30 April 2014

Kingstonian rue missed chances

I am not exactly a regular visitor to Kingsmeadow to see Kingstonian play but when a good run of results took them to second in the Ryman Isthmian Premier Division, 11 points behind automatically promoted Wealdstone, and in to the payoffs then I was told by friends that I had to be there to see it. And I was.

The four teams in the playoffs finished within two points of each other and so it was always going to be close. Sadly it was close but close the wrong way with AFC Hornchurch (in yellow) winning 1 - 0, somewhat against the run of play.

Kingstonian comfortably won the first half on points with several half-chances not taken. This was a worry to us all in the half-time break and so it proved. The second half was scrappy and even and a simple goal from a corner won it for the away team.

We were all miserable after the game but time soon heals wounds and we are starting to feel optimistic about next season. I might even go to a game.

29 April 2014

Big Ideas on Modernism in Mathematics

Big Ideas is one of my very favourite talking-shops (I mean that in a nice way) amongst some stiff competition so I was delighted to be able to attend April's meeting. I was even more delighted than usual as the topic was "What is Modernism in Mathematics?" and my degree is in Mathematics.

Our guide for the evening was Jeremy Gray, Professor of the History of Mathematics at the Open University, pictured below on the right in the cute mock-Tudor bay window of the upstairs room at The Wheatsheaf in Fitzrovia.

As usual with these things, what follows is a mash-up of what the speaker said, what other people said, what I thought at the time and what I think now when writing it up. It is my summary of the topic based on this meeting but is not a summary of that meeting.

While Mathematics always had been abstract in became more so in the late 19th Century. Previously Mathematics had dealt with understandable thing like numbers and shapes but then mathematicians created new things like Sets and Fields to play with. The Algebra that was developed for numbers (2x+y=5) was extended to these new things.

Numbers themselves became from complicated with the addition of Real Numbers, i.e. numbers that are not fractions.

Euclidean Geometry was challenged and found to be lacking.

Some inherent paradoxes were discovered, e.g. does the set of all sets that do not contain themselves contain itself or not?

Euclidean Geometry starts with some basic axioms that do not need proving because they are true by definition, e.g. it is possible to draw a straight line from any point to any point. First it was shown that Geometry was still consistent if some of these were changed, e.g. parallel lines could meet, and then it was shown that any axiomatic Mathematics has inherent paradoxes.

The outcome of this was multiple domains in Mathematics where everything worked nicely in each one but they were all different and so there was no one single truth.

In trying to understand what a single truth might mean or be we discussed how much of Mathematics would we expect an alien civilisation to share. They would have numbers and shapes but would they also have Sets and Fields? And what could they have that we have not thought of? Could they have solved the one truth problem and, if so, would we be intelligent enough to understand it (you cannot teach a dog French).

The conversations we had spent a lot of time on how this new Mathematics of options was mirrored in the real world (Physics) and in Art.

Quantum Mechanics has shown us that the real world is a lot more complicated than we thought (and more complicated than we yet know). For example, particles are also waves and can be in two places at the same time. Perhaps the real world also has many truths like our Mathematics does.

Art changed around the same time and new rules were created for Impressionism, Cubism, etc. For centuries a portrait only had one rule and that was to be a reasonable likeness then other rules were invented that said that a portrait could be something else. Each school of Art has its own rules and each school is equally valid, there is no one truth for what a portrait should look like now.

It was a very animated, intelligent and thought-provoking discussion and I think we were all a little reluctant to end it after only an hour and a half, though quite a few of us stayed on for a while longer just to make that final comment or ask that final question.

I left understanding more about the multiple truths problem than when I went in (we had touched on this at university) but I think that the Physics and Arts analogies made me more relaxed about it.

28 April 2014

Humanist Debate: The Decline in Violence

The monthly debates at organised by the South West London Humanists Group have quickly established themselves in my calendar as they are proving to be very interesting and thought provoking.

April's meeting was no different when we packed in to the upstairs room of the Old Ship in Richmond to discuss the decline in violence. This is a theory from Steven Pinker that has had much coverage in recent years thanks to his talks at TED and the RSA etc. We used one of his videos to spark our debate.

Pinker's talk was wide-ranging and delivered quickly so there was little time to understand, much less challenge, any of his points.

I was happy to accept his general theory that our chances of dying a violent death are now much less than they ever have been but less convinced on some of the reasons that he gave.

I think that there are three possible reasons why violence has reduced:
  1. We have got nicer (enlightened) and no longer accept violence as the means to solve conflicts.
  2. We have better policemen, including the UN, who stop us from being violent.
  3. It is just an accident arising from other changes, e.g. better trade has reduced the need for wars.
It is important to understand the causes for reduced violence if we wish to keep the peace. It is hard to undue enlightenment, though people like Hitler have had a good go at it, but it would be a simple matter to remove global policing.

In our discussion we also looked at what was meant by "violence". Pinker's focus was rather narrow in that he was taking about violent deaths but there are other ways to threaten, subjugate and defeat people. These include bullying at the individual level up to cyber wars at the national level.

Violence may have reduced but that does not mean that conflict has.

I suspect that violence has reduced because we have found better, not nicer, ways of fighting our battles, e.g. an internet troll can abuse somebody with virtual impunity.

There must be a risk that as we plug the holes that allow other forms of conflict, e.g. financial sanctions, that we will return to violence as the best (or least-worst) option for resolving disputes.

The example that most tables came up with was Crimea with Russia seemingly impervious to the sanctions imposed on it which may force the West to consider some for of military engagement. Incidentally most tables also thought that Russia was not as guilty on Ukraine as the West is claiming.

