21 September 2014

Radipole Country Primary School in 196x

I moved to Weymouth in 1964 and transferred to Radipole Country Primary School, which was then a short pleasant walk away through woods. Those woods went many years ago.

When I first went to the school the main site was being built so we went to school in the manor house next door. This was the stuff of children's books with vast high-ceiling rooms and a garden that looked even more like the Wild Wood that the wood I walked through to get there did. I'm sure that it would not be allowed these days but it was a lot of fun at the time.

We moved across to the new school when it was ready. It was roughly L shaped with Infant and Junior wings and the hall and offices in the centre. I was in the infant wing and it was around that time that this class photo was taken. It could have been taken at the end of that school year, which would make it 1965 and I would have been 8.

Just in case you had not worked it out, I am the completely relaxed boy on the far right at the back. I can remember some of the other names, Janet Greenway lived just around the corner from me in Roman Road and Dave Ellis was not a lot further away in Spa Road, but mostly they are ghosts of memories.

17 September 2014

Open Mic Night at the Grey Horse (17 September 14)

I was out in Kingston doing other things earlier in the evening (it was the theatre this time, usually it's a meeting) and fancying a pint I headed for the familiar Grey Horse. I was not sure if the Open Mic was on that night or not but it is a nice enough pub in its own right and it is on the way home, so I had nothing to lose.

In fact I gained plenty. Not only was the Open Mic in full swing but several of my friends were there too thus adding socialising to the music.

It was good to hear some different musicians play as well. I had not seen the lady above singing here before though I understand from friends that she has played previously, not just on one of my irregular evenings there. Maria Ahearn, the event's organiser, also played a set, which she does not often do, and this featured the ever popular Wuthering Heights.

I only stayed for a couple of pints but that was time enough to speak to several people, see a few acts and take a couple of photos. It was just the sort of thing that I keep going to the Open Mic nights for.

16 September 2014

Lots to see in and round Somerset House

I was in the Aldwych area for an afternoon meeting which meant that I could go to the theatre nearby in the evening and could fill the time in between at Somerset House.

It was London Fashion Week which meant that the courtyard was full of strangely dressed people taking photos of people even more strangely dressed. I was wearing a suit with a Liberty tie (as always) so I felt very comfortable amongst the hipsters and weirdos. I even had my photo while having a coffee and cake in Fernandez & Wells, but that was just by a student so I do not expect to find my face on the cover of Vogue. I would not know if it was.

After the coffee I headed to the southern section of Somerset House, i.e. the bit next to the river, as that is where the small galleries were kept. I had no idea what was on and was very pleasantly surprised to discover three very different exhibitions next to each other.

I would not normally have gone to an exhibition called Time: Tattoo Art Today but I had the time to kill and it was free.

The exhibition was of specially commissioned pieces by tattoo artists on the subject of time. The only rule was that they could use their usual materials, i.e. skin.

I went in expecting to walk around quickly and then straight out again but I was struck by the drama in many of the works and I fell in love with several of them, despite their sometimes bleak character. Having to choose just one photo for the blog I eventually settled on a traditional dragon neatly draped over a shoulder.

The exhibition occupied just a couple of medium-sized rooms and was time very well spent.

I had been to Somerset House many times but had managed to learn nothing of its history before. I fixed that by visiting the exhibition on the lower level. This was so obscure that I had never noticed it before and even now it is hard to find anything about it on the Somerset House website.

It was a long, narrow and space with some posters and artifacts on one side and a boat on the other. The point of Somerset House when it was built was that it had one foot on the Strand and the other in the Thames, thus linking two of London's main thoroughfares. All that changed when the embankment was added and now a hideous main road separates the house from its natural home.

Somerset House is a large and extravagant building today and the exhibition helped to show how much larger and more extravagant it must have seemed when imposed on medieval London in 1547, that's pushing 500 years ago!

Filling one of the many entrance halls was a collection of photographs of Nick Cave.

The exhibition, A Little History: Nick Cave & Cohorts 1981 - 2013, was of photographs by all taken by Bleddyn Butcher.

Clearly the most interesting thing about the photos was the way that Cave's appearance changed over that time and through all those changes his hair remained an entertaining feature.

