31 May 2014

Almost The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band at the Borderline

I first came across the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band waaaay back in the late 60's when they appeared on the children's TV show Do Not Adjust Your Set! and kept in touch, but at a distance, through their popular singles like Monster Mash.

Somewhere along the way I bought their first album, Gorilla (1967), and loved it.

And, of course, I was well aware of the other works of their former front-man Vivian Stanshall.

Finally, I met Roger Ruskin Spear a couple of times when we lived in the same road in North Kingston.

All that loose contact spread over a ridiculous number of years meant that I was up for seeing them live in their current incarnation Almost The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band which featured original members Roger Ruskin Spear (promoted to lead) and Rodney Slater (saxophone etc.) supported by Sam Spoons (drums and, er, spoons) and Dave Glasson (piano).

The venue was the Borderline which is something of a home for "established" bands and I have seen Space Ritual and Stackridge there several times.

It was the most informal atmosphere I think I have ever seen at a concert with the band, Roger mostly, talking to the audience like old friends, which I suspect several were.

The songs were old friends too and despite having just one of their albums I recognised almost everything that they did. The pinnacle of this familiarity came at the end of Big Shot when Roger left us to do the punchline.

The informality was also helped by the almost chaotic nature of the show. Roger explained that they were set up on stage in a mirror-image of their usual line-up and used this as an excuse for the several screw-ups where musical instruments and props were not where they expected them to be.

Far from looking unprofessional it added to the informality and charm. Nothing serious went wrong and the fact that some little things did just made them more human.

The music was all that I hoped it would be and was very much a greatest hits selection, though there was no Urban Spaceman for some reason. There were though great songs like Hunting Tigers, I'm Bored and Jollity Farm. That last one is currently being used in a TV ad and I hope the Bonzos are getting some money for that.

The audience interaction grew in to participation and even I was forced to sing for one of the songs as Roger walked through the audience thrusting a microphone at people. He also came down to the main floor for a couple of the songs, including the set-closing Monster Mash.

It took me a long time to get around to seeing something of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band live but it was worth the wait.

Umbral is fantastical

One of the best things about digital comics is that it is easy to try out new titles and when they work out to buy the subsequent issues. And so it was with UMBRAL.

I have felt for a while that I should be reading stuff by Antony Johnston and have recently started his new series The Fuse.

Wasteland was the other obvious one to try but that is only available via ComiXology which no-longer supports in-app purchases (a very silly mistake) and so I preferred to keep with titles published via the Image comics app.

Umbral fitted the bill nicely.

It was still on my must-try-one-day list when the first issue was suddenly made available for free in the hope that it would encourage people to buy Volume 1 which collects issues 1 to 6. I downloaded the free issue and read it almost immediately.

I was blown away by the beauty of it and so did as was expected and bought the first volume which I then read. It got better.

Umbral sits more-or-less in the Swords and Sorcery camp of, for example, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser but with a twist of horror added. There are feudal kingdoms, wizards, assassins, pirates, ghosts and a guild of thieves. These provide a familiar context but the story is more complex and more gripping that most in that genre.

Christopher Mitten's stunning artwork adds the knock-out blow because it is beautiful in all sort of ways. It's slow and dramatic when it needs to be, such as in the full-page panel above and at other times it flows with Antony Johnston's pacey script.

I think that this typical page shows why the comic is so good. The heroes are being chased (that happens a lot), the detail in the archers in the middle panel is exquisite, the tower they are climbing down could only belong to another realm, the different perspectives in each panel emphasis the action, and the story just runs down the page, a page that urges to be turned.

It has been quite a while since a comic has hit he as hard and as fast as Umbral has. The only downside is that I am now completely up to date with the book which has ended on something of a cliffhanger and it is going to be a frustrating wait for issues 7 to 12.

30 May 2014

Complex and satisfying Incognito at the Bush Theatre

Bush Theatre has quickly become one of my favourites, helped by the interesting programme, nice cafe/bar area and ease of travel to/from the venue. It's something like the Arcola Theatre in that respect but closer.