And being Humanists we had to consider the role of religion in this. One argument is that most religions tell us to be nice and that has led to a fall in violence but all the major religions are centuries old and and we are becoming less religious so that does not explain the continued fall since they were established.

A more worrying thought was religious fanaticism (from any religion) could create more conflicts and the promise of life after death could reduce the fear of using violence to resolve those conflicts. Many religions have martyrs.

Or, is religion, like war, a solution to a problem that is now being solved in other more enlightened ways?

26 April 2014

The Lego House, inspired by Lego!

There is a virtuous circle here that is just too good to let pass by. It starts and ends with Lego.

Like most people I played with Lego as a child and then I bought lots more when my children were younger. I also took them to Legoland in Windsor a couple of times and also to the heart of the empire, Legoland in Billund, Denmark where we stayed in the Legoland hotel for a couple nights.

Now BIG Bjarke Ingels Group enter the story. They are a company of Danish architects that I discovered thanks to a TED Talk that Bjarke Ingels gave in 2009. In this he mentioned their Yes is More comic book that I bought. This describes some of their projects and the thinking behind them.

Then Lego wanted to build a new centre at Billund and BIG won the competition to design it. They had earlier considered a design for a tower block based on Lego bricks so what better to use for Lego themselves?

The new Lego House looks fantastic and I am waiting for some grandchildren so that I can have an excuse to go there.

To complete the circle, Lego have produced a Lego set of the Lego House that was inspired by Lego. Brilliant!

25 April 2014

Joyous Orpheus at Battersea Arts Centre

I was hoping for something a little different when I went to see Orpheus at Battersea Arts Centre and that is exactly what I got and I had a fabulous time with it.

The main theatre was divided in to two parts with the front section transformed in to a Parisienne cabaret bar in the 1930's and the rear arranged with traditional theatre seating. Some of the audience was seated in the cabaret section watching the show and the rest of us were in the theatre seats watching them and the show.

To complicate things further the cabaret act performed a musical version of the Orpheus (he of the Underworld fame) so we had a story within an act within a bar within a theatre.

The final complication were the intervals. There was an interval in the theatre when everything stopped and also an interval in the act where the musicians carried on playing and some of the audience in the bar started dancing.

It was all a little weird but it was also very original and it worked superbly.

The cabaret was hugely entertaining with all the musicians playing and acting with gusto. It was all nicely over the top to properly capture the mood of the cabaret. The performance was packed with neat touches such as the minimalist props used to indicate the woodland animals at the start of Orpheus' story.

It was light without being frivolous and there were some scenes of heavy drama too, such as Orpheus' climb out of the Underworld to the accompaniment of pounding drums.

I never knew that a Greek tragedy could be so much fun.

Bemused by Translations at the Rose Theatre

When the new season at the Rose Theatre was announced I bought tickets for four shows but not for Translations. Then I saw the ratings from previous performances on their tour and jumped in then.

Being a little late to the game meant that I was in one of the side blocks but I was still just early enough to get a seat in the first proper row (A13).

The stage was built out for Translations, as it was originally designed to do, and that meant that the Pit (where you sit on the floor and have to bring your own cushion) was severely curtailed and I only had the three rows of Pit Seated in front of and below me. I like the stage arranged like that and I would like to see the Rose do it more often.

Set in 1833, Translations tells the story of a small Gaelic speaking village in rural Ireland and a small group of English soldiers who have come to map the area to allocate English names to all the places.

They are helped in this by one of the villagers who had left a few years previously and made some money in the city. He acted as translator and also helped the English to understand the meanings behind the Gaelic names so that proper English equivalents could be determined.

A girl in the village falls in love with one of their soldiers despite neither of them knowing more than a word or two of each other's language.

Then something unexpected happens and it all turns nasty.

The main theme of Translations was, obviously, the clash in cultures epitomised by the different languages. This was the soft colonisation of Ireland. It seemed to be a simple point of which not much was made and the play ended on an uncertain note. There was a noticeable pause after the lights went out before the applause started.

There were lots of funny scenes in the play, such as when the girl and the soldier were talking to each other and saying much the same things but without knowing it because of the language difference. We in the audience could tell what the girl was saying as she was actually talking in English for our benefit, we just knew that she was really speaking in Gaelic.

The device of having all the Gaelic spoken in English worked well and as each character was either Irish or English (only one of them knew both languages) it was obvious to us which language was being spoken.

There was a small cast of characters around the couple. In the village there was an elderly school master, his lame son, his friend and several of his students. It was an interesting bunch of people but it was not clear what their roles were. The dumb girl gave us another perspective on language but, again, it was a simple point simply made.

The school master, his friend and his son were lovers of the classics and so we heard a lot of Homer and Virgil etc. I am note sure what the point of this was. It could have been an excuse to show the ancient origins of some modern words but that seemed like a lot of effort to make a minor point.

I left bemused. I had enjoyed a lot of the scenes but the story did not really go anywhere or end, and I did not feel particularly interested in any of the characters to care about them. It felt like a draft of an unfinished play.

I am sure that the critics who gave it five stars knew what they were talking about and they almost certainly saw more in the play than I did but clever plays still need to be accessible on first watching and I struggled to find any point or meaning to Translations.

24 April 2014

Delightful British architects exhibitions at RIBA

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) building in Portland Place is one of my favourite exhibition venues in London. This is because I am keen on their subject matter, architecture, and because they compliment the main exhibition with other smaller ones around the building.

This time the main exhibition was The Brits Who Built The Modern World, which was also a short series of programmes on BBC Four, and this was supported by New British Works and also by a display of all the RIBA Stirling Prize winners.

