Competition and being competitive


I am the competitive dad Amy mentions. I meant it as humorous motivation. But hey, you reap what you sew. I am incredibly proud of Amy though and she can kick my ass fitness wise on anything now, And her siblings – not that that is the point of this.

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It’s not always a good thing.

My family are all pretty competitive. Sometimes playfully, sometimes seriously. Sometimes it starts playfully and we get carried away and then someone ends up in tears (sorry mum).

With a sociable twin brother and sister who were pretty good at sport, had each other to make it easy to get involved in activities at school, they were reasonably competitive. And rightly so, they were talented and put in effort.

I remember as a kid, my sister and I were in a group singing competition and my dad said to us “it’s not the taking part that counts, it’s beating the shit out of the competition”. This was funny at the time, but maybe not the best message for a 10 and 13 year old girl. We’ll put it down to character building and an explanation for my now sarcastic sense of humour.

To say…

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Local Hero by Bill Forsyth & David Greig: My Thoughts.


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It was announced that Local Hero could be a possibility while I was still on the Royal Lyceum board three years ago and it seemed like a wild dream, almost a fantasy really; that one of Scotland’s most iconic movies could be turned into a stage play, and a musical at that.

Even though it rates only a solid, but unspectacular 7.4 on IMDB, it has been taken to Scotland’s heart.  I only watched it myself, a month ago, in anticipation of this production finally, miraculously landing.  But I wasn’t overly taken with the movie I have to say.  It has dated and I found too many of the performances pretty easy to criticise and that let  it down. So I approached last night nervously.

There was no need to worry.  This is a smash hit in the making.  The buzz around The Lyceum was palpable and the after show party felt like the West End had dropped into Edinburgh.

The Director is John Crowley for God’s sake – he of the Oscar-nominated movie Brooklyn: the man who has just directed the most anticipated movie (for me anyway) of 2019; The Goldfinch.

The set designer is Scott Pask – Book of Mormon – heard of that?

And, of course, the music was developed and expanded by none other than Mark Knopfler himself.

The cast is not a Take The High Road reunion, indeed only two of the 15 have ever appeared on The Lyceum stage, and have Girl From The North Country, Kinky Boots, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Les Mis, This House, Wolf Hall , School of Rock and Sweeney Todd, amongst many others, littering their CVs.

This is the real deal.  This is monumental ambition for a 600 seat theatre in  Scotland. (Albeit the Old Vic are co-producers).

So, onto a couple of old upturned fish boxes sidle Matthew Pigeon, as Gordon the hotel-owner and chief negotiator, and Ownie (Scott Ainslie) to conclude Ownie’s accountancy requirements with change from a fiver.  If only Gordon had change.

It’s a quiet start that does not prepare you for the technical wizardry that underpins the first showstopper of the night, “A Barrel of Crude”.  And there’s a laugh right from the off. Light humour that litters an excellent script.

Through the opening half hour the lilting lament that formed the musical motif of the movie slips and slides into earshot before finally emerging fully formed.  It’s beautiful.

The story is pretty much as per the movie, but the morals feels somehow even more upfront as we chart the greed of the locals over the environmental consequences of their signing away their home village of Ferness (You can’t eat scenery though).

The big bad American oilman (played impeccably by Damian Humbley) is a great foil to Katrina Bryan’s Stella and Matthew Pigeon’s Gordon in a love triangle that doesn’t really quite come off (that would be my only real criticism of the show).

I particularly liked the movement in this (directed by Lucy Hind).  It’s a play about contrasting scales (big skies, small villages, small-mindedness and big ambitions) and what she skilfully does is play with that scale through subtle but lovely choreography to bridge scenes and dramatise that juxtaposition of scales.  It’s really nice to see great movement that’s NOT trying to be John Tiffany: again.

The dance movement is slick and light of touch.  With a big mixed-age, mixed-size cast that’s no mean feat.

The band is top notch and excellently MD’d by Phil Bateman on keys.

Although the score is inspired mainly by the Celtic canon it succeeds much more than Come From Away (that I saw on Monday) which too draws from that canon – but does it to death.  Here we have ballads, tangos, a bit of rock and roll and, yes, that plaintive motif.

The light and shade in this production’s musical content, for me, frankly blows the multi Olivier-nominated Come From Away out of the water.  Indeed, on every level this is a much more enjoyable evening of theatre – so roll on the Oliviers 2020.

The comparisons can’t fail be made – both are Celtic musicals set in tiny communities, in wildernesses where big America comes to visit.

The Local Hero ensemble is universally excellent, the direction superb but the showstopper of it all is the scenic design.  You’ll need to see it to appreciate it.  I ain’t gonna do it any justice here.  All I’ll say is this.  You haven’t seen the aurora borealis until you’ve seen Local Hero at The Lyceum.

Bravo Lyceum.  Bravo.

The show richly deserves both its standing ovation and the Sold Out boards you’ll find in Grindlay Street for the next six weeks.

