Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Comedy: We Are Funny Putney

A few comedy events on tonight, but when I saw one from We Are Funny, I didn't bother to look any further. Great atmosphere, driven by a genuinely nice - and funny - mc, Alex Martini. Nice, also, to be able to drive, for the second night in a row - it's an easy drive over to the Star and Garter - although traffic on Wandsworth Roundabout was horrendous.

Again, I got parking down by the river - and this time, I knew where the pub was! Wandered in - although this was a Putney Social night, and they'd said to meet from 7 (it was now a bit past that), I didn't see any group, and wouldn't really have recognised them from the last night anyway. So after I got my drink, I wandered down to the cellar bar where the comedy would be happening. Where I ran into Mr. Martini (and no, he didn't remember he'd promised to buy me a drink). He promptly led me right back upstairs, introducing me to the group members - all two of them, who'd been sat right beside me. :-)

Well, we sat and chatted - a couple more arrived later, one bearing two enormous g&ts in balloon glasses (they had a 2-for-1 offer). And, as suggested, we made our way downstairs a few minutes before the show was due to start. One nice thing about this pub is that they're good on comfy seating - plush upholstery upstairs, soft leather sofas downstairs. We settled in for the main event.

Alex came on, as before, to AC/DC - he does like to make an entrance. As he explained to us, he was putting the ladies on first of the opening acts, then the gents. He didn't phrase it quite like that, mind. ;-) I do like the opening acts - they're newbies (or relative newbies), and you can sometimes really see the cracks in their routines, as they try to put an act together. One of them - Vivienne Kay - I remembered from the previous occasion I was here: the customer service representative for a bank, with a childish voice, who makes it part of the act. Another was the organiser of our group, who did a decently funny turn, playing on her Czech nationality.

Each of them gets five minutes - after about half were done, we had a 10-minute interval, the remainder of the five-minute spots, and two 10-minute spots: Richard Lindesay and Freddie Bencard. Definitely more polished, but perhaps not as appealing to the crowd. Highlight of the night, predictably, was the headliner, Eleanor Tiernan. I've seen her before, as support to her hilarious cousin, Tommy Tiernan - and if anything, she's developed since moving to London, with a nice line about adjusting to life among the English. Another enjoyable night, then - I'll happily come back here any time.

Interesting one for tomorrow night - London European Club (not the group I'm used to) is off to some "political cabaret" in Chelsea. Intriguing.. not sure what the seating arrangements will be, as it's cabaret-style seating, i.e. at small tables. What the hey, I don't know many of those that are going, anyway. And none very well. But we'll see - and we can get food, which will be nice. I'm not going to make it three-in-a-row for driving; honestly, it looks as though parking space is rare up there, so I think I'll save myself the stress - there are a couple of buses that go from just down the road and will take me right there.

..And that'll be all from London for a while, as I head back to Ireland for an extended stay! Helen got a yen to do the Wild Atlantic Way, you see, so we're headed over there on Thursday evening and will stay till the following Sunday week. Pretty loose itinerary, so far - the only definites are the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, and a Bunratty banquet that we've booked for the night before we fly back. More anon..

Monday, 30 May 2016

Film: Sarbjit

I'd have gone to see Sarbjit last week, except that its IMDB ratings slipped a bit, so I went to Sing Street instead. And very good it was. When I decided to go to a film today, however, Sarbjit was now top of what remained.. I checked out the trailer, decided it was ok, and booked it, which was cheaper. However, it's no longer showing in my local cinema - no, I had to trek all the way out to Feltham to see it! They mentioned that the car park was free from 7am to 7pm, and the drive looked doable - so I also decided to drive. New territory for me!

With the car park times, I had to choose the early showing, at 1:40 - and with Google Maps estimating a journey time of between 35 minutes and an hour, I left shortly after 12. I'd printed out the map and such directions as I felt I needed, and it did look easy enough - first to the South Circular, to a junction I usually pass en route to Guildford, in which case I take the A3 instead. Then I'd need to follow the South Circular to the A316 to Richmond, then take the Heathrow turnoff, and head left at the Feltham turnoff, parking in front of the cinema at the end of the road. And apart from that, it's a straight run - dual carriageway along the A316, and otherwise single-lane: which can lead to congestion, but makes navigation much easier!

No problem at all, as it happened. Light traffic, and roadworks on the South Circular - and I was headed along the A312 for so long I thought I was lost - but I made the cinema in 50 minutes. Whoop-de-doo! Unfortunately, that left me about half an hour early for the film - and the usher told me that the film showing beforehand hadn't even finished yet, wouldn't until half past, and then they'd have to clean it. Hmph. So I bought a packet of Minstrels for brunch - would've been much better value to buy two, but I realised that too late - and sat in the car to eat them, as the cinema lobby has precious little seating, and there really isn't anything else convenient. Listening to a London country music station (!).

At just past the scheduled start time, I schlepped in again, and was allowed into the screen this time. This early showing was in a smaller screen than the later ones - and fairly packed. My assigned seat was right beside someone else, but given how busy the screen was, I thought I'd better take it - and it turned out I was right, as the seats beside me were filled. Mostly Indians, by the look of them, but a few English folks near the end of my row. Well, you do always know that, in London, these films will be subtitled - although it was unnerving to have the first trailer unsubtitled - but actually, online they often are.

Sarbjit is the true story of a misfortunate Indian farmer (called Sarbjit), living near the Pakistani border, who got drunk one night, literally fell across the border, and was arrested on suspicion of espionage. And when they decided he was this terrorist they were looking for, he was held for 20 years on indefinite sentence of death, his release continually delayed by ongoing hysteria between the countries. The film is told from the point of view of his devoted sister, who never ceased to campaign for his release.

I love this about Bollywood films - they take the human element, the family element, so seriously. Your average Hollywood film will give a token scene or two to weepiness, then get back to the action - Bollywood, on the other hand, thinks that the human aspect is just as important. And caveat - this is a huge weepie. Bring a box of hankies. But I do recommend it very highly - it's so sweet, and so sad. Very glad I saw it in the end - even if I did have to drive all the way out there!

My way back was similarly uneventful, apart from messing up on the lanes at the Red Rover junction - strangely, Streetview has a blank spot just there, so I couldn't check. Anyway, for tomorrow, I'm back with We Are Funny, courtesy of Putney Social Group - I really enjoyed it last time, and will be delighted to give it another shot! Let's see whether the host - Alex Martini - remembers his promise, last time, to buy me a drink. And this time, I've copied the list of performers, so no-one can accuse me of being forgetful.. Oh and hey, I can drive again. This is becoming a habit!

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Show: Symphony to a Lost Generation

Today's Meetup offering was a bit different - a completely holographic show, as advertised by the Arts, Culture and Alternative Events Group. World premiere. Also my first time with this group - although I've been a member for a while - and my first time in this venue. Gratifyingly, they offered a discount to Meetup members: quite a generous one, too!

