Thursday, 26 March 2015

Blowing bubbles

I have a reputation for being a bit of a rottweiler...and it's not always meant in a positive way..but just occasionally there's no other way to get something sorted.  BT decided to replace the telegraph pole outside our house last fact the work itself is done by Openreach...which BT maintains is a separate business, even though it is all part of BT Group.  They did the work quickly, but left us with no working telephone line.  When I rang I was told that it would take up to six days to repair...and they wouldn't accept that this was different to a normal fault...this was a case when they had done the breaking.  E-mails and phone calls made no difference.  Openreach wouldn't deal with me because BT is their customer, not me.  And BT was sticking to its six day rule.  Eventually at 3.30 on Monday I emailed BT's chairman.  I'd had a call back by 5.00 pm, and the line was fixed by two monkeys climbing up the pole at 10.30pm.  So two lessons - one an economic one: Openreach is the monopoly supplier and behaves as all monopolies do - badly; the second one is - always go to the top to lodge your complaint...

There's a bit of a scandal in the neighbourhood.  One of the wives has run off with another man, and instantly what was seen as one of the most secure marriages around has become the focus of discussion, debate and idle gossip.  I think it is such a shock, not because of the individuals involved, but because where we live could be described as one of the last outposts of traditional English society.  People have gone to school, then college, spent the next 30 years commuting to the office, waved off by their wives who then go about their charity duties, until hubby returns home, dinner is prepared.  And so on until everyone retires. And then dies.  Children have been born, brought up and educated before they too join the same conveyor belt.  On the surface all is well and good...happy marriages, nice houses, beautifully furnished, three holidays a year and shiny cars parked in the drive.  But beneath I have always suspected things are rather more torrid.  This recent split proves it, and it has been interesting to observe the reactions from both men and women.  No doubt the dust will settle, and life will continue.  My fascination is partly because I'm relatively new to this world...I joined the gang just six years ago, having come from a completely different environment where change was the only constant, so I'm more of a shrug my shoulders and move on sort of person...except that stability and tradition has enormous appeal.

We've been in a cultural desert recently - a school production of Les Mis in which elder Muffin was one of the street urchins was brilliantly done...but the musical itself is one that I don't care for.  At all.
And that's it.  I think we've become hermits.  The only TV programme we've watched is 'Home for Dinner' -  a documentary series about home life and the kitchen from the 1950s onwards.  It's great fun to see how our eating habits have changed, and indeed the role of men and women at home has been transformed.  The main point of interest for me though has been that the family featured is the Robshaws from Walthamstow.  I was at school with the head of the household Brandon Robshaw, so it's interesting to see him many years later; I'm told that his school friend Gary Lancet will appear in one of the episodes, so that's something to look forward to.

And apart from that, I've been just working away and cycling like I've never cycled before.  1200km this year so far.  Thank heavens I'm away skiing next week, so will be able to relax a bit....

Monday, 16 March 2015

Widescreen entertainment

Over the last few decades there has been a terrible concentration of wealth.  The rich have got richer, and the rest have pretty much stayed where they are (down at heel). In an open democratic society I find that quite a country where a sense of fair play still underpins our way of life, it staggers me that fairness and fair play now seems only to apply to anyone other than me, me, me.  We were reading the Sunday Times yesterday, and what is very apparent is that there are half a dozen journalists that completely dominate the pages - AA Gill, Giles Coren, Jeremy Clarkson and the others.  They seem to be given carte blanche to write about anything and everything.  What that means is that other equally (in fact probably more) talented writers are excluded.  The concentration in writers is one facet of the concentration of wealth.  This is an example of how the culture of celebrity is destroying our green and pleasant land...with a small elite dominating culturally, economically, socially and politically.  No wonder I finished the weekend so depressed.

Friday night started the weekend on a high note...we went to see Man and Superman with friends.  This play contains 57,000 words (evidently - I didn't count them) and lasts for three and a half hours.  That's normally a recipe for fidgety bum syndrome, but thanks to a truly towering performance by Ralph Fiennes, we were transfixed.  I've always enjoyed his performances...although I wasn't convinced by The English Patient...and particularly liked Coriolanus last year (the year before?), but this was in a different league.  The pace was perfect, and he was so relaxed and so true to the part, that it never once felt like an acted performance. I was so enthused, I wanted to give a standing ovation...but it's not done at The National, where middle-aged, middle-class white English people would regard that as quite vulgar.

