Craig Taylor is a Canadian journalist and writer who has been living in London for at least a decade. He claims to love London (he has chosen to live here above Canada, after all) but I wouldn’t have guessed that he did from this book.
The book was Radio 4′s Book Of The Week last year, and has received much critical acclaim. I decided to give it a go as an audiobook – especially as I have been doing a lot of walking recently, and obviously that is almost always on the streets of London.
Around 80 people were interviewed for the book, and this is more an exercise in editing on the author’s behalf.
I was looking forward to hearing from people that keep London ticking, the unseen perhaps – the ones who see a different London to the one that I do. I felt that they would be the stories to really make the book ‘pop’. The ones where readers are forced to see the city in a different way.
The book was divided into sections (eg arriving, living, working, departing, dying etc) although these seemed a bit of a flimsy way to bunch the stories, as invariably people’s experiences tended to go beyond the boundaries of that particular aspect.
Now, as you may realise, I LOVE this ever-changing city that I live in. I defintiely choose to be here, and although I sometimes entertain the thought of leaving and moving somewhere more rural (as I did growing up), when I give it a little more thought, I realise that I am in no way ready for that. I would miss SO much about London. To be entirely honest, I don’t think I’m old enough to leave yet. There is still so much to experience!
Although I have a deep-set love for London, I am also aware of its faults. I can’t have lived here most of my life without acknowledging them, after all. I’m not blind to them, but I am accepting of them as there are so many positives.
With that in mind, I have to say I wanted to love this book so much, and I ended up hating it.
It felt so biased. There seemed to be a huge bias towards people complaining bitterly about London – in some ways that I agreed with, but often in ways that I didn’t. The times that the peopel were upbeat and positive, they were mainly just talking about their very interesting jobs (eg bus control room operators, Spitalfields market trader, stock-broker turned cabbie, funeral director, the actress who is the voice of London Underground), and they didn’t tend to offer an opinion on London itself – so the only opinions seemed to be extremely negative.
I don’t think that it helped that not very far into the book at all, a South African that lived here for a while describes London as “…a city full of Asperger’s people…” How rude! It’s funny how London is possibly one of the most multiculturally diverse places in the world, and yet people always refer to ‘Londoners’ as being a certain way.
The only people that seemed to be very positive and confess their love for London were people that lived in the East End or Essex borders. The stockbroker turned cabbie, the market trader, and the old lady whose daughter keeps wanting to get her a nice flat in Broxbourne, but who says “London gets to you. I can’t leave it. There’s too much quiet in the countryside.”
There seemed to be so much missed out from what makes London great, and different to other place in Britain. However, this in itself cemented my love for London, and made me see it through different eyes yet again. I feel that there was so much unexplored – but so much that I haven’t explored myself.
And I have to say, the disappointment in this book has inspired me, and given me an idea to do something myself. Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath!)
It’s been a few weeks since I went to see Before The Party at the Almeida, but I just haven’t got around to posting a review (in fact there are a few that I have meant to get around to posting that I haven’t yet. I’ve been too busy ‘going out’ to blog recently!)
Before The Party was written by Rodney Ackland and originally showed at the St Martin’s Theatre in 1949, starring Constance Cummings as Laura.
In the Almeida production, Katherine Parkinson played Laura. I have to admit that it was this casting that originally caught my eye, as we had recently seen her in Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends, and she had been fantastic.
Her mother was played by Stella Gonet, who I only know from being Beatrice in The House of Elliot (you know, the older, blonde sister who wasn’t the elegant dark-bobbed one that we all wanted to be at the time!)
The reast of the cast were great too, but I have to admit, I didn’t recognise any of the names (although I am sure I probably should have done!).
Before The Party is set in two halves, before two parties on the same day. The only location is Laura’s bedroom, that the whole family tends to come together in whilst they are getting ready for firstly a garden party at a local family home where ‘anyone who’s anyone’ is going to be. The second the family themselves are hosting as an impromptu supper party as the garden party suffers from a proper English downpour.
And ‘proper English’ is what it’s all about. It’s all about society, etiquette and the false veneer of morailty that those of a certain class felt they needed to hide behind at that time.
Laura’s shocking secrets about her marriage and the death of her husband that she has hid from everyone including her family are forced into the open – and the family have to decide how to act both on this, and the fact that she has become romantically involved with an apparent nobody.
The tension on the stage between the characters was very well written, and the claustraphobia of the one location was often felt, especially by Laura who was constantly asking people to leave her alone in her own room.