All that means that I do not need much excuse to go there which, in turn, means that I do not have to find out much about the shows before I book them. And the upshot of all that is I had little idea of what Incognito was about when I arrived to see it, which is just how I like it. The surprise is part of the fun.

The timings worked well this evening and I arrived at the theatre about ten minutes before the doors opened so I was able to join the queue and order a beer at the same time. The informal queueing system was as messy as always, there just is not a logical place for it, but there were no major incidents (I did hear some grumbling, possibly about me) and we entered the theatre in an orderly manner.

The layout of the stage was different yet again, I have no idea yet what the default configuration of the Bush is. This time the stage was in the middle with racked seating on both sides. That meant that there were two front rows and I was able to claim a middle seat on one of them despite not being anything like the first person in and some of the keen people reserving seats for friends with coats, a common practise at the Orange Tree but not something that I had seen at the Bush before.

The opposite benches may have looked half empty when I took the photo below but that was only because I took it almost as soon as I got in. The show was sold out.

I think that it makes sense to talk about the structure of the play before addressing the drama. I'll try that any way.

A cast of two men and two women played a number of roles across two linked stories. They did not change costumes and they just used the basic acting tools of voice and movement to show who they were.

At first they left the stage area to sit at the edge for a while before returning in a new role but as we got familiar with the characters and the technique these gaps became smaller and then disappeared with them changing role on stage. I had seen this done before, e.g. Middlemarch at the Orange Tree, but not to this extent.

The drama was constructed as three related stories (I think!) that were told in parallel. At least one was not chronological so we had to work out which story we were in, who the characters were and whereabouts in the story each scene was happening, in a set of scenes that changed quickly. That sounds complicated, and it was, but we were led in to it gradually and I was never lost.

Now to the stories. The first concerned the fate of Albert Einstein's brain, the second that of Henry Molaison who developed a sever memory problem following brain surgery. The surgery had been given to try and cure his fits but that was not very obvious in this production.

I only knew because I had seen the story before in 2401 Objects at Jacksons Lane in 2011. This production also used the same cast to tell two parallel tales, then it was Henry's past and his present. Those coincidences troubled me slightly and took the edge off an otherwise excellent production.

The third story concerned a neuro-scientist who having been married and had a son had then started a relationship with another woman. The tension in this story was the secrets she kept from her new lover about her previous straight life.

The stories were there just as an excuse to string a series of related scenes together, something like a fast action sketch show, and the drama came from the flow of the scenes and the way that the actors and the set stayed static in the middle of these changes but adapted, chameleon-like, to each scene.

Incognito was brilliantly constructed and, in that respect, was probably the most complex production that I have seen. This is what excellent theatre-craft can do. It was also very human and warmly emotional with the stories concentrating on the people in them and how they felt about the events happening to them. A few eyes were probably moistened.

The best analogy that I can think of to try and make sense of it all is that it was like eating a box of nice assorted chocolates quickly.

29 May 2014

Mixed evening with Squirrels and The After-Dinner Joke at the Orange Tree Theatre

The theatre would not be the theatre if things did not go a little wrong at times and the Orange Tree would not be the Orange Tree if it did not try the unusual.

This year's directors' showcase featured two plays that did not quite work for me, and that had nothing much to do with the direction or the acting.

On first was Squirrels by David Mamet in which an established but struggling writer enlisted the help of a fledgling write as scribe and sounding-board. Most of the story suggestions involved squirrels, for no apparent reason. Occasionally the cleaner would enter to add her comments.

It was all rather weird and while I am a big fan of weird Squirrels never really got anywhere or did anything. If there was a point then I missed it. That is not to say that the play was without merit, the dialogue was crisp and the interaction between the three people was neat. It just lacked a purpose.

In contrast, The After-Dinner Joke by Caryl Churchill had a point but it was all too obvious.

An idealistic young woman left her job and threw herself in to charity work. In a series of short scenes she met many people, played by just four actors, and through them she learned how charity really works and where politics fits in to this.

