30 January 2012

Prezence at the Fox and Duck

Prezence describe themselves as a 5 piece classic rock covers band and that is easily a good enough reason to go and see them when they play at local pub on an otherwise free evening.

The line-up is classic too with drums, bass, lead guitar, keyboards and vocals.

Between them they had just a little too much equipment to fit comfortably in to the Fox and Duck's cosy alcove, so the keyboards were thrust forward in to the main part of the bar.

The band clearly know what they are doing and they love their music. And that's a powerful combination.

What then determines the the quality of the evening is the quality of the set-list, and that's a personal choice.

For me, there was plenty of good stuff especially the seventies bluesy numbers like Stairway to Heaven, Wishing Well and Child in Time (boom. boom. boom).

And it was good to hear some seriously underplayed classics like Deep Purple's Burn.

My highlight was the end of the first session when they played Stargazer and Highway Star.

Of course I sang along with them.

Prezence try to be faithful to the originals rather than reinterpreting them so you get to expect the original and it was slightly disappointing when you did not get "Does anybody remember laughter?" or the vocal fade out on Stargazer with the "I see a Rainbow Rising" line which, after all, gave the album it's name.

But that is just me being picky and it did nothing to lessen my enjoyment of the evening. Nor did the slide at the end towards the lesser rock of the American 80's with songs like Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi. I have zero Bon Jovi albums.

A few weak songs and a few missing lines hardly mattered in two hours wallowing in the music of my youth and re-experiencing the classic albums that I've bought several times over the years.

Prezence know what their fans want and they deliver it in style.

29 January 2012

Count Oederland at the Arcola Theatre

There was something about the description of Count Oederland that attracted me when I first saw it advertised by the dates were problematic so I left it. Then a weekend became free and I managed to get to the penultimate performance. Lucky me.

The Arcola has changed a little since I was last there. The front of house has been cleared of clutter with the box office and kitchen now in their proper places.

It's good to see a theatre that was already good getting better. The cosy and welcoming feel that it has is one of the reasons that I trek across to the other side of London to go there.

I also love the theatre space itself and the way that each director manages to find something imaginative to do with the unusual staging.

For Count Oederland we had a minimalist white dais on which a few pieces of furniture were added to turn the space in to a study, a prison cell, a hotel reception, a villagers' hut, a grand residency, a sewer, and other places besides.

There were many people to fill these many places with some of the large cast of ten playing several roles.

Several of these are cameo roles that appear for one scene, make their point and then are never seen again. One of my favourites is the clairvoyant who is asked by the prosecutor's wife to try and find her missing husband. He prances about the family house with extravagant gestures and mannerisms that bring the likes of Gok Wan to mind.

And there were many themes and ideas in play too to make it a rich and absorbing experience. This is a play that warrants study and watching again.

Put simply, a public prosecutor is driven by stress and his current case to adopt the persona of the axe wielding Count Oederland of legend.

In doing so he gathers a following of troubled minds that becomes an uprising.

Despite being written in 1951, it is hard not to make comparisons with the Arab Spring countries but that is because of the timelessness of the themes.

Ten years ago we would have thought that is was about Russia.

There are lots of connections in the play. The main one is between the public prosecutor and the Count and this is complemented by the two maids with similar names (and played by the same actress), the axe which is first used by the prisoner, and a model ship that threatens to become real.

The scenes flash past as the story covers a lot of ground. Those that stuck with me the most as they did so were when the prosecutor adopts the legend of the count and a flash of red light indicates his first use of the symbolic axe, the deposed minister realising that her world has been turned up side down when nobody comes to take her empty plate, and the baron's callous treatment of his supporters as the face drowning in the city sewers.

The pace of the play varied nicely too with the brisk rebellious action interspersed with a few Shakespearean soliloquies gave us insights in to some of the characters and their motives.

This is especially true of the prisoner who's story parallels that of the Count. He is in prison for a motive-less axe murder of a colleague, gets pardoned and sleeps with his victim's wife.

The feeling when the end comes is a confusion of thoughts, a release of emotion and sheer admiration for what we have just witnessed. This was a faultless production of a challenging yet approachable play that inspires, questions and shocks. This is exactly what I go to the theatre for.

27 January 2012

The Sea Plays at The Old Vic Tunnels

Certain events have "visit me" stamped on them in large bold letters and this was one of them.

Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse was one of my theatrical highlights of the last year and so the chance to see some of his earlier works in similar settings was always going to be attractive.

The Old Vic Tunnels is one of London's most unusual theatres which makes it well worth a visit even for "average" shows.

And it was my birthday.

The theatre does what is say on the tin, it is in the old tunnels that run under the approach to Waterloo Station.

There are now some signs at the station directing you towards the theatre but once you get there the theatre refuses to admit its presence.

What you find is a nondescript and uncared for door in an equally unloved industrial brick wall.

This is the entrance to the theatre.

Arriving a little before it opened it was fun to see the groups of people walking past, then back again before pausing to ask if you knew where the theatre was only to have to explain that they were there.

Come opening time the door opens and a man appears to guide the theatre goers in.

What you find there is, not surprisingly, tunnels.

Some effort has been made to clean them up and to make them safe but none has been spent on decorating or disguising them.

These tunnels are proud of what they are.

On this occasion some of the alcoves held barrels and ropes suggesting that we might be in a boat.

Having had a quick beer in the makeshift bar we were led to the screening room where the plays were to be performed. On the way we had one final treat with some of the actors stoking away in the boiler room.

The performance area was just another tunnel into which some temporary seats had been added.

The stage was set as the heart of a large boat with the brick walls melting in to metal bulk heads.

The brutality and functionality of the theatre could not have been more appropriate.

Suddenly we were in the middle of a storm with high winds, braking waves and a tossing ship.

The reaction from the crew was hectic and frantic and we had furious motion to add to the light and noise.

In the chaos one of the sailors falls injured.

And then we are into Bound East for Cardiff which follows the last days of the sailor.

He lies in bed seriously ill, his friends surprised that he survived at all, but there is nothing that anybody can do for him other than hope that he lives until they get to Cardiff.

There is no doctor or medical cabinet on board and all that the Captain can offer is some more generic remedy that is entirely ineffective.

As he lies ill he discusses a shared dream with a colleague. Both have ambitions to leave the nautical life and to start a new life, and family, on a small farm in somewhere like Argentina.

In the Zone takes us forward a few years and in to the First World War.

Here the same crew, with one new member, is heading for Liverpool with munitions. They are blacked-out in fear of U-Boats.

They are also scared of German spies and stories are exchanged of their threat and of some being found in Canada.

Suspicion then turns on their newest member who had been seen behaving suspiciously in the night.

The play revolves around this suspicion, their reaction to it, the crew member's reaction to them, and the reason for his behaviour.

The Long Voyage Home takes us on-shore. The men have a lot of money to spend (many months wages) and want to spend it on cheap whiskey and cheaper women.

Except for the middle-aged Swede who has saved for two years and is booked on a steamer home, as a passenger, where he plans to spend some time with his aged mother before she dies.

Drunk men with money will always attract those with lesser motives and the Swede becomes a target when the rest of the crew leave to carry a colleague back to the boat. It does not end well.

The three plays are connected by their characters, portrayal of the harsh life they lead and the emotions drawn from some of the harsh events (death, accusation, betrayal). This is why they work well together.

They are also very good plays enhanced by the unusual setting, the way that the director takes advantage of this and the cast that all play their significant part in the whole.

And to think that they did all that just because it was my birthday.

25 January 2012

Space Ritual back at The Borderline

Space Ritual concerts are like your best friend's wedding. There is the long anticipation, the familiar faces, the noisy children and embarrassing uncles, a pay your own way bar and good music.

Mix these together for a few hours and the results are unpredictable but will always look like a riot from a distance.

When I last saw Space Ritual in March 2011 I moaned that I had only seen them twice in 2010 but 2011 turned out even worse and I only managed to see them once! This is a friend who need to get married more often.

Not surprisingly this absence meant that I was almost desperate for their brand of space/jazz rock and booked early for their return to The Borderline. Somehow I still managed to forget to buy a present but I'm hopeful that they did not notice.

The first surprise was the set-up on the empty stage. Getting all of Space Ritual, plus their usual guests, on to any stage is problematic so it seemed odd that they would make this even harder by having two full drum kits.The surprise was deepened when the kits were occupied and a stranger occupied the space where I expected to see Sam Ollis, son of Terry who did take his rightful place behind the other kit.

