There May Be a Protest

Well the last day was a long one but not much to report except several hours in the Galleries First and then a pretty smooth flight home.  An early check-out unfortunately, an uneventful cab ride to Paddington, a delayed express to LHR, an easy fast track through security, then several hours in the BA lounge.  At least I was able to stream the Murray Djokovic final, ad-free. lounge-champagne-bar The champagne bar. lounge-2 table-service Table service if you like. lounge-window major-tail That's some major tail. lounge-1 lounge-3 lounge-4 lounge-wine A decent selection of wines, a lot of space to spread out in.   Boarding commenced none to glamorously about two kms from the lounge around thirty minutes before departure. flight-champagne-1 flight-champagne-2 They started us off with Laurent-Perrier Grand Siécle.  Then I switched to the spectacular Taittinger Brut Vintage 2006. flight-starter Even though you leave on BA085 at 17:20 and even though you're eating early evening, they call it lunch.  I chose as my starter Fivemiletown Dairy goat's cheese beignet with a butternut squash, pumpkin seed and pine nut crust. flight-chicken For the main I had a roasted corn-fed chicken, ham hock and potato tartlet with haricot bean purée, runner beans and truffle jus.  Honestly, I could have eaten two portions, it was just that good. flight-cheese The cheese plate -- shropshire blue, gillot camembert, godminster and tomme de savoie -- wasn't bad at all. flight-pudding There was still room for orange and pistachio pudding. flight-pjs My "sleeper" aka pajamas beckoned. flight-bedtime Time for some shut eye. flight-sandwich flight-tea-cakes There was "tea" after a nap: Sandwiches, scones and cakes. there-may-be-a-protest There wasn't too much to protest.

I Did Not Dare Miss It

An empty platform midday.  Imagine that.   First thing, in the blaring sun, I went to Camden Town to run an errand.  The 46 gets there in about seven stops from the flat.  I had to see someone about a parcel; a long, convoluted, Royal Mail, eBay story that is too tiresome to relate.  Then I came back to Chancery Lane, took the tube to Holland Park, and stopped at Paul for a delicious apricot tart and coffee; get my portion of fruit for the day. Simon had come down with a lung infection, more or less clearing the rest of the day.   On the bus a man talked about taking the 168 to Kentish Town for a six quid a night hostel bed and being able to beg for rent on a daily basis but never having time to wash his jacket, only his pants, and that the hostel staff had advised him to tidy his living space of they would take away his freedom. And who were hostel staff to think they could take away his freedom?   On the tube I saw a woman in a black dress, black net stockings, black wool coat, with a faux rose corsage, porcelain rose pendant necklace, two rose earrings, a rose pink beanie and rose pink Vibram’s five finger shoes.  She had a large black bag which she rummaged through for quite some time settling, eventually, on a plastic container with raisins, about two full cups, which she ate with a plastic fork, thoughtfully, and with consideration. Her wan skin was like mother of pearl, flashing two tones of white, gloss and satin, depending on the reflection. My question is: did they spend more on the plumbing or the topiary? My question is: Did they spend more on the plumbing or the topiary? At Paul there was a man being interviewed about corruption in the housing industry and a woman next to me who, on a paper marketing plan, wrote in the margins “do this” several times over.  I was glad to be on a so called holiday.  I spent some time in Holland Park. I've always preferred the brambly, feral end of Holland Park... I've always preferred the brambly, feral end of Holland Park... [caption id="attachment_4885" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]...as opposed to the more cultivated and "British" end ...as opposed to the more cultivated and "British" end[/caption] hp2 I walked down to Leighton House.  I don’t think I’ve been there this century; but in the 80s when I was broke I went there a lot because it was peaceful, exquisite, and free. It got an extensive reno in 2009.  It’s now 12 pounds entry.  All 1100 square feet or whatever they allow you to stroll through. [caption id="attachment_4887" align="aligncenter" width="756"]The "back yard" at Leighton House The "back yard" at Leighton House[/caption] A woman asked me what cologne I was wearing.  I said “Old Man, by Neil Young.”  Pause.  “He released it just after Bob Dylan won the Nobel.” Crickets.  The British; tough crowd.  She didn’t laugh at my joke but she did borrow my camera.  When she returned it there were numerous photographs from a place where photographs are strictly prohibited. [caption id="attachment_4888" align="aligncenter" width="756"]The Arab Hall The Arab Hall[/caption] lh3 lh5 lh6 lh4 The story of Flaming June is the basis of a good novel, and much more interesting than Wikipedia would have you believe: The painting first showed at the RA to much acclaim.  The sensuality slash titillation of the picture, the fact that you can spy the sleeping woman’s nipples, was not without controversy.  It sold for a good sum to a magazine owner and art collector.  It changed hands a few times, last being “shown” in the 1930s.  Then it completely disappeared from view, no one is quite sure what trajectory it took.  Victorian art was well out of fashion.  Then, mid-20th century, some builders doing a reno in Clapham of all places discovered a piece of art placed behind a plaster wall.  They took it to a dealer; it made the rounds, but not of much interest amongst buyers, until it was snapped up for mere pennies by a collector in Puerto Rico, where it lives today. [caption id="attachment_4894" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]As if As if[/caption] After Leighton House I headed for the Royal Academy.  What better place to follow LH, where Lord Leighton had once been “PRA” or president, and presided over the tasteful and appropriate display of Victorian art, only to see the hottest show on the planet focused on abstract expressionism: de Koonig, Pollock, Kline, Rothko, the list goes on.  But I was bit cultured out if you will; I didn’t make it.  As it was I wandered through west London, ending up on the Central line back to Holborn to pack. [caption id="attachment_4893" align="aligncenter" width="756"]Mama mia that's a whole lotta cheez Mama mia that's a whole lotta cheez[/caption] I arrived home just in time to see Andy Murray clinch the first set of a two set cliff hanger, and Stan Wawrinka commit racket abuse. Also, there was more packing to do than I anticipated.  Why did I buy so much Christmas pudding? [caption id="attachment_4895" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Lamb sirloin with girelles and spinach at Hix in Soho Lamb sirloin with girelles and spinach at Hix in Soho[/caption] In the evening I took a pre-theatre at Hix.  I’d eaten there in 2013, to no great acclaim, except that the bar stools have backs.  The food tonight was exceptional, perfectly seasoned, beautifully prepared, not skimpy or restrained.  One bartender was “Persian” (I eventually got it out of him that he was Iranian) and the other a young Brit desperate to move to Canada, ideally Calgary (for no good reason other than to ski he said; I had no comment). [caption id="attachment_4896" align="aligncenter" width="637"]I didn't dare I didn't dare[/caption] The play I saw, the sixth of six plays, was either the worst play of the week or the best.  Steven “Billy Elliott” Daldry resurrected J B Priestly’s An Inspector Calls at the National in 1992.  It’s been traveling the world ever since, only now to return to the West End.  I think it’s wonderful and encouraging that a play over a century old can speak to current themes: our collective responsibility to others and the guilt we share or ignore in respect to our willingness to understand the plight of others.  Parents will make no qualms to allow their elementary class to attend; witness the school boys in uniform, rapt. [caption id="attachment_4897" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Playhouse Theatre, Embankment Playhouse Theatre, Embankment[/caption] But it’s linear, predictable, uninspired, and scarily stereotypical.  I smell a Bill Millerd debut in the next ten years.  It was a brisk walk up to Covent Garden, then a short tube hop back for the final night. lights-at-night-1 lights-at-night-2

