Monday, 23 March 2015

I am angry! Poor 'mothers' of the world ...

This poor mother was so worried about her children that she had to switch on her phone at the climax of the play in the theatre tonight to see if there were any messages. I don't know why she felt the need to do it, maybe they were all in hospital dying of cancer or something, but she had to because she was a mother. Luckily there weren't any messages.  So why didn't she turn her fucking phone off straight away?

No, she left it on until I tapped her on her shoulder and whispered 'could you turn it off please' at which point she took her time switching it off.  No sense of urgency or sign of 'oh dear I shouldn't have done that'. At the climax of the play too, with the stage covered in blood and the last lines being said. One minute is all we needed to get to the end of one of the most intense plays I've seen in a long time.  No wonder we were intense at the end as well!

This is the poor mother - maybe she feels guilty for leaving her poor children at home (or in hospital) since she certainly showed no guilt for ruining the end of the play. Not a hint of an apology but the brass of 'I'm a mother and I'm allowed to check up on my children whenever I want'. 

After the clapping the couple of old grannies next to me (probably on a rare night out) tapped her shoulder and told her she'd ruined the play for them and that's where the passive-aggressive sob story came out about needing to check on her children.  If she'd said 'sorry, but …' then that would've been something and probably would've been the end of it but no, she went straight into justifications for her behaviour. One of her other excuses was that the people in front of her had switched on their phone too - I didn't notice that but where are we? The playground? One of the girls with her said it would've been more distracting if she'd stood up to walk out for messages.  You really felt the need to say that? Um, no it wouldn't actually, since she would've moved out of the way rather than sitting with the phone lit up like a Christmas Tree in her lap until I tapped her on the shoulder. Stupid people.

Take responsibility for your actions and don't be surprised when other people don't agree with you! 

Other people said well done for challenging this appalling behaviour and one couple waited at the end of the row to say that they'd had a woman eating from a box of maltesers behind them.  Why do theatres sell sweets that make a noise? Why don't ushers do their jobs anymore? This is clearly not acceptable but theatres do nothing. Why? Maybe theatres need a new announcement at the start of a play 'Please remember that you're not in your own living room - this is a shared experience and please treat your fellow audience members with the courtesy you'd expect for yourself.'

Why didn't Mr Delfont Mackintosh Theatres have a 'turn off your phone' message at the start of the play? Is it ok to get your phone out in their theatres? There were spaces in that play when you couldn't just hear a pin drop, you could hear people breathing. That's how tense it was. And then this selfish 'mother' turns on her phone….

When I got down to the front desk I really wanted to complain but I looked around and all I could see were young girls, all looking very junior and probably on their second jobs. That's a sweeping sexist and agist statement but I wanted to see an older authority figure (male or female, I'm not fussed) but there was no-one. What's the point of trying to explain my anger to a young woman who's just trying to earn her daily bread? So I didn't. 

And the really annoying thing is that the 'mother' probably thinks she's done nothing wrong and has been hard done by since other people weren't fully behind her role as a caring 'mother'.

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Great Solar Eclipse of 2015

Today was the big solar eclipse day which, for London, was meant to peak at 9:30am and we'd see 85% of an eclipse. The further north you went the greater the eclipse but I'm happy with 85% which would be suitably impressive for me. So up I get, not quite excited but looking forward to seeing the eclipse and I open the curtains…

The last solar eclipse I saw was in 1999 and it was in the afternoon of a weekday. I remember since a few of us left work and trooped into St James' Park to see it. I've also seen a lunar eclipse way back in February in, I think, 1992 in the night sky over Istanbul.

…Anyway, curtains pulled back and there was the greyest, cloud-infested sky you could hope to avoid on an eclipse day. O well, it might clear up just in time, I hoped. It was quite chilly this morning with breath clouding in the air and I saw the oddest formation of pidgeons on the Green beside the bus stop in the shape of an eclipsed sun, just a sliver showing so I took a photo. Maybe the pidgeons know something us mere humans don't?

