29 November 2015

Willoughby Pub Quiz (November 2015)

I have continued to set the questions for the Willoughby Pub Quiz every seven or eight weeks, a group of us take it in turns to set the questions in return for free beer, but I have not always done a picture round and even when I have done one I have not always got around to posting it on here.

If I do a picture round it is in addition to the standard six round os ten questions. I like doing a picture round as it is a different format, I always do a music round for the same reason despite the vagaries of the audio technology in the pub.

This time I went back to one of my favourite picture sources, UK stamps, and picked the most recent sets. This meant that there was a wide range of subjects and also of difficulties - everybody got all of the comedians but the scores for the other sections were somewhat lower.

The answers are given below the pictures.

  • 2nd Gordon Highlanders; Light Infantry, King’s German Legion; Prussian Infantryman, French Imperial Guard Grenadier
  • Spike Milligan, The Two Ronnies, Billy Connolly, Morcambe and Wise, Norman Wisdom, Lenny Henry, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Monty Python, French and Saunders, Victoria Wood
  • Scabious Bee, Great Yellow Bumblebee, Northern Colletes Bee, Bilberry Bumblebee, Large Mason Bee, Potter Flower Bee
  • Lion, Unicorn, Yale, Dragon, Falcon, Griffin

  • Magna Carta, 1215, Simon De Montfort's Parliament, 1265, Bill of Rights, 1689, American Bill of Rights, 1791 ,Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, Charter of the Commonwealth, 2013
  • Tarr Steps, which crosses the River Barle in Exmoor National Park. Row Bridge, a packhorse bridge over Mosedale Beck at Wasdale Head in Cumbria. Pulteney Bridge, in Bath. Craigellachie Bridge, over the River Spey in Moray, Scotland. Pont Y Grog Y Borth Menai Suspension Bridge, linking the island of Anglesey to the Welsh mainland. 
  • High Level Bridge, linking Newcastle-upon-Tyne with Gateshead. Royal Border Bridge, crossing the River Tweed between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Tweedmouth. Tees Transporter Bridge, in Middlesbrough. Humber Bridge, crossing the Humber estuary. Peace Bridge, spanning the River Foyle in Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland.

Glasshouses in Kew Gardens

It was a grey Sunday morning in Kew Gardens with strong winds and the threat to rain so going to some of the glasshouses seemed like a good idea. The four of us had our own favourite glasshouses which meant that we ended up going to all four of them (the fifth, the Temperate House, was closed for extensive refurbishment).

We started at the Princess of Wales Conservatory, for no particular reason. I am still ambivalent about it but there is nothin wrong with the way that it looks from the Alpine Garden.

The main feature of the Princess of Wales Conservatory is the large pond in the large central section. Another feature is the confusing paths that run through the various sections and levels and it was no surprise to see a small girl running around looking for the rest of her family; she found them with a bit of help.

We went to the Alpine House next as it was close by. I do not really go for the small Alpine plants inside the glasshouse but I do love the architecture of the building. I am sure that there is a good reason why a glasshouse that is full of small rock-hugging plants needs to be so tall, but I have no idea what it is.

The Waterlily House is (probably) my favourite place in Kew Gardens and it was on my insistence that we went there next. This time the grey day was an advantage as the place was fairly quiet and I was able to take photographs like this one with no people in them.

Our final stop was the grandest, the Palm House. The architecture of the building always delights me, as do the large tropical plants inside it.

The best way to appreciate both the architecture of the glasshouse and the scale of the plants is to climb up to the upper walkway where the two elements collide beautifully.

After some good soup in the cafe at Victoria Gate I stretched my legs a little and went to see the profession of red berries along Holly Walk and to risk the blustery winds on the Tree Top Walkway, which went to prove that even on a grey and windy day in November there is still plenty to see and do in Kew Gardens.

28 November 2015

The Thin White Duke in still brilliant shock

Every time that The Think White Duke have come to the Fox and Duck it has been brilliant, and so it was this time. I have little to add to that simple statement.

The set was much the same as previously, if not identical, and that was just what we all wanted. The musicianship was, if anything, a little better as some of the newer members of the band were more settled in their roles and I though that lead vocalist, David Cull, varied his tone nicely putting emphasis in places I do not recall being emphasised before.

The pub was just as packed as it always is for The Think White Duke, which is consistently more packed than for any other band there. We also did more singing and dancing along than we do for other bands.

It was simply a brilliant evening. We were all heroes, just for one day.

27 November 2015

A fantastic night at BCSA Annual Dinner 2015

The BCSA Annual Dinner is the only formal event that I go to and I love it! Obviously it is not the formality that I love but the opportunity to mix with people familiar on new where we at least share a common interest in the Czech and Slovak Republics. It is not the most scintillating conversation topic but it is a safe start that leads on to more unexpected and interesting things.