Racket Abuse

02-roof [caption id="attachment_4866" align="aligncenter" width="788"]I think they covet the paycheque more than this... I think they covet the paycheque more than this...[/caption] It was the second double double header of tennis.  The morning crowds were not as thick and testy as Tuesday: Monfils had dropped out of the tournament due to his lingering rib injury.  But at the year end event, they replace injured players.  So David Goffin (not next in line, Berdych would have been, but I guess he declined) played Djokovic.  The doubles match prior was a rather slim straight set effort.   I was seated next to some Germans, some very large German youth.  They had snuff.  Snuff! [caption id="attachment_4867" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]goffin-arrives The rock stars arrive. First David Goffin.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4868" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Then Novak. Then Novak.  They reprimand the players for poor behaviour and shh the crowd but amp us up with strobes and rock music and Dylan Thomas (yes, it's true, it's the UK, they "violence" it up a notch too), then act shocked at the racket.[/caption] At just over an hour I’d like to write that the match was a clinic.  But it wasn’t; Novak made several double faults and shot wide of the mark on numerous occasions.  However, as is often the case on the ATP, lesser players cower on the court with him.  Goffin simply couldn’t rise to the occasion.  An hour seven; we could have been watching first round women’s tennis at a Grand Slam. [caption id="attachment_4869" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Novak wins. Surprise. Novak wins. Surprise.[/caption] I might add that for his hour and seven minutes, David Goffin took home a paycheque of $179,000 USD.  Ouch.   There was still plenty of time between the day and evening matches; on a whim I took the clipper to Greenwich, wandered around for a spell, had a light nosh at a wonderful bakery called Paul Rhodes, then a spot of rain set in so I bussed back to the 02.  I can think of someone else who would have just taken a nap. [caption id="attachment_4870" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Who is this mutt and why does he keep interrupting this blog? Who is this mutt and why does he keep interrupting this blog?[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4871" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]The Emirates Air Line. Geddit? North Greenwich to Canning Town. Fractionally quicker than the tube. The Emirates Air Line. Geddit? Fractionally quicker than the tube to Canning Town.[/caption] The evening doubles session, Dodig/Melo vs. Murray/Soares was actually enormously watchable and would have gone to a third set if doubles had a third set but instead they go to a 10 point tiebreaker.  Game, set, tiebreaker, Murray/Soares. [caption id="attachment_4872" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Murray and Soares finish the year as the number one doubles team Murray and Soares finish the year as the number one doubles team[/caption] Milos took some practice time on the main court before the doubles. [caption id="attachment_4873" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Milos practicing with coach Carlos Moya Milos practicing with coach Carlos Moya[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4874" align="aligncenter" width="857"]The grey head on the left is someone called John McEnroe The grey head on the left is someone called John McEnroe[/caption] On Tuesday the 20,000 people or so loved Raonic.  He could do no wrong.  On Thursday night it was all about Thiem.  It’s true what they say: the British really do root for the underdog.  Thiem is a great player and will win a grand slam or two; his serve this year has become refined and a weapon.  But he’s still nervy and uneven and in two longish unpredictable sets Milos sailed into the semi finals. [caption id="attachment_4875" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Milos heads for the semi-finals Milos heads for the semi-finals[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4876" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]The Cutty Sark in Greenwich at dusk The Cutty Sark in Greenwich at dusk[/caption]  