And a round of applause too for the NHS.  A couple of weeks ago I had to have the sort of check up that only middle-aged men get.  I really wasn't looking forward to being starved for nigh-on two days, but surprisingly  it wasn't quite the hardship that I expected.  As for the mixture they gave me to clear out my tasted horrible, but certainly did the job.  Throughout the night and following day.  But what truly impressed was the hospital.  Whipps Cross is so not fit for purpose as the modern saying goes these days with buildings spread higldy-piggledy across a large site that has grown and grown in a seemingly random fashion since early Victorian times.  Ironically, it's just been placed in 'special measure' for its culture of bullying and harassment, and lack of patient care.  But the department I went into was well staffed by incredibly sympathetic and supportive nurses who were also incredibly efficient.  Nigel Farrage may be disappointed to know that they came from all corners of the globe, but they should be highly praised for their efforts.  Anyway, I arrived, was sedated and then wheeled into the modern, clean 'operating theatre' where I was conscious enough to watch the large screen TV displaying various parts of my innards.  Lucky me.  And lucky me as all was well and I've been given a clean bill of health...

Pleased also to report that I've already cycled over 1000km this year, so getting well trained for my ride to Paris in a couple of months...

Thursday, 12 March 2015

One out, all out

Sad to see Terry Pratchet go...he was a wonderfully imaginative man, and alzheimers is a nasty, long road to reach a grave.  Awareness of alzheimers and other debilitating age-related mental illnesses has reached anew high, and I read the other day that doctors are being overwhelmed by middle-aged people worried that they are succumbing.  It appears many simply don't realise how forgetful we all are at any age, and we all get a little bit more so with each passing year.  That won't stop me remaining paranoid everytime I misplace my keys or can't remember someone's name.

Before I forget, I just want to write down that my three favourite sounds in the whole world wide are:
  • Seagulls
  • Church bells (especially those in the German or Austrian Alps)
  • The sound a two-stroke scooter makes of an evening in a distant street

Can't think why, but all those make my stomach jump (in a good way) every time I hear them.  Clearly it jumps a lot when we're in Brighton, or when skiing in Kitzbuhel.  I wonder if other people are moved quite so much by such simple sounds?

You may remember that we're having building work done at home.  That has been going on since October and has caused much misery as these things do.  We've been without any form of cooking facilities, save for a kettle and a microwave, for about three weeks now.  It's no fun.  So invitations for dinner (and breakfast and lunch) will be gratefully accepted.  Microwave recipes will not be cordially received.  At some stage I will properly blog about it...well it'll probably just be a picture story, but that will have to wait at least a week when the windows are due to be installed. I bet you can't wait.

In contrast to some of the high-brow theatrical nonsense we go to, yesterday we went to see Made In Dagenham.  It was entirely my choice, although I don't think The Cat's Mother was anti.

We had both enjoyed the film which managed to turn a significant piece of social history into something that was eminently watchable, amusing and indeed educational.  Although the musical has been reasonably well reviewed, neither of us had particularly high expectations, but we were confounded.  We absolutely loved it.  A great story (we knew that already), a remarkable set, some fabulous performances including Gemma Arterton as the main protagonist, Rita O'Grady, and Mark Hadfield as Harold Wilson and some truly terrific songs throughout.  We had a wonderful night out.  There were only to tragedies really.  One, the theatre was half-empty, and two, the whole thing is closing on April 11th.  I know I say it too often but if you do get half a chance, grab this whilst you is a great night out and you will have a ball.  I promise.  The Cat's Mother is planning to get a group of friends together to see it later this month when I'm away.  It's that good.

Monday, 9 March 2015

This Charman man

After my last celeb fest, I should probably just STFU.  But I can't.

We were very lucky that for the first time in heaven only knows how long, The Boy and The Cat were re-united under the one roof for 24 hours.

They had returned because we were attending a gala at the National Theatre.  Effectively it's the end of Sir Nick Hytner's reign there, so it was bound to be a big thing.  We had a table for ten...and were teased that we would be joined by two special guests.  We gathered for drinks in one part of the theatre complex, and then paraded (yep really) through a tunnel of fire to where we were to dine.  I've never been papped before.  I'd like to tell you who were the 17 celebrities we counted (there were many more) but my memory is not what it should be...I'll include Olivia Coleman, and the vicar from Broadchurch, Sir Ian McKellan, Phil Daniels and erm, err, erm, err....

We were joined at our table by Philip Glennister (Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars) which pleased the girls and the boys.  A consummate professional, he gamely kept chatting all night.  My sympathy to him as I'm not sure it was his bag.  I was sat next to our other guest.  Matt Charman.  You don't know that name?  Well nor should you...he is a screenwriter, and so not a star as such.  But if you're going to the cinema this weekend to see Suite Francaise, pay close attention to the credits...he did indeed write it.  he has an ITV series coming up, and later this year a new film with Spielberg.  Yes that Spielberg.  He's going places.  More importantly he was utterly charming.  Absolutely attentive, fully engaged, and you got the feeling genuinely interested in us.  I can't think he really was, except he did say that he spends every conversation wondering whether that may be the spark for a new story, a new script.  Genuinely one of the nicest people I've ever met.