The play dates from 1978 (when it was broadcast on BBC’s Play for Today) and that may explain much of its simplicity. Perhaps the messages about the compromises that charity has to make were new and shocking then but I felt that I was being force fed a message that I already knew.

What made the play pleasing was the fine cast switching between their multiple roles with speed and ease.

Neither play worked for me but they did not fail either and my slight disappointment with the evening was largely due to comparisons with other evenings at the Orange Tree.

All that said, I am glad that the Orange Tree takes risks like this because the (very) occasional flat evening is a price well worth playing for the more usual excellent ones.

Lifting my spirits at the Saatchi Gallery

It had not been a good day in the office but at least it finished early which meant that I could go somewhere to cheer myself up. And it did not take long to think of the Saatchi Gallery.

This was conveniently situated almost on Sloane Square station which I had to pass though any way so it was a very minor detour to pop-in there.

The mood was set in the first gallery which was full of giant ants. You can get some idea of the scale when you realise that the walls that they are climbing on are tall, as you would expect in a gallery. Each ant was about 1m long.

I immediately thought of the Blondie song Attack Of The Giant Ants from their excellent eponymous first album and I was feeling better already.

The Saatchi has huge light galleries which are ideal for showing off large colourful eye-catching pieces. That is exactly what they usually have in there and is exactly what I was hoping to see.

Of course small pieces of art can be very good too, for example I love the book illustrations by William Blake in Tate Britain, but there is something special about putting a large bright picture on a very large white wall. The simple act of walking in to the room can be breathtaking.

The exhibitions that I saw were called Pangaea: New Art From Africa and Latin America, and Abstract America Today, which means nothing other that the artists shared a geography and a time.

I was quite happy with that and was not trying to find any sort of unifying theme across the works. I just wanted them to surprise and delight me. Which they did.

It was not all about colour and I am quite a fan of greys and blacks too.

The "milk" piece at the far end was striking from a distance and from close-up and I settled for just the long range view to show it in context and also to give a better idea of the scale of it.

It was one of many works that I would gladly have had in my house if only I a spare room like that to put it in.

One of the galleries at Saatchi is double-height and that usually has something even larger that the other pieces in it. This time the walls were draped with what looked like used bags stitched together.

Again this piece worked at a distance because of its visual impact and also close-up because of its texture.

I really liked these pieces and I also wanted to show how they were presented. There was a lot of space around the works, even when they were by the same artist, and that made it easier to appreciate each one. It was almost as if each piece was alone in the gallery.

Another blast of colour simply because I liked it.

One small room, on the top floor I think, was quite different. It had a display of "normal sized" paintings by Richard Maurovic. I liked their industrial subjects, simple yet striking colouring and the way that the pictures wrapped around the edges of the canvas.

There are under twenty gallery rooms at Saatchi and most of these had just a few sparsely hung pieces. I was in something of a rush, I was on my way home after all, so went round with decent haste. Even then it took me almost an hour to get around.

I went to Saatchi on the spur of the moment for a quick lift and it did that and more. Good modern art galleries are some of my very favourite places and Saatchi is definitely one of those.

27 May 2014

Big Ideas on Democracy in an age of Individualism

When Big Ideas works well it gets me thinking and that can take time, which is why I am writing this almost a month after the event!

The person inspiring my thinking was is Jeremy Gilbert, Professor of Cultural and Political Theory at the University of East London and the talk he gave to spark our discussion was on themes covered in his recent book Common Ground: Democracy and Collectivity in an Age of Individualism.

I have taken a slightly different approach to my write-up this time as there was an structure to this discussions that we leapt around and I want to record the talk, comments and my conclusions within this structure rather than as a chronology, which is how I took my notes originally (I do not use things like mind-maps).

This means that none of what follows can be attributed to any source and if anything is horribly wrong then that is almost certainty my fault and not Jeremy's.

