Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas lunch: the Greenhills Hotel

Wore my new Monsoon dress today for Christmas lunch. (V vexing - it's now half price. Ah well, that's post-Christmas sales for you.)

It took hardly any time to drive to the Greenhills Hotel. I'm glad I looked it up first on Google Maps Streetview though - by the time you see the front of the hotel, coming from the direction I was, you've already passed the entrance! which is marked by two concrete pillars. They really should put some sign on them to indicate where that driveway is going.

Basically, apart from that, this was a lovely day. There was a good Christmassy feeling immediately upon entering the lobby (and it was great to get in from the cold), there was someone behind reception to direct us, and another immediately available to take our names, who led us to the cloakroom. Ok, already an improvement on last year, when there was no cloakroom. The guy there was nattily kitted out in a top hat, tails, and white gloves! Nice touch.. we were led into the reception area until our table was ready (we got there early), and champagne was available. And orange juice. And a bar, for those who fancied neither. And we sat and people-watched for a while, commenting to each other on the high heels, the outfits, and in one case, the tattoos..

It wasn't long before we were led to our table. As usual at these things, the small table for two was too crowded with all the Christmas paraphenalia - a candle and holly, crackers, side plates, cutlery settings. And the sign with the table number and our name. But we managed.

There was a decent choice. For starter, I decided that the turkey and vegetable broth sounded interesting, and was my way of having turkey on the day - so I chose that, and it was indeed delicious! My mother decided that, although she'd had melon last year and it was available again, she'd found it a bit tough - she went for the chicken and mushroom "bouchée in a puff pastry case" (vol-au-vent), which was so good that she wondered whether you could buy them ready-made.

For main course, she had salmon, of course, which came with prawns - but she didn't want those, and asked not to have them. I didn't want that, or the vegetarian option, so my choice was among turkey, duck, or beef fillet. I often find turkey dry, and figured it wouldn't live up to my turkey meal of a couple of days ago anyway - and I often find duck too rich, so decided on the beef. Which turned out to be steak. Interestingly, it came with potato gratin - not a good idea, in retrospect; the flavours just didn't fit. But the (fillet) steak was perfectly done. For dessert, she had trifle, I had a selection of ice cream in the now-ubiquitous wafer basket. And we were well fed.

The music was Christmas carols, piped just loud enough to be audible above the chatter. I must commend the service - it was executed with military precision. Our meal was constantly punctuated with people asking us how it was, and what we were now waiting for. And really friendly service, too. And when our dessert order was misplaced, it was quickly discovered, and the server couldn't be apologetic enough. I couldn't help thinking that their thinking was - if we serve 'em fast, they finish earlier and we can get away earlier. Well, other places could take note! I would be happy to eat here again next year - but you never know what hotels will even do Christmas lunch from year to year! This hotel didn't do it last year, the place where we went last year didn't do it this year - many hotels only do residential packages over Christmas.

Well! That's the main part of Christmas over. Might head to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty tomorrow (at last) - but more likely later in the week, my mother is keen to head to Flanagan's for a meal.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas Party: the Conservatory at Painshill

Yes, I really have been that busy since the party! Only now do I have the time to think about it - Christmas prep will do that to a person.

So, I had that day (last Friday) off work, and was to fly back to Ireland the next day, Saturday - only waiting for the company's Christmas party, at the Conservatory at Painshill. I did some packing on Friday, and some last-minute, late, Christmas posting, and made ready my outfit. The theme was the Snow Ball, and was the perfect excuse to dust off my pale-coloured medieval dress (close enough to snow in colour, I figured) and whatever I could find to go with it. I bought it in a medieval-inspired chain of shops in Quebec, called Excalibor, which I believe has now closed, sadly. They had the best stuff..

For this occasion, I actually ordered a snood especially, sourced from California! The great worry was that it wouldn't arrive in time, but it did, last Monday - and boy, was I glad. Handily, it came with four hairclips - I used several more, since I was paranoid about it falling down during the evening - but it didn't, and it looked great. :-) Add to that a necklace that I bought recently, which suited the dress colours, and had a nice, full, Christmassy look to it - and a pocket watch that I bought at a Christmas fair (they're popular this year, there are loads about) - I thought that would be marginally more suitable for the outfit than a wristwatch - and the rest I had myself. Pity I couldn't have found a more suitable bag - I just used a white, sparkly evening bag I have. But it was fine.

We had a coach arranged to transport us to and from the office, which is a twenty-minute walk from my place. I had been warned to be there in time - the coach had been booked for 5.30, to leave by 5.40, because the traffic had been bad last year. So I set off in good time. I was glad to find that, despite the cold, breezy evening, I was toasty warm. The dress material is quite heavy, and I wore a warm coat. I got just a couple of stares from other people on the street, one of whom seemed to approve. I arrived with five minutes to spare before the coach was due - ran into a colleague, whom I asked the time, because it was easier than reaching inside my coat for the pocket watch that was hanging on a chain around my neck!

She also told me that the others were waiting in the bar nearby, which was preferable to waiting in the cold. So I hiked my skirts - these medieval costumes do have some drawbacks - and climbed the stairs to join them there, where my outfit got some compliments, and I started with the photos. Some people had been very creative with their outfits. Stand-out costume of the night award must go to Nabeel, who dressed himself as a Christmas tree, with a star on his head, a green woolly hat and jumper, a cardboard frame inside the jumper, in the classic Christmas tree shape, tinsel and fairy lights draped around himself, baubles attached to the jumper, and - the coup de theatre - present boxes on his feet. Really, try and top that!

I didn't really want a drink, for two reasons - firstly, we should be going soon and I didn't want to rush it, and secondly, there was to be plenty of free drink at the venue. But after a while, I did start to wonder where our transport was and why we weren't making a move. Eventually, we moved downstairs - still no coach to be seen, even though it was now 5.40! We milled about in the cold, trying to coordinate with Valeria, who had organised it.. eventually, the coach arrived at 5.50. She had a prolonged argument with the driver, and we eventually took off at 6. It took about an hour to get there, during which time we were entertained by a Christmas cd she had brought, and we finally arrived, with some relief, at a venue that seemed to be in the middle of woodland. And promptly parked about half a mile away from the venue, to which we had to walk down dark, wooded, muddy, unlit paths - not the best for people in fancy dress. Or, indeed, any sort of evening dress. Valeria did wonder whether we couldn't have got closer.

The venue was a marquee that swayed a bit in the strong winds, but didn't collapse, thankfully. There was a cloakroom to the right of the entrance, and toilets to the right of that. To the left of the entrance was the reception area, where we were presented with free glasses of sparkling wine or orange juice. And in due course, the curtains were drawn back, and we were shown into the dining area, which was very attractively decorated, with a star-studded effect in the ceiling, and the rest done in white, with white tablecloths and seat covers. Very nice.

The menu was set, with vegetarian options. The starter was a tartlet with bacon and cheese - I forget what else, but it was very tasty. The main course, for non-vegetarians, was chicken with mushroom sauce. Laura, who can't eat mushrooms, mentioned this to a server, who was very happy to bring her chicken with ordinary gravy instead. Again, very tasty. I wasn't so enamoured of the dessert, which was a lemon tart with raspberry coulis, served in a little pot. I found it a bit tart, and anyway, for me, it has to be chocolate.. Unfortunately, the white wine served with the meal tasted just like dishwater. "Las Camelias", I think the name was. Avoid like the plague. I also heard bad reports of the red wine. Luckily, there was plenty of sparkling wine to be had, which I stuck to and had rather too much of!