The venue was LSO St. Luke's, a deconsecrated church in Islington. Google Maps informed me that I'd have to get the Northern Line from Clapham North (with its famously narrow platform) to Old Street, and walk from there - Streetview showed my way to lead me past a black, monolithic building that resembled the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey. To get to Clapham North, I could take a bus or the Overground - which costs the same as a bus off-peak, but without the potential traffic delays: so that's what I decided to do.

The Overground took me to Clapham High Street - from there, take a left to the main road, then left under the bridge, and Clapham North is on your right. Apparently, Oyster regards interchanges between these stations as a continuation of the same journey. Which is handy. In the Tube station, I was just in time for a train, which I hopped on. I was conscious that the Northern Line splits, one line going via Bank and one via Charing Cross, and that I wanted the Bank branch - but it turns out I needn't have worried; apart from at peak times, all trains from south of Kennington (including Clapham North) run via Bank.

Exiting at Old Street was great fun. There are four different subway exits - and a map, which shows where each leads. And after I ascertained that I wanted Subway 4, I had to retrace my steps to see which it was! Mind you, had I just looked straight ahead, I'd have seen the arrow pointing to Clerkenwell and St. Luke's.. Anyway, I headed out that way, and was immediately confused. My black monolith was covered in white sheeting! Dithered a bit, crossed the road and then crossed back again when I realised I was right the first time. So I carried on down the road, at a fair pace given that it was nearly time.

It hardly took any time to get there, anyway, and I scurried in the gate - dubiously, because it looked quite deserted. No people, no open doors even.. I'd advanced a bit when I noticed a sign for the performance, to the left; sure enough, that marked the entrance, and I scurried over there and got my ticket. Inside is, basically, a large empty space, which they'd filled with rows of chairs - I made my way to the second row from the front, where I'd booked a seat.

There was, as usual, no arrangement to meet the group - the organiser turned out to be the producer of the show, and did offer to meet people beforehand, but I was a bit late for that. It did occur to me - too late - that I could've let people in the group know where I was sitting, in case they wanted to come say hi. Anyway, the seat was nice and comfy, and despite the front row having shown on the website as sold out, there was no-one in front of me, no-one directly behind me, no-one in most of my row. Plenty of room, then!

The holograms are displayed on a 3D stage, hidden at the start behind a heavy black curtain, which is raised - and lowered and raised again at the interval - by two guys on the balcony. The show itself - Symphony to a Lost Generation - deals with the tragic loss of life in the First World War (of course, this is the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, among other things), and I've seen a ballet version previously. Well, something similar, anyway.

The holographic effect is interesting - kind of like 3D cinema, without the need for glasses. The fact that the characters are slightly suspended above stage level is occasionally disconcerting, and is one of the reasons that it would probably be better to sit a bit further back than I did, to get the proper effect. Similarly, I was sat to the side, which meant that some of the angles were off.

However, this didn't detract from what is a poignant story - showing us both the terror of zeppelins, of bombings, of vast destruction - and also the very human story of people who enlisted to participate in a great adventure, only to find themselves in a situation more horrific than they could ever have imagined. As well as those who were killed, we see something of what happened to those who were not - and that's more horrifying still. Beautiful, horrifying, moving - a memorable experience, the more so I find as more time passes since I saw it. Yes, I think I'd recommend this - two shows tomorrow (Monday), one on Tuesday evening, if you're interested. And I saw the composer / director come out at the interval to chat to the folks in the front row - which might be reserved for friends.

And so briskly back to the station, in a cold breeze, and with me bravely not having bothered with a coat. When I got back to Clapham High Street, I nearly missed my turn - it's not easily visible from the road. But I saw the Railway Tavern on the corner and figured it must be around there somewhere. And a helpful sign at Clapham North had said that Clapham High Street Station was on Voltaire Road - well, there I was.

When I made my way up to the station, however, confusion reigned - turned out it was shut, as no trains were running between Clapham Junction and Surrey Quays because of a broken-down train. So hey, I ended up on a bus after all - a check of the conveniently located bus map (right by the station entrance) told me I needed the 345, and where to go to catch it. One arrived not too long after I did - thankfully, because of the biting wind. Our wait was made a little longer, however, by the driver's refusal to open the front door to let passengers on until all passengers that were disembarking had done so. Same principle as on the Tube, of course, but the first time I've seen it on buses..

Well, tomorrow is another film. Handily, I already had the film list done for this week - just had to check ratings, which took long enough! And what finally came out top was a Hindi film called Sarbjit - the true story of a man arrested while crossing the India Pakistan border in Punjab one night, a bit drunk, and accused of being a spy. And his beloved sister's 20-year battle to free him. Looks good - unfortunately, it's no longer showing in my local cinema; in fact, the closest place showing it tomorrow is Cineworld Feltham! Well, you know what? The adjacent car park is, apparently, free from 7am to 7pm, and the drive looks easy enough. I've printed off directions - so off I go to the lunchtime showing tomorrow! (It's a bank holiday.) Jeez, that's three matinees in a row..

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Exhibition: Sicily - Culture and Conquest

The most interesting thing for today came courtesy of the London European Club, who were off to an exhibition in the British Museum, entitled "Sicily: Culture and Conquest". Promising to tell the history of the island's various conquests through the ages, it sounded fascinating - this must be one of the most fought-over pieces of land in the world, and I've always been interested in its history. Booking was advised, so book I did. Seemed to be a good idea, as messages started to come through from people who'd found it had sold out.

Was up quite late last night, so getting up today in time to get to the 2 o' clock slot we'd been asked to book for was a trial. Google Maps said that I could get two buses, but I'd have to catch the first before 1 - and I don't really trust their journey time estimates anyway. With time running on, I decided to look up the quickest route - train to Waterloo, then pick up the 188 from Stop K, which turns out to be further up Waterloo Road, past C, F, and H.

Ironically, as I passed the bus stop, the bus I'd have had to catch was pulling away anyway, so I'd have missed it. At Clapham Junction, the "Next London Departures" board said the next train to Waterloo was leaving in three minutes from Platform 10. By the time I got to Platform 10, the board there said the train was due, and as I huffed to the top of the stairs, indeed it was pulling in. I think those boards need to communicate better with each other.. At Waterloo, checking the map at the bus stop, I saw that at least half a dozen buses went where I needed to go - as it happened, the 188 pulled up shortly afterwards anyway.

Alighting at "Theobald's Road / Southampton Row", my directions were simple: straight ahead to Russell Square, then left, right, left, (north) entrance on the left. (The British Museum isn't right beside any bus stops.) Mind you, looking at the map more closely now, I think I'd have been better served to go left a bit earlier, onto Great Russell Street, where the main entrance is anyway, which is closer to the exhibition.