I had much the same feeling as I do at weddings when a distant relative turns up with an unfamiliar partner and you try and remember what his/her marital status is and whether there is some dark mystery that you are not party to that explains the change.

I stood on the customary front-left that put me right in front of Mick Slattery's lead guitar with Chris Purdon's sonics to the left and main-man Nik Turner centre stage to my right. Thomas Crimble's keyboards were on the far right and that meant, that once again, he was invisible to me except for when I made a trip to the bar. And that was a shame as he is sporting a fine head of hair these days that veers towards the mad professor look.

That left Gary Smart on bass to take up the rather narrow holding position between Nik and Terry.

Clearly arranging Space Ritual on the stage is a problematic as getting the seating right at the reception.

The other fans took their preferred positions too and, just like a wedding, there was some jostling for drinks, the best place to take photos and to dance with the chief bridesmaid.

This movement reintroduced friends who had not met since the last bash, or was it another one? Memories are exchanged, gaps filled and plans made.

The changed line-up suggested a heavier sound but that quickly proved not to be the case and we were treated to the usual Space Ritual fusion of jazzy spacey funky rock that makes them sound like nobody else, least of all any of the other bands that build on the Hawkwind legend, including Hawkwind themselves. The song remains the same but it sounds very different.

This free-form and confident style was reflected in the set list. There was one, and I took a photo of it to prove it, but it was hastily written in faint pencil and got abandoned after a few songs anyway.

We had a few surprises along the way, like Urban Guerrilla, which I never really liked that much, and even a Space Ritual version did not do much to excite me. It sounds like a single to me when I prefer long album tracks.

Long album tracks like Orgone Accumulator which they did an absolutely blinding version of. It was easily worth the price of the tickets just for that.

And being Space Ritual the music comes with some dancing from Ms Angel who had some new costumes to play with and also had a chance to play with Chris' electronics.

So cramped was the stage that when I returned from my foray to the bar I found Ms Angel dancing in the space I had vacated!

All too soon it was time for the bride and groom to leave for their new life together and the rest of us were left to wonder when we would be doing it all again. Soon I hope.

24 January 2012

Finding some nice things in Dalston

Arriving unexpectedly early gave me a bit of time to explore Dalston before the theatre and I love exploring London so that is what I did.

Immediately out of the station is the lively Ridley Road market stuffed with unusual food stuffs including fish arranged by colour, enormous yams and chillies that look as pretty as I am sure they are tasty.

There are a few other stalls too, such as kitchenware, clothes and music but it is mostly food and it is all attractive and very cheap (when compared to my local shops in Richmond).

Following Ridley Road to the end (not a short walk) and then circling round Matalan to the right takes you to Hackney Archives which seems to be a posh name and a posh building for a public library. I approve in principle but it is not that welcoming a name for people trying to get introduced to books for the first time.

Opposite the library is an amazing mural.

This is the Hackney Peace Carnival Mural painted in 1985 to commemorate the 1983 Hackney Peace Carnival.

This is just a part of it but you can feel the excitement and hear the music.

London has a fine tradition of murals, it has more than any other city that I am aware of (there were around a dozen in Brixton when I worked there), and finding a new one is a highlight of any urban exploration.

There are some seats there too so you can sit there for a while and appreciate all of the detail in the picture.

Who could not love this?

The mural also acts as the reception area for one of London's forgotten spaces, the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden.

The garden entrance, unlike the library opposite, draws you in expectantly. It's like being a child again following Rupert in to a Cornish cave.

As its name suggests, the garden is an attempt to reclaim a disused railway line for community use.

So many of these areas lie forgotten behind high walls and I welcome their return to life.

This project is in its early days but already the vision of the project is clear and the foundations have been laid to make those dreams come true.

The community use is served by the covered area at one end.

Here children of all ages can gather to learn, play or just sit and enjoy the rest of the garden.

This space feels different from those around it. That feeling seeps in to you and the Victorian city outside recedes from sight and memory.

The planting has only just begun so you have to rely a little on your imagination, and the free leaflet, to anticipate what it will look like once everything is in place. This Summer looks like a good time to go back and see how the work is progressing. It should be warmer too.

The garden also has a fun side.

The industrial walls that enclose and define the shape have not been hidden, instead they have been celebrated as part of the garden.

