Quote Of The Day

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

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Music/with/Changing/Parts @ Barbican Hall...

Last night Paul and I went to see/watch/hear/listen to the Philip Glass Ensemble perform/play/sing/recreate the magnificent Music with Changing Parts at the Barbican Hall in London's glitzy Barbican Centre.

Sadly the ensemble were without the great man himself due to illness, yet the night was as thrilling/exciting/mesmerising/hypnotic as we had both hoped.

Music with Changing Parts consists of one/two/three/four musical parts each related/combined/blended/morphed into ninety minutes of aural delight.

Although the four pieces are performed as a continuous whole/joined/combined/piece, each has its own flavour/section/area/variety.

Joining the ensemble on stage was musical director Michael Riesman/the London Contemporary Orchestra/30-strong children's choir/choral conductor Valerie Saint-Agathe.

The night was simply magical. Four kinds of magical. Magical/fascinating/enthralling/spellbinding.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Women? What women?! It would be funny if it wasn't so insidious.

This Iranian music streaming site Melovaz https://melovaz.net/ has genuinely removed women (and some men) from their album covers in a bizarre attempt of censorship. I've seen some weird examples of sexist censorship before but this is bloody ridiculous. It would be funny if it wasn't so insidious.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Dina Martina - Forgotten But Not Gone! @ Soho Theatre...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see American drag artiste Dina Martina perform downstairs at the Soho Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Joanna, Stuart and I had seen Dina perform at Provincetown Pride earlier in the year and the show was an expanded version of that.

Dina Martina's shows are a mash-up of live singing (off-colour and off-key), outrageous costumes, and hilarious video montages. It's a very knowing, high camp drag show and very funny. The show was called Forgotten But Not Gone! and featured a lot of British songs - not least West End Girls and Life in a Northern Town.

I'm sure the Pet Shop Boys and The Dream Academy would both laugh at their songs being lovingly murdered by an overweight drag queen with a quick wit and sparkle in her eye. My sides were literally aching from laughing.

Other comedic reinterpretations were Mungo Jerry's In The Summertime (as an attack on American over-consumption on Independence Day) and that classic Fever (re-worded as an attack on the anti-vax lobby). We were also treated to extended stories about earthquake clowns (!) and Dina's US presidential election launch video.

The show ended with a mass singalong to Fleetwood Mac's Take the Long Way Home. Yes, more Brits!

Very funny.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Falsettos @ The Other Place...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see the musical Falsettos at The Other Place in London's glitzy Victoria.

Set in 1979 New York City (and the years shortly afterwards) the story is told in two acts; March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland.

In act one Marvin (Daniel Boys) has left his wife Trina (Laura Pitt-Pulford) for another man, Whizzer (Oliver Savile). Into the mix we have their ten-year-old Jason (James Williams), their family psychiatrist Mendel (Joel Montague replacing Matt Cardle), and lesbian neighbours Cordelia (Natasha J Barnes) and Charlotte (Gemma Knight-Jones).

From the opening number "Four Jews In A Room Bitching" we knew we were in for a fun night.

The night continued with many a comedic song - notably Trina's "I'm Breaking Down" - and Marvin's touching lament to his son "Father to Son", and Mendel excellent "Everyone Hates His Parents".

During act two the plot moves from domestic squabbles to tragedy when Charlotte, a doctor, becomes aware that young gay men in the city arrive at the hospital sick with a mysterious illness that no one understands ("Something Bad is Happening").

Rumours are spreading, but the disease is spreading faster - then Whizzer collapses suddenly during a game of squash...

Much to Jason's distress, Whizzer's illness becomes more serious. Despite the former offering to get Bar Mitzvahed if Whizzer gets better ("Another Miracle of Judaism") the latter resolves to face death with dignity and courage ("You Gotta Die Sometime").

A great show that had many people around us cheering and sobbing in equal measure.

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Antipodes @ Dorfman Theatre...

Last night Stuart and I went to see The Antipodes at the Dorfman Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

This latest work by Annie Baker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Flick," is "a play about people telling stories about telling stories," featuring a stellar cast of Fisayo Akinade, Matt Bardock, Arthur Darvill, Imogen Doel, Hadley Fraser, Conleth Hill, Sinéad Matthews, Stuart McQuarrie, and Bill Milner.

The actors are sitting around a table in a writers' room participating in a series of creative brainstorming sessions for an unspecified project. Judging from the boss’s opening admonition that there be "no dwarves or elves or trolls," this involves the fantasy genre. They start by switching their phones switched off, and telling, categorising and theorising various stories.

