Sunday, 22 February 2015

Restaurant: Deerfields Restaurant (The Inn at Dromoland)

Well, the deed is done. Today saw the end of the ceremonies associated with my uncle's funeral, and the day began before dawn, when I was awoken - despite wearing earplugs - by the thunderous sound of pouring rain. I got back to sleep, and when I woke again, it was still thundering down. While I was having my breakfast, it was still thundering down, after several hours.

This was not encouraging, given that the burial was today. However, as I finished my breakfast, the rain died out and a glimmer of sunshine appeared, encouragingly. Still, showers persisted (as usual) and we were at a disadvantage in our good coats, with no hoods. I had pointed out to my mother that we had golf umbrellas, and one of them might be very useful - and she dug around and found one. We had thought that the funeral directors might have some, but this was not something that had occurred to them.

So, after Mass, we headed out for Tulla Cemetery. The rain was lighter now, and more squally. Unfortunately, Tulla has quite a high hill, and the cemetery is right on top. Also, it turned out that the area just inside the main gate was badly flooded, so while they brought the coffin in that way, we all went in the upper gate, and had to clamber gingerly over graves and boggy, uneven ground to get to where we needed to. Someone had thought to bail the water out of the grave, so we weren't held up - but still, it was horrendous weather to be on top of a hill. I'm considerably taller than my mother, who pulled the umbrella close to her, so I spent the whole time with my neck bent. And yes, even the big golf umbrella got blown inside out at one point, as we were turning to head out again. And my hands were frozen from holding onto the edge - I really should've brought gloves. Pity the gravediggers..

The upshot was that we really, really needed some TLC afterwards. After a brief pitstop at home to freshen up, and change into more serviceable coats, we headed off in search of someone to feed us. Our first choice was The Abbey Tavern, as usual - unfortunately, there was a big funeral in Quin this afternoon as well, and parking was impossible. We continued to Ennis, to try The Grove - but the carvery was underway there, there was a large queue, and we fancied table service anyway. So we thought of Killaloe, and Flanagan's - which meant heading along the motorway. And it was my mother who, since we were heading that way, thought of the Clare Inn.

Fair enough - we've liked it before, although we've actually only been to weddings and Christmas dinners there. And, once, a leather sale. And, I think, one of those psychic and holistic fairs, with horoscope and aura readings and incense. We decided to give it a shot. So we sped along the motorway, and knew to turn off when we saw the distinctive, long building on the hill. Which is a good thing, because they actually have no advertising on the main road! FYI, it's Exit 11, and when you come to the roundabout just after the exit, turn left and it's on your right.

Of course, it's had a name change - I'd forgotten it'd been bought by the Dromoland estate and is now known as The Inn at Dromoland. (It'll always be the Clare Inn to us.) There's plenty of parking, and we got a space fairly close to the door - the wind was still gusting, and we didn't want to be outside any longer than necessary. Inside, we determined that the eateries were to the left of reception. First was the bar, where food was being served - but we wanted peace and quiet and continued to the restaurant, further down.

Well, peace and quiet is what we found! One section was closed off and in complete darkness. Another was screened off and unoccupied. In the section that was open, two tables were occupied - one with two people at it, another a long table where a family was celebrating a golden wedding anniversary. There were some staff members around, but obviously not on lunch duty and hiding out here, where they wouldn't be discovered. When someone finally appeared who was on lunches, we got to sit wherever we wanted, and took a table by the wall.

Ah, the peace and quiet! No howling winds, no rain - thunderous or squally. Music playing softly, almost no noise. Bliss. I faced the wall, which is lined with attractive, large framed photos of nearby scenic views. We were confused by the starter described as "feuilletes of chicken and mushroom" - when we inquired, we discovered it was a vol-au-vent. My mother had that, I went for the soup - comfort food. She, of course, ordered salmon (sauce on the side) - I had lamb. And we ordered wine - they don't do half bottles, so we had glasses of the house white, a sauvignon.

The soup was delicious! The sauce on the vol-au-vent was also proclaimed lovely, but my mother found the dish chewy - and the pastry did seem to be a bit tough. The lamb was fantastic - the stuffing had a distinctly orangey taste, and the gravy also seemed to have a touch of that. My mother got a huge piece of salmon, and we both cleared our plates. For dessert, she had a mixture of ice cream and sorbet - found the sorbet a bit too frozen. I had the chocolate fudge cake - yummy, and accompanied by a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream. A memorable meal - my only quibble was that the glasses of wine were a little stingy. But that's a small quibble. I figured €60 would be a fair price for this excellent meal, and guess what? That's exactly what the price was. This is well worth a stop-over, if you're in the area.

On the way out, I visited the toilet, my mother sat in the sun room, just off reception. She could have sat in the bathroom, there was an armchair in there! And a dressing area, with a large table and mirror, and complimentary tissues. As for the sun room, she found it rather cold..

I don't know whether I'll be going anywhere else interesting before I fly back on Wednesday. For Thursday, I've  been looking at an event for Chinese New Year - a Chinese evening late at the Horniman museum. Watch this space..

Friday, 20 February 2015

Dance: Resolution (Potatoes & Sauce, Triptych, I'm Sorry You're Leaving)

So, last night was my third in a row of contemporary dance - part of Resolution, an annual showcase of new contemporary dance at The Place. I left a bit earlier than before, not having time to eat because a potential new flatmate was viewing. So I arrived in plenty of time - and there didn't seem to be such a queue last night, although the theatre did eventually fill up. At least this time they had two people working in the box office.

I caught sight of a programme, unattended on a coffee table, and brought it in with me. This is how I got talking to the guy in the seat beside me for the show, who hadn't managed to find one. It was nice to have someone with me to discuss the show with, for a change.

The first piece was strangely named Potatoes & Sauce. And the programme, as I remarked to my companion, was unhelpful in explaining either the name or the performance to come. It mentioned dream sequences, and circus. Well, it did make some sense in retrospect, although it took me the interval to ponder it, and when my companion asked me after the interval what I'd thought of it, I remarked, "Well, that was weird, wasn't it?!" And he agreed.

It didn't help that the start was delayed. I think they had a problem dimming the lights, and certainly I think they should have had the announcement beforehand, rather than just before the first interval - as with the previous nights. The lone dancer stood side-on to us, in the shadows, for what must have been 15 minutes before anything happened. Then, in near-darkness, she walked slowly along what turned out to be a sticky strip on the floor, so you could hear her feet as they came in contact with it and peeled off again. And she moved around on her hands and knees on the strip. Then some more lights came on, and we could see what looked like fibreoptic cables hanging from the ceiling. And she started to do acrobatics with them, wrapping them around herself, twisting, dropping. Hence the "circus" mentioned in the programme.

So far, so weird. But as I remarked after the interval, you could see how it kind of related to dreams - the idea of stickiness, of not being able to progress quickly - and the idea of being wrapped up in a web. And my companion remarked how nice it was to see dance go vertical.

The second piece, Triptych, was visually very striking. Again, my companion asked me for my take on it after the interval - said he had liked it very much but didn't know why. It consisted of three girls, similarly dressed in pale shift dresses, paint-spattered on the front. For some moves, they moved in unison - for others, they all adopted separate poses. What occurred to me was that, when they moved in unison, they reminded me of classical Greek statues: when they moved separately, they adopted poses that reminded me of hieroglyphs. He remarked that the paint spatters on their dresses might have been a reference to art.

And finally, we found ourselves in the third performance. Called "I'm Sorry You're Leaving", it included a chair, near the front of the stage, with a balloon tied to it that said exactly that. It comprised four middle-aged performers, three ladies and a gentleman, and what followed was the most thoroughly surreal experience yet. One of the ladies came on, turned on a ghettoblaster and put on a cd of "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" by ABBA. She took off her tracksuit to reveal a spangly vest top and hotpants. Then she did stretching exercises on the floor while the others came in, one by one, and took off their shoes.