I was also interested to see that several of the photographs had been taken in fairly modest clubs in London. I have never seen Cave live, despite buying quite a few of his albums, but I assumed that he had always headlined at big venues.

Exiting by Victoria Embankment I walked up the steps at Waterloo Bridge and then crossed it heading towards Southwark and my theatre date.

The view from Waterloo Bridge is one of THE views of London, as evidenced by the number of people who select it as their favourite on the Robert Elms show, and it still enthrals me even though I have crossed that bridge many many times.

There are good views in both directions but in recent years I have tended to look eastwards towards the City simply because there has been so much change there. When I worked in the Nat West Tower in the late 80's it was the only tower there, now it is just one of a growing cluster.

14 September 2014

The good and the bad of modern architecture in London

Sitting on the top deck of a bus heading up Borough High Street toward London Bridge gave me a good opportunity to see three of London's new iconic buildings from a different viewpoint.

I like the Shard and it looked good from this angle too, rising majestically above the low brick Georgian buildings of Borough. I suspect that the design of the Shard took account of this view as its gentle angle matches that of the church in front of it.

A little further up the road and things took a turn for the worse.

I like the Cheesgrater (on the left) too and it looks fine from this angle. The villain of the piece is the Walkie-Talkie (20 Fenchurch Street) on the right. This is a monstrous building that appears to tower over those in the foreground, despite being on the far side of the river.

13 September 2014

My last day at school (1975)

I have been looking through old photos recently and came across these two from my last day at Weymouth Grammar School some time in the summer of 1975. That is me second from the right.

The photos were taken at The Admiral Hardy where we went at lunchtime for a beer or two. The one above was taken on the children's play equipment in the garden, a sort of rocking horse that was just asking to be sat on.

We all went our separate ways after that, and we had no email or Facebook in those days to help us to keep in contact, so this was the last day that I saw most of them.

The world is a funny place though and about twenty years later I found myself working with one of them at Logica for a while and another I now see occasionally in the pub as he lives in the area and his role in Camra sometimes takes him to my local.

12 September 2014

The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd at the Orange Tree theatre was more of the same

With a new artistic director, Paul Miller succeeding Sam Walters after forty years, I was both expecting and hoping for more change than was apparent on the first production of the new season.

Changes had been made to the bar area with stools replacing the long bench, to the booking system with numbered sets replacing free-seating and to the theatre with a fresh coat of paint and a raised stage. I do not know if the raised stage was just for this show or whether it is a permanent feature but I am fairly certain that I do not like it because of the need to look upwards and the restricted foot space.

There was no change to the programme, however. The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd was a little known play by DH Lawrence set in the Nottinghamshire mining community in 1914. There is nothing wrong with historical plays per se but when the point of the play is comment on the then current times then this does not always translate well to modern times.

I started to struggle with the play in the first minute when Mrs Holroyd appeared with the washing and started to load the clothes horse. She was clearly not used to doing so and made something of a mess of it, something that should have been picked up by the director during rehearsals.

Mrs Holroyd was a much put-upon wife who was left at home to do the skivvying while her husband was out drinking and wenching. An admirer was floating around but she stuck to the social rules.

I spent some time working in Nottingham mining district (not in a mine, obviously) and so had some familiarity with the accent, which is not unlike the way that a Yorkshire accent is usually presented. That helped me to understand Mr Holroyd and the two children.As this was a small community I would have expected everybody to have the same accent but some of the cast struggled with that and there were even touches of Brum in the mix.

The play was very much in two halves, and deliberately so. In the first we saw the hard life led by Mrs Holroyd and they way she was dominated by her husband. They argued loudly and often but there seemed to be no hope for Mrs Holroyd and all our sympathies were with here.

After the interval came the expected Widowing of Mrs Holroyd with Mr Holroyd being killed in a mining accident.

The mood of the play changed too. We got new perspectives on Mr Holroyd from his colleagues and mother. They might not have excused his behaviour towards his wife but they came some way towards explaining it as we learnt more about the harsh and brutal life of a miner.

The point of the play seemed to be to explain how it was grim up North and while that may have been news when the play was written it was not to the Richmond audience and I think that made the play sort of pointless.

In its favour, accents apart, the acting was of the usual high standard and there was plenty of meat in the vigorous dialogues to chew on. The play was gripping and emotional, and that made it entertaining, even if it did not really go anywhere or say anything.

