Quote Of The Day

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

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Monday, April 29, 2019

Friday, April 26, 2019

All My Sons...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Jeremy Herrin's rich revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons at the Old Vic Theatre in London's glitzy Waterloo.

It's not hard to see why Arthur Miller – he of a Shakespeare-rivalling five London revivals this year – remains such an enticing prospect, even beyond the obvious ticket-shifting name recognition. His plays have both an A Level-friendly degree of studiable symbolism that can be teased out by directors, and a narrative and character richness that speaks for itself. More importantly, Miller is a writer for morally, financially and existentially uncertain times, and though that is arguably applicable to any period, those traits make him especially appealing in 2019.

Set a few years after World War Two, All My Sons sees the Kellers – father Joe (Bill Pullman), mother Kate (Sally Field) and son Chris (Colin Morgan) – awaiting the arrival of their old neighbour Ann Deever (Jenna Coleman), the childhood sweetheart of their AWOL pilot son Larry.

It's set to be a potentially awkward reunion. Ann's father, the former business partner of the exonerated Joe, is in prison for fatally supplying cracked cylinder heads to the US Air Force, while Chris is preparing to propose despite the protests of his mother, who still believes Larry will one day return from the war. As afternoon turns into evening, the sickly swirl of conflict, capitalism and community is poked and prodded; pragmatism and idealism butt heads; and the delusions preserved by the family are gradually stripped away one by one.

Though director Jeremy Herrin and set designer Max Jones do a lot to create an incredibly intimate atmosphere in the not insignificant surroundings, this production exists to showcase its performers. Homegrown TV talent Coleman and Morgan hold their own against their Hollywood co-stars; the former has the mixture of anxiety and awe that strikes when returning to a place long left behind, while the latter perfectly captures the shaky-voiced, painful pose of a boy confronting a father he loves, body and soul.

As Joe, Independence Day president Pullman oozes classic dad vibes, a solid, slightly goofy, seemingly good-hearted guy with a genuine rapport with his son. Yet there's also a shiftiness to his eyes and posture, a try-hard righteousness to his boasts; he can be hammy, at times, but when a man of his size shrinks late in the second half, Pullman is remarkable.

And Sally Field. My god. She barely seems to be acting, so wholeheartedly does she embody Kate Keller. Just watch her when she isn't the focus. Initially she comes across as naïve and desperately frail, placed in a bubble by her unrealised grief over Larry's disappearance. But she is also frank and shrewd, urging Joe to be smart when things start to go south, clearly not without her part in the sole imprisonment of Ann's father. It's emblematic of a pick-and-choose approach to living in the world – what we do and don't allow ourselves to ignore – of which we are all guilty.

Miller at his best.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Market Boy - "1980s: racism, sexism, ladism, marketism, Thatcherism... It was riot of colour and noise and humour and banter. Everything is up for sale, cash talks, and the deal rules."

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see a revival of David Eldridge's fantastic play Market Boy at the Union Theatre in London's glitzy Southwark.

Full disclosure: Dave is a mate of ours. But please don't think I'm biased - I piss off mates all the time with truthful reviews (just watch out for faint praise like "lovely lighting!") 

But fear not, dear reader, this play was a corker.

The action follows our hero "Boy" as he joins Romford Market in the 1980s and his slow rise up the ranks. The dialogue is coarse, sharp, and very funny. Most of the street marketers’ attitude is, as it was at the time, grossly politically incorrect. So politically incorrect in fact that everyone seems to worship Thatcher (who even makes an appearance or two). Like Maggie's Farm, the market is king.

Con artists, piss artists, animated characters, well-drawn caricatures, dodgy stereos, equally dodgy stereotypes, proper 'units', duckers and divers, fast talkers, and slow burners. 1980s: racism, sexism, ladism, marketism, Thatcherism... it was riot of colour and noise and humour and banter. Everything is up for sale, cash talks, and the deal rules.

The Union Theatre is a small venue and what with 20 actors on stage the chaotic atmosphere of a packed Romford Market was well realised. There is excellent use of 1980s music and tremendous energy from the ensemble cast simply propels the show forward. We left beaming ear to ear.

Oh, and lovely lighting! Ha, ha. Joke! (Sorry Dave!)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A well-bred person...

A well-bred person appears in print on only three occasions: birth, marriage, and death.
"Yes, darling, but I'm not that well-bred."

Monday, April 22, 2019

Highbury Corner Roundabout RIP...

Today really is finally the last day of the Highbury Corner roundabout. Do your last ever full circuits now. Happy Easter everyone.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

"Web browsing preference"...