It was more performance art than contemporary dance, I felt. And it was fantastic! Consistently surprising - and, as my companion exclaimed, so original! They were generally to be found at different parts of the stage, doing different things. A couple of them took turns at a microphone, turned away from us, rather tunelessly singing. Sometimes they interacted with the audience - talking to us, asking us questions, climbing the side stairs, handing out things. Frequently, they told snippets of what sounded like real-life stories - maybe their own, possibly not.

It was all the most anarchic fun, and the first piece I've seen get a standing ovation. Definitely wins the audience popularity award. The company name is .2Dot;  keep an eye out. The performance was a bit longer than the norm, so late home and no blogging.

Sadly, I won't be going to anything I've booked for the next few days - I've had a bereavement in the family and I'm flying home this evening until Wednesday. I'll consider what I might do on Thursday when I get a chance. At least my ticket for Old Rope on Monday won't be wasted - Laura, from work, is using it: just has to pretend to be me!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Dance: Resolution (Between, Major Changes, A Chair is a Piece of Furniture)

Despite my flatmate leaving the country yesterday without a by or leave, and without having paid a single bill since she arrived, I composed myself sufficiently yesterday evening to get out the door a whole five minutes earlier than last time. Ah, what a difference five minutes makes! The upshot was, I arrived 10 minutes earlier, ergo on time.

So last night was the second of four consecutive nights of contemporary dance I'm attending, at The Place, as part of the annual Resolution showcase of new contemporary dance. And last night, I managed to get out the door at 7.15. The Tube times were different from the night before, and I still had to change at Earl's Court, but I only had to wait two minutes for the first train, and a train into town pulled into Earl's Court simultaneously with us. And then we had to wait while the doors closed and opened fully five times. Obviously, someone was blocking them somewhere. Finally, the driver announced that the problem was at the rear of the train, and asked someone there to please give the doors a kick. They closed after that, and he announced, in a relieved manner, that we were underway!

I did have to stand from Earl's Court, but never mind. I arrived at Euston with 10 minutes to spare. After the previous night's experience of crossing a busy road with no crossing, I decided to cross at the first crossroads instead, where there is a crossing. No crossing on the road where The Place is, but it's a strangely quiet road in comparison, anyway. And as I say, I was on time last night - on time to join a long, long queue at the box office, and muse that they obviously aren't used to crowds here. Some were buying, most were collecting. But they weren't letting people in yet, judging by the crowd of people gathered in the teeny bar at the theatre entrance. So I didn't worry - I just about had my ticket by the time the doors opened.

This time, I was a few rows back - but the view is fine from all seats. Then I realised I hadn't come across any of the free programmes. Well, a couple of people near me had them, and I managed to read enough over their shoulders to ascertain that the first dance, Between, had as its theme the difference between Europe and North Africa, between urban and rural.. I might as well not have bothered, the entire piece consisted of a couple of dancers swinging their arms around in grand, sweeping gestures. Put me in mind of fishermen, or something. Probably was what was intended. But I was glad when the first interval came.

With no programme to read at the interval, I grabbed a sofa corner and read the paper I'd picked up en route. When we were finally let back in, I got a programme from the usher, and was able to read that the second piece, Major Changes, had classical music as its theme, and the Clair de Lune as its soundtrack. Lovely! Certainly, this was the highlight of the night for me. Two girls represented, I think, two hands, each initially in her own rectangle of white light on the black stage - representing black and white piano keys, methinks. Having learned to move in synchrony, they proceeded to dance in time to the Clair de Lune, as though playing it. Really, it was a clever piece, and lovely to watch.

During the second interval, I got a seat on a sofa near the bar, and mused that most of each night is being spent in an overcrowded and overheated bar, rather than watching the performances. At last, we were let in again, for A Chair is a Piece of Furniture. Naturally enough, there were chairs on stage, each with a dancer behind it - making this the only piece of the night with props. So, when we were finally seated, one of them proceeded to announce that "A chair is a piece of furniture.." and then continued to the dictionary definition of a chair. While she, and others behind her, involved themselves in practices for which the poor chairs were never intended. You could hear the cracks throughout the theatre. Pillows and a rubber mat were also involved, and eventually, they released a whole heap of squares of coloured paper, kind of like confetti but bigger, from the ceiling. They waited until it was all piled on the floor, and delighted in rolling around in it, pushing props around in it, generally making a mess. I was glad I wasn't in the front row, to get in the way.

Two nights down, two to go. It's nice to have some consistency, actually. And with all this variety, finding something you like is pretty guaranteed. Recommended, if you have any tolerance for contemporary dance - some don't. Discounts for booking three or four shows.

On Saturday, I'm crying off the last night of Resolution, and heading to the Boat Show. Which isn't a show of boats, it's a show on a boat! A weekly comedy show, in fact. Mind you, I had the devil of a time getting a ticket - the official website is sold out for that night, and had directed me on Tuesday to Which was sold out for that show as of yesterday - but I didn't notice, and ended up accidentally booking a ticket for the Saturday after, when I'm in Ireland. Anyway, I contacted them about cancelling, and meantime managed to get a ticket for next Saturday from WeGotTickets. Now LastMinute have contacted me to say they've contacted the venue and are waiting to hear back, and what alternative date do I want? I've reiterated that I want to cancel, but plan B is to change for the 11th April - the next date when there's a decent lineup and I can go!

On Sunday, I'm taking a break from comedy - I'm going to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, where the Philharmonia is performing. I'm in the rear stalls, as usual. And on Monday, it's back to Old Rope. Booked, 'cause it's cheaper. Ah, there's that consistency again!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Dance: Resolution (February 11th 1963, Unsettled, Apocalypse Y)

I do like contemporary dance, and I don't see enough of it. Well, I'll see enough of it this week, because I just booked for four nights of Resolution, a showcase for new dance, held in The Place. Pity I didn't book them all together, I'd have got 30% off! but I wasn't expecting to be going tomorrow night as well. When I discovered I was, I checked the remaining nights, and ended up booking three together (Wed - Fri) for a 20% discount.

The location is near Euston Station, so the Victoria Line shall be seeing a lot of me this week! The shows don't start until 8, but I still managed to cut it fine - and then just missed a direct Tube from West Brompton to Victoria. I had to wait five minutes for the next, and then change from that at Earl's Court and wait another five minutes for one to Victoria.. vexing isn't the word. I got a seat on both trains, but gratefully extracted myself from a crammed carriage at Euston and went up escalator after frustrating escalator, finally emerging into the mainline station.

Thank goodness I was here last year for a training course just across the road, and knew I had to pass the training centre tonight. And thank goodness I remembered the way! It's a confusing place. Keep right upon exiting the Tube, basically. Then right upon exiting the station, second left and first right. Which was fine until I got to that last right turn, and found myself at the wrong side of a crossroads, with very heavy traffic and no crossing!

So that cost more precious minutes, but finally I was headed down the right road, to the second building on the left - an incongruously old-fashioned one, in such a modern neighbourhood. I found the box office, and had to queue behind someone enquiring about dance classes. I was just over five minutes late. The guy at the box office reassured me that although I'd miss the first, I could go in for the others. But the last of the three people I dealt with on my way in told me I could sit in the back straight away, and head to my proper seat at the interval.

And that's what I did. The view from up at the back is fine anyway! I did miss the start of "February 11th, 1963", although I got a fair idea of what it was about. Sure enough, when I had a chance to read the free programme they'd given me, I discovered it was all about Sylvia Plath, frustration, and despair. That'll be why they were rending their clothes, then. The title refers to the date of her suicide.

Each night has three dances, with intervals between, and we were asked to leave the auditorium between each pair of dances. Unfortunately, I had to take all my stuff with me, as I was changing seat, and then was too late to get a seat in the tiny lobby bar area, so ended up rather uncomfortably propped against a wall for that first interval.