But first I had to get there and as the weather was good that meant a bit of walking and I took the opportunity to revisit the magnificent Carreras Cigarette Factory building on Mornington Crescent. Changing fashions meant that it was almost vandalised in the 60's but a tasteful makeover in the 90s brought it back to its former glory.

I went up to the secondary exhibition first but that was only because it was on the gallery on the first floor which is where I expected the main exhibition to be.

New British Works, as its name suggests, showcased some modern works by British Architects.

These were shown as models with brief descriptions. There were about a dozen of them and they were all nicely weird. I love modern architecture like that.

I then went downstairs to a space that I had not been in before to see The Brits Who Built The Modern World. It was not a deliberate plan but seeing the exhibitions in that order worked for me, having seen what British Architects are building today I then saw some of the history of how modern architecture like that was enabled by pioneers.

The exhibition space was stuffed with pictures, articles, posters and more and models. The largest and most impressive was of Sir Norman Foster's Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation building.I loved this corner with its abundance of metal and straight lines.

Another Foster building on display was the restored Reichstag in Berlin. That reinforced the point of the exhibition that this generation of British architects built some of the world's iconic buildings and had an enormous impact on the directions that architecture took.

As I have come to expect with RIBA, the exhibition was rich in detail, very informative and well presented. So much so that I went around it twice.

Among my favourites were some pictures from the early post-colonial era. Among these was a photo of Dubai when it had just one tower and that was not very tall. Bringing that story up to date there was also a map of Masdar City, a new green-zone in Abu Dhabi which Foster is involved in.

Foster may be dominating this article, another accident, but he did not dominate the exhibition and there was plenty of space given over to other architects like Richard Rogers.

Once I had seen the exhibitions I wandered up to the top floor and the roof terrace to have a look across London and of the BT Tower which looked as though it was part of the exhibition.

My final stop at RIBA was to the coffee bar on the ground floor for a well-deserved latte. I managed to resist the cake.

I do not get to RIBA as often as I would like, mainly because it is not that close to any of the theatres that I go to regularly, and that is a shame as they always do great exhibitions.

One of the staff told me that they were remodelling the exhibition areas so I am expecting even better things in the future.

23 April 2014

Open Mic night at the Grey Horse (23 April 14)

This is the last time (at least for a while)that I'll be writing about the Open Mic nights at the Grey Horse. Not because I am not going to them any more but because I now go so often that they have stopped being something sufficiently remarkable to write about. I don't write about the Sunday night Pub Quiz at the Willoughby Arms for the same reason.

I was a little earlier this week as I was at a meeting in the nearby Canbury Arms that finished around 8:30 so I was in the Grey Horse before my usual 9pm. It was a little quieter then but it did mean that I could hear some acts that I do not normally see.

The programme was much the same as usual but there were some new performers and the regular ones sang some new songs so it was still a fresh and vibrant evening.

This week's honourable mention goes to Vickie Kempson, pictured at the top. This was her return to live performance after a long gap and she was very nervous, and told us so. But she should not have worried. She settled in to the mood quickly and played a couple of nice gentle songs that I genuinely liked. I hope to see her there again.

As always the social part of the evening was as important as the music, if not more so.

It was Tony's birthday and here he is celebrating by blowing bubbles over his Hoaxwind colleagues Phil and Eugene. Also there were Pete, Anna, Julian and others.

I was the exception in being not involved in a band in any way and this preponderance of musicians in the audience as well as performing meant that most of our conversations were about music and future gigs. In particular, we were all looking forward to the Hoaxwind gig on 2 May.

The music ended suddenly at 11;30, Richard was doing his mandolin thing at the time and just stopped when the time came. He ends his songs abruptly anyway so this just meant that we got less of his music than usual, which was a small shame in a good evening.

I called it a day then and walked happily home.

Unwanted Towering Heights in North Kingston

Kingston is changing a lot and nowhere more than the corner formed between the river on the west and the railway line on the south.

Two large towers, Kingston Riverside, are already blighting Canbury Gardens and two more have been approved for Vicarage Road. While these are both exceptionally tall and unwelcome developments they are least have the advantage of being right on the edge of Kingston, by the river, and so do not impinge much on the main residential areas of North Kingston.

That is now likely to change with a new proposal for a site that had a gas holder until recently. The proposal is to build a large block of flats of up to eleven stories.

I do not like it one bit.

Even the plans submitted by the developer indicate that the building would be much taller than anything near it. What the plans do not show is that North Kingston is predominately two storey Victorian houses with some of the buildings slightly higher but nothing like as tall as this. Most of central London is not this tall.

The north-side, shown above, is slightly shorter than the east/west sides and the south is about the same so this is a large solid block. There is just one small gap in the building towards the north-east corner and that makes the building relentlessly solid.

There is no path through the site so it will be a dead zone as far as the other residents are concerned. I greatly prefer areas that are permeable, i.e. it is easy to walk through in several directions, as these bring life in to the area. This will do just the opposite.

There is a courtyard inside for the residents of the development and a "linear park" around the outside for everybody else. These look reasonable on the plans until you realise that the tall buildings will greatly restrict the light that will not only make these not particularly pleasant places to be in but will also restrict the growth of the plants.

Several residents' groups locally are fighting against the scheme, including the imaginatively named Towering Heights in North Kingston (THINK). I wish them well.

Sadly the Kingston upon Thames Society is in favour of the scheme. I do not know why.

19 April 2014

Lots of laughs with Two Into One at the Menier Chocolate Factory

It is hardly unusual for me to forget why I booked to see a show by the time that I get to see it but I rarely get it as wrong as this.

Because I was at the Menier Chocolate Factory I assumed that this was a musical. It wasn't. It was a farce. A very funny one.

