Thursday, 30 April 2015

Senegalese Music With an Open Heart

Well, I finally made it to a meeting of the World Music Meetup! Tonight, they were headed to a concert by Senegalese group Minnjiaraby, of whom I'd never heard - but I looked them up on YouTube and was sufficiently impressed to book myself a place. Plus, it was free. And it only takes about half as long to get to Russell Square as to Dalston, where last night's event took place.

I still had to leave straight from work - the concert was to start at 7, and we were to meet at 6.30 outside. Anyway, it's a direct Tube from Earl's Court to Russell Square, although it was packed and I had to stand the whole way. I'd gone to the very back of the train to get more space, which turned out to be handy, as that end was where the station exit was (pure coincidence, it's ages since I'd been here). A lift took us to the street, and Google Maps had shown me that the way to the Brunei Gallery was easy - turn left, walk to the end, then a slight right and down the pedestrianised alley.

Practically the whole way there, you're reminded that you're in the vicinity of the School of Oriental and African Studies, whose signs are everywhere. This, it seems, is one of the semi-autonomous schools of the University of London. New to me - I've never studied here. Did have an unsuccessful job interview once with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also apparently a constituent college. Anyhoo, the Brunei Gallery is also part of the university, it seems - which is handy, as there are a couple of direction signs to reassure you you're going the right way.

The organiser had said she'd meet us at the foot of the steps, and be wearing all red. And have blonde hair, Well, there was no-one of that description waiting expectantly at the foot of the steps leading into the building. It was already 6.35 when I got there, so after a moment I decided I'd better go in. There was quite an impressive lobby, with a plaque commemorating its opening by the Sultan of Brunei - which somewhat explains the name, I guess.

After a confused moment, I spotted the sign pointing downstairs for the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, where the concert was to happen. Most people in the lobby seemed to be there for other purposes, but I followed another few people downstairs. Where the space was filled with people, milling about - they weren't letting them in yet. As I neared the bottom of the stairs, it occurred to me that these might have been the stairs the organiser had meant - and sure enough, there was a woman of that description standing nearby, with a knot of people around her.

Just as well she gave us that description, because I wouldn't have recognised her from her profile photo! Very much blonder hair - and frankly, she looks a lot older than her photo. Anyway, after introducing myself, I moved around a bit, and was duly greeted by someone who called me by my name. (I'd forgotten to remove my name badge!) We had a nice chat, until the doors were finally opened - they hadn't found all the musicians yet, but figured we might as well be seated while we were waiting!

The organiser said something convoluted about us having the central rows, which left me completely confused about where to go, so I plumped for somewhere in the middle. Which turned out to be fine. Legroom good too - this is a nice theatre. I chatted to another group member as we waited - this does seem quite a friendly group. And the musicians duly got themselves in order, and started - not too late.

The organiser had warned us that we might not be admitted if the theatre was full. No chance really - although it was quite full, it didn't fill completely. Actually, people came and went all through the concert. The door was left open, which was unfortunate, as where I was sitting, I got a constant draught from it.

The first piece, a traditional Senegalese song, was lovely. After that though, I thought that, while it was ok, it was a bit samey - every song sounding a bit the same. I'd have left early, if there hadn't been some people outside me. However, things really livened up in the second half, with Wouty a particular highlight. A couple two rows ahead of me recorded the whole thing on their phone, and a guy in the row in front of me carried on a distractingly animated conversation by sign language with his pal, sitting over by the wall because he arrived too late to get a central seat. The lead singer insisted we all get up and dance for the last one, and we obliged. A good night, all told - although I didn't feel compelled to buy one of their cds, on sale outside after.

I'd completely forgotten that mention had been made on the Meetup page of going to the pub after - and indeed, nobody seemed to be gathering as I left. I was hungry, but needed to shop for food - luckily, there was a Tesco Express right across from the station. I got a seat on the way back, and was comfortably sitting at home when a message was posted on the page, asking whether anyone at all had gone to the pub! Oh dear.. I guess I mightn't have been the only one to forget.

Well, I'm back to Ireland tomorrow for the long weekend - and taking an extra day, for the sake of cheaper flights! So I won't be back in London until Tuesday night, and my next night out is Wednesday. Now, when I started looking for something to do that night, Meetup didn't have anything that appealed - which led me to the horror that is the Time Out search. After literally hours of searching, I came up with something last night, but didn't book it because it wasn't selling out. And then today, something was finally advertised on Meetup that took my fancy: an evening of storytelling, with the Crick Crack Club. So I joined, and booked for that.. definitely different, this Meetup stuff!

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Gypsy Jazz and World Music Jam

I'd booked to go to a Gypsy Jazz and World Music Jam, this evening in the Vortex Jazz Bar. Mind you, I wasn't thrilled to discover it was all the way over in Dalston, and I'd have to travel for nearly an hour to get there. Then, after a dreary, wet day, the evening is glorious with sunshine, and I'm tired, and I just don't feel like it.

So I'm skipping it - I've cancelled, and hadn't had to pay anyway. Tomorrow is another Meetup with the World Music Meetup - in the Brunei Gallery, Russell Square, which is a bit closer. A concert with Senegalese band Minnjiaraby, whom I looked up on YouTube and really liked - I might make that one instead! After that, it's back to Ireland for the long weekend, and I'm taking an extra day because that way I save over £100 on the flights. Back to London on Tuesday night, then..

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Play: Everyman

Another Monday, another play! It wasn't planned that way, but I checked Meetup, and a play was the most interesting thing happening. Mind you, it was advertised by one of those theatre groups that charge a membership fee, so I went on my own. They never give the theatre name, so I had to Google it - which is how I found out that Everyman is playing at the National. When I checked, they had three tickets left - two at £35, one at £25, which I took. And all in the stalls, which is nice!

Now, the National is one of those annoying venues that always seems to take a bit longer than you'd think to get to. So this was not an ideal evening to be delayed - but when the last button on my trousers popped (again!) on the way home, and I had to walk (gingerly) while holding them up, and pop into Tesco to buy safety pins to assist in this, what was I to do? I barely had time to get home and dump my stuff before rushing off again.

I had to change at Earl's Court - which always takes five minutes, for some reason - and, for a change, they made us stand on the platform for this period, rather than sit on a train wondering whether it's going to move. But we did get to Embankment in good time, and I didn't have to give myself a coronary climbing onto the bridge. Rushing not recommended - there are 42 steps (I counted) with a landing at the halfway point. Not easy if you're not used to it. As I crossed the bridge, rather pleased that I was about five minutes earlier for the show than is usual for me, I came across a rather more distressed commuter shouting into his phone. "It's not my fault, it's not your fault. It's the bloody train's fault! It's the woman who threw herself under the train.." Yes, there you have it folks, a cautionary tale. Please don't commit suicide by train - it's a terrible inconvenience.

I had checked my confirmation email for the right theatre (and the time) - there are three theatres onsite. I was looking for the Olivier, which handily enough has lift access, just inside the door and to the left. A sign warned us that tickets for the show were only collectable from the lobby until 6pm, after which you had to go to the kiosk on Level 2, where the Olivier theatre is. So I took the lift up there and joined the extremely long queue. Well, in my experience, you can't really trust the ATMs, which is a nuisance. Why they don't introduce Print at Home is a mystery to me. Meantime, both bells rang while I was in the queue, but I was gratified to be in the stalls for once and not have to climb another set of stairs.

I knew I was right on the left-hand side, which meant I was in one of the raised banks of seats at the side. Fair enough, and I made my way to my seat - gorgeously close to the stage, in Row F, and although the view was from the side, I couldn't say that I didn't see all the action. Really, I don't see the point in paying more for a more central seat. I needn't have worried too much about being late - it started late anyway, and with no interval, they were letting people in for ages. The couple beside me didn't arrive until at least 30 minutes in!

