Rose in bloom?

It had been quite a while since I last filled a seat at the Rose Theatre in Kingston-upon-Thames. It was even further back in the mists of time that I experienced live music.

A recent night out killed those two birds with that one legendary stone, and, as you’ve probably guessed, it was at this place:

Where its at?

Through a very resourceful friend, I got hold of a ticket to see a live gig by the David Bowie tribute band ‘Absolute Bowie’.

The friend in question was a huge Bowie fan, and, as she had roped in a few more of her likeminded mates, it turned out that there was quite a crowd of us going along.

It was nice being back at the Rose, but one fly in the ointment was the drinks prices.

After meeting up as agreed in the bar, the purchase of the first round revealed that those booze prices had been hiked up – they were charging £6.50 for just under a pint of beer!

My friend was philosophical about it (her glass of wine cost even more!), saying that the bar earnings were helping fund the charity that runs the theatre.

With our overpriced drinks transferred safely into plastic glasses, we made our way to our seats.

The gig literally burst into life dead on the start time in a blast of sound and flashing lights.

There is no doubt about Absolute Bowie’s status as devout David Bowie fans – they replicated the look, the sound and the mannerisms of the man perfectly.

The level of detail was strictly adhered to and required frontman John O’Neil to make several costume changes, some of which were shown below:

Is it a bird, is it a plane …

Yeah I don’t know what he’s wearing either! All I can tell you is that it’s from the 70s.

The one below is from the same era and is a portrayal of the Bowie alter ego Aladdin Sane:

Kaftan Alert!

The costumes changes continued as they followed the Bowie songs through the decades – here is one from the 80s:

Skulduggery!

‘Diamond Dogs’, ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Changes’, ‘Modern Love’ … all the classics were sung, sounding eerily like the man himself – the only favourite of mine that was left out was ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ which was a bit of a shame.

The audience was definitely loving it – more and more people took to the aisles, enticed to dance by the beat.

By the end of the act, the whole audience were on their feet, moving and grooving away – the only exception was my good self. Feeling a bit self-conscious of my innate lack of dance ability, I stayed firmly in my seat. It did feel a bit lonely!

Despite not being the biggest Bowie fan, the energy of the performance and the audience rapport made for a very engaging evening, where the bulk of my Bowie favourites were sung.

I would advise anyone to go to an Absolute Bowie gig – its well worth a look in.

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Cornerhouse stone?

I don’t know about you, but I have found that amateur dramatics, or am-dram, is a pretty hit and miss affair. You basically just don’t know what you are getting.

Many years ago at college, a production by the in-house university drama group promised a night of pretty eclectic budget entertainment.

Whilst not trying to disparage the efforts of the budding freshman thespians, it was fair to say that my low expectation levels of the production were pretty much met.

Unlike some of my unkinder contemporaries who resorted to a bit of heckling, I just accepted it as part of the deal – it wasn’t as if we were paying West End prices.

My latest am-dram experiences have manifested themselves in recent times by visits to this place:

The am-dram hub?

The Cornerhouse Community Arts Centre is based in a town called Tolworth, deep in the heart of sunny south west London. I got to know it through a mate who lives just a couple of streets away.

There is more to the Cornerhouse than just the Amateur Dramatics. It has hosted stand-up comedy, provided a showcase for the work of local artists, as well as offering the local community a choice of workshops covering creative arts such as poetry and writing.

Their comedy nights have proved to be a hit with me – the comedians featured were ones I knew well from TV and other comedy circuits – Phil Wang, Sarah Pascoe, Greg Davis and Ed Gamble have all gigged there, including the legend that is Geoff Innocent!

My mate’s poetry group hosted an evening where a couple of pints and a very agreeable selection of cheeses were as much part of the evening’s itinerary as those obligatory ode recitals.

I really can’t claim to have seen much in the way of work from the local artists though.

For me, the prospects of Cornerhouse amateur dramatics are once more on the cards.

I have purchased a ticket for a production of ‘one act’ plays taking place this weekend. That’s all I know about it really – I am assuming that there will be two one act plays showing, but I may be wrong.

The Cornerhouse’s record in terms of am-dram has proven to be a bit variable over the years.

Howlers have included a production of the Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ (pardon the pun) that was a classic example of a show going badly wrong!

Misfiring props, collapsing scenery, fluffed lines, all conspired to cause proceedings to descend into a Bennie Hill type of farce! Both the audience and the cast ended up in fits of laughter for all the wrong reasons!