Coming out of the tube at Pimlico at 9:30am and it was even gloomier and I noticed the street lights were still on. How odd. I was heading to a meeting on Horseferry Road so I walked along behind Tate Britain with a good view of the sky and, looking around, there was no sign of any gap in the cloud cover so I took a photo anyway with the mutant trees and Peabody housing blocks. That's the best I'll get, I thought, so wandered along to my meeting wondering at the temperature drop and the cold in the air.

Of course, by lunchtime, the clouds had gone and there's a lovely blue sky and warm sun. Typical, isn't it? 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Buffy Sainte-Marie - 'Power In The Blood'

Today Buffy Sainte-Marie announced the arrival of her new album and 'Power In The Blood' will be available on 12 May. It's available to pre-order and if you go to iTunes you can even download the first track, her new version of 'It's My Way' and it's definitely worth listening to it. It's as different from the original version 50 years ago as you could imagine. And what a fab album cover!

There are 12 songs on the new album, mainly new songs but a few re-recorded 'old' songs. The track-listing is:

It's My Way
Power In The Blood
We Are Circling
Not The Lovin' Kind
Love Charms
Ke Sakihitin Awasis
Farm In The Middle Of Nowhere
Sing Our Own Song
Uranium War
Carry It On

I'm hoping I'll hear some of these new songs and new versions when Buffy tours in March. She's playing on Morrissey's arena tour around the UK but will steal away for one evening to play a solo gig at the Tabernacle in London and I will (of course) be there. I've seen Buffy's previous band a few times but I'm looking forward to seeing this new band but with Michel Bruyere still on drums and, I hope, powwow dancing.

I am very much looking forward to this album. 'Running For The Drum' was an out-of-the-blue joy but this is the follow-up to that album in a way you can't really say 'Drum' was a follow-up to 1992's 'Coincidence & Likely Stories'. Buffy's been on the road gigging and spreading the work about 'Running For The Drum' almost ceaselessly since it was released (other than looking after her goats, of course) so this new album has been recorded against a very different background. The almost abrasive beauty of the new 'It's My Way' tells me this will be a very different record.

I am also delighted that Buffy has chosen to re-record 'Generation', a very special song for me. I first heard it on a TV show about Buffy in about 1976 and I've remembered the chorus ever since:

      And we'll sing goodbye stars of Hitler
      And goodbye bankers trust
      Aquarius is coming
      And your son is one of us
      And me I don't want to go to the Moon
      I'm gonna leave that Moon alone
      I just want to dance with the Rosebud Sioux this summer….

Maybe one day I will dance with the Rosebud Sioux…?

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Cold Bloody Cold and a Little Island

It's been one of those long damp winters that were really neither one thing nor another. Here we are, half way through March and I'm on my third or fourth cold of the season while starting to collect spring daffodils. It hasn't been that cold in terms of the temperature and we've only had a couple of weeks of winter really, over late January and early February. And then I see this photo on Twitter this morning of snow in Northumberland. What's going on?

Down here in London I like going past St Leonard's churchyard that's been there for 1,000 years and see the purple crocuses emerge from the soil and the green leaves of daffodils starting to sprout. The trees are starting to produce little buds of new leaves and they're all about to explode into fresh, new green. Give it another few weeks and the trees will start greening and the blossom will start exploding. There's an old May tree in my garden that starts shooting out purple-red blossom in May - it does it every year like clockwork after most of the blossom on other trees has finished. That's because it's a native tree, not an import over the last few hundred years when botanists scoured the planet to bring back prizes. It's almost like it's saying to the newer breeds of trees - look at me, I know when it's safe to throw out the flowers.

We're in that awkward transition moment between seasons when it's never safe to assume one day will be the same as the next. Slightly too cold for a jacket and slightly too warm for a winter coat so what should we do? The same as every year and rough it.