Lift not working. Use other lift.

That was my favorite random sign of the day, Wednesday, November 16, maybe the week.  Most of the day I spent walking anyway; no lifts required.  It started sunny, like Tuesday it was mild, 15 or something.  I stopped at an outpost of Bill’s (sort of the Australian Jamie Oliver) for scrambled eggs and bacon and sour dough which was immediately forgettable but the waiter was from, of all places, Prince Rupert. [caption id="attachment_4851" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]trafalgar-square From the National Gallery terrace towards Big Ben[/caption] Late morning I went to the National Gallery for the Caravaggio show.  First, I’ve never particularly liked the National.  I think the outlook, so prominent, facing down (literally down) at parliament, puts it metaphorically on a pedestal.  Plus, the “national” in the title gives it an all things bright and beautiful motif which prevents it from being as brilliant as it could be.  Special exhibitions: Next door and down two flights please.  Seriously! [caption id="attachment_4852" align="aligncenter" width="847"]The Taking of Christ, a work of staggering beauty, absolutely impossible to capture in a photo (NB: Caravaggio painted himself into the artwork, carrying the lamp) The Taking of Christ, a work of staggering beauty, absolutely impossible to capture in a photo (NB: Caravaggio painted himself into the artwork, carrying the lamp)[/caption] The second thing about Caravaggio is that, if you care, if you care at all, you’ll never see anything sufficiently in a “show” as most of his work never leaves the apse where it was painted (probably in Rome).  Anyone especially in awe of Caravaggio is not going out of their way for a Caravaggio show, they are making a pilgrimage.   But who cares.  This is a good show, an impressive show, a moving show.  Crammed into seven small rooms, poorly lit (any dimmer and we’d be Ebeneezer Scrooge with an oil lamp), stuffy and with barely an inch to maneuver, it is from start to finish absolute gold.  With fewer than a dozen actual Caravaggio’s, but many from Cecco, his servant slash student slash possible lover, along with a slew of those who followed or copied or admired him, it is start to finish dead impressive. [caption id="attachment_4853" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Neal's Yard gets Christmassy Neal's Yard gets Christmassy[/caption] At some point in the afternoon, after ambling about the West End, Soho and Fitzrovia, I passed a Curzon showing Tom Ford’s latest, Nocturnal Animals, with a start time only four minutes hence.  I ducked in.  Well.  Well, well.  It’s a long ways to go for not too much return.  In the style of this cinema, I’d prefer Nebraska; more laughs.  But the Michaels (Sheen and Shannon) both shine, while Amy Adams does a scene without lipstick.  Meow.  Any more base on Armie Hammer and you’d have the George Hamilton Story Retold.  Casting three Abercrombie and Fitch models as your hillbilly deviants shows a) little knowledge of film and character and b) that he’s never seen a Coen brothers' film, cast to perfection to within an inch of their lives.  For Ford, everything has to be beautiful, even some poor uneducated rapist sap with a flush toilet on his front deck. [caption id="attachment_4854" align="aligncenter" width="969"]The umbrellas in the window of this shop are 245. That's 245 pounds sterling. Each. The umbrellas in the window of this shop are 245. That's 245 pounds sterling. Each.[/caption] The weather had changed after the film.  Darker.  London does that.  Unpredictable.  At one point I picked up new specs from Black Eyewear.  Each frame they sell is inspired by a jazz artist.  If you have the chutzpah, I’d recommend Dizzy or Miles or Duke.  I went a little waspier. [caption id="attachment_4855" align="aligncenter" width="611"]Vanessa Redgrave in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1966 Vanessa Redgrave in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1966, at Wyndham's[/caption] For dinner a set price affair in Covent Garden at Café Murano.  After dinner, play five of six: No Man’s Land.  Like the title of this post, lift not working, use other lift, that could be dialogue lifted from any Pinter work; sharp, ironic, pointed.  The play is brilliant, cerebral, in a weird way haunting, and if you have the patience, rewarding.  But to pull it off, to make it work, to make it worthwhile, it has to be over the top brilliant. Anything else is simply incoherent chatter. [caption id="attachment_4856" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Wyndham's Theatre Wyndham's Theatre[/caption] This is the “hot ticket” play of the week, the only one which sold a full slate of standing room only tickets--on a Wednesday no less; in fact, I could have resold my ticket in the “royal circle” at a profit.  Nobel laureate Pinter, the “Sirs” McKellan and Stewart, Damien Molony (not known in Canada unfortunately) and Owen Teale (yes, Game of Thrones Owen Teale).  Stellar cast (better performances from Teale and Molony in fact).  Sold out run.  Going international with NT Live in December.  Check, check, check. [caption id="attachment_4857" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]The Royal Circle looking up to the Grand Circle peeking up to the balcony at the Wyndham's The Royal Circle looking up to the Grand Circle peeking up to the balcony at the Wyndham's[/caption] But the production is not stellar; the direction is predictable, the staging almost tired.  You can only imagine, dream, of how magical Gielgud and Richardson would have been in the 1970s original; you cannot fathom why there is but one long static set of lighting, not much in the way of production, sound only at act’s end, and sections of near infinity where there is no movement only elocution.  I felt sorry for the 20 per cent or so of those attending under 30, who felt alienated by the cryptic dialogue and metaphor, the lack of linear development, the inertia.  But, still, they got their standing O. So it goes. [caption id="attachment_4858" align="aligncenter" width="725"]Two men who have seen their name in lights many times, over many years Two men who have seen their name in lights many times, over many years[/caption]