At the end of the evening, we headed back to our hotel, where Kevin Spacey was holding a party to celebrate his return to the Old Vic.  I'd like to say we saw or spoke to the man, but we didn't.  But we did have a great view from our room

Friday, 27 February 2015

Nobody likes a show off

If I wasn't writing this myself, I probably wouldn't believe it.  Especially as I know more about me than you do.

This week I have sipped cocktails and ate canapes with the French ambassador.  There may have even been some mild flirtation (her not me)

I have discussed Shakespeare, Sondheim and Bennett with the actor Jamie Parker

I have dined with Andrew Parker, Head of MI5 (no relationship as far as I'm aware with Jamie) and had breakfast and dinner with Professor Graham Zellick President of The Valuation Tribunal for England and a judge of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (look it up...)

But best of all I had lunch with my brother, and renewed my friendship with Auntie Gwen over a pint

That's a good week indeed

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

2015 and all that

At any level 2015 has been a shitty year...and I haven't told a word of it so far.  And nor will I.  But I am reveling in my own self-pity.

Having thought that I'd kissed goodbye to some history at the beginning of the year, it came back and has bitten in a very, very painful way.  It will take at least until June to resolve, and even then a nasty taste will be left that will be difficult to forget.

I'm in need of Auntie Gwen's expertise, as things up North are not what they should be.

And if I wanted to, I could fill this post and a million others with a list of woes and misery.

But enough, at least I'm not living in fear of being burnt alive or decapitated in the middle east, or Nigeria, nor am I seeing my country torn apart as the Ukrainians are.  Everything in perspective.

At the weekend it was Valentine's Day, so you can imagine we had a romantic evening out at our favourite restaurant followed by a night at the theatre.  Well imagine away.  You couldn't be further from the truth.  We usually spend Valentine's Day in Brighton, and so we made plans for this year.  Cards and romantic gifts were exchanged in the morning before the day got going.  We did indeed spend Saturday and Sunday that's good.  However, we traveled the Royal Family.  The Cat's Mother drove down, having worked out how to pay the new charge at the Dartford Crossing, to arrive at a freezing cold flat (I'd forgotten to put the heating on and she doesn't know how to put it's a remote system on the mobile phone).  As she wasn't sure when I would arrive, she sat there twiddling her fingers...and TCM is not good when she's doing nothing.  Me?  I decided (encouraged by TCM) to cycle.  It's a mere 135km, and it seemed sensible to follow the National Cycling Routes 21 and 20.  I should have checked the Sustrans web site before I set off, because once out of London I quickly found myself on muddy tracks that would defeat even the most determined Russian tank in Ukraine.  Much time was spent yomping up (very steep) hill and down dale with a road bike on my back.  To rub salt into the would Google kept sending me the wrong was more lost than I was, and at one stage I ended up in some sort of valley that had clearly not seen a living creature since the dinosaurs roamed there.  I can't tell you how angry I became, and if you hear the birds in your garden are no longer singing, but instead using the foulest of foul language, that's my fault.  Eventually the guiding technology of my mobile was switched off, I followed my nose and didn't get lost once.  I eventually arrived in Brighton at about 7.00pm ready for a romantic meal at home a deux. 

It was lovely.  Well I enjoyed it.  But I think TCM deserves better next year...

Sunday evening was spent mostly washing my extraordinarily filthy cycling gear and the bike all of which were caked in mud....I've cancelled my monthly donation to Sustrans given how ridiculous and cavalier I thought there approach was to route planning and development...

Wednesday, 11 February 2015


You learn something new everyday whatever your age I believe.  And I'm delighted that's the case.  There are some things you should know when you're young, but some how they manage to go undetected.  I've learnt two things recently that I should have known years and years ago.  Whilst watching the absolutely superb Sound of Song programme presented by Neil Brand I discovered that Al Jolson was white.  I suppose I should have known, but his is not my sort of music, and he's just only ever been peripherally on my radar...and in the back of my head is a picture of a what I now know is a white man blacked up.  Oh dear.  Equally I thought Harper Lee was a male, not a female until all the news came out this week that she is to publish a text that she put aside to concentrate on To Kill a Mockingbird.  In this case, it was not just straight ignorance but the muddle of memory.  I realise that I'd managed to muddle To Kill a Mockingbird with Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger...and hence confuse the sex of the author.  Is that ignorance, forgetfulness, age or a combination of both.  Either way, I'll not be going on Mastermind!