I love winter and crisp mornings, seeing my breath mist the air in front of me, hats and scarfs and feeling the warmth when you step inside. Big boots to cope with slippy frost, ice and snow giving way to lighter shoes. Now that I've given up on snow I've started to look forward to spring and summer. To longer days and warmer sun, to gradually wearing less and being outdoors more, to strolling rather than walking briskly. All too soon we'll be revelling in the golden days of high summer and not believe that it will ever be different and then the seasons will change again.

I love the seasons we have in this country. That's partly why I don't think I could live anywhere else. They're not extreme but they're noticeable and every year is slightly different and that keeps us guessing. The first time I went to Sri Lanka and fell in love with the place I wondered if I could live there and decided I couldn't because I'd miss the seasons. I'd yearn for home. The lush greenery and beauty of Sri Lanka tugs at me and it's a place I hope to visit regularly but I don't think I could live there. Well, maybe for a year or two but then I'd have to come home. Isn't it odd that a few hundred square miles of land on the edge of the great Atlantic can mean so much? Can mean home? But this little island is home.

Come wind! Come storm! Come sun and lazy summer days. You all belong to me. But please get rid of this annoying cold! 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

'Beautiful - The Carole King Musical' at the Aldwych Theatre

The title, 'Beautiful - The Carole King Musical' at the Aldwych rather gives away what the show is about. I haven't seen any of the reviews but I guessed it would be her story from the late 50s and through the 60s up to 'Tapestry' and it was.

It's not solely the story of Carole and her husband and song-writing partner Gerry Goffin, there's also a generous nod towards their friends and songwriting rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. This brings in a wider range of flavours and sounds for the show since we hear many of their great songs as well.  It's also a rather funny show, surprisingly so really, with some lovely comic moments such as Neil Sedaka popping onto the edge of the stage a couple of times to sing snatches of 'Oh Carole'. That was great fun!

Say 'Carole King' and I suppose most people will think of the singer-songwriter years of 'Tapestry' and after and, although I know she wrote loads of hits in the first half of the 60s and was a Brill Building denizen, that part of her career always seems to be the second thought. At least it is for me so it was great to hear and see some of those hits performed. It's amazing how the tunes and words come flooding back from years ago.

There's a lovely sequence early on when she and Gerry have just written a song for the Shirelles and Carole promises it'll be fully orchestrated for recording the next morning. As Carole exits the stage she quips that she's off to the library to find a book on orchestration. And the Shirelle girls walk behind a small screen to emerge without losing a step in glamorous pink silk frocks ready for a full-on performance - the quickest change I've ever seen! That was great fun, with silver drapes appearing from nowhere. There's another very dramatic performance of the Drifters singing 'On Broadway'. Both were great sequences. The one with Little Eva was a bit silly when Gerry says 'C'mon Little Eva' to the babysitter to make sure we knew who she was but did they really call her 'Little Eva' in the house?

Of course, we also get songs from the four leads as well but these are less 'performancy' than the Shirelles and Drifters segments. Except for 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' with the whole stage suddenly going psychedelic in a totally unexpected way, particularly since I'd forgotten Goffen/King had written that one (one of my favourite songs by the Monkees). The stage really came alive for that song towards the end of the first half shortly before they split up when Carole finds out that Gerry is having another affair.

The second half is about Carole finding herself as a singer-songwriter, moving to California, recording 'Tapestry' and closes with her returning to New York for a triumphant show at Carnegie Hall. It's just as fast paced as the first half and we get songs shoe-horned in to help tell the story, such as 'You've Got A Friend' sung to her friends as Carole is clearing out her old office in the Brill Building before moving to California.

All in all it's great fun and the audience certainly loved it - they were, shall we say, of a certain age (i.e. older than me!) and quite probably bought the records when they came out. The standing ovation - 100% as far as I could see - was rather unexpected but seemed much appreciated by the actors on stage. When 'Tapestry' was released I was buying records by SLADE and T.Rex and Sweet, trying to buy platform boots and wanting a tank top. I succeeded.

Katie Brayben was good as Carole King (and has her look) but I have to say I preferred Lorna Want as Cynthia Weil, a far more feisty character with better clothes. I also liked the Shirelle girls and the Drifters boys - well done people!

