Tuesday, 26 January 2016

That's entertainment

A while ago, The Cat's Mother and I started talking about going to see bands for no better reason that the next time they play may be their last.  It was one of the reasons we went to see Fleetwood Mac last year.  Another one of those bands were The Eagles who we saw about 15 months ago.  They were fabulous...performance perfect at the O2, albeit in a very corporate environment, with announcements that people should refrain from taking pictures or videos...lesser bands might have suggested that this was so the audience wouldn't miss the experience because their face was presses up against a mobile phone screen...but here you couldn't help but feel the heavy hands of the copyright lawyers pressing down.  Anyway, as I said it was a great concert to go to...and whilst we can pat ourselves on the back for getting to see The Eagles then, I'd have preferred it if Glenn Frey hadn't died.  I had a lively discussion just after the concert with the Rock Critic who I share an office with and who had thought the concert was rubbish because of the 'corporate feel'...I'm not sure how he feels now. 

Funnily enough he and I had a conversation about David Bowie a couple of weeks ago - he'd published some details about the new album ahead of time, not realising the information had been given 'off the record' and as a result he was in deep trouble with the record company...so all in all Mr Bowie's death was poorly timed for our Rock Critic. 

We didn't even think about David Bowie as someone to go and see (not that he was touring) because he hadn't occurred to us that he should be on our list.  I guess it was the shock that someone in what appeared to be their prime was in fact fully aware they were dying.  I was never a fan, but can certainly appreciate his incredible talents, and his position as a cultural icon.

As for Lemmy...well a great talent...The Boy and I saw him supporting the Foo Fighters in Hyde Park a few years ago.  He was most apologetic for playing anything other than Ace of Spades, and quite endearing for that.

So that's my links with deceases rock stars...we all feel a need to do that these days don't we?

We've been to plenty of entertainments over the last few weeks...you wouldn't expect anything else, would you?

Last night 'As You Like It' at the National, which is as good a performance as you'll ever see...in fact better.  The production was dazzling, the performances unimpeachable.  Best of all the words were spoken without that usual shoutiness that many actors feel the need to do when they're playing Shakepeare.

On Saturday we went to see The Hangmen.  It contains the most shocking scene I have ever witnessed in a theatre...the whole audience gasped as a man was hanged in front of them.  It is true too say that good theatre is unrivalled, and this was beyond good.  I'm hopeless with names, but it's written by the same guy that wrote In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, and manages the same galloways (sic) humour...you catch yourself laughing when in fact you should be shocked and horrified.  Fantastic set and absolutely fabulous.

Did I mention we went to see Guys and Dolls...that old musical.  Again, an absolute treat...with real actors putting in terrific performances...and still singing brilliantly.  I pick out Jamie Parker as my favourite, although there were plenty to choose from.  A musical with substance and style.

Our biggest disappointment has been Les Liaisons Dangereuse, which had Dominic West playing what appeared to be a plummy Englishman rather a louche, conniving, venal Frenchman.  Anyway we hated it.  The Cat's Mother wanted to leave at half time...I insisted on staying, as much as anything to satisfy my curiosity.  Everyone seemed to be stumbling over their words...I guess they must have known them, so it must have been a Directorial thing...but really it was awful.

We had a thoroughly entertaining evening with Sir Anthony Sher talking about his life and work.  I had no idea he was South Africa.  I won't hold that against him...he seemed a lovely fellow, very interesting...and with a talent for drawing as well.  He was happy to chat afterwards which was nice.

Rocky Horror?  The New Year's treat in Brighton.  What can you say really?  It's a pantomime, and the production values reflected that...it was delightful fun, but rubbish at the same time.  I enjoyed it a lot more than The Cat's Mother.

I nearly forgot, we also saw a play called Harliquinade, starring and Directed by Kenneth Brannagh.  We came out slightly lost for words.  You couldn't criticise the production values, or the performances.  But.  Yes, but...the play itself should have stayed back in the 1950s when it was written and set.  Talk about of its time, it certainly was.  Poor choice on our part, but let's not deny Mr Brannagh's comic timing...he was very good indeed.