Afterwards, a bar was set up in the reception area, where there was also a roulette table - coupons were handed out, which could be exchanged for chips. I do think this was badly thought out - there was only one table, which was horribly crowded, so if you didn't grab a place quickly, you might as well not bother. I was winning quite nicely, but then a guy across the table, who had been given the same colour chips, started claiming mine as well. When this happened twice, I just dumped the rest of mine and gave it up for the evening. Eventually, they did also set up a blackjack table, but again, you had to be there quickly - it's possible to squeeze in at a roulette table, but blackjack has a set number of players, and the players who got to the gaming tables first that night were there for the long haul.

A disco was set up in due course in the dining area, but for most of the night, the musical choice didn't suit me. I was glad of the sofas in what was now the casino / bar area. All in all, it's an ok venue, with a decking area for those who want to smoke, but their after-dinner entertainment leaves much to be desired.

As did our coach service. You know, our other office, which is larger, had two coaches to transport them, and left long, long before we did. When Valeria eventually herded us together outside, we were beside one of the coaches going to the other office, and she rang our driver and insisted that he come in there as well - she didn't fancy a repeat of that walk. Well, it took her forever to persuade him - she explained to us that he didn't want to, said coaches couldn't get down there, despite the fact that, as she told him, we were standing right beside one. Finally, she said he had agreed, and we waited on. For about 10 minutes more, and it was starting to rain. At last, we saw the lights of a coach approaching! Hallelujah.

A group of people was waiting further down the road, and the coach.. stopped beside them! Confused, and seeing that they weren't boarding, Valeria rang our driver again. Yes, that was our bus, and our driver now seemed to be refusing to come any closer. So we trotted down the road to him and boarded.

A series of manoeuvres ensued, as he tried to turn. Finally, he stopped, stood up, and told us that we'd all have to get off - we were bogged down in the mud and he had to get the bus as light as possible. He added that he had KNOWN this was going to happen, which was why he hadn't wanted to come down there.

I can't remember the name of the bus company, although she told me - but it's one to avoid. The mud wasn't on the path, you know, it was on either side - granted, the path wasn't wide enough to turn, but if he had dared to go down to where we'd had to come from to board, he could have turned there without going into the mud. So, we stood to one side, in the rain - which was now coming down in buckets - and watched as people pushed the (49-seater) bus, laid mats under the wheels - to no avail. It was stuck fast. Ironically, the motto on the side of the bus read "Travel in Style". Eventually, the venue manager was persuaded to let us shelter back in the marquee, and off we went.

Poor Valeria took it very much to heart, and after counting us, immediately got on the phone and booked a fleet of taxis to come and rescue us. On the company's dime. There were 19 of us - she ordered six taxis. We divided ourselves into groups according to destination, and in due course were despatched. Well, at least I was delivered straight to my door - but not until 2.35am, from a party that had finished at midnight. And me with a lunchtime flight the next day, and not yet finished packing. And the fare for our one taxi was about £75. Ouch! I hope they sue the bus company for it.

(sigh) So, here I am in Ireland. I made my flight ok, took the dog to the grooming parlour, did a massive shop, took my mother to the bank, and have started with the Christmas decorations. And I am beginning to relax. I must mention, BTW, this evening's dinner. While we were in Tulla for the bank, we paid a visit to the SuperValu shop down the road, where there was something she wanted to pick up, and I spied a pre-prepared turkey joint, basted and stuffed, that looked quite tasty. I picked one up, and an onion and mushroom mix to go with it - I have tried their ready meals before, and have nothing but good to say about them. Well, this turned out to be far and away the best turkey meal I have ever had! Crispy skin, succulent meat, spiced to perfection. If you should happen by a SuperValu, do try their own brand ready meals. They are a wonder.

More decorating tomorrow, I guess, and an emergency trip back to Tulla - I'm short on wine. Storm permitting - it's due to last from midnight tonight until 4pm tomorrow. Well, but it seems quiet out there now - hopefully, no repeat of last week, when there was a mini-tornado in the village, trees felled and structural damage.. And my next planned outing is Christmas lunch, at the Greenhills Hotel in Limerick. The weather is supposed to have cleared by then, so we should be safe to drive.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Film: Anchorman 2: the Legend Continues

:-) I had the most interesting evening.

It was similar to yesterday evening in two ways:

1. I had to get a Tube and bus to where I was going.
2. I didn't get to see what I was going to see.

In every other respect, it was different.

Let me explain.

So, I had to head to Harrow this evening, for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Turns out it was only showing there, and was a preview.

Interestingly, I got an email last Tuesday from ShowFilmFirst - I mentioned it in that day's blog, or yesterday's - offering free tickets to that same premiere. Great, I thought - only to discover, when I clicked on the link, that the free tickets were sold out. That's always happening now, and I complained to them on this occasion, mainly because they also advertised tickets to another premiere. Which started 1 hour and 20 minutes before the email was sent out. Huh! Predictably, they denied all culpability in their response, saying they simply had such a large database that it took time for emails to be filtered to inboxes.

Anyway, I thought, since the free tickets were gone, I should book a ticket with the website if I still could. Which I proceeded to do. So I headed off this evening with the booking made. Google Maps suggested I take the Piccadilly Line to South Harrow and a bus from there. Quite unlike last night, it all proceeded successfully. It did help that it wasn't raining, and that only one road runs outside the station, instead of six. Within some minutes, I was on my bus. Note; again, Google Maps is great for general travel directions, but untrustworthy for timings. All-in-all, the journey took me 25 minutes longer than they predicted. I was lucky that I could leave work early because the server was down! Otherwise, I'd have been late.

The cinema is within the St. George Centre. The bus lets you off right outside, and it's not hard to get your bearings inside. It's mainly one atrium, with five stories - only the bottom two have shops, the top two only have car park access and the middle also has toilets. The cinema is on the first floor, but it was too early to go I and I grabbed something quick to eat first - there seem to be more eateries there than anything else.

I then headed to the cinema. It was now a quarter of an hour till the film start time, and I could see a queue forming, so I joined it. I had my ticket by this stage, and noticed that those around me in the queue were brandishing A4 pieces of paper. I correctly surmised that they had free tickets to the same film I had a ticket to. However, there was a problem. Unspecified - there was a kerfuffle at the front, but it took ages to determine what was happening. Simply, they had run out of space for all these free ticket-holders. As someone said, why didn't they put it in a larger screen?

I thought I must be ok, having paid for a ticket. Indeed, she tore my ticket and I made my way to the screen. Which was full. The guy at the door seemed surprised that I had paid for my ticket, and sent me, with an usher, back out to the front, and the lady who'd torn my ticket. She had met some more people with the same issue by this stage, and apologised, saying that tickets should never have gone on sale for this - it was meant as a free preview. Instead, she offered me a full refund, coupled with a free ticket for whatever else I wanted to see tonight.

Yes please!

