Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Beginning is simply brilliant #ntBeginning @NationalTheatre @deldridgewriter ...

You didn't fancy it then?
Fancy what?
Getting in the taxi.

Last Saturday night Stuart, me, and a bunch of us went to see Dave Eldridge's new play The Beginning at the National Theatre's Dorfman Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

Full disclosure: Dave is a mate of ours.
Fuller disclosure: The Beginning is simply brilliant!

Taking place in a Crouch End flat in the wee small houses at the end of house party Essex boy Danny (Sam Troughton) has stayed behind. He's pissed. Laura (Justine Mitchell) is pissed too. It's her party after all and she is making the moves on Danny. Only all is not what it seems. Why doesn't Danny just "get in amongst it"? Why is Laura so forward? Living in a bustling big city like London can be a lonely experience and once you've been round the block a few times you don't want to be get hurt again.

Far from being a straightforward will they / won't they two-hander about sexual conquest the play quickly develops into a frank and frankly hilarious discussion about sex, life in your late 30s, the loneliness of the dating game and Ginsters scotch eggs.

Eldridge's masterful writing makes us both laugh and cry as his two characters try desperately to seek common ground.

And the joke about Paloma Faith and the dancing scene are worth the entrance ticket alone.

Go see.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Aida @E_N_O...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Phelim McDermott's new production of Aida performed by the English National Opera at the London Coliseum in the London's glitzy West End.

Phelim McDermott has produced some thrilling productions for the ENO and with the spectacular costumes, an extravagant set, and lots of fire - this full-on production promised much. And it mostly delivered on that promise.

Aida's timeless story of duty, love and betrayal needs a strong dramatic portrayal of slave girl Aida at the heart of the love-triangle and Phelim McDermott is lucky to have a remarkable central performance from the American soprano Latonia Moore in the title role.

The slightly uneven first half settled better in the second.

Michelle DeYoung’s Amneris has warmth and grandeur although we were perhaps less convinced that Gwyn Hughes Jones's Radames could be either a warrior or lover.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Homeground 2017 @katebushnews @cloudbustingKB @theRVT #KateBush...

Last month Stuart and I went to the fabulous Homeground 2017 - the annual Kate Bush fans' shindig - at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London's glitzy Vauhall.

"All Kate, all night" was the tag line and in that they did not disappoint. Along with DJs sets were live performances from singer Sky Of Honey, Drag Queen Rose Garden and the fabulous Cloudbusting. We had a lot of fun with lots of crowd sing-a-longs.

There is still a lot of love for Kate out there.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fabulous #YoungMarx @_bridgetheatre...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Richard Bean's fabulous new play Young Marx, the opening production at the new Bridge Theatre in London's glitzy London Bridge Quarter.

The Bridge Theatre is the new commercial theatre founded by previous National Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner and executive director Nick Starr.

Young Marx stars Rory Kinnear in the title role and Oliver Chris as Friedrich Engels and reunites the creative team of Bean's previous hit play One Man Two Guvnors (which premiered at the National Theatre), directed by Hytner, designed by Mark Thompson, music by Grant Olding, lighting by Mark Henderson and sound by Paul Arditti.

Aping a Restoration Comedy the action is set in 1850, and Europe’s most feared terrorist is hiding in Dean Street, Soho. Broke, restless and horny, the thirty-two-year-old revolutionary is a frothing combination of intellectual brilliance, invective, satiric wit, and child-like emotional illiteracy.

Creditors, spies, rival revolutionary factions and prospective seducers of his beautiful wife all circle like vultures. His writing blocked, his marriage dying, his friend Engels in despair at his wasted genius, his only hope is a job on the railway. But there’s still no one in the capital who can show you a better night on the piss than Karl Heinrich Marx.

Kinnear and Chris are both great. The writing is funny, and there is a lot of vaudevillian, hammy role-playing, and slapstick humour to be had. But there is perhaps something slightly missing from the whole show though. Maybe it just needs a few more wry jokes about Capitalism, a bit more pathos about the terrible conditions of the Manchester cotton workers that spurned Engles on, or a simply just a few more knob gags.