Very much on the plus side, a thumbs up goes to the annual Cornerhouse pantomime, which takes place every year in late January.

This is a topical re-working of a classic pantomime tale, and has to date ticked all of the boxes in terms of writing and production values, making for a very entertaining show.

What awaits me for this weekend’s am-dram offering is anyone’s guess.

Triumph or turkey, all will be confirmed when the final curtain goes down.

Place your bets now!

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Bills a go go!

If you thought I’ve blogged about this before you’d be right! Confirmation can be found in my post of 20th March 2018 titled ‘Pay-out time!’

As at the time of the aforementioned post, those big household bills have been piling up in true ‘Groundhog Day’ style, but this year’s cash sinkers are coming in at a more frenzied rate.

No sooner had I paid the water rates, the house insurance charge dropped through my letter box, followed on closely by the fearsome Council Tax Bill.

This is usually by far the biggest of the house hold bills (north of a grand!) but there is a chance that this may be dwarfed by the new bill on the block, the MOT.

For those who don’t know, the MOT is a mandatory test applied to all British vehicles to insure that they are road worthy – the resulting certificate proves that your motor has passed the required health check to be considered for taxation and insurance – it is basically a must for anyone intending to run a car in the UK.

My need for the MOT certification stemmed from the purchase of this bad boy a couple of years back:

Mean Machine? The mask on the floor is not mine by the way …

My new motor required this to be carried out towards the end of March each year, and as at the time of writing, this date is getting perilously close, I arranged for a trusted mechanic to take my car in for a service and MOT test.

Experience has taught me that even though my car has up to now been driving and handling well, it does not necessarily follow that there is no lurking motor issue that will cost a small fortune to correct!

Failing Clutches, ageing cam belts, blown head gaskets, not to mention balding tyres – all are past problems that have conspired to bump up the cost of getting my motor past that all important MOT test.

A friend of mine who had also bought a second hand car recently put it in for it’s MOT. He was expecting a couple of hundred quid to be charged to cover wear and tear – the reality turned out to be much more expensive – some failing suspension springs and worn out tyres meant that the final bill was north of £1,200!

My car goes in to the garage tomorrow. From the above, the cost of the MOT is anyone’s guess, so I could be significantly poorer by the time of my next post.

Wish me luck!

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Valentine – losing its shine?

That most hateful of days has once more been foisted upon us!

So, how many Valentines cards did you all receive? I can safely predict that you all got a lot more than my good self – if I had to give you a ball park figure, think of a nice round number that is less than one and you will get the idea!

Flowers … The language of love?

Yep, Valentine’s Day is with us once more. For me the lack of cards never really worried me that much – when I was going out with my last girlfriend neither of us were really that into the slush fest of the 14th – the platitudes and events of one chilly night in February had very little meaning or relevance to us or to what was going on in our lives.

What riled for me was the way the Valentine’s event was promoted – in your face marketing, the aggressive pushing of endless cheap and nasty merchandise, the hateful messaging designed to make you feel that having singleton status consigned you to being a social leper, all added up to make me loath the annual celebration of all things ‘lurve’.

This year was completely different though – the day of the most ultimate romance celebration almost totally slipped below my radar – it was the booking of a squash game that bought things into focus.

My mate said he had to book our weekly game at an earlier time on the 14th February due to impending Valentine celebrations with his wife – he had my deepest sympathy!

It also bought home to me how low key the current Valentine’s Day campaign had been. Yes, there was the odd sex aid ad on TV. Those card shops did have some posters about the oncoming Valentine’s love fest, but overall the tone was far from the shrillness of earlier years.

A lot of it may be due to do the post COVID conditions – the backdrop of a global pandemic is not really conducive to fanning those flames of passion, so maybe it is all down to lingering virus fears.

There is deep down still a part of me that holds out a glimmer of hope – could it be that the general public have finally got fed up of the hyperbole and hysteria surrounding all things Valentine’s?

Let’s hope so!

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Yet another year clear…

That most hackneyed of phrases that I use in all these belated New Year’s posts still applies – last year just flew by!

Admittedly a lot of it was to do with being under the COVID restrictions. Despite being forced to do absolutely nothing under virtual house arrest, time leaked away quicker than a politicians credibility!

Highlights of 2021 included completing my course of three COVID vaccination jabs, obtaining a working door to my back yard, and getting my life back on a more or less even keel after almost two years of stagnation.

