31 July 2012

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by threesixty

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe started off life as a book but it has become a quintessential part of British culture through numerous TV and film adaptations.

I had seen several of those, and have watched the most recent film several times, but this was the first time that I saw it on the stage.

And what a stage. As the name threesixty suggests, this production is on a round stage which is housed in a circus tent.

To add that little swirl of cream to the coffee, the tent is in Kensington Gardens which entices you to go for a walk before the show.

The audience was something of a mixture, reflecting the broad appeal of the story. There were lots of children there but this was by no means a pantomime crowd and there were lots of teenagers there too and even a large group of smart professionals enjoying some corporate hospitality. So a fiftysomething bloke like me did not stand out too much despite not having any kids, or grandkids, in tow.

Whatever our ages or our previous experiences with the story we were all swept along by the drama, were amazed by some of the theatrical tricks and had a wonderful evening.

The staging was deceptively simple and the stage never had very many props or people on it.

The wardrobe rose from the middle of the stage to allow the transition to Narnia without the need for a wall.

Projections slid across the roof of the tent change the mood and the weather.

Actors wore a few basic props to become animals. Our imaginations were more than enough to complete the disguise.

Good use was made of being in the round with actors coming and going via several of the aisles much to the delight of the people sitting nearby.

The pole-less construction of the tent gave space for characters to fly. I was pleased to see this used sparingly, this was very much a play rather than a circus and while there were quite a few gasp-inspiring theatrics they were all firmly seated within the context of the story.

And the story is why this was such a good show. The adaptation kept all the key points that we were expecting to be awed, scared and delighted by. The pacing and the tension were just right too.

This is a play that young kids will want to see again and again, and their parents will be secretly pleased to see it again too.

30 July 2012

Olympic Oyster

I had to replace one of my many Oyster cards recently and was pleasantly surprised when this arrived. The card was ordered for somebody else but they can have my old card because I am claiming this one.

29 July 2012

Passion at the Gurteen Knowledge Cafe

There is so much to like about Gurteen Knowledge Cafes and that includes the different locations that it takes you to.

Our hosts for this evening was Regent's College which is a private university occupying a cosy corned of Regents Park. We were there to take advantage of their wooden floor in the main hall.

After some very welcome refreshments and the usual introductions, including the traditional speed-networking, we were set on our way by Alida Acosta.

In quite a long talk without notes or a presentation, Alida explored the role of emotion and intellect in decision making. The emotional part includes our accumulated experience to date and that is always with us and is always changing.

The tango was used as a metaphor, hence the need for a wooden floor. The Tango was invented in Argentina as a way for people to communicate when they had no common language. To dance the Tango properly you need the intellect to learn the mechanics of the steps and also the passion and confidence to let the music take you.

Given the question of passion in our working lives we formed in to groups of around six to have the conversations that define what these events are about.

As usual, with an open question to answer our conversations went all over the place and I tried to make sense of this in my notes when I was not too busy listening and talking.

We questioned whether the split between intellect and emotion was real or artificial.

I once heard that we make major decisions, like buying a house, with our hearts and then try to justify it with our heads, e.g. we tell ourselves that it is close to good schools. We seem to feel guilty that we let our hearts rules our heads.

We are generally reluctant to show, or share, emotion at work and when we do we seem to find it easier to share a gripe (e.g. bad weather) than success. The later seems a little too much like boasting.

Success is not a zero-sum gain, if we win then several other people lose.

Some people have real passion in their work, e.g. the teacher in our first group. I would stop (paid) work tomorrow if I could afford it whereas my father, also a teacher, worked for as long as he could on in to his seventies.

After three rounds of group discussion we reformed in to a large circle for a final Tango demonstration and some closing comments.

This took us in to the use of passion as a corporate imperative. Someone mentioned a job advertisement that asked for people who were passionate about clean streets. This use of the word risks devaluing it, in much the same way that "team" is now meaningless.

It struck me then that we are asked by corporates to be passionate but they do not feed that passion, if we do well they give us money which has no passion in it at all. I said that it annoyed me that theatres do the same, they keep asking me to join their supporters groups and the first thing they offer is cheaper tickets when my passion is for theatre, not cheap tickets, and the way to feed that passion is to give me access to the creatives.

Then we went to the pub.

The passions were in full flow and I had some more fantastic conversations across a range of topics and with a range of people, none of whom I knew particularly well beforehand.

I headed for home around 11pm, some five hours after the event started, still buzzing and totally invigorated.

And that's the magic of a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe and why passion was such an appropriate topic.

28 July 2012

Celebrating William Morris at Kelmscott House

My love of William Morris' designs is legendary and is normally sated by buying shirts and ties in Liberty of London. At the end of last year I went to see a William Morris exhibition at Two Temple Place and through that I learnt that there is a William Morris Society and that they have a place not far away in Chiswick.

So I went.

It is not that easy to get to. Public transport gets you as far as Ravenscourt Park and then gives up and leaves you to make your own way south for a few hundred meters to the river.

You have to cross the Great West Road (A4) along the way and that means taking a hideous underpath. It is at times like that that you realise how much we have given up for the car. A big mistake that we may be about to reverse.

The Society is in the coach house of the grandiose Kelmscott House where William Morris lived from 1878 to his death in 1896. The coach house is where he set up a loom so the connection between the Society and the man is explicit.