I had to ask to see the list of films showing, and the pick of the bunch was Anchorman 2: the Legend Continues. So I got a ticket for that, and was well pleased with myself, because its rating was low enough that I wouldn't have got to see it under normal circumstances. But I did quite fancy seeing it.

Since it wasn't showing for another hour, I mooched around the centre for a bit. Paid a trip to the toilets - my word! they could do with an overhaul. There were about 10 cubicles. The first had a broken seat, the second was filled with diarrhoea, most of the rest had turds left in them, and the only two completely clean toilets were in cubicles that contained no toilet paper. I ask you! Oh, and the first tap (sensor-controlled) I went to wasn't working. Nor was the first hand dryer. Hmph.

I had a squizz around some of the shops. Made some purchases in Thornton's, but not elsewhere. And in due course, it was time to go for my film. And.. the place was filthy. They hadn't got around to cleaning it yet, and there wasn't even anyone to tell me not to go in! Management is seriously lacking in that place!

As I was looking for someone to complain to, the cleaning crew came along - and there was, at least, a seating area where we could wait. And when I finally took my seat (which wasn't properly cleaned), I discovered it was very comfortable. There was an interesting trailer for a new horror film - Devil's Due. Sort of a Rosemary's Baby plot. Due for release next year, I hope it lives up to the promise of its trailer.

And so to the main attraction. Anchorman 2 continues the story of Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), portrayed as the greatest news anchor ever. His team comprises, again, the ever-cute Paul Rudd, David Koechner, and the hilarious Steve Carell, as Brick, the dumbest person ever to appear on television. And.. it's hilarious! It is the daftest, and the funniest, film I've seen in ages. Really, just go with it. It has some serious messages about the priorities of modern newscasting, but mainly it's just plain daft. And all the better for it. I see it's shot up in the IMDB ratings since I last checked, and is now rated higher than the film I was going to see. Well, fancy!

Certainly, they've raided Hollywood's star pool. Everyone seems to have wanted to be in this. We have Christina Applegate as Ron's wife, Greg Kinnear as her lover (when things don't work out between them), Harrison Ford as Ron's boss, and in an outrageous fight scene in the park, between rival news teams, there's a galaxy of stars: as well as the aforementioned, we have Vince Vaughn weighing in on Ron's side, Sacha Baron Cohen as the head of the BBC news team, Liam Neeson, John C. Reilly as a ghost, Kirsten Dunst as some kind of goddess, and Jim Carrey and Marion Cotillard as heads of the Canadian news team (with some hilarious Canadian stereotypes. She represents the Québecois, by the way).

Laugh-out-loud funny. Go see.

And tomorrow I have my Christmas Party! and afterwards, it's back to Ireland for Christmas. Lordy, it'll be good to have a rest..!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Play: The El. Train

Well, so tonight I planned to go to Shoreditch, and Google Maps told me that the fastest way to go was to catch the Tube to Mansion House and get a bus. From Stop ME. Across the road, in Cannon Street. I looked it up in Streetview, to be sure.

I arrived at Cannon Street and looked around. There's a complicated junction there. It was pouring rain (still is). I searched and searched, but couldn't find the stop anywhere. Eventually, I dripped my way home. Where I researched what went wrong.

What went wrong? I headed the wrong way down Cannon Street, is what went wrong. Had I turned right instead of left upon leaving the Underground, I'd have been fine. And then it was just cross the road and it's on the left. Anyway, as I was searching, I saw my bus passing, so I'd missed it and would have been late, even if I had found it.

Bah humbug.

Hey-ho, finding the Vue Harrow should be easier tomorrow night, for the preview of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Few things are as complicated as finding your way in the City.. I just hope this rain clears in time for the party on Friday!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Play: Fred and Mary

Tonight, I ventured to Richmond for the first time in an age, to the Orange Tree Theatre, where they're showing a three-part adaptation of Middlemarch, by George Eliot. Fred and Mary is the third part - the first part was sold out for today, and the second wasn't showing today. Google Maps was of the opinion that the fastest way to get there is to get the Overground to Clapham Junction and then a train, but I prefer to go direct where possible, so I said I'd take the Tube.

Word of warning - it takes 10 minutes longer, at peak periods, to get to Richmond by Tube than Google Maps thinks, and had I caught the Tube they suggested, rather than the one before, I'd have been late. And that would have been ironic, given that I was late the last time I attended a play here - I remember dashing, breathless, across the road and up the steps. The door was locked, but there was a chap looking out the window, who let me in, got my ticket, which had been booked, and showed me to my seat. I was so grateful!

No, on this occasion, I was much more relaxed. So much so that I had severe difficulty staying awake on the journey - maybe it was the crush in the carriage. Anyway, you just turn right out of the station and it's across the road. Head for the flight of steps you can see - handy to know that, it's not obvious on sight. I got my ticket and headed in. Seating is unallocated within levels - you just choose upper or lower level, and sit wherever you can. There was an amusing argument between an usher and the people in the row in front of me, whom she was trying to get to squeeze up so that two more people could fit (seating is on cushioned benches). They did squeeze up, but a blind person could see that only one more could fit - the usher, however, was adamant that nine people should be able to fit on each side. Seems the theatre isn't a perfect square after all, and that side was a bit shorter.. Peace was restored when they got seats on one of the longer rows.

The theatre was almost full but not quite. Justifiably - this was a lovely evening! The novel takes place in the years 1829 - 32, so late Regency. Think Jane Austen. Bonnets, empire-line, low-cut dresses, tailcoats, waistcoats, breeches. Sensible young women who know they must marry for security as well as for love. Mind you, speaking of sense, whenever I see those dresses, I can't help but remember the comment of a museum curator that the low-cut bodices and light fabrics, unsuitable for the climate of these islands, contributed greatly to the incidence of consumption. But I digress.

This will be of interest to anyone who likes period drama, anyone who likes soap operas. People who do not like these things, in fairness, should stay well away. I found it absolutely charming, and amusing, and was fascinated by the stories - I would love to see the other plays in the trilogy, but that won't be possible now before Christmas. The trilogy runs until about the beginning of February. If you like this sort of thing, don't miss it! I had a peek at someone's programme at the interval, and ended up buying one myself, because it goes into useful detail about the historical context, which features largely in the story.

More plays tomorrow night - a trilogy in one evening. The El. Train, a trio of one-act plays by Eugene O' Neill, is playing in Hoxton Hall in Shoreditch, and apparently they have the place done out as a 1920s speakeasy. Check out the "El. Train" link, above, for a new twist on web design, something I haven't seen before. V impressive. And on Thursday night, I'm heading to the preview of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, in the Vue cinema, Harrow. Interestingly, I got a ShowFilmFirst email about that this evening, offering free tickets to that self-same preview - which were already sold out, even though I immediately clicked on the link. That's been happening a lot. But what really took the biscuit was that they were also offering tickets to previews today - one at 4.30, one at 6.30. The email didn't come until 5.50! I complained - doubt I'll get any good of them though.

Which brings me nicely to the Christmas Party on Friday. The part of my outfit that I sent off for - from California! - finally arrived yesterday, thank goodness. Now I just have to put it all together..