Whilst not seeming that much like a hill of beans, the above were carried out against some pretty adverse conditions, so it is very much a case of accentuating the positive.

There were also a couple of things in the deficit part of the 2021 ledger – my mother had a seizure which left her pretty much bed ridden, and her diagnosis of having vascular dementia was confirmed.

Also the Kingston Radio Station, which was part of my life for more years than I remember, had time called on it by the site managers. We were given a date of April 2022 as a termination date. The whole process stank of petty management politicking, and was disrespectful in the extreme.

So, what is the outlook for the big 2022?

Change is on the cards!

I am back at the family home helping my family care for Mum – merging my work and assisting with the care has proved a real challenge – so far we have had some really useful help from local physios and carers. Hopefully this will continue.

The Kingston Radio Station is in defence mode, with us members working to try and salvage some sort of future for the Station. At the moment we are following a few lines of enquiry, but it is early days yet. Credit to everyone concerned for having a go though.

There are a few positives – I have started playing once more in the squash leagues at the mighty New Malden Sports club, and have splashed out a bit of cash for the following:

Weapons of choice …

Let’s see if it does anything to remotely improve my game!

So far I am leading the scoring in my league and hopefully should be in the running for promotion to the one above – I am not naive enough to credit this progress entirely to the new kit above, but it probably helped.

With the receding COVID measure (so far!) the opportunities for getting out and about have a bit more potential.

I saw in 2022 with my friend from squash and his wife – as we ate before meeting up I did not end up on the 213 bus clutching some food filled Tupperware as in previous years, but we celebrated New Year in fine style at a pub in Norbiton called the Canbury Arms.

It was a good evening – we were there for the Big Ben chimes that marked the start of 2022,and my mates wife impressed mightily with her prowess on the dance floor! We left the pub shortly after 1 am.

Anyway, I hope your New Year’s celebrations went well – have a very happy and healthy 2022 everybody!

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Chrimbo Limbo

For me, the legendary ‘season to be jolly’ has been and gone quicker than Santa’s Sleigh down a ski run!

Here’s what the 25th of December looked like from the family home:

Pressies!

Christmas time for me happened in a slow motion blur, and it wasn’t because it was viewed through an alcoholic haze!

For a start, I have been working over much of the festive period – yep, I drew the short draw in the Crimbo leave lottery. This wasn’t too bad but it did cut down the time available for those vital Xmas chores.

My Christmas cards and presents were literally done and distributed just in time. Most of the cards went to my colleagues in the Kingston Radio Station, where I managed to squeeze in some Yuletide themed shows.

The shop for booze and food happened way to close to the great day for comfort.

I was very fortunate in terms of covering expenses this time around – my Christmas purchases were all covered by the source of funds below:

Bottle Bank …

Over the course of 2021 all of my change was squirrelled away in my trusty money bottle – it turned out to be a bit of a bumper year in terms of spare coinage, and the hope is there will be some cash leftover for some wanton squash expenditure in the New Year.

As for the big day itself, it was a bit of a quiet one. The family tradition of avoiding Turkey based fare was strictly adhered too – there wasn’t a sprout in sight!

Present–wise, gifts included the 2022 Viz Annual, squash goggles, and a new DAB Radio – it was a pretty good haul in the end.

Anyway, I hope you all have a very happy and COVID free Christmas, and I would strongly advise you to steer clear of those sprouts – just say no!

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Broadcast Blues

This one was a real bolt out of the blue for me and all my Kingston Radio Station colleagues – including the management!

No one could have possibly seen it coming, and it looks as if the powers that be of the site of that houses Kingston Radio Station intended it to be that way.

Very recently, the manager and treasurer of Kingston Radio Station were called to attend a meeting with the site management team.

The message was stark and simple – they wanted to reclaim the Kingston Radio studios – we were given a deadline of early 2022 when we had to be out:

To broadcast no more?

The whole thing stank of management politics – we were given no fore warning about their actions, which included disabling the system that we use to broadcast our shows around the site.

This was basically an ultimatum – the Kingston Radio Station was being officially disowned – they were pulling the plug on it.

On a personal level I am absolutely gutted. I have been a member of Kingston Radio Station for over twenty five years – if it does go there is going to be a huge gulf in my life.

I like the people, some of whom I have known for years – I have always enjoyed broadcasting my shows. In fact, being able to do my shows over the pandemic really helped me over lockdown – it has always been a constant in my life.