This was my third visit to Menier Chocolate Factory and the seating arrangements had been very different each time. For Two Into One it was laid out more-or-less as a standard proscenium with straight rows to seating. I was in the front row just left of centre (seat A17).

The place seemed to be completely sold out with a reasonably  diverse audience.

The story was a fairly simple one. A lecherous MP saw spending a few days in London, in the Westminster Hotel, as the ideal opportunity for some quality time with one of the PM's secretaries while his wife was out at the theatre. She had managed to send her husband away on a skiing holiday. The MP's Permanent Private Secretary was told to book another room under an assumed name to create a place for the dalliance to happen.

The first slip-up in the plans convince the MP's wife that the PPS is after a dalliance with her and she is up for this and cancels her theatre trip.

For the next couple of hours we had the PM, his wife, his PPS, his amour, her husband, a Labour MP, a waiter and the hotel manager moving between the two rooms with increasingly confusing and amusing results as lie after lie was invented to explain the compromising posiyion that somebody found themselves in.

For most of the play we could see the two hotel suites, each with three doors that were constantly opening and closing as people in varying stages of undress moved through the rooms either trying to find somebody or to get away from them. This was a classic farce and was very well done.

It was only while watching it that I remembered that I had booked it because of its stellar cast. This included Michael Praed as the MP, Kelly Adams as his love interest and Jeffrey Holland as the Hotel Manager. It also featured Ray Cooney who wrote and directed it.

Of the actors new to me, Josefina Gabrielle was appropriately saucy as the MP's wife and Nick Wilton was brilliant as the beleaguered PPS at the heart of everything.

The shrieks of laughter were confirmation of the success of the play. It was a fabulous evening made all the more so by the surprise of it not being a musical.

Tense drama with Eldorado at the Arcola Theatre

Arcola is one of the few theatres where I have to have a good reason not to see one of their productions, the others are Riverside and Theatre503. They have built a formidable reputation with me through the quality, variety and interest of the plays they put on.

So I would probably have gone to see Eldorado even if it was a musical about penguins. It was actually a dark comedy set in a war zone and so just the sort of thing I like to see anywhere.

This was a Saturday afternoon so my pre-performance drink was a latte and my lunch was some cake. The ex-theatre spaces, such as booking office and bar, are important and the new-new Arcola has a nice cosy feel to it.

The seats in the front row of the central block are cosy too and I was organised enough to get my usual place.

Eldorado was about failure and hope. There is a clue in the title.

The failures included a troubled marriage, a lost career in music, a miscarriage, another lost job, a broken teacher/student relationship and a failed business. But there was hope in all these too, a troubled marriage is not a failed marriage, losing a job is an opportunity too and students progress.

Outside various armed groups were fighting over parts of the city while optimistic developers were constructing new buildings for the returning citizens. Former war-zones are good investment opportunities.

A married couple were at the centre of the drama and connected to them were her student, his boss, her mother and her mother's toy-boy/business partner.

Most of the drama happened in their grand modern house. This is where they talked, entertained visitors and where she gave music lessons (the piano is in the dark corner on the left).

Eldorado was a busy play and a lot happened in it. Most of the scenes were quick-fire emotional dialogues as events and their repercussions were planned, discussed and anticipated.

And there were a lot of events in the personal relationships, business dealings and outside world. The story whizzed along taking us with it, desperate to find out how it all ended.

But the events were really just there to switch the emotions and so we were also bouncing up and down between joy and despair as we galloped forward. If that sounds a little tiring, well it was, but in a good way. We got involved and were keen to see the issues resolved and the happy ending emerge.

And it sort of did. OK, so some people died, some relationships broke irretrievably and other bad things happened but the final image was one of strength and resolve (admittedly combined with sorrow).

I caught the wife, Amanda Hale, very briefly as we were both leaving and congratulated her on her performance overall and especially for the final scene and before she could run away she said that she was pleased that I had caught the two sides to that final moment. I did not have time to also complement her wardrobe, which was a shame. The red outfit at the start of the second half was striking.

Eldorado was a busy play with several strands to follow all of which added to the thick emotional stew. It was dark but not bleak. It was also very real. I loved it.

17 April 2014

Gothic delights with Dorian Gray at Riverside Studios

This was a production that I wanted to see from when it was first announced because anything based on Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray was going to be interesting and a musical even more so.

The final clincher is that the production company was called Ruby in the Dust, and every Neil Young fan knows where that comes from.

In fact I was so keen to see it that I actually went in the preview week rather in the far more usual last week. Riverside Studio 3 was packed for the event, fuller than I had ever seen it before, and there was a good queue well before the doors opened.

That meant that I go in to the theatre later than usual and my preferred seat (second row, first seat to the right of the aisle) was taken and I had to settle for the front row instead. I've still not worked out why I fight for the front row everywhere else but prefer the second at the Riverside. I suspect that there is no logic to that.

Dorian Gray was mostly a standard theatrical drama with the addition of an occasional narrator and some even more occasional music. I think the description "musical" was somewhat misplaced.

I knew the gist of the story (doesn't everybody?) and I even read the book once but the details were lost in my faded memory and so I was seeing much of the story for the first time. And I liked it that way.

The story was as dark and Gothic as I had hoped.

The production was quirky, which is always a good sign. There was a lot of interaction with the audience and having found myself in the front row I got both a small drink of ginger beer with orange and a friendly touch from the rather attractive Lady Victoria Wotton. What was Lord Henry Wotton thinking when he abandoned her?

More quirkiness came in the dialogue. I expected a lot of Wilde, and a lot of it sounded like it was his words, but Daisy's acting career was used as an excuse to add some Shakespeare too, and not just in the parts where she was acting in a Shakespeare play. Oddly, Dorian Gray (the play, not the man) ended with a Shakespearean phrase that was entirely suitable for its meaning and entirely unexpected because of its authorship.