Their stories are about their lives, such as describing their first sexual experiences, the worst thing that ever happened to them and their deepest regret. The ensuing anecdotes related are often deeply personal and sometimes painful to listen to, such as a graphic account of the physical effects of a sexually transmitted disease.

However the play itself doesn't have a story - or much of one - and although there is much to admire in the acting and in the deliberately ambiguous effort, it is often bemusing or, worse, frustrating.

Sure, the play features many dark comedic touches, such as a video conference call with an unspecified but clearly important figure that is hampered by garbled transmissions and for which the team dons silly-looking virtual reality-type shades. There are also foreboding elements, such as the boss's frequent references to personal crises at home and the group’s nervously awaiting an approaching violent storm. The proceedings become increasingly surreal and mystical, especially when a bare-chested note-taker dons an animal skin and conducts a mysterious ritual while the others are asleep.

That message comes through loud and clear in the play about story-telling, but the obliqueness eventually proves just too frustrating. Despite its amusingly pungent dialogue and the expert performances by the ensemble, The Antipodes, which runs nearly two hours without an intermission, ultimately feels as stifling as being trapped in a conference room during an interminable meeting.

As always, Baker's writing proves provocative and insightful. But she seems to be straining too hard here for a significance that feels unearned. This play about storytelling might have benefited from having an actual story. Or at least some dwarves or elves or trolls.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Doctor Who vs. Politicians...

The lovely Sarah Dempster started a thread on Twitter of "awful politicians and their 1972-1981 Doctor Who counterparts". Here are some of my favourites - even if some stray into the modern Dr Who era a bit. Do check them all out.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Gun, The Ledger Building, The Grapes, and The Prospect of Whitby...

The weekend before last Stuart and I met up with Andy and Kev for a trip to The Gun down in Wapping for a posh Sunday roast lunch followed by a bit of a pub crawl (The Ledger Building, The Grapes, and The Prospect of Whitby).

Great company, great views of the Thames.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Crossness Engines (a.k.a. Cistern Chapel) @ Abbey Wood...

Last Sunday afternoon Stuart and I took a tour of one of the great engineering marvels of the 19th century, Joseph Bazalgette's pumping station at Crossness Sewage Works (now coyly rebranded as the Crossness Engines) near London's glitzy Abbey Wood.

Colourfully called the "Cistern Chapel" in its day the steam pumps emptied London's sewers of raw waste pumping it up to ground level and then into the river downstream of where most people lived at the time. This made the water somewhat cleaner upstream so helping to reduce the outbreaks of cholera in central London. It lessened the smell too. In reality it simply shifted the problem further downstream but it did save many lives at the time (with one huge, terrible exception - see 1878 in timeline below).

Fast forward 150 years and the now disused buildings and the pump engines have been lovingly restored and look spectacular. There is obviously still great pride in the feat of engineering to this day and the places was packed with people on Sunday to witness the running of the "Prince Consort" steam engine with its 47-ton beams and massive 52-ton flywheel.

If you get a chance to go, do. It doesn't smell (much!)

London's Sewage Timeline

Pre-1830 London's sewage runs into many local cesspits. They often overflow.

1831 First cholera outbreak in London. Over 6,500 die. Population of London approx. 1.5 million.

1948 Cholera strikes London again. This time over 14,000 die. The law then changed to say cesspits had to be connect to sewage drains rather than just overflow into the streets. The drains flowed straight into local rivers or directly into the Thames.

1953 3rd major cholera outbreak killed over 10,500.

1958 The Great Stink lead to Parliament giving Joseph Bazalgette the go ahead with his intercepting sewage system connecting all the London drains together. The network would then funnel the sewage using gravity underground down-river to Abbey Wood. There it was to be pumped up to the surface and sluiced into the river Thames as the tide went out.

1865 Work on the southern side of the Thames is completed, the site at Crossness consisting of the beam engine house, boiler house, workshops, 208ft chimney and 25 million gallon covered reservoir begin to work. The reservoir was designed to hold the sewage until the tide was going out.

1868 The North side of the Thames was completed at Abbey Mills.

1878 The ship Princess Alice sank near Abbey Mills just as 75 million gallons (340,000 m3) of London's raw sewage had just been released. The sewage in the water contributed to some of the 650 lives lost as many died not from drowning but from poisoning some days later by the sewage even after having been rescued from the river.

1888 Dumping of raw sewage directly into the river ceases and sludge vessels now take it out to sea. Population of London now approx. 3.8 million.

1999: The dumping of sewage at sea finally ends on 31st December 1999. It is instead filtered, dried and often burnt.