Inside, I was a bit early, and parched - no breakfast, you see. So I visited the small café to the side, and for £1.90 got myself a small bottle of water and a temporary seat. Drank that and made my way in - there'd been no mention of meeting the group beforehand, and I couldn't see anyone that looked as though they were in it. No indication of where this exhibition was on - signs advertising it had no mention of what room it was in. I made my way through an exhibition hall:

..and into the Grand Court, which I figured was the best idea, at least because it had an information desk. It's a magnificent space:

A large, white lobby, roofed in glass, with a magnificent portico at the main entrance (pictured), desks around the edges, and a café in the corner:

In the centre is an enormous, oval structure, with stairs on two sides. With a queue at the ticket desk, I asked at the information desk, where he explained that it was up the stairs, first door on the right:

Whew! what an entrance. Well, I made my way up there, and handed my ticket to the lady at the desk that was at the door. There was some confusion - my name wasn't on the list. Upon closer inspection.. I'd booked the wrong day! Consternation - no wonder it'd been so easy. Well, after a moment's deliberation, they let me in anyway. Phew.

Sadly, they don't allow photography inside - although that didn't stop the organiser of today's Meetup, who's posted some photos on the Meetup page. I don't think she was the only one breaking the rules, of course. It's a beautiful exhibition - centuries of conquest led to a fantastic mix of cultures. My personal favourite were the Grecian pieces - but they had Phoenician, then Roman, then Arab, then the Normans, who integrated with the existing Arab culture in the most intriguing ways. Several of the pieces reflect the island's rich mythology. There are timelines, plenty of explanations, snippets from ancient texts - I chuckled at one they'd singled out, in which the Sicilians described Britain as a fertile island, but shrouded in perpetual winter. And all the way though, huge photographs of parts of Sicily, making me nostalgic for the Med - it's been a while!

Gorgeous. After a brief spell in the dedicated gift shop at the end, I pushed the door open and came out at the stairs on the other side. Sure enough, no sign of the group - I'd suspected there wouldn't be, given how vague the instructions were (they'd meet at the exit - but at what time?). I don't know anyone who was to be there today, I couldn't see anybody gathering in a group - I took myself off. Reading the conversation on the page now, it seems they met beforehand rather than after (?) at 1.55, although how the person that said that found out is a mystery to me. What the hey, some organisers are like that. I am grateful to have been alerted to the exhibition. Recommended, for history buffs - runs till the 14 August, booking essential at the weekends.

I could've eaten at the café, but it was quite busy and I headed home instead - once I got out of the place; it was easy enough to find the main entrance, but unfortunately the main entrance has a large flight of steps leading up to it, with handrails only at the edges. And, of course, on a sunny, warm afternoon such as this was, handrails at the edge of steps attract tourists, who sit right there to consume their drinks and ice creams. So I couldn't use the handrails, and given my steps phobia, I couldn't get down the steps at all. Had to make my way back to the other entrance and walk all the way around again - but it is a beautiful stroll, on a sunny day. Made my way to Bloomsbury Place, where I caught the 38. A slow journey through the West End took us to Victoria, where I rounded the corner and caught the 44 home.

And so to tomorrow.. whose most interesting offering turns out to be from the Arts, Culture and Alternative Events group, who are headed to Symphony to a Lost Generation, the world's first fully holographic theatre show. A tribute to the dead of the First World War, I do believe I've seen a ballet on the theme - but it was good, and this should be interesting. And the group has a discount code, which is much appreciated. And it's another matinee.. ah well, I should get to bed earlier tonight! What are the odds I meet any of the group..?

Friday, 27 May 2016

Storytelling: Trickster & Walk: Royal Parks & Palaces

Always up for a storytelling evening with the Crick Crack Club, and Trickster sounded good - three storytellers for the price of one evening, two of whom - Tuup and Clare Muireann Murphy - I knew to be excellent. I booked. Tried, unsuccessfully, to get some friends to go - ah well.

An 8 o' clock start meant I didn't have to hurry, and having had a good lunch, I wasn't hungry before I left. A long, long Overground trip brought me to Shoreditch, and as I recalled, Rich Mix is just up the main street to the right. Just as well I recalled that, because it isn't as easy to spot in daylight, when you don't have the lights to guide you.

Inside, my hand was stamped (again) - I had her do it beside the other one. For tidiness. Now, the last time Crick Crack was here, it was in an upstairs room - this time, however, they'd booked the main space. They'd arranged rows of folding chairs in front of the stage - most were occupied by the time I arrived, but I got quite a decent seat, near-ish the stage, just to the side. Left my coat on the seat, got a drink. The show started shortly after.

Oversized playing cards decorated the room, and the stage. The storytellers came on from the side - there were seats for them at the edge of the stage, and they waited while they were introduced. Tuup was the only one to use music at all - he had brought a hand drum, which he used a bit while he was speaking, but also to accompany the others at times. Clare I recognised from before - and when the third storyteller, Nell Phoenix, started her first story: why, I recognised her too. She just hadn't made as much of an impression on me, to date.

All the stories were of tricksters, who came in many forms - the idiot, the wise counsellor, the wolverine. Some I'd heard before, most not - but all were well told. You know what, though? This - for all that I was looking forward to it - was the least successful storytelling event I've ever attended. I got the impression it was something of a publicity stunt - during the first half, a number of people were taking photos, on what seemed very professional cameras. And some people behind me didn't really seem into it at all, chatting amongst themselves while I was trying to listen to the performance. Fortunately, as tends to be the way with people who act like that, they didn't return after the break.

I might not have been that impressed with Nell Phoenix on other occasions, but the others have blown me away in the past. Here, though, their talents were lost - dissipated, as they didn't have a chance to build up an atmosphere. The format was all wrong - they acted as though on a conveyor belt, one after another getting up in turn to do their party piece. Not to mention that this room was all wrong for storytelling - too open: none of the cosiness that helps to build a sense of place. And noise constantly seeped in, from a nearby corridor, and from a room at the back. Very unsatisfying, in all.

And so home, following a long, cold wait on the Overground platform where I'd literally just missed a train, so had to sit there for 15 minutes. Boy, was I tired - groggily made my way home and to bed. No blog, especially as I was half thinking of going to a film today.

The film list finally got finished this afternoon, and when I saw what was on top of it - a documentary that was probably interesting, but I just wasn't in the mood for - I changed my mind back, as I'd suggested I might, and went on the CLOGgie's walk of Royal Parks & Palaces. With a lot on my mind, it just didn't occur to me to do the blog..

I did get it started before I left, but with an arranged start time for the walk, I hadn't time to finish writing. It wasn't a long trip - I needed to get to Westminster Tube Station, and Google suggested that the quickest route was train to Waterloo, then the Jubilee Line for one stop. Which is what I did - and quick it was, although add about 10 minutes to Google's estimate of how long it takes! Good job I'd left a little early. And as the organiser had presciently chosen a Tube station with only one exit, we were unlikely to get lost.. she'd said to wait at the ticket office just outside the barriers, and there the group was when I got out. We waited a bit for latecomers (I wasn't the last, which was nice) and then we were off..

