iii

On Saturday 30th January I went to see a one-woman version of Richard III at the Draper Tenants Hall - less than two minutes away, my shortest-ever journey to a venue.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

interstellar; looper

On Saturday 6 February we all watched Interstellar together in the evening. We enjoyed it.

Monday, 8 February 2016

rt france on matthew

On Saturday I finished reading RT France's commentary on Matthew, in the IVP Tyndale series. It was the one I'd been reading to accompany our house group studies in Matthew over the last year or two; we finished Matthew before Christmas, but I was just finishing off reading sections on a couple of studies I'd missed. Both series and author are usually pretty reliable, and this was another good commentary.

We're doing Judges now, and I've started the IVP Tyndale one on that. (IVP Tyndale series is my preferred series, in general, for house group preparation, more studious/academic rather than sermony/devotional, though without lacking warmth and application.)

Saturday, 6 February 2016

a ten-year-old girl rings donald swann

Sally Phillips, in a Radio Times article (30 January) promoting radio programme Talking To Strangers:
'Radio is also the most intimate of mediums. When playwright Lily Bevan, my co-writer on Talking to Strangers, was growing up, her heroes were Joyce Grenfell and Flanders & Swann. One afternoon she looked up Donald Swann in the phone book. "I was about ten and he was in his 80s. I rang him at home and told him I liked his songs. We chatted. We got on. We sent each other cards until he died."'

The idea that you could look up a pretty famous person's number in the phone book and just ring them. A different world, alright.

Which also made me think of this Dial-a-Disc-related article by Torcuil Crichton on the death of David Bowie (English version follows the Gaelic).

the joker; flat 2

On Tuesday 2nd February I finished The Joker by Edgar Wallace, and, which I hadn't previously noted, on Wednesday 4th March last year I finished reading his Flat 2.

Friday, 5 February 2016

mirror mirror

On Monday 21 December we went to the matinee of Mirror Mirror, Charles Court Opera's panto (based on Snow White) at the King's Head Theatre. We enjoyed it.

the case for faith

On Wednesday 3rd February I finished The Case For Faith by Lee Strobel. It was a very similar structure to his earlier The Case For Christ - interviews with different experts on different areas of tough questions for Christian faith (hell, suffering, evil, the Old Testament, etc) - and I'd say pretty much the same about it as I said about that: didn't like the style, but the content was worth it.

january's morris folk club - parcel o' rogues and life on mars?

At the January Morris Folk Club, on Tuesday 26th January, I sang Parcel O'Rogues (to mark Burns night, more or less, though he probably didn't write it), which went fine, and Life On Mars?, which we shall file under heroic failure.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

star wars: the force awakens

On Tuesday 29 December Maisie and I went with the Gilmours to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the Odeon Leicester Square. We enjoyed it fairly well.

she is not invisible

On Thursday 28 January I finished reading She Is Not Invisible, by Marcus Sedgwick. It was a library book of Maisie's which she enjoyed and told me I should read. I wasn't that keen on it.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

three political diaries

I've been reading Alastair Campbell's diaries - The Blair Years - for some time now, gradually, which I'm enjoying very much. It runs from July 1994, when he was offered the job as Tony Blair's press secretary, to August 2003, when he resigned.

A couple of years ago I picked up Chris Mullin's highly-regarded diaries, A View From The Foothills, which runs from July 1999, when he first becomes a junior minister under Blair, to May 2005, when he stops being one.

rule britannia

On 28 May last year I finished Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier, which was okay.

animal farm

This evening we watched the 1954 Halas/Batchelor animated version of Animal Farm, which was pretty good. It's only about 70 minutes long, and I'd seen at least bits of it long ago when they used to have school programmes on the BBC in the daytime - I have a memory, possibly imagined, of seeing a bit of it at my granny's house - possibly interspersed with documentary bits explaining the allegory, though I'm not sure if I knew it was an allegory the first time I saw it. Anyway, it is a beautifully constructed allegory. (Maisie's doing it in English at the moment.)

Friday, 22 January 2016

no mercy

On Thursday 21 January I finished No Mercy, David Buckley's 1997 biography of The Stranglers, which had been on my current reading shelf for a long time (I see I started it in 2009). It was an odd combination of detailed and vague.

the princess diaries

On Wednesday and Thursday Maisie and I watched The Princess Diaries. Having seen Anne Hathaway recently in Ella Enchanted, I recorded it last Sunday as it was on, and I'd heard it was fairly good. It was indeed pretty good; I had thought it might have been too late for us, more primary than secondary, but it wasn't, and I enjoyed it. Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews were good, and also Hector Elizondo, who was Julie's head of security and who was a very familiar face.