It is only a coach house though and so there is not that much in it. But this is William Morris and you do not need much to make an impression.

There is a print press that Morris used, some original wall paper and tiles from the period, examples of designs in progress, a Burne-Jones sketch and, most importantly sample books for wallpapers and fabrics. There is also a very tempting shop.

I took loads of photographs, and that took a lot of restraint, so picking just two for this article was difficult.

I chose the one above first because it reminded me a lot of David Hockney's work in it's use of simple white flowers and green leaves.

The second is more obviously William Morris and I've probably got a tie in that pattern, or something very similar.

In the half hour or so that I was there several small groups arrived to look around often having come some distance to do so and that is both a testament to the continuing lure of William Morris and also to my stupidity in not going earlier.

That error I'll not repeat and I'll be going back to see more of William Morris one day. Besides, I could do with some more mugs and already regret not buying some this time.

Royal Academy of Music Museum

I had no intention of going to the Royal Academy of Music at the start of the day and I am not even sure that I knew that there was one.

What changed was finding myself near Regent's Park with an hour to spare and a helpful iPhone app that revealed the museum to me.

It just about deserves the title "museum" though "collection" might be more honest as there is very little to it.

The museum is spread over three floors. On the second is an exhibition space about the size of a decent front room which has about a dozen pianos (OK, so my idea of a decent front room may be larger than most people's), on the first is a similar room with violins and on the ground floor, next to the obligatory shop, is a small area (smaller that most front rooms) used for temporary displays.

At the moment the temporary display looks at music in the world of Dickens. This includes the music of his time, music in his books and how his stories and characters have been used to inspire music, such as the musical Oliver.

Like all good museums, the Royal Academy of Music makes use of all the space that it has and so as we walk the white corridors to the stairs we pass historical cartoons that feature music in some way.

I had hoped to see guitars and crumhorms but the narrow range of musical instruments on display was more than compensated for by the other materials on display.

Besides, I am not actually that interested in musical instruments anyway so the museum did very well to keep me amused for half an hour or so.

It helped that I could sit and listen to a Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto for a few minutes. I had hoped to add a Rachmaninov Piano Concerto too but that was not one of the choices on the piano floor.

27 July 2012

Following the Olympic Torch

The Opening Ceremony for London 2012 was in the evening of Friday 27 July but my Olympic Day started much earlier.

I had missed the Olympic Torch when it jogged past my house on Tuesday morning as I was half-way to Cardiff by then so I was pleased to get a second chance.

The Torch made the last leg of its journey to the Olympic Stadium by boat starting with a procession along the Thames from Kingston.

It was due to pass the end of my road around 8:20am so I thought that I would be clever and head off on my bike around 8:00 only to find the paths busy with people heading for the river.

I hit the tow-path and then headed downstream until I found a nice spot just before Teddington Lock. A little later than expected the flotilla came in to view, and it was only then that I realised that it was going to be a flotilla.

There were a few large boats stuffed with dignitaries then the Royal Barge, Gloriana,came past with its large flame at the front. This was followed by a horde of small rowing boats many of them carrying the flags of their boating club or society.

The flotilla then had to pass through Teddington Lock which meant that it was easy enough to cycle round and get ahead of it again. My next stop was by Thames Young Mariners' where the raised bridge gave a good elevated view. More photos were taken.

Flushed with success I cycled on, as many of us did, passing the flotilla once again. I stopped between Eel Pie Island and Ham House because the lack of trees and of people meant that I could get a good view, this time from river level.

There were good crowds out all along the route and that made it an amazing atmosphere with lots of cheering and smiling. It was a very happy start to the day and to the Olympics.

26 July 2012

Four more exhibitions at RIBA

My visits earlier in the day to the Royal Academy and the Wallace Collection were mere appetisers for the main event, another visit to RIBA.

As with previous visits there was specific reason for going, there were two exhibitions that I wanted to see, but RIBA exceeded itself and provided four different and equally interesting exhibitions.

The first one was in the Library and covered the history and restoration of  in Brno.

I was disappointed to find the villa mid-reconstruction when I was in Brno in 2010 having walked out of town and climbed up the hill to find it. The display at RIBA almost made up for that.

The main display is in the Library itself and this is complemented (as the Library exhibitions usually are) by two display panels outside. And these tell you most of what you meed to know.

The four photos above show different aspects of the exterior of the house, there is the modest view from the road, two views from the garden that show how the house follows the slope down the hill and, finally, a view from the terrace area on the roof.

Other photos, like this one, show the immaculate interior.

The exhibition inside the Library tells the chronological story of the house from commission, abdication, desolation and now restoration.

The story is told through a series of period photographs with accompanying text. The two work together delightfully and the story flows like a story should and delivers a lot of information along the way.

The only down point is that photography is not allowed (they have a book to sell) and the Library was far to busy for me to accidentally forget that rule. I thought that I might buy the book instead, assuming that it would be little more than the collation of the photos and text, and while it was more or less that it was also about £12 so I left it alone.

I shall get back to Brno one day and next time I'll get a proper look at Villa Tugendhat.

Moving down from the third to the second floor, the spare landing space is used to tell us something about the legacies of major events in an exhibition called "After the Party".

Here the exhibition puts more emphasis on the words and each of the display boards has much to take in.