When I took my front row seat for the second performance, I discovered the stage was flush with the floor - so I'd be very close to the action. These second two dances, unlike the first, required no props, and frankly I prefer them. I think it allows the imagination more scope. Doesn't hurt to be close, either. Anyway, "Unsettled" took as its subject the true story of a politically oppressed man. And was very effective at communicating that.

I was out quicker for the second interval, being at ground level now, and left my coat on my seat. So I managed to bag a corner of a sofa, and had a much more comfortable time. The final performance was "Apocalypse Y", and for me was the most effective of the night. It didn't even pretend to be about much, save the end of the world, breakdown of society - that kind of thing. Hey, Justin Bieber was torn apart by wild dogs - can't be bad! The music worked well, and I felt more engaged with this piece than the others.

But roll on more of the same, for the next three nights! You can apparently leave feedback on a wall of the lobby bar, and each night there are two reviewers, who post reviews on The Place's website within 24 hours...

Comedy: Old Rope (Headlined by Zoe Lyons)

Time Out used to be obsessed with restaurants. Do a general search, unfiltered by category, and that's what you'd come up with. A seemingly endless list of restaurants and coffee shops. These days, it's switched to comedy shows. Well, at least I have a chance of being interested in those! I usen't bother with acts I hadn't heard of - but then it hit me that I could research them on YouTube, like I do bands - and it's worked terrifically. Hear a name I'm not familiar with, and I look them up on YouTube, find a clip, decide whether it's my kind of stuff.

So it was that I found myself at Old Rope for the first time last night. This is a weekly show of new material from some well known, and not so well known, faces. Runs every Monday at the Phoenix pub, just off Oxford Circus. Last night's headliner was Zoe Lyons, and I decided I liked her stuff, so I'd give it a try. It turned out that tickets are only available in advance from WeGotTickets, and cheaper there than on the door (£5.50 instead of £7), so I booked. They conscientiously ask you not to print the email, for environmental reasons.

Oxford Circus isn't a place I frequent very frequently, so I had to look it up. It turns out that the Tube station there is on the Victoria Line, so I took that. The show doesn't start till 8.30, so I had plenty of time, and ate at home. Now, this is one of the more confusing junctions. I knew to head north on Regent Street, and I knew to be very careful which direction I went in, because I've got lost here before. Streetview showed me that H&M would be on my left, and helpfully, H&M was mentioned on one of the signs in the station. I followed that sign. Strangely, when I came to street level, I found myself diametrically opposite H&M, precisely opposite where I should be. Maybe they meant you could get a good view of H&M from there..

After crossing the road, and taking Regent Street north, I took the first left down an alley, then right, and the Phoenix was on the corner on the left. The main door was crowded with people smoking and chatting, so I entered by a side door further along. The pub was pleasantly uncrowded - but it was Monday. After visiting the toilets, I headed in the direction of the giant neon arrow that pointed down to the basement, and the neon sign that advertised food and laughs. A doddery old man took my name, and proceeded to start to cross off the wrong one on his list before I stopped him, then wrote an "R"(?) on my hand and I was in.

Again, it was less crowded than the last comedy gig I was at; but it was a Monday. There's a pleasant vibe to the place - less dingy than the Soho Downstairs, where I attended my last comedy gig, the Phoenix basement is decorated with wood, and filled with long, communal tables at which people were eating. That did mean that I could smell food throughout the show, but what the hey. There were a couple of rows of seats in front of the stage, so I took one there.

The 80s rock soundtrack blaring through the speakers put me in a good mood. The food seems to be American diner style, and the whole atmosphere is more relaxed than a standard bar - although there is a bar down the back as well. Performers sit on a large, leather corner sofa to the side of the stage while they wait to go on. The stage itself, appropriately, is decorated by a rope, complete with hangman's noose, dangling from the ceiling:

 I saw many, may acts last night, each - apart from the headliner - having about 10 minutes. So the great thing is, even if they weren't terrific, you wouldn't have to put up with them for long! The idea is to premiere new material, and if they tell an old joke they have to hold the rope. My only quibble was the seat I took wasn't that comfortable - notwithstanding, I still had a great time.

Sadly, I don't remember the names of most of the people I saw. Apart from the headline act, I only recognised two names. The first was Mike Wozniak - interesting to see him live, after only having seen him on YouTube before. Like most of the performers, you could tell he had a natural talent for being funny, but his set did ramble a bit. Well, that's the problem with presenting new material! Most of the acts were very entertaining, although I did find they improved as the night went on. After an hour, there was a 10-minute interval, then we were into the second section, which was populated with young men - including, to my delight, Alex Edelman! I had thought about going to his show at the Soho Theatre, but by the time I got around to doing something about it, it was sold out. So that was an unexpected bonus.

The show was MCed by Tiffany Stevenson, who spent her time amiably harassing the front row. You have been warned. Zoe Lyons came on for a longer set - without a break beforehand, since she had to get on the road that same night. She made me laugh till I cried, and I went out into the night - at 11pm, so good value for money - a very happy bunny. I highly recommend this show. Cheap, with a great vibe, and you get to see a whole host of semi- and not-so-famous names try out new material. There are worse ways to spend an evening!

The weather had turned nice and mild, and the rain stopped, by the time I was coming home. Too late to blog though. Tonight, I'm off to another performance of not-so-well-known people: a new dance showcase - called Resolution - at The Place. Victoria Line again, I see, but an 8pm start, so I shouldn't be too rushed!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Concert: Elbow

I first heard Elbow playing support to U2 in Wembley in 2009. It was a hot day, I was in the bowels of the stadium buying a drink, and the place shook with the force of what they were playing. I was duly impressed. So I was delighted to see they were playing the Hammersmith Apollo for three days this week, starting last Tuesday.

Thing is, they were completely sold out. I found tickets on Viagogo, but you might remember I had trouble getting tickets posted to me from them before. They promise on the website to use couriers, but in practice they use Royal Mail - and if Royal Mail use guaranteed delivery, they require a signature. So I'd have had to get it delivered to work, and it's taken to a central mail office, and who knows whether I'd get it in time. In short, postage was not an option. But then I saw they had tickets available to pick up for last night!

They don't tell you the pickup location until you've booked - rather sneakily, in my opinion. But I said I'd risk it - I do like Elbow. So I booked. And the email came through - and it turned out I had to go to Soho! O well. Unfortunately, since I was going to Guildford today, I had to run home with my laptop first. So. Home with laptop and Tube to Piccadilly Circus. Unscheduled stops on the Tube, as usual, and an ex-TFL worker predicting to his companion how long their journey would take, how long we'd be stopped at various places, and how trains are always, always held at Hyde Park Corner to "even out the gaps in the service".

We made it to Piccadilly Circus eventually. I had the vaguest of ideas where to go - I decided just to pick an exit and try at surface level. Really, Piccadilly Circus station is even more confusing than negotiating the streets above, if you don't know where you're going. At surface level, you do at least have landmarks. So, I surfaced, and looked around in confusion. I turned right around, and caught sight of a junction I thought I recognised from Streetview - and thank goodness for that, I'd have been utterly confused if I'd just had a map to read. Pictures are always better!

So, I crossed to that junction and followed the path from Streetview, turning right at the top onto Beak Street. I scurried along to no. 77, where Mail Boxes Etc. has an office, and the notice on the door that said they closed at 6.30 gave me pause. My confirmation said I had until 7, and it was now 5 to. But someone had just gone in and was at the counter, and when I pushed the door, it opened. So in I went, and queued behind the other gent. When it was my turn, I showed my ID - happened to be my passport, that was the easiest, but the assistant went "ooh!". He produced the ticket for me to check, and gave me a tablet to sign - interestingly, and messily, with my finger rather than a stylus. But I had my ticket!