Monday, 18 January 2016

a pinch of snuff; sexism

Today I finished A Pinch Of Snuff, the fifth Dalziel and Pascoe novel by Reginald Hill. It was fine, perhaps better than some of the others I've read, but I haven't really warmed to the detective duo or the writing style, and there were some pretty stretching-it coincidences. I got a set of the first six very cheap from The Book People, and it's fair to say that I probably wouldn't have persisted this far if I didn't actually have them. I'll read the remaining one I have, but no more. I'm sure I read somewhere that his novels featured puzzles and cryptic things, but there has been no evidence of that; perhaps that comes later, but I won't be there to read them.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

peter pan goes wrong

On Friday 8 January I got day seats in the morning and we all went in the evening to see Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Apollo Shaftesbury Avenue. We had seats in two adjoining grand circle boxes.

how I escaped my certain fate

On Sunday 10th January I finished Stewart Lee's How I Escaped My Certain Fate, a partial autobiography - primarily about his professional life, primarily from 2001 to 2008 - constructed around the transcripts of three stand-up shows, transcripts which were heavily footnoted with detailed background and explanation. It was a fascinating insight, very well written, and so much more interesting than just reading, or even seeing, the stand-up shows in question.

First line: I never wanted to be a comedian.
Last line: And that's how I escaped my certain fate.
Dedication: To Ted Chippington [inspirational comedian mentioned in the book]
The cover. Heavily typographical, with a superfluity of quotation marks, for no obvious reason (representing archness/irony?); the green circles for no obvious reason either. Perhaps all just because 'someone like Stewart Lee wouldn't have a typical book cover, yeah?' Still has a quote from the Times on it, though.

lumiere london

On Friday evening we went, with Margaret, to see the Lumiere light festival - light-based art installations in various sections of central London, plus up in the new pedestrian area north of King's Cross. We decided to go to King's Cross, and found it to be really busy and also somewhat disappointing. Most of the things were quite small; the biggest thing was an animation projected onto the front of a large building, which if you saw it on TV or Youtube would not have detained you for more than 30 seconds before you turned it off.

I know other people who went and were really impressed, but perhaps they all went to the central London sections. Oh well, at least I visited an area of London I hadn't been to before, not since the redevelopment at least.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

david bowie doing heroes on top of the pops

I first saw this a couple of years ago - David Bowie doing Heroes on Top of the Pops, from the days when they were supposed to re-record the song for the show, because of MU rules, and which to my ears clearly happened here, and the vocals seem to be live too. I think I might even prefer this to the 'proper' version; I don't know if this version was ever released - I don't suppose so.

the sultan's tigers

On Monday 4 May 2015 I finished The Sultan's Tigers by Josh Lacey - this was the only book I think we managed to read together in our intergenerational book club (we borrowed two copies from the library), which was a shame, since I liked the idea, and I'd even been given a hand-drawn membership card.

It wasn't chosen by me, and I didn't like it at all. It was an adventure story, in which the narrator was the boy, away with his dodgy uncle. It wasn't that well-written, the story as a whole was implausible, but worst of all was that the boy and the uncle were really rather unpleasant (not least to/about the boy's parents) - one kept thinking that there would be some moment or process of change or realisation or revealing that they weren't really so bad, but there never was.

My dislike of the book was somewhat pooh-poohed, but I notice that I'm pretty sure none of his other books have been bought or borrowed.

wonder

On Friday 23 October - a week after I finished Paper Towns - I finished Wonder by RJ Palacio. I read it because Maisie had read it twice, and bought it after having read it, so obviously liked it pretty well. Jan at church, coincidentally, had recommended it to Bethan for Maisie, though after Maisie had already read it. I liked it too.

It did have a significant problem for me, which was that the sequence of child narrators did not sound like their age at all, but very mature; the nature of the book required that they be multiple first-person narrators, but they sounded quite similar, and quite adult. Having suspended that disbelief, however, it was otherwise well-written and interesting.

paper towns

Some time later last year I read (finishing on Saturday 17 October) Paper Towns by John Green. In fact, this may have been the one I read at the same time as Maisie. I thought it was okay; a more traditional US high school novel, but the ending was very anticlimactic.