One of the things we've been to see this year was Treasure Island...have I mentioned this?  We saw it at the National, and I snoozed through most of it because it was pants.  What annoyed me most was that Jim Hawkins was a girl.  No reason for the sex change, and the foolishness of that decision was probably reflected in one line by Cap'n Jack Sparrow (not really it was Captain Flint) who asked whether she was a boy or a girl, and the retort being "Does it matter?"  Well yes, it does matter.  If the original text had said Jane Hawkins, then she would have a girl.  In fact Jim's a boy..always has been, always will be.  I feel the same about some other nonsense that's doing the rounds on the internet at the moment...the idea of making Spiderman black.  Why?  What's the point?  he's always been white (not that his colour ever seemed to matter in any of his adventures), so let's just leave some things as they are.  Change is not necessarily better, often it's worse and change for the sake of change is pointless.

Down in Brighton the other week we went to see Return to the Forbidden Planet...a sort of modern musical version of the Tempest set in space.  Complete and utter nonsense, but equally just absolute fun if you're in pantomime mode...which I was.  It's on tour so I suggest you grab it whilst you can.  As someone in our group said, it's like a school production...that's as maybe, but it doesn't stop it being fun.

Not quite so good was Into The Woods currently showing at the local Roxy.  It's a nice concept written by Stephen Sondheim, but the performances were erratic - James Cordon may well have been way out of his depth surprisingly enough, but it's nicely put together and a good way to spend a couple of hours.  But don't for one minute thinks it's a kids thing...yes it is based on fairy tales, but the whole thing is quite grown up.  And don't go and see it somewhere that you are surrounded by people chomping and chewing, rustling crisps and slurping drinks, checking their Facebook food, or just generally chatting.  Because that would ruin it.

Quite the worst thing I've seen at the cinema for a long while is Oscar nominated American Sniper. It is a typical American 'we won the war', goodies versus baddies (in this case described as savages) and the creation of a hero.  Tragically it missed a great opportunity to examine the morals and ethics of sniping killing, and any reflection of the broader elements of war in the middle east.  I can't believe it's been nominated, and can only imagine that if it wins anything it's because Americans can't resist turning themselves into saviours of the world.

By comparison, The Theory of Everything was a revelation.  I was dragged to the cinema kicking and screaming because I couldn't face the thought of a cinematic glamourisation of the Professor's life.  What I hadn't appreciated was that it was based on a book by his ex-wife.  And a remarkable film it is.  Treading a very delicate line very carefully...neither too glossy, nor too mawkish.  Of course, some of his failing (as a father in particular)  are glossed over, but overall it was a very moving film that sought to tell his story in a reasonable and balanced way.  Rightly BAFTAs have been picked up, and I hope there may be an Oscar too.

We also went to see Imitation Game, which was good, in that lovely British sort of way...of course it's a story of triumph, but ultimately despair.  It was well set, well shot and well acted.

At this time of year there are so many films to watch, so I know we won't get to see them all, thank heavens for HMV.

We went to see the second showing of Grimms Tales - Philip Pullman's take on the fairy tales we all grew up with.  This time it was being held in the Barge House next to the Thames, with a new set of tales, compared to the event in Shoreditch last year. The setting was fabulous with the whole building completely dressed, so the feeling of immersion was total.  The telling of the tales was similar to last time with actors retelling the story whilst acting it out (rather than it being a straight play). It was beautifully done...some of the tales such as the Frog Prince and Hansel and Gretel were known to us, some were not familiar.  Are fairy tales for kids?  I don't think so, there wasn't a single one at the event, and all the grown ups were entranced.

Tom Stoppard has been asking whether people are knowledgeable enough to see his latest play, The Hard Problem.  Evidently we do not have enough general knowledge to get the references in his plays, in contrast to when he wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  It's become such an issue that the BBC has a helpful quiz on its news site so you can check.  As for the play, well it's fine, it's not as clever or interesting as it should be and a plot twist or two can be seen from a mile away.  Perhaps I'm just not clever enough.  The quiz is here

On the DVD front we've watched the very excellent Nebraska...a film we wanted to see last year, but ran out of time.  Genuinely moving, and amusing at the same time.  It will reinforce every prejudice you have against mid-west America.  We also watched Now You See Me...a sort of magic mystery crime caper.  Great for an evening's entertainment, with Michael Caine excelling in his usual acting technique.  Wooden.  I don't hold it against him.  We have a pile of DVD's yet to be watched, so let's hope we may yet get snowed in this year!

