The Play’s the Thing


Mrs Blog and I like to take in the occasional play. Nothing too challenging, mind. We don’t do thought provoking. Or, heaven forbid, contemporary. More, a nice bit of Shakespeare or something with a few tunes. We like to write it on the calendar in the kitchen so that visitors think we have a social life. (We fill out the calendar with “recycle”, which happens on alternate Thursdays, our dates with the men who come round to fix things that they should have sorted last time, and reminders of neighbours’ holidays so we know when we have to feed their cats.)

September’s looking quite busy already…

But looking back through the July entries reminds me that recent planned “encounters with thespians” have not been working out well.

A fixture in these parts is the annual tour by the Rude Mechanicals. Eastbourne based and loosely described as commedia dell’arte, the Rudes produce a clever, funny new play each year and perform it in the grounds of stately homes, in parks and on village greens across the south east. They were founded in 1999 and Family Blog has seen about 15 of their plays. But not when it rains. When it rains the actors’ white facepaint runs and you remember why you’ve thought about retiring to Spain.

This year we booked with friends to see the Rudes perform The Commercial Traveller in Lewes. It rained. The company acted decisively a mite too quickly, took the decision at 4 pm to cancel the evening performance and watched it turn out fine and dry. We transferred our booking to a performance in Alfriston, a village nearby, taking place tonight. Today it has poured all day. Mr Mechanical himself – it’s all excellent, personally tailored customer care – has just phoned (you don’t get Cameron Mackintosh doing that) to tell me it’s off again. We’ve rebooked for the last evening of the summer run in another village in Sussex. Fingers crossed, and where is that Spanish property brochure….

Why would you want to see an outdoor performance anywhere else?

Family Blog have been Friends of Shakespeare’s Globe for almost the twenty years it’s been open. (I’m sure our friendship is appreciated but he’s written nothing of real merit since we joined.) Twenty years ago we bought cheap tickets and stood in the pit. Now we book seats under cover – at least, twelve inches or so of unyielding wood – and watch the groundlings get wet. In July we had seven tickets for a Saturday evening performance with friends and neighbours but both Mrs Blog and I went down with something nasty and were obliged to bail. I wouldn’t have minded if there had been some decent murdering on TV. But “talent” shows? Give me strength.

Longer term (longsuffering?) followers of this blog will know that it is also a big fan of Mikron Theatre Company who tour plays of social and economic verite around the canals and rivers of England and, less romantically, along the M62 corridor. Mrs Blog and I travelled far to the north – to a marina near Oxford – last summer to see them perform Pure: the Business of Chocolate with a storyline embracing Quakerism, overbearing industrialists, aggressive marketing, a tightfisted landlord and the deserving poor over two different time periods. This year we booked to see In at the Deep End: An RNLI Story which promises tales of “choppy emotional waters”, uncompromising management, “eccentric fundraising” and, no doubt, some deserving poor. We arranged to see it at the lifeboat station in Selsey, along the coast in West Sussex, on our way home from the Oxford area where we were to visit old colleagues of mine, with Mrs Blog’s fellow clan member from our northerly territories also joining us.

It was a highly successful trip – in an “apart from that Mrs Lincoln, did you enjoy the play” kind of way. After a jolly wander round the Oxford colleges and DCI Morse’s favourite hostelries and blood spatter scenes (I spent three years there at uni and discovered hardly any corpses, though perhaps I wasn’t up and about early enough), we were royally dined by our chums in their splendid garden running along the Kennet and Avon Canal. Unfortunately, at the point when dusk’s tentacles (tendrils? dark bits?) began to stretch across the garden and we gathered up the debris in order to continue being witty and enchanting indoors, Blogcousin tripped badly on the decking and impaled herself on a shattered jug of Pimms.

This proved to be both more and less worrying than it might appear. On the one hand she lost serious quantities of blood and was taken swiftly by ambulance to A&E in Reading; on the other, there was plenty of Pimms in another jug.

We were booked for three nights in the Travelodge at Reading Services — westbound. (No, seriously, we’re OK with that.) The patient was staying in hospital overnight and at around 2.30 a.m. Mrs Blog and I returned to the service station which we shared only with a chapter of Hells Angels from Wales and one young man from eastern Europe serving coffee.