I proceeded to retrace my steps to Piccadilly Circus, and took the Tube all the way to Hammersmith, now. Frankly, by the time I got off, I was exhausted. I got slightly lost in Hammersmith Broadway, then made my way across the road and into the venue. While I was in the toilet, the support act - Laura Groves - started up. I had made it to my seat by the end of the first song - it was nice that it was on the aisle:

Her music is sweet and melodic, but sadly she didn't get much attention from the crowd for the start of her set. By the end of it, more people had arrived, and she got more return from dropping mentions of "Elbow" into her sentences.

I say it was good to be on the aisle - and it was, for the view. Also, the row curves, so there were slightly more seats in my row than the one in front, and my seat was not obscured by the end seat of that row. The downside of being on the end was that that seemed to be the row that everyone stumbled at - probably because it was also where the railing ended. With most of them carrying beer, I had some anxious moments. Luckily, although there were a couple of accidents, none landed on me.

Elbow started at about 8.45. Again, a melodic set, with very few songs I recognised. Thing about them is, they have some songs that are absolute showstoppers - the rest I can take or leave. Of this whole set, I knew two songs, and they were worth the price of admission: One Day Like This, and Grounds for Divorce. Legendary. But after they played Grounds for Divorce in the encore, I'd heard enough, and I left.

Guildford today, so I'll be too wrecked to do much tonight. Back to Ireland for the weekend. For Monday, with lots of things completely booked out, it's looking like a film.. but for which one, watch this space!


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Play: Joan of Arc

There was a newspaper article last week advising us to keep a finger on the mouse. The gist of the thing was that it's impossible to be socially spontaneous in London anymore - not if you want to go to anything that requires reservation. Plays, concerts, restaurants, all book up weeks, maybe months in advance, and particularly if you want cheaper tickets.

I can't argue there. When I was looking for something for last night, I came across a number of options that sounded really interesting - and were completely sold out for their entire run. However, I don't let that bother me - London is so varied that there's always something fascinating just waiting to be discovered. And so it was that I came across Joan of Arc, playing at the New Diorama Theatre. I haven't been there before - but you know, that's what Google Maps is for. And I've always found the story fascinating. I saw one of the shows had sold out, so I booked.

Google Maps sent me off to Warren Street, via the District and Victoria Lines. Travelling at rush hour meant it was crowded, but I got a seat on the District Line after Earl's Court. The Victoria Line was more packed, and what's more, the signals on that line weren't playing ball, and we stopped twice between each pair of stations. I was glad, finally to get off.

The down escalators weren't working - lucky I was headed up. Once out of the station, I turned left to cross the overpass, then left again onto Euston Road. Lots of skyscrapers around here, lots of glass and chrome. I knew from Streetview to take a right down down an unnamed alley when I came to the next pedestrian crossing. Yup, there it was. I turned down.. it's funny, it doesn't really look like a public thoroughfare. You're passing between office buildings, office workers still at their desks. It's pedestrianised. At the end of the short alley, I found myself in Regent's Place. I've never been here before, and it was quite a surprise for West London - this is more like something you'd find in the financial district, all glass and chrome skyscrapers. What sculpture there is is futuristic, made of the same materials. Anyway, it's quite attractive. And fancy, I never even knew it was there!

The theatre wasn't at all hard to find, just around the corner from the end of the alley. There's a coffee shop in the lobby, but I was only ten minutes early, so collected my ticket and had a seat near the theatre entrance. When you go in, seating is tiered, and unassigned - I got a decently central seat. The seats themselves are comfy, which is handy, considering that this is another two-hour show with no interval. Must be becoming a thing!

So, this is a production of a Friedrich Schiller play. It's a young acting company, and you can tell - but the staging is really imaginative. Literally the only prop they have is a lump of what looks like potter's clay - try making a story outta that! Well, they manage it, with some of the most inventive tricks I've seen in theatre. The story is based on the real-life Joan of Arc, with some differences in her fate; but this play is all about the women. The female characters drive the whole story - they are the only ones who see the truth of what's happening, they are the ones with the courage to affect events, and they lead the male characters around by the nose. We have Joan, we have the Queen Mother, and we have the King's mistress. The Queen Mother double-jobs as the King in this bare-bones production.

They really give it their all. The passion they throw into this is all they have to go on, and it's compelling. It's a fascinating and engaging story, and I heartily recommend it. The company are running a three-play series, and there's a special offer on tickets for all three - included are Romeo & Juliet and The Talented Mr. Ripley. All run until the end of the month. Booking not strictly necessary, at least for Joan of Arc - it was about two-thirds full when I was there, possibly busier at weekends.

Afterwards, I visited the toilets, which are unisex and take the form of four completely self-contained cubicles, with a toilet, handbasin, and all the other essentials. Including an automatic air freshener. When I came out, I decided against returning to Warren Street, with its erratic escalators. I knew from the map that I was closer to Great Portland Street, and decided to make my way back from there. Handily, there are maps in Regent's Place too, to help you orientate yourself. And once in the station, I checked the Tube map and saw I could get a Tube to Edgware Road and change to a District Line straight home. I could've changed further along, but it's handy to change at Edgware Road, which is a District Line terminus, so you can sit in the train while it's getting ready to leave, rather than stand on a cold platform.

Now, last night, I would've gone to see Elbow, if I could - they're playing three nights in the Hammersmith Apollo. But they're completely sold out. Viagogo has tickets, but given my terrible experience with having a ticket posted to me before that I bought from them, I wasn't risking it, and that's all they had available last night. For tonight, however, they had a ticket available to pick up, and that's what I'm doing. Mind you, caveat emptor - they don't tell you until you've booked the ticket where you have to pick it up! I risked it, and it turned out that I have to trek all the way into Soho before the concert, then back out here to go to the show. And you'd think Hammersmith is convenient for me, eh? Anyway, I'm looking forward to the show.

Guildford tomorrow, Ireland for the weekend..

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Musical: The Scottsboro Boys

When I first heard about The Scottsboro Boys musical, I thought it was about some country group, and that I wouldn't be interested. So, when it first came out, I just ignored it. Then there was a newspaper article about it, and I realised that wasn't what it was about at all, and that it might interest me. But it wasn't until I was looking for something to do last night that I came across it again.

With something that's been running for this long, and is close to finishing (on the 21st), you can guarantee there'll be offers. So I shopped around, and the cheapest I came across was London Theatre Direct, which was offering seats in the rear stalls (or restricted view further forward) for £25, no fee. So I booked one in the rear stalls, and took myself along to the Garrick Theatre last night.

I don't remember whether I've been here before - if so, it was a long time ago. Anyway, it's an easy one to get to - Exit 1 (on the left as you come up the escalators) from Leicester Square Tube, and a hop, skip and jump down the road to the left. About a minute's walk. The lobby was crowded, but I spotted the box office on the left and soon had my ticket. And by process of elimination, found my seat in the stalls. And I even had time to get started on the packet of Minstrels I bought on the way in, before the show got started.

Appropriately - because this show starts with minstrels. It's quite disturbing at times, because the style harks back to a time when black people were lampooned in these shows, and when they were regarded as inferior. The talent, by the way, is remarkable - terrific production values, terrific singers, talented dancers. There's a tap dancing scene after a while, and I swear I could smell talcum powder for several minutes afterwards.

As the show progresses, it gets progressively darker. Because this is the tale of a miscarriage of justice in Alabama in 1931, where a group of black teenage males were falsely accused of rape by two white girls, to get themselves out of trouble by deflecting attention. Yep, if you thought you were in for a biography of a bluegrass group, you're in for a shock!

It's brilliantly done, and absolutely shocking. The talent on display is awesome. Oh, and there's a mysterious black woman that haunts the periphery throughout, acting as an observer to the various events. She doesn't have any lines, and her purpose confused me. Don't worry, she comes to the fore in the last scene, in a completely unexpected and jaw-dropping way. Terrific show - I do recommend it. Booking advisable, both because that's how to get the cheapest rates, and because I suspect it'll be booking quite heavily for the rest of its run. Runs without an interval, which is handy for getting away quickly, but a little bit numbing for a two-hour performance.