I've finally given up on a novel I've been reading for seven months.  I've never done that before, but really Kate Mosse should know better.  A book that's over 700 pages long needs to have a very strong storyline to hold on to its reader, and this one just doesn't.  I may need to read something with a bit more substance.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Pedalling ambition

Did I mention that I'm cycling to Paris in May?  I could have done it for charity, but there's only so many times you can ask people for money, so I'm self-funding.  For the same price I swear I could stay at the George V in Paris...I enjoy my long distant rides, and it has been in my head for a while that Paris would be a good place to cycle to.  I looked at it last year, but couldn't quite decide which organised group to go with so procrastination ruled it out in the end.  There are three routes you can do. Via Newhaven on the South Coast, but as I've ridden to Brighton more than once and the route is very similar I didn't fancy it, although it's the shortest ride. Via Portsmouth is another, but I've plumped to go Via Dover.  It's quite a long way round, and the real downside is that there are hills in Kent at the end of our first day, which is the longest day.  But what would life be without a challenge or two.  The net result is that even though the weather has been hideous I've been cycling.  I've had a couple of sessions round the cycling track at the Olympic Park which I've enjoyed immensely as I can switch off, put the headphones in and just pedal without fear of getting splatted by an HGV.  I cycled up to the downs in Sussex, and I've been cycling into London, and I'm beginning to see an improvement  in my fitness levels.

Worst ride to date was last weekend.  We went down to Beckenham in south London/Kent to visit The Cat's Mother's brother The Conductor who is suffering from a detached retina (ouch, yuk!), and I thought I would take the opportunity to cycle home.  In a straight line it's about 21 miles...a nice work out.  We shoved the bike in the back of the little Toyota Yaris (affectionately known as Le Taxi Yarees) and set off.  It was freezing cold, it was wet and just plain grim.  But The Cat's Mother said, as she drove off after the visit, "You can't wimp out now".  So I got on and started pedalling.  As it was raining I couldn't get my phone out, so couldn't read the map.  And I didn't know where I was. I'd had nothing to eat since breakfast either. I ended up heading south-east, before turning north and then turning west before eventually in more familiar territory turning north.  I've never subscribed to the north vs south London rivalry, but let me just say south London is sh*t.  No cycle lanes, no signs pointing you in the right direction and every vehicle seems to want to knock you off...I guess they don't see too many cyclists there.  The rain got worse and worse, and I got colder, wetter and more miserable.  By the time I was 5 miles from home, I could no longer feel my feet or ankles. At all.  This meant that when I was pedalling up that final steep hill and trying to put pressure and effort into it, I couldn't feel what was happening.  Still I did make it.  I'd covered just over 45km (only the Brits can use both miles and kms and get away with it!).  But worse was to come as the blood slowly returned to feet and ankles.  The pain was absolutely brought back grim memories of standing on the rugby field at school just freezing, freezing, freezing.  The result was a dash to the cycle shop on Monday to get a pair of these:

Waterproof and warming overboots.  Cycling in the cold has been transformed..

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

A new era

One of the changes that was set in motion in August was the decision to sell The Boy's Mother's house in Finsbury Park.  When she died over a decade ago, the place lay empty for more than a year whilst the emotional turmoil that her death had caused settled.  Although it wasn't truly my responsibility, I decided to take charge, as things couldn't stay as they were.  With all the upset, it was too soon to sell the place, so it was rented out.  Since then there have been good tenants, and not so good tenants, but generally it worked well.  It was quite a drain in terms of the cost of maintenance, and the time needed to manage it, but there was a good rental income.  In truth I'd never much liked it as a house simply because it was always problematic....there were always repairs that needed doing, and nothing seemed to last as it should.  When it was first purchased it had been bedsits, and the quality of the conversion work was not fantastic, and there were recurring problems...leaks, cracks, electrical issues and so on.  But now that The Boy and his sister are into adulthood and want to go their own ways, it was the right time for it to be sold.

Of course the process wasn't entirely smooth - the English way of selling property seems designed to be as difficult and stressful as possible.  Everyone in the process seems fine with being difficult and unreasonable.  Again, I took control, and spent hours, days, weeks negotiating and managing the process.  An offer had come in pretty quickly, and exchange took place the weekend before Christmas, with completion on 5th January.

