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50 something Londoner (UK) who is curious about everything. Expect a wide range of topics and a few wood pigeons.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Let It Be: theatre review

We didn't know what to expect from the fairly new production of "Let It Be" at the Garrick Theatre in London. It hasn't had much publicity.  There were no posters in the underground.

"Sore misgivings," muttered J. But, as I predicted, The Beatles don't need publicity. The theatre was full. The demographic was strictly grey haired, except for the young couple next to us (and me, of course).

The usual announcement at the start, about mobile phones and recording the performance, was turned on its head when we were invited to take photos and videos. How refreshing.

The show is basically The Beatles' hits, performed by an excellent bootleg band. The first half shows footage on overhead screens of the adulation the band inspired - screaming girls aplenty - and the songs seemed chronological.  To start with, my heart sank when I thought the band didn't look anything like the Fab Four. We started off in The Cavern for a few of the early screamers  (Twist and Shout, Please Please Me).  Then after some deft rearrangements, we were at the Royal Variety Performance. The "those in the posh seats, rattle your jewellery" performance.  And amazingly, the acoustics changed. I don't know how they did that.

By now the band was in its stride, we had seen several costume changes, and Sgt Pepper's elaborate arrangements brought out the best in these talented musicians. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Strawberry Fields" were very surreal with waxy lights and haziness and dry ice. Having aged in the process, the band was looking more like the Beatles. "Paul" in particular had a real touch of the McCartneys in his vocals. His delivery of Yesterday, with just an acoustic guitar, was moving.  John too, by the time he had donned outlandish clothes and glasses, and was seated behind a piano, looked uncannily like Lennon.

George, however, could never pass as the late Harrison. But did it matter, with such fantastic guitar playing? This was showcased in "While my Guitar Gently Weeps."

During the interval, I reckoned that Magical Mystery Tour and Abbey Road were next. But no, the chronological order somewhat fell by the wayside when Magical Mystery Tour was followed by Penny Lane.

The second half lacked the story telling and there was no mention of the end of the group, which came about after the famous rooftop performance of Let It Be.

But the songs! Sublime. And the dancing. Such fun!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Winter

I was at an event recently where someone gave a very impassioned defence for winter as the best season.

Personally, I find the general prospect of winter very depressing. How we ever get through January I do not know, with all the wretched resolutions, bad weather and penury after Christmas.

Since I became a gardener I've become attuned to the fluctuations in light and the rhythms of the different seasons. Once autumn is over, the garden becomes more or less dormant until the joyful emerging of spring bulbs.

But winter is not all bad. Our elders wisely timed Christmas for the depths of winter to give us a feasting holiday to look forward to. And there are very rare occasions when we have the combination of blue sky and crisp frost, or a winter wonderland (see photo!).

Here are my Pros and Cons: do you have any to add?

Winter: Pros
1) Occasional sunny and cold days which remind us of better weather to come
2) Christmas (a mixed blessing but for me, I love the carols, the decorations and tree, and choosing and giving presents).
3) Black opaque tights are "maintenance free" - no need for fake tan
4) Cosy long fires: bit of a cliche and pretty rare!
5) Sinking into plump togs of duvets without feeling hot
6) The Christmas Rose  (helleborus Niger)
7) Snowdrops. Officially a winter flower, but the heralds of spring as they're rapidly followed by crocus and cyclamen
8) Less pressure to be active outdoors. It's quite acceptable to curl up with a book on a rainy day.

Winter: Cons
1) Endless days of RAIN, sleet, heavy winds, cold
2) Britain's habitual unreadiness for bad weather: airports closed, leaves on the line, pot holes, etc
3) Difficulty of planning ahead because bad weather can disrupt plans
4) The need for carbs and stodgy food.....yet pressure to diet in January at entirely the wrong time of year
5) Colds and flu
6) Nightmarish public transport: peoples' coats gently steaming and smelling of dinner, and people coughing in close proximity
7) Christmas arriving too soon and certain songs too ubiquitous
8) Gales causing structural damage and bringing down trees
9) Not wanting to get up early because of dark mornings
10) Ice on roads and pavements. Treacherous

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Move Away From Reneé!

Poor Reneé Zellweger. Last week the tabloids and harpies were agog at what's happened to her face. Rumours of plastic surgery were widely discussed. Reneé, who hasn't made a film for three years, denied she'd had anything done but made a typically American explanation about finding herself and being in a good place.

That should have been the end of the matter.

But today the loathsome Daily Mail continues the heckling as we see a picture of Reneé looking very tired as she went about her shopping at the weekend, lashing out at hordes of photographers following her and still asking about her face.

This really seems like bullying in the extreme. Enough is said about internet trolls but is this any better?

If she's had plastic surgery, whose business is it? When you're an actress in Hollywood your sell-by date can often hinge on how unlined and fresh your face remains. I imagine the pressure to put the clock back must be immense. It's stay young or lose your living.

The annoying thing as always is that this is a paradigm that doesn't apply to men. Did we see the same scenes when Mickey Rourke's plastic surgery was revealed in all its gruesome glory? Harrison Ford, Sly Stallone and others are in their 60s and 70s, yet they still get the same roles as action heroes and romantic leads.