Overall a great show in a great theatre. We are both looking forward to seeing what else the place has in store.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Day 11: Palenque: Pyramids, Temples, and Jungles...

As our Mexican adventure draws to a close we had one last hurrah yesterday with a five hour drive into the jungle to see the magnificent Mayan ancient city of Palenque. 

Palenque is formed of a series of pyramid structures, a palace, a tower, temples, a ball court, a Mayan hotel(!), buildings where the workers lived, and tombs with colossal burial chambers. 

It is a beautiful place that is still 98% undiscovered. We even saw the archeologists at work. 

In Temple XX they had just discovered an amazing outer burial chamber that is bright red. The dead bodies in the room and everything else in the room were coated in mercury and sulphur. 

Once catalogued they hope to open up the bigger chamber that they have detected beyond.  

Amazing stuff.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Day 10: Campeche: Pirates, the Afterlife, and Mario...

After the wonders of Chicken Pizza (the Mexican love this joke - we heard it alot) we drove down further south to the port town of Campeche.

Campeche is a fortified town that the Spanish used as a major export city for the entire Yucatan peninsula thereby inevitably attracting pirates. In this neck of the woods pirates have a very bad reputation. Kids don't dress up as Captain Jack Sparrow round here. He's the baddy in the Pirates of the Caribbean films not the hero. The pirates round here plundered, murdered, stole from, and burned to the ground Campeche and its people. The are still hated. Think Nazis/ISIS hated. 

We got to tour around Campeche city quite a bit and en route found out a lot more about Mayan society and their belief systems.  

Fascination Facts: The Maya never invented or used the wheel. They had no beasts of burden (donkeys, oxen, horses). They had little or no metals. The Spanish were a bit pissed off when they attacked as they had expected to find piles of gold and silver as they had done with the other civilisations they had overrun. 

The Maya believed in an afterlife. It was where they went to be with their ancestors. It is known as the dry underworld. There were two underworlds actually. The dry one had your ancestors in it, the wet one was where you went to be tested. The wet one had rivers of blood, and of hot water and you had to pass the tests to get through to the dry underworld beyond. 

Some people got a free pass straight to the dry underworld though. See if you can spot the politics here:
Rulers/Nobles/the people who made the underworld rules
Soldiers who died in battle (win or lose)
Women who died in childbirth
Any human sacrifice

The unfairness in society wasn't just confined to the afterlife though. Slaves too were randomly chosen. You were a slave if:
You were born from slaves
You were an orphan (i.e. disconnected from your ancestors)
Captured in battle 
A condemned criminal

The tour guides here certainly know their stuff. 

Our guide for the day was rather fat, wrote a bright red jacket and red cap, and short of a moustache had of the air and demeanour of Nintendo's cartoon plumber Mario. I couldn't help laughing when he mentioned A Priness called Peche, talked about stone platforms, told us about how the Maya ate mushrooms, or showed us the stone effigy of an evil God that looked like Bowser. "Let's Go!"

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Day 9: Chichén Itzá: Pyramids, Temples, and “Disneyland Mexico”...

Up at the crack of dawn to beat the day-trippers we sneaked in the back way to visit the world famous Chichén Itzá site.

Chichén Itzá is an ancient Mayan city with an impressive array of restored pyramids, temples, and ball courts. It’s considered one of the current Seven Wonders of the World.

The name Chichén Itzá is a Mayan word: CHI (mouth) CHEN (well) and ITZA (of the witch water). Some say this is because people were often thrown into the nearby cenote (sinkhole) as sacrifices, and those who survived were believed to be seers. The site is divided into three sections. The northern group of structures is distinctly Toltec in style. The central group appears to be from the early period. The southern group is known as 'The Old Chichén'.

Impressive though the main pyramid is, we were more staggered by the largest ball court in Mesoamerica, measuring 168 metres in length and 70 metres in width. This is where Mayan men played a game called pok ta pok. Anthropologists believe that the object of the game was to hurl a ball through a ring that was mounted on a wall, seven metres above the ground. Each team had six field players who would attempt to pass the ball - using any body part except their hands - to their captain who would attempt the shot using a racket of sorts. Some believe that the captain of the team that made the first successful shot was then decapitated as a sacrifice to the gods. This was seen as an honour and guaranteed entrance to heaven. 