Poor Tory MP Gavin Barwell. He thought he’d struck gold when he asked why a Labour Party’s press release online had an advert saying "Date Arab Girls", but his jibe soon backfired, when the party press office pointed him in the direction of Google Adsense Help. The ad depends on your own web browsing preferences. Opps.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A German Life "…it is a life Smith brought so beautifully alive. Go see." Bridge Theatre @_bridgetheatre

Last night Stuart and I went to see Dame Maggie Smith star in Christopher Hampton’s one-person play A German Life at the Bridge Theatre in London's glitzy London Bridge Quarter.

This new solo show marks Smith’s first stage role in 12 years. Moreover, it is a corker.

A German Life started its own life as a filmed documentary. In 2016 directors Olaf S. Müller, Roland Schrotthofer, Florian Weigensamer, and Christian Krönes took it upon themselves to film controversial figure Brunhilde Pomsel, then aged 105, a year before her death.

Brunhilde described her occupation in that film as, "stenographer and typist, secretary, and broadcaster." But, she was more than that. Very much more.

"I was just a side-line figure and not at all interested in politics."

Maybe true, but she nevertheless got closer to one of the worst criminals in world history than anyone else then alive. For Pomsel used to work as a secretary, stenographer, and typist for the Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.

Maggie Smith's performance, Christopher Hampton’s play, and Jonathan Kent's production are all sublime. For each draws you in. Quite literally in the case of the production. As Dame Maggie sits at her table, a pair of glasses in hand, both she and they creep imperceptibly towards the front of the stage. It’s a clever trick.

Smith gives a masterclass throughout on how memory alludes us.  Her performance seems forced at first; it is as if she is struggling to remember her lines. But no, it is her character that is struggling. Struggling to remember the big things. The major, terrible acts carried out in the 1930s, and 40s. The little things seem to come back more clearly though; her clothes, her shoes, her Jewish friend Ava…

Born in Berlin in 1911, we hear of a difficult childhood, an abuse father, and a clutch of younger brothers. Pomsel was bright though and initially worked as a stenographer for a Jewish lawyer and as a typist for a rightist nationalist. She gleefully admitted, "I worked for a Jew in the mornings and a Nazi in the afternoons!"

In 1933, she gained a job as a secretary in the news department of the Third Reich's broadcasting station after joining the Nazi Party. On the recommendation of a friend, she was transferred to the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in 1942, where she worked under Joseph Goebbels as a shorthand writer until the end of the war.

Pomsel's tasks included "massaging downwards statistics about fallen soldiers, as well as exaggerating the number of rapes of German women by the Red Army". She seemed almost proud of the fact.

After the fall of Berlin in 1945, Pomsel was imprisoned by the Soviet NKVD until 1950 in three different concentration camps, Buchenwald, Hohenschönhausen and Sachsenhausen. She then returned to work for the state broadcaster.

"I know no one ever believes us nowadays – everyone thinks we knew everything," she said of the Nazis’ regime. "We knew nothing, it was all kept well secret." And we so want to believe her. But we don't.

Smith is on top form. We learn to admire Pomsel if not actually like her. But as we learn of her defiance at refusing to feel any guilt over the Holocaust we find her both appalling and galling.

"Why should I feel guilty?” she states matter-of-factly, “Germany was such a happy place. We didn't know what was going on. Would you have behaved any differently in my place?"

And that of course is the nub of the play. The thing that brings us right up to date. Are we ignoring terrible things being done in our name today? Do we listen to the rhetoric, hear the hot air, and believe at least some part of the lies we are all being fed? Does some part of us fear the ‘different’, the 'other', the 'vermin', and the 'sub-human'.

It is a sobering thought to think that we could all so easily be "Pomsel."

Shortly before her death, Pomsel revealed that she had been in love with a man named Gottfried Kirchbach, who had a Jewish mother. They planned to leave Germany together. In 1936 Kirchbach escaped to Amsterdam to arrange a new life. Pomsel visited him regularly until he told her she was endangering her life by doing so. She aborted their child after a doctor advised her the pregnancy might kill her because she had a serious lung complaint. It is a bitter coda to a fascinating life.

And it is a life Smith brought so beautifully alive. Go see.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame - Hellfire - My favourite Disney song has taken on a new meaning as I watched Notre Dame burn last night...

My favourite Disney song has taken on a new meaning as I watched Notre Dame burn last night.

I hope the cathedral survives (and the musical gets a London production too!)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Safe Spaces...


"Your attention, please. The building is currently in lock-down. Please go immediately to your safe spaces. Do not attempt to leave the building at this time"

We have safe spaces?! #ExtinctionRebellion

Friday, April 12, 2019

Highbury Corner Roundabout RIP...

From next Friday Highbury Corner is no more. Well, it will be back to being a corner again. Highbury Corner *roundabout* is no more.