Now, I don't remember whether I've seen a production of this before - I may have, but I figure, if I can't remember for sure, that's fine and I can happily go, knowing I won't remember it anyway. It has been around for a while - it's actually a 15th century morality play about a chap who, faced with Death, realises that he will have to account for his life before God, and, worried that he won't have enough to say for himself, seeks people to come with him and give him a character reference, so to speak.

This production is written by the poet laureate, as it happens, and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead role, with Dermot Crowley showing up as Death ("God's heavy", as he describes himself). And it is incredible! A fast-paced adaptation, they've obviously strayed from the 15th century presentation, with a video wall at the back showing various evocative images - maybe a slight disadvantage to a side view for this, but I managed. Our star descends from the ceiling on wires, to depict him falling from a building, which is how Death takes him. And then we are plunged into his hedonistic 40th birthday party, which is supposed to have happened right before. And a fantastic, pumping soundtrack, including I Feel Love, which is still going through my head..

Don't worry though, this isn't a one-dimensional show. Much of the script is in verse, in deference to the origins of the play, and the story becomes really moving as Everyman finally appreciates the seriousness of his predicament, and realises that he has nowhere to turn for help. Much of the stage design is so inventive it left me gaping, and watch out for the woman cleaning the stage as you take your seat - she has a more important role than you might imagine. I loved the touch where they want to depict someone having a slash, but of course that's not considered acceptable - so they give a woman a prosthetic. Oh, watch out also for the bit on climate change, where they bring on a big fan.. and there are all these bits of paper strewn around the stage.. which end up flying into the audience..

This has got to be one of London's most unique productions. I felt compelled to give a standing ovation. You'd be mad to miss it if you get a chance to go. GO! Very highly recommended. Runs until 30 August - it's actually very unusual for me to see a show this early in its run. Limited availability up to the 18th of June though.

I am indeed in the Guildford office today, so no going out tonight - with an early start, I'll be too tired. Tomorrow, I'm headed to my first Meetup with the World Music Meetup - a Gypsy Jazz / World Music Jam at the Vortex club.

Monday, 27 April 2015

The Weekend!

Yep, all of the past weekend. I mean, it started quietly enough - as previously mentioned, I'd booked a ticket for Garnet's Gold in the London Independent Film Festival. That didn't start till late on Saturday evening, so I had all day to laze around before I headed back to Bermondsey for 9.15. It was great to know the way this time, although I wasn't quite so lucky with transport; I had a wait for my Tube, had to change at Earl's Court, and must have just missed my bus, because I had to wait nearly 15 minutes for another. Still, trust them to start late - I arrived about five minutes after scheduled start time, and although the door was open, they still hadn't started. And, of course, they again waved me through without checking my ticket. This screening was pretty full, but not completely, and it wasn't hard to find a decent seat.

This being a film festival, before we started we had a little speech from the director, who told us that the star was present, and would be doing a Q+A afterwards. The film is a bit over an hour long, and is a documentary about a chap called Garnet, who, approaching 60, wants to do something with his life. So he follows up on something that happened to him 20 years ago, when he was hiking in the Highlands, got lost and nearly died - but he did find a mysterious staff, wedged into a cleft in a rock by a stream. He kept the staff, and over the years developed the theory that it marked the spot of buried treasure - specifically, the hoard brought for Bonnie Prince Charlie's campaign, and hidden on the shores of nearby Loch Arkaig - as by the time it arrived, he'd already been defeated at Culloden.

It's an absolutely beautiful film, and I highly recommend it if you get the chance to see it. The cinematography is wonderful, and the Highlands have never looked more beautiful - or, when a storm blows in, more menacing. But it's also a tender and intimate portrait of one man and his dream. With an early start the next day, I didn't stay for the Q+A - but as I was leaving,  I caught sight of him entering, looking nervous. Really sweet, the whole thing - and I think I spotted some other people in the audience who'd featured in the film.

I'm glad I caught the end of this festival. Looking at the awards round-up, I see that two of the horror shorts I saw on Friday won awards: Best Horror Short for The Herd (can't fault that, it was very disturbing), and Best Short Short for Killer Road (well deserved, it was really witty). On my way home, I tried to enter the Tube station by the way I'd come out, but it was closed; continuing determinedly, I spied something interesting at the other end of a hotel entranceway:

Turned out to be a section of the old London Wall (part Roman, part medieval construction) that the hotel paid for the conservation of. It was also a detour I didn't have time for, but I did waste some happy minutes reading the history, and taking the walkway through an arch in the wall. An intriguing find!

As I say, I had an early start the next morning (yesterday). So, no blogging on Saturday night. Although I didn't exactly get to bed early - Microsoft did its usual thing of not working, and in trying to fix it, I stupidly followed their advice and proceeded to mess up my temporary internet files. Again. There's a moral there. So I was a bit groggy when the alarm went yesterday morning.

I skipped breakfast, taking some KitKat Chunkys with me instead. Well, whatcha gonna do.. so, this was a trip to Salisbury and Stonehenge, courtesy of the London International Meetup - whom I'd never done anything with before - and we had to meet at Waterloo for 8.45. On the way, I came across two main groups of people. First, those dressed in sports gear, carrying sports bottles and looking determined. (The London Marathon was on yesterday.) Second, those dressed casually, carrying cases and looking depressed. Really depressed. Well, I suppose you would be, travelling so early on a Sunday!

I think I got to Waterloo about five minutes early. Directions were to look for our organiser, Mark, under the big clock, where he'd be wearing an orange scarf - and he did indeed prove easy to find. However, we found ourselves waiting a while for the others. Three more showed up - and Helen would be meeting us down the line, closer to where she lives. But we were expecting several more! Eventually, he started trying to chase them down - some hadn't given him their phone number, although he'd asked, and one had already cancelled. He rang another, whom I believe he woke up, and who obviously wasn't coming now. The others were just no-shows.

Out of 13 who booked, eight didn't come in the end. This was generally ok, and Mark was philosophical about it - the train tickets were bought at the last minute anyway, after he knew who was there, and I think the same was true of the cathedral tickets. He cancelled one of the taxis he'd booked to take us from Salisbury to Stonehenge. All ok. Unfortunately, he'd also had to book Stonehenge tickets in advance, which are, of course, non-refundable: so I think it was bad form of people just to leave him hanging like that. It doesn't take long to let someone know you're not coming, after all..

Anyway, with our reduced numbers, we had no problem getting seats on the train, which was waiting on the platform. Unfortunately, one of our group had decided he wanted a bottle of water - when Mark came back from getting the tickets, this fellow was missing, and when he wasn't back after a certain time, Mark went in hot pursuit. And wouldn't let him buy the water he was holding, but made him come straight back. I'll say this for him - he's good at shepherding his charges!

On the train, we got two adjacent tables, and had them to ourselves apart from one other guy, who sat in the corner. I had occasion to go to the toilet soon after we left, which wasn't a pleasant experience - this was not one of the more modern train toilets, and was both cramped and wet. Meantime, Helen was sending news down the line that there was a problem at Andover, and train delays. It turned out to be lucky, both that we weren't travelling any earlier - or we'd have been delayed - and that we weren't passing Salisbury, because that's where our train chose to break down. :-) Hey, we were blessed.

Mark was a fount of information, which he freely imparted for the whole journey. He had guidebooks, flyers, an itinerary of events for Salisbury, which was celebrating a belated St. George's Day. We were to go to the parade, then had a choice - all, or part, of a guided tour, or a variety of other things. There were mock battles, a trial of St. George vs. the dragon, and of course the cathedral and its Magna Carta exhibition, in this, the 800th year since it was drafted.