On my way home, I was devastated again by the sight of a young beggar in the Tube station. He had a dog at his side, but what struck me was the home-made sign "I'm hungry. Please help." and the way he held it up mournfully as we descended the stairs and sadly let it fall as the last of us passed. Honestly, it'd break your heart. I debated whether to give him anything, but you're not supposed to give them cash, and the only food I had was the last of the packet of Minstrels. I was so glad though, as my train passed where he was, to see an old man had given him something, and the look of gratitude on his face. I wish him, and the hundreds like him, all the best.

Back too late to blog, as usual. Tonight, I'm off to a play called Joan of Arc - somewhere I've never been before, the New Diorama Theatre. My route seems to take me via Warren Street Station and a short walk - not covered on Streetview though, I've actually had to draw a map!

And tomorrow, I'm off to see Elbow in the Hammersmith Apollo. The second of three shows they're playing there, all three sold out! I went with Viagogo.. I could have got a ticket from them for tonight for about face value, but they insisted on posting them, and I don't trust them after the debacle last time. If they guaranteed couriers, I'd be reassured - but although they advertise couriers, they generally use Royal Mail, who in my experience don't give a hoot whether you get your mail or not. But they did have a ticket - only slightly more expensive - available to pick up tomorrow. Unfortunately, I have to go right into town to get it (must remember to take photo id) then come all the way back out here for the concert. Ah well, I do like Elbow - saw them first as support to U2.

On Thursday, I'm in Guildford, then it's back to Ireland for the weekend. For a rest, eh?

Monday, 9 February 2015

Fundraiser: Peace Direct

Last night, I took myself off to "Singing in the Dark Times" - a fundraiser for Peace Direct (which I'd never heard of). But what the hey, I like to give things a shot, and this was in Bush Hall. Which I'd never been in, but it's just off Shepherds Bush, so not too far to travel, which is a plus.

Google Maps gave me a number of options involving buses, but the quickest - and cheapest - was just to take the Overground to Shepherds Bush and walk up Uxbridge Road for about 15 minutes. So that's what I did. During the week, I wouldn't be keen on taking the Overground between 6 and 7, but that's because of rush hour - it's fine at the weekend. So I did, and arrived at the venue at 6.45, for a 7pm start. find myself at the end of a long queue. Oh, beautiful! Well, at least the weather was ok. So I continued to queue. Unfortunately, I happened to be standing in front of the door to the adjacent bar, and had to keep hopping around to get out of the way of a constant stream of people going in and out. Luckily, after a bit, the queue shuffled up a bit and I was at least past the bar door.

It's an interesting phenomenon, queueing with posh people. I haven't come across it before. Generally they were quite well behaved, although the lady behind me was very snappy with an American woman, who she thought was jumping the queue. No indeed, she had a spare ticket to sell, and was trying to get in to the box office to tell them about it. She asked whether that lady wanted a spare ticket. "Yes!" she said, then swore when she found out it wasn't one that included access to the post-show VIP party. Then wanted to know where it was - she already had a ticket but it was near the back. Then she said she wanted both, when it was patently obvious that the American was only selling one - and sniffily sent her on her way when she discovered she wouldn't sell her both of them.

Now, I don't blame Peace Direct for the organisation of this event, but I'll think twice before I return to Bush Hall. This was an event as organised by the Mad Hatter! Why, in the name of Dickens, didn't they open the doors until five minutes before the scheduled start time? So we were all left queueing outside, and ruminating (correctly) that this would never start on time. And the event sold out, so that was a lot of people. Who, by the way, formed two queues - one from each direction. Which converged on the entrance, so that it took forever to squeeze in the door.

The rather run-down exterior gives no clue of the ornate event room. Apparently, they also hire it out as a wedding venue, and I can see why. The walls and ceiling are white, covered in ornate plasterwork, and dotted with long mirrors. Several chandeliers light the space, and these were augmented with spotlights, and a projector at the back that I only noticed when I was leaving. At the other end is a stage, which had a sheet strung up at the back - obviously, they were planning on showing a film.

Well, the next task centered on finding our seats. It took over half an hour for everyone to manage this. You see, the seats were removable, and had been arranged in rows on either side of a central aisle. Rather close together, I might add - particularly when you have, as I did, a woman in front of you who kept jiggling in her seat, creating more legroom for herself, while gradually moving her chair backwards to decrease the legroom behind her.

Ah, but that wasn't the main problem. You see, the demented organisers had scattered the seats higgledy-piggledy. Mercifully, the seat number was taped on the back of each seat - because there was no other logic to be had. Section 2, where I was, was on the left of the aisle, Section 1 on the right. And then the fun started. You see, the row letters were typed on laminated cards, scattered on the floor along the edges of the aisle. Except.. I was in Row P, but the rows went N..Q..P..R. Well, at least P was mentioned, and I sat down, once I'd ascertained that the seat had the right number on it.

Oh. but that was only the beginning. The row marked as Q was actually O - I guess they didn't have an O so they decided that was close enough. Problem was, there was actually a Row Q - behind me. It merged into Row R - apparently, half of the row behind me was Q, half R. Which led to great confusion, primarily on the part of the misfortunates in Row Q. Perhaps that's why those tickets were cheaper! (They were sold out when I came to buy one.) And then.. some of the row seat numbers started from the aisle, some from the wall. So while P1 was on the aisle, R1 was at the wall (inside Q1, I think). Oh, and then there was the lady who had O2, and pointed this out to the jiggling lady in front of me. But she also had O2. Turned out this second lady had O2 in Section 1, on the other side. Except she'd just been over there and the seat numbers started at 3..

Glory be. Well, by 7.40 everyone was finally, if confusedly, seated. And we come to the next problem. This is just a room, with chairs in it. Yes, there's a stage - but it's not high enough to get a great view. I guess it's adequate - I could see at least the shoulders of each participant - but for the short film they showed, which included several participants talking about peace, I hadn't a hope of reading the captions telling me who they were! That was something they could easily have fixed, by angling the projector up a bit - there was plenty of room on the screen. Bad planning all around! I skipped the section of the applause devoted to the theatre organisation..

Now, as to the event itself, I had no idea what to expect in advance. First thing that happened was a young lady came onstage and started to sing some wordless chant. Then off she went, and we were into the film. As mentioned, this primarily consisted of various people talking about the thinking behind Peace Direct, and what needs to happen on the ground for peace to break out. The most striking moment of the film, for me, was the lady that pointed out that when we think of peace negotiations, we think of high-level diplomats flying all over the world for important meetings. She then pointed out that 50% of these initiatives fail, because the people on the ground - the people living with it day-to-day - aren't involved or consulted. And that's what Peace Direct do - they work with the people who need to be worked with to make peace really happen.

After the film, we had three actors come on. We were supplied with programmes that told us who they were - Mark Rylance, who'd been in the meeting description, Paterson Joseph, who apparently has played in Casualty and Law & Order: UK among others, and was apparently in The Beach, and Meera Syal, who's been in many things, including The Kumars at No. 42 and Broadchurch. Their function was to read the testimony of three "peacebuilders", which is what they call the field workers. Now, this is a good idea as far as it goes, but honestly, it just dragged on.. and on.. we alternated among the three.

Meera Syal told the story of a Sri Lankan woman, who's lived through the trouble between the government and the Tamil Tigers. Paterson Joseph told the story of a man living in the Congo, whose village was destroyed and who was himself tortured, but changed to become a peacebuilder, rescue child soldiers and have them fostered until they can be returned to their famiies. And Mark Rylance told the story of a Bosnian who suffered at the hands of the Serbs during the Yugoslav wars, but whose perspective changed when a peacebuilder told him that what needed to happen was that everybody who'd suffered at the hands of one community needed to be able to tell their story to one member of that community. And that's how forgiveness starts.