The next day was an odd one for all concerned. While Blogcousin lay in hospital recovering from surgery (careful removal of cucumber, fruit and sprigs of mint) and  our hosts reported unusually erratic behaviour amongst (no doubt alcohol fuelled) hedgehogs while they were working to remove all traces of the previous night’s incident from the decking. We all had plenty of the victim’s blood and DNA on our clothing and might reasonably be considered suspects.

With cousin laid up it would have seemed highly inappropriate for us to head off to some local National Trust property, funfair or pleasure dome and we needed to be nearby for hospital visiting and potential discharge purposes. Happily our hotel of choice lay delightfully handy for the facilities of a full-blown service station – with all the culinary charm and comforts which that conveys.

We took breakfast there. We wandered about, admired the array of confectionary, remaindered CDs and extensive selection of bottled tap water in WH Smiths; we people watched, studied the news of traffic holdups on the overhead screens (strangely, dated several weeks earlier) and discussed which outlet deserved our custom next. After a long drawn-out lunch we set off again round the “food” court, Mrs Blog looked at some phone accessories (I preferred the out of date traffic news) and we wondered why there are so few attractive people hanging out in service stations these days. Have those glamour days gone for ever?

After visiting the hospital we were keen to get back to our by now favourite seats in the service station to check how the hold up on the M5 near Bristol in June had resolved itself. At this point I started to worry that CCTV might have picked up on the sight of this peculiar couple and their idea of a cheap pensioners’ day out. Indeed, when cleaning staff started to greet us like old friends, I began to see myself as Viktor Navorski (think Tom Hanks in The Terminal), trapped forever in a daily round of the West Cornwall Pasty Company, Greggs and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

A further visit to the hospital confirmed that the patient would be enjoying another night of institutional catering and we went back to the service station for dinner. And, a bit later, supper. And breakfast the next morning. Then elevenses.

At which point we received the all-clear to collect Blogcousin and head northwards to deliver her into the arms of fellow clan members.

Which has been a roundabout way of telling you that we didn’t make Selsey lifeboat station for the play about the RNLI so I can’t confirm that it features any deserving poor. But it’s a decent bet.









Sound and Fury: signifying nothing?



Is it just me or is the best thing about the “net” the fact that you can find out what happened to Third Lanark, the Vernons Girls and the Dagenham Girl Pipers with a couple of clicks?

To quote the late Douglas Adams, “The Dagenham Girl Pipers. With all due respect and love to my dear wife, there are some things that, however loving or tender your wife may be, only a large pipe band can give you.”


And I was very sad to discover, on returning from our Baltic cruise and its Wi-Fi blackout that Twinkle is no more. “He rode into the night, Accelerated his motorbike, I cried to him in fright, Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.” I like to think of a sweet old Granny Twinkle living to a ripe old age amongst her grandchildren but, sadly, it was not to be.


Yup, this blog is a sucker for nostalgia, so tribute bands and ageing rockers are right up its street. Ronald Wycherley (1940 – 83) was my first hero — well, the first after Old Yeller – for the simple reason that, like me, he was a Scouser. Unlike me he acquired a kinda “Storm Nelson/Rock Hudson” moniker as Billy Fury – I have to break it to you that he was not the beloved offspring of any Mr and Mrs Fury. (For the record, neither were there a Mr and Mrs Harum. Nor, disappointingly, did Ma and Pa Pop raise a beautiful little soft-skinned boy and decide to christen him Iggy.)

This is all by way of telling you that this blog dragged a couple of friends/victims along recently to the Theatre Royal in Brighton to see Fury’s original backing group, the Tornadoes, fronted by former Stars in Their Eyes contestant, Colin Gold. Mrs Blog made sure she had made alternative arrangements for the night. What did she miss? Some belting songs (Halfway to Paradise, Last Night was Made for Love, I’d Never Find Another You, and a cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” – and that wasn’t his real name either.) The evening was only marginally spoiled by a couple of women of a certain age behind us who maintained a loud commentary throughout each song – “Ooh, I like this one! Do you remember when we went to see him in Hull?”  I vaguely recall there was a phase when young ladies were reportedly in the habit of throwing their knickers on the stage at their heartthrobs. I was never tempted myself and I can’t imagine Mrs Blog behaving in that fashion. Not now, anyway. As one of my party observed, “If this audience throws anything, it’ll be incontinence pads…”


It doesn’t do to scrutinise song lyrics too closely for grammar or syntax. “Like I’ve Never been Gone” I can live with. But “You’ll be mine until forever more”? Really, Billy? Really?