Fewer Seniors, More Axe Body Spray

I had an affair with a tennis pro once.  Love meant nothing to him. the-02 [caption id="attachment_4831" align="aligncenter" width="250"]The second round of entrance security... The second round of entrance security...[/caption] It took me 45 minutes to walk to Waterloo, 15 more minutes to walk to the Jubilee line, 12 minutes to walk from the arrival platform to the 02, and another 47 minutes to get through the two security gates and to my seat once entering the stadium.  But I felt safe. poster [caption id="attachment_4833" align="aligncenter" width="250"]Ex-Canadian Rusedski Ex-Canadian Rusedski[/caption] view-from-row-q [caption id="attachment_4834" align="aligncenter" width="250"]The rock stars arrive The rock stars arrive[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4835" align="aligncenter" width="250"]Thiem responds to Monfils Thiem responds to Monfils[/caption] My double double date with the ATP started with a doubles match: Jamie Murray, Andy’s lesser known but (on the doubles circuit) equally accomplished sib, and Soares, against the Bryan brothers, who I saw play back in 2012.  The Bryans are twins; you can tell them apart because Mike is the one who doesn’t look like Bob.  That was a fun but straight set affair.  The singles match followed: the balletic and sometimes neurotic but almost always entertaining Gael Monfils with the up and comer and potential heir to Nadal (?), Dominic Thiem.  Thiem played the first set like he wanted to win; Monfils with his faux injuries and loopy drop shots capitulated.  Monfils played the second set like the player he is and dumfounded Thiem.  Then they played a third set of what’s commonly known as tennis and in the end Monfils dropped it all.  But you know, he had a hot date and plans for the clubs later, so all was not lost. toilet-2 [caption id="attachment_4837" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Look up, look down. Which one has the urinal? Look up, look down. Which one has the urinal?[/caption] In the break between afternoon and evening, over two dozen restaurants that surround the 02 fill up, chock full.  Dinner at 5 p.m.; I could have been in Vancouver.  I had Thai at a communal table with: a Trinidadian woman living in London who has queued at Wimbledon successfully for seven years; a Russian woman who is going to every session (every session! Day and night! For a week!); a woman from Tokyo who was doing something similar to me, leaving her husband at home and hunkering down for the ATP; and a German couple who were bemused by our dedication to the sport but reticent to weigh in.  Everyone laid down their cards (Federer fan, Nadal fan, Djokivic fan, etc.). boris-3 boris-1 boris4 A seemingly cranky, visibly limping, Boris B leaves the practice session: Through a different exit than Novak!  I was mid lower bowl for the afternoon, row Q.  Quite good I thought. For the evening I was in third row.  Third row.  In keeping with the title at top, the crowd was significantly different day to night.  The afternoon session had a lot of men that looked like Jonathan Pryce and women that looked like Frances de La Tour; the evening it was more women that looked like Rachel Griffiths and men like Ray Winstone.  With a pint.  I came into the arena early to watch Novak hit the practice court.   The evening session began with Dodig and Melo versus Mirnyi and Huey.  Max Mirnyi.  Great name.  Treat Huey.  Great name.  Mirnyi used to play singles; at nearly two meters he was stunningly impressive in stature, but as with many of the tall boys he lumbers rather than lunges. The Brazilian and Croatian completely overpowered them. [caption id="attachment_4839" align="aligncenter" width="245"]Shakira's husband Shakira's husband[/caption] A footballer with his kid came in and sat at the VIP seats next to us.  This is how little I know about sport: He is Gerard Pique, plays for Barcelona, and is married to Shakira.  To which I say you think he would have better taste in denim. novaks-towel white-towel The evening singles session, Novak and Milos, was spectacular tennis.  Only two sets, but taut, well fought, over two hours, with umpteen opps for Raonic, but never was he able to capitalize.  To see his 141 mph serve at eye level, well that’s a thing to behold. Did I mention I was seated in the third row?   In the two pics above you'll see that the towel behind the ball girl for Novak is an official tournament towel and that Milos is using a generic white towel from the locker room.  It started with Wimbledon, players stealing towels as souvenirs.  Now official towels on the tour are limited, so the "newer" guys keep them as part of the trophy room but the old guys, with too much loot to display, don't care.   Did I mention I was seated in the third row? [caption id="attachment_4845" align="aligncenter" width="712"]Oh and I finally got a half decent exterior shot of the Air BnB place. Oh and I finally got a half decent exterior shot of the Air BnB place.[/caption] The crowds dispersing after the match onto the Jubilee line, thirty wide, were staggering.  I took the train the “wrong” way to Stratford, as it was near empty, then back into Holborn on the Central.  