We also got to see the afore mentioned sinkhole (Cenote Sagrado) that measures 60 metres in diameter. All sorts of treasures have been found here including rings, necklaces, gold and jade objects, as well as the bones of young women who were thrown into the water as an offering to Chaac, the Mayan rain god.

And why “Disneyland Mexico”? Well, the previous evening we had visited the same site to watch a sound and light show. Each ancient monument was either lit up by brightly coloured LED lights or was projected with a hi-def video. This was accompanied with a deafening soundtrack.  Guilding the lily perhaps?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Day 8: Mayan Riviera to Chichen Itza: Get Your Coati, Dancing at the Hacienda...

We planned to have a lie-in this morning but was woken up by something moving in the gloom of the room. I fumbled for my glasses but when I made a move it darted - fast. It really made me jump. It was furry, dark brown and about two foot long with a long tail. It scaled the wall of the room with the fruit from our basket and stolen sugar sachets in its mouth (it left the Splenda though - don't blame it). It then took one look back at me with black glistening eyes and then scurried out through the gap between the top of the wall and the thatched roof.

Later on we discovered it was a coati (a sort of raccoon). Apparently it likes to nick stuff from the rooms. 

(Stuart sympathized, he does the same with the toiletries!) 

After checking out of our hotel we drove up to Chichen Itza to spend the night in a Hacienda. 

The place was rather grand, old style colonial, and pretty stuffy. 

But lucky us we'd been upgraded to a bigger honeymoon suite! So once the door was closed we had a little dance. Only to discover two gardeners were watching us through the back window. Oops.

Day 7: Mayan Riviera: Downtime...

We did very little today. For us.

Cycle ride through the local jungle (the mosquitoes loved us!), tried (and failed) to snorkel off the reef, lazed around on the beach, and then watched the local wildlife guys release 200 baby green sea turtles back into the wild at sunset.

Back on the tourist trail tomorrow. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Day 6: Merida to Mayan Riviera: Yellow, Deep, and White...

We were collected early from our Merida hotel by the ever-charming Pablo who drove us for the best part of six hours from the wonderful yellow city of Izamal, through to the deep watery sinkholes of Dzitnup Cenote, on to the white sandy beaches of the Mayan Riviera. Quite a daytrip.

Izamal is one of the oldest cities in the Yucatán region. Called the City of Hills (spoiler alert: the hills are actually deserted Mayan temples) Izamal is located right in the middle of the Mexican peninsula. The place was conquered by the Spaniards, and the monks in their eagerness to convert the Indians to Catholicism gave the city its religious distinction. To this day, Izamal's people are obsessively devoted to the Immaculate Virgin - hey, they even have a big wooden doll of her that they dress up each year in fresh clothes. Not weird!

In ancient times, Izamal was a place for the worship of the Maya God Itzamna, and the sun god, Kinich-Kakmo. A dozen temple pyramids were devoted to these gods (see the previously mentioned hills). These bold expressions of religiosity may be the reason behind the Spanish conquistadors choosing Izamal as the site for the enormous Franciscan monastery - The Convento de San Antonio de Padua - which still stands at the heart of the town on top of the main Mayan temple they found there. 

The place is now nicknamed 'La Ciudad Amarilla' (the yellow city) since this is the hue of the majority of the buildings.

After Izamal we headed on to the beautiful Dzitnup Cenote, where you went swimming in a cenote, a natural subterranian sinkhole created from collapsed limestone rock. The place was a bit scary to be honest. Dark, deep underground, full of blind fish, and of unknown depth. But great fun. Hey, I even came across some Mayas(!)

After spending some time there we drove to our beach hotel on the Mayan Riviera. It was a great find. Beautiful white sand and lovely sparkling clear turquoise waters. We might stay here a bit!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Day 5: Merida: Kabah, Uxmal, and Cacao...