Dorian Gray (the man, not the play) was not at all quirky and Jack Fox had the appropriate calm self-assured swagger in the first half and transformed in to introverted despair in the second. Also noteworthy was Joe Wredden as Dorian's companion Lord Henry Wotton.

Since seeing the show I have seen some negative reviews for the show which mostly seem to be about the show not doing what the reviewers wanted it to do rather than any discernible faults in the production, and it is because reviews are so subjective that I do not read them. My experience, and that of the packed audience on the evening that I was there, was very different. We had a very enjoyable evening which we recognised with an enthusiastic reaction at the end.

A quirky adaptation of a well-know story is always going to involve a lot of risks and will upset some people but I liked what they did here and, if time allowed, would go to see it again to pick up more of the nuances in the writing.

16 April 2014

Open Mic night at the Grey Horse (16 April 14)

The Open Mic nights at the Grey Horse have become something of a habit recently thanks to circumstances keeping me at home during the week and also keeping my Wednesday evenings otherwise free. It's a good habit to have.

There is a certain similarity in the acts each week but either the performers change enough or their songs do for it not to be representative. Instead it is comfortingly familiar.

This week, for example, Maria Ahearn (the event organiser) sang an acoustic set in the middle of the evening rather than playing some rock and blues at the very end. She performed with a guitarist who I've seen play there for other singers. I've not caught his name yet but Maria introduced him as "not my Dad".

A highlight for me was the instrumental session by Richard Stickney (picture at the top). He played a mandolin through a loop machine so that he could build up textures and rhythms. The folky music was pleasing enough but what made the session was Richard's relentless joviality. These are meant to be fun evenings and Richard epitomised that.

I also liked another instrumentalist who used loops to build his sound. These sounds were quite experimental with a hint of the progressive. I was impressed enough to seek him out afterwards to thank him personally for his performance.

Catherine Paver was there again, this time with feather earrings, a colourful native-American necklace and a song sung in Spanish.

It was a little quieter than usual, possibly because it was the week before Easter, and some of the regular acts were missing and some of my friends were missing too. However, it was still a lively and fun evening which I spent mostly with two mates and managed to get to speak to quite a few other people, including a young lad wearing a Sparks t-shirt.

It was another fun, entertaining and sociable evening and that's why I keep going.

Kingston Society Public Meeting: What Matters to Us?

April's Public Meeting of the Kingston upon Thames Society gave members and the public an opportunity to discuss what it is that the Society should concern itself with. The appearance of buildings is one thing, but what else should we be campaigning on?

The debate was very open and deliberately unstructured so rather than report it verbatim I have tried to group what I thought were the comments in to topic areas which are presented in no particular order (I think that the last one is the most important).


We should consider all aspects of Town Planning, not just Architecture. For example, which parts of the Borough do we think are suitable for tall buildings and how tall are we happy for them to be?

Other factors to include are amenities (i.e. things people use like schools, parks, shops, pubs, etc.) and utilities (i.e. basic services like roads).

The Society should consider neighbourhoods, not just individual buildings. For example, a concentration of student accommodation can change the character of an area.

Kingston has 20,000 students but the University does not have enough accommodation for all of its Year 1 students. Therefore there will be a significant demand for additional student accommodation for some time.

Working with experts

The issue of licensing is more complex. Clearly people leaving a pub/club late has an impact on a neighbourhood (which suggests that we should get involved) but these matters are subject to formal licencing procedures which includes all stakeholders plus experts (which suggests that we do not need to get involved).

The same issue arises with expert contributions to planning applications, e.g. the specialist reports on road traffic, environment and water.

The problem is that if we go with the experts then we say nothing new and if we go against them then we risk looking stupid unless we can find something wrong in their analysis.

Covering the whole Borough

The Society covers the whole Borough but this is not reflected in the Committee which is dominated by people living in Kingston. As a result, areas like Chessington, Tolworth and Worcester Park are not well represented.

We have members across the Borough so this is local knowledge that we could call on. At the moment we have no mechanism for doing so.

Involving our members

In addition to improving our geographical coverage, involving our members more would give more clout to our contributions. Some councillors see comments made by the Society as reflecting the views of just a few members on the Committee rather than the whole membership and that means that they carry little weight.

We should try to include members more in our discussions. We could run events on specific topics, e.g. the Latchmere House proposals, or have socials where members could raise any topics that interest them.

We should try to communicate better and if we can only send one email a month then it needs to include more news items and also let members know how that can join debates, e.g. via our Facebook group.

The Heritage Open Days (HODs) are something we run on behalf of RBK and so are not aimed at recruiting new members but we could use the event more to promote the Society and membership.

The lecture hall at Tiffin is very formal and does not encourage discussion. Perhaps we should consider other venues, at least for some meetings.

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) could be used more to engage with members who do not wish to, or are unable to, attend meetings and who use these tools regularly.

15 April 2014

Occupied at Theatre503 looked at England questioningly through Romanian eyes

The premise of Occupied was interesting but the real reason that I went was because it was on at Theatre503 and I've liked everything that I have seen there. This was no exception.

Sadly the Latchmere pub downstairs was still closed for a major refurbishment and even sadder I forgot that it was Bring Your Own Bottle and I forgot to take my own bottle. So it was a dry evening for me.

Despite that setback I still kept my wits about me enough to claim my usual seat in the middle of the front row.

As is often the case these days, there were already some performers on stage including a Romanian woman playing songs like Rule Britannia on an accordion.

The scene was a toilet that two recently arrived Romanians, a man and a woman, had made their home. Hence the pun title "Occupied".

