Monday, 23 September 2013


After leaving the Southwark playhouse, I headed to the Southbank, to see Limbo, which is part of the London Wonderground there. Fortunately for me, there was also a food festival with a huge choice of different street food of many different kinds. I dined off the best harissa chicken I've ever tasted!

I then wandered around a little - the Wonderground has various fairground attractions, including a carousel, traditional stalls, and rides.Or rather one ride - the Starflyer.

The Starflyer is apparently the tallest vertical ride in the country, and spins you round, and up, over 60 metres.

I'm not, in general, a fan of fairground rides. I never met a roller coaster I liked, and most rides just fill me with a deep desire to be somewhere else (Except Ferris Wheels. I Like Ferris Wheels). But this one appealed to me. It was so tall. And it seemed not to be too violent.

Of course, at about the point that the safety bar came down and they locked me into the little perspex box with a total stranger (as each car has 2 seats) I did have a few qualms, but it was Too Late.

Despite my moment of panic, I enjoyed the ride. They start by winching you up a bit, then it starts to spin as it climbs higher, and as it climbs higher it spins faster, which of course means all the cars tilt ..

There are, of course, amazing views, of the Thames, the London Eye, The Houses of Parliament, and of course, straight down to the lights and glitter of the fairground.

And all too soon,  it starts to come down, and spin more slowly again. And they let you out, and you stagger off into the fairground.

I have to say, as precursor to Limbo it had a lot going for it! 

After getting off the ride I made my way to the Spiegaltent (which is pretty spectacular in its own right, all wood panels and mirrors and shiny goodness, the designer of the Hackney empire would have felt right at home.

And the show itself? 

It was breathtakingly, stunningly good.

The performers are all amazing, and all seem to have multitudinous talents, and the entire show is dark, funny, sexy, and very, very entertaining.

It's extremely hard to pick a favourite part - Heather Holliday's sword-swallowing and fire-eating, Danik Abishev's amazing acrobatics and hand-balancing, Jonathan Nosan's contortions.. and of course Sxip Shirey's music - all of it is incredible.
An the atmosphere is wonderful, too - it feels as though at any moment the entire show could spill off the stage and turn in to the world's best party...

I only wish I'd gone earlier in the run, when there would have been time to go again (it ends next week)

Best night out I've had for ages!

And there was time to admire the South Bank by Night before I had to head back to my hotel for the night. (I was tempted to go on the Starflyer again, and see London by Night, but the combination of queue and cost put me off)

Limbo is only in London until next weekend, but it is then showing in Edinborough from 22nd November until 5th January, so there is still a chance to see it, if you can.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Bunker: Morgana and Agamemnon

Today is the last day of my stay-at-home holiday, and I have just got back from another trip to the Big Smoke, to see 'Limbo' at London Wonderground.

I booked it ages ago, (and have to say the lovely people at the Southbank centre were very helpful, when I needed to change the date of my ticket)

The BunkerAs I expected to have the afternoon to spare in London, before seeing the show, I also booked a ticket to see 'The Bunker: Morgana and Agamemnon', at the Southwark Playhouse (I didn't realise until afterwards that it was the last but one performance) - I was very favourably impressed.

The plays are set in a WW1 trench, and inspired by legends - 'Morgana' by Arthurian legends, and 'Agamemnon' by the story of Clytemnestra and her lover's murder of Agamemnon.

The performance takes place in a very small space, in which the audience sits on wooden benches around the edges of the performance space, so it's both intimate and somewhat claustrophobic.

'Morgana' features 3 young soldiers - the only survivors of 13 school friends, who as boys at their Tintagel school adopted the names of King Arthur and his knights. Those remaining, Arthur,(Dan Wood) Lancelot (Sam Donnelly) and Gawain (James Marlowe) while away the time in the trenches with songs, jokes and reminiscence, and the enigmatic Morgana / Gwen (Serena Manteghi). There was a particularly strong performance from James Marlowe as the innocent Gawain, and despite the tragedy of the setting, and the multiple betrayals which unfolded, there was also a lot of bleak humour. (and some audience participation with the singing!)