Talking of Scouse “turns” and their song titles and lyrics, as I’m entitled to – it’s my blog – I was also a fan of the Birkenhead band, Half Man, Half Biscuit, whom (grammar) I went to see perform once in Manchester. Any group that releases albums and singles with titles like “Back in the DHSS” (I think you can spot the derivation), “Trouble Over Bridgwater”, “Joy Division Oven Gloves” and “Urge for Offal” is ok in my book. They turned down an opportunity to appear on The Tube in order to get to a Tranmere Rovers home game in Birkenhead and famously cited “musical similarities” as a reason for them disbanding. The late John Peel is quoted as saying, “I’ve said it before, a national treasure, there’s no question about it. When I die, I want them to be buried with me.”




Delving a little further into the past, this blog was fortunate enough to be invited to Runnymede to join sundry Royals et al at the 800th birthday bash for Magna Carta. What’s the right gift for an 800th? Not gold, not diamond. Parchment? It’s not easy these days to get your hands on dried, stretched unicorn skin.

It was a good day. Lots of opportunities for taking selfies with the VIP guests – and certainly much easier than it would have been in 1215, using tapestry. The weather, the music and entertainment all played their part in creating the right atmosphere. Speeches from the Archbishop of Canterbury and US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, struck just the correct tone in hailing the significance of the Great Charter and its legacy while emphasising the length of the road still to be travelled in terms of freedoms and equality, and our own dear, beloved Prime Minister, never one to miss an opportunity to embarrass the country in front of an international audience, chose to mark the occasion by announcing that he intended to repeal the Human Rights Act. Bless.


The PM admitted he didn’t know what Magna Carta meant when quizzed on US television. He fared little better at Runnymede…

A footnote which could have changed that day’s news headlines: a fellow guest sitting alongside me – and formerly Head of Archaeology in the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England – had brought with him a timely and well researched magazine article which demonstrated that we were all at the wrong location and we should all shift a mile or two along the river if we wanted to identify the place of the “great sealing.” Sadly, he couldn’t be persuaded to rush the podium brandishing this particular stick of dynamite.

Other highlights of the past fortnight:

  1. As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe. How, in heaven’s name, does Orlando not realise that the “boy” he’s drawn to in the Forest of Arden is in fact his true love, Rosalind? In the audience we all knewDoesn’t augur well for their future life together, that’s all I’m saying. And a lion? In the Forest of Arden?


A tough call. Would never have taken this chap for a girl.


  1. London’s Open Garden Squares Weekend. We didn’t get lucky in the ballot to tour the garden at number 10, Downing Street but there were plenty more on offer, and this blog’s first visit to the roof garden at (what used to be called) Derry and Toms in Kensington High Street was a delight.


  1. Midweek break in Suffolk. Gorgeous coast and market towns, Suffolk Punch horses, the Woodbridge tide mill. Sutton Hoo: the burial site of an Anglo Saxon “king” – I was vaguely aware that he might have been buried with some stuff he would need afterwards – a horse, for example, or the best wife — but I hadn’t envisaged that the grave would resemble the packing for a full month’s holiday abroad. Mrs Blog has, accordingly, started drafting her own “necessities for the afterlife” list, just in case – hairdryer, travel iron, sunglasses, Tommy Lee Jones, moisturiser, credit card, spare sunglasses, favourite pillow, iPad, Hilary Mantel, Marks and Spencer, Scotland…




Rites of Passage

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This blog has eventually been obliged to acknowledge the slow but inexorable approach of what must be referred to as his Early Middle Age – in much the same way as Methusaleh may be described as “knocking on a bit”.

I’ve noticed that I’ve started to make a kind of sighing noise when I take the first sip of tea. I hand back plastic bags at the Waitrose checkout with the plea, “Could you open that for me? It’ll take me ages”, and youngsters have started offering me a seat on the train. No, sorry, cancel that one. You can only take imagination so far.

Last week marked a “big one”, my passage into “masters” status. My birthday meal comprised a burger in a bap at Lewes’s annual skittles competition.

Live on the edge, that’s my motto

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The customers in front of me seemed to be enjoying theirs

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This maintained a fine tradition. Mrs. Blog and I had celebrated our wedding anniversary the previous week with a bacon and egg roll (no butter, crispy bacon, open the egg or it’ll run all down your shirt) in a layby on the A27, courtesy of the Taj Mahal of burger vans. It’s these small romantic gestures that keep the marriage fresh, don’t you think?