With them was a young Englishman whom they had kidnapped so that he could teach them about England. There was also an old Romania woman who appeared occasionally looking for drink or food before going to sleep in the corner.

If that all sounds a little weird, well it was.

The conversations between the three varied from the surreal, e.g. how to ask an English woman out for a date, to the dark, e.g. on witnessing deaths on the violent overthrow of Ceaușescu in 1989.

Through these conversations we learnt something about the three young people and, through them, something about perceptions held by others on England, Romania and the Romani.

It was something of an emotional roller-coaster with the general levity and good humour punctured by some moments of harsh reality.

Steering the way was Alex (played brilliantly by Mark Conway) who was vibrant and passionate in his wish to make something of his life in England. Andreya (Josie Dunn) followed him somewhat slavishly and Tom (Joe Marsh) tried to talk his way out of his imprisonment.

The turning point came when we learnt how Alex and Andrea first met Tom and that led to the unexpected, and unhappy, ending.

Occupied used the situation and the characters to look at immigration and the issues that surround it from different perspective but it remained a human story rather than a political polemic. There were some nice touches such as all the anti-immigrant stories that Alex had collected from the Daily Mail and stuck on the wall, the songs played by Andreya and the unusual card game that they played where cheating was an accepted feature.

There was so much going on in Occupied and on some many levels, and that that made it a thoroughly absorbing and engaging drama. It was a touching story about three people that we cared about set in the context to wider events that shape all our lives.

It was grim (set in an abandoned toilet, how could it be otherwise?) with a grim ending, and I loved every moment of it.

14 April 2014

Kingston upon Thames Society Committee: April 2014

April was yet another quiet month for the Committee.

This time is was quite frustrating as there were some significant planning applications that we could have discussed, such as Latchmere House and the former gas holder site in North Kingston, but the Committee was not willing to discuss them.

Instead we spent a couple of hours talking about nothing very much and, as far as I recall, we made only made one decision of any sort.

However, I did manage to acquire, or carry-forward, quite a few actions:
  • Circulate the listed buildings list.
  • Make websites changes suggested in the recent review.
  • Develop a timetable that covers the Townscape Awards and HODs.
  • Circulate some of the Latchmere House plans and say why I do not like them.
  • Publicise the planned visits on the website, London Walk and Quaker Centre. Take details from latest Newsletter.
  • Publicise future speakers on the website.
  • Find out more about the London Skyline Campaign.
My notes from the meeting give some idea of how pointless and frustrating it was. Normally I would expand these in to paragraphs and do some research to add further details but this time I have left them as they were to show how sparse they were.

Has North Kingston student accommodation. Been deferred? Have they appealed?

What is the status of Gas Holder site (14/12215)? And why does nobody at the meeting know?

Town House, why are we discussing this, what is the status?

We don't care about closing banks!

George to object to Six Bells change of use (our one decision on the night).

The planning application for the new North Kingston school should be submitted in the Sumner with the school opening September 2015. The existing building will be retained to allow this deadline to be met.

Concerned about the finish of the market stalls, did they use untreated wood? The grain end is open to the weather and the holes will let rain in.

13 April 2014

It takes an hour to walk around Kew Gardens

Another Sunday morning visit to Kew Gardens but this time with a difference.

Usually I go there to look at something but this time I was with a friend and the only thing on the agenda was exercise.

We got to Lion Gate, him walking me by bus, just before it opened at 9:30 and joined the small queue. Once in we walked all around the outside clockwise. Mostly this meant sticking to one of the main paths but we took a slight detour around Kew Palace to cover more distance and also, surprisingly, too see the garden there. We also went through the Duke's Garden, following the horseshoe path, and behind the Temple of Aeolus for the same reasons.

The only diversion we took was early on when the flash of red called us across to the Japanese Landscape.

We got back to Lion Gate very close to 10:30am, almost exactly an hour after we started. I walk at a fairly predictable 1km in 10 minutes so that makes the walkable circumference pretty close to 6km.

That was a good way to start the day, though the people I know who were running the London Marathon at the same time may feel that they were doing a bit more.

12 April 2014

NeMeSiS thrash the Fox and Duck

NeMeSiS are not quite my thing but they are still worth popping in to the local pub to see on an otherwise free Saturday night.

They are not quite my thing because they are on the thrashy side of rock and, to me, that makes the songs sound much the same. So, for example, when they played Rockin' in the Free World the guitar solo sounded nothing like anything Neil Young has ever done.

On the plus side, they do play songs like Rockin' in the Free World and also established rock cover band classics like Wishing Well, Jumping Jack Flash, Whole Lotta Rosie, and (obviously) Smoke on the Water.

There were a lot of my favourites in their set and in the end the plus side won me over. NeMeSiS entertained.

Brainstorm, the art of Bryan Talbort at The Muse gallery

I have been a fan of Bryan Talbot's work for quite a few years now so I was always going to be interested in an exhibition of his art, even more so when it was reasonably close to home in Ladbroke Grove.

The only problem was finding out about it. Luckily I read the Forbidden Planet blog on the penultimate day of the exhibition and so was able to see it just before it closed.

Bryan had been there for the opening night and is pictured here between two pictures of Nemesis the Warlock from 2000AD.

There were samples of Bryan's work from across his career and I was again drawn to The Adventures of Luther Arkwright and I might just have bought this page had not somebody beaten me to it. It carries the menace of a Nuremberg Rally plus the detail of a fine artist.

I came close to buying another page a couple of years ago. I spoke to Bryan about it at one of his signings (I've been to several) and he told me then that it had been sold just a couple of days previously.