I felt that the second play, Agamemnon, was weaker, although still gripping. It was left deliberately unclear how much of the action involving 'Clytemnestra' and 'Aegisthus' was flashback, how much was 'Agamemnon's' imagination, brought on by his wounds, shell shock and guilt.

Very well worth seeing.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

New Look

Old Hair
So, I finally got around to getting my hair cut, mostly as it has reached the length where  I couldn't do much with it except have it in a plait or pony tail the whole time..

I did, of course, have my normal conversation with the salon when I booked the appointment:

Me: "Could you make it a double length appointment? My hair is *really* thick and always takes longer than normal to cut."
Salon Receptionist "Sure, that won't be a problem"


Stylist: "Wow, you have so much hair! It's really thick!"
New Hair
Me: "Yes, I know. I did mention it when I made the appointment, as it always takes a long time"
Receptionist in background, to next customer "I'm afraid [Stylist's name] is running late - it'll be another 20 minutes or so.."

To do them justice, I didn't get any sense that the stylist then tried to rush to finish off my cut, but I felt a little sorry for the customer waiting an extra half hour because they didn't believe me..

Of course, now I shall spend the next few days combing the back of my neck, and using 3 times as much shampoo as I need, but on the whole I'm happy with the new look.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Don't Panic (Keep your Towel with you)

When I heard that the always-wonderful Mitch Benn was going to be playing Zaphod Beeblebrox in the new touring production of The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy Live Radio show I naturally wanted to go, and started trying to work out which performance would be best for me to get to, as none of them was very convenient.

Then, while I was still being indecisive about where to go, I heard that Neil Gaiman would be appearing as the Voice of the Book, for one night only (the first night of the tour, in fact) at the Hackney Empire. And it was on a Saturday night. 

The thought of seeing both Neil AND Mitch was irresistible, so of course I booked a ticket.

On Saturday, therefore, I got a train up to Waterloo, checked into the pub-with-rooms just down from the theatre (remember the pub-with-rooms, oh Best Beloveds. It will feature later on) and, a little later on, was sitting at the back of the Dress Circle waiting to renew my acquaintance with the Guide.

I've never been to the Hackney Empire before. It's rather nice. It was built as a Music Hall in 1901. On appearances, the designer  was unfamiliar with the concept of 'restraint', and had shares in a gilding business.

The HHGTTG, on the other hand, is something I am familiar with, having read the books, listened to the (repeats of) the radio show, and seen the film and TV series. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the 'live radio show' 

It turns out that you get the Book, sitting in a wing back chair sipping tea, the Band, and a chap with a table of props to do all the sound effects. Oh, and a bunch of stonking actors to do all the voices. 

A lot of them are the original cast members - Simon Jones (Arthur Dent) - still wearing the original dressing gown (although I suspect he's taken it off, in the mean time) Geoff McGivern (Ford Prefect) Susan Sheridan (Trillian) Stephen Moore (Marvin the Paranoid Android) - then there are some newer members -  Mitch Benn, (chosen because the Original Zaphod, Mark Wing-Davey, currently has a job as an Arts Professor in New York, and isn't allowed time off to do funny voices on old radio shows), and Polly J R Adams as the Dish of the Day. There was, of course, also one N. Gaiman as The Voice of the Book.

The show has  it's own band, and also a man at a table in the front left hand corner of the stage to do all the sound effects, so you can watch him banging things together to make the sound of Vogon steel-capped boots, pouring water into a bucket to make the sound of mixing drinks, and fighting an Angolian Suntiger to make the noise of someone fighting and Angolian Suntiger in order to serve a Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blaster.

It also has a bowl of petunias.

It's a stonkingly good and funny show. If you've listened to the radio show, or read the books, you'll like the show. If you haven't, what's been delaying you?
After the show finished, I pootled back to the pub-with-rooms, and as it wasn't massively late, decided to drop my programme and things in my room and pop back down for a nightcap.

