30 March 2014

The One at the Soho Theatre

The One sounded a little weird and that was good enough for me as I like a little weird and also I have only ever seen good things at the Soho Theatre.

There is a lot in my calendar at the moment so, not for the first time recently, I went to see the final performance. Lots of people had obviously read the same good reviews that I had and the place was sold out.

We were in the main theatre where I had been many times but this was the first time I had seen it with a raised stage. That threw my usual plan for a front-row seat and I grabbed on in the middle of the third which looked to be the nearest equivalent.

The set was a simple living room in a flat and that is where all the action was. Actually there was not much action, it was mostly just dialogue between unmarried couple Jo (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Harry (Rufus Wright) with additional input from several-times visitor Kerry (Lu Corfield). Jo and Harry had met when he taught her at university and Kerry was a colleague of his.

The core of the play was the relationship between Jo and Harry and, to a lesser extent, that between Kerry and Harry.

Exactly what was going on was difficult to fathom as Harry and Jo both told lies all the time. Sometimes these were things-to-hide lies and sometimes they were having-a-laugh lies but it was impossible to be sure which was which or whether some of them were actually truths.

Kerry was as confused as the rest of us.

Harry and Jo joked/lied about some big topics like having children, getting married and having an open relationship and the emotions between them leaped up and down as they did so. Harry even appeared to be violent towards Jo at one point but that too could have been a joke/lie.

The joke/lie devise reminded me of The Magus (book by John Fowles) and The Game (film starring Michael Douglas) and I am not sure what happened in them either.

Stripped of a storyline that could be trusted this was a series of scenes which explored some of the most important aspects of relationships, notably trust, and the good/bad emotions that spring from these.

And it worked. The story pieces were each credible and were strung together believably to make a convincing and engaging drama.

Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy

Architecture is a long-term interest of mine though this is entirely as a consumer and I would not claim any expertise in the technicalities of the work, e.g. how stresses are calculated or joints designed. Basically I like looking at interesting buildings and getting to see inside them if I can.

And so it was only going to be a short matter of time before I went to see Sensing Spaces at the Royal Academy.

Sensing Spaces was a collection of very different spaces spread across the RA's main exhibition rooms.

In concept and execution it was something like Architects Build in Small Spaces that was on at the V&A in 2010, which I loved.

The first construct was a platform supported by four cylindrical legs which also acted as staircases (two up and two down to avoid conflict).

The crispness of the wood was a real pleasure and the children loved the peep-holes in the walls.

Having climbed up one of the staircases I then discovered that there was another way up/down, a very gentle ramp hidden by a floor to ceiling wall made from the same wood.

I would love to have this in my garden. I'm sure I could make the logistics work out somehow.

In two dark rooms there were spot lights on the floor with fibre-optics cables leading from them to make 3-dimensional patterns of light. The arrangements of lights and the cables were both curved so the patterns they made shifted as I walked around the installations.

The most successful space, at least for the children but not just them,

It was a tunnel made out of some sort of plastic that had a grid of holes in it which visitors were asked to push long coloured straws in to.

I did my bit, I felt a moral obligation to do so, and pushed a few single straws in. Most people were more adventurous and twisted and platted the straws in to interesting shapes before attaching them to the tunnel.

Others decided to keep the interesting things they had made and to take them home with them.

Others missed the point of the exhibition entirely, and the polite notices, and decided that it would be better to take a bundle of fresh straws home and to make something out of them there.

The tunnel part of the exhibition fooled me and it took a while after I walked through it to realise that I had emerged in to a separate room.

The same trick was played in the next construct.

The first part was a series of corridors with walls made out of neat sticks and floors of illuminated glass.

The corridors were something of a maze and there were even a couple of side rooms to hide in.

The crunching sound that pulled me through the maze came from the final room which had a pebbled floor and a mirror along one wall. Most people took photos of themselves, and so did I. That's me in the corner holding a camera at an odd angle.

The combination of sticks, pebbles and mirror worked well and I had a few happy minutes crunching around and enjoying the space before moving on to the next rooms.

The last two rooms that I went to (the rooms could be visited in any order, I just chose to go clockwise) contrasted light and dark.

Of course the human eye, and the camera, easily adjust to different lights and so I had to move between the two rooms a few times to get the impact. This was rather like the coloured rooms in Light Show at the Hayward Gallery.