When we arrived, he set a blistering pace into town so we'd catch the start of the parade. Which we did! It was a small affair, just stiltwalkers, kids on unicycles (and one on a pogo stick), and the town dignitaries. The parade proceeded from the Guildhall, round the building, and back to the entrance from the other side - and took 10 minutes. Cute!

What with me, Mark, and Helen, we took a substantial number of photos of the day. Plenty are available on the Meetup page for the event, linked to at the top of this post. Mine and Helen's are also on Facebook:


Helen's: St. George & Dragon:


Salisbury Cathedral:


A couple of areas in the square were roped off for events. Directly in front of the Guildhall, the parade was immediately followed by some Morris dancing. When that finished, we headed into the Guildhall for a cream tea (or squash, and there was also tiffin). This was held in the banqueting hall, filled with royal paintings, with a ceiling decorated with chandeliers. Apparently it's available for hire. And apparently, haunted by three ghosts, although they didn't bother with us.

Afterwards, the others headed on a guided tour, while Helen and I watched a mock battle (no dragons involved) and then had a wander through the town, returning to the Guildhall for 1pm for the trial of St. George vs. the dragon. This was held in an old courtroom, and turned out to be a hilarious affair, with the poor dragon looking far too cute to be guilty of anything. A packed courtroom was encouraged in a singsong, and a highlight of the proceedings was when the jester (acting for the defence) threatened to sing himself if the crowd didn't, and the dragon at that precise moment fell off his perch! Much hilarity ensued. Oh, and you'll be delighted to hear that the dragon got off.

As we passed through town, we came upon St. Thomas' Church, which Mark encouraged us to enter. We were not prepared for the wonders within - it's crammed with medieval wall paintings, and must be quite unique. Medieval-lovers, take note. This is special, and I don't doubt it's often overlooked, what with the cathedral just down the road.

We headed to the cathedral after that, and to the Magna Carta exhibition. The entrance to it includes a couple of video installations, one about human rights in general, the other more historical. Magna Carta itself is lodged in the Chapterhouse, in a covered marquee for protection, with various displays dotted about - and is fascinating to anyone with an interest in history. And the cathedral is stunning.

Afterwards, we all joined up outside the cathedral for our taxi to Stonehenge. It was a people carrier, room for us all, and we drove quite a distance - I overheard someone remark that public transport there is spotty. Given the cost of a taxi, as well as train fares, and entry fees to the cathedral / Magna Carta and Stonehenge, what we paid for the trip was very good value! And the scenery the whole way there was highlighted in yellow by fields of rapeseed.

Stonehenge has quite a comprehensive and modern visitor centre, and we busied ourselves in the gift shop while Mark picked up our tickets and audio guides. You can download the audio guide to your smartphone, which they encourage - but I didn't have headphones, so I went with the one you can pick up at the ticket office, as did a couple more. The trip starts with a 360-degree video presentation, which you stand in the middle of, and which gives you a flavour of the site, from the perspective of standing in the middle of the stone circle. Most atmospheric. Past that is a more conventional exhibition, with displays in glass cases, and info panels - another video at the end shows the evolution of the different parts of the site. Out the back door is a small display of Neolithic houses, which we left for later, instead heading straight for the shuttle buses up to the stones.

..and then we found ourselves getting off halfway (just our group). Mark's idea. There's a stopping point you can walk from, called Fargo's Wood - just ask the driver. O my poor feet! But it was worth it, for the walk over the hillside, with a good view of the stones in the distance - maybe not so much on a windy day, mind, in such an exposed landscape. When you get to the site, follow the numbers on the signs, which take you around to the left and correspond to sections of the audio guide, explaining the nature and history of what you're seeing.

They're imposing, brooding things, these stones - you can't get in amongst them, lest the site be damaged, what with all the people that want to see them. Instead, the marked path follows a circle around them, coming back to the start, from where we took the shuttle bus back to the visitor centre, had a mooch around the Neolithic village, tried our luck at pulling the sample stone they have there (not much success), and waited for our prebooked taxi out again. Well happy with ourselves, sated with history, and fairly exhausted.

Finally, we were promised food! The taxi took us to the Old Mill, just south of Salisbury. It's a pub/hotel/restaurant, in a tranquil setting (as described on the website) and in a fabulous old building. It was just a bit chilly to sit in the beer garden, and after we'd photographed the family of ducks in the mill pond, we nabbed a couple of tables in the bar, and after ordering at the bar, were shortly served by a friendly chap who insisted on calling all the ladies "My lovely". Which wasn't at all objectionable. Our food was well received in general, with my gammon steak being literally the finest I've ever had. I didn't much feel like dessert, but I would recommend this place to anyone in the area. Maybe not the Pinot Grigio, though - it was a bit insipid.

Afterwards, we made our way back past the water meadows, with sheep chasing swans on one side and iconic views of the cathedral on the other, on a gorgeous evening when the sun had finally decided to appear. A relaxed stroll took us back to the station, where we had a little wait before the train obligingly arrived - 10 minutes early - just to give us a seat! And we drowsily travelled back to town - except I could have done with more room to stretch my legs, which really needed some R&R. I would've disembarked in Clapham Junction and taken the Overground, but thought at the last minute to check the TFL website, and sure enough, it was closed yesterday for planned engineering works. So I continued to Waterloo with the others (sans Helen, who got off at the same place she'd got on, in the morning).

It's quite a while since I packed so much into one day, and what a fascinating day it was! Mark proved an accomplished and enthusiastic organiser - I couldn't have done better myself! ;-) And very good value, with delightful company. I'd be delighted to go on another of his trips - we'll see what comes up, for me and for him. In the meantime, I checked to see what was on tonight, and came up again with one of those Meetup theatre groups as the most interesting thing happening (Mark runs theatre trips too, but they're surprise shows, and frankly, I go to so many that odds are I'd have seen it already, so I don't go on those). Nope, this was with one of those groups that charge a membership fee - so, naturally, I booked my own ticket and will go on my own. (Theatre seems to be becoming a feature of Mondays!) Annoyingly, although they give the show name, they don't mention the theatre, so I had to Google it - and so it transpires that I'm headed to Everyman, in the National, tonight, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor. They had only three tickets left - in the stalls, which is nice for a change - two at £35 and one at £25. So I took that one.

I might be headed to Guildford tomorrow - not sure yet - if so I won't go out tomorrow night, I'll be too tired. On Wednesday, though, I'm headed to another Meetup - my first with the World Music Meetup, who are headed to a Gypsy Jazz / World Music Jam at the Vortex Jazz Bar. Hmm!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Films: Seventy Percent + Hollow Road + Crazy Golf + The Herd + Devil Makes Work + Vomica + Killer Road

When I was looking for a film for tonight, several films showing only at the Shortwave Cinema were at, or near, the top of the list. However, I've had problems with that listings website before, and am in the habit of checking the cinema website too - which, in this case, mentioned none of them! Even after a search. So I figured the listings website had got it wrong, and decided to go to The Forecaster instead, as the next-highest IMDB-rated film for today.

What a good thing Helen was back today - she's been away for the past while. I mentioned this to her, and she started hunting around.. and found out that the London Independent Film Festival is on this weekend.. at the Shortwave Cinema! Turns out that's what all those missing films are showing in! Now, this must be the worst advertised festival I've ever heard of. It's all happening at the Shortwave Cinema, which, it turns out, does mention it - at the bottom of the homepage. It mentions nothing else about it, but it is kind enough to provide the URL. Not clickable, mind.