One real positive is that the members of the Kingston Radio Station are not taking this lying down. An emergency meeting was called, and we have come up with a few courses of action to see if we can mitigate the site management plans.

At the moment, it is a case of wait and see – the Kingston Radio Station has been serving that particular site for over sixty years – I am just hoping against hope that we will still be able to add a few more years to that tally.

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Publication initiation?

A friend of a friend has gone and done something that I tried many years ago where my efforts pretty much crashed and burned (see my post ‘Writes Of Passage’ from March 26th 2010). She has done the deed, and has only gone and written a book:

For anyone who really doesn’t know, Sarah is the one on the left!

This took painstaking research, and it gives a unique slant on a much publicised family the Churchill’s, covering the life and times of Winston’s star struck daughter Sarah Churchill.

Not a great deal has been written about Winston’s ‘Wayward Daughter’ of the title. Miranda Brooke’s account highlights Sarah Churchill as a complex and multi layered character, far from the conventional image of a statesman’s daughter.

Poet, socialite, and good time girl, she flitted between both sides of the Atlantic. Her choice of romantic partner did not always meet with the old Churchill parental approval, and one of her marriages was to an Austrian-Jewish Comedian! Apparently Winston was not amused.

Sarah did her bit for king and country during World War II – from helping out Polish refugees and entertaining Nazi Hunters, she was instrumental in the forging of the much vaunted special relationship between Winston Churchill’s United Kingdom and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s United States Of America, calling on transatlantic connections both through her naturalised American husband and secret lover, who happened to be the American Ambassador.

Sarah was also part of Winston’s efforts to forge the alliance of the ‘Big Three’. Trying to get Russia to join the British and the US war effort involved a lot of the wining and dining of Joseph (Uncle Joe) Stalin. Much capitalist caviar was heaped on Uncle Joe, and Sarah’s part in the process involved forming a relationship with Stalin’s own daughter.

Miranda Brooke’s tome engagingly details the parts of Sarah’s life story that were intertwined around some of the key events of the Second World War, covering many of Winston Churchill’s activities and initiatives at the time, giving a fresh perspective of the great man through the eyes of his daughter. Her life after the war years was colourful to say the least.

Her narrative is refreshing in its honesty, telling things ‘warts and all’.

It is definitely well worth a read, and what’s more, it’s not just for history buffs!

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Royalty loyalty?

After a bit of voucher based shenanigans on the internet, my friend certainly produced the goods – she came up with a couple of cut price tickets for a play in the heart of London’s theatre land!

The very reasonable sum of £15.00 bought us a seat at the Prince Of Wales Theatre. The theatres name turned out to be very apt indeed as we were seeing a production called ‘The Windsor’s: Endgame’:

A right royal send up!

The trip up there represented my first foray into the centre of London in almost two years – I joined the Waterloo bound train from New Malden Station, and as it turned out, my friend had caught the very same train! The original plan was to meet under the Waterloo Station clock.

Whilst not dreading the travelling, I did feel a bit uneasy to begin with.

I had not used the train services very much over the course of the pandemic, and I had got used to the skeleton passenger levels that were typical of the time – on our journey up, the passenger numbers were back to pre-COVID levels.

As was the case with the crowd levels when we hit the West end – people were practically thronging on the streets – it was as if the pandemic had never happened.

After locating the Prince of Wales (I am talking the theatre here, not the current heir to the thrown), we decided to spend the next forty five or so minutes getting some pre-curtain raiser refreshments.

Feeling in the need for something light, we decided to try one of the many noodle bars in the vicinity. My friend had the same dish I went for – a very nice prawn based soup noodle.

Part of the plan was to get a couple of drinks in before the entertainment started – it turned out that we had chosen probably the only noodle bar in the West End that didn’t serve alcohol! We made do with tap water.

My friend had given me advanced warning in respect of the entry requirements to the theatre. The Prince of Wales effectively operated a vaccine passport policy.

I produced my bit of card from the NHS giving the dates of my two COVID vaccination jabs, whilst she had a recent negative COVID test from her work. Both did the trick and got us through the doors.

We took a detour to the bar – our current lack of all things booze needed addressing.

Things didn’t really work out as planned though – I bought my friend a lager, and myself an ale – both drinks were from the same brewery, but they only did them in 330 cl cans, which in old money is just over half a pint – what’s more they cost £6.00 each!