Individuals v Groups

We spent quite a bit of time talking about the nature of Homo Sapiens and to what extent we are naturally individuals or social animals and we even argued over the neuroscience.

I think it is fair to say that man can be both depending on circumstances and will move between these two states frequently, i.e. several times a day.

Some political systems are based on individuals (neo-liberalism) or groups (communism) and try to force people more into one of these two camps. For example, Conservatives in the UK have reduced the power of Trade Unions and introduced Personal Pensions.

The UK and USA have swung heavily towards individualism since Thatcher/Reagan and this needs to be rebalanced with active support for co-operatives (better for consumers) and trade unions (better for employees).


The strength of democracy is determined by how close we are to decision making and how frequently we are involved.

In the most direct form of democracy people make the decision. We are more used to representative democracy where we vote for a person who then makes all the decisions on our behalf. In more extreme cases, such as the President of the EU Commission, we vote for people who then vote for a person who will make the decisions and we are twice removed from the decision making.

We now have fixed-term parliaments in the UK with elections every 5 years. That means that an average person will get to vote for an MP about a dozen times only.

Local elections are better as there are more votes (usually 2 or 3 candidates are elected for each area) and the votes happen more often, usually every 4 years. That could be around 50 chances to mark a cross on a piece of paper in a lifetime.

Group democracy

Bringing the two themes above together asks the question of how democracy should work with individuals and groups.

At one extreme there is the X-Factor scenario where people vote as individuals based entirely on individual preferences and with almost no input from peers. At the other is the panel (or board) where a topic is discussed in detail and each person contributes to the debate and the joint decision.

Out side of the Labour Movement, e.g. Trade Unions, politics is mostly treated as an individual process and any debate happens in the media rather than the home or community.

Does democracy work?

Democracy is generally accepted as a good thing but we do nothing to measure or ensure its health. For example, one researcher recently classified the USA as an oligarchy rather than a democracy because of the way that campaign spending is now unrestricted and gerrymandering is an accepted fact of life.

We generally vote for one thing and get another yet political parties are not directly held to account for this. They have to stand by their record at the next election but there is no independent assessment of the promises kept and broken.


We need to have many more debates like this on the nature and purpose of democracy otherwise the powerful will continue to modify it to suit them rather than us.

26 May 2014

Humanist Debate on Nuclear Power

April's monthly debate organised by South West London Humanists  tackled the controversial subject of Nuclear Power.

We went led in our discussion by John Gallop, a physicist working at NPL who had an interest in the topic. He gave a thorough presentation on the history and technology of Nuclear Power and of the UK electricity market that it feeds.

What follows is my usual mix of statements made during the talk, comments made during the subsequent discussion and my further analysis which I do when writing up my notes, and that is the main reason that I do write them up.

Nuclear Power has been used for around 70 years in UK and has been (largely) uncontroversial for most of that time. It has become a current topic of discussion again because of Climate Change (where Nuclear Power is seen as a good thing, or at least a less bad thing) and the Fukushima Daiichi incident in Japan in 2011 (clearly a bad thing).

The European Pressurized Water Reactors (EPWR) used in the UK generate c 11 gigawatts (GW) of power. This compares to the two coal fired power stations that I worked at which each had 4 units producing .5 GW, i.e. 2 GW per station and 4 GW overall.

Baseload demand is around 20 GW. This is the amount of electricity that we consume irrespective of the time of day, the weather or other factors driving demand.

Nuclear Power is well placed to provide baseload electricity but it is difficult (i.e. expensive) to modify generation capacity whereas it is quite simple for piped fuel generators like coal and gas.

Taking all factors in to account, coal is the most dangerous fuel. This is bad both because of the safety issues with mining and the pollution produced. Nuclear Power incidents are rare and do not necessarily kill many people. Nobody has yet dies at Fukushima.

We've already released more CO2 in to the atmosphere than required to meet the relatively safe 2% temperature increase. The need to act is growing.