The LIFF website, when I tried it today, wouldn't load for ages. When I finally persuaded it to, I saw that the clickable date range on their calendar is wrong. It took me longer still to get through to a schedule page. Really, do they WANT customers?! When I eventually got through (having despaired at this point), I thought it might have been a surge in demand, so I booked: not just for tonight, but tomorrow night as well. Payment is through Paypal, by default. At least tickets are only £5, with no booking fee! I didn't get a printable ticket, but printed the Paypal emails as confirmation.

It took me most of the day to realise I'd never been there before, and needed to look up the route! Unfortunately, it's all the way over the other side of town. Google Maps suggested District Line, then a bus. I had a choice of two places to change from Tube to bus, and decided that Tube was more reliable, and I'd take it as far as possible. That meant Tower Hill. I was unfamiliar with the bus stops, so decided to avail of TFL's handy facility to print from the website the same street maps they have on bus stops, showing the surrounding streets, stops, and connecting buses. Unfortunately, the office printer decided to throw a wobbly, and I had to do that at home. In greyscale, and enlarged, to see the detail.

And off I dashed, leaving the house about an hour before start time at 8. I was truly blessed with transport tonight. As I scurried down the stairs at West Brompton, the train to Tower Hill was just pulling in - the last I could've got to make it in time! It was suitably relaxed making it to its destination, mind - but we got there at 7:40. I exited to the most gorgeous views of the Tower, although I'd have needed to be at a higher angle to get a decent shot:

Tower Bridge is visible in the background of the first photo, the Shard in the second. Talk about old & new!

I was worried I'd miss my bus with the photo-taking, but couldn't resist. I wasn't quite sure where my bus stop was, but knew it was on Tower Bridge Approach, which was easy to find, with its distinctive blue and white railings. Again, my luck was in, as my bus was approaching as I ran for the stop! And some minutes later, I disembarked when it turned off to the left, doubling back to Tower Bridge Approach again, which I knew I'd have to cross. I hadn't been able to find the Shortwave Cinema specifically on Streetview, but figured I probably turned into a pedestrian area beside a large, chequered board that probably passed for street art. Sure enough, this brought me to Bermondsey Square, with the Shortwave Cinema at the other side. And with three minutes to spare!

The building is basically a long bar with a cinema at the end. I asked at the end of the bar, where it said "Box Office" - I thought I'd have to pick up a ticket. But he didn't have a clue, so I just mooched around until they opened the door. This took ages. They had to wait for the previous screening to finish - I think it ran over. Then they had to check and clean the screen. By the time they let us in, I was feeling decidedly out of place. But they finally did let us in. Oh, and never checked our tickets!

I was practically first in, and chose a decently central seat in what is a tiny cinema. It did fill up, pretty much - which is reason enough to book. What I'd booked for was a block of horror shorts (horror two days in a row, goodee!) When the guy read out the list though, the very one that had inspired me to come wasn't showing. What the hey.

It was a very mixed bag. The opener, Seventy Percent, is a vignette of a group of guys playing poker. Until one of them starts to feel unwell - and explodes in a shower of.. water, of course! I seem to remember Crazy Golf was next - a rather gory end to a young couple's date, when they fall out over the game. The next, Hollow Road, replaced the aforementioned film I'd come to see - in this one, a little boy and his family are headed on holiday into the woods, when they come across a disturbing hitchhiker.

After that, they got more disturbing. The Herd.. basically replaces cattle with women. Who are caged, artificially inseminated, and milked after giving birth. Male children are slaughtered, females kept to be bred in the same way. I get the impression that the filmmaker is a vegetarian.. I do like the comeuppance for the woman who does the inseminations, though!

Devil Makes Work is a very visceral, very visually striking piece where the devil points out to us the sources of evil. Nice piece. Vomica is particularly interesting, taking its inspiration from the Cthulu mythos, with a WWII British soldier being interrogated about his unit's storming of a Nazi stronghold. We're not quite sure what happened, but the mission seems to have been a failure, and it all hinges on what the soldiers saw in the crypt hidden under the trapdoor with "Vomica" written on it (which is, apparently, the Latin for "Plague"). Terrific imagery.

Finally, Killer Road shows us the perils of strangers on the road. A bit of humour to lighten up the night, and an excellent programme overall. The festival ends on Sunday - catch it if you can! Afterwards, I found the toilets at the other end of the bar, with the gents clearly visible at the end and the ladies less visible, but right beside it. Yet again, I was lucky with transport, with my bus sitting and waiting for me at the stop, not far from the exit from Bermondsey Square! Google Maps suggested I take the bus to Tower Gateway, but I alighted on the bridge, to take more photos.. it's gorgeous at night:

And once more, my train was waiting for me on the platform. We had to change at Earl's Court though, apparently because there was congestion on our branch, which meant our train changed destination. But I had just a minute to wait for the next one.

Tomorrow's film is Garnet's Gold, and of course I know the way now. And there are eateries round about, if I feel like eating there. And on Sunday, I'm back to Meetup - heading on my first trip with the London International group: a trip to Salisbury and Stonehenge! Now, that'll be good, because I've never been to either before. And they're celebrating St. George's Day, with a pageant and such. And we get to see Magna Carta. And when Helen heard all this, she decided she couldn't resist - so she's joined up as well! Just hope the weather's ok.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Film: It Follows

Oh, I'd missed going to films.. as I realised at the film talk last Tuesday. So I was delighted to get to a film tonight - so was my foot, which is getting better, mind. Anyway, when I did out the list of currently showing films, ranked in order of their IMDB rating, the two at the top of the list didn't really appeal. Marvellously, that left It Follows. This horror film has got great reviews, and started unusually high in the ratings for a horror film. And then it went up! So that made it a must-see.

It's only still showing in three cinemas in town, and the nearest to me is the Odeon Panton Street, where it was showing at 8:50. So I had time to eat at home.. and still ended up rushing, of course! And at the last minute, I remembered I'd forgotten the way to the cinema, except that I had to go to Piccadilly Circus.. so I snatched a look at Streetview, reminded myself that the road I had to go down was beside the fountain (but forgot to look up the name of the road), and scurried off.

The spookiness started early - as I made my way towards the station, I could've sworn I saw a train approaching. So I made a run for it, expecting the train to be pulling in as I swiped through the barrier. Except, when I got to within sight of the tracks.. no train at all! Anywhere. Hmm. Anyway, one was due in 1 minute. And when I changed at Earl's Court, a train had just pulled in as I arrived on the platform. The only delay was the stop of over a minute further down the line - it had to happen somewhere. I knew I'd be tight on time.

As I finally panted my way to the cinema and asked for a ticket, she remarked that it was just about to start. Interestingly, the website had advertised it as showing in Screen 1, but it turned out to be in Screen 4. And after I finally climbed all the stairs to it, praying all the time that I wouldn't miss the start - I hate that - it turned out that the trailers were still showing. I walked in on one for the new Poltergeist - hadn't known that was happening! Then there was one for a new horror film about Skype or similar, called Unfriended. And then the feature started.

The plot of It Follows isn't unfamiliar - a teenage girl has sex, and catches something unexpected: a bad case of demonic possession. Apparently, the demon can take any human form it pleases, and once you have it, it'll come after you - until either it kills you, or you have sex with someone else to pass it on. There's a catch - when it manages to kill the last person in the chain, it starts working its way back to the start. So, for instance, if everyone you have sex with gets killed before having sex again, or they and everyone they do have sex with gets killed.. well hello, it comes for you again.

First thing I noticed about the film was the soundtrack -very full-on, very Hallowe'en. But I soon discovered that wasn't typical of the whole film. In fact, the only generalisation you can make about the film is something I didn't figure out until I got home. The horror genre is full of clichés - and this film uses none of them. And I mean none.