The lighting of the two rooms was reinforced by the shaped ceilings, that's  light at the top and dark below it on the right.

There were some other things to see but these were the main attractions and after seeing them all once I went around all the rooms again to take even more photos.

The use of different materials and shapes made the exhibition a series of distinct experiences and my reaction to these were mixed. I loved the platform and the maze (perhaps it was because of the wood that they were both made out of), found the curved lights and the light/dark rooms interesting but the straws did little for me other than the childish pleasure of playing with the straws.

Overall it was an stimulating event and that was largely because it was possibly to interact directly with all of the pieces rather than, say, looking at drawings or models of them. And that is clearly the best way to see whether spaces work.

29 March 2014

Echoes at The Fox and Duck (March 2014)

Echoes are one of the regulars at the Fox and Duck that I try and catch every time that they play there, because they are always good.

I had to rush a little this time as Hunger Games: Catching Fire lasted longer than I expected but my timing was impeccable and I walked through the door of the pub just after 9pm to the opening chord from In The Flesh?. Echoes always open with this as it starts with the lines, "So ya. Thought ya. Might like to go to the show."

As always with Echoes the pub was pretty full and having fought my way to the bar to get a pint of Doombar I then moved around the front-left where there was still space to stand with a decent view of the band.

For most of the next three hours Echoes delighted the pub with their version of some of Pink Floyd's greatest songs (there are a lot to choose from) including almost all of Dark Side of The Moon and large chunks of The Wall.

That was exactly what the crowd wanted and there was plenty of movement (it would be a little generous to call it dancing) and singing along. I'll admit to the later.

Despite the somewhat less than ideal acoustics the sound quality was excellent and there was a good balance between all the instruments. One of Pink Floyd's strengths is the richness of their music and it needs all the instruments to be heard in order to reproduce this.

A slightly reduced version of Echoes was my highlight, and not for the first time either. It got me thinking that Echoes ought to have a go at Atom Heart Mother sometime.

To make the evening even better I was there with a couple of friends, met a few more people that I know and had the chance to speak to a couple of the band.

I have seen Echoes several times now so I know what to expect from them. And it is because that I know what to expect from them that I have seen them several times. I will be seeing them again too.

Temperate House and more at Kew Gardens

The Temperate House at Kew Gardens has been closed for a few months in preparation for its major refurbishment that will keep it closed until 2018. Once the work starts in earnest it will be hidden behind construction hoardings so I went on one of the guided walks to get a final look at it and to learn more about it.

Almost all of my visits to Kew Gardens are at 9:30 on Sunday morning so being there on a Saturday at 11 was an unusual experience. It was busier than I expected as I thought that everybody else went shopping on Saturdays.

Despite the day and time change I still had my usual fix of coffee. This time before the walk rather than in the middle.

We were led to the Temperate House via the main path that follows the wall west towards Lion Gate. This was to allow us to approach it the way that it was designed to be approached. Kew Gardens station was meant to be built at the end of The Avenue (that's the name of the road) and there is a false gate to Kew Gardens where this road reaches it. The avenue continues inside the park and leads to the entrance of the Temperate House.

Inside the Temperate House work had almost completed in clearing plants out of the way of the impending refurbishment. Some had been moved elsewhere, including outside where they were hardy enough, but for a significant number their destination had been the grinder and the compost heap.

The bonus of the absent plants was that more of the metalwork was exposed, and that is what I had gone there to see.

There was some bad news there too, sadly, in that the distinctive and decorative spiral staircases to the upper walkway are due to be replaced. I can only hope that the cries of despair from our group will be added to others (there must have been lots of others) and that will cause a rethink.

We were given details of what the restoration project aims to achieve, including fixing the opening windows and the watering system. It was interesting to learn about the mechanics of the building but what really interests me about the restoration is what the building will look like when the work is finished and I'll have to wait until 2018 to find that out.

When the tour was over, it took almost exactly an hour, I made for the Treetop Walkway as that was nearby and I had not been up it for a couple of months.

I like to go up there regularly as it is one way that I can convince myself that I am not always terrified of heights.

The other reason for going up there regularly is because the view changes dramatically with the seasons, possibly more so than any other part of the gardens.

At this time of the year, with very few leaves on the trees, the walkway itself was one of the things that I wanted to see and another was the view from it of the garden. It is an impressive structure in both regards, even if it does sway and creak a little bit more than I am comfortable with.