The painting on the wall is fun and so are the heads hanging on the wall.

By then it was almost time for curtain up (metaphorically speaking, the Arcola theatre does not have a curtain) and time to let this little bit of magic slip away.

This was only a little detour on the way from the station to the theatre but it did enough to convince me to take a longer detour and to linker a little longer in Dalston next time I go to the theatre there.

20 January 2012

Copyright's conceits

SOPA and PIPA may have caught the headlines recently but there has been a lively debate on copyright for several years now and there have been other subtle changes, such as the harmonisation (i.e. lengthening) of some copyright periods.

I am firmly against copyright restrictions for several reasons, for example I am swayed by the argument that openness leads to greater wealth/value creation, but my main argument is the sheer conceit of the whole concept of copyright.

It's all my own work

Giving copyright to a work to a single individual makes the preposterous claim that all the intellectual effort that went in to producing it is theirs and theirs alone. This ignores the necessary contributions from teachers who built the skills, peers and friends who guided the work, and other vast army of artists who created the cultural environment in which the new work sits.

In music this is often recognised with Band A being honest and saying that they were influenced by Bands B and C. But Band A gets all the money.

Only I could have done it

This assertion claims that the work is so unique that only the author could have created and, by implication, anybody who produces any similar work must have copied the "original".

The obvious counter argument to this is the story of the young boy and an owl who learns he is a wizard and goes off to school to learn about magic. That, of course, is the story of Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic.

Not only is it true that somebody else could have produce the work it is also very likely that somebody else could have done something similar but better.

Copyright is a lie

These two lies make copyright a falsehood and it should be abolished.

16 January 2012

Kingston upon Thames Society Committee: January 2012

Having agreed to join the committee of the Kingston upon Thames Society I then found myself working in Cardiff when I should have been attending their monthly meetings and it took me until January to arrange a work at home day so that I could attend.

We meet in one of the committee members' houses and the location rotates. This month I had a pleasant walk of 3.15 Km that took me 29 minutes according to my phone and the useful iMapMyWalk app.

The Society concerns itself with development matters and there were a few significant topics to get our teeth in to. Tolworth Broadway might be about to lose its hideous and divisive barriers, Seething Wells might finally get a sympathetic development and Primark might get an awful lot bigger.

On societal matters we discussed our application for a grant to the Heritage Lottery Fund (somehow I got volunteered to do that), our AGM on 18 January (when I'll be in Cardiff again), possible speakers for future events, holding a garden party or other such social event, publicity, membership and the website.

We also drifted on to some of our favourite topics like Huf Haus (we love them, some residents hate them) and buses (we love them too).

I found it an interesting and productive meeting and I look forward to get more involved in things like publicity where I can exploit my talents and my interests.

A few months in to the new role and I'm still glad that I agreed to join.

14 January 2012

The Winter Palace reimagined by Simon Fraser

The saga of Nikolai Dante in 2000AD is drawing to a close and is doing so in style. The story is propelled by intra-familial rivalries that out-do Eastenders with their violence (torture is a family habit) and inspire bloody revolutions that engulf a large empire.

Capturing the dynamism of the action and the grandeur of the setting is the stunning art work of Simon Fraser.

This is his view of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg rebuilt in the twenty-seventh century by Dmitri Romanov, Patriarch of the Romanov dynasty (and Nikolai's father), as the symbol of the new empire.

12 January 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Films escape on to DVD so quickly these days that it takes something pretty unusual to entice me in to the cinema.

Previously that has been things like Avatar in 3D and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, the final instalment of the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson (the original version in Swedish, of course).

This time it was just the happy circumstance of being near a cinema, on a free afternoon, when I film I quite fancied watching was just about to start.

Having the Odeon iPhone app to hand helped make this happen.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (a.k.a. MI4) arrived five years after MI3 which is a long time to wait for another chapter.

MI4 acknowledges its place in the canon. Some characters from previous stories appear, including one of the core team with Ethan, and we also hear what happened to Ethan's wife who played a large part in the previous film.

The Ghost Protocol is a simple but clever device to simplify the technology deployed which (mostly) takes us away from the high-tech stunts that have characterised some of the previous films.

This helps to make the film less episodic and more continuous with the stunts supporting the plot rather than the other way round. Overall the feel is more like the old TV series where there is more drama from the possibility of their schemes being detected than from them going wrong.