There are scenes where scary music means something is about to happen. There are scenes where scary music is a red herring. There are quiet scenes where absolutely nothing happens. There are quiet scenes that descend into horror. The demon generally appears as a normal person. Except when it doesn't. The genius of the film is to make you scared of the everyday, so that you take nothing for granted. Which means that you are suspicious of every scene, you're always on edge.. and it's relentless.

Even the ending was just so odd, the handful of us at the screening laughed. But I had the jitters all the way home. It's brilliant, and highly recommended - to those with strong nerves.

Tomorrow is looking like another film, specifically The Forecaster - a documentary about a guy who works out the markets mathematically, and fell foul of the US government. The film is banned in the States, interestingly.. and only showing in the Curzon Bloomsbury, which was the Renoir, last time I was there. I see they have a dedicated documentary screen now, which is where this is showing - and they have discounted rates for that screen. Cool!

Walk: Horse-Drawn London - Brewers, Saddlers & Stagecoaches

When I saw a Meetup advertised that involved a walk in the City, I was immediately interested; I love the City, and the promise of back alleyways intrigued me. So I signed up, both for the walk and as a member of the Central London Outdoor Group (CLOGs, as they call themselves).

Only thing was, I was a bit worried about the logistics of getting to the meeting point at Barbican Station for 6.30. However, I experienced no delays, and left the office in good time to travel straight there. On the way, I picked up some Yorkies, since I wouldn't have time for dinner and these were more practical than sandwiches for the Tube. Indeed, it was an arduous trip at that time of the evening - nearly an hour to get there, and standing all the way. Lucky, in fact, to get a decent amount of breathing room! I was really glad to change at King's Cross, and gladder yet to get off the Tube entirely.

Outside, I looked around but couldn't see a group anywhere - I was early anyway. After I'd stood there a few minutes though, I noticed a group beginning to gather - on the other side of the doorway, naturally! Turned out to be them, and I chatted to a couple of people as we waited for start time - and then for potential latecomers.. I was so glad I'd brought the Yorkies - I'd already eaten one, and ate another now, feeling a bit faint. The organiser, as we finally started off, made sure that none of us thought we were on a Jack the Ripper tour - apparently there was one starting from the same place, slightly later!

He really made an effort to take us through backstreets and uncommon routes. We passed through numerous housing estates, and I rarely had much of a clue where we were. The theme of the walk was horses, so we sought out breweries that used to use them, and indeed, as we progressed, we detoured for anything horse-related! Lloyd's bank, with a horse as their logo.. horse statues.. an office with a zebra in the lobby. And the City police station stables. This time, I finally remembered my camera.. pictures here.

They were a really friendly bunch, with several making conversation as we trekked along - at a fair pace. These people walk more frequently than I do! One woman brought those ski-type walking poles you sometimes see, and I was sometimes worried about tripping over them. Anyway, I was pretty knackered by the time we came to the coaching inns south of the river, where people used to stop in at the beginning or end of, or during, their stagecoach journeys, back in the day.

I was relieved when we finally stopped at The George, a fabulously old example, where we had a drink and some of us also ate. It was packed, but we found enough space for most of us at the end of one of the bar rooms.. the bar itself is in the middle, but there are rooms on either side with tables, which you have to leave the building to enter. So every time you want to go to the bar from your table, you have to nip outside! You can see how old the building is, and indeed it's detailed for you on a sign on the gate - dates from the 1500s, but the present building is the remaining wing of a replacement building that was constructed after the original was destroyed by a fire in 1676. As someone remarked - they survived the Great Fire by 10 years, then had one of their own!

Some who just wanted food went to the restaurant upstairs, but you could get food downstairs too. After a lengthy queue at the bar, I managed to order the chicken, with a side order of onion rings, and a large white wine. The wine I took back to the table with me, the food is served to the table when it's ready - so do remember your table number when ordering! The chicken, covered in BBQ sauce, was lovely, and served with salad and exactly seven chips - I counted. These were the enormous kind though, each taking several mouthfuls to finish. I wouldn't bother with the onion rings though - quite bland. And the wine was no great shakes, but I was hungry and tired, and it filled a spot. The place was heaving on a Wednesday night - I shudder to think what it must be like at weekends! Gorgeous old building, though.

Back too late to blog last night. Well, I'm taking a break from walking for the next two nights, and heading to the cinema instead. I realised at that film talk on Tuesday how much I missed the cinema! I don't go that often these days. I'm very excited about tonight - I rejected a couple of films at the top of my list, from lack of interest in the subject matter basically.. gleefully, I saw that that brought me down to It Follows, a horror film that's supposed to be a cut above, and which not only started much higher rated than your standard horror film on IMDB, but actually rose in ratings! and luckily, it's still showing in a few cinemas in town. Goodee! Provisionally, I'm headed to the cinema again tomorrow night, to see a documentary called The Forecaster, about a guy brought in by American banks to predict the markets mathematically. Banned in the States, apparently, which of course makes it all the more interesting!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Talk: Palestinian Cinema

In searching for things to do today and tomorrow, I came across new Meetup groups. Tonight's was Film Nite, who were hosting a talk about Palestinian cinema - and, since I couldn't find tickets anywhere else, I booked with them. Oh, what a palaver though - first, there was no indication how to pay. Then there was confusion over whether I had booked for the right thing, when the organiser said "See you tomorrow night!" and that was last week. Then there was this wine and canapé reception afterwards - the event happening in Soho House. It started at an asking price of £35, but he didn't seem to be getting any takers, because he finally said the first 10 people to pay for the talk could have the reception for free.

Well, today I looked up the directions to 21 Old Compton Street, the address given on the Meetup page. Two streets behind the Curzon Soho, parallel to Shaftesbury Avenue. Not hard then - I know my way to the Curzon Soho, and use it as a landmark to pretty much everything in Soho! Tube to Leicester Square, then. Again, I was coming down the stairs to the platform as the train pulled in - not such an issue tonight, though, I was in plenty of time. On the Tube to Leicester Square, I was rather dubious of the woman beside me who was literally nodding off - her head kept dropping and snapping back up, and I wondered a few times whether it would end up on my shoulder. It didn't. I also wondered how she could stand it - that annoys the dickens out of me and I always change position so my head doesn't drop.

Just as well I wasn't in a hurry at Leicester Square - the crowds leaving the station were horrendous, as were the crowds outside. I made my way to the Curzon Soho, where I spent a full five minutes waiting to cross the road. Well, I wasn't in a hurry, as I say, and didn't fancy risking it - you could grow old waiting for a gap in traffic just there, but there are traffic lights further down, if you prefer. When I eventually got across, I had no problems finding Old Compton Street - or, for that matter, No. 21, although I hadn't been able to spot it on Streetview. And then I saw the note on the door, which said that the Old Compton Street entrance was now closed, and could we please enter via Greek Street.

Aargh! I'd never been on Greek Street, and there was no helpful map nearby to show me where it was! Luckily, although my phone battery was dying, I'd brought it with me (turned off) in case of emergency. So, after it finally turned on, it was good enough to stay awake just long enough to show me that Greek Street was, of course, just parallel to the street I'd come up, and one block over. The numbering system was weird, but I eventually found the entrance, logic telling me that it had to be part of the same building, so I shouldn't have to cross any streets. A buzzer indicated that I could enter - I'm guessing they have a camera on the entrance.

Oh my, this isn't half as posh as the photos on the website would lead you to believe! Scruffy is the word I would use. Interestingly, there's an interview with the owner in today's Evening Standard - the youngest member of the UK Rich List in 2013. Equally interestingly, membership costs £800 just for this house, plus a £200 registration fee. Worldwide membership, mind, is a bargain at just £1400. It's hard to see what the fuss is - bare wooden floors and rickety stairs. They say the food is good, but the drink eye-wateringly expensive. Membership, of course, just gets you in the door.