My previous few trips to Kew Gardens had been to the east-end where the flowers are but with Spring arriving the wooded west-end was starting to take on the appearance of a welcoming glade with fresh verdant undergrowth with clumps of daffodils.

The last thing to see on the way out was the Pagoda.

I had learnt on the earlier tour of the Temperate House that the Pagoda was also being refurbished and this would include allowing people to go up it. This was brilliant news indeed.and I will definitely be going up if I can, despite its height.

The restoration work there was well under-way and there was a substantial amount of close-packed scaffolding to one side of it. I like scaffolding.

I also like Kew Gardens. A lot. And that is because there is something new to see every time.

28 March 2014

Saying farewell to Twisted Candy at The Queen's Head

I had only managed to catch Twisted Candy once before, in November 2012 at The Maypole, so when they announced their farewell gig at The Queen's Head I rushed to get there as soon as my theatre date finished.

So did a few other people and the pub was pretty busy and there were a few people dancing and singing along.

For the record, Twisted Candy were Becky McCormack (Bex) vocals, Dennis Brill bass, Dave Wilson lead guitar and Lee Duffell drums.

Their selection of music was much the same as the last time that I saw them, that is I recognised little of it apart from the Led Zeppelin. Luckily they played two Led Zep songs while I was there. The other songs sounded all right but lacked the familiarity needed for them to excite me.

I could still admire their musicianship and they certainly impressed in that regard.

Sadly they did not have any lights, apart from the usual pub lights, and it was pretty dark in there. I do not like to use flash (it bleaches the shot) so I had to make do with a dark picture and some electronic adjustments.

This was their farewell concert as Bex was leaving to live and work abroad. I hope that the other three carry on in some form as they are a skillful and solid rock trio, they just need to get a good singer from somewhere.

A Life of Galileo at the Rose Theatre

I booked A Life of Galileo as part of a session of four plays at the Rose Theatre in my continuing efforts to find things to like about the theatre, efforts that are often thwarted.

The obvious attractions of this were that Bertolt Brecht wrote it and that the Royal Shakespeare Company were performing it. I should also have recognised the name Ian McDiarmid as he played the Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars.

I was not quite in my usual seat but A39 was not too far off.

A Life of Galileo told a version of Galileo's life. I do not know his story well enough to know if it was the truth or an interpretation but that did not matter, it was a story and could be judged on that basis alone.

The Galileo we first met was a good scientist but also rather fickle and amusing with it. He stole the idea of the telescope from a Dutchman and tries to make money from it before but is thwarted when the Dutch start exporting them.

His self-importance and self-aggrandisement led him to a series of jobs where he could continue his research and he grew a small band of followers as he did so. This research, on sunspots, led to the proof that Earth did indeed move around the Sun, against the teaching of the Church.

Galileo was tried for heresy. His supporters were convinced that he would stand up for the scientific truth and were shocked when he recanted. He then spent the rest of his life locked away and it was up to his supporters to get the details of his research out of the country and to make Galileo the famous scientist that he is today.

It was always a flawed Galileo that we saw and the crux of the play was the balance between his genius and  his self-importance. In this version of his life that ended a score-draw.

The production played to those contrasts with some jolly scene mixed in with the harsh storytelling. I could appreciate all that was being done for my benefit but it never quite engaged me on an emotional level. It felt like a play for the purists rather than the public.

27 March 2014

Visitors at the Arcola Theatre

Visitors was generating a buzz online and that got me to buy the tickets further ahead than I would normally do for something at the Arcola (last time I bought them on the day) which is just as well as by the time that I got to see it the remaining run was completely sold out.

The key phrases that got me interested in the play were "a family is falling apart" and "beautiful and sharply funny". I seem to be seeing a few plays like that at the moment. It must be a fashion.

Visitors was in Studio 2 downstairs and some expert queueing got me the prime seat (my usual one) in the front row just to the right of the central aisle. And in keeping with tradition I had a glass of London Fields Love Not War Red Ale.

The play all happened in the sitting room of a farm house on Salisbury Plain, i.e. approaching the middle of nowhere. There we met the elderly Edie and her husband Arthur. He still worked on the farm but Edie was starting to suffer from dementia and needed looking after. The cheap solution was to get Kate, a young woman uncertain on what to do in life, to live in as a carer in return for her lodgings.