One of the facts that leaped out of me was that the Millennium Dome had 6.7m visitors in the year that it was open and was considered a failure and now, as the O2, it gets 2m visitors a year and is considered a success. That's the British media for you.

Elsewhere I learnt about bridges, arches, parks, regeneration, stadia and roads.

Among the stories told  was that of Crystal Palace. It's a story that everybody knows bits of and it was nice to be reminded of all the details, despite the unhappy ending.

Rounding this expedition off were maps and models of the London 2012 Olympic Park and surrounding area. This is a part of London that I do not know at all, the furthest east I have been is Canning Town and that was bad enough,so it was good to see hoe the main stadia relate to each other and to put that in the context of the Lee Valley.

The surprise exhibition was in the dinning room on the first floor.

Last time it was a display of Norwegian architecture and this time it was the Swiss who got a chance to show off.

This small exhibition is meant to be consumed casually by people with food and drink on their minds so we get lots of large photos and a few quickly read words.

The photos do what they are meant to do and that is grab your attention.

This is Alpine country and a lot of the architecture is suitably rugged, like this restoration of a chalet. Another scheme was a visitors' centre coloured white to match the snow that surrounds it. Inside the benches and tables are made from what look like unvarnished railway sleepers in recognition that all the visitors will be wearing ski boots and carrying skis, neither of which are particularly friendly to furniture and furnishings.

The one proper exhibition space, also on the first floor, held Design Stories. This told the story of the London 2012 stadia and was the main reason for my visit to RIBA.

I've come to expect a lot from RIBA exhibitions and this one was just as good as all the others, and for the same reasons.

They just get the level of detail and the mix of models, pictures and words right.

The centre of the room was filled with models of the main stadia and the boards on the walls provided further information.

On display are the fairly obvious Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre and the Velodrome, and these are joined by the Basketball Arena, Handball Arena, shooting venue, water polo venue and Eton Manor.

These are all individual buildings united in purpose and colour. Their designs vary greatly, however, as each sport has unique needs for the games area even if the supporters and services can be addressed in the same way.

One attention to detail that I liked was the use of Olympic Pink for the stands. This colour is now familiar on the underground and at railway stations.

The display boards had a common approach with each outlining the brief that the architects had and describing how they approached it.

The two recurring themes were legacy and sustainability. In some cases the legacy is to dismantle the stadium but even in this case the designs allow a lot of the parts to be reused in another building later on.

In some cases legacy means re-purposing, such as with the main Olympic Stadium whose future has yet to be determined.

One that is enduring in its current form is the Velodrome that manages to combine perfection of form internally with a sleek exterior.

And the display board gives you an idea of how they managed to do that.

So that was how RIBA managed to enrich a couple of hours of my life. They were four quite different exhibitions and each was curated expertly according to the content and the message that had to say.

I liked all of them and the Villa Tugendhat was marginally my favourite because I am a big fan of Mies van der Rohe - I have a Barcelona sofa in my living room. But the point is not that one exhibition was better that the other, it is that all four exhibitions work together to make an afternoon at RIBA something special.

24 July 2012

The Weird, the Wacky and the Wonderful at the RA

Clearly I was not going to miss an exhibition on architecture with the title The Weird, the Wacky and the Wonderful, especially when the image used to promote it was this colourful and wonky apartment block in Austria.

My first problem was finding the exhibition.

It was listed as being in the "Architecture Space" but nothing on the RA website gave any clue where that was. still, I have been to architecture exhibitions at the RA before so I was pretty certain that this was the small gallery on the top floor.

I was wrong.

It is, in fact, a short stretch of corridor on the ground floor that leads to the restaurant. The walls had been lined with what looked like acoustic absorption material in to which about twenty circular glossy but not very detailed photos had been inserted. Each had a brief description that told you little more than its name and the city it is located in.

Not quite what I was hoping for given that I had set aside between one and two hours for the exhibition. I could have done it in five minutes easily but I wanted to get my money's worth and I managed to drag it out to ten.

I managed to take ten minutes over it because I do like the weird, the wacky and the wonderful and the exhibition certainly had that.

There was the Spirit Hotel in Bratislava that looked like a scrapheap.

I was determined to stay there the next time I went to Slovakia until I looked it up and discovered that the spiritual theme of the hotel is as weird as the building.

In Tirau, New Zealand, we can find two commercial buildings that look like a sheep and a dog. Wonderful indeed.

Nautilus in Mexico is a house that looks as though it was designed by Roger Dean with its psychedelic mushroom shapes.

But my favourite was the Macedonian Monument from Kruševo, simply because it looks like a teddy bear. And that's definitely weird, wacky and wonderful.

23 July 2012

The Wallace Collection is a delight

The Wallace Collection is buried away in the heart of Marylebone and that is my excuse for not having been there before.

It is also a place that has hardly registered with me over the years; no friends have enthused about it and none of the what's-on-in-London emails that I get have mentioned it.

What finally broke this particular piece of ice was being in the area with some time to spare due to an exhibition that I went to see at the Royal Academy (The Weird, the Wacky and the Wonderful) consisted of just a few photographs when I had allowed myself an hour and a half to see it. I used the brilliant Art Fund iPhone app to find out what else was on in the area and it reminded me that the Wallace Collection was nearby.

I had no idea of what to expect there, and that is just how I like it.

Approaching the house gives you no idea of what is inside. It is a reasonably large building on a reasonable posh square but, frankly, the frontage is ugly and gives you no clue that there is beauty inside.

