The Entertainer


The Entertainer

Like  someone lost in a  desert Kenneth Branagh continues to follow the footsteps in the hope they will show him the way home. The footsteps are of course those of Sir Laurence Olivier. Branagh’s latest  attempt at mirroring is starring in  his own production of John Osborne’s The Entertainer.

Branagh has done Shakespeare, an overnight sensation he become an national treasure,he has married and divorced the nation’s sweetheart, he has made films not least Henry V, flirted with Hollywood, become an actor/manager. And now the play that relaunched Olivier.

The play about a down at heel music hall performer  was  cast as a metaphor for the decline of Britain losing its Empire in the mid 1950s. Maybe. It was written for Olivier as  well being  another excuse for Osborne to have a rant at the unthinking British public.

It starts brilliantly, a lone spotlight,a fit, half dressed man in silhouette, unbearable tension and then he starts to tap,slow, athletic,graceful,dramatic.

But most of the play has a more familiar set. The dysfunctional family,preferably three generations under one roof. The old man who bemoans the present and future, the cynical,selfish, philandering main man ;his long suffering,dreaming wife; the children breaking free. The outside changing fast. Chuck in endless drinking and you  have a format for love, hate, witticism, anger, spite. Unhappy families are all wonderfully different and provide a  stage exploited by Chekhov, Ibsen, O’Neill, Pinter among others.

The problem with Branagh is he just too fit and virile, too fast moving to be the ageing, cynical Archie Rice, the music hall dinosaur. That doesn’t mean it is  an evening wasted. Although its a good rather than a great play the moments when Branagh does the musical hall song ,dance, and bad  joke act are very good. But in many ways the best was right at  beginning. Many rate the real musical hall star Max Wall as the best(of many) who have played Archie Rice.

Branagh often feels like TV detective  Wallander putting on another voice. As it happens for all his considerable achievements it will be for that show Branagh will be remembered. While Larry…. easy is the head that wears the crwon.

When the play opened in 1957 the then Manchester Guardian accused it of being “banal and while not being a great play it was not a bad evening’s entertainment either.” However by 1974  The Times  declared the play(with Max Wall) to be “ one of the best family plays in our repertory.” You pays your money, and you takes your choice, in my case £65.

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Death in Norwood

Death in Norwood


I may be right and I may be wrong

You are going to miss me when I’m gone


Adelaide’s future mother in law,Sue , gave me a darling book for my birthday. London’s Cemetries. All  124 of the capital’s valleys of death are listed and described in beautiful detail. Top of the list are the magnificent seven built by those magnificent Victorians with their regally inspired love affair with death and its powerful sting. Kensal Green,Highgate,Nunhead,Brompton,Abney Park,West Norwood and Tower Hamlets massive acre sites built between 1837 and 1841 to keep pace with the metropolis’ fast growing death rate.

So its off to West Norwood a few stops away by over ground rail. Of particular interest are the graves of writers Douglas Jerrold and  Isabella Beaton.  Jerrold lived for many years in Putney his house “the last in London” was knocked down to became a hospital and now is being converted into a primary school. A successful playwright and Punch journalist it was because of him that Dickens visited Putney several times.

Its a lovely day and the mature trees and overgrown plots are a dappled dream. I don’t find the desired graves  but I find those Sir Hiram Maxim of machine gun fame and the delightful terracoota mausoleums of Sir Henries Tate and Doulton.

This is not Brompton with its sexual encounters or Highgate with its crocodiles of left wing tourists. Norwood is deserted. Brilliant. Time to reflect on how we who love our poetry and songs fail to give death the justice it surely deserves.

Typically Gwen is a beloved wife,mum and nan; unmarried Conrad a loving son,brother,nehew and cousin;Ralph a beautiful memory forever in our thoughts; Helen along with many others rests in peace;Rose and Alfred join many in being reunited in heaven. So many falling asleep, so  many passing away. All are promised never to be forgotten, always in someone’s heart.

But the grave stones  so expensive and once loved tell a different story. They now stand disabled and bent, unread and unreadable. Graves in the end go the way of all flesh, dust to dust. No one dare say, when you are gone you are gone , and we carry on the best we can.

But some graves do tell stories. Pamela Walsh was born August 21 1963 and died thirty year later. Someone the day before had celebrated her birthday and flags, children’s decorations and baubles floated gaily around her grave. One heart was still remembering a life cut short.

Near the exit stood the military grave of Lt. Taylor of the Royal Engineers who died 8/11/18.Three days before the end of the Great War. Is there a God? Give me a break.

