Thursday, 9 July 2015

Cultural outings after a bit of a shock

It was a relief to see the back of June, a month that had not started with any sense that it would produce a major event, but took only a few days to announce that it was going to be memorable.

The event in question was The Other Half having a heart attack. Don’t panic – it sounds more dramatic than it actually was.

There was no clutching at chest and/or keeling over.

And the first responder, the London Ambulance Service paramedics, the medical, ward and support teams at Bart’s were all absolutely magnificent and have my (our) eternal gratitude and appreciation.

I've not personally seen the NHS in action like that, but it makes you very aware of just how valuable it is.

After four nights, he was discharged and is now doing rehab stuff, practising being a cat and feeling faintly embarrassed at having been signed off for two months, because he feels okay in himself.

If we both needed an urgent motive to quit smoking, that was it.

So, it’s all been a tad distracting – hence no posts on this blog for over a month.

Panorama from Queen's Promenade, Ramsey
And in the middle of it all, I had to fly out and back in a day to the Isle of Man for a family funeral – an experience that was more enjoyable than expected, but quite surreal at times.

Its 40-plus years since I was on the island and, since I was so young then, I have limited memories of it. I had forgotten – or perhaps I had never fully realised – just how rural it is.

The taxi ride from the airport at the south of the island to Ramsey in the north took me over the mountains.

Fog was clinging to the bleak hills, which made one appreciate the dangers of the TT racers who had only recently been speeding along the narrow roads. There have been 243 deaths at TT and Manx Grand Prix races since they were first staged in 1911 – one this year.

'You has chips. We wants chips'
By late afternoon and my return journey, the cloud had lifted, leaving a view from the mountains down to the sea, which also serves to give one a sense of just how small an island it is.

Having arrived in the rain – stepping down onto the tarmac from the plane at Ronaldsway to the smell of manure – I found myself in Ramsey just as the drizzle tapered off. Wandering around in the damp, I recognised elements of the harbour, where my grandfather had taken me to buy fish fresh off the boats when we holidayed on the island.

I had chips for lunch – from a chippy where the menu board advertised posh coffee for £2 – and found myself feeding seagulls who had swooped in at the mere smell of chips. It was entirely apt, since my love of gulls stems from those childhood holidays in Ramsey, when I would wake to the sound of their shrieking.

Anyway, all of this means that you won’t be getting lengthy reviews for a number of things that we have seen since ‘The Event’ (as I feel like to euphemise it). As the medical staff made quite clear, rehabilitation does not mean enforced 24/7 bed rest.

Pirates of Penzance – left, Alex Weatherhill 
But Ill start by mentioning the all-male Pirates of Penzance that we saw at Hackney Empire a couple of weeks ago.

We had booked not knowing that it was be an all-male production, simply that it was G&S, but it was an absolute hoot.

Particular mentions should go to Alex Weatherhill as Ruth and Alan Richardson as Mabel.

Watch out for future productions by Sasha Regans company – they’ve done similar productions before and hopefully will do so again.

It’s also worth noting that the Tate Britain’s Barbara Hepworth exhibition has opened.

Not helped by my inexperience in looking at abstract sculpture, I didn’t find it earth-shattering.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it. The guarea pieces, carved from “great logs” have a beauty that seems to radiate something very tranquil.

Corinthos by Barbara Hepworth
Hepworth talked of ‘tunnelling’ through the wood and you can let yourself get lost in the curvaceous channels into and through it.

But in general, the exhibition really only surges into life at the end, with a room that aims to recreate a pavilion where some of her bronzes were displayed in the Netherlands half a century ago, and which the artist herself considered as a perfect way to show them.

Indeed, more generally, Hepworth commented on the link between a work and where it is displayed when she noted that “one of the functions of sculpture is to fulfil the demands and conditions of a given site”. The two should not be divorced if the culture is to fully work.

Suddenly, in this final room, you have the sense of what influenced Hepworth so much – nature: and how much better her pieces work in a setting that reflects that rather than a more sterile room.

Ham from the 'ultimate black pig'
And as if that wasn’t enough cultural hijinks, after a 16-year gap, we were finally lured back into the cinema last Friday.

I say “we”, but I’ve been the particularly reluctant cinema goer over the years; dischuffed with the actual experience of going to the cinema and also with the amount of Hollywood tat aimed at an adolescent male audience.

Don’t get me wrong, that audience deserves being catered for by the industry as much as any other, but not to the exclusion of others.

And with the UK having largely binned our own film industry and decided simply to import whatever Hollywood churns out, I felt disengaged from the entire enterprise.

Admittedly, I then ‘discovered’ foreign-language films – and a present of a DVD player allowed me to watch quite a few.

Where there is tapas, there are pardon peppers
While more recent years seems to have brought some improvements in what’s being made, I’ve waited for the DVDs rather than going to see them on cinema release.

Well, finally there was a film I didn’t want to wait any more months to see.

It has French origins and is the epitome of charm, sophistication and erudition.

I speak, of course, of Minions.

Having booked for the Vue at Islington, we needed to eat first, so tried La Farola a short walk away, where we enjoyed very pleasant tapas.

The Lomo iberico de bellota is apparently the “utimate black pig” and, seasoned with smoked paprika and sea salt, delicate slices are an absolute taste delight, with a good deal of complexity.

Green Gordal olives were huge and tasty; the padron peppers were fine (if not including any surprise hotties), while mushrooms were good too: the boquerones might have been Calabrian, but were a reminder of sunny Collioure, and the pan con tomate came on a scrummy, wafer-light, chargrilled bread.

Hurrah for silliness
Anyway, Minions was also our first 3D film – and that itself was rather enjoyable.

The film itself was great fun – utter silliness, but there’s a place for that. Some critics have been rather snooty about it, complaining that the plot is a bit thin.

It probably is, but it was not the sort of film where that bothered me. I didn’t want to see it for the ‘plot’, but for what it does very effectively, which in essence is a series of gags and sketches.

The opening – marvellously dryly narrated by the wonderful Geoffrey Rush – sees the eponymous yellow characters going through a number of bosses as they seek an evil being to serve.

Not only is that an establishing sequence in terms of giving us the minions’ history, it also establishes the sketch-like nature of the film.

No complaining from me – it provided plenty of laughs.

The initial smell of popcorn was almost overpowering when we entered the foyer, but the seating was as comfortable as anything I could remember.

So perhaps it won’t be another 16 years before I enter a cinema again. In fact, I think Ted 2 has just opened.

No comments:

Post a Comment