31 August 2005

The excellent BBC online Magazine has borrowed an idea from me for a story. Beats working, especially in this godforsaken weather (it's 24 degrees in Spike's room, at 11pm...).

*update, 20th Sept. The beautiful, fragrant people at the Magazine yesterday linked to this piece in a brilliant article about Dubya being caught short at the UN. So WELCOME indeed to the many of you dropping by from the Mag. A special hello to the person who came by from the Holy See, Vatican City. Also to the readers in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Thailand, Belarus and other places I've not seen on my stats before....

A word or two about the play I saw at the Arcola last week, Silence by Moira Buffini. I'd seen a piece by MB before, though not her West End hit Dinner. The thing wot I saw (produced by the RSC at the Barbican, so we're going back a bit, to prelapsarian 2001) was Loveplay, a cheeky, rude and at the same time delicate and touching piece about love down the ages. Silence predates Loveplay, and you can see some of its common springs. Most obviously in MB's interest in the history of sex, but also in some seriously good comic instincts. She's a Monsterist, as is that Rebecca Lenkiewicz whose Shoreditch Madonna I saw recently. You can see the kinship - in both writers there's a poetic sensibility yoked with a sharp dramatic flair, a nose for a story. In RL's case, with that particular play, I confess I thought the poetic overreached itself to compensate, as the story wasn't the strongest. But I'm keen to see her next. Shelley Silas is another woman Monster, and coincidentally her play Mercy Fine is on at Southwark when we do our short plays.

28 August 2005

august2005 060

I took a constitutional today with Mrs Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

23 August 2005


Arriving at Claridges Hotel by taxi yesterday afternoon was a giddily unreal experience. A liveried doorman helped me out with S's pushchair, and in we went, for the full on Jewish wedding experience. Well actually, this was a notably secular affair compared to the last Jewish wedding we went to. That day at Knebworth House, there were so many rabbis officiating we were squeezed out to an annex to watch the service on a videolink. I later found myself in one of those all male dances, linking arms with the Chief Rabbi to my left and a firebrand radical New York rabbi on my right. I suspect they didn't suspect I was an atheistic Catholic. But I digress.
At Claridges, the bride's sister-in-law was the only rabbi attending, and she was far too busy organising the seating to do any prayers or anything. The registrar played a blinder, the bride and groom exchanged loving and moving vows above the din of attending children (not their own, I hasten to add, and not mine either - he was soundly asleep in his pushchair still).
So it was on to the champagne and canapes. I abstained from the former, as I was in charge of getting S home later. B and the bride go way back - they met at Jewish Camp! when they were fourteen or something - so she would be staying for the duration. The dinky little canapes were, however, at my mercy. I murdered 'em, the tiny salmon ice cream cones in particular. Dinner was at six, but not before the 150 or so guests were invited to join the happy couple in a dance. In my family, this would mean shaking yer booty with your favourite aunty to "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go". Not so in Claridges yesterday. Oh no. The klezmer band hired for the occasion (who seemed to be called "Shia", confusingly) launched into a raucous and riotous catalogue of pounding folk dances, and the assembly, who seconds ago had been milling fragrantly and politely, went Mad For It. Honestly, it was a mosh pit in there. How the bride came out of it with her hair, tiara and strapless dress all intact I shall never know. I took Spike for a closer look, and he was wildly enthusiastic, clapping and cheering on the solicitors, retired folk and other persons of a certain age who were 'aving it large.
Dinner was delicious, the only downer being S's uncomprehending disappointment at not being able to help himself to the wedding cake. I say 'cake', but actually it was scores of little cakes, prettily arranged in a tower, and irresistible to an almost
3 year old.
He had to make do with a muffin from Starbucks in Oxford St on the way home (any port in a storm).

At Oxford Circus tube station, I startled myself by taking the southbound, when I wanted the northbound to get home. Then at Green Park, crossing platforms, an amazing sight - they'd been doing some work on the walls in the sort of atrium, and had uncovered years old cinema adverts. As in a timewarp, I found myself looking at the posters for "Sex Lies And Videotape", and "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover", and thinking to myself, Hey, that looks good, maybe I'll go and see that...