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Red in Tooth and Claw

Red in tooth and claw


We live near the River. On Sunday a walk up to Hammersmith and down the Fulham side. We would buy a Fulham FC  soccer top for a remote Canadian cousin and  expensive olives and dried tomatoes from the market in Bishops Park. But on our way we saw a pitiful sight.

As the river gets cleaner so the herons move closer to the City to catch fish and eels. They are now common in the Putney shallows. At low tide one stood as  they sometimes do, in pointless, motionless solitude. Its melancholy wings tucked away. Just standing as they do, hunched against the unseasonal wind.

Then a seagull started to mob. It dived and squawked, the heron ducked and opened its beak in defence. The gull dived like some alien drone ,again and again. The heron ducking but not diving,like some ungainly kid in the playground being attacked by more street wise lads, the bigger lad new to the school not knowing why nor how to defend itself. The seagull as they do in this stretch enjoying itself as the brightest and most bare faced  of all the bird life.

And after thirty or so attacks,no doubt the point made,the sea gull went back to his mates on the mud flats ,no doubt chortling over the terror he had struck in the bigger bird.

I Googled for an explanation.  Crows and seagulls often mob bigger birds when they feel their nests maybe under threat. But this was not the case. The best I came up with on the RSPB web site wast

“They also mob non-predators such as grey herons, whose large size and flight silhouette they mistake for a bird of prey. In some species like crows and gulls the harassing behaviour characteristic to mobbing is also seen in other behaviours including food robbing.”

So the poor old defenceless heron was being attacked because of mistaken identity. Like so much city violence a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.










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Every night(but one) at the Proms

Every night(but one) at the Proms


Saturday night at the Proms. Some whale music having its first(and hopefully  last) performance, delightful Mahler songs and the heroic Mozart Mass in C. Cheap seats (£17)up at the top of the magnificent Albert Hall and another reason why August  in London makes so much sense.

Vivien texted her pal in the pit, we saw her and waved. This pal is a prommer of some distinction. A successful business women, an accomplished musician etc she has been going to these concerts for 30 years. She notes that there are others who have been going far longer.

She does admit there are some regulars who have personal hygiene issues which mean most try and avoid.  For those who feel that the pit is full of odd balls she admits there seems to be a cross over between those who compile cross words and promenaders. There is the man who comes everyday,even at weekends, in a three piece and brief case. There is another who only wears cycling kit.  Many take musical scores and turn the pages during the perfomance.But on one thing they are all agreed ,there is no better place.

Nevertheless, smelly people who are good at crosswords and can read music, a bit of an acquired taste.

“I have  sat in the Royal Box but its a better sound and experience in the pit. Also the soloists do strike up a relationship with the promenaders they know we  are aficionados, we know and we care and they respond to us. Many of us  pay £150 for opera seats but this is where we want to be at the Proms.” At £6 a throw it is rumoured that there are homeless stretching out in the pit.

But our friend has given up the great showcase. The Last Night of the Proms. “Its no longer an end of term experience,there are too many there who just want to tick a box. Goodness last year they threw knickers at the tenor.” Frankly anything is better than a premier of whale music, but even she says,”New pieces should be limited in length”

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Married to the Olympic ideal


Married to the Olympic ideal?


Sometimes The Guardian makes you smile. In reporting GB’s hockey gold, the paper I read on Saturdays, stated (the team) “included Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh who are the first married couple to win gold for Britain since Cyril and Dorothy Wright took the 7m sailing class in Antwerp in 1920.” There used to be a wonderful piece of graffiti that read “Lesbian mothers are not pretend mothers.” 44 of the GB Olympic team are gay. Is that representative? Discriminatory? to who?

We move on. Previously my Saturday read had worked itself into a lather over the reporting of the Chinese athlete who put her “mere” fourth place down to her period. The reporting of this fact was misogynistic and racist. For  The Guardian the blackest double of them all. No mention of the Chinese swimmer who complained of losing because her “arms were too short”, which is obviously a racist statement. Which so much of the Olympics is , do those with certain racial heritages have certain advantages. Do those with certain financial, cultural and technological resources have certain advantages. Of course.

No mention of how the arrest of the Irish IOC representative  was typical of how that country has been bedevilled by corruption in its banking(Anglo Irish), commercial (Beef,Telecoms),government(bribes to among others,PMs Haughey and Ahern,) and sporting (swimmer  Michelle du Bruin)elites.

We have all loved the  high  school pranks and disgrace of the US swimmers which as the  very pink FT reported was like US foreign policy. “They arrive in somebody else’s country,mess up, blame the natives and then flee.”

International sport as George Orwell pointed out is war without guns. GB’s position on the medal table shows that we stand between the world and the “inevitable” Chinese world takeover. Oh yes. On this basis fellow NATO members Finland, Portugal and Austria with one bronze apiece are not going to be much help.