Where was I? Oh, yes, celebrating birthdays.

Friday evening with four chums to the CAMRA beer fest at the town hall with brews like Skull Splitter and Rector’s Revenge. (Perhaps the word “beer” is superfluous there. What else would they be celebrating?)

“Skull Splitter (quoting the official tasting notes): An intense velvet malt nose with hints of apple, prune and plum. The hoppy taste is balanced by satiny smooth malt with fruity spicy edges, leading to a long, dry finish with a hint of nut.”

And you thought we were just there getting absolutely pixelated.

But how best to maintain a smidgin of credibility in terms of manly ale consumption while not consigning the next day to oblivion? I opted for turning up a bit late and supping half pints. One of our number opted to drink only “thirds”. I’m saying nothing but you know who you are… 

The five of us settled in for a long session 

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Anyway, all very well organised as ever. Three of our number with Manchester connections, including this blog, focused our not inconsiderable efforts on brews from our youth, though the price had risen. I didn’t eat the burgers this time as I’d had a nice salad before leaving the house.

Saturday to London where ten of us ate Greek on Bankside before seeing a performance of J Caesar at Shakespeare’s Globe. Blogdaughter had promised that the birthday boy would be encouraged by management to throw plates around after the meal. This turned out not to be entirely true but there was unexpected compensation in the arrival at our table of a flaring not-to-be-held-in-the-hand Roman candle embedded in a baklava, accompanied by two token mini-candles,  some embarrassing numerals and a posse of singing waiters. What more could a blog want? Other than 10% off the bill, of course.

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In a previous blog I furnished essential advice for those tempted to join in from the audience with what’s taking place on stage. At the Globe there are plenty of opportunities to engage with the cast, especially if you’re standing throughout the play in “the pit”. This may include blocking the actors’ passage to the stage with your bag (yes, I mean you, MT), but the most effective way of attracting their attention is either to faint (what conditions do you expect as a groundling when you’ve only paid a fiver?) or by calling out “Look out behind you” whenever Brutus goes anywhere near the star turn.

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Home via Blackfriars station. I know I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog, but the view from the platform straddling the Thames must be one of the finest in London, especially at night.

The following day found us back in London for “UpattheO2”, an assault both on the summit of the former Millennium Dome and on the wallet. This was highly enjoyable with enough of a sense of achievement to justify a good lunch afterwards. Mrs. Blog doesn’t usually do heights under her own steam, in the belief that, if the good lord had meant us to walk up high mountains and Blackpool Tower, he wouldn’t have invented Easyjet and escalators. That said, with the promise that the shortest route to the nearest branch of Marks and Spencer lay straight across the roof of the O2, she led our party from base camp at something close to a jog. The emerging views during the ascent reveal parts of London not so frequently seen, other than from the nearby cable car – the Olympic stadium, (ArcelorMittal) Orbit tower, City airport, Thames barrier, the docklands. We were lucky enough to have warm sun and very clear skies.

Mrs. Blog and I enjoying a hard earned view Up at the O2.

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Trying out our best moves to see if the rarer atmosphere helped us “fly”. It didn’t.

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From the Dome to Greenwich by way of a favourite of mine, the old foot tunnel under the Thames, then by river ferry back to Bankside and a jug of Pimm’s in the sunshine that scarcely “touched the sides”.  If this is what being middle aged is going to be like, bring it on.

I’m still awaiting my birthday present from Mrs. Blog but she assures me it’s on its way, just as soon as she thinks of something.

But perhaps the best thing this week was when Waterstones, our biggest national chain of proper bookshops, opened its first ever branch here in Lewes, in an attractive 18th century listed building in the pedestrian precinct. I was more or less down there when the doors opened. That’ll do me. That’s where my pocket money will be going. I share all the concerns about the threat of major chains and online sales to small independent shops, including the delightful (non-second hand) bookshop we still have, and which I frequent, but this arrival is likely to keep me shopping here in Lewes, rather than heading to Brighton.

I also understand the role of e-books, Kindles, etc and, believe it or not, am able to work them, but nothing will replace for me the look, feel and even the smell of an array of new books. Wonder if they can be persuaded to open 24 hours…


Waterstones in Lewes, with its elegant exterior…

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…and even more impressive interior

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