“I don’t want to be smart because being smart makes you depressed.”

A trip to London without a stop at the V&A is criminal.  So I waded through the Theobald’s Road traffic towards the West End and took the tube to SW10.  Of the three current exhibitions, two appealed to me: A Brief History of Underwear (geddit?) and You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970.  I chose the latter; as did half the people in the museum.   [caption id="attachment_4809" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]The "soupy dress" is centre The "soupy dress" is centre[/caption] revolution-4 revolution-3 In keeping with popular culture, the show was exhaustive.  But a lot of fun.  I found out that Mati Klarwein was Andy Warhol’s favorite artist.  (My Warhol quote as the title of this post is better than what they used in block capitals, his comment that "when you think of it, department stores are museums" but I give it to them that as flip and candid as that remark was department stores have, perversely, become exactly that.) That Alan Aldridge did many of those exquisite illustrations for the Beatles.  The Woodstock room (the film projected on three walls) included a shrine to Jimi Hendrix (instruments and “costumes”), and a drum kit that belonged to Keith Moon replete with adornments of Lily Langtry. [caption id="attachment_4812" align="aligncenter" width="1280"]Artwork by Mati Klarwein. Not as famous as Bitches Brew, I know... Artwork by Mati Klarwein. Not as famous as Bitches Brew, I know...[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4813" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Revolution by Alan Aldridge Revolution by Alan Aldridge[/caption] A large section of the exhibit paid tribute to Expo ’67 in Montreal, another major alcove focused on the Whole Earth Catalog; that’s a blast from the past. [caption id="attachment_4814" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]The Woodstock Room The Woodstock Room[/caption] The emphasis fell mostly on the political, anti-Nam and free-love, freedom focus of the late 60s.  But a quote from Bowie spoke more to my generation than The Who: “We never got it off on that revolution stuff.”   If there was one omission, which I can’t unequivocally attest to, it’s that Guy Peelaert wasn’t anywhere to be seen.  True, Rock Dreams came out in ‘73, but it was in more basements and hipster coffee tables than the WE Catalog ever was and encapsulated the previous decade as well as half the record covers the V&A had amassed.  Which, alas, they weren’t selling as posters or wallpaper. [caption id="attachment_4815" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]The V&A is free. You walk in off the street... The V&A is free. You walk in off the street...[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4816" align="aligncenter" width="641"]...and this is what you see. ...and this is what you see.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4817" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]For free. How great is that? For free. How great is that?[/caption] Afterwards I did "my standard" South Ken loop: walked the Fulham Rd past a litany of six figure parked cars and luxe shops with bespoke garments, down to the King’s Road, to Sloane Square, up to Knightsbridge then back to South Ken. [caption id="attachment_4818" align="aligncenter" width="774"]Damien Hirst anyone? Damien Hirst anyone?[/caption] On the King’s Road I passed Vivienne Westwood’s World’s End, not much changed from the exterior in 40 years.  How many mortgages, Cote d’Azur vacations and Damien Hirst’s has that shop pulled in? vivienne-westwood It was a great walk but if I saw one Donatella Versace lunching and shopping, I saw a dozen Donatella Versace’s. [caption id="attachment_4820" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Tarte tatin with creme fraiche and a flat white Tarte tatin with creme fraiche and a flat white[/caption] With a sliver of rain threatening I had salad and “pie” at a café near where Pucci Pizza used to be. bally [caption id="attachment_4822" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Uh oh. In sterling silver. Some people just have too much money. Uh oh. In sterling silver. Some people just have too much money.[/caption] In the evening I went to The Red Barn, a new play at the National.  It has quite the pedigree: Novel by Simenon, play by David Hare, a stellar cast of 14 (including Mark Strong, who’s probably best known for the Kingsmen movies but was in fact brilliant in Tinker Tailor next to Gary Oldman, and Elizabeth Debicki, the femme fatale in The Night Manager).  The production design is magnificent; modern, creative, ingenious.  The sound design excellent.  Yet, if you Google the online chatter, there is nothing but moaning about how “cinematic” it is and why is it a play if they really wanted to produce a movie.  Well, I say burn Robert Le Page at the stake.  Once upon a time a curtain going up was radical.  We’ve come to accept it. the-red-barn Instead of curtains rising and falling and sets rotating, the scrim contracts and expands to hone focus on faces, places, scenes.  Conceptually, it’s beyond clever: We have a “Revolutionary Road” look inside upper middle class lives on the Eastern Seaboard circa Nixon’s presidency.  A nice bookend to the V&A show earlier—this is the class of adults the baby boomers wanted to dethrone with their anti-war and free love ethos.  And in order to provide a slice of this life, the literal use of a camera’s aperture, in the shape of the scrim, is widened and narrowed to frame scenes, end scenes, shift scenes, emphasize scenes. [caption id="attachment_4824" align="aligncenter" width="2600"]The snow storm at the start The snow storm at the start[/caption] If there is an issue, it’s this: I paraphrase a recent blog post by Sky Gilbert bemoaning plays without an intermission.  I call it the 87 minute rule.  The majority of theatre goers are older.  And we need a bathroom break.  No, seriously, we need a bathroom break.  Who are these dictators directing plays that run two hours without a break?  But in the spirit of getting young people into the audience, they need to check their phones.  Two hours without an interval is more criminal than skipping the V&A. [caption id="attachment_4825" align="aligncenter" width="928"]The drama unravels... The drama unravels...[/caption] Full house on a Monday; nearly 900 people.  Not too shabby.