The route started with a bit of traffic, but she got us into greenery as soon as ever she could. Looking at the map afterwards, it makes perfect sense:

map data provided by Google

Basically, we followed the route of these three parks - from St. James' Park to Green Park to Hyde Park, and around by Kensington Palace to Kensington Road. Four miles in total, mostly blissfully secluded from the traffic, and a lovely thing to do on a warm, sunny evening! Photos here..

A lovely, friendly, chatty group, a lovely evening, and a nice, relaxed pace, which allowed for detours. Like when we passed a café by the Serpentine, and someone asked whether we could stop for a drink. So we did - or, in the case of a couple of us, for an ice cream. £2 for a scoop, £3 for 2, £4 for 3 - but these are a decent size, so it seemed reasonable.

At the end of the walk, some of us hung around for a drink at the Goat Tavern. The house wine was lovely, but at over £7 for a large glass, I wasn't having more than one. A couple of folks had food, which looked very tasty - I was jealous, but I'd eaten at home. So, a good end to a good evening - even if the pub was a bit noisy for comfort.

I could take the 49 straight home, and the stop was right there. Unfortunately, there was some kind of road blockage on Palace Gate - our driver said he didn't know how long we'd be there, and indeed, there was another 49 in front of us, which must have been there for ages - it certainly hadn't passed me while I was waiting for the one I was on! Finally, I followed the lead of others, and got off. While I was figuring out my next move - the obstruction was cleared and the buses moved! Bummer. Nothing for it but to wait for the next one.

Wow, I'm looking forward to my bed. Tomorrow, I'm headed with the London European Club to an exhibition on Sicily: Culture and Conquest, at the British Museum. I know Sicily has a fascinating history, so I'll be interested in this.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Top Secret Comedy Club

First things first - we had a leaving lunch yesterday for one of our team, and I guess he was the one who chose the White Hart. Certainly wasn't me - I'm not mad about it. Anyway, it transpired that he hadn't brought his car - so to get everyone out there, I needed to drive. Which was just lovely, as I'd never driven that way before! I did print out a map and directions, but didn't fancy driving .. In the event, I ended up following another of the cars, so it was quite easy.

We'd booked a table, which was ready for us. They brought one menu too few, but we managed. And I fancied the southern fried chicken and chips basket, with jalapeno mayo - and coleslaw, but honestly I don't like coleslaw with a hot meal, too much of a contrast. Others ordered a variety of dishes - fish n chips, burgers (beef or chicken, and you can choose how you want the beef cooked), a small risotto (which, when it came, looked large enough). No starters, no desserts, no alcohol apart from the guy who leaves tomorrow - how frugal we are!

The basket was a real, wireframe one, which we admired. The southern fried chicken was burnt - the coating, at least, although the meat itself was ok. The chips were good, so was the mayo - although for something apparently made from jalapenos, I'd have expected it hotter. Never mind, it was fine, and I polished it all off. Still though, it's the little things about this place that niggle - for instance, although they came around with a jug of water at the start, why didn't they leave one on the table so we could have more if we chose, without having to chase someone down? Which is hard enough here.

And so to the evening. I love the Man with the Hat's groups, always try to go with them if I can. Now, he's forever taking London for Less than a Tenner off to Top Secret Comedy.. I've passed on it several times already though. Nothing to do with the venue, really - although when I was there before, I found the mc / owner's turns on stage really annoying. And the line-up was dire. I walked out halfway through.

But that was then. And I was delighted when I didn't hate the lineup he posted for last night. So I booked! Some dire threats followed about tying me to my chair so I couldn't walk out again - (sigh*) Aren't some folks very pessimistic? Anyway, being in Guildford again, I was sure I wouldn't make the 7 o' clock start. Which was a shame, because I do really like Russell Hicks, who previewed both last night and the time I was there before. He's free, BTW - you can just come to see him, then leave and not pay for the rest. Which really is the best value comedy in town..

Now, I'm working on a theory that the sunshine we've been having has vapourised the traffic. There just plain weren't any problems at all getting back! So there I was on a train to Waterloo, dead early. Google Maps said the quickest thing I could do was to get the 521 bus to Holborn Station, then walk around the block. Further up the road from Stops C & F - Stop H sits in glorious isolation, nearer the IMAX. And only serves the 521.

Wouldn't you know, one approached just as I got close to the stop! Destination London Bridge - seems the wrong direction, but looking at the map, the route is quite circular. So I hopped on - with one other person. The only ones on the bus, whose terminus is here. And at Holborn, I hopped off - with the other person. Who also turned down Parker Street - handily enough, with the traffic, the driver let us off exactly at the junction, rather than further up. By now, it was seeming as though there was a conspiracy to make me early.

End of the road, turn right onto Drury Lane. Keep going until you get to the entrance to Top Secret - you can tell where it is by the big "TOP SECRET" signs on the entrance. So you don't miss it. Down the stairs, I gave my name to the man at the desk - the owner - who stamped my hand. Still hasn't come off properly. Went to get a (reasonably priced) drink at the uncrowded bar, and just had to drop a tip in the glass with the note on it that said that, for every tip, Justin Bieber died a little. Joined the other group members who'd arrived, and we were off.

The owner proved himself mildly annoying as we prepared for Russell Hicks to appear, by making us move up to occupy the front rows. I got away with Row 3.. I'm not a huge fan of being part of a stand-up comedy routine. Then Russell arrived, and did his standard thing - bouncing off the audience. A good comedian should be able to deal with hecklers - he positively encourages them, builds his act around them. Sadly, he had a hard time with our quiet and genteel lot, spending the better part of an hour trying to get them to be rowdy. Poor fellow. But what he does, he does really well, and we did really enjoy it. Which is why I agreed with him when he complained, towards the end of his set, that the doors had been opened for the main show and the equivalent of a cocktail party was happening down the back, the noise drowning him out. I know he's free, but he deserves better.

The noise was a bit off-putting, but nonetheless I queued at the bar for another drink, before the (paid-for) acts came on. And queued and queued - 10 minutes I was there, having obviously chosen the bad end of the bar. What the hey, towards the end of my queueing, they put Lose Yourself on the soundtrack - one of my all-time favourite songs, and good timing, before I attacked anyone.

The page did say the list was subject to change.. and change it did. I think the only originally scheduled comic who actually showed was Olaf Falafel, a rather funny Swede with an impressive beard. But guess what? I stayed for the whole thing! Wasn't quite as enthusiastic about some acts, but no-one cheesed me off enough to make me walk. Hit of the night - with someone else from the group as well, it seems - was Joel Dommett. It's pot luck, this show - not only do you not necessarily know who'll be on, but they're trying new material. The Man with the Hat assures me that the standard tends to be quite high in general, though. On the way out, the owner was stood there with a bucket, and membership cards (free entry for a year) to give out with donations. I really didn't have any change, honest..