10 September 2014

BCSA "Get to Know You" Social (September 2014)

I was not sure how many people were going to turn up to the regular British and Czech and Slovak Association (BCSA) social in September as Facebook was still refusing to let me invite everybody in the group to the event, there was another event on at the Slovak Embassy that night and we were still just bout in the holiday season.

And when I got there I was on my own for a little while and then it was just one person who joined me. Luckily (for me) that was somebody who I knew and we had a good chat while waiting for others to join us.

And others did join us. It took a little longer than usual but we got to the dozen people that we usually have at these events. It was also the usual mix of old and new people and that is a good combination for getting the conversations going.

Sonia wanted me to take this picture of her and her Romanian friend but I have no idea why, or of what the newspaper says. At least it makes a change from my usual picture of my smazeny syr and Pilsner Urquell, both of which I had, as usual.

This was another excellent BCSA Social with the familiar good humour and refreshing Czech/Slovak food and drink. Only the people and the conversations were different.

5 September 2014

Stella cast for The Crucible at The Old Vic

The Crucible at the Old Vic was one of the "must see" plays of the Summer (the other was A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic, just down the road) and I duly bought my ticket some months in advance. I was not entirely convinced though and I balked at paying anything like the top price and so I went for a seat (B26) in the Lilian Baylis Circle, i.e. the top level. Even up there I had to fork out £30.

It was another work in Reading day but the transport worked well (the main risk was the time it can take to get from the office to Reading station by bus) and I got to Waterloo in good time to try another tasty West Cornwall Pasty before diving in to The Pit Bar for a beer.

Fed and watered I trudged to the top of the building to take my seat. It was comfortable enough and the view was fine.

The stage was arranged differently from my previous visits being almost in the round with a few seats to the side of the stage and a few more at the back. To be honest I am not sure that the arrangement worked for everybody as it was a fairly static performance, it's a play of words not actions, which meant that some people would have spent some time looking at the back of the person talking. I had no such trouble up in the gods.

For all that Arthur Miller was a big name playwright I had never seen one of his plays before and had little idea of what to expect. The running time of over three hours, with an interval on top of that, was something of a clue that this could be a long smouldering American drama in the vein of Long Day's Journey into Night or, more recently, Dances with Wolves. And so it proved to be.

The Crucible told the story of the Salem Witch Trials where a bit of fun, girls dancing in the woods, leads to accusations of witchcraft and this is then blamed for everything bad that happens and suspicious eyes were turned on any behaviour deemed unusual. Behaviour like reading.

A group of honest villagers got caught up in this and were unable to protest their innocence against a tide of supposition and superstition. It did not end well.

As the poster at the top shows, this was billed as a vehicle for Richard Armitage and his appearances in Robin Hood, Spooks and The Hobbit had pushy mums bring their precious children by the truckload. They must have wondered why.

Armitage, as the main hero John Proctor, was convincing enough but he played it a little too close to his other roles, particularly his Spooks character Lucas North, for my liking as he was swept along by events and was powerless to stop them. Perhaps it was because of this type-casting that he was chosen for the role.

William Gaunt, who will always be super-powered secret agent Richard Barrett in The Champions to me, was superb as John's friend who was also entangled in the allegations and who faced them with steely determination and also acceptance of the inevitable.

The story turned when a senior cleric arrived in the village to investigate the witchcraft stories and this was a turning point in the production too. Jack Ellis was absolutely brilliant as Deputy Governor Danforth and, for me, stole the show. He was certain, strong and ruthless as he barked out his instructions. He was the enemy that the villagers had to fear despite his good office. He became the centre of the play that had been a collection of disparate narratives.

The rest of the cast deserve a mention too because, frankly, they were all good.

The Crucible told its long story with some style and would could have been a three hour trial for the audience passed by ridiculously quickly. The ending was a little obvious and was made the weaker for happening off-stage, shades of Chekhov there, but the point of the play was the journey, not the destination, and that was taut, tense and terrifying.

I enjoyed The Crucible a lot, and felt exhausted by the ride at the end, but somehow, as with Streetcar, it did not quite reach the heights that I expected of it and so a good performance ended up feeling a little disappointing.