Much of the book is the quest for the missing, mysterious idealised friend, but when she is found it and she are downbeat and unremarkable, and it just tails off. This would work fine if on the journey through the book you were being given the sense that the journey was more important than the destination, especially in the way the narrator's friendships with the others he involves develop, and in the way the narrator might be developing as a person and outgrowing his need for this rather one-sided relationship - but you weren't. So when you got to the ending you felt 'is that it?', and that you should have been paying more attention to the journey, but not enough was being made of the journey to make you do that - and nor is there even a moment of realisation by anyone in the book at the end that they should have been doing that (which you might have got away with, but I don't think you'd have earned the right to do so).

the fault in our stars; reading choices

Further to yesterday's post, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green was probably the first book I read for vetting purposes. (I finished it on Monday 18 May last year.) Maisie was very keen to read it, I'm not sure why (perhaps because classmates had read it, or because there was a lot of publicity about the film). Knowing the subject matter, and that it was aimed at older children than her, I wanted to read it, if not before her, then at the same time as her. I think she started it first, and I overtook her.

On the one hand, knowing there was a teen romance at the heart of it, I was wondering how much sexuality there would be in it, keen to avoid too much early over-exposure. On the other hand, knowing that terminal illness in children was also at the heart of it, I wanted to be ready to talk over any matters arising if called upon to do so - as with, of course, sexuality, or any other issues covered in anything she is reading. The reality, of course, is that in this case and pretty much ever other case of things we read or watch, there are no matters arising or issues covered which dad is going to be talked to about. (Subsequently I was brought another book, I can't remember if in a library or a bookshop, for borrowing/purchase approval, which was co-written by John Green, and although it was not, I don't think, in any way explicit, it seemed to be largely *about* sexuality; I declined approval, with explanation (explanation is of course important), and didn't get resistance.)

I am also mindful of what I myself was reading at that age - that is, into adult fiction rather than what is now the enormous 'young adult' market. I don't really remember reading any books aimed at 'teenagers' - I went direct from children's books to adult books, as many people did. On the other hand, the kind of adult books I read had a very different moral landscape from today's young adult fiction, and in some cases the latter has more sex and swearing, and deals with more, heavier, real-life issues. I have no desire - and there would be no point in trying, even if I did - to shield her from the realities of the modern world in the pages of books; I want her, as I did, to learn about things and people in the world, past and present, through books, and to learn from them too, and not to necessarily accept that the things are right, or the author or narrator's view of things was right; you can learn about, understand, empathise, without having to agree, accept, change. (To take just one unremarkable example, I've spent my life reading books and watching things on screens in which characters swear, without ever being moved to think that that's what I should do too. Some people avoid things involving swearing, and I understand that approach too; but I've never felt the need to take it myself, and I wouldn't impose it on someone else, even someone who I really don't want to grow up swearing.)

Anyway, I thought The Fault In Our Stars was pretty good. (Yes, that's your lot.) Bethan and Maisie have since watched the film also.

the year of the rat

On Wednesday 13 January I finished The Year Of The Rat, by Clare Furniss, which I enjoyed a lot.

A number of the best books I've read in the last couple of years have been the daughter's books, now that she's moving firmly into reading books for teenagers - books I was either reading in advance to vet (which hasn't been very often; generally a skim through at the library or bookshop weeds out ones which I've not been happy with yet, and the 'not yet' has usually been received with good grace), at the same time as, or after. I don't tend to bother with the adventure/thriller ones, like the Alex Ryder and Cherub series, it's the ones about real characters and real world issues I tend to look at.

I was never keen on the Jacqueline Wilson books, because they always seemed very agenda-driven and issue-driven (a bit like Agatha Christie, covering all the permutations but in what felt like a much more mechanical, ideological, checklisty way), and from what I saw of them the writing didn't appeal to me. People mock the old children's fiction for always having happy little nuclear families, in a way which isn't very far from mocking happy little nuclear families, and while I'm all for representations of all kinds of family units in fiction, the disproportionate absence of any families which looked like ours is striking.

The Year Of The Rat could have been such an 'issue' book - teenager deals badly with death of mum in childbirth - but wasn't. It was very much a proper novel, very well written. The only thing that didn't ring true for me was that it seems to have occurred to no one that the teenager will have issues about how she feels about the newborn half-sibling who was responsible for the death of her mother and now takes up so much of her stepfather's time - but that seems to have been necessary for the unfolding of the plot, although I'm sure it could have been better managed; the self-absorption itself is plausible. It's good on how the way things are not as black and white as she sees them; I also liked that there are no actual baddies, although she thinks there are at various stages (but you can see that she is an unreliable narrator). The device of having a ghostly mother appearing for conversations I thought unusual, but wisely left unexplained and uninvestigated, and the fact that the 'ghost' gives her no information or insight which couldn't have come from her own mind leaves it very much open that this is her own imagining. I thought the various issues and relationships in the book were well handled; I had wondered if the death of the mother was a bit too intense a subject matter, but the younger generation was unfazed and took it in her stride.