The house is an interesting mix of living quarters that are stuffed with art works and purpose built galleries that are even more stuffed with art works.

The largest of these galleries stretches across the back of the house on the first floor.

Each of the many rooms is decorated in a different colour and pattern so there is a real sense of progression as you move around the house.

Each room has a printed list of all works of art and a member of staff to ensure that they stay there. And, best of all, photography is allowed (without flash) so there is no need to be handle the camera discretely.

The relative lack of people there suggests that I was far from alone in my lack of awareness of the gallery. The scale and quality of the collection is impressive and it should be as busy as, say, Tate Britain, which is also fairly well hidden.

The pictures are stuck thickly on the wall in much as they are at the V&A which also struggles for space. Below them a few pieces of furniture and sculpture break up the flatness of the walls and also give you something else to look at.

The rooms are themed and this one is the Nineteenth Century Gallery. There are twenty-five galleries altogether.

I am no expert on painting (not even close) and I judge pictures the same way that I judge photographs, on composition, colour and impact. Or, to put it another way, I know what I like. And I like this stuff.

There is a warmth and comfort in most of the paintings. These are peaceful landscapes and gentle gatherings.

A few of pictures have individual impact (a bright picture of a man riding a horse at a gallop comes to mind) but the real impact comes from their strength in numbers. The galleries work like a collage where the overall effect is much greater than that of the individual items used to make it.

The room that had the most impact for me was the Venice Room, which the Wallace collection prefers to call West Gallery I.

They claim to have "an outstanding collection of Venetian views by Antonio Canaletto and Francesco Guardi." I agree.

Downstairs there is more furniture and a large collection of porcelain that is mostly stuck behind protective glass making it very hard to photograph.

Not that that mattered as I found it almost as ugly as the furniture and I concentrated on the paintings instead.

As in the galleries the aim seems to be to see how many you can get on a wall and the simple act of giving every one some individual attention means that it takes a long time to move through the rooms.

It also means that the hour or so that I spent there gave me time to do little more than work out the layout of the building and to study just a small fraction of the paintings. So I'll be going back one day and then I'll allow myself a sensible amount of time to discover and appreciate the best of the paintings.

The Wallace Collection has much the same feel as the V&A (which is a good thing) and it adds to this a more natural scale by being in a house, all be it a rather grand house. The layout also makes it easier to explore than places like the V&A and Tate Britain where it is easier to get lost than to find what you are looking for.

All that makes it an excellent gallery. And it is open every day and it is free.

21 July 2012

Mottled Lines at the Orange Tree

Mottled Lines closed the season at the Orange Tree Theatre with a real high.

It emerged from the theatre's school for young writers and was conceived as a response to The Conspirators that opened the season.

There we saw a group of hapless conspirators at the top of the power tree trying to retain power after a revolution and now we see the view from the bottom following the London Riots. And a bit of David Cameron too.

The play is a series of monologues delivered by five characters, these are a young girl with no hope, a young man who is the definition of street-wise, an experienced copper who supports West Ham, a professional who acts like a Lib Dem Councillor and the afore-mentioned politician who sounded and looked too like Cameron for that to be a coincidence.

The characters take it in turns to speak to us, and they do speak directly to us. We are their audience, not each other. They speak at some length each time and they each get two or three turns to make their points.

To make this a play rather than a reading the characters are all busy moving around the stage as they talk. The play was conceived at the Orange Tree and has been composed for staging in the round.

The plain white stage is bare but for a series of blocks that the players step on and sit on. That's enough movement to keep the eyes engaged while the ears are busy.

What keeps the ears busy is five different perspectives on living in the world that spawned the riots.

The young girl clings to her pretty hair and nails as something that defines her in a world where she has to dodge bullets. The young man understands how his world works and is comfortable with that despite seeing the flaws and the conflicts.

The policeman is angry at how policing and society have changed and lays a lot of blame on the powers that be who have lost any contact that they ever had with the street. The professional spouts Coalition nonsense as if he believes it, i.e. the lazy good for nothings need to get jobs. The politician is David Cameron - enough said.

The language is a curious and effective mix of authentic street, this is written by a young man, Archie W Maddocks, who described his school as "a bit ghetto", and the extreme literate, Archie has a degree in Literature.

Archie is also a fan of Shakespeare and it shows, in a good way. The prose of all the characters is lyrical and eloquent (far above what most of them would use in real life) and is rich with metaphors.

There is no story as such, or rather it is a collection of separate stories, that are told over an hour and a half with no break. The play ends when one of the stories ends but the others are left unfinished, just as in real life.

After the play there was a meet the creatives session that most of the audience stayed for. Most of the questions were about the construction of the play rather than its content, which was probably for the best as there are no easy answers to the riots.

I joined in the discussion a couple of times with questions and comments on the language of the play and then on the audience that it attracted. I suggested that the Orange Tree do more plays like this as I was uncomfortable at often being about the youngest person in the room at 55 years old. This was echoed by somebody else who said that their son called the Orange Tree "the old people's theatre", much to his embarrassment as he was sitting next to them at the time!

Mottled Lines was another wonderful evening at the Orange Tree made all the better by the challenging subject and the chance to talk to the author afterwards. More like this please.