Of course there are stunts and the main one is the climb of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the worlds tallest building.

This was a little overpowering for someone with my vertiginous tendencies and I found myself sliding back in my seat so that I would not fall of it.

And that was typical of the film; tense, dramatic and exciting. The plot twisted nicely a couple of times too, sometimes to twist again in another direction.

I went in to the cinema expecting something classy and clever but essentially superficial. What I got was a lot more. This is a really good film and leaves you panting for MI5.

The only thing that let it down was the end. The very end. As Ethan walks towards the camera for the last time he has clearly got his iPhone earphones on the wrong way round. Somebody should tell him the microphone goes on the right.

10 January 2012

Richmond galleries

Once upon a time the councillors of Richmond upon Thames had a high opinion of themselves and built an impressive Town Hall on the riverside. Then they grew out of that and moved to a bigger newer building in Twickenham, also on the river.

That left the Town Hall in Richmond looking for a purpose. So it became a library. And a museum. And a gallery.

The library is in the middle of the sandwich occupying the first floor. It's just a library. There's nothing wrong with that but there are other places to get books or to access the internet so I have no reason for going there.

The Riverside Gallery occupies a couple of modest rooms on the ground floor.

The current exhibition has the enticing title Jem Panufnik: Riverside Robo-Attack!

For those of us old enough to remember, these pictures sweep you back to the days of underground comics when the likes of Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton exploded our minds with psychedelics legally.

As if to make the point, one of the pictures was a clear homage to Keep on Truckin'.

It's only a little gallery but it packs a reasonable punch and it's town centre location makes it an easy place to pop-in to.

Sneaking past the library to climb to the top floor takes you in to Richmond Museum.

This is about the same size and has the same cluttered feel as an attic. And it's in the attic.

The reason that I was charmed up the stairs was to see "a Georgian panorama of the Riverside between Richmond and Barn Elms".

This is a collection of 46 watercolour drawings covering 15 miles of the river in a single line that stretches 10m showing the Surrey bank on the top and the Middlesex bank at the bottom.

This section shows Syon House at the bottom facing Kew Gardens at the top. Neither has changed that much since Georgian times.

It's a fascinating display and the museum helpfully provides both magnifying glasses and mirrors so that you can get a close look at both banks.

This sort of local history appeals to me and the effort of the climb was amply rewarded.

8 January 2012

First visit to Kew Gardens in 2012

With the office closed between Christmas and the New Year there was plenty of free time to see the family and also to pay a visit to Kew Gardens with friends.

I am not very good with heights (to say the least) but the Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway was an obvious place to start. Walking among the trees at this height gives you great views of and through the trees as the seasons change.

This is as bare as it gets and the circular walkway is clearly visible from the ground.

I've been up there quite a few times now but it's still challenging. Luckily it was not that busy and I could walk round carefully and leisurely while trying to ignore the swaying, creaking and bending. It was good to hear at one of the rest points a mother explain to her two young girls that Dad had stayed below because he does not like it up there. It's not just me then.

The walkway is simple but clever.

It winds between the trees so that you really do get up close and personal.

The construction is reassuringly solid with high side yet is made from mesh so that the wind ignores it and you still get good views even when cowering with fear on the floor.

The downside is that the floor is equally transparent and that is somewhat less reassuring.

I tend to play safe and walk on the supporting girders whenever possible and I only stop to take in the view in the frequent observation bays above the supporting pillars.

And the views are definitely worth stopping for.

The Temperate House vies with the walkway for construction plaudits, and wins easily. The Victorians really knew how to build large greenhouses.

The walkway reveals more of the structure of the Temperate House than is obvious from the ground or inside. The uniform straight lines of the roof fall down like heavy rain then disappear to be replaced by gentle curves and the extravagant decoration of the fanlight.

Returning safe to the ground I headed for the Waterlily Pond to swap mechanical beauty for natural wonder.

And how better to demonstrate natural wonder than a peacock or four.

I had seen peacocks at Kew before but never this number and never this close. This one almost brushed me as he walked past.

Annoyingly peacocks walk with little jerks and refuse to pause for the many cameras that quickly appear from coat pockets as they approach.

I tried a few times to get a close-up of the Liberty fabric inspiring tail feathers and got badly composed and blurred photos for my efforts.