The 2015 dinner followed the same plan as the previous years because you do not change a plan that works. That plan included a drinks reception, three course meal with wine, an after-dinner speaker and a prize raffle. But, more importantly, is included almost 150 people keen to have a good night out.

I arranged to work in London that day to give me a short walk to the Radisson Blu Edwardian Bloomsbury Street Hotel. I also wore my best suit, one that does not normally get worn to work, and took a favourite bow-tie to change into after work.

The evening was meant to start at 7pm but I was there not long after 6:30pm and while I was prepared to help set things up everything had either been done or was in hand so I had nothing to do but help myself to a drink and start to talk to some of the other early arrivers, several of whom I already knew from the monthly BCSA Get to Know You Socials.

Seating arrangements for the dinner are something of a dark art and its one that Ruzena excels in. She put Richard and I on the same table, as we expected and she put us on opposite sides so that we could not spend the whole evening just talking to each other. She did the same with a couple of Czech women, Blanka and Sandra. The other four on our table were two couple who knew each other and all worked in medicine, St George's mostly.

The food was excellent, the conversations flowed easily and unexpectedly, the speaker was good and nobody minded not winning a raffle prize though we expressed our dismay when we were close to one of the numbers drawn. And once the formalities were over we did some more mixing with friends on other tables, such as the guy behind Blanka's shoulder who used to be a colleague of mine at Logica.

The evening whizzed passed and all to soon it had well gone 11pm and it was time for us to head to Holborn station with its convenient lines heading in all directions.

It had been another truly fantastic evening and confirmed the BCSA Annual Dinner as one of the key dates in my calendar. It's already in for 2016.

26 November 2015

Two Short Comedies by Anton Chekhov at the White Bear Theatre

My mission to see every performance of a Chekhov play took me back to the White Bear Theatre in Kennington which I first went to to see Three Sisters just over a year previously. This time it was to see two short comedies, The Proposal and The Bear.

These were part of a double-bill, with separate tickets for each part, but a previous commitment with a cloud of gin and tonic meant that I could only get to the second half. I left the cloud in Borough at 8pm and from there it was a quick dash south two stops on the Northern Line to get to the White Bear. I got there in the gap between the two shows and so had a little time to settle down with a pint or Ordinary before moving into the theatre.

Skillful positioning within the bar meant that I was one of the first into the theatre and was able to claim a place in the middle of the front row.

In The Proposal an agitated man approaching middle age approached his neighbour to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage. The neighbour was agreeable but the man's agitation made the proposal a slow one and before it could be made a row erupted between them over a piece of land that both claimed that they owned. When that argument was quelled another one erupted over the relative merits of each other's dogs. The comedy came from their stupidity in having silly arguments when they were obviously a good match for each other.

The Bear covered similar territory with the same cast and similar results. This time the man called upon his neighbour to ask for a small debt to be paid urgently only to find her in widow's black for a husband who had died years previously. We soon learned that he had not been a good husband, he had had many affairs, but the widow was still feistily determined to carry her widowhood to her own grave. Both their tempers rise as the debt issue is not resolved, a duel is threatened and pistols are got. Faced with this fierce tide of mourning and anger the man falls in love. Again the comedy came from the stupidity of people and again I laughed quite a lot.

There were only three actors in the cast. Sylvie-Anne Taylor was wonderful as the two women who, between them, displayed a wide range of emotions and moved quickly between them. Marcio Mello was a convincing lover in both plays though his foreign accent seemed at times a little odd in a Chekhov scenario. Rufus Graham played the third man, the woman's father and then her manservant, with dignity and wit.

I had seen both plays before, though I did not know this until I saw them again, as part of Anton Chekhov's Vaudevilles at the Jermyn Street Theatre but that did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of seeing them this time. The comedy came from the way that the people interacted with each other rather than from any staged jokes that once heard would have lost their impact.

These were hardly Chekhov's major works but they still felt like Chekov and were well worth the miserly price of admission (£12).

After the performance I took advantage of not having to rush home to chat to some of the crew and to have another couple of pints of Ordinary. It was great to talk at length about theatre with other fans and I walked back to Vauxhall a very happy man.

25 November 2015

Handbagged at Richmond Theatre made me chuckle

Richmond Theatre seemed to have got their act together with regard to putting on shows that I wanted to see and in telling me about them and as a result I had been there fairly regularly after a long spell of going rarely.

This time I went to see Handbagged, another ex-West End show that I was not interested in enough to see in the West End, and certainly not at West End prices, but was half tempted to see when it was on just up the road and got the final nudge I needed when there was a price promotion. My seat, Dress Circle Row A  Seat 19, was £27.50 which put it in the no-need-to-think-about-it category.

The poster gave away the theme of the play, The Queen v Thatcher, but that was all that I knew about it so, as usual, I had little idea of what to expect. And if I had thought about it I would not have guessed right anyway.