That was truly a moment for reflection for everyone.  I think The Boy had closed his mind to it...he was after all only 8 when he left there.  I hope at some stage he will put time aside to reflect on how his life changed and how that has affected him and will affect him in the future.  For his sister, who was a teenager at that time, there must have been many more memories, and I'm sure that her visit to empty the house of furniture must have been painful.  Even for me the memories of the place are still very vivid.  Some amazingly good, some truly awful.  The moment of sale was one that managed to be both a happy one, and a very sad one.  But it was the lifting of a burden, the closing of a door, and I think for everyone the opportunity to move onward.  The grieving process was complete.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

"Putin is no longer the right man to lead our country"

Now where did we leave it?

Did I mention how well the New Year started?  No?  Well it didn't really...the house was burgled.  Not too much taken (money, mobile phone, credit cards...not mine - The Cat's Mother's), but that's never the point.  As it happens I'd left the day before to go and see The Boy in Austria, so The Cat's Mother was Home Alone, and left deeply unsettled particularly as the point of entry wasn't immediately obvious.  Having had a look at it now, you can't help but be impressed with the ingenuity of how they got in, and wonder how much money they could be earning if they put that to good use.

Over in Austria, The Boy took me skiing every day which was nice.  He managed to dine with me one evening, and I don't begrudge him spending the evenings with his ski buddies.  For January it was incredibly fact it wouldn't have been a hardship to have been skiing in a T-shirt such was the temperature on the last day.  I managed to drag him away and ensure he returned safely to Edinburgh, so another academic term has begun for him.

My last evening in Kitzbuhel was spent in conversation with a Member of the Russian Parliament, which was probably one of the most entertaining discussions I've had for years.  Essentially he said that the collapse in oil prices will within a couple of years cause political unrest, and that will cause problems for the rest of Europe - "You know how the Russians negotiate - we win, you lose!", Crimea was not something he approved of, although he didn't disagree with me when I pointed our that it had been part of Russia until 1954 and was only given to Ukraine when there was no thought of the possibility of the end of the Soviet Union.  Finally, he felt that Putin was no longer the right man....not something that would be repeated in Moscow I thought.

Of course whilst I was away, the terrible events in Paris unfolded.  Ultimately whilst I feel very sorry for the people who died, I feel much more sorrow for their families who have to face the future with the terrible burden of knowing how, when and why their loved ones died.  Their pain will never fade.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The unexpected virtue of ignorance*

Happy New Year everyone.

Having totted up our list of 'stuff wot we dun', we realised that we'd missed a few...and that may suggest we do too much, but we can resist everything except temptation.  In Brighton for the new year, we went to a performance of One Man Two Guvnors...we'd seen this twice before, but the Muffins hadn't.  It was a treat for them and indeed for us as it still makes us laugh as much as it did the first time we saw it.  New Year's Eve saw us at a concert of Viennese music by the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, which was a nod to our last new year spent in was very civilised and absolutely delightful, although in an auditorium of several hundred, we did lower the average age by half!  Fireworks were lit on the beach and we danced the New Year in...lovely.

January is always a busy month for films, and the first one we've seen is Birdman...which is an astounding and outstanding film about a fading actor who's determination to put on his own play is completely undermining his self-belief.  It is comic, dramatic and sad in turns, and there's not a single actor that doesn't excel...its very quirky, you won't have seen anything like it before nor will you again...

I've got back on my cycle properly came down with us to Brighton, so I was able to do two rides up to the Downs.  I'd done one ride at the road track at the Olympic Velodrome before Christmas and another the fitness levels are once more on the rise.

The Boy has been in Kitzbuhel again, teaching now that the snow has arrived.  He's no doubt had a great time again, but communications are not what they could or should be as his phone is also not quite what it should be.  Sigh.  anyway, I am off to see him later this week for a few days

Also sigh...I've decided to get a new car.  Very exciting.  I've surprised myself by going for another Jeep...I've never bought the same car before, but I love the one I've got, and am only replacing it because I feel I should before it gets too's a first world thing isn't it?  Anyway, amazingly I have to wait almost nine months for it to arrive...they make them to order, and don't make them all the time.  It will truly be my new baby.

* that's the alternative title for Birdman

Friday, 26 December 2014

2014 and all that

So nearly at an end of another year.  To paraphrase a phrase known to was the best of years, it was the worst.  Obviously the blog is not what it used to be...which saddens me..perhaps it had become just a habit, perhaps I've been otherwise focused...I'm not sure.  Who know what 2015 will bring...