Oh well, I'll just have to carry on buying the books and I've already got two by Bryan on this year's Christmas List, Arkwright Integral, due in October, which reprints the two Luther Arkwright novels in A4 hardback, and Grandville Noel, the fourth book in the series due out in November. I won't have to wait that long to get Sally Heathcote, Suffragette.

The best part about the exhibition was seeing the art from the various projects side-by-side to compare and contrast the styles. There were a lot of differences between them. I am hardly an expert on this but some looked like soft pencils, some thick felt-pen and some watercolour washes. That was testament, if further testament were needed, to Bryan's skill.

It was only a small exhibition but the scope of the work more than made up for that and it got me even more excited than I already was for his next books.

Faustian Pack: The Crackle at the Linbury Studio Theatre

My original plan was to see the two Faustian Pack spin-off operas on consecutive nights but a minor confusion with the Royal Opera House website (all my fault) meant that I booked to go on Friday evening and then on Saturday afternoon.

At least I got the seating right and I was back in the Upper Gallery, in seat R9.

Public transport was not kind to me and the slow bus to Richmond lost me time that I never pulled back but I had allowed some contingency in my timings and I got to the theatre a couple of minutes before the opera started. That was just enough time to grab the special instructions sheet and to start to set up my iPhone. The Crackle used Chirp to send text and pictures to the audience, much like a fax used tones to send messages over telephone lines (remember faxes?). We had to install the app and leave it running.

Several times during the opera chirping sounds were produced and messages appeared on our phones. Most of these were disconcerting, which I guess was the point, but none more so that the devil himself, David Cameron.

The Crackle stuck fairly close to the Faustian myth though the details were very different.

The man making the deadly pack was a music teacher who was threatened with the loss of his department because of cut-backs. A way to save everything was to win a singing competition as that would show the value of the department and a mysterious voice said that they could so that.

The teacher was a little geeky and there was a funny scene early on when the mother of one of the students came to see him for diner and he was not expecting her and was in the bath. The flat was nothing like ready for a female visitor and for dinner they had a pot-noodle each.

This was a nice bit of light relief in what we suspected was going to be a story with an unhappy ending.

The mysterious benefactor provided a wonderful musical instrument, that is it on the stage, and the competition was duly won. And then the price was paid.

Musically The Crackle was structured traditionally with well defined songs that you could hum along to, if that were allowed.

It started off sounding a little like Philip Glass and while repetition was used a few times times it felt nothing like a Glass opera overall. The music modern but tuneful, if that makes sense. They probably said the same thing about Britten at the time.

The singing was a nice mix of solos, duets and choruses with the chorus being the teacher's young students. Most of it was lively and uplifting, as befitted the move of the story until the cruel end.

The Crackle was a neatly formed chamber opera with a dramatic operatic story (it ended badly as all the best opera do), fine music and plenty of good singing. And that is all you can ask an opera to do.

11 April 2014

Faustian Pack: Through His Teeth at the Linbury Studio Theatre

The main theatre at the Royal Opera House was showing Faust and it was running other events under the label Faustian Pack to compliment this.

Through His Teeth was a new opera inspired by the story of Faust which was performed at the modern Linbury Studio Theatre on the lower level.

I got to the opera house just as the crowd for Faust was going in which meant that the Floral Hall was all but empty and was the ideal place to have a leisurely drink. I had thought about going to one of the Covent Garden pubs but they were all frighteningly busy.

I had been to the Linbury a few times before but this was my first time in the Upper Gallery, in seat R9. The view was perfect from there, which was just as well as I had already booked the same seat for the next day.

Through His Teeth got its name from the phrase "lying through his teeth" and it told the story of a man who psychologically manipulated women to give up their lives, and their money, and to follow him with almost messianic devotion that defied even the most obvious truths.

One woman escaped due to the efforts of her sister but she was still not free of him and other women were still ensnared.

The story was told as a sung narrative, almost recitative but a little more musical than that. The music was dramatically modern and devoid of the sort of tune that you can hum along to. I liked the impact of the music and it worked well, much like a good film soundtrack helps to signal the mood.

The story was the main feature of the opera and it was a good story well told. It was genuinely at times and all three singers played their part/s well, despite one of them complaining of a cold.

It was a gripping opera and I could ask for no more.

10 April 2014

Fatal Attraction at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

The first reviews for Fatal Attraction are coming in and they are generally poor. They are also wrong. This is a fine performance and I enjoyed it immensely.

It is not the sort of play that I would normally be attracted but what swung it was the offer of cheap tickets via the theatre club at work and it came with the name Sir Trevor Nunn attached to it.

It was not the sort of film that I would normally watch either and so I went with just a clue to the plot rather than with much detail. I have no idea how close the play is to the film, and I do not care.

Somehow this was my first visit to the Theatre Royal Haymarket though I had walked past in many times, often on the way to/from other theatres.

As this was a group booking I was in the stalls (F5). I had a good view from there but as before the show started all I could see was the large black safety-curtain I have not included the usual view-from-my-seat photo.

Fatal Attraction, in case you did not know, is the fairly simple story of a married man who has a brief fling with another woman which he immediately regrets and tries to walk away from. But she has other ideas and becomes increasing frenzied in her wish to keep the relationship going.

That makes the woman, Alex Forrest played by Natascha McElhone, the centre of the action and she was perfect as both the blonde temptress and then the vengeful mistress.

Another of the play's strengths was the way that it was constructed, and I presume that Trevor Nunn was to thank for much of that.

Physically the set swung effortlessly from scene to scene allowing the action to flow freely between homes, offices and parks. Emotionally the play used Madame Butterfly cleverly to build to the climax, though the final scene was a little unnecessary for those of us who knew the opera.