Handbagged told the story of the meetings between The Queen and Thatcher during Thatcher's eleven long years as PM. It was told by The Queen and Thatcher as they were at the end of that period, 1990, who watched younger versions of themselves having those meetings. Two other male actors played all the other roles from Dennis to Kinnock to Howe to Reagan.

It was billed as an all out comedy but the obvious temptation for slapstick and sharp comments was avoided for something possibly closer to the truth that got plenty of humour out of the basic antipathy in the relationship.

It was also more political and global than I expected. The footman interrupted them a few times when their reminisces missed key events like the 1981 riots or the 1984 miners' strike and some of the stories remembered concerned Commonwealth matters, such as the transition to Rhodesia into Zimbabwe in 1979 when Thatcher was new to the job and The Queen had long established relationships with the Commonwealth leaders. The politics and history added substance to a play that could have been flat without them.

It was also played as a play, i.e. they knew they were performing in front of an audience and reacted to us. In one nice and typical moment Thatcher argued that there was no need for an interval only for The Queen to command that there be one and to walk off stage forcing the others to follow her.

The humour came, as it often does, in the relationships between people and it was a natural human humour of little comments and quick responses, nothing like Spitting Image for example. This was chuckling humour and I chuckled.

21 November 2015

Rotterdam was yet another exciting new play at Theatre503

Theatre503 has become my favourite theatre at the moment simply because it keeps putting on intelligent and exciting plays like Rotterdam. At first glance the subject, a gay couple one of whom announces that they want to transgender, is not one that naturally appeals to me but clearly that is a situation which is likely to be very emotional and that I do like. I also had the reputation of Theatre503 to rely on.

I had booked two weeks' holiday in the middle of the run and so, not for the first time, the only performance that I could get to was the very last one. That was on a Saturday evening and only 24 hours after I got back from Delhi so the play would have to fight against my residual jet lag.

But first I had to eat. The plan was the usual one, i.e. to eat in The Latchmere beneath the theatre, but there was no room at that inn so I had to go elsewhere. Luckily The Lighthouse was just along the road and I had been there before and knew it was ok. Unfortunately the food service was bad and while my soup came quickly, as it should, I had to wait far to long for my mushrooms on toast. In the end I had to bolt my food, leave a little bit of it behind, and rush back to the theatre for the 7:45pm start.

When I got there the theatre was already open (that had never happened before) but I was lucky and, despite being sold out, there was still a space in the middle of the front row.

As is the trend, there was an actor on the stage already. This was Alice working at her computer. While we waited for the performance to formally start we also met a young woman dolling herself up for a night out and a thirtysomething man also get ready but with less flair. There preparations were performed to loud dance music. Hovering in the background quietly was the fourth cast member, a boyish looking young woman who was later identified as Alice's girlfriend Fiona.

They are in Rotterdam, a place that neither of them likes to the extent that they talk of moving to Hull, but work and inertia has kept them there. The email that Alice was working so hard on was to her parents explaining that she is gay, which they did not know even though she had been living with Fiona as a couple for some time. To complicate things, prior to that she had been going out with Fiona's older brother Josh, who worked in IT and looked as though he did.

The main pivot of the play was Fiona's announcement that she was going to stop pretending to be a woman and to start living as a man. After the interval she was a he and was called Adrian (after her Grandfather). In contrast to Alice, Adrian tells her parents the news and they take it very well.

Fiona becoming Adrian left Alice living with a man and questioning whether she really was gay. She tested this with her young drug-taking colleague and proved she was. It all became a little complicated.

The situation was pretty strange but the characters were not and they were what made the play so enthralling. Fiona/Adrian had the most confused situation but was handling it well. The young woman, Lelani, found fun where she could and was street-wise enough to fight off her boss's advances. Josh worked in IT. That left Alice at the heart of everything, unsure if she was gay, not confident about telling her parents, not sure how to cope with Fiona/Adrian, tempted by Lelani and wanting something better than Rotterdam.

One favourite moment of mine was a scene change where Alice was in a strop and she carried this on during the change, moving objects violently and then stomping off stage. An excellent performance from Alice McCarthy.

I also had a soft spot for Jessica Clark as Lelani. Not only did she play the brash and confident young women well, including having a decent Dutch accent, but I was able to contrast this with the more demure roles I had seen her in at the Orange Tree Theatre.

To add cream to the strawberries we even had a few touches of Kraftwerk, Pocket Calculator and Europe Endless (twice). Sadly we also had Rotterdam by The Beautiful South but no play is perfect.

Rotterdam was lots of things. At times it was emotional, funny, depressing and intense, but it was always slick, always intelligent, always entertaining and always surprising. Even the ending, such as it was, came unexpectedly. I loved everything about it.