In my family sibling relationships go from warm very quickly to frozen. Vivien’s brother is on strictly Xmas card only terms with his   sisters. I know few families where adult sibling relationships are close, most are on a barely need to know basis. Arguments over wills, the care of elderly parents, career and marriage choices, past slights rule OK.

So to the Brownlee brothers with their god like power,   their deep love and respect for each other as they destroy the iron man ,triathlete world and the eldest always beats his younger . Gold and and bronze 2012, gold and silver 2016. Why doesn’t he do another sport? he is always going to come second. Someone tweeted its a shame mum didn’t have triplets and then it could have been a 123. Actually there is a third younger brother, and to show that no family is perfect he wants to be a lawyer!

Meanwhile the Brownlee brothers stand there, love, decency, triumph and total excellence. There can be only one next step. They must marry. Cyril and Dorothy would be so proud. As would we all.

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A Shot at the Oscars


A Shot at the Oscars

This year Hollywood took a lot of  flack because the fifteen per cent of USA which is Afro American was not represented in the Oscars. Now as we  all know Hollywood may talk like hippies but they act like gangsters. That is decisively, with intent ,and giving its   target an offer it cannot(and will not) refuse.

They have a film to be released in January which will hit all the politically correct buttons, have you weeping into your pop corn, cheering the multi coloured American Dream. Even the most cynical Brit will end the film standing up with hand on his heart reciting the Gettysburg address.

Hidden Figures is the true story of Afro American ladies who worked for NASA in those historic  moon shots. Not as cleaners or receptionists but as red hot mathematicians. They solved the problems that got those white folk onto the moon. But of course in the  60s these ladies had only recently been allowed to sit in the front of the bus.

They have to overcome their family’s inhibitions,the prejudice of black men, the disbelief of whites, and the scorn and suspicion of scientists. Luckily Kevin Costner is there to represent the best of white America. There is a problem,”I need a mathematician” cries Kostner. Step up girls.

The girls are not only very bright but extremely sassy and stupid white men are shown off in all their clumsy and insensitive ways. Oh Lordy, it isn’t only Oprah Winey who knows how many beans make five.

So this film tackles the emancipation of women and blacks all under the  umbrella of the Space Race which showed that the US of A could turn hope into triumph and had the Right Stuff. Whats not to like?

Yes it will be Oscars all round for Hidden Figures, not least for its three stars, though I can see feminists complaining at the wooden pun in the title. If you don’t weep when Kostner says “we either get there together or we don’t get there at all”,then you are probably a Trump voter. This film will not be for you. Mind you if he gets in, the film probably wont be allowed to be released. But if its Hilary then it could be that Bill could present the Oscars. He always liked Southern girls.


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Summer in the City

Summer in the City

Yesterday was hot. The Serpentine called. A smooth ride up the river, Hammersmith,High  Street Ken, Hyde Park. But others had got their first. The paddling pool was standing room only, the place heaved with yummy mummies, au pairs and their  charges. A big favourite was the water pumps which the kids squirted as they squealed.

A few oldies,the writer included, ploughed their lonely furrows up and down the murky water. The reception had a warning about “swimmer’s itch” which was transmitted by snails lurking in the weeds. Not to worry it only lasted two days. Do I care?Me? A member of  this blessed plot, this gold medal winning nation. Bah, Humbug.

At the shallow end some kids splashed about. Fifty swans had  also decided that the lido was the place to be, but they know the rules of the pool, they can  share the space, but they mustn’t get in the way.

On the bank the Afro Cockney life guards were flirting with a couple of au pairs. The girls giggled and put their hands to  their mouths,the lads shrugged and  went about their business.

Elsewhere the long sun had made some go topless. Two in particular caught the eye, not least when they started to rub sun oil into each other.   The fact that the girls were also smoking made this cameo even more erotic. Surprisingly since these mermaids were good looking  they were not speaking Russian.

I talked to a girl who was sitting in the life guards high seat. She was a music  student from Kings College studying guitar. She loved these hot days when the place was  buzzing. Last week when it was overcast I had  shared the lido with three in wet suits and four geese.

I bought the last sandwich, read my New Yorker and was so at ease that I thought well, even of even the large Levantine families which regularly waddled past. On the way home I stopped briefly at Serpentine Gallery which was showing American super star Alex Katz.

Later we went to the National to see Brecht’s Three Penny Opera. Ouch. I had forgotten what a bore he is, Kinnear hopelessly miscast, no one could sing, tunes lame, choreography dull,I could go on. We left at half time. Sorry Marshall. Thats two bad plays at the National on the trot,perhaps  those running our Olympic’s team should take over.

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