While it is tempting to move to more Nuclear Power it takes a long time to bring on-stream, well over ten years, and is also very expensive. The recent deal with EDFE to get them to commit to Hinkley Point C guarantees them a price of £92.50 per Mwh for thirty years against a current markey price of around £50/Mwh. There are other hidden costs and subsidies on top of this.

Nuclear Power is a very long-term commitment because of the time they take to build and then need to run to be profitable and this does not fit well in a world where we are moving away from a few large central generators to very many small local generators that operate at the house, street or community level.

Things like smart meters, electric cars and LED lights have the potential to be a game changer by dramatically changing the pattern of demand, i.e. only using electricity when it is freely available, and by giving homes local storage that can be used when electricity is more expensive.

Nuclear Waste is another issue. The only solution we have is to put it into storage for a few thousand years in the hope that it will stay safe all that time or that somebody finds a technical magic wand to get rid of it. Perhaps we'll throw it in to the Sun one day.

The Sun is also a possible solution to most of our energy problems. For example, we could put a large number of solar panels in the Sahara, something around the size of Wales which is a small fraction of the desert area, and that could provide enough energy to power the world.

Most of the discussion in the room was on ways to reduce or manage electricity demand and so remove the need for Nuclear Power or on ways that renewable forms of generation could be used instead. There were no obvious fans of Nuclear Power in the room, which was a shame as we might have had a more rewarding debate if a more diverse range of views had been presented.

Personally the debate helped to shape my view that Nuclear Power is a reasonable technology but it is neither the short-term nor medium-term solution that we need now. And any debate that helps to form views has been a good debate.

25 May 2014

Sparkling Eugene Onegin at Glyndebourne

The Gods of Glyndebourne have not been kind to me this year. Despite offering a wide range of possible dates for each of the six operas I only got tickets for four of them and three of those are close together in August. The other was in May.

The Gods of Weather looked to be unhelpful too and the day before my first trip to Glyndebourne in the new season it rained heavily making a picnic on the grass look unlikely.

So we decided to play safe and chose to go to the marquee thus avoiding any of the fights for seats in the garden or benches by the opera house. Besides, the marquee has tables and chairs (which I do not) and is next to the garden so it still encourages the strolling that is part of any visit to Glyndebourne.

The first glass of champagne duly quaffed we set off to explore the gardens. The garden changes every year and so has to be explored in some detail on the first visit.

There were surprisingly few statues in the gardens and none in the main picnic areas. At least the old favourites were there including this diver. This is a statue that I would love to have myself if I had the money, and a lake.

The biggest change that I noticed was in the large borders along the terrace by the house. There had been cut right back and while being far from bare they were a mere shadow of their former exuberant selves. I suspect that they will have grown back if not by the end of this season then certainly by the start of the next and they will be back with a bit more order.

For various reasons, but mostly to keep the booking simple, I only applied for seats in the centre block of the Upper Circle.

I think that these are the best value seats in the house (standing is probably the best value) and my seat in the second row from the very back (F14) cost me £110 and gave me this perfectly fine view.

I had never seen any version of Eugene Onegin before but I did know the story and, obviously, I was familiar with much of Tchaikovsky's music, especially the ballet scores. So I settled down in my comfy chair and prepared to be entertained.

The story of Eugene Onegin is simple and I often like operas like that. Nothing at all happens in Tristan und Isolde in four hours and it is beautiful.

The simplicity of the story was matched by the simplicity of the staging with monochrome rooms (in what looked like builders' favourite colour, Magnolia) and that let plenty of space for the music and singing, which is just how I like it.

This was not a ballet, though there was some dancing in it, and so the music was much less strident than I was used to from Tchaikovsky. It was still Tchaikovsky though and I thought that the music was beautiful and suitably moody. The singing was excellent as always at Glyndebourne and that is the main reason that I go there.

Eugene Onegin was a simple story beautifully told in a sparkling production.

24 May 2014

RHS Chelsea Pavilion (2014)

The large pavilion at RHS Chelsea is as much a part of any day there as the show gardens are and I spent about an hour and a half in there in which time I took 110 photographs.