Luckily most of the things in Kew Gardens are pretty static and you only have to worry about the breeze moving them.

Just up from the pond is the lake. This is the view from the north end looking south-east. If you look carefully you can see the Sackler Crossing that is just over half way down the lake. More impressively if you look even closer you can see through the crossing to the trees beyond. Like the walkway earlier, the crossing is designed to stop people falling over/in also to also let light and wind pass through.

From there is was a gentle stroll toward White Peaks where I discovered a latte, some cake and a mince pie.

Rested, the final leg was past Kew Palace, through the Queen's Gardens, past the lake by the strange Nash Conservatory and then out of the main gate on to Kew Green.

Kew Gardens has a clever knack of filling a couple of weekend hours effortlessly and pleasantly. That's why I keep going.

4 January 2012

The Charity That Began At Home at the Orange Tree

The Charity That Began At Home is this year's seasonal offering from the Orange Tree, but I'm not sure why.

It's billed as a comedy and while it certainly has quite a few comic moments it also has some long slow sections where other emotions are more at play.

The premise is simple and quite clever.

A country lady, Lady Denison, is persuaded by the preaching of a Mr Hylton (pictured) that charity does indeed begin at home and that she should invite to her house an assortment of people who nobody else will invite, for reasons that soon become clear.

There include a very prim and proper teacher of German, a woman who feels she is entitled to much respect because of her distant connections to a minor aristocrat, a businessman who is down on his luck and pushes business opportunities at every chance, a young man who had to leave the army in disgrace and the general who has an infinite supply of stories of his times abroad, none of which he ever finishes and all of which are tedious in the extreme.

Having contrived to bring this mixed and dysfunctional bunch in to the same place the comedy flows easily as each character exaggerates their faults (the German teacher is wonderfully angular) and these rub off on each other.

The play could go on like that and simply milk the humour from the characters, much like Dad's Army or Benidorm, but then two things go wrong.

Firstly the guests find out why they have been invited and this makes them angry and most of them leave.

Secondly the wayward army man and the Lady's daughter fall in love.

The play changes direction at this point. Or, to be a little harsh, it loses direction at this point. The comedy disappears with the comic characters and is replaced by an examination of motives and forgiveness as those left try to come to terms with the new situation.

The question that is asked, but left to us to answer, is whether Lady Denison was acting in her own interests or that of her guests in inviting them to her house.

The young couple get engaged to be married in the open knowledge that he wants a comfortable life with a pretty (and rich) woman, who he does love to be fair to him, and she sees changing his ways as her mission in life.

This is not a marriage made to last but you'll have to see the play yourself to see whether it does or not. That's if you care.

I must admit that the end ending of the play left me cold despite the tender moment pictured here happening right next to me.

I think that I would have been happier if the play ended after the third act (of four) and left us with a comedy, albeit one that ends on a sour note.

3 January 2012

Walking to Teddington

The best bit about living in Ham is the easy access to nice places to go for a walk. Nice places like Teddington Lock.

A wide path built for pedestrians and cyclists passes my house and winds gently down to the river where it joins the tow-path that links Kingston to Richmond far more scenically than the main road does.

Turning right at the river leads to Richmond and the first stop along the way is Teddington.

The first thing that you notice is the weir.

You hear the water tumbling down the man-made steps and see the devices that attempt to control the river by creating a smooth passage to the lock that skirts past the violent route taken by most of the water.

The barriers and machinery have been built with only functional thoughts in mind and absolutely no attempt has been made to disguise or beautify them. This industry in the water mirrors that of the ramshackle boats moored at the edge of it. I like them both.

Just beyond the weir is the lock.

Teddington Lock is big, as it needs to be to cater for the large pleasure boats that fill this stretch of the river in warmer times.

Walking to the far end of the lock you can appreciate its size. For a start you can hardly see the brick office where the lock-keepers do their work and you certainly cannot see beyond that to the other end of the lock.

You can see the two houses at the side of the lock that give further evidence of its size and the number of staff that were once required to work it.

The water slips past the lock either side of the orange paths that ring the grass in the middle of the artificial island.

The main lock is on the left here and there are three other passageways over to the right. This lock caters for boats of all sizes right down to the canoeists who have rollers to ease their path as they walk across.

