City Hall and the Shard from Tower Bridge
13 January 2012

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Sunset at Gwithian,
Cornwall,
September 1984

News

Philip Recieves OBE

14 March 2014

On Friday 14 March, Philip, two of his oldest friends, Sheila and Matthew, and I, went to Buckingham Palace to see Philip invested as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He received the honour for his outstanding work in Social Security, and his voluntary work for various organisations in London.

We had known about the award since November, but we were not allowed to say anything until it was announced in the New Year’s Honours list. Philip, in a typical self-effacing way, didn’t want to tell anyone; but I pointed out that his family would be incredibly proud, and his friends could dine out on it. Besides which, I had kept it quiet for two months, and I was in danger of doing myself a mischief if I had to keep it in any longer.

The investiture itself was made by Prince Charles, and the ceremony took place in the ballroom. Philip said that talking with Prince Charles was easy, you felt as if you already knew him. In classic form, he can’t remember what he said to the Prince, but we saw Charles laugh, so it was probably part of his Pink Singers routine! Each person honoured was allowed three guests; so, with the award recipients, there were about 300 people there.

We’ve now done all the jokes:

  • Now you need to be made an Earl, so you can be an Earlobe.
  • Sorry, I misread it, you’ve been ordered out of the British Empire.
  • Help me, O.B.E. Wan Kenobi, you are my only hope (OK, that one’s a little forced).

And, of course, I now have to curtsey when I bring him his morning tea; but it’s worth it.


A Night at the Movies (the Pink Singers) - Cadogan Hall

25 January 2014

I have been following the Pink Singers for over 25 years - as an official choir camel my choices in that respect are limited - and they have, through the years had their ups and downs. However, over the past three years it has been nothing but ups, with each concert o’ertopping the last. How, I thought , could they possibly beat their last performance? Clearly cybernetics would be needed.

Well, cybernetics or not, they achieved it, and quite spectacularly. A Night at the Movies provided stunning background visuals, complex dance movements (including a spectacular lift in “Time of My Life”), and a cleverly themed programme that covered the musical range from “Zadok the Priest” to “Skyfall”. The show was a carefully managed mix of high culture and low camp, with a little middle-of-the-road - although it was anything but mediocre!

Highlights of the evening? There are so many. I have never seen audience members rise to their feet so often during a performance - and this when the seats are the most comfortable in theatreland! However, mention should be made of some of the soloists. Big voices came in small packages from KC (“I Will Always Love You”) and Max (“Les Feuilles Mortes”); and Jules’ King Louie (“I Wanna Be Like You”) was a tour de force. It was also a tour de tenors, which they seemed to take stoically, despite a banana being produced from one of their noses. I’m now persuading Philip that he and Jules are a comedy song waiting to happen.

However, the absolute top of the show for me was John’s performance of “Claire de Lune” on the piano, accompanied by Paul’s signing. The love affair between the sea and the moon became a love affair between music and BSL, a blending of two unspoken forms producing poetry that would be inexpressible in English.

I could go on (the use of instrumental musical support throughout, courtesy of the London Gay Big Band; the cello and oboe in “Gabriel’s Oboe”; The musical effects used to sing wordless songs, like “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and “Mission Impossible”), but you really had to be there … except you couldn’t because it was completely sold out!

So how did they do it? I’m not ruling out cybernetics; Philip seems to have been getting through a lot of AA batteries lately…


The Lyons - Menier Chocolate Factory

18 October 2013

This was a curate’s egg of a play: the performances were good to excellent, but the script was a little two-dimensional. The New York Jewish Schuld-Dusche plot is rather hackneyed now, and the places where it takes us have been well-explored over the years. In those terms, the script has little to add except some original, clever lines. For the plot, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lyons.

The first of the two outstanding performances was Isla Blair as Mother. It was a difficult, peculiarly emotionless role which Isla carried off well, particularly as everyone around her was throwing “their hands in the air and their grief in our face”, to quote the song. Tom Ellis also put in a very good performance as Curtis/Hillie, the squirming, guilt-ridden Jewish homosexual who was too afraid of life to try a real human relationship (did I mention that the plot is hackneyed?). This could so easily have been treated as a stereotype, but Tom gave it the human edge that was missing from the script.

The other performances were all good, but they battled against the tired writing. The play may have resonated with theatre-goers in Broadway, but it is just too culturally distant from British experience to press the contextual buttons that the writer, Nicky Silver, clearly relied on.

A venue problem was the seating: I joked with my students beforehand that theatre seats are designed to be uncomfortable, but the benches at the Menier were a little extreme. The bench design was itself good, and the legroom was very generous; but the number of punters they tried to get onto each bench was excessive. Philip spent his time with only his right buttock seated. I suppose that, in terms of bums on seats, he counts as half.

Can I recommend this production? Probably not to people like me, who only have patience for the best shows; but if you just enjoy going to the theatre then it’s another night out. However, perhaps wait until it transfers to a theatre with seats.

The picture shows the Shard from outside the Menier - the London skyline gets ever-more impressive.


Hall Place

1 October 2013

Today we paid a visit to Hall Place in Bexleyheath, a Tudor manor house with Stuart extensions. The grounds are attractive, even this late in the season; and the topiary lawn with the Queen’s beasts is worth seeing by itself. The things that can be done with yew, box and and a pair of nail scissors!

We had lunch and afternoon tea in the tea rooms, and the food and service was very acceptable - the chocolate cake, with a 1cm of Belgian chocolate on top, would have left even Henry VIII saying “full as an egg”!

The site was rescued from the benighted locally elected vandals, Bexley Council (who saw an urgent need for another supermarket) and is available for functions. See http://www.bexleyheritagetrust.org.uk/hallplace/ for more information about the house and gardens. Well worth a visit.