“Not that it matters, but most of it is true”

And just like that it was Monday. The weekend was positively somnolent.  I put a load of laundry in and accidentally somehow entered in a code for the “childproof lock” which I solved after an hour on Google (and now that brand of washers keeps popping up in my mail ads; how boring these algorithms are).  It was dreary Saturday morning, grey and drizzly and very London, so not difficult to read in bed over coffee and take a late start.  I didn’t have a lot on the agenda but I did got one thing done: pudding For much of the afternoon I wandered through Covent Garden and the West End, window shopping, stepping by, through, and even once over, mad crowds of other weekenders. [caption id="attachment_4797" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Pierre Herme Christmas Window Pierre Herme Christmas Window[/caption] covent-garden I chose the worst possible weather for an exterior shot of the flat where I’m staying.  The penthouse is a multi-level three bedroom.  My studio, street level, is a decidedly simpler affair. 14-kings-mews-wc1 In the evening I tried to get into a café in Covent Garden for a pre-theatre dinner, specifically a place with a bar for a single, but the shopping hordes had descended en masse, and eventually settled on a rather tony Italian place where the bartenders tried to match me up with two lovely single ladies. duke-of-yorks-theatre the-dresser-poster The Dresser has been remade more times than necessary, perhaps most famously with Albert Finney although the recent film version with Ian McKellan and Anthony Hopkins is especially good. [caption id="attachment_4802" align="aligncenter" width="756"]Duke of York's interior from stalls Duke of York's interior from stalls[/caption] the-dresser-set I guess most people know Ken Stott from the Hobbit franchise, although he goes way back to the BBC 1986 Singing Detective in a supporting role; and I saw him in Heroes, in 2005, with John Hurt and Richard Griffiths.  He is an exuberant actor on stage, well worth the price of admission. But the production tended towards the literal, and certainly lacked the heft of iHo the night before.  Nevertheless, front row of the dress circle wasn’t too shabby. [caption id="attachment_4804" align="aligncenter" width="756"]Insert hyperlink to IMDB Simon Kennedy (V) Insert hyperlink to IMDB Simon Kennedy (V)[/caption] Sunday the sun shone and I met Simon in Hampstead for what was supposed to be lunch but turned into some pub hopping and an early dinner.  The Roebuck, our first stop, had as many dogs in the pub as patrons.  Simon specifically asked for 500 words on the blog.  I thought I’d just reference/tagline most of the movies, TV shows, books and celebs we dished.  Match the tagline or quote to the movie/show/celeb.  No Googling.   Worst episode ever. The most bizarre murder weapon ever used. Rough, tough Chuck Tatum, who battered his way to the top ... trampling everything in his path - men, women and morals! We are not alone. We are all born ghosts of uninvited accidents and fears. Warning: The nightmare has not gone away. See them all in a film about fantasy.  And reality.  And vice.  And versa. From the moment they met it was Murder! A place beyond your dreams.  A movie beyond your imagination. So you had sex with a lesbian.  You gotta have sex with two lesbians, that’s the whole point. The movie too HOT for words. There was only one man left in the family, and the mission was to save him. The mystery, the suspense, the adventure, the call—that started it all. As the A-Troupe dancers prepare for the regional dance competition, relationships and loyalties are put to the test. Paul doesn’t like theatre.  He’s film. Sometimes he wants to go to a film as long as it’s, you know, under lit, or overexposed, so long as there’s no pleasure to be derived. A neurological opera. Ever hear of Planet of the Apes?  Er, the movie or the planet? The brand new multi-million dollar musical.  And you are starring as the human.  It’s the part I was born to play baby. Camp, deluded, and owner of a pet monkey, it’s [spoiler] meets Wacko Jacko. "I'd always heard that you had some talent." He replies: "That was last year. This year I'm trying to make a living." The following picture, also discussed, from a church in Rome, takes us well over the anticipated 500 words.  Done. crucifixion-of-st-peter