20 July 2012

My Seven Lives by Agnesa Kalinov

Thanks to my (minor) involvement with the British Czech and Slovak Association (BCSA) I am invited to some events organised by the Slovak Embassy and while some of these do not interest me and some I cannot get to there are a few invitations each year that I am delighted to accept.

This one was to launch the book My Seven Lives by Agnesa Kalinov.

I had not heard of her before but I was interested to hear from somebody who had direct experience of Word War II (as a Jew), the post-war period leading up to the Prague Spring, the Russian invasion in 1968 and the Velvet Revolution in1989.

This region of Europe has been called The Blood Lands because of the turmoil, and deaths, caused by these momentous changes.

The event was opened by The Ambassador of the Slovak Republic H.E. Mr. Miroslav Wlachovský who explained his personal interest in the book. Prior to the Velvet Revolution Agnesa Kalinov had been part of the Radio Free Europe organisation that broadcast to the other side of the Iron Curtain from West Germany and he had listened to those broadcasts.

The book takes the form of a series of long interviews with Jana Juráňová in which she tells lots of little stories about herself and the people she met. These personal histories help to show the larger history in which they took place.

Think of this as The Diary of Samuel Pepys rather than Gibbon's The Rise and Fall.

Our panel for the evening was (R-L) Miroslav Wlachovský, Agnesa Kalinov, Jana Juráňová and Agnes' son-in-law who read from the book. Her grand-daughter, sitting in the audience, also did some reading.

Obviously in the short time allowed for readings and questions we only skirted around a few of the topics covered in the book and my notes taken at the time reflect that.

Agnes was a young woman when the Nazis invaded and in 1941 she was thrown out of secondary school and was taught to sew instead.

In 1942 she was due to be taken to a labour camp but escaped by feigning sciatica. She was advised to do this by a friend as it is an illness that is relatively easy to fake. Later she managed to escape to Budapest but her parents were taken.

Many years later she fled Communist Czechoslovakia to enable her children to have the education that had been denied her by the Nazis.One can only begin to imagine what it was like to flee from Communism to the country, Germany, from which you had fled twenty years earlier. That, for me, summed up the changes that happened in central Europe in that period.

The evening ended with a chance to chat with people that I knew from the BCSA while nibbling a few cakes and drinking some Saris beer. That part of the evening was as pleasant as the earlier part had been informative.

I am very grateful to the Slovak Embassy for inviting me to events and as long as they are as good as this one then I will keep going to them.

19 July 2012

LIKE 37: Another walk through the grey soul of London

The London Information and Knowledge Exchange (LIKE) takes a Summer break from the monthly business meetings and has a bit of fun instead.

We had done a couple of walks previously, around the City and Kings Cross, and these had been very popular so it seemed sensible to do another one.

I suggested that we do a walk through the grey soul of London as I had done it before and had enjoyed it immensely. As it happens the guide, Robert Kingham, works for the same company and in the same building as a couple of LIKE stalwarts and they were able to sort out the details with him.

Sadly these details included aiming for a 8pm finish to allow reasonable time for a meal. When I did the walk the first time it went on until 10pm so Robert had to cut a lot out of the tour. More sad news is that the cuts included the two pub stops.

Our starting point was The Harlequin pub in the shadow of Sadler's Wells where the theme for the evening was set.

There was light but steady rain so we all cowered under our umbrellas while Robert (who proved to be water-proof) started the evening of many fascinating and unusual stories.

Here we learnt that at one time Sadler's Wells had a large water tank and featured an act where a baby was thrown in to the water and was rescued by a dog.

We also learnt why words like "wells" and "bath" are common in the area and that this used to be a main route for driving cattle in to London.

Our confusing route then took us through the side streets of Finsbury, now relegated to history in preference for the less descriptive Islington, where we kept coming across water, things underground and Finsbury's place in literature.

Robert regaled us with many stories along the way, the whole point of the walk being to hear stories about London in situ. These were stories of people who lived there and how it was gradually colonised by an eclectic mix of buildings some of which have already become redundant.

We ended up at The Union Tavern not that late where food and wine was waiting for us.

Then it was time for Robert to take a well earned rest and for the rest of us to tell our own stories, and LIKE people need to encouragement to talk.

Only the presence of a few rolled-up umbrellas gave any indication that it had rained at all. It certainly had no impact on our enjoyment of the walk or on our mood in general. People who are used to moaning about the English weather had hardly noticed it.

The buzz from the walk was intense and infectious and time fizzed past in unseemly haste. We moved around a little and shuffled a long a little as the early-birds left to catch trains to distant parts. Each move nudged the conversations in new directions and strengthen the already strong connections in the community. And LIKE is a proper community.

Eventually even those of us who live not that far away had to drift off to be sure of getting home and I am sure that I am not the only one who was still buzzing three hours after the walk ended.

I knew that a walk through the grey soul of London could be good and I was worried a little about the rain but it proved to be even better than I expected. It was simply a fantastic evening.

18 July 2012

Abigail's Party at Wyndham's Theatre

Abigail's Party had been on my radar for some time a) because I had head of it and b) one of the stars is Natalie Casey from the trashy but immensely watchable Two Pints ..., which I have probably watched more than any other TV programme (it's about time that BBC Three brought it back).

I was unable to catch the start of the run at the Menier Chocolate Factory so was glad to see it transfer to the larger and more convenient Wyndham's Theatre and even gladder to be offered discounted tickets through work.