The person who could possibly have done more to help was their son Stephen but he had given up on the farm and lived with his wife and two school-aged children some distance away.

The story started with Edie and Arthur reminiscing about a walk they once made over a hill from one cove to another. It immediately reminded me of the walk from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door which I had made many times. And it was the walk from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door. Edie remembered a newly-wed couple very happy on the shingle and the lovely dress that the bride wore.

They were waiting to meet Kate for the first time and were also expecting Stephen who had made the arrangements for them. Kate had recently left university and being uncertain of what she wanted to do had spent a year with WOOF (Working On Organic Farms), which is almost a real thing. She was also very pretty, which became relevant.

Edie and Arthur were a little surprised that somebody as young and full of life as Kate would want to live with them in approaching the middle of nowhere but she explained her reasoning and she was clearly happy with the arrangement and immediately set off to make a pot of tea.

Then Stephen arrived and that relationship was a lot colder. There was a lot of history there.

For the next couple of hours we watched Arthur and Edie get a little older together (Edie more so) while Kate tried to keep them comfortable and Stephen struggled with his own life.

Edie was the focus of the story, and that made Linda Bassett the star. I am sure that I am not the only one there who could see Edie in somebody we had loved and lost. But Edie was happy and positive throughout even though she knew, at times, what was happening to her. It was both incredibly sad and also uplifting at the same time.

Arthur (Robin Soans) doted on Edie and while he could not imagine not living on the farm he was prepared to consider this if it meant that Edie could get the care that she needed. The loving conversations between Arthur and Edie were the meat of the play.

Stephen (Simon Muller) was in the story to provide contracts and disruption while Kate (Eleanor Wyld) was the catalyst who lived outside of the family but was close enough to it to be able to comment on it. She got caught in the crossfire but managed to escape more or less unharmed.

In the end Edith's spirit and Arthur's devotion triumphed over their situation and I left thinking that they were a lot better off than Stephen was.

It was an immensely moving play and it was easy to see why it had sold out. A lot of that was down to a masterful performance by Linda Bassett and everything else in the production worked in sympathy with that.

26 March 2014

Admiring machines that work at night

I got my journey back from Baker Street horribly wrong but managed to make the most of a bad job.

I got on the 371 bus from Richmond assuming that it would be passing through Ham on its way to Kingston but I had paid no attention earlier to all the notices and bollards that announced that the road through Petersham would be closed overnight for resurfacing.

The 371 got to the bottom of Star and Garter Hill and then, unexpectedly, turned back towards Richmond. I, and a few others, baled out just as it turned and continued along the normal bus route on foot.

The reason for the road closure was soon apparent with a clutch of big machines busying themselves outside the Fox and Duck.

The road was closed for about a mile, all the way back to Ham Common, and I was able to walk down the middle of it safe in the knowledge that there were no cars coming.

It was dry, I like walking and I like machines too, so the disappointment of an abandoned bus ride was quickly replaced with the joy of the unusual experience.

Conversational Leadership at the Gurteen Knowledge Cafe

This was most unusual Gurteen Knowledge Cafe with David Gurteen leeding a discusion on how the ideas behind the Gurteen Knowedge Cafe could be expanded in to something that David called Conversational Leadership.

We were gathered in the Westminster Business School as guests of Gurteen regular Keith Patrick. We had been there before and it was a good place to be.

It was billed as come at 6 for a 6:30 start. I took an unusual route, via Richmond and Willesden Junction, and still managed to arrive just a minute or two after 6. At first I thought that I had got the timings wrong as there were already twenty or so people there. I was not the only keen one then.

We kicked off at 6:30 as planned with David as our facilitator. He then broke two of his own conventions by not starting with a speed-networking session and then talking for longer than the recommended maximum. But these were conventions rather than rules and no serious harm was done.

David explained that he had been running his Knowledge Cafes for 12 years. He had started them as a response to the death-by-powerpoint style of conference sessions with the aim of making the dialogue between presenter and audience more conversational.

Conversations are the natural way to share knowledge and a lot of conversational tools are used within Knowledge Management, e.g. anecdote circles and after action reviews. In other formats we should change the agenda to allow time for reflection, conversation and question.