Look: It’s BAFTA Winning Actor, the New Q and Limping Man From The Lobster Without an Entourage

poppies Remembrance Day: Friday was set to be glorious.  I dragged my sorry jetlagged ass out of bed and did something I’ve never done in London: Took the train to Hampton Court, then walked the Thames Path to Richmond.  I was under the impression this would be a seven and a half kilometre walk, a breeze.  I forgot, like pound sterling, the UK never fully adopted all the European “fashions”: The speed you travel here and the distance you travel? Miles.  So three miles in I discovered it would be a little longer than anticipated. [caption id="attachment_4771" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Welcome to Hampton Court. Welcome to Hampton Court.[/caption] hp-front hp-gilt-in-the-garden hp-through-brick-wall hp-through-gate The start is Hampton Court.  (A mere 18 pounds entrance fee; too rich for my blood.)  The path along the bank follows the Hampton Court Park which functions as a commons/golf course/deer pasture/duck sanctuary/dog off-leash park.    It was at Kingston Upon Thames, where you cross the river to stay on the path, I discovered I was three miles into the walk, not kms.  You can, if the signage is correct, walk all 29 miles from Hampton Court to Tower Bridge. hp-garden [caption id="attachment_4777" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]What you can't see in this picture are the golfers, deer and dogs, all on the same plot What you can't see in this picture are the golfers, deer and dogs, all on the same plot[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4778" align="aligncenter" width="250"]Parks Canada would never endorse... Parks Canada would never endorse...[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4779" align="aligncenter" width="250"]Actual use of the word "ait" outside of a NYT crossword Actual use of the word "ait" outside of a NYT crossword[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4780" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]After the mortgage there was only enough left for a dinghy After the mortgage there was only enough left for a dinghy[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4781" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]A Grand Designs monstrosity to be? A Grand Designs monstrosity to be?[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4782" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Although an idyllic corner of London, as anyone who's watched Wimbledon knows, LHR isn't far Although an idyllic corner of London, as anyone who's watched Wimbledon knows, LHR isn't far[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4783" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Across the river at Marble Hill House Across the river at Marble Hill House[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4784" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Teddington. Paddington's lesser known older brother. Teddington. Paddington's lesser known older brother.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4785" align="aligncenter" width="648"]Obligatory selfie. Obligatory selfie.[/caption] After Kingston you walk through Canbury Gardens, Ham Lands (a 72 hectare nature reserve), Ham Lake, past Eel Pie Island, across from Marble Hill Park, along Petersham Pastures, through Buccleuch Gardens then into Richmond.  At the end of it all lies the White Cross, a Young’s pub, some gold at the end of the rainbow.  The day started cool.  The day started cold: five degrees (Celsius, but, yes, there is Fahrenheit all over the place).  I was zipped and grateful for packing a scarf.  But by midday it was (according to the BBC) 10 degrees, although eating lunch on the deck of the pub with my jacket off it must have been hotter with the humidex… [caption id="attachment_4786" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Richmond in the distance Richmond in the distance[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4787" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Buccleuch Gardens, Richmond Buccleuch Gardens, Richmond[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4788" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Not a mirage Not a mirage[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4789" align="aligncenter" width="756"]Get thee behind me Terrible Thursday Get thee behind me Terrible Thursday[/caption] After lunch I caught the train back to Russell Square intending for a nap but as with all things London I was out of time.  People jokingly talk about doing one thing a day; London is the apogee of ensuring you suffer if you try to break it.  The play I was seeing started at seven (7 p.m.!).  There wasn’t much time to do anything but make a cup of tea and head back out to the tube. iho-poster iho-set Tony Kushner’s iHo is a cerebral tour de force played exquisitely by an ensemble cast at the Hampstead Theatre (which is in Swiss Cottage).  Despite the “generosity of text” (the first act is an hour, then an intermission, the second act an hour ten, then an intermission, then another 50 minutes--I mean it could be Wagner) it was emotionally riveting, even given the generally flawless Brooklyn accents which faltered only a couple of times towards the end.  Kushner’s writing is a collision of metaphor with plot; you’re never sure if there is a story developing or just a lot of deeper meaning crammed onto itself like a heap of dirty laundry. He never seems burdened by offering too much exposition.  Barbs aside, it was brilliant; but when Woody Allen exaggerates reality, in say Radio Days, with a whole family talking at once, the chaos is pure humour, pastiche. Wen Kushner actually develops character and plot together with seven actors in three different scenes all talking at once, that’s exhaustion, a passive aggressive taunt.  (At least in Tamara, the 1981 play about the artist of the same name, you followed characters from room to room absorbing the plot how and when you wanted.)  Still, sold out, two ovations, chillingly good.   If you left on a sort of artistic high, as I did, then hit the tube, you were quickly deflated by the Scottish and English football fans celebrating (England) and drunkenly commiserating (Scotland) the World Cup qualifying match.   All that said, after such a stupendous day, nothing could have been as thrilling, surprising and memorable as seeing one of the finest living UK actors sitting alone in the foyer.  That tops seeing Mike Nichols at Heroes in 2005 (but not of course David Bowie in Chelsea in 1986). [caption id="attachment_4792" align="aligncenter" width="1008"]Whishaw fun fact: He played a psycho killer called baby in a play called Mojo Whishaw fun fact: He was spectacular as a psycho killer called Baby in a play called Mojo[/caption]  