Today we explored some of the temples dedicated to the Mayan Rain God, Chaac (he's big round these parts as it doesn't rain often - or so they say), climbed up some Mayan pyramids (even more impressive than the Aztec ones in central Mexico), and sampled some freshly made chocolate. Oh and drank beer too. More of that later. 

Our guide Pablo collected us at 8am sharp and after showing us the local graveyard (for reasons best known to himself - we didn't like to ask) whisked us two hours into the countryside for our first stop - the ruins of Kabah. Kabah is situated to the South of Merida and is "a monumental example of the Puuc style architecture in which each stone element is part of a total, linking men with its universe" (or so Pablo told us). Looked like just a load of rubble to us to be honest. But we could definitely make out the shape of the Mayan River God, the previously mentioned Chaac, in what was left of the temple wall when he showed it to us. We even nodded sagely when we recognised Chaac again on another pile of rubble. But wait. Then it started to make sense. Chaac was everywhere. It wasn't ‘just rubble’ at all. With his huge eyes, elephantine nose, massive jaws and funny ears Chaac was in every pile of rocks. The temple was originally one statue of Chaac mounted upon another reaching up to the sky. It was Chaac on Chaac on Chaac. Only the temple had been plundered by the Spanish and the European archeologists that followed them so that the multilayered Chaac temple was now in ruins. This rain god temple at Kabah had collapsed as the important bits of each Chaac layer had been stolen. These were relics not rubble at all. We were looking at a monument to 2000 years of Mayan civilisation. Destroyed. We were getting the hang of this.

Next up was the delightful ancient city of Uxmal. Unlike Kabah, Uxmal had been restored after the Spanish had 'visited'. And Uxmal was simply amazing. Set in rich green fertile land it provided the perfect setting for some of the most magnificent ancient pyramids, buildings and temples of the ancient world. Uxmal was an important city too; probably built around 700 AD, although inhabitants are thought to have lived in the area as far back as 800 BC - nearly 1,000 years before the city was built. It is a mystery as to why a settlement was ever made here: there are no rivers or local sources of water, and no evidence that they once existed. One of the features of Uxmal are the Mayan chultunes - or cisterns - which held water for the population to live from. Chaac features prominently in much of the architecture's carvings here too - no doubt an important source of water for these people. 

The restored buildings of Uxmal include the curved Piramide del Adivino (Magician's Pyramid) which stands majestically above the other buildings, the Nun's quadrant, the Turtle temple, and the pyramid Cuadrangulo de las Monjas which when we climbed up its central steps offered up spectacular views of the complex. The whole place was breathtaking. Hey, they even had a Quiddich Court. Look it up!

On the way back into town we visited the Cacao-Eco Museum to see how chocolate was made (spoiler alert: slowly), watched a rather smoke-filled Mayan rain ceremony praying to our old friend senor Chaac again, and stopped off for some rather lovely Mexican lunch at a traditional hacienda.

The heavens opened when we finally got home (hey, that earlier rain ceremony must have worked!) so we dived into a local bar to share a few local beers with some of the local barflies. A nice end to an enlightening day. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Day 4: Merida: Hot, hot, hot! ...

We departed Mexico City and headed to the airport (which was modern, efficient and welcoming) for our trip to the Mayan Reiiera and the ancient city of Merida.

The flight was a little bumpy (a small leftover hurricane maybe) but as we disembarked from the plane the heat hit us, Pow! Right in the kisser (as Peter Griffin might say). 33 degrees in the shade. Roasting hot in the sun. 

Our guide Pablo was there to greet us and as the sweat poured down our faces he explained that we had a day to explore and acclimatise to the city before our touring started properly. And talking one look at our pale skin said we'd probably need buckets of sunscreen, big hats, and plenty of water. 

Our Hotel Hacienda Merida was beautiful and cool with a pool to boot.

Once settled we wandered through bright painted houses and the dusty streets towards the city centre where we picked a traditional Mexican restaurant to dine. Weird and delicious we noshed our way through the feast trying to avoid the hottest of the hot chillies.

We then headed back to our hotel to swim and relax.

A calm day before the adventures (and heat!) to come.