This was I think Clare Furniss's first book, and I hope she can keep it up (reading a bit just now about her next book, which is out soon, it looks like it covers another couple of issues, and I'm hoping that the single pregnant teenager will be allowed to have her baby...).

Friday, 15 January 2016

curtain

On Monday 11 January I finished Curtain by Agatha Christie. Written during the war, possibly as some income for her family in case she was killed in the war, but deliberately not published till the end of her life, as it was Poirot's last case. Happily Christie never troubled herself with issues of chronology in relation to Marple and Poirot, who both start out very old then carry on, without aging, for decades, so it doesn't bear chronological analysis but that doesn't matter. In fact this one is notable because Poirot has definitely aged, knowing that this is to be the last one. (I wonder if Sleeping Murder, the last Miss Marple, is similar; I've read it, actually, but can't remember...)

It was fine. It has the archetypical dimwitted sidekick, Hastings, who I hate, along with all other dimwitted sidekicks. In terms of solutions, Agatha did seem to try to work through every possible permutation of whodunnit, which is one of the things I like about it, and this one manages to get two lesser-spotted variants in, so I enjoyed that, even if it wasn't too hard to realise what they were going to be. It was over-full of people who were behaving overly suspiciously for insufficient reason beyond increasing the general spread of suspicious behaviour. I would neither particularly recommend it or steer people away from it; I might incline to the latter just because it's one of the Hastings-narrated ones. It lacks the wit that some of them have, not least I guess because it's saddled with a dimwitted narrator.

What have we learnt from it about the human condition? Nothing, really, but what did you expect?

Saturday, 9 January 2016

grey gardens

On Saturday 2nd January we all went to see the first preview (the matinee) of Grey Gardens at the Southwark Playhouse. The two big names in it were Sheila Hancock and Jenna Russell. Jenna Russell is a big name in musical theatre, though looking at her CV in the programme I don't think I've ever seen her before.

The performances were good throughout (I don't think it's unreasonable to make allowances for the strength of an 82-year-old's singing voice, which was perfectly tuneful), but Jenna Russell certainly stood out. Excellence in both singing and acting isn't an inevitable combination, but she has it.

While watching it I also thought that it would have worked well as a straight play, and there are very few musicals that you could say that of (the fact that the mother was a singer is an important part of the plot, so it is natural that some of the songs are there). It's based on an apparently famous/notorious 1975 documentary of the same name on the odd life in reduced circumstances of Jackie Kennedy's aunt and cousin, but very wisely the musical (Wikipedia entry here) included as a first half a depiction of the household in its 1941 heyday, on the purported occasion of the party celebrating the daughter's engagement to Joe Kennedy Jr. (Jenna Russell plays the daughter in 1973 and the mother in 1941; Sheila Hancock plays the mother in 1973.)

The play was well-written, and the songs weren't too bad for a modern musical (of course some of the songs were written for a style appropriate to songs the mother might have sung in 1941).

It was a first preview, so it would of course be unfair to review any production on that basis, but this, like my other similar notes, isn't a review in any real sense of the word. To my mind the miking was sometimes a little too loud in the spoken sections and not loud enough in the singing, but Bethan didn't think the former, and that's certainly something that would be ironed out if it is actually the case rather than just my ears. One thing which did jar, to the extent that I actually sent a Tweet to the company to mention it (!), was that the record which the mother had purportedly recorded before the war and which they 'played' in 1973 was a 45 when it should surely have been a 78, but again that may have been something that was being sorted out. Some of the accents seemed a bit patchy, but to be honest I don't judge a performance on how good someone is at mimicking a particular American accent (British, now that's a different matter...).

There were two girls (aged 13 and 10) in the cast (of nine), playing Jackie Kennedy and her sister, and one thing which particularly struck me was that they sang in the ensemble numbers, just as any cast member would. I'm not sure if that's especially notable, but it struck me at the time as unusual; they certainly held their own.