On the Way the Paper Bag was on My Knee

...didn't get to bed last night." Flying is a drag.  It doesn’t matter where you sit or what they feed you the human being is not meant to spend much (if any) time at 39,000 feet, let alone nine hours.  Although seamless, and with a German crew that was so friendly and helpful it seemed they’d been work-shopped on managing Trip Advisor reviews characterizing them as cold and stern, it didn't matter; it was still, after all, an overnight flight in the wrong direction. 747 A 747 today looks amazingly retro.  What, just 20 seats upstairs?  They have the look of 70s glam rock.  It’s unbelievable there are still so many in the air. I was fortunate to be in the first row, alone, upstairs, but flying is flying. [caption id="attachment_4756" align="aligncenter" width="756"]Fog over RIchmond leaving YVR Fog over Richmond leaving YVR[/caption] lufthansa-starter A starter of quinoa, beet, asparagus and feta.  About the best thing they served. lufthansa-main A salad drenched in mayonnaise, potato and fennel braised on the side and alongside a foreign body that was entirely unpalatable but was called beef with a gorgonzola glaze. lufthansa-dessert Cheese (served with Premium saltines!) and fruit.  I passed on the cheesecake.  Then, in keeping with Terrible Thursday, declined the breakfast (an omelette with charcuterie and fruit) as well as a snack on the connecting flight (a crab salad, bread, cheese and a Lindt chocolates). arriving-at-fra Arriving in FRA: Frankfurt is as easy to navigate as a lab rat maze, smaller than Lichtenstein but not by much, with smoking bars that ventilate into the corridor and enough lighting for an elderly Handel to sketch out an oratorio.  It took a full hour, no joke, to walk from the arrival gate to the tram to the next terminal to walk through security to stroll to the departure gate.  Which was, perversely, locked behind glass doors.  I was fortunate to be able to get into the lounge and take a shower and be somewhat refreshed. over-post-brexit-uk Clouds over the UK. the-sun-still-shines-on-the-be The sun still shines on post-Brexit UK.  Sort of. the-02-from-a-distance That white blob on the river is the 02 arena where the tennis will be held.  The arrival was Terminal 2 at LHR.  Terminal 2; I didn’t know it even existed anymore.  Judging by the arrivals hall, neither did any other international carrier.  Even the Heathrow Express doesn’t connect--you have to traverse a km trek to 3.   The Air BnB flat is in Bloomsbury, or Holborn, around the corner from Holborn Hall on a mews.  Small, unmistakably compact, but well-appointed in a new-build from the A+D Design firm.   The first thing I did after unpacking was take a two hour nap. Sufficiently alert I decided I could add one extra theatrical entertainment to my breakneck pace and got a ticket to The Entertainer, which was closing the next night, and was Kenneth Branagh’s last performance with his theatre company. entertainer1 The cast should have been a draw.  Greta Scaachi, of White Mischief and The Player, among many others, had memorized her lines, and delivered them it seemed without error.  The niece was played by Daisy, the scullery maid from Downton Abbey.  If you remember her voice as being slight, undecided and high-pitched you’ll know a) that wasn’t an act and b) it translated poorly off a soundstage.  The heavyweight of the night was Gawn Grainger (who?), as the patriarch, a pre-Norman Lear UK 1950s Archie Bunker; but one strong pillar can’t buttress the whole she-bang.  Branagh, probably a tad concerned about comparisons with Olivier who as the original lead more or less defined the role (sorry Michael Gambon), played it alternately like Jude Law and Hugh Grant, was nevertheless charismatic in the consummate actorly style.  Still, start to finish, a lot of 33 and a third and not enough 78 rpm. [caption id="attachment_4765" align="aligncenter" width="1600"]THE ENTERTAINER, , The Garrick Theatre, London, 2016, credit: Johan Persson THE ENTERTAINER, , The Garrick Theatre, London, 2016, credit: Johan Persson[/caption] The Guardian drew a comparison with Arnold Wesker’s revival of Roots at the Donmar in 2013.  I just happened to be in London then and just happened to see it and, yes, the Wesker remount presented a grim, stark, and penetrating view of mid-20th century UK whereas Osborne’s play seemed a little forced and theatrical (in a bad way, not an ironic or satirical or sharply observant way).  Branagh did tap dance though.  Believably.  Who knew? secrets Even if the arts disappoints, there are plenty of diversions in my local(!)