Anyway, it's often said that The Cat's Mother and I are always out and about, so it seemed fun to write down what we've been up to (mostly cultural)....what can I say...aren't we very, very, very lucky indeed:


Secret Life of Mitty - the only Ben Stiller film I've ever enjoyed.  Great fun

Inside Llwellyn Davies - Brilliant.  Especially if you understand about the cat

Who Framed Roger Rabbit - the original in a Secret Cinema event.  Jessica Rabbit.  Jessica Rabbit

The Book Thief - not liked by the critics...we did though

Grand Hotel Budapest - mad and brilliant

Millers Crossing - More Secret Cinema, more fun in the round

The Double - certainly appealed to me very much if not the rest of us who went to see it.  Surreal

Calvary - vies with Inside Llwellyn Davies for my film of the year.  Devastating

The Trip - yes we saw it at the cinema with a Q&A with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, as well as on TV; very well done...not as good as the first series

Rio2 - I didn't see this.  I don't think I missed anything

20,000 Days - Nick Cave talks us through his life.  Worth it to see Kylie driving along Brighton sea front.  We celebrated The Cat's Mother's 20,000 birthday too this year

Box Trolls - great animated fun

Rush - motoring racing turned into a great film about James Hunt...The Boy and I loved it

Imitation Game - Benedict does what Benedict does very well.  Surprisingly good, very British

Paddington - Brilliant.  Really.  Loved it

The Hermitage - a film guide to St Petersberg's most famous Museum.  Strangely compelling and enjoyable


Emile and The Detectives - kids stuff; I snoozed through most of it.  But it's very popular

The Duchess of Malfi - a Jacobean drama in a candlelit Jacobean theatre.  What's not to like?

August Osage County - no, not the film, but The Cat's production in Exeter.  We travelled through floods to get there, and would do again

Coriolanus - a phenomenal production at the Donmar; we watched it live stream

King Lear - I was in a minority not liking this, even if it had Simon Russel Beale in

Taste of Honey - 1950's England revisited...and very well done indeed

Life of Mozart - the great man's life revisited at the Wannamaker - well done, but not really my thing

Knights of the Burning Pestle -  riotous fun.  Unbelievably written five hundred years ago.  Fab

Oh what a lovely war - great to see at the original theatre (Streatham Playhouse).  Sadly it hasn't survived the passage of time

1984 - at the Almeida.  The critics loved it; we thought it mediocre

Another Country - you can't keep a great play down.  Very, very well done

Grimm Tales - immersive theatre in the Shoreditch Town Hall basement...what a wonderful thing this was

Ellen Terry - I didn't see this, so can't say one way or another

Sonnet walk - Shakespearean actors performing sonnets around the streets of London; sadly I missed this year's one, but loved it last year

Hamlet - at The Globe.  Blood, guts, ghosts, Yorrick.  Perhaps not the best

Testament of Mary - another one The Cat's Mother saw and I didn't.  Sad to have missed it

Billy Eliot - amazingly I hadn't seen it before.  Glad to have ticked the list, but it's lost the sparkle

Onorous - classical Greek story in rhythmic pidgin English.  Much, much more enjoyable than we expected.  A highlight

Benvenuto Cellini - at the ENO.  Some spectacular moments, just not enough of them

Cabaret - one seen by The Cat's Mother in New York...if it was as good as the version we saw last year, it was brilliant

Titus Andronicus...more blood and guts than you can imagine in my favourite piece of Shakespeare

Norman Conquests - the Cat's second outing, this time in Camden; one play three different perspectives...a triumph

Medea - the critics raved, the audience raved, I quite liked it

Annie Get Your Gun...went to prove that Jason Donnovan could sing and act.  We were wrong

Shakespeare in Love...everyone else had seen the film, this was my first introduction and I loved it...but didn't enjoy the film as much when I watched it on DVD afterwards

The Boy Who Climbed Out of His Face - an immersive experience in shipping containers.  Not surprisingly the household was split.  I had a fab night.

39 Steps...I was taking The Boy to Edinburgh, so good job I'd seen this and enjoyed it before

Once - oh yes.  Surprised I loved this

Streetcar Named Desire - a towering piece of theatre, although not quite as I remembered it from O Levels

Bally Turk...lots of shouting and a programme that said you didn't need to understand it to enjoy it.  I did enjoy it, not sure I enjoyed it

'Tis pity she's a whore - more Jacobean theatre involving incest and death. Great performance

Alice in Wonderland - The Royal Ballet performing one of the greatest productions.  Second time we've seen it, and there's still nothing better at the RoH

Charles III - we'd both wanted to see this for ages, so it was a shame some of this was risible, some of it was obvious and we should have left at half time

Monty Python - most of the old team, still making everyone laugh, although a bit more slowly and nothing that's cutting edge (not surprisingly)


Easystar All Stars - everything I was hoping for from the 25th Anniversary show of reggae Dark Side of the Moon