I came away with the impression that this organisation does a lot of good, and that their work is really important. I just think they need a better event organiser! The actors gave their time for free, which is great. Meera Syal needed to speak up a bit (they didn't have mics) - maybe she needs more stage practice. Of the three, Paterson Joseph was the most entertaining - he really tried to put some life into it. Mark Rylance, in contrast, was a bit wooden - I believe he plays Thomas Cromwell in the tv version of Wolf Hall. On the basis of this, I won't be seeking it out. It also transpires he's a longtime patron of Peace Direct. Well, that's wonderful - and he was much more impassioned, giving the closing speech. After some more singing, we were treated to Gina McKee and Sophie Okonedo, both of whom seemed to be reciting poems. I think these would have been more effective if we'd heard each in its entirety, rather than jumping back and forth between them. But I think Gina McKee has a lovely, smooth voice, that I could listen to all night.

With the speechifyig, the event did last the advertised 90 minutes. I was rather glad not to be going to the VIP event afterwards, though. I'd been thinking of eating in Nando's on the way back - there's one between the venue and the station - but it was so cold I didn't feel like it, and ran into Sainsbury's instead to buy something to cook at home. Annoyingly, I couldn't use my Nectar points there, as they said it wasn't one of my home stores! A security measure, I guess.

The night ran late, what with me cooking and eating when I eventually got home, and then looking up the BAFTA results. So I didn't get a chance to blog until now. But I did book something for tonight - I'm finally going to The Scottsboro Boys, which seems to have been showing forever! With it nearing its conclusion, finally - the run ends on the 21st - there's been a profusion of offers, so the advice is very definitely NOT to go with the official website. Best deal I found was with LondonTheatreDirect, who have stalls tickets for £25. So I'm off to the Garrick - just down from Leicester Square, but I'm not sure whether I've been there before.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Comedy: Carl Donnelly

Ah, what an interesting weekend I've been having! From the backstreets of Whitechapel to the heart of Soho. I don't go to many comedy gigs - I'm wary of comedians I haven't heard before. Then it occurred to me - I use YouTube for music acts - why not for comedians too? So, with such a profusion of comedy acts running these days, I've been spending a lot of time watching clips of them. Thus it was that I decided Carl Donnelly was worth a punt. I might've gone last Wednesday, then I didn't - but I caught the last night of his show in the Soho Theatre tonight.

With nothing much in the house, I decided to eat in Chinatown beforehand. It's about five minutes walk away, and unlikely not to have space. And my preferred eatery there these days is the Feng Shui Inn. So, I consulted Google Maps beforehand to remind me of the best route there, and how to get from there to the theatre - continue along Gerrard Street and take a right onto Dean Street.

I left in good time, and my journey into town was uneventful, save that I took the Piccadilly Line and was nearly run over by the couple - probably coming from Heathrow - with trolley bags, who didn't realise that the aisle wasn't going to be wide enough for them to walk off side-by-side. And in no time, I was at the restaurant.

It was busy, but not so much that they couldn't squeeze me in somewhere. To be fair, service was excellent, and they buzzed around all night. I had a badly positioned table, one of two small tables that had been inserted into a passageway between the kitchen and the main restaurant. But it really wasn't that bad - there was just a constant stream past me. Oh, and I could see myself in the mirrored wall opposite, if I bothered to look.

The other table was occupied by two Cockney gents, one of whom appeared very drunk, and couldn't understand why his companion seemed so insistent that they end the night so early. He left a right mess, and was incredulous at the bill - although he paid it, finally. Yep, it does add up, and while this isn't an expensive establishment by London standards, you can be left wondering - particularly as the bills aren't itemised. I'd probably have eaten better, and paid less, at my local Chinese - but I fancied a change. So, I had some decent spring rolls, and a kung pao chicken with rice. The menu seems much less extensive than I remember - but the chicken was delicious, although the rice was somewhat lukewarm. The glass of wine was generous, and nice enough that I had a second.

Well, I did have time to kill - it wasn't to be a long walk. When I did leave, and passed along Gerrard Street, I found myself passing my previous haunt, the Black Bean - now closed! I don't know how permanent that is, but the last time I ate there they had gone seriously downhill. Anyway, I continued on my way..

I don't know what she was doing there, but she was attracting a lot of attention..

I was looking for Dean Street, and remembered enough of the area to know that, when I hit Wardour Street, I'd overshot. Turns out that where Dean Street crosses Gerrard Street, it's called Macclesfield Street, and that's where I should've turned. Well, not much of a detour, and I had plenty of time. What an unusual feeling, particularly for this theatre! I strolled in, collected my ticket, and the guy told me it was already open - this was 20 minutes beforehand.

They have spaces on several floors, and I haven't been to the downstairs theatre before, which is less a traditional theatre space than the others, and instead is a bar with a stage. It was packed - I'm glad I booked. As I wound my way around the queue for the bar, a lady with official-looking equipment, such as a headset, a walkie-talkie, and a clipboard, ascertained that I was looking for a seat, and how many of me there were, and offered me a chair in the middle - where I'd likely have been stuck behind some large person - or a seat on the bench at the side. The view from there was decent, so that's what I chose. I'd have lost my seat if I'd gone to the bar, and anyway, I'd had enough to drink.

As the last people arrived, we all had to budge up, and the leaning lass on my left made her presence felt for the duration. But what the hey. Mister Donnelly appeared pretty much on time. He looks much better now than his picture on Wikipedia (see link above), or the clip I saw of him on YouTube. Apparently, he got divorced not that long ago - it seems to have agreed with him! He's cut his hair, lost weight, and had laser eye surgery, which was the subject of his first joke - so no more glasses. Very fit, in fact!

His style is unassuming, and the jokes creep up on you. In a way, they're peculiarly British, in that sense of the hilarity of being embarrassed at things. His observations are pretty spot-on, but I won't repeat any here - as befits a late Saturday show in Soho, the subjects aren't the most polite. And as I write this, we're already into Sunday. So not appropriate then! But I laughed so hard I felt dizzy, and laughed often. Good choice, on my part!

Afterwards, dodging the cars and rickshaws of Dean Street, I returned via Shaftesbury Avenue, where I soon found myself in the midst of a massive hen party with distinctive pink fluffy zogabongs. Ah, London on a weekend night! I'd forgotten how manic it was - this was my first weekend out and about in London this year! What with being back in Ireland every second week, and being sick the last weekend I spent here.. it's good to be back in the thick of it. I came back from Piccadilly Circus, and on the escalator down to the platforms, we were well entertained by a very jazzy number from a busker at the bottom, on an electric guitar. Half the folks on the escalator danced along..

Tomorrow will probably be more sedate. I'm off to Singing in the Dark Times, an evening of song about the work of peacekeepers around the world. In aid of Peace Direct. Takes place in Bush Hall, just off Shepherds Bush.. not too far away, and not too late.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Film: What We Do in the Shadows

Ah, the Pillow Cinema. Shows up so often in the listings! Usually, what they're showing is something I've already seen, or is booked out. Generally both. So it was great, finally to come across something I hadn't seen, and would be interested in seeing, and could get a ticket for! Price is per beanbag, which accommodates one or two. Yes, seating is on beanbags - although you lie down rather than sit - and although they pretend that a pillow is compulsory, if you check, it isn't at all - as they remind you repeatedly after you book. They suggest you might like to bring a blanket, pjs, slippers.. and if you don't want to bring a pillow, they have them for hire for £1. I decided to bring my own.

And so it was that my pillow came to work with me today, and this evening, headed off on an adventure with me in the backstreets of Whitechapel! They give good directions on the confirmation email, and so I was able to trace my route as Tube to Aldgate East and a walk up Brick Lane. The easiest route turns out to be to take the pedestrian alley just past Kinkao Thai restaurant - easily spotted as the only one on a street famous for its curry houses! The former Shoreditch Underground Station, venue for this pop-up cinema, is the graffiti-covered building at the end of that road. And I thought maybe I could eat at the aforementioned restaurant on the way out.