Conversational Leadership was the synthesis of all the lessons David had learnt from his many conversations about conversations. He defined this as, "Conversational Leadership is a style of working where everyone in an organization, especially managers, understand the transformative power of conversation and take a conversational approach to the way that they work and interact with people."

Conversations are necessary and are used widely but are not managed very well. For example, there is often too much talking at and not enough talking with.

David closed by putting this question to the group, How do we each bring conversations into our work?

We then followed the usual Knowledge Cafe of discussing the question in small groups (4 to 6 typically) in three rounds to cross-fertilise ideas and then coming together in one large circle for a final round-up of ideas.

What follows is my notes from the four sessions refined by some reflection since then.

I had an attempt to differentiate conversations from other dialogues a few years ago and I think that my musings on conversations then are still valid. What is needed now is to dig in to the central box to understand conversations better.

The term "conversation" covers a wide range of activities. Some have specific objectives (e.g. project review) while some are much looser (e.g. catch-up). Some are to exchange information while others are to build connections and networks. Some conversations are arranged (meetings etc.) but others are unplanned (meet at the coffee point).

There are times when conversations are not the answer. For example, the best way to get across simple information to a lot of people is via a presentation, or even the less personal email.

The conversational style suggests a dialogue between equals and so they are less likely to work in, say, a manager/employee relationship. Even if the manager wants to be open and conversational the employee is likely to be wary of being too open because of the possible consequences.

Conversations need a place. We enjoy conversations, we have them in the pub etc. for their own value. Physical conversations are still far more effective than electronic ones, which is why we still use them.

If a conversation has a clear objective then it needs some management to get there. These management tools include artefacts (e.g. agenda) and roles (e.g. chairman and recorder).

Managing participation to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to contribute and that nobody dominates or deflects the conversation is a separate matter and applies to all conversation types, though to varying extents. For example, in a project review the only topic should be the project and it is important to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to raise any issues whereas the subjects covered in a pub conversation are unpredictable and it does not matter if somebody chooses not to say very much.

Some of the things that I need to do to improve my work conversations are to go in to our Kings Place office once a week to find some colleagues to chat to and to identify a circle of people that I should keep in regular contact with.

There is a 2x2 matrix on conversations inside me trying to get out but I am not yet sure what the axes are. On the short-list are things like clarity of purpose and structure. In the middle I want to put some conversation types, such as meeting, speed-dating, workshop, gossip, catch-up, morning payers and wash-up. I think what I need to do is to identify all of the types of conversation there are and then tease out the differences between them.

This was another excellent Gurteen Knowledge Cafe. It confirmed that conversations are key and I am interested to see where David goes with his idea of Conversational Leadership to make more of them.

23 March 2014

Walking with friends in Kew Gardens (March 2014)

My previous visit to Kew Gardens had been to see the orchids exhibition and this time it was just an excuse for a walk with friends on a Sunday morning in a beautiful location.

Our simple aim was to find some Spring colour so we headed first towards the Palm House and the spectacular Parterre in front of it.

The flowers continued on the other side of the path where they were captured in a neat line to mark the edge of the formal lake-with-no-name.

There was plenty of colour in the Rock Garden and while the flowers were small and delicate they more than made up for that in their brightness.

From a distance the Rock Garden just looks like a pile of large rocks and perhaps that is why it is always a relatively quiet part of Kew. You have to get in among the rocks and pause to find  for flowers like these.

I cannot go to the east side of Kew Gardens without stopping off at the Orangery for a coffee and a cake and this time was no exception. From there we headed north-west towards White Peaks and on the way passed this field of flowers.

The bare trees on the far side looked on jealously as Spring had yet to fulfil their promise. Their time would come.

From White Peaks, a gentle stroll South took us back toward the Palm House and this time we walked through it. I must have taken hundreds of photographs over the years in the main Kew glasshouses of structural plants against a structural background of metal and glass. Here is another one.

And that was it, apart from a little shopping in Victoria Plaza where everything in the London Transport Museum Collection looked enticing. We already had a few things from that collection between us, I had a Kew Map Bag For Life, but there was always room for a few more.

Every visit to Kew Gardens is a delight and this one was no exception.

22 March 2014

Classic Legends of Rock at Fairfield Halls

It took several pub conversations for the four of us to agree to go to this. Part of the initial reluctance was mine, but I am not sure why.

I did not help that it was in Croydon's Fairfield Halls that is a lot harder to get to from Kingston than it should be.