Friday, 27 February 2015

'A Favourite Custom' by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

As part of my 2015 quest to find as many paintings as possible by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema I ventured along to the Tate Britain this afternoon to see 'A Favourite Custom'.  The custom in question is the ladies bath in Pompeii. The painting is in the 1890s room at Tate Britain despite it being completed in 1909.

It's quite typical of Alma-Tadema's works with it's incredible attention to detail as well as the wonderful feeling of atmosphere, all light and airy. If you look closely you can see slight cracks in the tiles and repairs to the steps.The two ladies in the front of the paintings are supported by others further back in the baths changing clothes and others coming in from the bright sunshine in the street.

It's that detail and light that makes me look again at Alma-Tadema's paintings. He visited ancient sites like Pompeii to draw the ruins and study the buildings so he could accurately include them in his paintings.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was born in 1836 and died in 1912. Vincent Van Gogh was born, pushed his art as far as his vision allowed and died within Alma-Tadema's lifetime. Isn't that a strange thing to think? Van Gogh created his amazing paintings while Alma-Tadema still painted his scenes of ancient Rome in a traditional style. There's more than enough room for both styles of paintings and so many more.

Alma-Tadema painted his exotic scenes in London while 50 miles or so away Stanley Spencer was painting like this in 1909, his 'Those Couple Things'. And further away a young artist called Picasso was painting 'Woman and Pears' in 1909.

How different and how wonderful that we see all these styles being developed in the same year. 1909.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Big Painting Challenge

A new series started on BBC1 this evening, 'The Big Painting Challenge' hosted by Una Stubbs (who is lovely) and Richard Bacon (who I've never heard of). In a trusty format, 10 amateur artists compete against each other by doing three paintings at Alnwick Castle, and , at the end, the experts let one go so nine go through to the next episode. There are also short masterclass sessions with experts to pass on some hints and tips.

The first challenge was to take a photo of a room or object in the Castle and paint that. The second was to paint flowers in the Castle gardens. The third was outside the Castle and across the River Aln to do a landscape with the castle as the focus. Who will win? Will any of them get thoroughly positive feedback after each painting? Will any crack under the pressure of competitive painting in a given timescale?

It was actually thrilling in a very calm and measured way, very gentle and perfect for the Sunday tea-time slot on the Beeb. I loved it. Consider it a success, O Beeb!

I thought Una was perfectly cast as the host of this series as an amateur artist herself. Her approach was to support as well as challenge the contestants a bit and she's obviously the 'goodie' here. Soft spoken and elfin, she has a lovely presence. Una's been around forever of course, starring in films in the early '60s to playing Alf Garnet's daughter in the late 60s and she's still on the go as Mrs Hudson in 'Sherlock Holmes' and I've seen her on stage in the West End. This new series will, I hope, lead on to other things for her.

Of course, I couldn't help but be reminded of 'Watercolour Challenge' hosted by Hannah Gordon on Channel 4 back in 2000. I remember it well because I watched it on weekday afternoons while I was recuperating from an operation on a slipped disc. I recall boredom hanging heavy and daytime telly being awful until I found this series by accidentally flicking through the channels (and there were only 5 channels back then).

One episode was all it took to draw me in and pay attention to the amateur artists in the competition and Hannah's gentle and soft spoken hosting of the show. It was just what I needed at the time, especially since I didn't have a laptop or access to the Internet back then (isn't it odd that something so ubiquitous today wasn't in my life 15 years ago?). I loved that programme!

The new Challenge seems to be part of the BBC's new 'get creative' theme for the year so there's a parallel competition called The Little Painting Challenge for the audience to send in their own paintings or drawings on a postcard. I might give it a go!

Anyway, that's my Sunday early evenings sorted for the next six weeks! And here are our contestants that we'll get to know better - and they all seem terribly nice so far - on the rolling hills outside Alnwick Castle with Una and Richard. And yes, Alnwick featured as Hogwarts in the 'Harry Potter' films (or, at least, bits of it did).