It's a very good job I left early - an earlier signal failure on the District Line meant "minor" delays. Which, in practice, meant that we were stopped at some stations for several minutes, and repeatedly stopped between stations for a couple of minutes per time. Mercifully, as I left a bit earlier than yesterday, the crowding was less and I had a seat the whole way. Interesting passengers on the outbound journey included the woman with the lovely, grey fluffy small dog in her arms, who only travelled one stop from Gloucester Road to South Kensington, and the Italian couple with very little English, who also only travelled one stop - from Westminster to Embankment, where they were going to change for Euston Square from what I could make of it. Not that they could get there directly on a train from Embankment - but sometimes, you just confuse people by trying to help them, and the Northern Line from Embankment would get them close enough.

I've been to Aldgate East just once before, to see Hard Façade at a club on Brick Lane. This was invaluable, as for instance it meant I knew to turn right when I got off the train - this station is unusual in having exits at each end of the platform. Also, I knew that Brick Lane is a continuation of Osborne Street, the first left after exiting the station. So then a long walk up Brick Lane ensued, past dozens of curry houses. Being on my own, and striding purposefully forward, I was only propositioned by one employee of one of these establishments. But I wasn't in the market for food right then.

I actually had to pass the club I'd been to before, and shortly after that came upon the Thai restaurant, which, sure enough, had a pedestrian alley right after it. Just as well I knew where I was going - all the lights in the alley were out of order, and it was completely dark. The old Underground station was at the end, the door open, and a very polite fellow there to check tickets - which they do like you to print out. They can just scan them then. There's a bar to the left, the cinema downstairs to the right, with pillows for hire at the top of the stairs. I popped into the bar for a glass of pinot grigio (they only do the small size) and a bag of chocolate, and then headed downstairs.

Problem no. 1: attempting to descend stairs whilst carrying a pillow and a fairly full glass of wine. Anyway, I didn't spill much. Problem no. 2: attempting to push aside the curtain leading to the cinema, whilst still carrying said pillow and glass of wine. Problem no. 3: attempting to negotiate beanbags whilst still carrying said pillow and glass of wine. The beanbags are packed fairly close together. I chose one by the wall. Problem no. 4: sinking into beanbag without spilling glass of wine. Problem no. 5: drinking said wine in a supine position. You can't sit up during the film - you'd block someone's view - so I found myself gulping it all down before the film started. Basically, bringing a drink to this thing is NOT a good idea!

They actually provide a fleecy blanket for each beanbag, which they don't mention on the website. So that's cool! And I do recommend using it - although it's toasty warm when you go down there, I think they do turn off the heating after a while, and there's a terrible draught under the walls. I was ok with the blanket though, and once I got my pillow right, and the girls in front of me lay down, I was very comfy. Oh, they do wander around with a camera beforehand, BTW, making promotional videos for the website - so be forewarned.

Being an independent cinema, they show no ads, and we were straight into the show. The film in question was What We Do in the Shadows, and opens with a logo of the "New Zealand Documentary Society". Huh?! A documentary? I thought this was about vampires sharing a flat. Well, yes it is! A documentary about vampires sharing what we would more likely call a house, outside of Wellington. Directed and written jointly by two of the stars of the film, this is a hoot! A droll fly-on-the-wall look at vampires of different ages, coping with the problems of sharing housework and cleaning up the blood after one of them has had guests over. And in the best tradition of such things, we also meet the local werewolves and zombies.

Really, if that sounds appealing, I do recommend the film to you. I liked it enormously. And as for the Pillow Cinema, it's cool too (booking essential) - although I don't recommend drinking in the cinema. It's just too awkward. And I didn't see a single person with pjs, slippers, or their own blanket. I wasn't the only one with their own pillow, though. There is no bar service to your beanbag, as advertised - you have to trek upstairs again for that. Honestly, it wouldn't be practical! And I hope they cleaned the place thoroughly after we left - there was another show, and one beanbag had popcorn strewn all over it.

We streamed out at about 8.30, and I was stunned to see the Thai restaurant I'd been considering already closed! Their website says they're open late - I guess it was a slow night. And, ironically, I didn't fancy an Indian. So I ended up not eating out at all!

Interesting passengers on the train back consisted mainly of three pals, occupying a set of four seats near me. I started to pay attention when the fourth person sitting there pointedly turned to the side, away from them. Although a young man, he seemed somewhat scandalised by the young woman sitting beside him, whom you might describe as fitting the description "posh totty". Young: big, blonde hair: pretty, with unobtrusive makeup: a big, warm winter coat like mine, and practically nothing on underneath it. Well, she did have a very short dress on, but you couldn't see it under the coat. So she was wearing a sheer pair of black tights. And between her rather scantily clad thighs, she was brandishing a screwtop bottle of rosé, which they were sharing among them, swigging straight from it, and which was now half empty.

To be fair, the conversation was interesting. She seemed to be a journalist, and had all sorts of interesting work-related stories, like the guy from UKIP that she had to interview, who was so right-wing she didn't know what to say. Or a mutual friend of theirs, who apparently punched someone in a checkout queue at Tesco, and it ended up in the Daily Mail.. Then one of them spotted someone waving in their direction from the opposite platform at one station, and waved back - except of course, she was waving to her friend, standing nearby. And then, as we were at the platform for a while, the friends proceeded to do a little dance, mirroring each other. Ah yes, I do like Friday nights on the Tube..

At Gloucester Road, we were delayed again - it seems the signals still weren't fixed. And that's when the guy of the group of three decided he really needed to go for a wee. For a minute there, I seriously thought he was going to use the rosé bottle. But the journalist exhorted him to hold on, it never normally takes this long - and they were only heading to her place in West Kensington. I never did find out what happened, as I was changing at Earl's Court - you can never catch a Wimbledon train East of Embankment. Luckily, one just pulled in as we arrived and I hopped across the platform to catch it. And found myself sitting opposite the most miserable-looking woman I've seen in a while. Young, heavily made-up, huddled in her coat in the corner. Maybe she was cold.

I was glad to get in from the cold myself. Tomorrow night, I'm finally heading to something I had considered for last Wednesday - it's the last performance by comedian Carl Donnelly, in the Soho Theatre (Downstairs). And since it's the weekend, I might actually make it there on time, for once!

And on Sunday, I'm off to Singing in the Dark Times, an evening of song about the work of peacekeepers around the world. In aid of Peace Direct. Takes place in Bush Hall, just off Shepherds Bush.. not too far away, and not too late, thankfully, with work the next day.

Concert: Ennio Morricone

I was looking at going to see Ennio Morricone last December, but the concert was cancelled when he was taken ill. He is getting on, after all. When I saw he'd rescheduled for this week, I had no hesitation in booking for last night. Until it came to choosing the ticket. See, every time you log onto Ticketmaster for an event in the O2, there's a warning that the upper of the two levels available to the general public is unsuitable for those with vertigo or fear of heights. Freaked me out, so I ended up paying £30 more for a ticket on the lower level.

Not having been to the O2 before, I looked up my transport options yesterday. Decided that the Tube was the quickest and handiest. Not a difficult journey - District Line to Westminster and Jubilee Line from there to North Greenwich. I left straight from the office, planning to eat at the O2 beforehand - the concert didn't start until 8. I managed to cram onto a packed rush hour District Line carriage, and had breathing space for a few stops, until a crowd got on at South Kensington. It was then rather uncomfortable until I got a seat a couple of stops after that, at Victoria. Which was a couple of stops before I had to change. But the seat was appreciated.

The Jubilee Line was a relief - the trains are one per minute at that time, so less crowded. And they had the air conditioning on ice-cold, which was a relief after the stuffiness of the District Line. About the same distance on each line, and I disembarked at North Greenwich. I had wondered how the directions would be handled, and was impressed - you'd have to be blind not to find the O2, coming from here. Although after you come through the ticket barriers, and come up the escalator, there is a sign in front that's slightly confusing - it mentions the O2, but in the context that you should use the exit behind you for that. But if you're in a rush and flustered, it might cause a moment's confusion.