We congregated outside, but only a few of us schlepped off to the pub - funnily enough, another White Hart! A spacious seating area at the back was practically empty, and they close late, so we had a good hour and a half there, not leaving till midnight. (Wine was 50p cheaper than at the club, but still good value.) And had a lovely time. Although one in particular was fading as the night wore on.. Anyway, a great night; sadly, with a holiday coming up, it's some weeks before I have another event booked with them. But I'll be looking forward to that..

Lunch today, in sunny Guildford, was in Heart and Soul, up the road from the office. Service has improved here, I notice - used to be murderously slow. They didn't have any white wine (we went with rose), and mixed up the table numbers - but the (deep-dish) chicken and bacon pizza is excellent, as is the garlic bread. Don't come if you're in a rush, mind.

Tonight, I'm off to what should be an excellent night with the Crick Crack Club - Trickster, at Rich Mix, stars no fewer than three storytellers, at least two of whom I know to be excellent: Tuup and Clare Muireann Murphy. Tomorrow, I was supposed to be headed back with the CLOGgies, finally, for a Royal Parks & Palaces Evening Walk. I did enjoy that group, the one time I was with them - they just usually clash with other stuff! Then I changed my mind - and now, with brilliant sunshine outside, I'm thinking of changing it back. And on Saturday, I'm headed with the London European Club to an exhibition on Sicily: Culture and Conquest, at the British Museum. I know Sicily has a fascinating history, so I'll be interested in this.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Concert: Cédric Tiberghien

Meetup didn't have anything for last night that appealed - so I had a hunt around, and ended up with a cheap ticket to a piano recital. It was in Wigmore Hall - sounded familiar, but I don't see it on the blog: so either it's a very long time since I've been, or I considered going and didn't. Anyway, it's in a part of town where parking was unlikely to be easy, so public transport it was.

Train to Victoria, then Victoria Line to Oxford Circus. Arriving at Clapham Junction, the "next London departures" board was full of trains to depart imminently, which I wouldn't be in time for - so I headed up to platforms 12 & 14. On platform 12, the departure board said there were actually two trains due! Figuring I should make one of them, I climbed the steps - in time for one or other of them. Non-stop to Victoria then, and Tube to Oxford Circus, where I didn't now know what exit to take. Streetview had told me I needed to head up to the right of H&M, but I'm used to exiting at the other side of the junction, which is what I did - never mind, the crossing lights went green when they saw me.

The first time I had to head up this way, I was headed to the Langham, and got completely lost on Oxford Street - just making it in time. This time, I had to turn left at the Langham, and keep going - it was hard to tell, on Streetview, which was Wigmore Hall, so I had to look up the venue website; it's on the right. As you go in, the signage tells you that pre-booked tickets should be collected at the programme desk rather than the box office - turned out it didn't apply to mine, though.

Ticket finally in hand, I took my seat - decently close to the stage:

(Apologies for the blurriness, I was hurrying, conscious of that anti-mobile sign on stage!) It's a gloriously marbled, art-deco room. Decent legroom, comfy seats. As we waited - for some time, I might add - I read my paper.

Finally, the artiste appeared - page-turner in tow. She sat by the side, he took his seat at the piano. Interesting repertoire - for the whole evening, Bartók alternated with Gyorgy Kurtág. I can't say I'm very familiar with either, but I can certainly say that this was far from the classical concerts I'm used to! He gave that piano a helluva bashing.. at the interval, someone came out to test it, which I thought wise.

This was actually an amazing performance. Such power and passion I've never seen bettered - he explained to us, at the end, his love of Bartók. He was electrifying to watch - and it's a pity I couldn't tell which piece it was, but there was one that involved a ripple effect, for which I'd have loved to be sitting on the other side of the room, because his movement was flawless and it would have been lovely to see his hands. He used the whole length of the piano for this, and with such dexterity, such effort, and such passion, I wasn't surprised when the page-turner mouthed a "wow" at the end! (So did I.)

Stunning stuff - catch this guy if you can, particularly if he's playing music like this. Jeez, I did well for my couple of days away from Meetup!

Speaking of which, tonight I'm back with the Man with the Hat, who's taking London for Less than a Tenner to the (not-so) Top Secret Comedy Club. Now, I've only been there once before, and had a bad experience - but that was just the line-up on the night, and I have higher hopes for this. I know some people are going to be interested in my reaction. So shall I! And it'll be great to see the group again.

Tomorrow, I'm off to what should be an excellent night with the Crick Crack Club - Trickster, at Rich Mix, stars no fewer than three storytellers, at least two of whom I know to be excellent: Tuup and Clare Muireann Murphy. On Friday, I'm (so far, unless I get a better offer) headed back with the CLOGgies, finally, for a Royal Parks & Palaces Evening Walk. I did enjoy that group, the one time I was with them - they just usually clash with other stuff! And on Saturday, I'm headed with the London European Club to an exhibition on Sicily: Culture and Conquest, at the British Museum. I know Sicily has a fascinating history, so I'll be interested in this.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Film: Sing Street

Ah, but I've missed just sitting in the car and whizzing down to the local cinema. Quick and easy.. I was delighted when Sing Street came out top of my film list for today, and that was exactly what I could do. With it being set in Dublin - and possibly the biggest Irish release for a while to come - I also felt an obligation to see it. And I booked - that works out cheaper.

A beautiful sunny day, and little traffic - I was in a good mood as I got home, especially realising that I didn't have to rush, for once! I also had time to eat beforehand, for once, and left a little late - but the trailers were still on when I arrived. The films being advertised looked entertaining - but I don't get to the cinema that often these days, and they didn't look like they'd rate very highly on IMDB, so I'm unlikely to get around to them.. Well, that's the system I use, and it works for me.

And today it worked very well indeed. This is the third film by John Carney, and you can really see a theme developing, of underdogs in music. Now, you might say he's flogging the idea to death - but as someone remarked in a review I read today, although he may make the same type of film over and over, he does it really well.

And the three films do have their differences. Once tells the poignant tale of a Dublin busker that falls in love with an immigrant, who makes beautiful music with him as he tries to get into the music business. Begin Again, in contrast, pairs a disgraced music industry executive with an up-and-coming singer-songwriter. In Sing Street, we're back in Dublin, with a schoolboy trying to impress this cool local girl by telling her he's in a band.. so then he has to form a band. (Carney describes this as wish fulfilment - getting the girl and forming a band, the teenage dream.)

Maria Doyle Kennedy shows up as his mother, Aiden Gillen as his father, Jack Reynor as his big brother (and musical guru), Don Wycherley as the psychotic principal of the school he's moved to when his parents can no longer afford the fees for his regular school. Oh yes, the school - people who know Dublin might guess where he ends up. Because there is actually a very famous boys' school in Dublin, called Synge Street, run by the Christian Brothers. The film's title comes from the band that he forms - ironically named after the school.