Monday, 16 December 2013

Film:The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug isn't showing in the Cineworld Fulham except in 3D, which I don't watch, but it is showing in 2D in the Odeon Kensington, so that's where I headed today. I checked how much they're charging in points these days, since I have a fair amount saved in my Odeon Premiere membership, and discovered that they've increased the quota for a peak-time film ticket from 800 to 1200 points. By 'eck, that's quite a bit above inflation.. however, the price for a super-saver ticket, such as for the matinee today, is only 600. Now, I had over 1200, so I was sure to get a free ticket. Yay!

Google Maps estimated that it would only take 1 minute longer to walk there than to Cineworld Fulham, so I determined that was what I would do. The weather was decent, so off I set. The route took me past a Nando's, then an Oxfam shop on the other side. Could prove useful for Secret Santa.. and in due course, I had no problem in finding the cinema. End of Earl's Court Road and turn left, basically.

There was a queue at the box office, so I said I'd try my luck with the machine. :-) Well, I got my ticket. In the end. But what a palaver! You start with the normal specification of the day, film, time, seat type (standard or premium), then you say how you'd like to pay. So far, so much the same as ever. They have an option for paying by membership card. Good! Insert card, withdraw. Then they must needs ask again whether you want to pay by points or with money. Points, please. Then they have to ask, again, how many tickets you want (I could have bought two to that showing with my points total). Then you have to confirm, again. The whole process must have taken five minutes!

I sat three rows from the front, and was happily ensconsed watching ads and waiting, when a veritable army of small boys appeared. O no! That's what you get for going to a matinee! And, of course, they sat themselves in the front two rows. I dreaded what this was going to be like. But, to be fair, they were quite well behaved.

And so we launched into The Hobbit (2). One reviewer described it as not as sophisticated as Lord of the Rings, in that the baddies are more easily despatched and the goodies are immune from being killed. This is true. Also true is that those of us of a certain age are inclined to get a teensy bit tired of the parade of dwarves, elves, and orcs at the start of the film. But.. well, this is Peter Jackson territory, and you will not be disappointed. The scenery is as stunning as ever, the dwarves grow on you. I found the Elvish king a bit camp, but my goodness, there was a great Legolas (played by Orlando Bloom) fan club in front of me, judging by the reaction every time he came onscreen! Never could see the attraction, m'self..

That reviewer was right - the spiders will send the fear of God into anyone with a touch of arachnophobia. But the great crowning glory of the film is the title character. I defy anyone - of any age - not to gape at the glory that is the dragon, Smaug! (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, of all people. He really is everywhere.) This is what I call a dragon! Once he appears, you can forget everything else that's going on. His great tail appearing from under the mounds of gold.. his great snout poking around pillars, in search of Bilbo (Martin Freeman), come to steal from him.. and the end of the film has him flying off to lay waste to the town, thus setting the scene for the final film of the series. I'm already looking forward to that opening scene!

So, who else is involved in this? Cate Blanchett makes a cameo appearance in one scene, as the Elvish queen, Galadriel. Sir Ian McKellen is back, as the wizard, Gandalf the Grey, of course. Stephen Fry is excellent as the Master of Lake Town, and James Nesbitt does his obligatory Irish turn of being the dwarf that gets drunk and is left behind. Aidan Turner, another Irish dwarf, is quite the hottie as the dwarf romantic lead. Billy Connolly does an uncredited turn as another dwarf.

And I ate in Nando's on the way home, to escape the rain that was by now falling, and still is.

For tomorrow, I'm heading to the theatre again, to a performance of Fred and Mary, the final part of the trilogy of stage adaptations of the novel Middlemarch, showing at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. It's a long while since I've been out there - I would have liked to see the other parts of the trilogy, but Part 1, Dorothea's Story, is sold out tomorrow, and Part 2, The Doctor's Story, isn't showing tomorrow. Still, they say that each is self-contained.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Restaurant: Lily Tandoori

I rushed to check in on time for my flight, which was then delayed by no less than 1hr 25 mins, so it was no wonder that I didn't feel like putting any effort into my evening meal when I finally got home. I fancied Taiwan Village, but left it a bit late and arrived 15 minutes before they closed - so I said I'd try one of the Indian restaurants across the road. Lily Tandoori is right by the pedestrian crossing, and having had a look at the menu, I could see that they do my favourite - butter chicken. By that stage, one of the waiters had spotted me and was staring at me through the window, so that was that, and I went in.

There was an elderly gent sitting at the table by the window, who, while not actually contributing anything of use, was keen to have an input into everything that was happening in the restaurant. I suspect that this was Dad, retired now and plonked there to keep an eye on him, while simultaneously letting him feel like he's still part of the business. Anyway, he was certainly keeping an eye on everyone else, suggesting to the waiter what table to seat me at. The upstairs is cosy, although I think they have a much larger seating area downstairs - anyway, upstairs, the tables are partitioned by interesting glass panels, etched with scenes of what look like Indian folk tales. I'd love to have a closer look at them some time.

I was glad I hadn't bothered bringing a book, as the office party taking up practically the rest of the room was most entertaining. In breaks from watching them exchange Secret Santa presents, I ordered my butter chicken, with pulau rice (almost forgot the peshwari naan) and for starter, didn't fancy anything on the list that I knew, so decided to be brave and try the chicken chat.

The chicken chat turned out to be an inspired choice. Quite spicier than anticipated, it was also extremely tasty, and a real eye-opener - here is a restaurant that can combine hotness and flavour! This is rare enough that it's quite put me off spicy dishes - but here is a restaurant that might reconvert me. The rest of the meal was delicious, but I think that, if I come back here (as is highly likely) I will try something spicier than the butter chicken, to see what they can do in this kitchen. Combine this with really friendly service, and you have a find among restaurants - especially given that, if I hadn't had that second glass of wine, the bill would have come to less than £20 - for a starter, main, rice, naan, and a glass of wine. Excellent! I now have two great restaurants within a few minutes' walk of my place..

It's still looking like The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug for tomorrow. The closest cinema showing it is the Odeon Kensington - maybe I can use my points at last! and get a free film. I'll go to the matinee, considering I have the day off..

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Ballet: Carmen

Despite typically awful weather, this was a great evening!

So, for convenience we decided to eat in the Poet's Corner before the show - the pub in the Old Ground hotel. Parking tends to be easier on the road outside, and handily, for December the parking is free after 5pm. We arrived at about 10 to 5, and paid the minimum of 20c, which took us to just after 5. Extremely good value, you'd have to admit!

The pub was as busy as usual, people watching the Munster rugby match on the televisions, but we were lucky to find a little table in the far corner. And luckier still when our waiter remarked that a table was free now just behind us, which had more space and a chair for me instead of just a stool. So we gratefully moved.

We ordered wine - they have an extensive wine list, and you can order from the house bottle or by individual quarter bottles. Easier was the choice of food - I always have the chicken kiev, it's delicious, and my mother goes for the plaice. Our waiter distinguished herself again by asking my mother whether she'd prefer a half portion - they tend to serve two pieces of plaice. So not only did we save money, but she was still well fed, without having to eat too much. Finished early, we decided to have dessert. I went for the chocolate truffle cake, of course - a specialty of theirs - and my mother decided on the mousse. Honestly, I've had chocolatier things than that cake, but it was fine. My mother was very impressed by the presentation of the mousse in a jar - very practical recycling.