Whittling those down to just seven was a brutal task and I have tried to select the pictures with the most impact. This meant that I had to discard lots of perfectly good photos of flower stalls but at least a lot of them have found a home on Facebook or Flickr.

The pavilion was laid out in a grid, more or less, and I systematically went up and down all of the aisles to be sure of seeing every stand.

That sounds a simple and obvious plan but it was not without problems. The grid was not uniform with some double-sized stalls cutting across the paths. In going up and down I passed most of the stalls twice so there was a lot of repetition. I also had to go from side to side frequently to see the other two sides of the more interesting stalls.

There was a lot of variety in the Pavilion, possibly more than in the gardens outside, and so while the walk was quite regimental and orderly what I saw was just the opposite, a constant stream of pleasant surprises.

One of the biggest surprises was a collection of floral dresses displayed in one of the corners. This was not quite my favourite dress but it is my favourite photo of the dresses. The other dresses were less full and long and thin shapes do not photograph well, not even in portrait (which I try to avoid using).

Every time that I have been to Chelsea there has been a large and exotic display from Thailand, and this was no exception. This year it was called “Thailand: Our Pride, Our Monarch and Our Cultural Heritage".

These displays are not really my sort of thing but they work well for me when surrounded by other floral displays that are more in the English tradition. I suspect that the Thais find all our displays weird.

Another favourite of mine was the large and display of flowers, fruit and vegetables arranged in four pyramids of different colours. From a distance the impression was of size and brashness and as I approached I could start to see the shapes that made the whole until I was right next to it and could wallow happily in the detail on the individual items.

There was so much more that I could have shown, even ignoring the many stalls that just did flowers. There was a Peter Rabbit, a family of foxes, a Punch and Judy show, a bicycle, an aeroplane and a horse, as well as the more usual greenhouses, garden seats and watering cans.

Above all there were flowers everywhere. Flowers of all shapes, sizes and colours. And that is why the RHS Chelsea Pavilion was such a delight.

RHS Chelsea Gardens (2014)

I had decided some time ago not to go to RHS Chelsea this year. Having been there in 2010, 2011 and 2012 I left that I had seen enough of the grand show-piece gardens for a while and would leave it for a few years until fashions had changed a little.

I was also a little wary of going as it is quite an intense experience with so much to see, a deceptively little amount of time to see it all and with thousands of other people all trying to do the same thing at the same time in the same space.

Then I got the offer of a cheap all-day ticket through work and I changed my mind and went.

My plan was to go early when it was slightly less busy even if that meant getting up earlier on a Saturday than I would normally get up for work during the week.

The weather forecast was diabolical which I thought was a good thing. It was not going to stop me and it might deter a few from going or force them to shelter in the Pavilion. I was well prepared with plenty of warm clothing, a good coat, an umbrella and a bag filled with spare camera batteries and SD cards, and also a spare camera.

Plenty of other people were undeterred by the heavy rain too but it was quiet enough that I could get to see all of the gardens close-up and from any angle that I wanted.

The other bonus of the rain was that many of the people wore the free M&G cagoules which, being white, disappeared in to the background much better than most normal clothing does. People who go to gardens in bright red or yellow outfits are one of the banes of my life.

The Pavilion was the centre of the site with the main gardens and stall circled around it. With plenty of time available I took the safe option of going around the path around the pavilion twice, once looking at things on the inside and then on the second pass at things on the outside.

There were a couple of places where the path divided and I had to be careful not to miss anything. I think I succeeded but obviously there is no way of checking. I suppose that I could have bought a guide, but that would have been cheating.

The one thing that I did buy was a Daily Telegraph cloth bag. Technically I bought the newspaper inside it and the bag was free but I prefer to think of it the other way round.

M&G, the main sponsors, were giving bags away and it was fun to watch the ladies fight over them. There was no shortage of bags it was more a question of how long you were prepared to wait for one of the people giving them away to come near you. Of course, I got one of those too.