I went to a talk by Iain Sinclair who goes for very long walks and then writes books about them.  This one was about walking round the London Overground Line (best known by Londoners as the Ginger Line).  It was held at the London Transport Museum, and I expected it to be a talk attended by trainspotters alone.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  What I'd failed to take into account is that he writes quite insightfully about the social impact of the line, so it was full of people who care about society, and how political and commercial decisions impact on the general populace.  It was right up my street, even if I didn't agree with him on all points...best of all though he writes in a very careful, clever almost lyrical way, and speaks in the same way.  An unexpectedly delightful evening.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

December and January

Well I guess a lot's happened, aand fortunately in some cases not happened in the last one month and five days.

On the serious front The Cat's Mother's Mother has been in hospital for a serious operation from which she is happily recovering quickly.  It was planned and she and Mr Cat's Mother's Mother had known it was coming for a couple of months, but sensibly told us only on Boxing Day.  That was thoughtful as it meant that the Christmas celebrations had gone ahead without any worries.  Speaking of which Christmas was terrific...a large gathering at home, and the new kitchen proved its value as we cooked turkey and all the trimmings and tidied away with no problems.

Out in Cyprus, Grandad in Cyprus has been facing the challenges of getting the Cypriot version of the NHS to deal with what has turned out to be a serious heart issue.  Hopefully he will be operated on in the next two-three weeks, but I suspect it may take a little more pushing.  Apart from the worry that this sort of thing brings (for everyone involved, let alone the patient), there is the added dimension of distance...hard to know when to drop everything and travel there when there is immense uncertainty over timing.  It has left my brother and I more worried than ever....we cannot simply go there, and find that in fact it would be more sensible to have delayed.  But on the other hand, that doesn't stop us fretting.  Fortunately we can fret together over the phone.

The Boy's nanny (i.e. the lovely lady who looked after him when he was younger) is suffering from cancer, but putting a brave face on it.  She's not old at all, and has a heart of gold, so it seems completely unfair.  We popped over to see her just before Christmas and hopefully cheered her along.

On lighter notes, the Madonna concert we saw was the weakest of theree gigs we did in December.  best was the Mumfords, and a close second was the Stereophonics.  Both were fun, exciting, musical, involving and done with passion.  Both rekindled my interest in their music, which I guess is the whole idea.

Happily The Boy was home for Christmas, for the first time in three years.  He arrived home from Edinburgh on the 17th, flew off to Norway on the 18th, before returning again on the 23rd to help eith the Christmas preparations.  It was an absolute delight to have both him and The Cat home together, and the success of Christmas was in no small part due to their presence. Of course, he didn't stay long...shipping off to Kitzbuhel on the 27th to resume his part-time ski-instructing.  There is such a big secret about his time in Kitzbuhel this year that I can't tell, other than to say that he must be unbelievably well thought of by his employers to have been asked to do what he did.  Proud Dad is a massive, massive, massive understatement.

And into the New Year...2016 looks like being an exciting year on the work front, a happy year on the home front and a challenging one on the health front.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Close encounters with Madonna

I had a little groan during Mr Osborne's autumn statement when he said that Buy-to-Let landlords would have to pay extra stamp duty.  Not that I'm planning to buy somewhere else, but it was final recognition that people like me have done well out of rising property prices in the last couple of decades, and it's time to pay the piper.  I don't begrudge him the money that he is already collecting having reduced the tax benefits for rental income.  However, the next day when I read the detail I realised that the corporate fascists that David and George are, have really started turning the screws.  Many 'buy-to-let' landlords have become so because either they have seen the value of their pension pot pissed away by feckless financiers so have turned to property as a safer haven, or because two single people who own property have decided to let one when they decide to co-habit, rather than sell it.  Many, therefore, are not avaricious landlords determined to screw every last penny out of tenants....just people trying to make an honest living.  BUT if you read the detail of Georgie Porgy's proposed changes, the increase in stamp duty will ONLY apply to small-time private landlords.  Corporates with fifteen or more properties are exempt.  Yes, the perfect example of how the Tories are continuing to screw the lower orders for the benefit of their corporate buddies.