We couldn't see the match properly from where we were, but with such a crowd avidly watching all around, you didn't really have to - a modest cheer meant the other side scored, a deafening roar was a score for Munster. And in the end, Munster won by a single point!

We were worried about getting to Glór in time to get decent parking, in case it rained again. In fact, I got the very last space in the closest section to the door. A tight space, but just adequate. We went in, got our tickets and proceeded straight to our seats, in Row F - the front row of the rear section on the ground floor, it adjoins the aisle and so has terrific legroom - you can stretch out completely if the mood takes you.

The show was Ballet Ireland's production of Carmen. From the very beginning, it was marvellous! A gripping story in any medium, it is set to the glorious music of the original Bizet score, with the brilliant idea of adding a live flamenco guitarist, who sits at the side of the stage for some sections, adding a Spanish flavour to the events. And hearing the music in this context allows you to concentrate on it in a different way from when it is accompanied by words. It didn't lose one ounce of the passion of the opera, and we were all very impressed by the matador.. What a shame it's coming to the end of its run, with only two more shows left - on Wednesday in Navan, and Thursday in Thurles. We were lucky this went on tour!

Back to London tomorrow.. and probably, predictably, to see The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug on Monday. Well, as soon as I heard it was out, I knew it was likely to be the next thing I went to, once I got the chance!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Restaurant: Loch Fyne

Whatever was on in Guildford tonight, it took forever to drive into town, and nearly as long to find parking. But we eventually did, and headed for a couple of drinks at the King's Head, a pleasant, oak-beamed pub not far from Loch Fyne restaurant, our ultimate destination.

You had better be fairly in charge of your faculties at Loch Fyne - there are steps up to the dining area, and more up to the toilets. We were seated in the corner of a pleasant, red-brick-walled room, and served in short order. The service was excellent throughout, somewhat helped by the fact that we had pre-ordered.

I had the soup - butternut squash - which was delicious. The others also enjoyed their starters, although there was some confusion as to whether the tempura had been meant to come with dips, and the fact that the salmon, with brown bread, actually came as a paste, which had not been clear on the menu. The bread, by the way - some of which also accompanied the soup - was excellent.

For main course, I had the steak (sirloin - medium), which was perfectly cooked. I didn't need a steak knife - just as well, since I wasn't offered one. It was accompanied by a dish of pepper sauce, which was spicier than average, but quite tasty - although I reserved it for the chips that also accompanied the dish, and were lovely and crispy. The "garlic" mushrooms that completed the dish had no trace of garlic, and were few in number, but also tasty. In general, we enjoyed our food, although there was a complaint that the fish pie was rather small (it looked it), and the person who ordered it said he'd have the steak if he came back..

For dessert, most of us had the crème brulée, which was crispy on top, as it should be, and rounded off the meal nicely. The bill, including drinks (I had wine, most others had beer, there were a couple of soft drinks and a couple of bottles of water) came to about £25 per head, which I think is perfectly reasonable. In summary, a pleasant venue (I've used that word a lot in this review, haven't I?) and we were well fed, but I wouldn't rush back. Anyway, we made the station, which is walking distance from town, in good time for the train back to London. We had a great night, but it was more the company that made it than the food.

So, back to Ireland for the weekend, and I'm heading to the ballet version of Carmen on Saturday, in Glór arts centre in Ennis, my mother's county town. (Glór is the Irish for voice.) Nice venue, pity they don't have more on when I'm back and can go..

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Musical: Dickens Abridged

Yep, I know I said I probably wouldn't go to anything tonight. I have to be up early in the morning (I'm only still up now because my flatmate is in the shower and I need the loo!), and what I was thinking of going to was a film, and the film I most wanted to see was on too late. But then I checked TimeOut today, on the offchance, and they recommended Dickens Abridged. Only 90 mins, and just around the corner from Leicester Square Tube, in the Arts Theatre. My, it's a long time since I was there!

Now, I loved Shakespeare Abridged when I saw it, years ago, so this was a no-brainer. I had a hunt on the internet for cheap tickets, but almost no-one but the venue itself had any for tonight, and those that were available were more expensive, so I went with the venue box office. Sadly, I've received several ticket offers for this show, but by today they were all either expired or sold out. Or both. (I did notice that Viagogo was offering tickets for tonight.. wonder how that would work with them having to get them posted and all!) Three categories of tickets were available - the cheapest were in the very front row, and advertised as having slightly restricted view, because of the high stage. No thanks, that sounds very cramped. So then it was front or rear stalls - I chose rear, being cheaper. Had a choice of the entire section, so chose the front row of the rear stalls - centre seat.

Having consulted Google Maps to remind myself, I knew I needed to exit the station via Cranbourn Street, hang a left, and it was just around the corner. My, though, finding the exit for Cranbourn Street was a pain. I had to double back on myself - good job I was early - and it turns out you need to take a sharp right from the Piccadilly Line exit. You then want station exit 4. And after that it was a breeze, and I was on time for once! The seat was fine, BTW - good view of the stage. Bit of a breeze from the door though, and they seemed to have no restriction on latecomers, which could be annoying, because frankly, the theatre is quite creaky and you can hear everything.

How to describe this show? Well, it consists of five guys, all of whom play instruments at some point, I believe. Mostly guitars - there's also a piano onstage, and someone brings on a triangle at some point. This is all as an accompaniment to the life story of Charles Dickens, and a potted version of several of his works. Some are acted out, with some of the guys in drag (and some very quick costume changes!) and some are summarised in song.

..and that's a very prosaic way of describing the wittiest play I've seen in a long time. The songs are fantastic, the descriptions irreverent, and the actors have a perfect sense of comic timing. We laughed out loud, we cheered, we were entertained! Highly recommended. Doesn't matter if you don't know much Dickens going in, you'll have a better idea coming out. My personal favourite was the singing severed head from A Tale of Two Cities. That really was well done! Runs until 5 January, see it if you can.

And now, to all a good night! I must away to Guildford at a ridiculous hour of the morning, and we have our department Christmas dinner there tomorrow evening, in Loch Fyne seafood restaurant. And yes, I have already researched my ways of getting home if the Overground has stopped running - I was caught that way before!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Film: Jeune & Jolie

Well, my luck seems to be in at last! First, I get a phone call from Viagogo promising me a full refund for the show I missed last night (yay!), then I leave it late to go to the cinema tonight, dash for the bus, and make the bus stop not ten seconds before the bus does. Phew!

Yes, Google Maps seems to think that the fastest way to get to the Institut Francais from here is by bus. Ok, fine. Cheaper than the Tube, anyway, and it would be too far to walk. So, I gratefully hopped on the bus - the film was on quite late anyway, and the bus was almost empty. And with not much traffic, we were there in no time. Google Maps seemed to think I should stay on the bus to go around the corner - maybe there was a slightly shorter walk from there - but I didn't see the point, and got off when I saw I was close. Made my way to the Institut - that's where the Ciné Lumiere is, where the film was showing tonight, and I've been there lots of times - and saw by their clock that it was one minute to showing time. Result!