Monday, October 21, 2019

[BLANK] @ Donmar Warehouse...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see the compelling, provocative play [BLANK] at the Donmar Warehouse in London's glitzy West End.

An adult daughter breaks into her mother's home to steal money for drugs. A pair of children haughtily divide their shared foster home room in two. A sex worker stands in the snow, waiting until she's made enough money to call it a night. A prisoner goes into labour in her prison cell. A woman in prison calmly explains to her sister how she intends to commit suicide. Another woman screams at a hospice unable to house her and her children to escape a brutal partner.

These are a selection of scenes from the twenty or so that make up Maria Aberg's production of Alice Birch's [BLANK], which are in turn chosen from the hundred that comprise Birch's full script.

The director can choose any number of scenes to be performed, in any order, by actors who can play characters of any gender and name. Happily, Aberg's company nail each and every scene. The action, at first disjointed, soon unspools to create a well-paced, transfixing evening. Recurring themes and characters lend the narrative a sense of cohesion, despite the play's initial fragmentary quality.

The all-female production marks 40 years of the theatre company Clean Break, which works with women who've been affected by the criminal justice system. As expected, a lot of the subject matter is sad – but it's backlit by Birch's pitch black humour. There are laughs in the sadness. For example, one scallywag explains how to "barely" have sex with someone ("You just lean back a bit"). Later, a child loftily informs her new roommate that if she thinks her carrier-bagged possessions are depressing, "You must not be familiar with famine and war and the current situation in Syria."

Birch offers uncomfortably realistic snapshots of both personal and political tensions. One particularly close to the bone scene is a brilliant, 45-minute depiction of a middle-class dinner party. Guests snort cocaine - treating their dealer as one of the family, rave about the labneh, and pay scant lip-service to the Me Too movement. That's until an outsider lambasts their "bleeding heart bubble of hypocrisy" – surely in part a dig at liberal elite-heavy theatre audience.

We, as audience members, are made acutely aware of our own complicity.

Indeed, some of the play's finest moments come when it skewers how society is so dysfunctional in scrutinising its problems, it treats violence against women as entertainment – such as a scene where a film maker lusts after "a fucking sausage sandwich" while reporting on a woman being murdered by her partner.

Designer Rosie Elnile makes good use of the Donmar's space, with scenes playing out in cell-like boxes stacked on top of one another. Meanwhile, the 16-strong cast deftly switch from one role to the next, with Sophia Brown giving a moving portrayal of mental illness behind bars, Ashna Rabheru offering a funny, poignant turn as an ill-fated Deliveroo cyclist, Kate O'Flynn a stupendous drunk lawyer, and Jemima Rooper and Jackie Clune both pitch-perfect genius in every role.

Inevitably, some scenes are better than others, which means the play feels patchy in places, particularly at the start. Nevertheless, this is a rich, devastating production that offers both a fine-grained portrayal of human relationships and a timely reminder of the cruel impact of incarceration on women.

A few of the scenes had us in tears - tears of sadness and tears of admiration for the top-notch acting.


Friday, October 18, 2019

An Evening with Armistead Maupin @ Queen Elizabeth Hall...

Last night Stuart and I went to spend an evening in the company of the bestselling, much-loved author and LGBT activist, Armistead Maupin at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's glitzy South Bank.

The author of San Francisco-based Tales of the City was in conversation with Neil Gaiman as part of London Literature Festival.

Maupin has been blazing a trail through popular culture since his iconic and ground-breaking series was first published as an 800-word daily column in the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1970s. The novel series has been taking the literary world by storm ever since. Tales of the City was followed by More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City, Babycakes, Significant Others, Sure of You, Michael Tolliver Lives, Mary Ann in Autumn and The Days of Anna Madrigal.

And then there were the TV mini-series too - the most recent of which was the much-anticipated Netflix one, starring Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis and Ellen Page. That one got more mixed reviews than the others though - but Maupin said he loved it.

Now aged 75 and married to photographer Christopher Turner, he has left San Francisco and moved to Clapham: "My husband and I just wanted to experience London with a greater intensity and England as well. Both of us had spent time here before. I have some relatives and old friends here. It wasn't a rejection of San Francisco it was just embracing a new adventure."

In the first half of the evening America’s ultimate storyteller, recounted some of his favourite tales from the past four decades, offering his own engaging observations on society and the world we inhabit.

Anecdotes included his deep conservative past, his LGBT activities, meeting Richard Nixon (with the odd "cock-sucker" expression inserted "to made the auditorium's sub-title person work for their money"), his first sexual experience in Battery park, and how a very special member of his logical family (the aforementioned Laura Linney) named her daughter 'Armistead' "which was nice - it's usually a name only given to lesbians' dogs!"

