31 Oct


Now here’s hoping that the technical difficulties which assailed The Week (Mark 1) will not scarily attack again, like the weirdo monsters (varmints) who inhabit the minds of children in Neil Gaiman’s eerily striking fantasy The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This is my antidote to Stephen Fry’s mostly unscary, autobiographical tome so I have fact and fiction on the go at the same time. I combined the two last week by reading the sometime harrowing but ultimately empowering and wonderful The Narrow Road To the Deep North, a marvellous Booker-winner this year. Richard Flanagan’s homage to his father who, as an Aussie prisoner of war in 1945 survived the brutality of the Japanese internment camps as the Emperor’s henchmen forced ever-weakening prisoners to build the Burma railway. It’s a love story too.  Butchery and beauty in equal measure.

I have already digressed. I left you on Tuesday mid-lunch south of Tunbridge Wells and full of lamb burger. Needless to say I needed soda water and Gavascon later in the day but watched  The Missing to assuage my indigestion – it’s that not really about Madeleine McCann eight-parter fronted by the suitably Irish angst and facial contortion of James Nesbitt. Mind you he does ‘desperate’ brilliantly. I’m hooked, even if AA Gill savages it at the weekend.

I must backtrack because on Monday evening the Sorro siblings, now with sister in tow and partners abounding met up for another little probate party. Our lovely mummy didn’t have much  (thank God she spent it) but Sis funded the meal from bootfair takings. I have yet to dispose of the porcelain and silver but we could be looking at The Ivy . Meantime we were in Il Capriccio in Ewell Village, a smart Italian job chosen for no other reason than the other smart Italian jobs in Ewell (three of them) were closed on a Monday. Now Ewell nestles stylishly and quietly under the powerful and embracing wing of the bustling eagle market town  that is Epsom, famed for salts and thoroughbreds. This is where I grew up. Get the connection? Anyway I started with French, moules mariniere; continued with Italian, veal (yes, sorry I like it) al limone; finished with a nice British slab of apple pie. Now that’s Europeanism.

Talking of The Missing, last night, Thursday, I caught Gone Girl the movie. The frighteningly successful book was well-written and wholly unconvincing tosh. The film is better but still tosh. Tension was just about maintained, despite loud popcorners behind – and I didn’t fall asleep. Usually a good sign. And Rosamund Pike is very good. Ben Affleck plays Ben Affleck. Quite a lot of sex and a bit of hilarious violence. The multi-screen Odeon experience is one on which I shall comment further to but, characteristically, I’m ahead of myself.

As I relaxed after James Nesbitt’s first hour of losing his son I heard a Talksport argument about the epidemic of pushing and shoving in soccer penalty areas. It’s Shawcrossgate. For the uninitiated Ryan Shawcross is a burly Stoke defender who many think should be in the England team because he commits GBH on attackers and gets away with it. Well until t’other day. Now he’s been stood down as enforcer by manager Mark Hughes, while things calm down. In the blink of an eye he’ll be back beating shit out of pansies like Terry and Ivanovic who, in a breathtaking example of pots and kettles ran to mummy ref. when they were mildly stroked by two smaller Man Utd defenders. The Talksport argument was wonderfully clichéd and circular. I’m not sure how many inarticulate ex-pros are paid a good wedge to comment on the idiocies of modern football but the supply of dimwits seems inexhaustible. Personally I like the rugby tackle in soccer. It beefs up what otherwise has become a tame game for tarts.

Wednesday and the Festival Hall. First an early evening catch-up meal and chat with Al and Danielle, old, dear colleagues. TAS – the Turkish chap at the end of The Cut (you know, just up from the Old Vic) does a mean shishk and buzzes with mezze life. Danielle, being a classicist pointed out that Kristin Scott-Thomas’s Electra belonged to Sophocles. Of course Euripedes had also written an Electra. Of course. We moseyed to the RFH for an evening of Rachmaninov. Lest you are worried about my gentle move to higher status culture, fear not. An attempt to mask the philistinism in my DNA perhaps but I do love sitting in the Art Deco splendour of the Festival Hall.

We met up with grand old buddies from my harder working days. Vivien, who had been a stylish Senior Mistress at our large coed grammar school. Those were the days when such posts were seen as important and necessary rather than sexist and tokenist. Ho hum. Smiles and laughter with her hubby, John, who uses the word wanker with such punishing timing and weight that it’s a joy to hear the word burst forth. I can’t match him on this but I do a mean bollocks when I’m roused.

Into the great  auditorium at level 6, row N – top of the house and a grand view of all. I know purists like to see the pianist’s fingers and the mole on the first violinists chin but I’m happy looking at this glossy Busby Berkeley of a place. The chrome-rimmed boxes stick out of the like open cash tills. I settle into my seat and await the young starlet Pavel Kolesnikov. We had done the jokes about his name before he wandered on with conductor Vassily Sinaisky. He looked like a mop-haired pre-pubescent, certainly a Kolesnikov minor. Russians are good at music aren’t they, I mused to myself and settled in for a captivating bit of Rachmaninov. Pavel’s fingers were a blur from my distance but they danced like Ariel at breakneck speed across the ivories (pre 1947 so OK to talk about). The second piano concerto. Most of my fellows had agreed – their favourite. I agreed because I wasn’t sure what to compare it with. My mind wandered an I caught sight of a woman being sick – pretty much in Pavel’s line of sight. He was underterred. She was under the weather. Stewards ushered her away and mopped up noiselessly. Rachmaniov’s 2nd unaffected. Roaring approval at its conclusion. Wow.

The interval gave way to his 3rd Symphony – plenty of light and shade and culminating in the sort of sound and fury I like. My eyes were trained on the guy playing the xylophone. Little to do but he’s got to be on the money every 10 minutes when the spotlight is on. Does he get the same cash at the end of the evening? The woodwind and brass sections would be seriously pissed off. The strings would be apoplectic.

We missed the train back by 39seconds, we calculated. I used the oaths previously italicised – and a few more. Luckily I had Stephen Fry in my pocket. The 30minute wait passed in a blink.

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