When I got back down, the bar seemed to be a lot more crowded. Fair enough, I thought, it's one of the closest pubs to the theatre, and I guess lots of people fancied a drink. 

Then I thought "Hmm, that hair looks familiar. *shrug* I must just have Mr Gaiman on my mind having seen him in the show"

Then I thought "that guy next to the hair looks just like Mitch Benn"

At which point my working through the crowd to get to the bar brought me close the The Hair, and realised that the chap under it was in fact Mr Gaiman, and that the Mitch Benn lookalike was in fact Mitch Benn, and that many of the others filling the bar were the rest of the cast. . . Which was nice, if slightly surreal. 

I was able to tell Neil that he makes a very good Book, and congratulate the lovely Polly Adams on her appearance as the Dish of the Day, and Mitcch on making Zaphod his own. Which was nice. And did make for a lovely end to the evening. 

There is a clip of Simon Jones, and Neil, on the ITN News, talking about the show. And although Neil's appearance as the Book was one night only, there are lots of other interesting people taking on the role over the course of the tour - if it's near you, go see it! 

Friday, 13 September 2013

What I Did on My Holidays

I have just returned home after spending a few days at my parents home in Devon, which has been lovely and relaxing.
A La Ronde
On Sunday, my parents had  a prior commitment to ring a quarter peal near Exmouth, so, as I didn't wish to sit in a churchyard for an hour, they dropped me off at A La Ronde which is now owned by the National Trust. It's a fascinating house - it was originally built in around 1795 for two spinster cousins, and is 16-sided, built around a central octagonal hall.
The original design included sliding doors into all of the main rooms, little triangular cupboards in the gaps between the rooms, and diamond shaped windows. The ladies moved around the house following the sun each day, so their bedrooms faced East, and so forth, so that they always had the best of the light. 

They were very good at handicrafts and were responsible for much of the interior decor themselves - the frieze you can see around the top of the wall is made from feathers, for instance, and the piece de resistance is the 'shell gallery' which is in the top of the house, (and too delicate to be visited except via cctv) which was made by the cousins from the shells and other curios they collected (they travelled extensively on the Continent before they settled down in the house) 

When the ladies died, they left instructions that the house should always go to an unmarried female descendant, and this continued until 1866 when there were no more unmarried female descendants, and the house passed to a male relation, who added some impressively large, steam-powered Victorian radiators, knocked some of the rooms together to make larger ones (and moved the bedrooms upstairs)

It's a strange house, but must have been a nice place to live - there are lovely views out to sea.

Later in the week we went to the seaside - we picked the right day for it - it had started out rather grey and breezy, but there were lots of sunny intervals, and as the school holidays are now over, the beach was pretty empty.

We went home via Ilfracombe to see Damien Hirst's Verity which is very imposing. I suspect it may be seen to best advantage from out at sea.

We also had one much wetter day, and we decided, based on a conversation we had, to visit the Tiverton Museum. My Grannie lived in Tiverton, and when we were little children, we used to be taken to the museum when we visited. I haven't been there since I was about 9 or 10, and I was explaining to my parents that, as far as I recalled, the museum had only one exhibit - a Big Green Railway Engine!

They tried to convince me that there were, in fact, quite a few other exhibits, as well, so we went to see,

It turns out that they were right. The museum also has a number of other exhibits, including lots of farm carts, and lace-making machines, but the engine is still the beast bit!

 Apparently it was bought and given to the museum in 1963, when Dr  Beeching shut the local railway, and has been here ever since. My Dad was reminiscing about being allowed to ride with the driver when coming back from visiting relations, as a small boy (which I suspect must have been against the Railway Regulations, even in the 1950s)

It was a very enjoyable visit. And only slightly marred by the huge queue of traffic I got caught in on my drive home, which involved my sitting in near stationary traffic for around an hour.