Fantastic costumes, a brilliant set – the staircase just outside the door was a particularly good touch, and well-written, believable, although not particulalrly likeable characters. A wonderful (but occasionally uncomfortable) snippet of middle-class English family life in the late 40s.
King’s Place has become quite a favourite venue of mine. Not only is it very easy for me to get to both from work and to/from home, their two halls aren’t VERY big, and therefore all seats get a good view…and if you book online and are happy to be allocated a seat on the day ALL performances are just £9.50!
Due to this, I’ve already tried a couple of new things that I may not necessarily have come across – the D’arcylicious Austentatious (who we have since seen again elsewhere) and the excellent Storytellers’ Club. I have also been regularly going to the amazing Not So Silent Movies on a Sunday afternoon – but more on that another time.
it seems to be a place to discover great improv comedy, as we found last week when we went along to enjoy The Maydays and their ‘Confessions’ show.
Audience members are invited to write down a confession which are then all placed in a pot on the stage. Confessions can be anything – from stealing a penny sweet when you were six to cheating with your sister’s boyfriend (I think that did actually come up as a ‘what you could have had’ at the end.)
The troupe (ably assisted by not-Richard Vranch at the piano – I think his name was Joe) then improvise either a sketch, song or combination of both ON THE SPOT! WITH HARMONIES AND EVERYTHING!!
Some confessions are naturally more comedic than others, but it’s not necessarily the confession that secures the laughter. One person on our night had written a confession that contained exstensive emoticons and exclamation marks etc and instead of concentrating just on the confession, they wove using emoticons verbally with other expressive noises into a sketch. and it was good. and we all laughed heartily!
In the final half, they invite someone to ‘confess’ in front of the audience, giving a bit more meat and background to their confession, and they then performed a series of sketches and songs based on that one confession. I think we were particularly lucky to have a meaty confession concerning drugs being brought back through border control on a coach after working in Holland for a few months.
There was a lot of mileage in that one – but, The Maydays didn’t actually just go for all the obvious ones, and sometimes they went off at such a tangent, you could see the troupe members who weren’t performing cracking up at what was going on at some points.
And I think that summed it up – they obviously know each other well, can read each other, love what they do and are bloody good at it!
They usually appear at the Leicester Square Theatre (same as Austentatious!) but will also be at the Brighton Fringe (as that’s where they’re based). And they run Improv Comedy Classes too – how tempting is that!?
I picked this up on Audible as it sounded rather intriguing.
In 1941, Molly Lefebure was a newspaper reporter. While following a case at Walthamstow Coroner’s Court, she was offered a secretarial job by renowned pathologist Dr (Cedric) Keith Simpson (who she then refers to affectionately as CKS throughout the rest of the book). As she wanted to be a writer, Molly eventually decided to accept the offer as she felt it would provide good experience and knowledge.
So, while World War 2 raged on and London was living through the Blitz, Molly was travelling across London and much of the south east visiting murder scenes, helping Simpson examine bodies and going to trials.
Molly walked an average 12 miles a day, worked from 8.30am to 10.30pm, seven days a week and was paid a starting salary of £1 a week. She also had to deal with people’s perceptions of her new role. There is a fabulous passage about the difference between the reactions between male and female friends, when they are alone, or in mixed company.
Peppered amongst the quite vivd descriptions of murders and trials, there is a lot of talk of lunch, tea and sardine sandwiches. The first night after she’d started the role, her landlady served her up a pork chop, and Molly reflected that if she didn’t eat it then, she would be likely to have turned vegetarian. So she made sure she ate it!
There was so much to love about this book – not just the interesting (sometimes high profile) cases, but insight into the judicial system (murderers were still hung at this time) and a matter-of-fact account of every day life living during the war (on 23rd August 1944, Molly would have loved to have been celebrating the liberation of Paris, but found herself eating sardine sandwiches and catching a train to Ashford together with armies of families of hop-pickers – including all their belongings, screaming children and cats & dogs!).
Molly gave up the job when she became engaged and originally this book was published in 1955 entitled “Evidence for the Crown: Experiences of a Pathologist’s Secretary“. It has been reprinted this year and I seem to have recalled reading somewhere that it is planned to be turned into a dramatisation (I am thinking much like Call The Midwife).
Soon after finishing the book, I happened to watch Pierrepoint with the fantastic Timothy Spall playing the eponymous, most prolific and last hangman in Britain, and couldn’t help thinking that they would have dealt with some of the same cases.
I have no idea at all what Molly Lefebure’s voice might sound like, but I like to think that narrator Lucy Scott sounds just like her! That cut-glass ‘proper’ English accent regaling the tales of war and murder and cadavers and post mortems and courtrooms and hangings and the ever-present sardine sandwiches felt just perfect!
