(Note: This is one of those blog posts that fills in the gaps of other arguably more interesting posts. So you’ll probably be wisest to outsource the reading of this blog to a contractor in Bangalore or something. Turn away now, those of you with low tolerance levels for trivia and minutiae).
The first day back at work after Easter in Napoli was marked with the traditional English religious festival known as the Feast of Holy Engineering Overruns. Railway engineering contractors who had promised hands on hearts that previous diabolical overruns and delays after public holidays would never be repeated, so obviously it was foolish to hope for anything better than slightly less diabolical overruns and delays. While rail delays were previously of little interest to me because I could take the Tube instead, it will come as no surprise to you that the Underground doesn’t extend to Chelmsford, where I now work. So my first day back was blighted by huge delays and marred by a legendary three-and-a-half hour slog to get to work. The best bit was the complete lack of information from the train operator at every step of the journey, presumably because no-one had the slightest idea what was happening. As it happens, on days like that no-one seriously expects you to even get to work, so by turning up at all you win brownie points. I only lamented the lack of plush sofas in our office, which meant I had nothing to punch repeatedly in frustration when I finally got there. And just thinking ahead – there are two more bank holiday weekends in May...
I paid a return visit to the comedy club in Greenwich with Steve & Helen after work one night for a BBC7 radio comedy recording of the sketch show Tilt, a mostly topical comedy revue with a talented cast of young comedians barrelling through quick sketches on newsworthy or just plain silly topics. Two favourites included an interview with Sir Alec Guinness about his new film role as The Incredible Hulk, playing opposite a villain called The Abomination, played by Nigel Havers (these luvvies, so multi-talented); and two Beatle fangirls dissecting McCartney song titles to discover hidden anti-Heather Mills messages. ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was something along the lines of ‘Am Vex: Mills Lamer Shrew’. One of the comedians was the talented Northern lass Isy Suttie, who we’d seen perform the last time at the club. Here’s an interview from the Edinburgh festival – I love her accent!
On 29 March I braved the rather foul weather and the looming masses to head downhill to Putney, where the 154th annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge was taking place. Despite the surging crowds (half poshos, half Antipodeans) and the chilly rain (top marks to the miniskirted girl with red gumboots and bare legs) I enjoyed the occasion. Oxford were clear victors in the end, and I was able to take this shot from the south bank opposite Fulham FC, about a mile west of the starting line at Putney Bridge – Oxford are in the dark vests:
The next day was the first of British Summer Time: three cheers for that, said the soft Aucklander. Although to be fair it has been a mild winter in London by most standards. I decided to remind myself of a proper scary winter by going to see an ice sculpture that had been erected outside the Tate Modern on Bankside. It was an interesting idea, leaving it there to melt in a way that was hopefully going to appear aesthetically pleasing. Actually it wasn’t much to look at, but it did let me imagine London as it might’ve been in The Day After Tomorrow:
I crossed the Millennium Bridge to the north side of the river, and noticed that the Thames was at low ebb, exposing the pebbly shoreline. Having long enjoyed rummaging through the stony beaches around Lambton Harbour in Wellington, turning up polished beach glass and the occasional fragment of 19th century pottery, I thought I’d take a look at a much richer history of a city boasting a couple of thousand years of settlement. I was rewarded with an excellent haul of pottery fragments from the 19th century – or at least I presume so, because that was the last period in which durable pottery would’ve been regularly shipped up and down the river. But the best find was a rusty headless nail of some sort. (Don't get all excited now). I’ve had a look on the internet to try to date it, but I’m not sure what it was used for or how old it is. I think it’s handmade, and the lack of a head makes it look pre-19th century to me, but then what do I know about nails?
As I walked past St Paul's to take a bus back to the West End, the bells were ringing out in an impressive display that cascaded over the city and gave the tourists something to remember:
That evening I settled down to watch Anthony Minghella’s last production: the telemovie of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I was unprepared for just how charming it turned out to be. American singer Jill Scott was perfect as Precious Ramotswe, and the whole production was effortlessly entertaining and ultimately a joyful celebration of African life and a tribute to the spirit of optimism that imbues the books. The beautiful Botswana scenery will surely be seen again, although sadly with another helmsman, given Minghella’s recent death. A good way to finish on a high, and it could well make a transatlantic star out of Scott too.
I also went to see Juno in Wimbledon after work one weeknight, before it closed. I can see why it’s been so popular – it’s a top performance from the perky Ellen Page, and the comic touches are warm-hearted without being too saccharine… at least until the end. But by then you can allow them a happy ending, even if it’s rather shoehorned in. I initially described it as Napoleon Dynamite gets Knocked Up, which is a little glib but at least it permits me to indulge my penchant for italics.
There’s been a little socialising here and there too. Last Friday I met up with some former CC colleagues at the Pitcher & Piano in Kingsway for Alex & Philippa’s farewell drinks – they’re heading back to live in Perth. I was able to catch up with team-mate Estelle and hear about her interesting public affairs internship. The next night I caught up with Steve & Fiona at Borough Markets and had dinner back at their apartment with some of their pals.
I’ve already waxed lyrical about the splendid snowfall that blanketed London that Sunday, but I didn’t mention that when I was suiting up in my warmest gear to head outside I noticed that I’d managed to scrape some muesli from my breakfast plate right onto my warm fuzzy socks. Hence the title of this post. Not a life-changing moment by any means, nor a title that’s particularly representative of the past several weeks, but as I stand a fair chance of boosting my blog traffic both from Swiss people and from sock fanciers, I thought ‘why not?’
Later that afternoon I paid a visit to the V&A, having not seen the collections in ten years. I was surprised to find so much I’d not remembered, and spent several hours enjoying the collections. A particular highlight for me was the Cast Court – two huge spaces filled with 19th century casts of some of the best stonework of Europe and the British Isles. The hectic jumble of statues was appealing. On one side resided a stately copy of Michelangelo’s David posing in front of a cheery orange wall, while on the other a full-sized replica of Trajan’s Column (admittedly in two halves, one next to the other) loomed over the 10th century high cross from Monasterboice in Ireland. Jennifer, Hayley, Laura and I paid a visit to see this particular cross and its fierce carved Viking warriors on our Irish trip in 1997.
I’ll have to return to the V&A, and certainly sooner than 2018. Before I sign off, I should mention this story from today's paper, which I've reproduced in the VFE blog. Made me laugh, innit?