And they were reasonable tickets too. Our group was near the front in the Royal Circle. This is the first level above the stalls and is my favourite place to sit in traditionally arranged theatres. I prefer to look down on the stage

Last time I was at Wyndam's I was right at the back on the fourth level (and paid very little to be there) so it was nice to be back in the heart of the theatre and with a decent view.

The empty stage gave us a good clue of what to expect with its leather furniture, dividing unit and relentless browns. This is what the 70s looked like.

The room is the setting for an evening of drinks to welcome a new couple to the area. The hosts are an estate agent and his bubble wife, the newcomers are a nurse and a computer operator (I remember when we had those) and joining them was another neighbour, Susan, who has been divorced for three years.

Susan is also the mother of fifteen year old Abigail who is also having a party that night. We never see Abigail but we do learn a little about her party; more on that later.

The play is a comedy of manners between five very different people who don't really get on or mix very well, despite being married and/or friends.

Beverley the hostess, played brilliantly by Jill Halfpenny, buzzes around the room, talks at nineteen to the dozen, plies everybody with drinks and makes the most of her low-cut dress.

Angela (Natalie Casey) is slow in speech and thought without realising it.

Her husband seems to resent her dullness and while she think that they are happily married it is not at all clear that he agrees.

At one point he goes to check the Abigail's party is under control and he comes back sometime later with a wet shirt that goes unexplained.

There are petty battles over music, some blatant flirting and a more serious spat over art but it the way that the five characters are gradually exposed through their words that matters. This is the source of a lot of laughs and some cringes before the story suddenly changes direction and we are left with an uncertain and unsettling ending.

The richness of the dialogue makes it an enjoyable evening even if it does not stretch the intellect too much.

17 July 2012

BCSA "Get to know you" Social Evening (July 2012)

Working in Cardiff is putting bit of a damper on some of my normal social activities in London and while I can make most of my theatre booking at the weekends there are some regular events in my schedule that I cannot move.

The two main losses are the Big Ideas discussions and the BCSA socials that are held on the second Wednesday of each month.

After several months away I managed to plan my time in Cardiff so that I could get to the social in July, even though that meant catching the 7:06am train two mornings in a row.

It was worth it.

Food is an important part of these socials and almost everybody eats a full meal. I had what I always have, smazeny syr. That's cheese fried in breadcrumbs with chips and tartar sauce. This was my staple diet when I worked in Prague and so it almost seems disloyal to eat anything else.

Drink is another important part of the evening and I have my routine for this too. I start the evening with a few draft Pilsner Urquell's and then have a bottle of Zlaty Bazant (Golden Pheasant) to round the night off.

The third, and most important component of the socials is the people. These are deliberately informal events with an open door and people are encouraged to pop in and out whenever they like over the evening.

We normally get around a dozen people there at various times of the evening. This is a small enough number to be able to have meaningful conversations with most people and the turn-over of people during the evening refreshes the atmosphere and sparks fresh conversations.

There are some regular attendees (I used to be one of them) but there are always several new faces so there is no risk of the evenings getting stale.

The evenings are organised by the British Czech and Slovak association and everybody there has some sort of connection with the Czech and Slovak Republics, which gives an easy starting point for every conversation.

The success of the evening can be judged by the mad rush I had approaching 11pm to catch my train having arrived there soon after 7pm. Here's hoping that I can make the August social too.

16 July 2012

Kingston upon Thames Society Committee: July 2012

July was a relatively quiet month for the Committee but we still found a few topics to discuss at length.

Role of the Society

Last month we discussed the extent to which we should get involved in matters like traffic and licensing that are not concerned with the built environment per se but they do have an impact on the wider environment. That debate was inconclusive but needs to be had with the Society as a whole so we will be doing that at our October meeting.


I do not recall how we got on to this subject, interesting though it is. RBK seems keen to promote Kingston as a place to cycle in and/or through which I can only assume is based on the fact that they have never tried to do so. The cycle routes in Kingston disappear suddenly in the centre forcing cyclists to chose between fighting against traffic or fighting against pedestrians, both of whom see cyclists as an annoyance.


The main item, and debate, was on a new planning application by Tesco for a store and housing on derelict land just south of the A3 in Tolworth.

The Committee was divided, as we usually are on such matters, though the debate was much less heated this time. Nobody particularly liked the proposal but some of us thought that it was better than what is there now (not difficult) while others thought that the scheme lacked imagination and packed the site too much.

In the end we agreed to neither support or oppose the scheme, which I think was the right thing for us to do.

Heritage Open Days

The HoD brochure was in production was due to go out with next newsletter. I'll get hold of a PDF copy when it is ready and will push that through the social media circles.

15 July 2012

Sabbat at the Orange Tree

The normal season over, the Orange Tree played host to two other plays for one week each and so I found myself back there for the second Saturday evening in a row, this time to see Sabbat: The Trials of the Pendle Witches.

It is a new play telling a story that is four hundred years old when superstition was rife and the role of the law was to suppress it. And that meant suppressing Catholic beliefs and acts as well as the older pagan ones.

The play focuses on one act that led to two of the women being convicted and hanged.

The magistrate's wife is pregnant and is nervous for the health of her child. Infant death is common and the magistrate, much older than his wife, tells us that the local graveyard is full with his children.