They were showing that Volkswagen ad with the dogs when I went in - I love that ad. And once the couple in front of me - who hadn't been there before, they had to ask at the desk where it was - figured out where they wanted to sit, I could sit too, and enjoy it. And so to the film. Jeune & Jolie (Young & Beautiful) is the story of a 17-year-old French girl who decides to take up prostitution as a part-time job. The young star, I must say, is the image of a young (and extremely skinny) Julia Roberts. And Charlotte Rampling shows up at the end! My word, how long is it since I saw her in anything?

Well, the star may have constantly reminded me of Julia Roberts, but Pretty Woman this ain't. The prostitution scenes take place near the beginning, and it wasn't long before two women in the audience left in disgust. I can just see the protests from the anti-prostitution brigade as well - because she just seems to drift into it, her motives are never properly explained - I got the impression that sex, once she tried it, bored her and she figured she might as well get paid to do it. The message is also driven home to us that teenage romance means nothing, and teenagers are always ready to move on to the next thing. The ennui of youth, eh?

I disagree with the reviewer that said it was exploitative. Yes, we get to see nude shots of her, and quite a lot in the beginning of the film - but then her family finds out and puts a stop to it, and that's the end of it. Well, for a while - but the film takes a different tack after that. At her friends' party, the implication is that everyone is having sex, and anything goes - so implying that it's hypocritical to stigmatise prostitution (what's the difference, except you get paid?) She might have stopped being a prostitute, but still has trouble sticking to a boyfriend - she just doesn't feel strongly enough about anyone. Nothing bad happens to her as a result of what she's been doing, despite the adults' warnings. And Charlotte Rampling's function, right at the end, is to assure her that, had she been brave enough in her youth, she'd have loved to have done the same thing herself.

Yes, the anti-prostitution brigade will hate this. But doubtless, being not in English, it'll slip under the radar, mostly. I'll say this, though - that reviewer was right in saying she's borderline anorexic. I mean yes, she's lovely - but see her in a state of undress, and well, I find neither pointy shoulderblades nor a visible ribcage sexy in the least. She's the skinniest among her peers, and I do wonder whether that's a symbol of the fact that, in a way, she's more mature than they are, more canny (in charging for what they give away for nothing), supposed to be superior in some sense. She stands apart, for that reason as much as others. Or is that level of skinniness just what passes for sexy in France? Yuck. The promotion of that as a measure of beauty disturbs me far more than any prostitution in this film.

Having said that, it was a minor niggle for me as I watched the film, which is very stylish, very watchable. And you know, with something rated this highly, that there is something out of the ordinary about it.

I'm thinking of taking tomorrow night off - I have to be up early the next morning to go to the Guildford office, where we have our departmental Christmas dinner, at Loch Fyne seafood restaurant in the town. And anything I might be interested in going to is just on too late. Well, I had to stay in last night, so it won't be a complete shock to the system!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Play: Richard II

Predictably, didn't happen. Here's what did happen, in a nutshell:

Viagogo, from whom I bought the ticket for Richard II, made two claims on their website:

1. Buyers who do not get their tickets in time will have them replaced or refunded.
2. Viagogo uses world-class couriers.

Both false. I have reported them to the Advertising Standards Authority.

1. They are refusing point-blank to accept any liability, saying that their responsibility ended when the tickets were posted. Well, that ain't what it says in the "guarantee" on their website.

2. "World-class couriers"? They used the Royal Mail! And so it turned out that, while I foolishly thought I would get the ticket over the weekend, as with a proper courier, the Royal Mail took delivery on Saturday morning and had no intention of getting the ticket to me before today, Monday. Which meant that the address was wrong - I had specified my home address, in anticipation of getting the ticket over the weekend. But today, I was at work! But - Royal Mail doesn't allow redirection once the item has been posted. So I was forced to let the postman come to my home, which was empty, so there was no-one to sign for the letter, and, being from the Royal Mail, he then took it to the sorting office. And that was that, because the Royal Mail, again unlike a proper courier company, refuses to allow post to leave the sorting office within 24 hours of receipt.

Oh, I tried. I walked there, queued for half an hour, and was dismissed in 10 seconds when he saw the date on the delivery slip. "No, you can't collect this until tomorrow." "But I NEED it today! It was guaranteed to be delivered today!" "Sorry, can't help you. Who's next?" So the ticket is still languishing there, ten minutes' walk from here, an hour's drive from where it was posted on Saturday morning. Well, they can keep it now. I've made a formal complaint to them as well. Seriously - I know about the 24-hour rule, but it makes no sense for an item that was guaranteed to be delivered today. I should have been allowed to collect it.

Anyway, while those complaints are ongoing, I missed my play. Undaunted, I decided to go see Big Bad Wolves instead, in Leicester Square. Events, however, conspired against me. A signal failure led to severe delays on the Piccadilly Line. Ultimately, I realised I was never going to make it in time, turned around and came back. Hey-ho, at least I picked up an Evening Standard.

Big Bad Wolves isn't on tomorrow evening, so it's looking like Jeune & Jolie - this is the one I was thinking of that's showing in the Ciné Lumiere. One critic said it was exploitative, but what the hey. And I know what bus to get, if the Tube is playing up again!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Musical: The Night before Christmas

Ho, ho, ho, how seasonal! Eh, kind of. Anyway, first I had to get to the Soho Theatre, which reminds you of how hard it is to get there in time, which might be why I missed the last two things I'd booked. Tube to Piccadilly, fine - except that one of the trains was out of service, but no big deal.

Then I arrived in Piccadilly Circus station and had no idea of the exit. I knew I needed Shaftesbury Avenue, but the signs were completely misleading and I surfaced on completely the wrong side of Piccadilly Circus, which meant I had to endure a number of road crossings. More time wasted. Approach this station with caution.. I'd have been lost without Google Maps Streeview, which reminded me I needed to take a left past Ripley's Believe it or Not!

So, aware that I was later than I should have been, I dashed down Shaftesbury Avenue, then down Dean Street. Well, I say dashed - and it was a bit easier when I got onto Dean Street, but even there I found myself walking on the road, it was easier. The crowds were terrible. I mean, it'd be fine if you weren't in a hurry, but all the swerving I had to do around groups of people that would stop suddenly in the middle of the path..!

I made the theatre just on the dot of start time. (Drum roll, please!) Third time lucky. Unfortunately, this is one of the places where there are a lot of stairs to climb, and of course I'd just had a 10-minute dash from the Tube. And then I got confused about which floor I was on. Luckily, the usher at the theatre door spotted me and called after me. I think they radio upstairs from the box office when someone is en route, which is an excellent idea. And so I panted gratefully into a seat near the door, at the back, because I was quite simply too exhausted to go any further than necessary. And after all that, it must have been at least another 10 minutes before the play actually started.

Right then. The Night before Christmas, in this incarnation, is a farcical musical set in a warehouse on Christmas Eve. The warehouse owner is lamenting being stuck there on his own when he hears a noise, and discovers.. an elf trying to break in. Well, he claims to be an elf. The owner ties him to a chair and calls his mate to come over, who's unimpressed and is all for calling the cops. But the owner seems to have a spark of Christmas spirit in him, and is interested in questioning this guy more, mindful of his own uncle who was delusional, and needed more sympathetic handling.