Ah, this is an absolute gem of a film. So many films promise but don't deliver - this, however, delivers more than you'd have a right to expect. Never twee, never clichéd - it's set about 10 years before I moved to Dublin, but oh my, I recognised it so well! The houses, the weather, the people.. some reminded me so much of specific people I knew. Took me right back, and I shed a tear or three..

And the constant talk of emigration - we see a news report on it, we see the ferries packed with Irish people heading for the bright lights of London, in the days before Ryanair, when airfares were prohibitive. The constant talk of London, of how that was the only hope of advancement. Someone in the audience sniggered - but hey, this is no joke! Years later, I came because I wanted to, but back in the day, London was literally the destiny of any Irish person with ambition but no connections. Close enough that you could get there without flying, English-speaking, and immune to the recession that was crippling Ireland - also to the nepotism of small-town Ireland. The expectation of a schoolkid in Ireland in the 80s was that you'd be emigrating at some point - it was just a question of where, and when.

But hey, this film is all about the music. And the music this band is principally inspired by is Duran Duran, which makes for a rather good soundtrack. Oh wow, this is so 80s! And as well as the music and the fashion, it has a peculiarly 80s optimism to it - a more feelgood movie would be hard to find. It is so damn good.. and I am so glad I saw it. Highly, highly recommended.

For tomorrow, I nabbed a cheap ticket to a piano concert at Wigmore Hall. On Wednesday, I'm back with the Man with the Hat, who's taking London for Less than a Tenner to the (not-so) Top Secret Comedy Club. Now, I've only been there once before, and had a bad experience - but that was just the line-up on the night, and I have higher hopes for this. I know some people are going to be interested in my reaction. So shall I!

On Thursday, I'm off to what should be an excellent night with the Crick Crack Club - Trickster, at Rich Mix, stars no fewer than three storytellers, at least two of whom I know to be excellent: Tuup and Clare Muireann Murphy. On Friday, I'm (so far, unless I get a better offer) headed back with the CLOGgies, finally, for a Royal Parks & Palaces Evening Walk. I did enjoy that group, the one time I was with them - they just usually clash with other stuff! And on Saturday, I'm headed with the London European Club to an exhibition on Sicily: Culture and Conquest, at the British Museum. I know Sicily has a fascinating history, so I'll be interested in this.

Restaurant: Nuala's

Flew back to London yesterday - but with their summer schedule having later flights to London, we had time to head out for something to eat, first. Saturday had been in Quin - so, yesterday, we decided on Nuala's. For variety.

The weather was nothing if not varied - brilliant sunshine alternated with torrential showers. Well, that kept it interesting. And we were lucky to get the last parking spot in front of the pub - gee, it's ages since I parallel parked. Sure enough, inside the pub was crammed. We happened to meet the owner at that moment, who suggested we take a table for two in the restaurant - same menu, so we agreed.

The table was at the restaurant door - but not much passing customer traffic bothered us. We were a bit perplexed at the wobbly table, until the owner came and rescued us by just moving it over a bit - must be an issue with the floor, just there! Meanwhile, we admired the stone-effect wall covering - a result of the tv makeover they had, details of which were broadcast earlier in the year. Whether that affected business, I can't say - but it was booming yesterday.

The Sunday lunch menu is concise, and supplemented by a board of specials. Well, their soup is always good, so I had that, and I was delighted to see that the excellent cornflake chicken was also still on the menu. And there was salmon on the specials menu, so my mother was happy. Service was quick and friendly, and as we waited for our food we perused the placemats, posters on the walls, photos.. plenty about the history of the area, and definitely a contender eatery to bring Helen to, when she visits next month.

The soup was delicious - slightly spicy, on this occasion. The mash that accompanied our mains was pleasantly flavoured, and we polished off our meals happily - slightly slower towards the end, as we filled up. It's a very pleasant atmosphere too, and we'd have liked to stay for dessert - but that flight beckoned. Generally, you'd pay at the bar - but she kindly brought the bill to our table so we could avoid the queue. It's a pity we don't get here more often - but great to see they're doing so well!

And so back to London. Should be a nice, easy evening - I don't anticipate being kept late at work, and Sing Street doesn't start until 8:10 - at my local cinema. And it's an easy drive, with free parking after 7. Goodee, I've been longing for an easy event! The film itself is the third in a theme by John Carney - musical underdogs, basically, and with this one, harking back to his big debut, Once, also set in Dublin in the 80s. I see Maria Doyle Kennedy also shows up in this.

For tomorrow, I nabbed a cheap ticket to a piano concert at Wigmore Hall. On Wednesday, I'm back with the Man with the Hat, who's taking London for Less than a Tenner to the (not-so) Top Secret Comedy Club. Now, I've only been there once before, and hated it - but that was just the line-up on the night, and I have higher hopes for this. (Hey, just saw on the website that they have a money-back guarantee - where was that when I went?!)

On Thursday, I'm off to what should be an excellent night with the Crick Crack Club - Trickster, at Rich Mix, stars no fewer than three storytellers, two of whom I know to be excellent: Tuup and Clare Muireann Murphy. And on Friday, I'm (so far, unless I get a better offer) headed back with the CLOGgies, finally, for a Royal Parks & Palaces Evening Walk. I did enjoy that group, the one time I was with them - they just usually clash with other stuff! The bank holiday weekend is, otherwise, so far undetermined..

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Dance: Nederlands Dans Theater Mixed Bill

I love going to Sadler's Wells - don't do it nearly enough. So when the London European Club suggested a Meetup there, last Thursday - I immediately booked. Decided to work from home that day, as Sadler's Wells isn't the quickest to get to.

We were to meet beforehand in The Angel, a short walk from Sadler's Wells. A train and two Tubes got me to Angel Station, across the road from the pub - when I went in, I scoured the place for the organiser, who saw me first and waved a long arm in the air so I could see him. Just a few of us came to the pub beforehand, and had drinks before heading down - a tempting menu on the table advertised "The Nation's Biggest Curry House", specific to Thursdays, which would've been nice: but I'd eaten at home, and we didn't have very much time for eating, anyway.

It was a cool evening, but not unpleasant as we made our way down the road. We'd bought our own tickets, but all in the Upper Circle - good exercise, as ever, climbing all those stairs. While the organiser hung around in the lobby so people could find him, we made our way up, a couple of us buying crisps. And so to our seats.. d' you know, pretty soon after the performance started, my back was killing me. I think it's a result of sitting so high up and having to look down at the stage - I'm often in the gods, but notice this effect more here than elsewhere.

The performance was a mixed bill by Nederlands Dans Theater. Now, I hadn't bought a programme, and the website gave no more than cursory information - titles, a brief description. We were told there'd be two intervals, and I knew that the set up to the first interval would comprise a triple bill. No idea what the story was, mind. But I have to say, it was beautiful to watch - the backdrop panels moved around the stage by individual dancers, invisible behind them, were a nice touch, and the musical accompaniment was a perfect fit.