He is externally righteous and sees all good things as having come from the Protestant God and all bad things coming from failing to follow the one true path.

Looking after the wife is a friend, a wealthy widow, and a young pauper girl from a nearby camp.

The baby is stillborn and the magistrate looks for excuses.

He questions the young girl and she confesses to being a witch and implicates her family, community and the widow. The girl is clearly uneducated and has no idea of what she is saying or what the implications are.

She thinks that she has a friendly spirit looking after her despite his inaction.

Matters take their expected course and the suspected witches are all found guilty.

The story is interesting and pulls you along nicely though it is fair to say that there are no great moments of drama or changes in pace. This is a simple reading of the story and I felt that to be a weakness.

In contrast, the acting from the small cast of four was excellent and lifted the story-telling above the steady pace of the plot. A special mention goes to the young girl who was lively and innocent throughout.

The direction was also very good using a simple, slightly raised, stage with just one or two props to good effect. It is a touring production but it very much had the Orange Tree house style.

I would struggle to say that the play grabbed me in any meaningful way but the story, direction and especially the acting did make it a good way to spend another wet Saturday evening in Richmond.

14 July 2012

Gurteen Knowledge Cafe on behavioural metaphors

You can always rely on a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe for sparkling conversations and this one was no exception.

Our conversation leader for the evening was Arthur Shelley founder of The Organizational Zoo and designer of metaphors that it uses.

Arthur bounced around the room as he introduced the topic and led us through a couple of exercises. The energy was infectious and there was a buzz all evening.

The Organizational Zoo looks at behaviours that can be used in conversations and looks at how those behaviours can work together or against each other.

To avoid the personal aspect of analysing behaviour, e.g. "Colin is too aggressive", it uses animal metaphors, hence the zoo. There are twenty six animals each with a set of positives and negatives; it's a little like playing top trumps.

These are described in a set of cards and it is these that we played with in our exercises.

In the first each table had to identify five animals that they thought were positive (e.g. owl) and those that are negative (e.g. piranha).

Having forced a consensus on each table we then went to see what a mess the other tables had made.

Not surprisingly, given the question and the homogeneity of the group, there was a great deal of commonality, e.g. we all liked owls and eagles, but there were some differences and it was interesting to see these.

Having learnt the ropes in the first exercise we were given something harder to do.

We had to invent a scenario and then find four animals that exhibited behaviours that were core/expected to the objective, desired/accepted, tolerated and rejected. That is four animals in each of the four categories.

We picked the scenario running a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe but other teams were more imaginative and picked things like robbing a bank.

This task was a lot more difficult as we started to think more about how the team would work together, i.e. we could tolerate some negative behaviours that could provoke conversations at the Cafe without being disruptive. In the end we found very few behaviours that were rejected and that is my real experience of the Cafes, which suggests that the model was working.

As before we moved around to look at other tables where similar discussions had been held about balancing teams and the extent to which any behaviours were completely rejected.

Of course there was more to the evening than I have summarised here and the room was rich with conversations as we all got totally immersed in the lesson, participation and sharing.

Also of course, the conversations continued in a nearby pub until the call of the last reasonable train home gradually pulled us all away.

The Organizational Zoo offers another way of looking at behavioural styles that sits nicely alongside things like Myers-Briggs and has the advantage of using easily understandable and neutral metaphors. And a metaphor is a glorious thing.

13 July 2012

Directors' Showcase at the Orange Tree

As usual, the Orange Tree Theatre's season ended with a showcase of works by new directors.

In previous years we have had two plays but this year we had three which got increasingly dark.

First up was the short comedy The Burglar Who Failed. A precocious teenage girl goes to bed only to confront a burglar who had been hiding under her bed.

She easily overpowers him physically and mentally, with the help of her hockey stick, and challenges him on his choice of career. His reasons for adopting a life of crime fall apart under her questioning and somehow he is convinced to apply for a job as a footman that the girl knows is available.

The humour comes from the girl's strength and the burglar's weakness and that makes for a jolly little piece.

The second play was a dark response using a similar situation but with a different outcome.

The young girl is in power but the victim is not a burglar but a respectable couple and she is the one who has broken in. She has also used violence and threatens more.

Menace is spread across the play like jam across a sandwich. Menace is the play.

This girl is also in complete control but rather than helping the couple she torments them with a succession of suggestions that she knows things about them, such as an affair the husband has had.

And that's how it goes. No story as such, just a hint of lots of stories, and the menace to make them all believable.

After the break we moved back to early sixties America when black people were still n#####s and the world was even less safe for them than it is today.

A chance meeting on a commuter train swings violently between passion and, er, violence.

They flirt, she suggests that they go to a party, he's interested, she changes mood and becomes aggressive for a while, then starts flirting again.

In the end he's a black man in a world where black people are not even second-class citizens and he pays the price for that.

It's intense, harrowing and kicks you just where a good play should kick you.

The Directors' Showcase usually features plays that are provocative and challenging. Plays just like these. Plays that I like.

9 July 2012


There are two stories here. I'll do the technology one first.

This was another example of the new frictionless digital economy. I knew nothing about this comic until I saw a tweet from I N J Culbard with a link to an article showing how Richard Corben used computer models to design the scenes for this comic.

Richard Corben is an acknowledged master of the comic book art so I was immediately interested in the book. It's available digitally so I downloaded the first issue to my iPad.