A minor quibble might be that Neil Gaiman's questions were at times a little indistinct and he ended up answering them himself. But that aside - and especially in the second half of the evening - when Maupin read from his autobiography and answered questions tabled from the room - he shone.

Q: "Which of your characters would you have sex with?"
A: "The actor who played Ned Lockwood (Ted Whittall) in Further Tales of the City. Sorry cheat answer but he was hot and hung!"

Q: "Which of your characters are you most like?"
A: "I wanted to be like Michael. I say I'm most like DeDe. But people tell me it's Mary-Ann!"

Q: "What advice would you give upcoming artists?"
A: "Write your truth. Write because you have to. Don't think you'll make any money!"

Maupin also gave us the heads up on a new tenth volume 'Mona of the Manor' set in the 1980s coming soon. "I am starting on a new novel, which is actually a Tales of the City novel, that goes back in time to a period that I didn’t cover before when Mona Ramsey, Mrs Madrigal’s daughter, inherits a manor house in the Costwolds from her husband whom she married to get him a Green Card so he could go to the States and be gay.
"I left her there and I never told what happened and I thought ‘oh, I would love to write about that’. I have never told the story of Mona and her aboriginal teenage son and how she fits in that village and what it is alike to live in the era of Margaret Thatcher when you are a proud American lesbian. So there’s some stuff that I can chew on there."

If you can catch the tour. Do.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Bletchley Park...

A couple of months ago Stuart and I paid a visit to secret wartime, code-breaking powerhouse Bletchley Park near glitzy Milton Keynes.

Expecting to spend just an hour or two looking around the place, we ended up taking over 7 hours and still didn't see everything. We did a grand tour, had high tea in the house, and tried to watch and read everything there was to see. It was fascinating.

The place took us gently through the gathering, decrypting, analysis and cataloguing of the vast amount of military data they were collecting. They collected and deciphered German, Italian, Soviet and Japanese signals providing valuable insights into troop movements, air attacks, and the location of vessels and submarines at sea.

The highly encrypted enemy signals used Enigma and the even more complicated Lorentz SZ42, which the Bletchley Park boffins eventually managed to crack using brute force and cunning. The brute force part was helped by machines such as the bombe (pioneered by Alan Turing) and the Colossus - the world's first programmable digital electronic computer.

At one point, 9000 people worked there - 70% of who were single women between the ages of 22 and 23 years old. And at its peak Bletchley Park were reading 4000 messages a day.

The grounds consist of a number of "huts" - large wooden structures where the intelligence work went on - and "blocks" - larger brick structures. The name of the hut often followed the group even when they moved into the blocks.

Fun Fact: Olivier Newton-John's dad (Brinley Newton-John) worked there.

If you get a chance to go, do. It's fab.

Hut 1: The first hut, built in 1939 used to house the Wireless Station for a short time, later administrative functions such as transport, typing, and Bombe maintenance. The first Bombe, "Victory", was initially housed here.
Hut 2: A recreational hut for "beer, tea, and relaxation".
Hut 3: Intelligence: translation and analysis of Army and Air Force decrypts
Hut 4: Naval intelligence: analysis of Naval Enigma and Hagelin decrypts
Hut 5: Military intelligence including Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese ciphers and German police codes.
Hut 6: Cryptanalysis of Army and Air Force Enigma
Hut 7: Cryptanalysis of Japanese naval codes and intelligence.
Hut 8: Cryptanalysis of Naval Enigma.
Hut 9: ISOS (Intelligence Section Oliver Strachey).
Hut 10: Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6) codes, Air and Meteorological sections.
Hut 11: Bombe building.
Hut 14: Communications centre.
Hut 15: SIXTA (Signals Intelligence and Traffic Analysis).
Hut 16: ISK (Intelligence Service Knox) Abwehr ciphers.
Hut 18: ISOS (Intelligence Section Oliver Strachey).
Hut 23: Primarily used to house the engineering department. After February 1943, Hut 3 was renamed Hut 23.

Block A: Naval Intelligence.
Block B: Italian Air and Naval, and Japanese code breaking.
Block C: Stored the substantial punch-card index.
Block D: Enigma work, extending that in huts 3, 6, and 8.
Block E: Incoming and outgoing Radio Transmission and TypeX.
Block F: Included the Newmanry and Testery, and Japanese Military Air Section. It has since been demolished.
Block G: Traffic analysis and deception operations.
Block H: Tunny and Colossus (now The National Museum of Computing).