It's also a maze. There was a hubbub of noise, but no indication where I should go. Mind you, with no other option, I climbed the stairs - and came to a room with a desk and a guy with a notebook, who greeted me cordially. I told him I was there for the Film Nite event, and he directed me two floors up. So I passed one room with seats, headed to the floor above, and came across a restaurant. Turned out to be the "Kitchen Room", as advertised on the website. Well, I couldn't see any sign of a group or a cinema, so I peered up the final flight of stairs, but could see that led to the roof terrace. A server noticed I seemed lost, and when I told her where I was headed, she directed me to the "door with the blue dot" at the end. Sure enough, there was a light overhead that was red when the screening was on - because this was the door to the cinema.

When I entered, there was hardly anyone there - I had ten minutes to spare. I got a nice, central seat - they're quite plush seats, which tip back when you sit in them. The place did eventually fill completely, and indeed overflow, with some people arriving quite late. The speaker was a petite young Palestinian woman, who turned out to be collaborating with her twin sister. And after a brief introduction by the organiser, the talk began, accompanied by a slideshow - incorporating many movie clips.

It was quite fascinating. She gave us a brief history of Palestinian cinema, showing us examples that she found interesting and relevant. The later the films, the better the quality, of course. Many of the earlier films were propagandist, moving into more secular themes later on - in general. I saw clips from three excellent films I'd already seen myself - 5 Broken Cameras (a documentary from an occupied village), Omar (a terrific thriller), and a film I'd completely forgotten I'd seen, The Time That Remains (a deadpan comedy). Also a couple of films I'd like to see in full - Amreeka and Hanna K, which stars Gabriel Byrne as the Israeli lawyer in the case of a Palestinian trying to return to his homeland.

She ran over - but then she'd started late, and no-one minded, it was so interesting. A few people did leave early, though. At the end, the organiser invited us all for drinks! which turned out to be served in the cramped anteroom just outside the cinema. Now, I didn't know how we'd all fit. And it was one of those gigs where you have to wait for some waiter to open the bottles, you don't just help yourself (and the waiters were busy). Plus I'd already tried, unsuccessfully, to make conversation with a couple of people - they all knew each other, and stuck in their groups. So I said sod this, I'm not that desperate for a drink (and there was, as yet, no sign of the canapés, despite us being late). I have wine chilling at home. And so home I came, glad to be in from the cold.

I'm booked in for a walk around historically horsey areas of the City tomorrow, with the Central London Outdoor Group. Assuming I can make it to Barbican by 6.30!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Play: After Electra

So, when I was looking for something for tonight, I first checked Meetup. The most interesting things on were a couple of plays - but both were with groups that charge membership fees, with no obvious benefits. So, instead, I bought myself a ticket to the one that sounded more interesting - After Electra, at the Tricycle.

It's a while since I've been there, so I had to check the route - Overground to Brondesbury, then turn right and it's a very short walk. I checked what time I'd have to set out, and did indeed set out at about that time - hurrying, in case the train was early. I'd left it a bit tight, so getting stuck behind a large group of old age pensioners on the narrow pavement leading to West Brompton wasn't ideal - and I couldn't even go around them, because protective barriers line the path, surrounding a large hole that they've dug! When we got to the station, the path widened, I got past, and mercifully the Overground entrance was open for once, which made my way a bit less stressful, as it saved me several seconds of going around. Indeed, the train was pulling in as I descended the stairs. And that was lucky, because it was the last one that would have got me there in time!

The train was unusually uncrowded, and I got a seat straight away, sat and read the paper I'd picked up, in brilliant sunshine. I'd forgotten how quick it is - we were at Brondesbury within 20 minutes. Turn right upon exit and keep walking - you'll see a building ahead with "Brondesbury Medical Centre" on the side; it's just past that.

Once inside, I was a bit disorientated, as they've redecorated. For instance, I might be wrong, but I don't remember the colourful carpet from before:

More to the point, it's confusing to find the box office. I knew it was to the left as you enter from that side, but I don't remember the "Cinema" sign that points that way. (I was at the cinema here once, mind, so I should have remembered it's beside the box office.) Anyway, I collected my ticket, giving my postcode as identification, then proceeded to the auditorium, where I was told to proceed up the stairs. Rather uninformative, as the stairs lead first to the stalls, then to the balcony, where I was. But I've been here before, and soon found my seat - nice, plush velveteen bench seating. My seat was pretty much dead centre. I was also to discover that there was practically nobody else in my row, so I could spread out comfortably on either side.

The reviews of this play agree that it's hilarious, if contrived. "Contrived" has never been a problem for me - actually, thinking back, I think it's an unfair description of this play anyway. "Hilarious", though, is spot-on. It's basically the story of a fiesty old woman who decides she's going to commit suicide, regardless of the objections of her family. It turns a bit darker in the second half, but there's plenty of humour here, albeit much of it black!

The script absolutely sparkles. And, as that review remarked, it's great to see such great roles for older women. But don't go to see it because of that - go to see it because it is damn funny. Runs until 2 May. Highly recommended, and a good choice on my part. Mind you, it was freezing coming back, and the train that was scheduled for 9.58 downstairs at the station was scheduled for 10.03 upstairs, and finally arrived at 10.09. Brr! Mercifully, we didn't have to wait more than a few minutes when changing at Willesden Junction, although in the cold, it felt like an eternity.

Well, tomorrow night is that talk on Palestinian cinema, hosted at Soho House by the Film Nite Meetup group. This is the event with the £35 wine and canapé reception afterwards! But you know what? I guess I wasn't the only one who didn't think that was worth it, because last night, the organiser sent an email to members saying that because it was his birthday, the first 10 people to pay for the meeting (including those who'd already paid) could go to the reception for free. Methinks he hasn't seen much cash yet! So anyway, I was the first to pay, as it happens - which means I get to go to the reception. Which is nice, because this is a private venue and I haven't been before - it'll be nice to see more of it. (I suspect the birthday boy will make quite a loss on this event - I'm sure hire of the venue didn't come cheap.) Meanwhile, on Wednesday, I'm signed up for a walk with a horsey theme, in the City, with the Central London Outdoor Group.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Restaurant: The Peppermill

Before I flew back today, I had an appointment to take my car for its first ever (ahh) NCT (MOT in Britain). It passed (clever little car), and afterwards we were in a somewhat celebratory mood (and hungry) and my mother had heard of a decent restaurant - The Peppermill - nearby, in the Quin Road Business Park, Ennis. I couldn't get accurate information about where exactly in the business park it was, but asked around at the test centre and got directions.

So, we exited the test centre, turned left and took the next right onto the business park side road. There's actually a signpost for it at this point. We carried on to the end, as instructed, and there it was, with plenty of parking. It happens to be self-service, with a carvery; there was salmon for my mother, and the chicken looked delicious, so we said we'd stay, got drinks (including wine) in the fridge, asked for the chicken and salmon respectively (the salmon without the prawn on the top, please!), paid, and got a handy little table by the wall - just about the last one downstairs, although there's seating upstairs too. And where we were, we were perfectly positioned to see the telly, which was showing a news cycle, and the dessert fridge. Clever positioning of the latter.

You get glasses by the dessert fridge, and serviettes from a dispenser. And we proceeded to eat. And that was absolutely the best chicken I've had in years! tenderly cooked, marinated in a lovely, sweet, BBQ sauce. Not overdone, perfectly balanced. My mother also enjoyed her salmon. The mash was good, the gravy was good. When we had dessert (of course!) - and there's a good range - both the raspberry roulade and the chocolate truffle cake were excellent, served with a berry compote and cream on the side.