Previews are over, reviews are out... (interestingly, half the hits on the first page of Google results are articles from before it started - and first off, I'm reminded by one of those snippets that it's the European premier, which was slightly surprising, given the strength of the story, and the amount of off-west-end productions alone that come out every year). Telegraph (loved Sheila Hancock; oddly to me, hated the 1941 section as an unnecessary dilution of the 1973 section, exactly the opposite to my reaction; 1973 alone would have just been tedious, dingy and without depth). Guardian (3/5, like Telegraph). Independent (4/5; gives a clue to the Telegraph's antipathy, indicating how closely the second half follows the documentary - somewhere else said some of the lines are used verbatim - and how that documentary really became a Rocky Horror type cult classic with people copying the look and the lines; if you're devoted to that, the first half isn't what you want; to someone coming to it fresh, any wider audience, the first half is indispensible). BritishTheatre (5/5; a reminder that it's a good set - the audience is on three sides, the fourth wall is the back wall and balcony of the living room area of the main stage; packed full of detail; a longer review, mentioning more of cast and production team, thanks to it being an online review I guess). The Stage. TheGayUK (another first-half-hater). Gay Times (another fan of the 'camp classic' documentary (potential fans of camp classics did seem to be as well-represented in the audience as a lot of the musicals I go to, though not as many as Xanadu...), but seeing the value of the 1941 section in the musical). West End Whinger (currently down to one Whinger, it seems; 'Little Edie’s number, “The Revolutionary Costume for Today” is as camp as it is hilarious and brilliantly performed by Jenna Russell who is absolutely at the top of her game here. How many single men of-a-certain-age (and there were a lot of single men of-a-certain-age at our performance) headed home to their bathroom mirrors and attempted “a Persian shawl, that used to hang on the bedroom wall, pinned under the chin, adorned with a pin and pulled into a twist” look? Go on admit it. We did.' ... 'The sound designer’s “live band knob” was cranked up far too high, which drowned swathes of the lyrics in Act 1 at the preview we attended, but things improved in Act 2.' ... 'Out of Andrew’s party (6 single men of-a-certain-age), 2 admitted to welling up at the end. Rather surprisingly Andrew was one of them and he hadn’t felt this emotional since he found out the queue created by Southwark’s unreserved seating policy begins at around 6.45pm for a curtain up at 7.30pm. Now that’s what we call batty.' - we were surprised to turn up 15 mins before the start to find that the place was almost full; we didn't hurry to get there earlier because often they haven't let us into the theatre more than 10/15 mins before the start). The Reviews Hub ('A few details mean this can’t take five stars. It’s a small enough venue, intimate, so the choice to amplify the singers voices seems a little overbearing and the mics are distracting from this close up'; reminds me of the rice crispie mics, intrusive to start with, though you do get used to them a bit; in this production/performance not on cheek but in the middle of the forehead like an Indian jewel; they still have to sort out a way to resolve this, that if you're going to start mic-ing up stage actors/singers, then less obtrusive technology is going to have to develop, and amplification finesse is going to have to improve to not have a distancing effect from the performance). West End Wilma ('Musically, Grey Gardens is very much in the 1940’s style with no real eleven o’clock number to write home about but some good songs like ‘Marry Well’, ‘Daddy’s Girl’, ‘Peas In A Pod’ and ‘The Revolutionary Costume For Today’ which received huge applause from the audience at the beginning of act 2. ... Jenna Russell is a credit to Musical Theatre.' - what may have been intended as a criticism of the music is why I liked it). What's On Stage ('Hancock subsides arthritically on her bed, feebly waving the stars and stripes as the manse is invaded by ghosts – these are the notorious cats that ran wild in Grey Gardens' - forgot this, a nice touch. 'in such an intimate theatre, the musical arrangements might have been better done acoustically. The noise and blah does not really suit the content, the sound system (usual grumble) is bad, and the mikes on the actors look like weird facial scars'). Theatre Cat (Libby Purves). British Theatre Guide (more trouble with sound, partly configuration and partly amplification they reckon; for all the comments, however, and their accuracy, not hearing the words is a common issue with anything involving songs). West End Frame (' It's such a luxury for an off-West End production to have a ten piece band, they play in a separate room to enable sound levels to be perfected - a big step forward for the Southwark Playhouse. ... I can't decide whether I think the piece would work in the West End. I wouldn't want any intimacy to be lost; however, if tweaked appropriately Southerland's production could be destined for future life. The cast are certainly West End standard (Russell would be an award season favourite)' - I didn't realise that was the band set-up, which makes sense, as we certainly couldn't work out where they were; I did think it could work in the West End, and as with many fringe productions I've seen the production is certainly the equal of it). Musical Theatre Review ('If Act I were a full length musical, it would be a fine piece, evocative of an era while touching on topics that the coy 1940s may only have hinted at. But where Grey Gardens elevates beyond that is in a complete tonal shift in Act II.' - there's certainly a big contrast, but it works, and you do feel the through-line even though the journey from 1941 to 1973 is (happily) not over-explained). Gizzle Review (new to me). Mature Times (also new to me).

Generally positive, then, and criticisms mostly minor ones I agree with or major ones I disagree with.

And what have we learned? Family relationships can tangle you up. Things can drift or stagnate if you don't have a Plan B. You can slide into strangeness without realising you've moved beyond normal or reasonable. It doesn't take much.