Deciding to quit while we were behind, we took our seats, which being on the raised balcony above the stalls (I think this area is known as ‘the gods’ in theatre parlance) were pretty good – we had a full, unhindered view of the stage, and we were in plenty of time for the main feature.

The play we were seeing was based on a Channel Four series called ‘The Windsor’s’, which is a comedy satire based on the life and times of Britain’s Royal Family.

‘The Windsor’s: End Game’ extends this idea a bit further – it is set in the future when Prince Charles becomes King Charles III (nope, the current Queen Elizabeth doesn’t feature).

Most of the other royal family members are included in the plot, but what surprised me was the choice for villainess – I thought with all her Oprah interviews and general anti-monarchy sniping, Megan Markle (referred to as ‘Muggan’ in the play) would be the natural choice.

Instead, the storey makes Charles’ wife Camilla the main antagonist, or Queen Camilla as she becomes, and the plot follows her attempts at manipulating Charles and the other royal family members as she schemes to get more power for the crown.

The plot was a not to subtle blend of ‘Game Of Thrones’ and ‘The Windsor’s’ TV series, with a few song and dance acts thrown in for good measure. Some of the cast, such as Harry Enfield, could also be recognised from the TV Series.

They had also made a few last minute additions to the script, such as references to Prince Andrew’s current legal issues, making it more topical and up-to-date.

The play certainly worked for me. Both I and my friend found it funny, and as is the case with all good shows, time passed by very quickly.

It was definitely the case of a couple of hours well spent.

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Moving movie target?

It’s been a quite a while since I last blogged about movies!

I guess I’ve always been a cinema fan – like most of these things it started in childhood – hot dogs, usherettes selling ice cream from trays, those really dreadful local business adverts they used to shoe horn in before the main feature, all form part of the tapestry that make a trip to the cinema a real treat.

Films have provided a welcome prop for a few of my more unsuccessful Saturday nights over the years – when the old social life completely fell apart a hastily organised cinema trip could be effectively and rapidly deployed to save the day!

Recently my attendance has varied. The COVID pandemic wiped out any realistic plans for movie going over the last year and a half, but the onset of Freedom Day has seen a bit of resurgence when the film theatres re-opened in mid-July.

The Odeon Cinema, deep in the heart of the mighty Rotunda complex, is where it usually takes place:

Houses a theatre of dreams …

Having friends who are big film fans also helps – for the last few weeks Friday night has been film night!

It had to be said that the current film choice is a bit limited – Hollywood was also hit by lockdown, but there are a couple of films I have spotted amongst the trailers which could potentially be of interest.

The remake of ‘Dune’ is due for release very soon. This is a sci-fi storey set on a Desert like planet where ‘things to do’ involve trying to avoid falling prey to the giant earth worm creatures that turn up every now and again.

I never read the Frank Herbert novel that provides the back storey for the sci-if flick. My only point of reference is the original ‘Dune’ film from 1984 – this starred the acting talents of Sting (the lead singer of pop group Police) who allegedly camped it up something chronic, the lovely Francesca Annis, and the equally lovely Virginia Madsen who I remember from the film ‘Sideways’.

It was pretty much panned by the critics at the time, and my mate, who is also a film buff, claims that it was the sheer awfulness of the movie that made it an iconic classic!

Whilst not being totally convinced by that argument, the clips I have seen from the new movie look very respectable, and suggest that some production values were in evidence, so it is definitely worth a look in.

The latest Bond film ‘No Time To Die’ is due for release on the 30th September this year, though this date has been pushed forward so many times by the studios that I’ll only believe it when it actually makes it onto the cinema listings.

This is the fifth and final outing for Daniel Craig as James Bond, and from what I have seen of the trailer, he seems to be finishing in fine style, delivering those high octane action scenes that are part and parcel of the traditional Bond franchise.

I have heard that a bit of woke filtering may have been applied to the movie in respect of its plot and casting to get in line with the stipulations of the political correctness brigade.

My view is that if these changes are applied in such a way that is consistent with the plot line I have no real problems. If all they do is check boxes for those diversity quotas then this is virtue signalling from the studios – I just don’t want to know. Being preached at does not make for a good viewing experience.

It will be interesting to see how things unfold.

Going by my last few cinema visits there should be plenty of room in the movie theatres – the audience has been pretty thin on the ground for the last few films I saw. A lot of is probably due to remaining public fears over COVID.

Hopefully the audiences will trickle back – I want the cinemas to be able to survive – I am intending to do quite a bit of cinema viewing in the future!

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