I do love theatre, and I do love things that are a little ‘different’ – so I was looking forward to the promenade, site-responsive theatre production by DreamThinkSpeak at Somerset House recently called In The Beginning Was The End.
The blurb didn’t really say much about it to be honest: “A new large-scale, site-responsive theatre production, inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, The Book of Revelation and the world of Mechatronics
Take a journey through the maze-like underground passages and unseen spaces of King’s College and Somerset House into a world of calamitous accidents and divine revelations.
Mixing Leonardo-inspired hydraulics and modern mechanical engineering with dreamthinkspeak’s special blend of film, installation and live performance, it reveals a vision of the world either on the verge of collapse – or the brink of rebirth.
dreamthinkspeak return to Somerset House after the sell-out success of their 2004 show Don’t Look Back.” But hey, that’s all good, isn’t it?
I had experienced the fantastic Punch Drunk’s Black Diamond production around the streets of Shoreditch that was a completely immersive experience, and also to the amazing The New World Order by Hydrocracker – a site-responsive piece within Shoreditch Town Hall. I had also been to the Barbican’s promenade performance of Hansel & Gretel by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company which was also excellent. So I had high hopes for this, which was by comparison a lot more expensive!
We were ushered in groups of ten across a courtyard, and down some steps and through a maze of corridors to a meeting room, with a screen showing us the events in another similar meeting room.
We were joined by one of the actors and off we went – it started off very promising, complete with alarms, a bit of running, lab coats and foreign language.
And then it kind of fizzled out for quite a while. We were left to wander aimlessly around darkened labs with bleeping equipment and books of research. That was quite interesting for a while. i wondered if we were meant to be looking for clues – but nothing jumped out at me really.
I played with some of the dials and made some old-fashioned frequency waves change oscillation and felt a bit naughty for doing so, but I really didn’t know what I was meant to be doing or experiencing.
There were some models and screens with various scenarios showing, and once we got round, I realised that they had been depicting ‘scenes’ to come. There were a couple of scientists that were working at their benches too – one powering a light with lemons and another writing formulas on a wall.
They interacted with us, but in a Germanic-sounding language, which was quite amusing.
We were then ushered into a bright shiny succession of rooms that were meant to be within a company making innovative products – and we were introduced to these products, again in a mainly indecipherable language. This was by far the best part of the production.
After visiting their labs, we went to their ‘Complaints Centre’ where a team of workers sat, eventually indivdiually showing their distaste for their employees by having a mental breakdown, stripping off completely and cli,bing a spiral staircase at set intervals.
It was rather beautiful and dramatic to see this spectacle, but being British, I wasn’t quite sure where I was supposed to be looking. this wasn’t helped by one of the guys appearing to have a semi-on – especially has he kept catching my eye and grinning slightly. I did start to wonder whether he was even part of the production, or if he was an audience member who’d decided to have a go himself – he seemed totally contrasting to the rest of them. or maybe THAT was part of the show too!
Oh it’s all so confusing!
The literature that we were given only as we left mentions Da Vinci, The Koran, John the Baptist and the Bible but I found the whole thing a little dull, confusing and very much style over substance. I like surreal, but this was rather too obscure for my tastes. Far too conceptual.
Also, the literature tells me that the piece is meant to raise the question of whether we are really in a world of development or a world of collapse. That wasn’t something I had picked up on through my 70 minute aimless wandering – and perhaps I should have had some literature to go round with – some friendly signposts as to what I was meant to be thinking or feeling – or even just taking notice of!
I don’t think I have ever seen an Alan Bennett play – in fact, until I read Smut with the E17 Book Club last year, I don’t think I had even read an Alan Bennett book!
So, I wanted to see People at the National Theatre – but by the time I thought to book it, the reasonably-priced tickets had all gone for weeks ahead. So, I was very excited to see that there was a live broadcast being shown at the Hackney Picturehouse as I’m a member.
I watched the Theatre Live series recently on Sky Arts, presented by Sandi Toksvig and had really enjoyed that kind of theatre / live TV hybrid. However, I had no idea what to expect from a National Theatre screening.
Obviously everything is timed, and we got a lovely view of the audience as they were all filing into the theatre, and waiting for the play to start. Then Emma Freud appeared to tell us that we were now getting to watch a 5 minute film about the play. Now THAT is something you don’t get at the theatre!