When I got to the end of the first issue the Dark Horse app conveniently asked me if I wanted to buy the next one. I did, and the next two after that to complete the full set of four. And I did all that lying in bed on a Saturday morning.

The reason that I bought all four issues is simply because it is a great comic.

The art is what drew me to it and that easily lived up to my high expectations.

This title page says it all. We have the dark mysterious and seriously Gothic castle and the litter of bones with Corben distinctive round style.

It happens to be in black and white which is unusual for mainstream comics these days but is entirely appropriate for a dark horror comic.

I bought the first issue of Ragemoor for the art work and I bought the series for the story.

It is fairly mainstream and has some familiar story elements but it has several twists and surprises that make it a gripping and satisfying story.

Combining the two stories, it is the ease of discovering and buying new comics that I love the most about the new digital world, especially when they lead to comics as good as Ragemoor.

8 July 2012

LIKE Ideas 2012 The Business of Social Media

The London Information and Knowledge Exchange (LIKE) has quickly become an enduring success and so they thought that they would try stepping up from the monthly meetings above a pub to a full half-day conference.

The monthly meetings are excellent, and I go to as many as I can, but they are limited by the size of the room and the time available for an evening event. A conference answers both problems.

Such is the reputation of LIKE that it was quickly booked. Many of the people, like myself, taking the time and money from our own pockets rather than trying to convince our employers to contribute.

The setting for the conference was The Old Sessions House on the opposite side of Clerkenwell Green from the pub where the monthly meetings are held.

I arrived in good time for a bit of pre-session mingling over coffee and biscuits (you are allowed to eat biscuits at conferences whatever diet you are on) and I was quickly in to conversations with some familiar faces.

Jennifer then rang the bell to summon us up to the conference room where I was delighted to see that the conference literature was provided in a cotton shoulder bag.

Opening the session was Bertie Bosredon of Breast Cancer Care (BCC).

And what a strong start this was.

Bertie told us the story of social media adoption at BCC. It's clearly a story that he has told many times before as he told it with great fluidity.

It was an extremely rich talk too explaining along the way how his grandmother uses Skype, how BCC's social media champion of the week gets to look after their mascot Twevor, and how BCC, inspired by their staff, have used all the main media social media platforms to good effect.

It was an exciting and inspiring talk that covered an awful lot of territory in a short time and it really got the conference buzzing. The best part was that this was a case study showing what BCC have already achieved with social media rather than their plans for what they hope to achieve or, even worse, a consultant's view of what an organisation like BCC could achieve.

It was the ideal start to the conference.

Next up was LIKE regular Noeleen Schenk who looked at the role of social media in academic research.

This is complicated not just by the usual problem of social media in deciding which of the many tools to use but also by the need to ensure the quality of the information gathered and the copyright of the published research.

Noeleen took us through the research lifecycle and identified social media tools that can be used at each stage.

Even if we are not researchers, we all fall in to the research lifecycle somewhere and so this was a useful session.

James Mullan of Field Fisher Waterhouse then gave us another case study, this time looking more at the technologies used.

Some of this had an all too familiar ring to it with SharePoint 2010, Confluence, Jive, Yammer and Pulse.

We also adopted SharePoint and then added Confluence because the SharePoint wiki is poor and have since taken on Yammer and, more recently, Jive, because SharePoint does not really do the conversational side of social media.

James then went on to describe their approach to social media adoption which starts with an understanding of their users and what they want to achieve and what they are comfortable with. For example, they are very busy, use email as their main means of communication and know how to use Outlook.

A more worrying view came from Simon Halberstam and Andrew Solomon of Kingsley Napley who reminded us of some of the legal implications that can arise from using social media.

As usual there were some horror stories and these were balanced with some simple sound advice, such as having a clear social media policy that explains to employees what the cannot and cannot say on external sites.

There were also some cautionary words for employers on their use of social media to screen recruits and in using friendly bloggers to promote your products or services without revealing their connection to you.

I was reassured to hear that having called several Conservative politicians some very string things on Twitter that fair comment, i.e. an opinion honestly held and based
upon facts, is a sound defence.

Our final speaker was Steve Dale who speaks with authority as he has been hands-on in Knowledge Management for as long as I have known him, which is quite a few years.

Like the opener, this also came across as a story often told, all be it with differences each time, and was all the better for that.

It was another quick sprint over a lot of ground some of it less familiar to me.

I learnt most about digital curation (e.g. Storify) and aggregation (e.g. bottlen.se), which is saying something when you consider how active I am in digital social media.

It was an excellent talk and a superb way to end the formal session.

It was a wonderful afternoon where I learnt a lot and picked up quite a few ideas of things to explore in more detail later. By any measure the conference was a complete success.

And then it got better.

We drifted downstairs for a drink reception where the conversations flowed as much as the wine.

The energy levels were amazing and that is very unusual after sitting through five conference speeches. That's a testament to all of them.

Drinked, we then walked a little down the road to be fed.

The conversations continued unabated by the transfer and the hours slipped past until I realised that it was 11pm and I really ought to think about going home.

The Like Ideas conference was an incredible amount of fun and a wonderful learning event, I do not recall when I have ever left a training event on such a high. Probably not since the IBM Consulting course that I did fifteen years ago.

There will be another LIKE Ideas conference next year and I'll be going (gods willing). I might even help to organise it, but don't let that put you off.