After a couple of hours the rain stopped and against all predictions the sun came out. Luckily by then I had a large M&G bag to put by now unwanted coat in. How had the Met Office got that so wrong?

The unexpected sunlight changed the conditions dramatically and so I walked all around the gardens once again to take even more pictures, which is OK as that is what I went there to do.

Walking the gardens was tiring work and I paused momentary once for a coffee and later for a beer. These were only pauses and I drank as I walked rather than fighting for one of the wet benches to sit on. The queues for both the coffee and the beer were quite short which reinforced the impression that there were slightly fewer people there than usual.

The surprising thing for me was the similarity between the gardens with almost off of them sporting wild flowers and rocks. There were fewer structural devices than I recall from previous years and certainly much less use of brash colours.

The days when Diarmuid Gavin plonked several tons of orange steel in to a garden seemed to have passed. I do not particularly mourn those days but I would have liked to see something a little more outrageous.

That's not to say that I did not like Chelsea, far from it. It kept me walking through the sun and the rain for a full five hours. And I took 367 photos along the way so there was clearly plenty there that I loved.

I may not go to RHS Chelsea again next year but I think that I'll be back before too long.

23 May 2014

Let The Right One In at the Apollo Theatre was stupendous

I am on lots of theatre mailing lists and still I almost missed this one. It was Twitter that saved the day, as it often does.

Somehow I had missed the source book and two film versions too, this was a story that I should have known but did not. Not knowing may have been an advantage as one the delights of the play is the number of surprises thrown at the audience.

It is derived from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Swedish horror novel, which puts it firmly in the Nordic Noir camp, which is why I should have known about it earlier and was happy to accept seats away from my comfort zone to make sure that I saw it.

The best seats I could get were in Row D of the Grand Circle (D12) for £39.50. I have no idea what happened to the bookings on that night but when I collected my ticket at the box office I had an upgrade marked on it in biro. I was moved down one level from the Grand Circle to the Dress Circle and forward from the fourth row to the first (A19). This is where I would have chosen to sit all things being equal, though the standard price of £80 plus would have been sufficient deterrent.

My view from there was perfect as the photo below shows.

The tone was set quickly when one of the people walking through the woods is approached by a stranger who the murders him and hangs him from a tree by his feet.

From there the story developed in two directions, the horrors in the woods continued and alongside this two young people, not quite teenagers, start to fall in love.

Populating these stories were the strange companion to they young girl, the young boys estranged family (he lived with his mother) and the students and staff at the boy's school where he was repeatedly bullied.

The stories raced forward in a succession of short scenes with the stage changing just as rapidly as the action moved from location to location. Each short scene jumped the narrative on a jolt and some of these jolts were quite big.

The narrative was dramatic, fast-paced, horrific and also tender. It was obvious why the original story had spread easily to other media.

The narrative did not need much help put it got plenty anyway. In addition to the imaginative sets there was moody lighting and a tense musical soundtrack. And yes I did jump at the big moment. The acting was also superb.

As it's a horror story, Let The Right One In is not going to appeal to everybody but it certainly appealed to me. It was a truly excellent and distinctive piece of theatre.

22 May 2014

Warren Ellis resurrects Moon Knight

A Warren Ellis comic is always something to look forward to and Moon Knight is no exception.

Moon Knight has been a fringe character in the Marvel Universe since 1975. Born by Egyptian magic his tales have always veered towards mystery and horror and that has kept him out of the mainstream, with the exception of a few cameo appearances. His has been the world shared with the likes of Ghost Rider, Iron Fist, Werewolf by Night, Moebius and Man-Thing.

The new incarnation of Moon Knight by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey goes back to the basics, which is something of a cross between Batman (rich crime-fighter with expensive gadgets), Punisher (fighting ordinary criminals) and Dr. Strange (magic).

The page above shows Moon Knight confronting ghosts and using special Egyptian tokens to do so. It also shows Warren's trade-marked low word-count that makes space for the pictures, space that Declan expertly fills.