Rufus Wainright - I'm not a fan, but I strongly suggest you search YouTube for the clip of him singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Sensational

Mari Wilson - a small intimate venue, Crazy Coqs, was ideal for this lovely evening

Black Rivers - Two-thirds of Doves.  I so wanted to like this, but in truth it wasn't as good as it should have been...back to the rehearsal studio please

Temper Trap - in my eyes they can do nothing wrong.  We didn't agree about that

Bastille - actually we preferred the support and bought her CD.  Again I had a bug so was not having a great time really

James and Starsailor - a concert that truly restored my faith in concerts.  James were phenomenal....the best concert I've been to for years from a band that I hardly knew.  They understood how to entertain and delivered with aplomb


John Richardson - he was very funny indeed.  And I don't like stand up comedy!

Julian Clary - music or comedy...well both really at the Crazy Coqs again.  Another highlight


Henry Moore - just up the road from us is Henry Moore's old home estate, and we headed there because there was an exhibition on contemporary artists - I needed some pictures for my photo course and got them.

History of Germany - at the British Museum.  Fantastic, truly much to see and learn.  Loved it

The art of the brick.  Love Lego.  But it's not art.  No matter how many times the artist told us it is

Ansel Keifer - an exhibition that I was dragged along to kicking and screaming, but left feeling that I'd had a perfect couple of hours

Turner at The Tate - you've seen one, you've seen them all...well not quite, but perhaps I have no culture

Other stuff

Palace to palace cycle ride - a lovely day out with good early start, stags in Richmond Park and beautiful scenery along the Thames

Drumming at Lewes Bonfire celebrations...five miles banging on a drum fairly rhythmically surrounded by burning barrels, flaming torches and loud bangers.  For me the achievement of a long-held ambition.  So pleased to have done it

Sandringham on the Orient Express...another of The Cat's Mother's day trips.  A carriage of Essex girls on a posh train.  Would have loved to have been a fly on the wall

Ghostbus - a spooky tour of London that scared the living daylights out of Muffin minor...I should have gone on to a 100km cycle ride, but a bug that would subsequently last for 2 months kept me low

Tower of London Poppies - I planted, I picked, and we visited.  A remarkable and remarkably moving event

Sacred Monsters - Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem giving a phenomenal performance at Sadlers Wells

Two book readings/ with the irascible Lynn Barber and the other with the talented Tony Parsons

I might also include my weekend of bobsleighing with Team GB

And I might even include getting a diploma in Photography

Charity run round the Olympic Park counts for something too

There are a few things just plain forgotten...but can you blame me?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Too many yellow people

Yes, we're back on that UKIP theme again...we'll when you're on a roll it's hard to let go isn't it?  Good to see their General Secretary is in the news today for all the wrong reasons.

Anyway, back to those yellow people.  My brother has been in and out of hospital a bit too often for my liking (and to be honest his too probably).  Firstly a day trip to Papworth to sort out continuing heart issues...another stent seems to have sorted that out.  But at the same time they substantially upped his medication. So no wonder when he was in writhing agony a couple of days later, and rushed to Addenbrooks, the probable diagnosis was liver failure due to an overdose of prescription drugs.  He was popped into the ward where everyone with liver problems are being treated...and therefore, of course, they're all yellow.  It's an odd sight.  As it turns out, it was 'simply' his appendix.  Which he now doesn't have.  It's a real relief that it was nothing worse...especially for him, but truth be told the stress isn't too good for his mother or brother either.

Friday, 5 December 2014

More bloody immigrants

A couple of weeks ago I posted a heavily ironic piece called Bloody Immigrants.  I thought it was witty, amusing and clever.  Just like me.  I am sure you agree.  Anyway, a strange thing happened a couple of days later.  UKIP started following  me...digitally, not as in stalking me.  Clearly their social media manager cannot read beyond a headline. 

So I take from that I can say pretty much anything I like about the pig-ignorant right-wing thinking and racism that permeates that organisation so long as I say it in para 2 or beyond.  As it happens, I know someone who used to work with Nigel Farrage in the City, making his fortune by exploiting the weak and poor.  He has regaled me with stories of Nigel's drinking habits.  Some might call it a drinking problem.  I don't know if he still drinks himself silly on a regular basis, but I can think of at least one other politician who had a drink problem.  That was George Bush.  Look where he took us.

Anyway, I wish we'd taken on the Polish builders who bid for the work at our house.  The English one we took on has demonstrated that he cannot organise himself out of a paper bag, but has an endless capacity for bullshit.  Two months into the project, and we're a month behind a very detailed schedule.  Given that it's a six month project it looks like it will in fact be a nine month build.