Mazeltov to me and mine also, I think - we went to the Homerton Hospital today and saw the shockingly lovely sight of an embryonic child, ours, lying back asleep with one leg across the other, like it was in a hammock. The sonographer remarked that it seemed very 'chilled'. It then woke up, waved about a bit, then went back to sleep. That's my boy/girl. Hey hey!

19 August 2005

We 'ad that Nick Robinson in our park caff yesterday. Other people I remember having to try hard not to gawp at while drinking my tea or pushing a swing in the playground: Nick Hornby, Jarvis Cocker, Eddie Tenpole Tudor, Philippa Thomas (very nearly said hello to her instinctively before realising just in time she was a telly friend, not an actual friend), Saskia Reeves, Simon Munnery, Bobby Gillespie off of Primal Scream (excellent site). Oh and I saw that Samantha Morton and family in the grocers on Church St... Perhaps I should retrain as a paparrazzo.

Also yesterday had a very sociable day with Spike. Saw Sam at Tinderbox, Alex C and her charming friend Milan outside the library, and Uncle Toby inside.

Hope the director doesn't mind!, don't yet know who that's going to be, but I've cast Suzanna Hamilton in my as yet unwritten short play, which will be about the mid-Atlantic meeting of a round-the-world yachtswoman and Judas Iscariot. There's a legend that Judas is allowed out of Hell on certain holy days, and his treat, or holiday I suppose, is spent perched on a rock in the ocean.

16 August 2005


I came home from a writing session in the Tinderbox cafe in the Angel, in time to make supper - mackerel pasta - and my boy came running to greet me. "Dad, Dad! You're back!" It's not always been so. There was a seemingly endless period when my presence little registered, beyond being the hairy one who changed his nappy and bought him his chocolate juice at the park cafe. But happy to say that phase is over, and I'm trebly in Spike's good books because I took him to Hamleys yesterday and bought him a Salty - a model of the buck-toothed engine, friend of Thomas. His choice.

Today two years ago, I lost my Dad. He slipped away from a sunlit room in a hospice in Liverpool, windows wide open. It was during that dreadful heatwave, the trains were in chaos, it took me five hours longer than it should have to get there. But I made it in time to say goodbye, hold his hand.

I'm a Dad, my brother's a Dad, some of my best friends are Dads.
But Dad's gone.

12 August 2005

Les Liaisons Dangereuses v.4.0

Went with S to Sadler's Wells to see another adaptation of the Laclos bodice-ripper. It's such a great story, it's frankly mysterious why it hasn't been done as a dance piece before (do contradict me if it has, I'm genuinely curious). And where is the opera?
Adam Cooper was the star and director/choreographer. He was wonderfully expressive, has great stage presence, and I was genuinely moved at his Valmont's distress after the suicide of Madame de Tourvel (played by Cooper's wife, incidentally, Sarah Wildor).
Interesting to go with S, who writes about dance - she had press tickets - as Cooper clearly has a very vocal following and the evening felt at times like a private party.

So that's the fourth excellent version I've seen of a book I haven't read.
For the record, the others were:
The Christopher Hampton stage play, with Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan
The Stephen Frears film, with Malkovich and Pfeiffer
The Manhattan Rich Kids version - 'Cruel Intentions' - with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Philippe (first saw that when I was on Vancouver Island - yay).

Me and S rounded off the evening with a drink in the Old Red Lion.