I allowed a reasonable amount of contingency for the travel, catching a train from Norbiton (with lots of AFC Wimbledon supporters, which I could have done without) at 6:20pm for a concert starting at 8pm. I had to use all that contingency due to earlier signal failures near Waterloo. These forced me off the train at Raynes Park to catch a bus to Wimbledon and then the tram to Croydon. I got there with about ten minutes to spare.

The Strawbs were on first. This is not a band that I ever knew much about so the various line-ups and versions of the band did not matter to be. Apparently this was the acoustic version of the band.

One of our group knew the venue well and did the booking. He chose well and got us seats in the centre of row K (I was in K23) which is the second of the rows that is in the sloping section of the stalls. The view from there was perfect. Thanks Pete.

The Strawbs' folksy set was pleasant enough even though the only song that I recognised was Lay Down from 1972. They did not play Part of The Union, for which I was grateful.

The set was delivered as a story of the Strawbs with original member Dave Cousins (centre) as narrator. That story went back to the late 60s with them doing folk/gospel covers in a local club. As a device the story worked well though one of the people I was with said that he had heard it several times before. There must have been a few Strawbs fans in the audience for whom that was true.

Next on were Curved Air, a band that I also knew little about.

That little was not much more than that Darryl Way was the violinist but he left (most recently) in 2009. I also knew that the lead singer was Sonja Kristina, which was still true though her name had elongated to Sonja Kristina Linwood.

Their sound was a lot more jazzy, as the extended line-up suggested. There was still a prominent violin to go with the two guitars, keyboards and drums.

Curved Air pushed the chronological boundaries and included in their set both a song written in the late 60s before the band was first formed and a couple from their 2014 album North Star. That was something like 45 years of music in 45 minutes.

Somehow they attracted the most active fans of the evening and a small group of young people stood and danced in a corner at the front while the rest of us remained sedately in our comfortable chairs.

I only knew one of their songs, Back Street Luv (1971) and they duly played it as their final song.

Then we had a beer break.

The only band in the second half of the concert was Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash (I can call them that, they cannot for legal reasons). This was the band I had come to see and, judging by the reaction, so had most of the other people there.

This was a solid rock formation with Martin centre on bass and vocal, flanked by the two guitars of Ray Hatfield (left) and Danny Willson (right) and with Tim Brown on drums. The drummer was new but otherwise it was the same line-up that I saw perform Argus in 2009. The solid rock formation rocked solidly.

We were treated to some blistering Wishbone Ask classics like The King Will Come and Warrior from Argus (released in 1972, Marting joked that it was from 1927) and, also from the early 70s, songs like Phoenix and Persephone.

It was not a greatest hits show though and there was also a new song written by Ray Hatfield.

The band were very comfortable together and the interplay between them was good. In the second picture you can see the two lead guitarists standing together. They also did a little Glen Miller sequence for one song (moving their guitars in unison) and there were some Chuck Berry Duck Walks thrown in too.

It was all good music played with the expected skill and the required passion. They seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as we were. And we were most definitely enjoying ourselves. So much so that we forced them back on to the stage for two encores.

Having started at 8pm we finished around 11pm, which is good value in anybody's books. It also left just enough time to get back to the Willoughby for a nightcap.

21 March 2014

Dog Days at Theatre503

I go to Theatre503 for edgy drama and that is exactly what Dog Days was, though it pretended otherwise at first.

A middle aged married couple were at home planning their impeding trail separation. As part of this they were trying to sell their house but had had little luck so far.

Then a young couple arrived to have a look having noticed the For Sale sign. The older couple were reluctant to let them in but the young couple were forceful in a charming way. They quickly decided to buy the house but to do so privately to avoid fees.

In preparation for their move the couple became frequent visitors and made themselves more at home each time.

There was a lot of humour generated from the clash of ages and attitudes and, for example, the old woman looked aghast when the young woman talked about using garlic to deal with her private yeast problems.

The young couple pried a lot on the lives of the older couple and through this some skeletons fell out of the cupboard. These concerned "Juicy Lucy" and their son Paul, among other things, and started to explain why the older couple were considering separation and divorce.

This second phase of the play edged its mood towards the dark side and set things up for the final.

I'll not say too much about that as I want you to see and enjoy the play as much as I did but I can reveal that we learnt more about the young couple and their motives.