Christmas has arrived chez nous, and all the decorations have gone up.  For The Cat's Mother this is a major military operation which takes several days.  For me it's about getting my head down and avoiding any flack for not pulling my weight.  A small disaster (oh first world problems!) was that  we could only get a 9' tree and not our usual 10 footer...the new kitchen has been decorated for the first time which is really quite exciting...modern kitchen, minimalist approach!  Outside (which sadly I haven't been able to photograph) looks like Blackpool Illuminations...not that we're trying to out do everyone else in the street, but simply because we acquired an extra set that gave us loads of spares...and it would be a shame for them to miss out on their month of glory!

I sent a note to Matt Charman, the write of 'Bridge of Spies', as he'd given me his e-mail address a year or so ago, to congratulate him.  He was kind enough to reply...and even repeat his request to join us for Christmas and our antics...The Cat always writes a play for us all to perform.  What a lovely fellow indeed!  I hope he goes from strength to strength.

Last week we saw Madonna at the O2.  She's certainly a showgirl and the performance was fabulous.  She was fine, but her support dancers and acrobats were amazing.  We'd been lucky enough to get half-price tickets in one of the corporate boxes...not quite sure how that all worked, but it meant we were pretty much on top of her (no jokes please about how that's not the first time she's had more than one person on top of her...) and it was a great event.  There is a strong suspicion that for some sections she was miming...but does that matter when you're creating a show?  I'm not sure.  She's certainly not great at audience interaction, but she did try....poor lass.  But this isn't the closest I've been to the girl.  Some years ago, she was directing a film using the area below our office. She and her cohorts were shielded completely from the public gaze...but we had prime positioning, so I took my own paparazzi shots...perhaps I should have sold them as I'd never seen her with specs on before (or since)

Saturday, 28 November 2015

You see...it's all your fault

Seven of us headed to the big screen to watch Bridge of Spies.  Big screen it was due to a booking cock up that saw us sitting as near to the front as possible.  The Cat's Mother and Muffin parents decided to sit elsewhere and face the possible embarrassment of being moved by people who had booked the seats they chose to sit in.  They moved twice; the rest of us took our places and ended the evening with neck strain!  Anyway, as to the film, we were divided 5-2...in favour of it being a fabulous film.  A terrific piece of story telling, fabulously filmed with terrific performances from  Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance and the rest of the cast too.  For a Spielberg film there wasn't too much schmaltz...some but not over bearing.  The tension built throughout, and the film is well paced.  Some scenes are outstanding...when the Berlin Wall is being built for example.  So highly recommended.  My one complaint?  Call me a car-geek, but the East German lawyer drives a Volvo P1800.  The year is 1961, the year it was launched.  So possible, but unlikely...especially at the price they sold for.

I knew it would happen, and it did.  I forgot something really quite important.  Well not important, but memorable.

I had a last minute chance to go to Abbey Road Studios and listen to the great Alan Parsons.  Abbey Road well known, of course for its zebra crossing.  Slightly lesser known as the recording studio for Dark Side of the Moon.  Alan Parsons was the recording engineer for that album, and many others too (he helped out on Let it be...and the list of other albums he worked on there is enormous, including one or two by the fabulous Mrs Mills - if you remember her, you're doing well).  So a couple of hundred of us sat in Studio 2 in the full knowledge that this was where The Beatles performed, as did Pink Floyd.  We were surrounded by history.  In an interview format with David Hepworth he talked us through his career, and then showed us with the help of the original 48 track recordings of Dark Side of the Moon how much control he had as the recording engineer.  There was even one bit when he said, "Oh I don't remember that".  He came on to his own work, The Alan Parsons Project which is where I know him from having been introduced to his music at school.  We sat next to his wife, who could just about have been my daughter if you see what I mean.  I'd submitted a question, but evidently it was judged serious enough..."How do you feel about Mike Myers?"  Anyway, perhaps you had to be there...I was absolutely blown away.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Only the good

I remember in younger days and tougher times struggling to pay my various mortgages (yes, for the last thirty or so years there has been more than one), and how just when I thought I'd caught up, the mortgage company would let me know I still had a long way to go.  It's a bit like writing a blog that's supposed to remind me of the things I've been doing...