And so we launch into a hilarious play, incorporating some very dodgy singing, where we discover the answer to such questions as how Santa does get all those presents into the sleigh. It's laugh-out-loud funny, it's got a Christmas message, and that guy playing the elf is brilliant. Lasts an hour and 25 mins, no interval - so over nice and early. Recommended, for that alternative Christmas. And the crowds were less dense when I came out.

Still hoping to go to Richard II at the Barbican tomorrow. But the ticket was posted yesterday and not delivered, and since it's now to be delivered tomorrow, it will have to come to me at work, which means I need to phone them first thing and try to get the delivery address changed. Fingers crossed that all goes ok!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Film: Inside Llewyn Davis

So, this is what happened today. I was wondering whether, and when, my ticket for Monday would arrive - I booked to see Richard II, which stars David Tennant, and it's selling like hot cakes. So I had to get it from Viagogo, which is a reseller, i.e. they sell secondhand things. Such as hard-to-get show tickets that other people are selling on, for whatever reason. And I had to pay for a courier, and had been told I would be notified when the ticket was dispatched.

The email came through at 11.13 this morning. I remember it well, I was so flustered - I was up, but not dressed yet, and fearful that a courier would ring my bell at any moment. So I rushed around and got myself presentable, and waited on tenterhooks, jumping at the sound of every car that passed. See, it's only coming from Salfords, I discovered, which is just over an hour's drive from here. Although they probably wouldn't drive straight here. But I expected that it could come this afternoon. Huh. Fat chance. And in waiting for it, I missed the film I had been going to see, which was on at 4.05. Well, I wasn't that pushed about it anyway. And at least I took the chance to hunt down some of the clothes I am planning to wear over the festive season.

So, the next film on my list was Inside Llewyn Davis. The blurb said it was about a week in the life of a folk singer in Greenwich Village in 1961. I thought it was a biopic. But then I took a good look today and discovered.. it's a Coen brothers' film! Had a look at the trailer, saw evidence of an orange cat that the guy carries around, figured he can't be all bad if he carries a cat. The cat looked happy enough, anyway. It was showing at the British Film Institute only (I discovered it's another preview), and when I checked, there were all of two seats left. So I booked the aisle seat, and off I went, intending to have one of those lovely crepes at the Southbank Christmas market beforehand.

The streets and my local station were packed with people exiting the British Military Tournament, showing this weekend at Earl's Court. Not my thing. But that was nothing to the crowds on the bridge, and in the market! If I had thought it was packed last Monday, I had another think coming. It took me ten solid minutes just to push my way through the crowd to the BFI. They were sold out of crepes, and the queues were too long to consider anything else. When I had collected my ticket, and was standing there, waiting and starving, I decided to try the café at the entrance to the BFI. After a ten-minute queue, I managed to buy a ham and cheese baguette, and got about half of it eaten before it was time to go into the cinema. So I stuffed the rest in my bag, and managed to finish it surreptitiously inside. Well, the BFI and its patrons can be stuffy about these things!

I love Coen brothers' films. This is a lovely, gentle comedy about a folk singer (played by Oscar Isaac - I've only seen him before as Prince John in the Russell Crowe version of Robin Hood) who, as one of his friends (played by Carey Mulligan, unrecognisable here, with long black hair, from her role in The Great Gatsby) remarks at one point, is "like King Midas' stupid younger brother". Everything he touches "turns to shit". And she's right. He can't do right for doing wrong. He makes all the wrong choices, and has the worst luck. Well, the boy can sing. And play guitar. And along the way, as mentioned, he acquires a cat. Packed with famous faces - we also have John Goodman, Justin Timberlake (with a beard), and even Marcus Mumford, of Mumford & Sons, who provides the vocals for our hero's erstwhile partner.

Afterwards, there was a Q+A with Oscar Isaac and T-Bone Burnett, who was the musical consultant on the film. I've never attended such an entertaining Q+A, with the guest speakers emphasising how wonderful it was to work with the Coens. The last question of the night was about the cat. "Oh, thank goodness!" exclaimed Oscar Isaac, "I thought nobody was going to ask about the cats. What a relief!" The audience member asked when he realised.. "What the cat's personality was?" he offered. "No, that there was an actual cat." "Ah yes," he replied, "that would be when I read the script. It became clear that the cat would not be animatronic." He went on to explain that there was more than one cat, "..because they can't be trained. They never did what we wanted them to. No, I would not recommend working with cats."

So, tomorrow should be more predictable, I'm going to see The Night before Christmas in the Soho Theatre. Mind you, this is the theatre that I keep meaning to go to but something always prevents me.. and as mentioned, I'm supposed to be going to Richard II at the Barbican on Monday. Well, they'll probably deliver that damned ticket on Monday, in which case they'll have to deliver it to me at work. I've given Viagogo the address - we'll see what happens.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Film: Fanny

So, I went to see Fanny tonight. Silly me, I got confused, with everything that's on. It wasn't in the Ciné Lumiere, it's in the Odeon Panton Street. As I discovered today when I checked. Thought I could use my Odeon points at last - I won't be going there so much now that my local is a Cineworld - but it turned out I didn't have quite enough, since prices are more expensive there. Nuts! Ah well.

I walked into an empty cinema. It stayed empty until right before the film started, when a couple of Spanish ladies came in. Not a popular film then, and I predict it won't be there next week. Well, I'm not surprised - I only heard of Daniel Auteuil when I saw him in a couple of films previously, neither of which were big releases. He might be a big deal in France, but certainly not here. And the fact that he writes, directs, and stars in this will mean nothing to most people.

It's a shame, because this is actually a lovely film. Apparently, it's the second in the Marseille trilogy, based on the writings of Marcel Pagnol, who also wrote Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, both of which starred Daniel Auteuil in the film versions. Based in Marseille in the 20s, it tells the story of César, a bar-owner, his son, Marius, and Marius' girlfriend, Fanny. The first in the trilogy, Marius, is currently showing at four cinemas in the city centre. The third, César, is still in production.

Now, it's no masterpiece. But it is simple, charming, and engaging. The story tells how Fanny is distraught that Marius has chosen a life at sea over her, and feels unwell, so she goes to the doctor, only to discover that she's pregnant. With Marius due to be gone for five years, she can see no way out but to marry César's old friend, who has always wanted to marry her and can now provide her and the baby with the security they need. But she will always love Marius, and the final scene is unexpectedly devastating. Creeps up on you, this film. And she's brilliant in it. Shame more people won't see it, because I think a lot of people would enjoy it.

And tomorrow is looking like another film. Currently top of the list is Breathless, another Jean-Luc Godard film - a 1960 thriller. Screens tomorrow afternoon in the Prince Charles Cinema, off Leicester Square. I like this cinema - it's very cheap for the area (about half what I paid this evening..!), it's quirky, with things like pyjama parties, all-nighters, and beer and pizza nights, it shows unusual and old films, and it has very comfortable seats. I just don't trust its ATMs. And I hear there's often a Winter market in Leicester Square - must have a look.

For Sunday and Monday, I've booked plays, for a change! Sunday will be The Night before Christmas, at Soho Theatre. Seasonal it may be, but traditional it ain't. In this version, an elf is caught breaking into a warehouse, and interrogated about Santa Claus. A very different tale from what we're used to, indeed! Interestingly, the price they quote on the website is £5 more than what they actually charge at the checkouts..