And while Alex was the baddie in the story some of the blame was also neatly placed on the man, Dan Gallagher played by Mark Bazeley, who took the lead in his initial encounter with Alex, and also on his wife, Beth Gallagher played by Kristin Davis, who in presenting Dan with a choice of town v country spurred him to have that fateful night on the town. The fairly simple story was actually a bit more complicated than it first looked. Their daughter and her pet rabbit were blameless though.

The tension built nicely and there were gasps of surprise from the audience, most of whom I assume actually knew the story beforehand. It was billed as a thriller and it was.

Fatal Attraction was a gripping story well told and I enjoyed it immensely.

9 April 2014

Open Mic night at the Grey Horse (9 April 14)

No excuses for leading with a picture of Catherine Paver again this week. She always makes an effort to dress the part and this week she had a new snakeskin jacket to show off.

I spoke to her after her set about her influences (don't real interviewers do that?) and we discussed TV shows like The High Chaparral and The Virginian. Classics.

But I digress and should go back to the beginning.

Earlier that evening had been to a very unrewarding meeting and I needed something to perk me up and the Open Mic night at the Grey Horse certainly did that.

There were a few adventures with the beer. Young's Ordinary was off so I started with the Brains before moving on to the Naked Ladies. The beer helped.

The music helped too. It was much as it always is, and that is a good thing, with the usual artists playing music in their usual styles. Not sure that I've heard Yes Sir, I can Boogie by Baccara covered before.

This is one of the regular acts Ben Henderon and his partner whose name I've not learnt yet. The same goes for the Brummie lady who sang the Baccara song and who I had a talk with afterwards.

It has just struck me that most of the performers seem to be teachers!

The formula for the evening was just as it always is with fine music and plenty of socialising with performers and audience alike. That's why I keep going.

To end on a bum-note, it looks as though the Grey Horse is going to become a gastro-pub and the music will end. That's really bad news and I just hope that the Open Mic night can find somewhere else to play.

8 April 2014

Hidden at The Cockpit

I had a rare free evening in London so I decided to go to the theatre.

Actually, going to the theatre was the easy decision to make, the hard one was deciding which one. This was made a little harder by my accidental discovery of Theatro Technis in Camden, while on my lunchtime walk, which was doing a Havel play. I also had the option of going to the Arcola but in the end I stuck with Plan A and went to The Cockpit in Marylebone.

I knew The Cockpit from their Theatre in the Pound nights but this was the first time that I had been there for a full performance.

The attraction was the dark comedy Hidden. I like dark comedies.

But first I had to get there. I avoided my usual getting-lost-from-the-tube-station routine by walking there from near Oxford Circus. That proved to be remarkably easy and took me along unfamiliar roads like Wigmore Street, Seymour Street, Seymour Place and Lisson Grove.

I got there too late to have a curry in the restaurant across the road but in plenty of time for a bottle of Budvar and a packet of dry roasted peanuts. It was fairy busy but careful positioning by the entrance to the theatre got me my preferred seat in the front row next to the central aisle.

The theatre was a little cropped from how I was used to it. The stage had been brought forward which meant that almost all of the seating was in the front section with very little at either side. The seats that were in use were almost all taken.

The play started with a surprising voice from the back row of the seats. This was Colin explaining that sometimes when he was in the theatre he was tempted to run on to the stage and drop his trousers, which he then did.

Colin was the first of six characters that we met, three men and three women played by two actors,Peter Carruthers and Laura Lindsay. Their stories were told mostly through a series of short monologues though there were some scenes with both of them.

As they told us about themselves and what they were doing we discovered connections between them, some slight and some significant. For example the check-out girl served one of the men and then went on a date with another.

The scenes gave us interesting perspectives on seemingly small things in life. Such as James' furtive encounters on a morning train that amounted to no more than touching each other's legs which may have meant nothing to the woman but which came to matter so much to him. At the end of that scene we learnt that he was married to one of the female characters and another connection was made.

The scenes also came together to show how these six lives were linked and how each of the characters had aspects of their lives that they kept hidden.

There were some genuinely funny moments and some quietly disturbing ones too and the combination made a compulsive story and good entertainment. I made the right choice in going to see it.


Having stumbled across GRAD (Gallery for Russian Arts and Design) for their Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen exhibition I am now following them on social media to keep informed on what they are doing.

What they are doing now is TAINT, which they describe as "a deconstruction, interrogation and exploration of the art of painting through contemporary art practise".

That means the works are a reaction to painting and are not necessarily paintings themselves.

The art starts rights at the door with a piece on the floor made out of small coloured pieces. They are arranged in swirls across the floor. The overall effect looked something like a map and I could argue the case that I could see some familiar continents in it.

The exhibition only opened the day before and already the pieces were being spread away from their original clumps. I am sure that was expected and/or planned and the spread added to the effect. It also meant that I had to take great care over where I walked.

One of my favourite pieces was this one.

It took me a while to realise but it is a high-quality (Giclée ) print. I thought it was real until I got close to it.

I like the composition and the colours but best of all, I like the title "Six plasticine balls, three of which are sculptures".The mischief in that is cute but it also raised the serious question as to the definition of art.

All of the pieces were very different. There were constructs with lights, a video, a towel-rail, a painting, some coloured acetate and a page from a notebook with some straight cuts in it. I did not like all of it, and nor did I expect to, but it was all interesting and I spent a fair amount of time, twenty minutes or so walking around the pieces.

GRAD is quite a small gallery so I am unlikely to ever make a special trip in to London just to see something there but it is well situated just off Oxford Circus so it is easy to include a quick visit there in to a larger programme. And as long as GRAD keep putting on exhibitions like Kino and TAINT I'll keep going to see them.