Monday, 9 September 2013

A Grand Day Out

My weekend in London continued with a visit to the Museum of Childhood, mostly on the basis that it was close to m hotel, and looked as if it might be interesting, which it was, although I would have enjoyed it more had there been slightly more information about the exhibits (It's obviously designed to be very child friendly, which is fine, but I'm sure most children come with adults attached, who might appreciate a little more information!

I really liked this model theatre, which made me think of the (Other) Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, and also found the exhibition of children's clothes interesting.

Later in the day I found myself getting off the tube at Monument,  due to  closures on the Northern Line, and decided to go above ground just because I can't recall having ever visited the Monument before; it is right by Pudding Lane, and is a monument memorialising the Great Fire of London. It was designed by Wren,and it is possible to climb up inside and look out over London from the top, so I did.

The Monument is just over 200 feet tall, and there are 311 steps, and it is quite a trek up to the top! It is, however, worth the effort.

There are views out over central London in all directions, and one can play 'spot the landmark' looking for St Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, the Shard, and many others.

When I walked back down again, I sat in Pudding Lane and read a little more about the monument, learning that it was completed in 1677, and that it stands 202 feet tall, and exactly 202 feet from the site, in Pudding Lane, where the fire started.

It made for an interesting early afternoon interlude, before heading out to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening with relations.

The weekend concluded with a lovely party at Mike & Sue's house, with lots of lovely people to chat with, music from the talented Mr Mitch Benn, and some fantastic food. Sadly, I had to leave before the end of the party, due to the need to get back to Paddington to get my train home, and by the time I got home I was absolutely exhausted (I'm not as young as I was, and all these busy days and fun nights out take it out of me:-) )

It was a highly satisfactory weekend.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Impossible Girl

Last weekend I went to London. I'd pledged via Songkick for Kim Boekbinder's first UK show, and the gig was on Friday night. 

The show was at the Sebright Arms, which seems to be a pretty nice pub, quite apart from the cool musicians in the basement.

I met up with friends Mike and Sue, and some lovely friends of theirs.

She Makes War opened the gig - I hadn't heard of her, but I enjoyed her music. (and it turns out she is based in Bristol, so I may be able to see other gigs in the future.

And then ... The Impossible Girl herself!
Who played lots of songs from her new album, The Sky Is Calling, (which you should all buy, if you haven't already done so). I've been listening to the album a lot since it came out, and thoroughly enjoyed hearing it live.
What made it even more fun was that Kim was obviously enjoying herself so much. In addition to the music, she told us about bonding with Laura (SheMakesWar) over cheese, and about having a place on Mars names after her.

And at the end of the gig we all got to meet and chat with her, and get lovely posters. 

And it was a relatively early end to the gig, so we had time to had about and chat and drink after the gig, too. 
Lots of fun. 

Friday, 6 September 2013

Oxford, and Friends

I made a trip to Oxford on Sunday, to meet up with friends, which was a lot of fun. We met up at the Ashmolean Museum, and spent some time there, admiring their ancient Egyptian collection, which included a rather nice terracotta Hippo, and a rather unusual mummy...

(The feet, as well as the breasts, were gilded, for what it's worth) There was also a fascinating piece of art - a 3D image of a child, based on scans of the mummy  (by Angela Palmer - images here).

After a little more time among the ancient artifacts we headed out for lunch at the Eagle and Child  pub, where Tolkien, CS Lewis, and the other Inklings used to hang out in, back in the 1930s and 1940s. I didn't spot any epic fantasy authors (and as far as I know, neither of my companions was composing a modern classic over the bangers and mash) but we did find some decent beer, and the bangers and mash previously mentioned, which was nice.

The sun came out during the afternoon, and we strolled around the city centre, admiring the architecture (there is quite a lot of architecture in Oxford)

and wandered around Christ Church  Meadow, where we spotted some deer.

There were squirrels, too, but they are less interesting!
We ended the afternoon with coffee and cakes with one of the two 'oldest coffess houses in England' in Oxford.

It was a nice day.