Moon Knight is the right sort of comic for Warren as I think that he is at his best when doing single issue stories on a quirky book, previous examples include Transmetropolitan, Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. and Planetary.

And that means that Moon Knight is a mighty fine comic.

21 May 2014

Open Mic night at the Grey Horse (21 May 14)

I stopped writing about the Grey Horse Open Mic (GHOM) nights because they were becoming more routine than special. Then my diary stopped working in their favour and I missed a few weeks so when I did manage to get back there, after a meeting nearby, then it was a special evening again.

I got there around 9pm as usual but unusually I brought some people with me. One of them intrigued me as he was friends with many of the GHOM regulars on Facebook (as am I) but he lives in the distant South of the Borough so I was surprised at this.

We had been at the previous meeting together and carried on our discussions in the pub until the distraction of the good music became too much.

Catherine Paver surprised us, as she usually does, this time by starting with an unaccompanied version of a Bob Dylan song about death before hitting the more familiar Western trail.

Moth did what Moth do. There music is sufficiently different to add a new colour to the evening and also sufficiently approachable for that to be a comfortable colour.

Many of the artists were familiar to me but I do not think that I had seen Gemima Puddleduck Gallier before. I'm glad that I did this time though.

It was good to hear Maria Ahearn again too as she does not always put herself on the bill.

And Kieran Anderson always ends the evening well and gets the bar, including me, singing along to a Bluesy number.

Also as always the music was helped by the companionship and I spent the gaps between the songs talking to a host of people. It was another superb evening.

Kingston Society Public Meeting: University Town House

My favourite Kingston upon Thames Society Public Meetings tend to be those where we learn about specific projects and so it was in May when Sean Woulfe, Director of Estates Delivery at Kingston University, came to tell us about the proposed new Town House on Penhryn Road.

This building was proposed to replace the "temporary" buildings that were constructed by the junction with Grove Crescent in the 1980's. This was a prominent site and called for a landmark building.

The University used a RIBA design competition as they were  keen to show their interest in quality design. The winners were Grafton Architects of Dublin whose University of Limerick School of Medicine building was short-listed for the 2013 Sterling Prize.

The University established some guiding principles for the design to follow. They wanted to remove the staff car park in front of the current building and to create a public space there which links to Grove Crescent. Staff would be encouraged to travel by public transport instead.

There was to be a permeable edge to the building with colonnades on each level. The building was also intended to be freely accessible, e.g. no swipe cards. The University was aware that some members of the public used the University buildings as a dry short-cut to/from Penrhyn Road and they were happy for this to continue.

In the centre of the building it was proposed to build a multi-purpose auditorium (not a theatre) that could be used for all sorts of events. This would be bookable by the public when not in use by the University.

Like the open entrance, the auditorium was intended to be another sign-post location that would help people to find their way around the building.

Levels 3 to 6 (the top) would house the library with access to one of the planted roofs on the 4th floor that would be a reading garden. This would be open 24x7 and would only be accessible by students and staff.

The plans for the site, particularly the floor plans were still being revised. New plans would be shown at the next public display due in July. It was expected that the pre-application stage would run from June to September with the final planning approval being given early in 2015. construction would take two years with the new building opening in 2017. The budget was around £30m.

The University was looking at the travel plans and was considering asking TfL to close one of the north-bound bus stops so that students and staff have a safe crossing place by the new entrance.

The University specified that the building must at least meet the "excellent" environment standard and they were hoping that it would be "outstanding". There would be solar (PV) panels on some of the roofs and there would also be some solar heating and a heat pump.

One design issue that had still to be fixed was the acoustic sealing for the dance studio on the first floor. With an open design (the University was keen on transparency) it was important to stop sound bleeding out of the studio. The concrete to be used throughout the building had been designed to dampen noise.

It was a very impressive presentation followed by an assured question and answer session. Clearly a lot of thought had gone into the requirements and the design of the building and this should produce a marvellous building. It is just a shame that we will have to wait until 2017 to see it.