At the first interval, most of us convened in the upstairs foyer. Some were confused about what they'd just seen, but one - a former dancer - said something that made me think. "There doesn't have to be a story," she said. "There can be, but that's not what's important. Just watch the form." Which was when I realised - I was watching something in a different language. A lot of what I go to is pretty wordy - hey, just the night before, I was at storytelling! (In fact, the stamp still hadn't quite worn off my hand.) But this was a different beast - where words and story didn't really matter: or, perhaps, the story wasn't the kind we were used to hearing, but rather one whose theme was movement.

With that in mind, I went back in determined just to enjoy what I was seeing, not looking for a plot. I particularly enjoyed one piece danced to Bach's Violin Partita, obviously choreographed to complement the flow of the music. I've always loved it when they do that! But the popular hit of the night was the very last piece, Cacti, which rapidly developed a sense of humour - and with a nod to those who'd like to be told what was going on, for heaven's sake, they added a narrator for the last bit!.. who pompously told us how this was an expression of post-modernism (or something). And finished by adding the dancers' thoughts. And - a dead cat.

Hilarious! and a great way to end the evening - as I told the guy taking vox pops in the lobby. The organiser had an early start, so we went our separate ways, the night having turned to light rain. A 38 to Victoria approached the bus stop shortly after - I'd have preferred the 341, which would have taken me to Waterloo, but said what the hey, and hopped on. It was a Routemaster, which handily meant I didn't have to queue at the front door, but could board in the middle. What with the traffic, it took us about an hour to get to the station - but it was lovely to go down Shaftesbury Avenue again, and through the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus - it's been a while! At the station, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the departure boards weren't quite as incomprehensible as I remembered - there were boards telling me when the next departures were to Clapham Junction, and I made one shortly after.

And now I'm in Ireland, in the midst of torrential rain. My blog's been somewhat delayed (apologies if you were looking for it!) by the fact that I decided to go to a film on Monday, so I had to do the film list! Having rejected Captain America: Civil War on the grounds of sheer lack of interest, I'm happy to say that the winner was Sing Street, which I've booked for in my local cinema - 'coz it's cheaper if you do. Yes, it's another story of musical ambition in run-down Dublin in the 80s. And written and directed by the high priest of the subject, John Carney. But you know, he does know his subject - and this one promises to be a more pop-oriented offering than what he's done previously, which will make a change. Should be a blast from the past. And I've been missing the cinema, and the convenience of driving - so, looking forward to that!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Storytelling: The Howken Field

Ah, the Crick Crack Club. Wouldn't miss one of their events if I could help it, and they had one last night - with Nick Hennessy, which made it all the better. So I booked.

I was in Guildford, but the traffic obliged, and I was in time to get the Overground to Camden Road. I didn't manage to pick up a paper for the long trip - but spent the time dozing instead; it's been a tiring few days! And it was handy that I had a seat at the end of a row, and could lean my head on the post.

Groggily, I got off at Camden Road. Hadn't bothered to look up my route - but I remembered it pretty well; take a right, continue to the complicated junction at Camden Town Tube Station, and bear left for Camden High Street. The Forge is a short way down, on the right - beside the Blues Kitchen, at the corner of Delancey Street. Inside, I could see people were already going in to the performance space at the back, and made my way straight to the desk, where she checked the list for my name (I was the first entry!) and stamped my hand. I got a seat near the front, then noticed someone had a glass of wine. I'd forgotten that, like Southwark Playhouse, you can bring in drinks here - I nipped out again and got one.

Nick Hennessy plays the harp, and sure enough, there was one ready on stage for him - along with a drum, and a guitar that belonged to his companion on stage, Hannah Sanders, whose cds were on sale at the ticket desk. After the customary "crick-crack" ritual, we were told that the first part would be shorter than the second - and we were off.

The theme of the night was The Howken Field - stories of the lawless "debateable lands" between England and Scotland, whose ownership was disputed in the Middle Ages. And so, in the first section we were led through a collection of story songs - Hannah on the guitar, Nick on the harp and, briefly, the drum - that told of battles, of love and loss.

The interval came as something of a relief - oh, the performance was fine, but the room was stifling! and felt all the more by an audience that had, for the most part, dressed warmly because of the cold night outside. At least they opened the doors now, and allowed some air to circulate. The performers set up chairs for themselves for the longer, second part, and Hannah disappeared briefly to get a refill of ice water for themselves. For my part, I was stuck in a very snug seating arrangement, with people both in front of me and behind wriggling with discomfort in the heat. Not ideal - I hope they get the heating right as we come into summer.

The second part was the actual story of The Howken Field - which had three substories (all the best things come in threes), all telling of love, loss and resolution. The harp music was sublime, and Hannah had brought out some kind of old guitar (I'm guessing), which she now used in preference to the other. But it was Nick who did the storytelling, his love of the subject shining through. At the end, we were told of upcoming events (yep, I'm there!) and disgorged into the night, whose chilliness was a blessing.

I had back luck with the Overground - oh, I got home all right, but the trains only run about every 15 minutes, and I had just missed one, and had 14 minutes to wait. Which was very boring, without paper, or a phone - it had died. So I paced the platform until the train arrived. And after about 9pm, they don't run direct to Clapham Junction, either - you have to change at Willesden Junction. Then again, the trains from Willesden Junction to Clapham Junction only run every half hour.. so only every second train to Willesden Junction connects with a train to Clapham Junction.. and I was on the wrong one. So I had to wait for a full 23 minutes there - in the waiting room, it being now too cold to pace the platform. So I sat there, and listened to the man in the suit beside me have a business conversation in French in an African accent, on his mobile.

Too tired to blog, when I got home, and too busy this morning! And now I have a rush to get ready for this evening - I'm with Henning in the London European Club, who's headed to a mixed bill by Nederlands Dans Theater, at Sadler's Wells. He's suggested we meet at 6 - mind you, last time he suggested that, it was 6:15 when he showed - so I won't be in too much of a rush, particularly as I have to eat first. And then it's back to Ireland tomorrow for the weekend.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Play: Last of the Boys

And so it came to pass that, for yesterday, the Man with the Hat booked Let's Do London - for less! for - not one, but two shows at Southwark Playhouse! Well, I'd already seen The Toxic Avenger (and still highly recommended), so I booked for the other. I didn't know much about Last of the Boys, but - Southwark Playhouse, Let's Do London - for less!.. what else did I need to know?

Now, I was in Guildford yesterday - but this was the later of the shows, not starting till 8, so I was fairly sure I'd make it. As it happened, traffic was amazingly light, and I actually got back in time to get the trusty 344 bus, which runs from the end of my road straight to just down the road from Southwark Playhouse. What's more, the bus made good time - now, we'd been encouraged to arrive later rather than earlier, for ease of seating in the bar: and with coming from Guildford and then taking a bus, you'd think that'd be easy for me. Actually, I arrived at the theatre just after 7.