Portion sizes were large - mine was a half chicken - and in total, two mains, two desserts, wine and a bottle of water cost us about €33. Fantastic value, and far above normal self-service quality. Very friendly staff. Kid-friendly too - indeed, we even ran into a friend of mine, her husband, and their baby. And my friend was a tad embarrassed, because she's meant to have got in touch with me before now! ;-) But anyway, highly recommended if you're in the area.

After Electra in the Tricycle tomorrow, followed by two Meetups - a talk on Palestinian cinema, hosted by Film Nite in Soho House on Tuesday, and a walk around the City on Wednesday, with a theme of horses, with the Central London Outdoor Group. And the weather's supposed to be gorgeous for it!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Restaurant: Teach uí Bhriain

On a sunny evening, and with my stay in Ireland coming near the end, we decided to go for a drive this evening, and eat at Teach uí Bhriain, an eatery I know to be quite good. This evening, there was no parking directly outside, and I had to park a couple of spaces up. Now, I don't know whose bright idea it was to raise the pavement here, but they have - which means the car door on the pavement side scrapes off it when opened. So I had to let my mother out before I backed into the space.

Anyway, when we did make it inside, our regular corner spot was there. When I spied the long list of specials, I knew straight away what to have - specials they may be, but they're fairly consistent. I love the curry here, so I had that - but with chips: I'm not always sure what kind of rice I'll get, and chips are fine by me. My mother, of course, ordered salmon - sauce on the side. We're not mad about the starters, and anyway the portions are huge. We ordered a side of mushrooms instead.

Wine came first - in glasses that weren't the equivalent of quarter bottles, unexpectedly! I must remember to ask for quarter bottles specifically, in future. The curry came with a pleasantly dark and thick sauce, chips separate. Unfortunately, my mother's sauce wasn't separate, as requested. Never mind - she didn't complain. Much. We did enjoy our dinners, although her mash, it seems, is as tasteless as I'm used to. Well, the curry was delicious, as ever. I don't know whether the mushrooms were a good idea, though - they don't really go well with curry! We managed to finish, and even had room for a couple of portions of good ice cream for dessert.

Rumour has it that Francis Brennan has been to look the place over, or is scheduled to do so. He runs the five-star Park Hotel in Kenmare with his brother, and also has a tv programme - At Your Service - in which he attempts to improve tourist-type businesses. His brother was also involved in that, but seems to have got out of it. Well, the mind boggles! What changes might we find when we go there in future..?

Plans for the next several days unchanged - back to London on Sunday, After Electra in the Tricycle on Monday, a talk on Palestinian cinema, courtesy of the Film Nite Meetup group, at Soho House on Tuesday, and a walk in the City on Wednesday with the Central London Outdoor Group.

The Callino Quartet & Soprano Ailish Tynan

Since I was in town for the opera on Wednesday anyway, and for the rest of the week, I checked to see whether anything else was on. Fortuitously, I came upon a concert last night by the Callino Quartet, with soprano Ailish Tynan - the first time I've come across something suitable at the Limetree! So I booked us two seats in Row O - the one with an aisle running in front. The tickets were conveniently printable at home.

Cue much frantic searching for the best route there, since I'd never been! I knew it was on the campus of Mary Immaculate teacher training college - "Mary I", as it's known - but I never had cause to go there either. Google Maps was happy to provide me a route - but when I checked it on Streetview, I discovered it took me around the back, and depended on gates being unlocked! The best directions finally came from the theatre website - and told me how to get to the main entrance. I've complained to Google Maps - they have a handy complaints feature on their directions now, where you can complain about specific steps they suggest, and you can state why they're a problem.

Then I checked around the area, and it seemed there wasn't anywhere suitable nearby to eat. So we decided to eat in the Abbey Tavern, as usual. There had been a big funeral there today, but they'd all cleared out by the time we got there, and we had a lovely meal. We were in plenty of time, so ordered dessert - and my mother was intrigued by the option of bread and butter pudding, which she hasn't had in an age. It was a hit! and I do believe she'll be having more in future..

Now, I've never had to go from Quin to Limerick before, so we asked our server for advice. The useful maps app on my phone - accessible because of the good WiFi in the bar - showed me we weren't far from the motorway, and she was able to tell us which direction to head in to get there. I scoured my phone for info on where the motorway would take us in the city - I hadn't planned to be coming from that direction. I plotted a course to link up with the directions I'd decided on last night, and we were off!

It was a lovely, sunny evening for a drive. The road from Quin to the motorway was narrow and winding, and my mother was greatly impressed by the size of the houses along the way! Affluent residents, here. We then barrelled along the motorway for a while, until it petered out into a dual carriageway. I carefully watched for my turn-off (the R445), and started to get worried when the signs for the toll plaza appeared - but no, I had determined to turn off at the last possible place before it, luckily! and after some considerable time snaking our way along that road, we found ourselves in the city centre.

Now I was glad of my knowledge of the city - it's tricky driving around unfamiliar urban areas. So I knew what street I was on at any given time, I knew where I was headed, and I kinda knew which lane I was supposed to be in. I'd decided to approach the college via the Dock Road - it'd be a left-turn from there. All I had to do was take the correct left turn - and this is where Google Maps turned up trumps! Yes, I knew the road name - but I couldn't see that before I made my turn. Instead, I was looking for Irish Wire Products on the right, followed by a petrol station on the left, and the turn would be just after that.

And so it proved. And in no time at all, we were turning in the main entrance to the campus. My mother - who'd never been there before either - expressed surprise that it was so big! She'd expected something like one building. Anyway, the website instructions had been marvellously specific - follow the road as it veers to the right, and the theatre is in the modern building ahead. Parking is to the left - the first car park is paid, the others are free.

So it was something of a disappointment to find that all the car parks had barriers, and a sign saying that there was an exit tariff of €3. Well anyway, I entered the second car park and parked as close as possible to what seemed to be the building entrance. My mother wasn't up to traipsing around without a guarantee of somewhere to sit, and it was too early for the house to be open, so I set off on my own reconnaissance mission. When I entered the building, the first sight to greet me was a daunting flight of steps! Huge, they were. It soon became apparent that the actual steps were to the sides, and the giant steps in the middle were actually benches. Still, I knew my mother wouldn't like it - or the fact that, at the top (where the the theatre is), you have to climb another level for Row O and back. Still, there was a lift - and when I returned to the theatre bottom level, I saw another door, at that level and round the back of the building. And yes, we could use it!

Seating was another matter. Apart from the extravagant seating feature that looked like steps, there was virtually no seating to be had. There was a bar - but I could only see a solitary seat, beside a table across from the bar, where they had milk and sugar to go with your tea or coffee, if you had one. So I scarpered to get my mother and secure the seat before anyone else did. Which we did. I sat her in it, popped to the bar for what turned out to be a very nice glass of white wine, and stood beside her for the long wait for the house to open. During which time the guy brandishing the free programmes gave us a couple. And we agreed that it's very poor, not having any seating in the lobby of a theatre venue. So many of the patrons were elderly, and frankly, the bar would do better business if its customers could sit down.

We were right around the other side from where we were supposed to go in, but as it happened, the crowd was so small that they only opened the door beside where we were. When she took our tickets, the lady warned us that we'd have quite a climb from there - but there was a very small crowd, and we could sit further down. So we, and several others who'd booked seats at the back, waited until the others had gone in, and were then taken in, in order of arrival, to choose our own. We ended up third row from the stage, on the aisle - just as well, because my mother found the legroom quite snug,

Seats were comfy enough otherwise, and it's a nice little theatre. The programme was as follows:

Haydn: String Quartet in C Op. 54 No. 2
Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 2 Op. 10
Brahms: String Quartet in C Minor Op. 51 No. 1
Mozart: Exsultate, Jubilate

So, to begin, we were treated to a charming piece by Haydn. It was great, as I remarked to my mother, to be seated so close. I remember a classical concert I attended once, where a young couple was seated beside me. At the interval, he went out, and she turned to me and gushed about how wonderful it was, how she'd never been to a classical concert before, how she hadn't realised they put so much effort in! That occurred to me last night, as I watched them pour themselves into the music. It was a delight.