Frances De La Tour plays practically hermit-like ex-model Lady Dorothy Stacpoole – current owner of the family stately home that hasn’t been able to afford the upkeep on for many years. She lives in mainly one room with her faithful ‘companion’, Iris played by the wonderful Linda Bassett.
Her arch-deacon sister (Selina Cadell) is trying to persuade her to give the home over to the National Trust, but Dorothy abhors ‘people’. The thought of them traipsing all over her family’s precious land and property, just for the experience – although not actually experiencing it – is more than she can bear. She is also being ‘wooed’ by an auctioneer (the fabulous Miles Jupp) who believes he can offer her more than just an attic sale.
When she has a surprise visit by an old friend from her modelling days, Dorothy wonders whether he could prove to be her rather unconventional salvation – much to the disgust of her sister.
I absolutely loved this play. The mixture of ‘very proper’ and ‘downright improper’ reminded me very much of “The Greening Of Mrs Donaldson” within Smut. Parts of it seemed quite farcical, but the contrast of those moments with the deeper, darker ones felt very well-placed, very Bennett.
De La Tour commanded the stage and made Dorothy feel completely real – aided and abetted by the beautifully comedic timing of Linda Bassett.
I have to say that I think the screening of this was fantastic, and I may have enjoyed it more than if I had seen it live in the theatre. Unexpectedly, there were many cameras, given shots from many angles, close-ups and panning shots.
The stage set was wonderful, and I believe I may have missed a lot fo that from the ‘cheap seats’. I think I may also have lost a lot of the emotion in the performances, seeing them from afar. the cameras kind of directed you to where you should be looking. So I think that this was definitely a total success for National Theatre Live.
I have actually already booked to see the live screening of The Audience with Helen Mirren, so I am looking forward to that even more now.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE going to the theatre, and the whole experience of it, so don’t believe that live screenings can replace the feeling of ‘being there’, but now that I have been to one, I am happy to acknowledge that it is a very, very enjoyable second best!
People is showing at the National Theatre until 15th May 2013.
Back in November, I bought a Time Out 2 for the price of 1 voucher for a ‘Confessions of a Chocoholic‘ afternoon tea at the Podium Restaurant.
Luckily it had a long time til the expiry date, and me and my friend finally got round to using it on Wednesday.
I have had a chocolate afternoon tea before, at Claridges – and I was definitley looking forward to having a similar experience! Of course, it was totally different, but not any less fabulous!
So, first of all, (after being served with our champagne – and very nice it was too!) we were given our sandwiches – unlike any that I’ve had in the past, we were presented with a beautiful plate each of open sandwiches – egg mayonnaise & cress, smoked salmon & horseradish, cream cheese & cucumber, ham, mustard & tomato and prawn marie-rose. We could have had any combination we asked for they were lovely and fresh and, being open, they weren’t too filling.
I almost always go for the Assam tea, but felt daring – so for the first time ever I tried Lapsang Souchong (delicious and unbelievably smokey) – which they brought with the main attraction – look at that! Doesn’t it all look amazing?
The scones were warm, fluffy and light. We got one chocolate chip one each (which also had a couple of crisped rice bits in them) and one plain and one fruit. As well as clotted cream and extremely strawberry jam that had obviously been made on the premises, there was a gorgeous kind of praline chocolate mousse. Scones with chocolate (and clotted cream) – I can NOT stress how good this tastes. I mean really, chocolate and scones, who knew?! It sounds so wrong but it was oh so right!
The middle tier was lovely but the least exciting – a Battenberg (and neither of us like marzipan), two small cupcakes (and again, neither of us are that keen on American-style cupcakes – I mean, what is it with all that icing? why do they need it?) but these were quite nice as they had little surprises in the centre. The sachertorte was VERY scrummy though. Chocolatey and rich.
The top tier was the star of the show – a choux bun filled with a chocolate orange mousse and topped with an iced shortbread butterfly; a white chocolate pot filled with chocolate mousse and raspberries; a macaron that reminded us of those chocolate limes that you used to get in sweetshops; a rhubarb and custard meringue on a stich and a marshmallow ‘ice cream’ in a cone on a stick, both in a glass of sherbert topped with little edible balls and finally a white chocolate ganache/mousse slice filled with cherries that had been soaked in kirsch (I think) and coated in something crunchy.
It was all absolutely amazing – tasty, gorgeous and surprisingly not too sweet. Fantastic
So, we were getting ready to leave, happily full but not uncomfortably stuffed when the waiter came over and asked us if we had finished. I said yes thank you and continued, so he asked again, did we not want any more? I was shocked – was there another course or something that we weren’t expecting? And then he pointed back to the tower and asked if we wanted it wrapped. It was only then that I realised that the glittery ‘wooden’ board that the top tier of goodies had been on was in fact chocolate! A block of dark chocolate.