In one of Islington’s most important ever road revamps, much of the area outside Highbury and Islington station is being pedestrianised and turned into a public space.

The intimidating 1960s roundabout will been removed and replaced with two-way roads, with the installation of segregated cycle lanes on all three remaining sides of the roundabout. Cyclists make up a quarter of the Corner’s traffic during rush hour. The bottom of Corsica Street has also been closed to traffic and pedestrianised.

With more segregated cycle lanes across the junction and wider pedestrian crossings the changes will make cycling and travelling on foot easier and safer for everyone using this busy area every day. With more green space also open to the public, the changes will truly improve quality of life for everyone living and working around Highbury Corner.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Sweet Charity at Donmar Warehouse...

Last night Stuart and I went to see the wonderful musical Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse theatre in London’s glitzy West End.

The original 1966 Broadway show with book my Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields was conceived as a Bob Fosse vehicle. A very good vehicle it was too. After being a smash hit it transferred to the West End where is similarly wowed the UK crowds. And the film three years later was simply iconic. Bright, brash, and vulnerable Shirley MacLaine’s Sweet Charity probably goes down as one of Hollywood's best on-screen song and dance performances.

So here we are in 2019. Would a story of girls dreaming of boys and selling their time for money cut the mustard in the #MeToo world?

Before I answer that question let me just mention the outgoing director of the piece, Josie Rourke. It has been an amazing run of form with Ms Rourke as Artistic Director at the Donmar. Stuart and I have really loved her productions at this little theatre over the last decade or more. The place has enjoyed big hit after big hit.

And this being her very last production here - and starring, as it does, top notch talent Annie-Marie Duff and Arthur Darvill - we had very high hopes for the show. And lucky for us, these were (mostly) met.

The songs, of course, are amazing; Big Spender, There’s Gotta be Something Better Than This, Rhythm of Life, I Love to Cry at Weddings, and If My Friends Could See Me Now are all classics.

Ms Duff is a very good actor but perhaps only a so-so singer and dancer though. Which is fine, of course, because the emotional punch of the piece needs to be convincing. And she had me in tears.

You see Charity is a dancer. A dancer for money. And any old dream will do.

However, with such great songs to perform you can’t hope but feel a better songbird would've suited the role somewhat better. Arthur Darville was a revelation however. He can hold a tune, has great comic timing, and can even shuffle about a bit too.

The production itself was fab. All silver and glitter, and white plastic balls. Cute little signs popped up describing the action and the ensemble were excellent.

The scene we were most looking forward to was Rhythm of Live, which was of course made famous in the film by Sammy Davis Junior. Here it didn’t quite deliver the punch we had hoped for though as I think the effect they were going for was luminous day-glo paint and ultraviolet light with the cast wearing black costumes. Unfortunately, the stage was a bit too well lit to see this special effect come off perfectly.

And then we come of the sexual politics of the show. And lets face facts - it's all rather sexist. It's about a bunch of women selling their bodies in a dance hall while dreaming of meeting a man to take them away from all this. Sure, the women are gutsy survivors but as one of them says, "this is less like dancing and more like self-defence to music."

Charity isn't a winner in the game of life and the only positive note is struck ate on as the show ends with an uplifting encore of There’s Gotta be Something Better Than This.

Quibbles aside though, we had a fabulous night. We laughed, we sang, we tapped our feet, and we clapped our hands. It was an exuberant performance by the whole cast and you can’t help but get carried along with such a fantastic score.

We saw an early preview performance, and I have a feeling it will bed in and soon the show will truly shine.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Only Connect Marathon. V. Good!

Our Only Connect marathon day with Stu, Darren, Vince! Booze, Victoria, and shouting at the telly! V good! V v good! V.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Van Gogh and Britain Exhibition at Tate Britain...

Last Saturday Stuart and I went to see The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain at Tate Britain in London’s glitzy Pimlico. 

The exhibition presents the largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings in the UK for nearly a decade. Some of his most famous works had be brought together from around the world – including Shoes, Starry Night on the Rhône, L'Arlésienne, and two works he made while a patient at the Saint-Paul Asylum, At Eternity’s Gate and Prisoners Exercising. They were joined by the very rarely lent Sunflowers from London’s National Gallery.  

Van Gogh lived in England as a young man for several crucial years. He walked the streets alone, dreaming of the future. He fell in love with British culture, especially the novels of Charles Dickens and George Eliot. And he was inspired by the art he saw here, including paintings by Constable and Millais which are featured in the exhibition. They affected his paintings throughout his career.  The exhibition also looks at the British artists who were inspired by Van Gogh, including Francis Bacon, David Bomberg, and the young Camden Town painters. It shows how his vision set British artists on the road to modern art.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Arsenal Training Ground - the low-down, the gossip, and a few factoids...