And something horrible happens.

The bizarre situation resolved its self into something stable and approaching normal, while the steps taken to get there were anything but normal.

Dog Days balanced the light and the dark well as it told its disturbing story. The play relied on the interactions of four well-defined and very different characters and all four actors played their part well.

Dog Days was exactly the sort of play that I expect from Theatre503 and they did a fine job with it. I'll be back hoping to see more plays like that.

20 March 2014

Tories make a mess of Budget 2014 on Twitter

What was in political terms a rather dull budget sparked in to life when Conservative Party Chairman, Grant Shapps, made rather a mess of things when he posted this picture on Twitter.

Making a political point of the populist measures of cutting taxes on bingo and beer is understandable enough but where the message failed was on how it was told.

Here the problem is the patronising use of the word "they" which just reinforces the us and them attitude that politicians are often accused of.

Twitter immediately took to the challenge of mocking this and the parodies quickly came flooding in using the hashtag #torybingo.

These are just two of the ones that caught my eye.

Think you can do better?

Those decent chaps at Political Scrapbook have produced a web application that lets you generate your own, try it here.

19 March 2014

Open Mic night at the Grey Horse (19 March 14)

I am starting to get in to the habit of going to the Open Mic nights that take place every Wednesday night at the Grey Horse. It's a good habit to have.

I had a meeting earlier in the evening and got there around 9:30pm. That seemed to be something of a consensus time for non-performers and the bar filled soon after that. There were several people that I knew there.

The music was much as I had seen previously, including many of the same performers. There were no acts that I responded badly to, most were pleasing in a gentle folky way and a couple were really quite good.

My star of the evening was Maria Ahearn (that's her in the red dress) who also organised the event. As usual she was the last act on and performed with several of the regular musicians (such as Eugene in the red and white hooped shirt). Her singing voice is good but what made her my star was her choice of songs. We heard a funky version of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song followed by Massive Attack's Teardrop.

After it had finished I went to tell her how much I liked her song selection and said that I though that I was probably the only person in the bar who had bought both songs when they first came out. Her surprise came not that I knew and had both songs but that I had paid for them!

Kingston Society Public Meeting: Cycling in Kingston

The Kingston upon Thames Society's Public Meeting in March addressed the often controversial topic of cycling.

Originally we planned to have speakers from the Council there to talk about their plans, especially the newly funded mini-Holland programme, but they made some lame excuses at the last moment and dropped out. We decided to keep to the subject of cycling but to make it a debate instead with two of us speaking briefly at the beginning to spark the debate.

I was on first to promote cycling.

The main points that I made were:
  • Cycling is a good idea and we should encourage it enthusiastically.
  • Current provision in Kingston is limited, disjointed and poorly maintained – this needs to be fixed.
  • Mini-Holland will help but it is not a magic bullet that will solve all the problems.
  • We should be pushing for other schemes too, especially for destinations like schools, shops and parks, and in overlooked areas like Chessington.
If you are really keen then you can read the full presentation on SlideShare.

The two comments that I made that made the most impact were on the poor air quality in Kingston and my confession to regularly cycling on pavements and through lights. I also confessed to breaking the rules as a pedestrian, e.g. crossing roads when the red man is showing, but my crimes as a cyclist were considered to be more heinous, for reasons that escape me, and it would probably have been better not to have confessed to them.

There was a lot of discussion about the flagship project in the mini-Holland programme, the pontoon along the river to create a new route for cyclists. I had made the point that if we want to promote cycling and also keep cyclists away from pedestrians then either we need to create new capacity, e.g. the pontoon, or we take capacity away from other road users, e.g. dedicated cycle lanes behind barriers to stop pedestrians and cars from also using them.

We also talked quite a bit about Richmond Park. I said that the easiest way to separate bikes and people would be to restrict the space given to cars, e.g. we could allocate one Sunday a month as a car-free day where the cyclists would have full use of the roads and the walkers could have full use of the shared paths. Remarkably some people felt that they had a right to drive around Richmond Park whenever they liked, even though I pointed out that they did not have, or expect to have, this right in Kew Gardens.

I would like to the use of Richmond Park by cars severely reduced and see the occasional car-free day as a trial that proves that the Park would be a lot nicer for everyone, and everything, if we banned cars all weekend every weekend.