..anyway, whilst I never condone death and destruction, I am faintly amused by the Turks having the temerity to shoot down one of Putin's aeroplanes.  We would never have done that. So a bit like the bully in the playground who likes to tease and torment until someone bites back.  It will have come as a shock.  Putin has suffered a bloody nose (and sympathies to the family of the pilot, but I suspect that he knew what he was up to, just didn't know he had gone too far), not long after the Russian passenger aircraft was downed shortly after taking off.  If you add that together with a bloody stalemate in Crimea, and harsh economic sanctions, I bet there are a few whispers that may be Putin is not the man for Russia.  Of course, like all men of his type, he will aim to snuff those out pretty quickly,, but he can't avoid no longer being seen as invincible.

It has come as quite a shock to me that I have become a card-carrying member of the Labour Party.  This, the person who for a while was the treasurer of the Western Region of Conservative students.  I like Mr Corbyn, I like quite a lot of what he's got to say, and most of all idea I like the idea of a society that is based around the concept of fairness and equality and not one that is based around elitism and greed that puts money in the pockets of those who need it least.

We're off on Friday to see Bridge of Spies, spurred on by it being written by our 'friend' Matt Charman.  He joined us at a gala dinner a few months back and was charm personified...he even said he'd like to join us for Christmas as it sounded such fun.  He's probably forgotten us, but we haven't forgotten him.

Over the last month we've been to a 60th birthday, The Cat's Mother spent a few days in Dubai (leaving me in charge of an empty house...doesn't she realise how foolish that is), I cycled 73 miles round the Essex countryside for fun, we saw four Shakepeare plays in one night (shortened versions in a schools competition...yes it was mostly hell), went to see the musical Kinky Boots (great fun, won't stretch your brain cells), and saw at the cinema the Broadway version of 'Of Mice and Men' which made us appreciate just how great theatre is, even when seen in a cinema.  We must also have seen Spectre, although it's not in my diary, though it is burned on my memory for ever.  16 people in the cinema, twelve of them slurping, crunching and munching their way through it, which was an achievement as they didn't stop talking either...even when they got up (several times) to go to the loo or get yet another hot dog.  Dreadful experience.

The Boy and The Cat are back briefly this weekend.  It won't be fun.  They are here to bury a friend from school.  He was a lovely lad who had severe health problems all his life...he had a heart transplant many years ago...but he never let it get on top of him.  Indeed he did well at school and went on to University.  He died just after his 21st. I feel for his family, and for his school friends for whom this will mostly be their first real brush with death.  It's a harsh thing for the young.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

A little word

September was a dreadful month.  I can remember only one worse.  This time, some was of my own making, some not.  But ultimately, I hope and believe that things will turn out well...they do seem to be heading on the right path. It made me realise that some things that I would like to write about are not for public consumption.

I'm reading a lot about self-driving cars being developed at the moment.  It seems to me at least that this is another area where the technologists are taking us when we don't particularly want to go.  I understand the desire for safer cars...every road-death is a wasted life.  But I really, really enjoy driving...one of life's pleasures so would feel a loss if it was my car taking me from A to B without my intervention.  I know for some driving is not a pleasure, but let's not end up in a situation where to drive your own car you have to take it to a track...it makes me thing of people who now head to the gym because they've got so many labour-saving devices that they do no daily exercise such as walking to the shops...

Anyway we've just spent a few good days in Venice with friends.  The crowds were fewer than you get in the heat of summer, yet we still managed to have sunshine and warmth throughout.  As usual we had a guide with us throughout, so we managed to see a lot in a short period of time, our knowledge already bolstered by having watched on DVD he decade-old series about Venice by Francesco Da Mosto.  Venice is, of course, just picture-postcard...everything is lovely...and I have described it as like listening to a greatest hits record.  No real favourite bits...although thanks to the endeavours of our guide we were able to do things that many others wouldn't get the opportunity to...up the clock tower in St Marks, up the secret stairs in the Doges Palace, lunch with a Countessa at the hotel where George Clooney ceased to a batchelor, etc.  Aren't we lucky?  In four days I managed over a thousand photos, so if you fancy seeing them, do pop round.  In the meantime, I was amused by the Venetian habit of hanging washing out to dry...it made me realise that as ridiculously beautiful as it is, living in Venice is not easy...so that was a theme for my picture taking