I fear that Reneé is a vulnerable lady - she apparently used to run and diet to excess and admitted as much last week. Now, after starting a new film, she's the focus of unwelcome attention and I wish the paps and those tawdry tabloids and gossip rags would leave her alone.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Remembering Lynda Bellingham

Very sad to hear about the death of actress Lynda Bellingham today. Diagnosed with bowel cancer in July 2013, she took the decision not to continue treatment so that her family wouldn't have to see her as a "sad, sick little old lady."  She hoped fervently to enjoy one last Christmas with her husband and two sons. Sadly, not to be ---- although there are calls for one of her Oxo ads to be shown on Christmas Day in tribute. I don't think she would only like to be remembered for the ads, but as Marketing magazine says today, these were a history of British family life in the 80s and 90s.

Happily for Lynda, she died in the arms of her husband. And she left no unfinished business. Her autobiography, just out, includes letters to her closest family.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This week's Flotsam: Amal Clooney, a woman persecuted; Strictly update

It didn't take long for the harridans of journalism to sharpen their claws and set about savaging Mrs Amal Clooney.

Just a couple of weeks ago they were agog at her stunning outfits, describing how she was out-styling the Duchess of Cambridge, and marvelling at her professional credentials.

This week they're embittered and griping about her international jet setting (Rachel Johnston, Amanda Platell, Jan Moir etc), and spitefully quoting some research which says those who have expensive weddings don't stay married.

Mirian Gonzalez Durantez
To me, Amal is a great role model for young girls. She, and the likes of Miriam Gonzalez Durantez , are far better role models than the girlfriends and wives of footballers who will put up with all sorts of humiliating transgressions to keep their lifestyles. Or the likes of Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan and the cast of TOWIE. We need girls to aspire towards getting themselves a good education and making positive career choices, rather than dreaming about reality TV, taking their clothes off or marrying a footballer.

Amal, keep up the good work. We need some glamour in our lacklustre world. And those Elgin Marbles do belong back in Greece. Lord Elgin was doing a good deed at the time but now it's ridiculous that the friezes are displayed in broken parts in two countries. The dispute has raged on for decades. Amal in her designer outfits will probably make more of an impact than any of the boring male politicians.

Tougher being A Troll

Good news, I thought, about internet trolls being jailed for up to two years. Let's hope it wipes out these miserable low lifes, because the ever-diminishing police forces of the UK could soon be fully occupied in tracing IP addresses and dragging out the social inadequates who taunt others under the cloak of anonymity.

Strictly update: what's happened to the clothes?

Shock horror: two male wardrobe malfunctions in two shows! Could it be down to the "modern" style trousers that the men are now wearing? Elesehere, I'm suspecting that costume designer Vicky Gill has a reduced budget this year. Some of the dresses look cheap. I can't imagine the likes of the horrendous outfit worn by Caroline Flack last night selling for thousands as they used to.

Strictly Progress 

The biggest surprise of the series so far has been the transformation of Thom Evans, the former rugby player. Last night you could tell he was genuinely enjoying himself and dancing his heart out. Very unlike week one, when he came across as little more than  a chisel jawed dandy.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The wonderful heart and soul of John Lydon: book review

John Lydon
I have a confession to make. When I read the autobiography of various celebrities, I usually fast forward through the early years as soon as I see the phrase "my dad was a cobbler and my mother Gwen came from Cardiff."

And this is exactly what happened when I started reading John Cleese's tome, "So. Anyway...."

Chapter after chapter recounts his dreary reminiscences of school life at St Peter's Preparatory, where we learn he was OK at Latin but frightened by scripture. By chapter four, we're starting the Clifton College years and giving up the will to live. Cue frantic page turning as I attempt to find the interesting stuff: Monty Python, Connie Booth, Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda. Unfortunately the book ends in 1969, and it's not described as autobiography volume 1 so who knows if we'll ever hear the rest. My suspicion is that Cleese will make it as turgid as his early years.He writes in the style of Sven Goran Erickson, whose numerous encounters with women were described as "very nice."

Cleese is an intellectual snob who derides his mother's lack of general knowledge, telling her untruths that she is gullible enough to believe. And her lack of general knowledge, he cries, was symptomanic of how self-centred she was. Segue to the usual celebrity moans "my life was ruined because of my parents."  He has spent most of his adult life "in therapy" and is forever name dropping psychologists.

I can imagine all this therapy angst would be given short shrift by John Lydon who has also just published his autobiography, "Anger is an Energy: My life Uncensored."

I haven't even finished it yet but I must tell you about it. It is one of the best books I've read for a long time.

Back in 1977, Lydon, or Johnny Rotten as he was known then, and his group The Sex Pistols certainly had my parents and everyone else's spluttering, what with "God Save The Queen" and an expletive filled interview with someone called Bill Grundy on some sort of regional TV show.