We also talked about other places and other schemes but, apart from fixing pot-holes, we came to no agreement on anything.

Everybody seemed to agree that cycling was a good idea but nobody wanted to give up any of their space for this. The new cycles schemes are going to upset a lot of people, at first, but they must be done. We have no alternatives.

17 March 2014

Theatre In The Pound at The Cockpit (March 2014)

My second visit to Theatre in The Pound at The Cockpit was for the same reason as my first in January, and that was because of my loose connection to Eva Gray and Rob Groves. Eva was acting in one of the pieces again and this time it was in something co-written by Rob.

I've still not quite worked out the best way to get to The Cockpit from the tube (I got lost again!) but I managed to get there comfortably before the 7pm kick-off with time to get my first bottle of Budvar for the evening.

The Cockpit was laid out as before, with seating on three sides, and I headed for the front-row in the middle of the far side, just for a change.

First up were Rob and Eva in excerpts from Espionage, a full-length play. This was a teaser to show us the structure of the play, some of the characters and their approach to humour.

We soon learnt that the humour was groan inducing puns, like the should-have-seen-it-coming build up to the punchline "trifle bazaar". There was also a scene where the dialogue seemed to be composed mostly of lines from chocolate sweets adverts, "only the crumbliest, flakiest", etc. Seeing fragments of the play made it difficult to see what the full play would be like but having seen The Unrest Cure from the same stable I was confident that it would be hugely entertaining once completed.

Next up was The Dotty Bride, the first scene in an emerging play. It started with a woman hoovering in a flat. The problem was that she was meant to be at a wedding. Her wedding. She was soon joined by her best friend and bridesmaid who while trying to find out why the bride had fled at the last moment also offered a sympathetic ear. After a little while another bridesmaid arrived. She had planned that day and was busy rearranging things in a very organised way with no interest in the bride's feelings. Others arrived too.

In the open session after the reading we were told that the full play had been mapped out but we were not told whether the bride returned to her wedding or not. I did not want to know either.

I asked my first of several question about this play. The part of it that we saw had five very convincing female characters yet it was written by a man, Kenneth O' Toole. He explained that men do appear later on and that there had been input from the case too.

The third piece was a performance for children (Key Stages 1 and 2) called Geometric City. It was a very active performance with lots of movement and sounds from the two women as they undertook their mysterious journey.

It reminded me a little of We're Going on a Bear Hunt, but somebody else made that comment before I could. It may have been theatre for children but it kept a room full of adults entertained.

During the interval was when the fun really started and I made a determined effort to speak to some of the creatives about what I had seen.

I also managed to grab a minute with organiser and compère Theresa Brockway, pictured here. She impressed me with the questions that she asked and of her knowledge of theatres in Lyme Regis, and I wanted to tell her that.

I also spent a bit of time with one of the bridesmaids and with the children's theatre group.

The second half opened with Fair is Foul, Foul is Fair. This struggled to gain traction because of the unfamiliar subject matter, a Slovenian folk story about monsters called Dogheads, and the unclear delivery of the woman. The beast in the cage was good though.

In the talk afterwards we discovered that this was more an exercise in the author trying to find something about her past for herself rather than as an entertainment for others. And that was fine, Theatre in The Pound was an open stage.

The final piece was also the only complete one. A Balcony in Verona, by Eddie Saint-Jean, was set, obviously, on the roof of a tower block in the East End. There we found a woman in her late thirties approaching some sort of mid-life crisis without much understanding from her husband who was kept busy trying to earn a living wage.

Verona was where she wanted to be, the East End was where she was.

In the end the husband made (an expensive) gesture that resolved the situation.

Then it was back in the bar for a final Budvar and a lot more talking. Apart from Eva and Rob who got me there, I spent most of the time talking to Eddie Saint-Jean about A Balcony, especially it's ending. I had made a comment about that during the open session.

I flit like a moth around the remaining people to make sure that I got to praise as many of the people involved as I could and to explain why I liked what they had done. It was gone 10:30 and the bar had shut before I finally ventured out to try and find Edgware Road Station.

Having dipped my toe in to Theatre in The Pound twice, and liked what I found there both times, I have now put future dates in my calendar. That is not a promise but it's certainly an aspiration. As somebody who likes to see challenging theatre and who would like to understand it better, Theatre in The Pound is remarkable opportunity for me to do both.