The footbridge that takes you across to Teddington also provides excellent views both upstream and downstream and this causes most people to pause as they cross.

These are views that I never tire of.

Looking upstream gives another view of the weir complex where sturdy barriers keep foolhardy boats away from the turbulent waters.

Oblivious of this, two ducks skip lightly away from the artificial island that supports the bridge over the broad river.

There may be danger here but there is calm and beauty too.

The second span of the bridge takes you from the island to Teddington where the Anglers awaits.

If you can resist that temptation then the Tide End is almost next door.

I went to the Anglers. This is a nice enough pub but the locals and dart board have been usurped by children and gastro food.

I have fond memories of this pub as it was literally on my route home when I worked out by Heathrow for IBM. I would catch the bus from Feltham to Teddington Lock and walk home from their, passing through the pub for a swift one as I did so.

The bridge has not changed, however, except for the occasional lick of new paint.

Somehow its construction seems far more solid than necessary to support just a few pedestrians and (dismounted) cyclists.

Looking downstream gives another view of the lock, this time trying to hide beyond the island, and also of a few small boats moored in the shelter of the island.

This is a river of two halves.

On this side (Middlesex) the weir has been tamed to create a space that is quiet and residential and on the other side (Surrey) there is the bustle of commerce through the lock.

The other side also has the trees and fields of Ham Lands so having dallied briefly in Teddington, and enjoyed my pint, it is with pleasure that I return back over the bridge to Ham and the footpath home.

1 January 2012

Lady S. by Van Hamme and Aymond

I have the Forbidden Planet International Blog to thank for introducing me to Lady S.

Their positive review for the latest volume to be published in English persuaded me to buy all three volumes as a Christmas treat for myself (I like to buy my own Christmas presents then I know that I'll get things that I like).

Lady S. tells the story of a young woman with an interesting history that includes being a refugee, petty criminal, diplomat's aide and agent for a shadowy anti-terrorist organisation.

The first English volume covers the first two Belgian volumes which first introduce Lady S. and then tell the story of her first mission.

Lady S.'s history reveals itself to be more complex and interwoven than we expected at first and this is nicely done through a succession of time-slips that show us that history in a series of self-contained episodes.

Here, early on in the story, Lady S. is at a reception with her diplomat father when an unexpected voice takes her back to her escape from Russian controlled Estonia.

This is also a typical example of the fluid artwork.

The layout is standard comic book with the page divided in to rectangles with gutters between the panels.

The panels are standard too with the scene almost always drawn from eye-level at medium distance. Occasionally the viewpoint is raised or lowered but not enough to change the feel of the story-telling.

The simplicity of the layouts and the panels makes the story flow quickly, which is just what you want from a thriller, but while the art takes second place to the words it still plays a big part in the fun and I love the feel of the snowscape and the way that it contrasts with the earlier scene.

In her first adventure Lady S. gets embroiled with a plot to expose Turkey's support for Georgian rebels. Of course it proves to be more complicated than that and the plot twists beautifully around double-agents and fake documents.

This is sophisticated and intelligent story-telling.

Volume 1 concludes with Lady S. gaining her moniker and accepting that she has no choice other than to join the secret organisation that has recruited her.

Volume 2 takes us to Stockholm and a audacious plan to kidnap the Nobel laureates. Again the plot twists and turns and people are not always who you think they are.

Lady S. gets fooled and falls for one of the false trails and only manages to recover the situation by recalling a chance remark from earlier.

It's another cracking story that runs so quickly that the plot curves blur as they sweep past you.

The final English volume (there are more in French) has Lady S. on the run when her past as a thief, a "hotel mouse", on the Cote d'Azur catches up with her.

As she runs from the CIA and the local police she is aided by the organisation that she is working for, the Centre for Anti-Terrorism Research and Intelligence Gathering (CATRIG), and in doing so we learn more about them and their purpose.

I read all three volumes in a single sitting and was totally captivated by the pace, flow and twists of the story.

Lady S. is quickly developed as a believable character who has a reason for being where and what she is with skills honed as a refugee on the run and living on her wits as a thief.

There are no special gadgets (e.g. James Bond or Mission Impossible) and no exceptional talents (e.g. Bourne or the Saint). She is just a bright girl who knows how to play tricks.

I am sure that Cinebook will be doing English versions of the other volumes before too long and I'll be buying them.