On Monday, I'm supposed to be going to see The Royal Shakespeare Company's new production of Richard II, starring David Tennant, who apparently plays a blinder. It's at the Barbican (I dunno, I don't go for ages, and then I go twice in a few days..!) Thing is, the Barbican website didn't have any tickets left, and the cheapest I could find was a seat in the nosebleeds (should be ok at the Barbican though, it's a good modern venue) with Viagogo. I've never booked with them before, and it seems I have to have the ticket delivered to me and sign for it, I can't just pick it up at the venue. At least they guarantee I don't have to pay if they don't get the ticket to me in time!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Film: Saving Mr Banks

Chim-chiminee, chim-chim-cheroo..

Well, since I booked a ticket for Saving Mr Banks (since I was going to Cineworld and they give a discount for booking), I have to confess that I've been humming songs from Mary Poppins instead of Christmas songs! It's about the signing of the rights to the book by Walt Disney, you see, which led to the making of the film.

Anyway, I decided to go to my local Cineworld, which is close enough to home that I can walk, but not close enough to work for that, so I got the bus. (Funnily enough, I phoned my mother from the bus stop, where I could see a bus on that route at the stand, where it was letting off people but wouldn't take any on. I mentioned that to her, but she thought I had said "boss" and that I was fired! ;-)

The bus let me off about five minutes' walk from the cinema, and on the way I came across the most gorgeous Christmas shop! I would have loved to go in, but hadn't time before the film. But I resolved to come back.

I had printed out my confirmation email, with the scannable code, but there was such trouble in getting it to scan that I think I'll get my ticket from the ATM in future. Seating was unallocated. Terrific legroom - I was in a row that allowed me to stretch my legs completely!

And so to the film. Now, this is extremely cleverly made. You could consider it a masterclass in filmmaking, unlike some I could mention. Basically, Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) had been trying for the past 20 years to get the rights to Mary Poppins from the writer, Mrs. P. L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson). This is the story of how he managed it. What impressed me most was the way the tone of the film changed, from stiff and starchy at the beginning (just like the lady herself) to all-singing, all-dancing warmth by the end. Perfect. (Oh, and if you think she's overdoing the frostiness, just hang around for the closing credits - she insisted, in real life too, that the sessions where she was collaborating with the scriptwriter and songwriters were recorded, and part of those recordings is played over the credits. You would not believe how true to life Emma Thompson is!)

Much of the film concerns itself with her flashbacks to her childhood, and her alcoholic father (Colin Farrell) to whom she was devoted. And these flashbacks, so different from the world of Hollywood she now finds herself in, are fascinating. The film is an absolute delight, and I defy anyone familiar with Mary Poppins to keep from tapping their hands or feet, or nodding, to the music, which features largely. Or humming it coming out. Particularly the closing song, which turns out to be so important in the story. Really, if you ever liked Mary Poppins, you have to see this! And what good timing, to release just before Christmas a film about the making of another film that is such a perfect Christmas watch!

Paid a visit to the loo on the way out. Very small cubicles.. Then I paid a visit to the Christmas shop, which was closed, of course. But the stock visible from the window looked terrific - I'll be back. Thought about maybe eating in one of the plentiful restaurants along the way, but ultimately ate at home.

For tomorrow, I was looking at an exhibition of 3D printing at the Science Museum, but there was some confusion over the closing time, and that on the website would mean I couldn't get there in time from work, so instead I'm planning another film. Didn't fancy the Turkish romance that would see me heading to a cinema an hour away and not getting back until after midnight - a lot of effort for something I don't really care about. So that leaves Fanny, a French film, directed and written by, and starring, Daniel Auteuil. In the Ciné Lumiere, appropriately - the cinema in the Institut Francais. Much closer than that Turkish film, anyhow.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Film: Le Mépris

It's a long while since I've been in the Barbican, where Le Mépris, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, was showing tonight. One night only, for a film that's 50 years old this year and constantly popping up in the listings. Since it's highly rated on IMDB, I was bound to see it eventually, and finally did tonight.

As usual, I had to look up how to get there. It's on the other side of town, so I have several options. Google Maps always gives four choices, and the fastest involved getting the Overground to Shepherd's Bush, then the Tube to St Paul's and a fifteen minute walk. However, for the return journey they suggested taking the Tube the whole way from Barbican Station to my local one, which involves one change. This is a cheaper route, as it's all by Tube rather than adding an Overground journey, for which I'd be charged extra - also, it involves less walking. Which is not something I avoid, but it is very cold out. So that's the way I chose.

When I got there, I had no trouble remembering the way - just cross the road and down the tunnel. The cinemas are on the left. Funnily enough, I got exactly the seat I'd been looking at online. Went to the toilet beforehand - there are only two cubicles, and they're both unisex, for future reference. Anyhow, I just made it nicely in time and took my seat, past two elderly ladies at the end of the row.

I was a bit worried prior to seeing this. You see, it stars Brigitte Bardot. Nothing against the lady, but I had a certain expectation of how she would be represented onscreen. And that is exactly how she was represented in this. Tons of black eyeliner, lots of gratuitous nudity, and very little else to do but pout. The storyline has her married to a writer who's being wooed to write a screenplay for a cartoonishly obnoxious film producer, played by Jack Palance. Her husband seems to be pushing her in the direction of this guy, who leers merrily at her at every opportunity. That, to be fair, gives her reason enough to pout.

Oh, and she fiddles with her hair. Well, actually it starts with her husband fiddling with her hair, as the camera lovingly glides over her naked buttocks. And legs. And buttocks again. And she keeps asking him whether he likes the various bits of her. To which, wisely, he replies in the affirmative. After that, she fiddles with her own hair, as the marriage deteriorates. Well, and she gets a wig at some point, just for a change, and fiddles with that. Mind you, I would hate to pick on her - the only other woman in the film that has a main role spends a substantial portion of her time fiddling with her own hair.

I do wonder whether Godard didn't have a crush on BB, considering that practically every time she's on screen, or we're asked to be sympathetic to her, they bring out the strings. Now, it's a lovely piece of music, but I started to groan every time it came on, because we were going to be focusing on HER again. And there was no variation to the music! no different parts. Just the same melody, over and over.

I came out with the impression that I'd just seen something very stylish, with a lovely bit of music. And that I was very glad it was over! (And yes, I did sigh with relief when SPOILER ALERT she and Jack Palance were killed in a car crash.) The elderly ladies outside me, on the other hand, were waxing lyrical about how beautiful she was. Sorry, I didn't see anything special about her. Nice figure, yes. Very heavily made-up. Dye Cheryl Cole's hair blonde and cake her in eye makeup and she'd be a dead ringer. Or any number of other ladies in the public eye. And that hairstyle! Bird's nest doesn't describe it.

Watching the video montage from the film that accompanies the above clip on YouTube, the film looks a lot better than it is. And it's a pity, because watching it, I can appreciate how much more sympathy I'd have felt for her character if she had done anything throughout the film but sulk and behave like a spoilt child, if she had made some of her own decisions. And the scenery is gorgeous. Hey-ho. Tomorrow is Saving Mr. Banks, which, ironically, is set around the same period, but of course was made much more recently. I'm sure we won't see Emma Thompson twiddling her hair while she negotiates a film deal for her book..