Of course, the people who'd come for The Toxic Avenger were there by now, and he was with them - I knew to look down the back. And what was I greeted with? Cancelled! The Toxic Avenger was going ahead, but not our show.. the star had laryngitis, it seemed.

Ah. Well now, I wasn't going anywhere. The Man with the Hat had messaged us, but he'd only found out himself quite late - and by the time he got back to us, I was nearly there anyway, and without internet reception on my phone. I didn't get that message till I got home - and I was glad of it! I do try to restrict myself to events I think I'll enjoy, but the best part about this group's events.. is this group.

No way was I going anywhere. The house wine is good, and decently priced, and I settled in. In due course, some others arrived that were booked for the cancelled show, and either hadn't heard in time to stay away, or wanted to come anyway. We'd all already seen The Toxic Avenger, and enthusiastically assured those who were there for that that they were in for a great night!

And there we stayed - as the Toxic Avenger crowd went in, as they came out for the interval, as they came out at the end. And such reports as we heard of it were glowing. They had a great night - and so did we. The Man with the Hat was at pains to apologise, and has refunded us by the time I write. He'd like to reschedule - and it is running until 4 June, but who knows whether the star will have recovered? We wish him well, and I'm sure we'd like to see it at some point - but we had our Meetup, which made the trip worthwhile. A short wait for the bus, which took me home - but already past my bedtime, so no blogging last night.

They're off to something else tonight - and very few things would keep me away. But as it happens, I'm already booked for one such thing. I'm back with the Crick Crack Club, at The Forge, for a storytelling evening entitled The Howken Field, by Nick Hennessy. Could be fun getting to it - I'm in Guildford again, and there's a train strike, which means the Overground will be busy.. but he's a fantastic performer, worth the effort.

Tomorrow, I'm with Henning in the London European Club again, who's headed to a mixed bill by Nederlands Dans Theater, at Sadler's Wells. I'll work from home - it's a 7 o' clock start. And then it's back to Ireland for the weekend.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Talk: UK and the EU - A Troubled Relationship

Last night saw me attend only my second ever talk given by Henning, in the London European Club. The subject was UK and the EU - A Troubled Relationship, and it sounded interesting: and topical, what with the Brexit referendum approaching next month.

It was scheduled for 7 - and when I got one of those scary LEC emails earlier in the day, with dire warnings of expulsions if we didn't show up, I was nervous, given that I was in Guildford. I can fully understand their position - I've been in Meetups before where people just didn't bother to show, and organisers were out of pocket; and last night's event was booked out, with, apparently, a long waiting list. Still, the tone of these warnings is off-putting..

Mind you, when I read the Meetup page more closely, it turned out that the talk itself wouldn't start until 7:30, although the room was being set up from 6:30. So I relaxed at that point. And wouldn't you know it, traffic was light for once, and I got home in plenty of time. The quickest way to the Devereux was to take a train to Waterloo, then a bus. At Clapham Junction, a train quickly presented itself, and wouldn't you know it, as I approached Stop C at Waterloo, a 76 was just pulling up! Was I ever satisfied with myself as it pulled away with me on it..

Alighting at the Royal Courts of Justice, I knew I had to cross the road - and Google Maps said to go down Devereux Court. Great - except it's practically invisible:

Had to look carefully to see it. Never mind - if you couldn't, you could just go down Essex Street, to the right, and turn around the back of The Edgar Wallace. Oh, I love the Temple district - full of little nooks and alleyways.

And so to the Devereux, which was practically deserted - but I remembered it from before, and knew the talk would be upstairs. I ordered a drink, paid by card, and was slightly annoyed to be presented immediately with a suggestion of a gratuity - for goodness' sake, I was only just in the door! Anyway, drink in hand, I went in search of the upstairs. Remembered going to the other outside door, so went that way again - only to remember, when I got there, turning back because that was the wrong way. So I did that again, made my way around to the other side of the bar, and went through the door marked "Restaurant".

Sure enough, the upstairs room used for talks is a restaurant in another life. Now, this doesn't work terribly well in practice - I've been in plenty of rooms above pubs, used for different functions, and one that's a restaurant has a problem that others don't - tables. Fine if you're eating off them - not so much if you're trying to cram into what became a very crowded room, to see a presentation and listen to a talk. For goodness' sake, a worker had to push her way through at some point, and it would've been easier to suspend her on a pulley system hung from the ceiling..

The prelude to the talk had a slideshow - what looked like a YouTube compilation - of attractive European landscapes. Lovely - although if you got there quite early, as I did, and were watching them for over half an hour, they did become a bit samey. Mountains, lakes, waterfalls, beaches - and recycle. Some pretty towns too, but if I had to see another waterfall..

So it was a relief when the talk began. Henning's talks are well researched, and this was no exception - he'd done his homework, and presented us with a summarised history of what was to become the European Union, from the end of the Second World War. An interesting story, always with a nod to Britain's role: he described how a desire to curb Germany's chances of starting yet another war led to the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which aimed to pool the continent's coal and steel resources, so that no one country could build up its stock - which would be essential for warmongering.

Of course, this grew to become the European Economic Community, which is what I always remember it as. And he explained how the UK was in a stronger state than Continental Europe after the war, and didn't see a need to join any union - but how the EEC's economic power grew, and it duly became more attractive. The UK applied for membership, but was blocked by De Gaulle - partly because he was suspicious of Britain's strong ties to the US. They eventually joined in 1973 - just as Europe's fortunes took a downturn.

As Henning pointed out, mainly the timing of events was unfortunate. At this point, however, the discussion turned towards economics, and my brain turned itself off - never been of any interest to me, I'm afraid. Unlike many of the audience, who - as you might expect - were well informed. I did appreciate the slide of graphs that he reluctantly displayed at the end - as he said, they were open to misinterpretation, but did show the UK's healthy position, relative to other EU members, in terms of contributions, net contributions, contributions as percentage of GDP.. as an ex-statistician, graphs are something I can understand.

I left at the break. Had a long, cold wait at the bus stop - although the display said the bus was due, I was there for at least 10 minutes! At least the nearby church bells kept me entertained with Oranges and Lemons. And the 87 took me all the way home - including a small diversion. Early enough to go to bed - not to blog.

Tonight, the Man with the Hat is taking Let's Do London - for less! (including me) to see Last of the Boys, at Southwark Playhouse - indeed, he's also got a bunch of them going to the other show there, The Toxic Avenger, also tonight! I've already seen that one, of course. And I can guarantee attendees a great night..

Tomorrow, I'm back with the Crick Crack Club, at The Forge, for a storytelling evening entitled The Howken Field, by Nick Hennessy. Could be fun getting to it - I'm in Guildford again, and a train strike is threatened, which means the Overground will be busy..

On Thursday, I'm with Henning again, who's headed to a mixed bill by Nederlands Dans Theater, at Sadler's Wells. I'll work from home that day - it's another 7 o' clock start. And then it's back to Ireland for the weekend.