At the end of the piece, they went off for a little break, and the soprano came on to have a word with us. She hoped we'd enjoyed the last piece, because, as she said, that's all of that we'd have until the next half! She explained the background to the next piece - how the composer's wife ran off with their friend, then returned to her husband and her lover committed suicide. How all this happened around the time of the composition of the piece, and all that pain and grief and passion comes out in the music. How they had a ball rehearsing it, but it's atonal and not to everyone's taste- but she hoped we'd give it a chance.

Sure enough, atonal and passionate it was. Interesting, though. And the soprano came on in the third movement - we had the lyrics in our programmes, both in English and German, to follow along. And I literally jumped when she started. She blew the roof off. It's a long time since I heard a female singer of that calibre, and the last time I heard anything like this, I wasn't nearly as close. You've heard of voices that can shatter glass? This was one. She has a huge voice, and we sat and gawped. Wow. She was in a different league to the singer on Wednesday night - and that performance was packed, while this had a few handfuls of people. My mother remarked afterwards that she supposed it had suffered from being the night after the opera, in the same city.

Same format for the second half - one piece with just the quartet, one with the soprano. Oh, she was a joy to listen to, and we were delighted to give them all a standing ovation at the end. Watch out for that one.. As we left the car park, we discovered that the barrier had been raised. So it was free after all! Unfortunately, my mother - who's always forgetting it anyway - had left her cushion behind. So she's decided it's not worth a special trip back to Limerick, and I have to search Amazon for another. Hey-ho.. Anyway, we were late going to bed, and I was too tired to blog last night.

So, I'm back to London on Sunday. On Monday I'm off to After Electra, in the Tricycle. On Tuesday, I'm going to a talk on Palestinian cinema, hosted by the Film Nite Meetup group. I'm passing on the £35 wine and canape reception afterwards though. I don't think I'm the only one - yesterday, we all got an email from the organiser, saying that we might find it expensive, but it is happening in Soho House, which is a private members' club. Mmm, yes, fine. I still don't think it's worth it. And he pointed out how if you pay £100 for the term, you get the receptions for free! Great - I'm still not buying. Anyway, on Wednesday, I'm joining the Central London Outdoor Group for a walk around the City, to see where they used to have horses, back in the day..

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Opera: La Traviata

Ah, another April, another opera at the University Concert Hall, Limerick. They happen twice a year, and we've always gone to them. It's still a tradition with us, so I come back specially. Shame they keep recycling the same ones! and a shame that it's always Ellen Kent Productions, with their distinctive style but sometimes a lack of acting talent. Anyway, this time it was La Traviata, and I booked all the way back in November. I even remembered, months later, to book the time off work. Still, I didn't remember whether I'd booked online or on the phone, so it was a relief to find the confirmation email. Finally - it took a couple of different searches.

So along we went this evening, deciding, as usual, to eat at the Castletroy Park Hotel. Well, it's so convenient, being right across the road from the university, and with plenty of parking. It's also known as "Munster's Premier Wedding Venue", and my mother remarked that she hoped we didn't run into one tonight! like last time. Well, we didn't - no red carpet, as I remarked upon entering. But then, as she pointed out, it was a Wednesday..

In this hotel, we always eat in the bar. It's less formal - not that the restaurant isn't welcoming, but if all you want is a quick bite, the pub is handy. We chose a table - ironically, in about the same place we used to eat when there was a wall there, with booths. Now it's opened out and much brighter and airier, but we still sit there. That wasn't the only change. Once upon a time, service was slow - today, despite the bar being packed with a large funeral (you could tell, most people were in black), service was swift enough to take your breath away. We soon had menus, and I immediately noticed another welcome change - they serve food all day now, from 2.30pm to 9.45pm. Good to know, if you're going to something across the road - time was, they didn't start to serve food until 5.30, which was cutting it fine, what with the slow service they had then. This time, in contrast, so many people were darting about, and it was possible to catch anyone's eye! Very rare for waiting staff.

We had Pinot Grigios, a soup, a chicken and cashew nut stir fry, and the ubiquitous baked salmon. All of which were fine. My stir fry was much spicier near the bottom, mind. For dessert, I had a lemongrass creme brulee accompanied by a zingy strawberry sorbet. Which was also good. My mother had panna cotta..

..which came with a trio of strawberries in the dinkiest little basket of hardened syrup. She wasn't much impressed with the latter - the basket was too tough for her to eat, and the strawberries were tasteless. Must've been from the supermarket.

After quite a long wait to turn onto the main road (they really need traffic lights), we arrived at the university early enough to get reasonably close parking. We made our way upstairs to the concert hall lobby - my mother likes to get one of the sofas at the edge of the cafe while we're waiting for the hall to open, but sadly they've reduced the number of sofas. So we took a table at the edge instead. As I collected the tickets at the box office, I noticed an advertisement for Carmen, but with no dates.. Unfortunately, I just checked and it clashes with the last of the U2 concerts I'm going to this year, in Glasgow. So my mother shall have to do without her opera fix, this winter..

They've always had a bar in the concert hall lobby, but now they've also opened a confectionery stand, where they also sell programmes. Much needed.. so I bought her an ice cream, and myself another wine, and we settled down at our table to people-watch. Not so many dramatic costumes tonight, in a city that's renowned for fashion - but we did see a lady with a mink jacket, and star of the pre-show parade had to be the lady that we spied climbing the stairs in a sparkly, full-length, red evening gown.

Our seats were, as usual, in Row P - edge of the central block. She likes Row P - the advantage being that there's a horizontal aisle in front of it, so you have as much legroom as you could want. And there's a metal bar for her to leave her coat on. She always insists on that row. The view, as with any stalls seat here, was excellent.

The set is sumptuous, as befits a courtesan's reception room. And the costumes are lovely and flouncy. However.. well, the male lead, Alfredo, had a terrific voice and was a joy to listen to. Otherwise.. (ahem). The diva kept reminding me of Kerri-Ann, a character from an Irish soap opera, Fair City - what with her voluminous blonde curls and enormous eyelashes. Not in terms of her trim figure, though - I tittered to myself in the final scene, which has her in bed sick, with her trademark dress on a mannequin in the corner, symbolic of her heyday, now past. No way would she have fitted into the dress on that mannequin..

As for the acting, both she and the guy portraying Alfredo's father pretty much phoned in their performances, which were actually painful to watch. And I'm sure he was off-key. We stayed to applaud Alfredo at the end, then legged it. My mother was glad to get away anyhow - it's a long opera, and had three intermissions. But we beat all the traffic, and were home soon as we could be.

Tomorrow night is a classical concert at the Limetree Theatre, where I haven't been before, so I'll have to look up that route. I spend the weekend here, then fly back to London on Sunday. Monday, I'm off to the Tricycle for After Electra, the most interesting thing advertised for Meetup groups that day. Not that I'm going with the group, mind - they charge a membership fee, which I couldn't be bothered paying to join them, when I can just buy my own theatre ticket. On Tuesday, however, I am paying to go to a Meetup event - a talk on Palestinian cinema, hosted by the Film Nite group (which I joined especially for this). See now, I don't mind paying them for that, since they're hosting. However, I baulked at paying £35 extra for a wine and canape reception afterwards! And for Wednesday, I joined yet another Meetup group, the Central London Outdoor Group(!). They're going on a walk through the City (always good) .. with a theme of horses. Hmm..