Once outside, just follow the signs (and the crowds). As I was entering the dome, I finally saw the Up at the O2 - the lift to it is just outside the entrance. This is the attraction where you can climb on top of the O2 - with harness and a guide. Not for me, but interesting to see the climbing ramp. The O2 is structured in such a way that there's an outer and inner dome. Pass through the main entrance, and you come to a large covered area - with restaurants, entrance B to the O2 itself, and the all-important cash machines. Well, I wanted to eat before going in, and I was headed for Entrance H, which meant passing down a whole street full of restaurants. So I passed the first ones I saw, all of which had long queues.

I walked around the O2 for what seemed like ages, passing restaurant after restaurant and their queues. Near the end, I came across two that didn't seem to have queues - Brooklyn Bowl and Water Margin, a Chinese buffet. Then I was at the end of the restaurant stretch. I walked on a bit to make sure there were no more - came across the Cineworld (so that's where it is!) and the toilets. Then decided - it's been a while since I'd had Chinese, and a buffet would guarantee swift service - I'd been warned about that here. So I returned to Water Margin.

The menu and price were ok. There's a bar downstairs - you climb the stairs to the restaurant. When I went in, the room was quite large, and quite empty. I was quickly seated. You give the server your drinks order - they bring that, and you go to the buffet for food. Or there's a section at the side where you can choose your own ingredients and have them cooked in front of you. Some people were doing that, but I decided just to go with the buffet. I chose chicken szechuan and fried rice, with a couple of prawn crackers.

By the time I sat down, my drink had arrived, and the chicken szechuan turned out to be delicious. Rice was a bit chewy. Still peckish, when I'd finished that, I went and got some chicken satay (there's satay sauce to the side, so you can choose the quantity) and some more rather good prawn crackers - again, the chicken was excellent. I know people worry about buffet food- particularly Chinese - but this was really excellent quality. I also believe they were replenishing the food quickly rather than leaving it to settle - the quantities they put out weren't large, and were quickly finished. By the time I got back to my table with my second dish, my plate had been cleared but, in true Chinese fashion, they left my knife and fork for me to re-use.

After that, I fancied dessert - and they have a really good range. Chocolate cake, ice cream you can scoop out yourself, a chocolate fountain so you can have as much chocolate sauce as you please! Also plates of various small delicacies. Really, we were spoiled for choice. Me, I finally decided to snatch the last of the profiteroles - with a good dollop of extra chocolate sauce from the fountain (they were already coated in chocolate sauce). And after that, I was finished. Pay at the cashier on the way out - the meal is a standard £14.80 for an adult dinner, and you give in the drinks card that your server has filled out. Drinks are extra, and you shouldn't lose this - they have a fixed penalty for that. They have a glass of sweets at the till - lift them out with the spoon provided. Yes, I'd be happy to eat there again! Might try the noodles next time, instead of the rice..

I decided to visit the toilet in the exterior section of the O2 before I went in. Well, that was a big mistake.. portaloos with neither light nor toilet paper! Avoid. I decided I didn't need to go that badly, and went through the ticket and bag check. Inside the O2 proper, you head in one direction for standard seating in levels 1 & 4, and in the other direction for levels 2 & 3. I headed up the escalator for Level 1. A further escalator takes you up to level 4. As I walked around the curve of the O2, I was impressed by the facilities - food stalls that would have compensated well enough with fast food if I hadn't got any outside. Plenty of water and other snacks. And toilets, goodee. With a profusion of both light and loo roll. The hand dryers are a bit insipid, but functional.

Inside the venue itself, my row turned out to be the very one below the entrance. So I didn't have to climb any stairs, handily. You know, they have part railings on level 4 - they don't have any on level 1, and I can foresee problems for myself when I come back here for U2, with my fear of steps. Ah well, par for the course for U2 concerts, really.. I see I could probably have managed level 4 last night though. I made my way along to my seat, which had a good view of the stage, despite being at the far end of the arena. Peculiar seat coverings - comfy enough, but kind of waxy - slightly slippy, like vinyl. Spill-proof, I guess! Haven't come across this as a seat covering before.

That section of the row was practically empty - a couple with seats beside me moved further down, since there was space. As I gazed around, I concluded that this is going to be an absolutely awesome venue for U2! Smaller than their normal size of venue, if you're on the lower level this is going to feel really intimate! Well, with their size of show anyway, and especially with the stage running down the centre. Really looking forward to those now!

Last night's concert started soon after - Morricone conducting an orchestra, with choir behind. Large screens on either side of the stage proclaimed the title of each piece - it was harder to read the text underneath, which told the name of the film. And they were all from films, most of which I'd never actually heard of! Of the first numbers, I was familiar with Deborah's Theme, and there were others from Once Upon a Time in America. But it wasn't until the set from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that I really got into it. As did everyone - The Ecstasy of Gold, from that film, seemed the most popular piece of the night.

After a 20-minute interval, a scrolling advertisement around the led bar at the top of the corporate boxes, and an entertaining usher wandering the aisles yelling "ICE CREAM", the second half featured more music I didn't know, and towards the end, they finally went into The Mission, starting with Gabriel's Oboe. Now, people started leaving at this point. I completely understand the desire to beat the crowds - but at Gabriel's Oboe?! Gee, why bother coming then? Just stay home and listen to the whole thing online, or on cd. That was only the start of songs from The Mission, too.

After rapturous applause and a standing ovation - as befits such a musical legend - he came back for an encore. And after more rapturous applause, and another standing ovation, he came back for another. Now, he had obviously run out of stuff to do by then, and started The Ecstasy of Gold again. Not that I'm complaining - it was just as good the second time around . And when he came back for a third encore, he reprised On Earth as It Is in Heaven, from The Mission. It was 10:30 now, and when he'd finished that, I decided I'd probably heard all there was to hear, and it was time to call it a night. If you're interested, it's on again tomorrow night.

It was funny making my way back to the Tube, along with crowds of scurrying people, all trying to beat the scrum that was to follow. "Crowd Control" signs were lit, people with loudspeakers were directing us. I managed to get on the Tube that pulled up to the platform as I arrived, so no problems - but for U2, I'll be staying until the last minute, and all those shows will have sold out. So, greater crowds. I'll take the express boat into town instead - it takes a little longer, and costs a little more, but it'll be such a heave for the Tube, on the basis of U2 shows I've been to before in London. And the boat is well signposted, in the opposite direction to the Tube - first boats leave 15 minutes after the shows finish.

The Tube was suitably packed, and a poor, small, woman getting on at the next stop looked quite alarmed. Luckily for her, she was getting off not long after. But I was standing till Westminster, and felt it really stuffy. I was delighted to see a Wimbledon-bound train arrive as I came to the District Line platform, and even more delighted to get out into the cold night air at the end of my journey. Yes, the boat would have been preferable..

Too late to blog, of course. My internet connection at home crashed anyway. Coincidentally, today I discovered that one of my colleagues was also at last night's show - had a cheap seat on the upper level, and was upgraded! Grr. Today, I have my pillow with me - I'm off to the Pillow Cinema! Housed in the former Shoreditch Underground Station, the idea is you watch a film, cosied up in a beanbag, with an optional pillow. Drinks are served to your beanbag, and beanbags - which seat one or two - are on a first-come, first-served basis. Blankets, pjs, slippers - all optional. Booking essential - they always sell out. Tonight's film is What We do in the Shadows, and I'm looking forward to it! Must study the directions provided with the ticket.

Tomorrow night, I'm finally heading to something I had considered for last Wednesday - it's the last performance by comedian Carl Donnelly, in the Soho Theatre (Downstairs). And since it's the weekend, I might actually make it there on time, for once!

And on Sunday, I'm off to Singing in the Dark Times, an evening of song about the work of peacekeepers around the world. In aid of Peace Direct. Takes place in Bush Hall, just off Shepherds Bush.. not too far away, and not too late, thankfully, with work the next day.