I did indeed want to take it home, so he disappeared for a few seconds and then came back with it all packaged in a lovely little box for me to bring home.
All in all, it was a wonderful experience. I would thoroughly recommend it. The ‘Confessions of a Chocoholic’ Afternoon Tea at Podium Restaurant is £29.50 usually, or £37.50 with a glass of champagne.
When I heard that Arthur Smith was going to be appearing at my very very local pub a couple of months ago, I bagged me and The Man a couple of tickets immediately.
I have been to a few of the gigs put on by lovely compere Susan Murray as part of the Guffaw Comedy Club at Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre Pub – and I have seen some great stuff, including Richard Herring TWICE!
Susan Murray was on especially sparkling good form (perhaps because it was her birthday and her parents were in the audience – although we never heard/saw any evidence of said parents, so perhaps they were made up!).
Next was Grainne Maguire – Irish (obviously), self-deprecating, unique, extremely likeable, and ‘not very rude’ as she kept pointing out. She actually had the audience in the palm of her hand, expertly playing us until we were almost weeping with laughter – a class act!
It seemed like there was going to be an Irish invasion, as next up was Rory O’Hanlon. Unfortunately, as it is now a week ago, I can’t remember much about Rory, which is rather embarrassing – but I know that he was very amusing.
Canadian Ryan Cull made a rather brief appearance next, and as happens often with foreign acts, he pointed out the funny things about us Brits – which is always completely hilarious. He had a ready smile, and was quite cute – and he was only on for about 15 minutes…he couldn’t go wrong really, could he?
Finally, it was time for the main attraction, the wonderful grumpy old man that IS Arthur Smith – the Night Mayor of Balham (luckily I’d recently had my shots, so couldn’t catch anything from this particular specimen from South of the river!) I have a real soft spot for Mr Smith (ooer) – grumpy old man he may be, he’s never ‘nasty’, and he’s got that voice, that wonderful gravelly voice. Not only do a listen to that voice almost every night when I go to bed (he does the continuity for the Comedy Zone on Radio 7…10 til midnight – yeah, OK they now call it 4Extra, but it will alwyas be Radio 7 to me!) but I was once fortunate enough to talk to the man himself on the phone – back in about 1994. Oh how gooey I went at the sound of that voice!
Arthur was a wonderful mix of observations and old favourites chucked in for the kitsch factor.
I have to say, every single one of them hit the spot and made for a fantastic evening where I sniggered, chuckled and indeed guffawed happily.
I believe Stuart Lee and Richard Herring are due to appear in the summer, so we’ll be looking out for those!
Because the lovely King’s Place does a fantastic online deal, where (if you don’t mind where you sit) any performance is only £9.50, I booked up a few things at once.
Storyteller’s Club was one such booking that I made. The brainchild of compere and storyteller (comedian) Sarah Benetto, it’s really a number of stand-up turns. There is a ‘real fire’ (a static flame-effect electric heater thing) and each comedian relays one ‘story’.
A number of well known comedians have performed as part of the club night, and when I booked, Phil Jupitus was down as one of the line-up.
Unfortunately, a month before the night, I received an email stating that Phil Jupitus wouldn’t be appearing on the night. Although initially a little disappointed, I got over it in about 30 seconds, when I reminded myself that I only paid £9.50, and that Phil Kay was still going to be on! (Plus, I got to see Phil Jupitus in fine fettle the following week in Coalition).
Sarah Bennetto was the perfect Australian host, and kicked proceedings off. We then had New York comedian Jamie Kilstein who told the story of his coming-of-age and change of relationship with his dad. He was likeable in a boyish not-too-annoying-New-Yorker kind of way
Then we had Jamie Dowdeswell who told the story of a prank by one of the patrons of his dad’s pub. His shaggy look went with his shaggy dog’s story and he was extremely personable.
Next up was Canadian comedian Phil Nichol – he is one of those people where I recognised the name but couldn’t place him at all. then, when he came onto the stage, I thought “Ohhhh, him!” His story was of a Japanese tourist that once befriended him.
Finally, Phil Kay who I once saw back in about 1997 when I think he was on the TV a lot. In fact, I think I saw a TV recording of a show he was doing. I believe he might have been naked right at the beginning!
If anything, he has become even more mad, surreal and hilarious – a little like Billy Connolly on crack. No, not crack, on acid! Fabulous, just fabulous!
I’ll definitely look out for another Storyteller Club night – it was a brilliant night out.