The Lydon in this book is fascinating, laugh outloud funny, uncensorious, joyful and brilliantly clever. He could read and write before he started school, but don't think he had a pampered upbringing like Cleese. The Lydons were squeezed together in a block of flats with an outside toilet. Six of them, parents and four children, shared one bedroom.  But he doesn't recount all this in a "poor me" misery memoir kind of way. It was economic deprivation, he tells us. At eight years old Lydon suffered meningitis and was in hospital for a year. When he eventually went back to school, the nuns called him Dummy Dumb Dumb.

He was far from dumb though. His schools lack the scholastic reputation of those attended by Cleese but he got seven O Levels and 3 A Levels, and his writing sparkles with insight and humour. Who would have thought that John Lydon would love Kool and the Gang? "I loved them!" he declares. He is fascinated by all forms of music and the different tribes music inspires.

His parents, poor and Irish, are described warmly. "I vividly remember my mum and dad dancing to "Welcome to my World" by Jim Reeves on the Dansette in the front room - her with her bouffant and pink Crimplene outfit, and my dad in his suit and tie. It was a very romantic song, but also kind of political, that the world could be a better place - just hopeful, positive. A wonderful song."

Living in a squat with Sid Vicious and sporting green hair "like a Brussel sprout", Lydon did any job going. In a vegetarian restaurant, a new thing at the time, he and Sid were cleaners but there wasn't much to do, just sweeping up the odd peanut.

Poignantly, he got a job looking after kids aged between seven to ten. But the people who ran the day centre didn't like him near the children. "In a world of Jimmy Savile! That's the bitter irony of it, because I'd be the last person to bugger about with children, yet you're so readily and easily labelled, and so wrongly too. People can't see through to a man's heart and soul, their character."

I haven't even got to the Sex Pistols yet because I haven't been fast forwarding. I'm relishing every page. I've even overlooked his devotion to Arsenal. Reader, discover the heart and soul of John Lydon. You won't regret it.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Is it just me...or Has Strictly Come Dancing gone a little lame?

"Lame? There's nothing wrong with my foot"
I was eagerly awaiting the first glimpse of the dancing celebs on Friday and tweeting my excitement about the return of the sparkles. Yes, I was still keen, even though I'd seen the list of mostly z listers who would be competing.

But as it all got going, and there seemed so many unnecessary extras before we saw the first couple, I started to think Has Strictly Gone The Way of Downton and Become A Bit Lame? (It was such a sobering thought it was all in capitals).

There was the matter of Claudia. What I've always liked about her is her studied noncomformity. The fringe and short sighted eyes peering out; the black eyeliner which runs when she's on the red carpet;  the policy of any colour as long as it's black; the strange gait and the awkward shuffling from one foot to the other.

But the BBC stylists had clearly had other ideas and on Friday, clad in a lurid pink which drained her of colour and minus her pale lippy and eyeliner, poor Claudia looked 10 years older, and, worse still, ordinary.

Fortunately a Twitter furore saw her usual look reinstated on Saturday.  She was back to black.

Tess meanwhile was rising to the challenge quite well, if she stops doing that awful tongue in cheek thing, but I had the distinct impression the judges were not supporting her very well. A couple of times she asked a question and I don't think she meant them to be rhetorical.

As for the celebrities, I realise it's a challenge to find people who are well-known but "resting,"  because SCD is probably a full-time job from now until the final. Secondly, the pay is not much of an incentive, except for the pop stars and stage school luvvies who expect to make it to the quarter finals.  It's only £25k for everyone to start with, rising at the end of October for those left.

And I realise that by competing head-to-head with that awful rubbish on ITV, the BBC needed to attract names who would appeal to a younger audience.  Hence the inclusion of people like Mark Wright from the ridiculous Towie.

The long suffering Aliona and GreggWallace
But this year's line-up is dull by anyone's standards. The only glimmer of hope comes in the relationship between Masterchef's grocer Gregg Wallace and Aliona Villani.  It's plain she couldn't stand him and what he alleges are his jokes.  Will she have enough time to do something with this dad dancer? Or will he be released back into the hinterlands of Twitter and doomed romances with girls half his age?

Then there was the sulky countenance of former rugby player Thom Evans. I suspect he was stitched up into making himself seem like Fred Astaire in his intro (he's a bighead, my Mum ventured), and then realised after the judges laid into him that he wasn't going to be anywhere near the top of the leaderboard. His face was a picture for the rest of the show and Saturday's.

Alison Hammond shone:
not only has she a light step but she is full of personality. I just wish the judges would be a bit less patronising. Their surprise that yet another big bird could dance was all too obvious.

There were quite a few who I lost interest in before they even finished their routine:  Caroline Fluck (who?), a Radio 1 DJ, Pixie Lott, the latest boy from Blue, the Towie boy, the Casualty lady.

Frankie Bridge
Frankie Bridge from The Saturdays was gorgeous and sailed through a delightful routine. The bruiser bloke from EastEnders was surprisingly good, although unsuprisingly mean and moody in a tango. Judy Murray was nervous and stiff but showed she's a likeable lady.

Some of the routines were very repetitive. How many times have we seen Ola's routine to loud rock music where she and the male stamp around glowering? Zzzz.

I'm hoping things improve once the eliminations start  but at the moment, it's all a bit too lame rather than lamé for me.

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