Over the summer I was lucky enough to visit the Arsenal Training Ground at London Colney. People are not nomrally allowed to take too many pictures or detailed notes when they visit London Colney but I asked nicely. They agreed I could share what I was told but asked that the information "not be spread too far or too wide". So keep it to yourself! (wink).

The guy who showed us round was the Training Centre Manager at London Colney and has worked at Arsenal FC for over 20 years. These are his comments, quips, and opinions during the tour:-

London Colney is a £70m facility and Arsene Wenger was the power behind it all.

Their mantra is "The Arsenal Way or highway".

The place uses mostly natural light wherever possible.

Unai Emery is a workaholic and often stays until 8pm9pm or 10pm. Wenger used to leave latest 6pm.

Sanchez was "a very difficult person". They are glad to see the back of him.

Mkhitaryan is (currently) the nicest player in the team.

Ray Palour was the club's favourite player. Everyone at the training ground loved him.

There is a communial dressing / changing room. The lockers have numbers next to them but no doors on them. All personal items are on display. No locks.

Pires and Henry didn’t sit by their right locker numbers - they had a little 'French corner' they sat in together talking in French until Wenger told them to stop.

Arsene would stop whilst walking through the communial changing area and if he spotted clothes lying on the floor or dirt on floor he would ask one of the players to pick it up.

The players had to fully strip off in the changing arear before going into large shower area. All the showers are also communial. No doors.

Players boots are all made to measure, specially weighted to taste. They are preconditioned, don’t need to be "walked in", cost £250 a pair, and last on average 4 months.

Leno has size really small feet. Size 6.

If a player gets injured they have routine to follow:
1. 20 min swim in the training facility pool
2. high impact training under careful monitoring
3. an ice bath
This cycle is repeated three times every day.

For serious cuts or bruises they must go into the cryogenic chamber for 3 mins. 
It is set at -130c. 
The shock of the cold closes any damaged tissue, minimises injury, and locks the blood vessels.
Players are now trained to play for 100 mins non-stop. Under Arsene Wenger's early tenure this used to be just 70 mins non-stop.

They practice over and over 40m runs (typical distance). 

Pace during the 2017/18 season was 40% faster than during the Invincibles season. 

There is a sand pit in the gym which is used to support training for ankle injuries. 

45 HD cameras in the Emirates Stadium film everything on the pitch. After any home game the film is converted into 3D within two days and shown to each player in Virtual Reality. So each player can relive game using goggles to recreate what they did (or didn't) do. 

They are filmed in the gym too. 3D analysis of movement doing cardio workout will tell you are they working out differently - better or worse. And even anticipate potential injuries and allow the trainers to intercede.

RVP was a lovely guy but over-trained during the week so couldn't always perform at weekends.

Patrick Viera was a terrible trainer but great player and could always perform at weekends.

Even 16 year olds are trained to last 90 mins on the pitch.

This is a complete change in last 5 years to the training schedule.

Schooling / Education:
AFC employ 6 full time tutors.
The boys are foster-monitored 3 days a week.
Schooled to a minimum A level standard. 
Foreign students learn English in 14 days.
Most take 2 coaching badges by the time they are 18yo.
Bendtner refused to follow this path of schooling and is now paying the price.

To prep for games the players have clips of themselves and their opposition sent to their devices. For example Nacho would have clips of opposition sent to his iPhone and iPad in advance of game on matchday to watch on the coach.

Scouts sit in video rooms at London Colney watching video feeds of games all day in other countries. To spot talent. e.g. even a Bolivian junior game. 

Under Emery there has been much more stats analysis than under Wenger.

858 players have played for AFC.

Respect is paramount. Arsenal values. If they don't care they are gone.

A large team of counsellors look after each player's player mental health. 

10-20 boys join every year. 50 boys here total.  Can sign at 8 yo.!

Emery is training team very hard. He has a plan, a strategy, will take two years to acheive results. 

Gallas was a good example of a player that did no training on his summer holiday. Had to work very hard to return to fitness. 

Rob Holding stays at training ground all day everyday. 

The training ground never closes.

When it openned there were 99 trainers and players. In 2018 there are 254 trainers and players.

There has been a £14m refurb of youth area that Per looks after. 

A computer programmer who worked on Candy Crush now works for Arsenal full time doing data analysis. 

Players go to the Emirates stadium the night before a home game, park their car, then all stay in hotel overnight. They are then driven to the stadium on matchday by coach. They then drive their own cars home after the game.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Arsenal 2 - 0 Newcastle...

Had a great time at Emirates Stadium on Monday night as a guest of Arsenal at their Arsenal for Everyone night. Met some great people, networked, great food, heated seat and blankets. Oh and we won - climbing to 3rd in the league.