10 August 2005

Considering it's the silly season, current affairs are grimly serious and pressing. The Sun did its best today to take our tiny minds off the global situation (civil unrest in Israel, extreme 'Islamists' in Britain, end of the era of human spaceflight) with this endearingly bizarre image on its front page:

(picture - Associated Press)

The article accompanying the image of the new I Don't Belieeeve It constellation quotes several luminaries in the world of British astronomy giving their thumbs-up to the discovery. Marvellous stuff. Pictured is Mark Garlick, who's responsible for this extraordinary milestone in cosmology. Mark was a consultant on the magazine I once worked for, 'Secrets of the Universe', as was Robin Scagell, also quoted in the piece. I wrote for SotU in a popular scholarship stylee on things like the life of Newton, the career of the only scientist to walk on the Moon ( Harrison 'Jack' Schmitt), and various episodes in the lives of the Space Shuttle fleet, the Mir space station, and sundry other bits of metal (plus human occupants) that slipped the surly bonds of Earth. So I made sure I was in front of the tv to see the homecoming of STS-114, quite possibly the last trip to space by people for many, many years.

Or they might launch Atlantis in September.

Space Shuttle Discovery leaving Earth in September 1993. This was STS-51.

04 August 2005

Mary Stuart

Well, I got in.

Before I did I had an interesting prelude, as the guy behind me in the queue was very good value. I didn't get his name. He was an extremely self-possessed patrician artsy American, such as I'd only really ever before encountered in episodes of Frasier. Self-possessed but also highly-strung, and opinionated, in a good way. I liked him even more when he sounded off about Bush and Blair's idiocy and duplicity respectively ("When the guy says, 'It's my belief...', my heart sinks"). He flew in from the States on July 21, so his tense and terse appraisal of the current crisis - "the terrorists have clearly won" - was backed up by strident and convincing portraits of a city in panic, confusion and fear. "This is what they wanted," he says. "They got what they wanted." He's in town because he 'looks after' two singers with the Kirov Opera. This meant that he had equally strident views on current productions of classics of all kinds in London and New York. He spends a lot of time in St.Petersburg with the Kirov, so goes often to the Maly Theatre. I'll bet he's very good at his job. I'd hate to get on the wrong side of a singer he 'looks after'.

The play was absorbing, fascinating. Elizabeth and Mary are characters I know well - I read shedloads of Tudor and Stuart stuff while writing my (barmy and unproduced) play
King Elizabeth. The portraits that emerge from the Schiller are superbly detailed, nuanced and ambivalent. But on the whole he plumps for a heroic reading of Mary's incarceration and death.
She's championed by her saintly gaoler Amyas Paulet (played by the eminently cuddly James Fleet), and is the object of passionate admiration, not only from the fanatical Catholic spy (Rory Kinnear) but the greybeards of Elizabeth's court. She's good-looking (to put it mildly...), fiercely intelligent, and is allowed, by the end, a spiritual renaissance that leaves her executioners looking like savages, and paradoxically stains Elizabeth's conscience indelibly. All terrifically dramatic, and the Rolls-Royce acting on display was truly thrilling. Tam Dean Burn as the priest who hears Mary's last confession, Guy Henry as the tragically ineffectual Leicester, and of course the queens, Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter, who I thought threw a touch of Maggie T into her portrayal of Elizabeth.

02 August 2005

We have a provisional date for the evening of short plays at Southwark Playhouse - 13th November. Hurrah. The SP are being incredibly supportive and this makes me all the keener to put on a good show.

Queued for returns to see Mary Stuart at the Donmar yesterday but was beaten to the last ticket by a woman who appeared out of nowhere saying she'd been ahead of me but had had to go and get cash. Her friend backed her up, and that was that. God I was irritated.
While I fruitlessly queued, I had a view of the ushers checking the theatre-goers for bag bombs. It may just have been my mood, but I felt this was worse than futile, as each of the greying, donnish, well-fed culture-junkies fumbled with clasps and zippers to prove themselves free of murderous intent. It'd be a messed-up kind of jihadi, let's face it , who'd want to sacrifice themselves to take down the drama-lovers among the LRB readership. All the business serves is to give the intelligentsia a frisson of danger, or perhaps in this case, since it was Schiller they'd come to see, an agreeable feeling of Weltschmerz.
And to think, all that would have been MINE were it not for Cashpoint Woman. Yeeargh!