(I did take a peek at the website box office and you CAN get tickets for late in the run.  I’d do it if I were you.)

 

“Computer says no” culture alive and kicking at Ryanair.


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Empty.  Like their customer service soul.

If I were attempting some sort of covert or criminal undertaking by attempting to sneak, unnoticed onto the 12:35 Ryanair flight from Stanstead to Edinburgh today the least I could have done was attempt to fake my identity.

Then the sullen ranks of Ryanair’s “customer services” team could at least feel sullied.

But I was too honest for my own good.

Rewind 24 hours.

I’d flown to Stanstead from Edinburgh, using my Passport as photo ID as I headed to an appointment at OIS in Fleet Street to have my Passport checked in advance of my trip to Nigeria next week.

Armed with a bag of application forms, letters of authorization, passport photographs (two of which remained in my possession) and other sundry items of proof of my existence, and tolerable citizenship credentials, the appointment passed without incident.

Relieved of my passport for 48 hours (for official reasons) it wasn’t even then that I realized I had faux passed.  That was the next day on the coach to Stanstead when I realized that with my passport now in the hands of the Nigerian Government I was identity-less, unless you consider;

  • The letter from The Nigerian High Commisssion acknowledging temporary receipt of my passport
  • All my bank cards
  • My boarding pass from the previous day – proving I had travelled from Edinburgh and was simply returning
  • My phone and laptop
  • A printed card with my photo and place of work
  • My Tesco Clubcard

But no, they weren’t to know who I was because I didn’t have

  • A library card
  • A bus pass or
  • A driving licence

Or my passport.

I made the mistake of getting to the airport early and taking the ‘opportunity” to wait for 20 minutes in the Ryaniar “Customer Services” queue (now there is a misnomer if ever you’ve seen one).

As one particularly sullen faced operative finished with the customer in front of me I tentatively stepped forward, eyes wide looking for approval to enter the Stalag.

“No!” she barked.

Not another word or gesture.

It was the end of her shift, it would appear, as she then packed up her ‘stuff’ for the next five minutes before disappearing without a nod, wink or how do you do.

Home, to her loving family for a giggle in front of Pointless.  (A programme she must think, on a daily basis, is a metaphor for her life. )

Upon finally being seen I desperately explained my predicament only to be told

“God, we’re getting everything today, this is all I need.”

The operative, assumed the facial expression of a Wild Boar, speared through the ribcage in a prehistoric hunt with the spear having just missed its vital organs, as she vainly sought advice for a while and eventually said “Well you don’t have ID so you can’t fly”.

She sort of grudgingly suggested I could maybe get an ID from the train station but wryly noted, under her breath, that would mean I would miss my flight before adding “…but you don’t get ID for travel passes, do you, anyway?”

So, I took fortune into my own hands, reasoning that ID isn’t always checked, and even if it was perhaps I’d receive a warmer reception at the Gate.

So I thought I’d just chance it.

After all, it’s not as if I was going to Scotland to do anything criminal or as reckless as bungle its constitution and economy (there are people better at that here in London who don’t need photo ID for that).

Security was a nightmare.  I had left a coin in my pocket that bleeped, but then the full body scanner broke down.

Tick tock tick tock. 

Re-runs of Midnight Express pricking my sweat glands into action.

Nevertheless, thanks to my excellent earlier time-keeping, I got to the gate at the allotted time and tried the old confidently shoving the boarding pass forward whilst moving at speed, without a care in the world trick.

“ID?”

“Ahh. I have a small problem here” I responded. “ I don’t have any.”

“Did you tell customer services this?”

“Yes, but they weren’t very helpful.”  (Unless you consider “the computer says no” as helpful.  Informative yes, helpful, no.)

I got the distinct impression that that was a fatal error (going to the Stalag).

Being honest had cost me my flight.

They didn’t actually say it but they might as well have – “Really?  You didn’t tell customer services, did you?”

In their defence the ladies on the gate at least TRIED to help, but eventually had to concede “the computer still says no.”

They suggested I look for a more sympathetic hearing at Customer Services, ( a sort of Meaningful Vote 2 if you like), so back I trudged only to be met by the stone wall of Gomorrah.

“You don’t have ID?  Then you can’t fly.”

Nothing had changed.  The speaker had spoken.

“How can I get back to Edinburgh though?”

“The train?” she shrugged and at that I left.

£166 later, I got the train.

It’s my fault.  I didn’t figure out that I needed TWO photo IDs to get from Edinburgh to London and back via a Nigerian High Commission Visa office (and it wasn’t on the checklist).

Yes, entirely my fault.

But, you know what, I think with the right attitude and the right people we could have found a workaround. (Seemingly BA have a form you can fill in but no one at Ryanair had heard of such a thing.)

And did I mention the signaling problems between Peterborough and York?

(That wasn’t Ryanair’s fault either.)

 

 

Come From Away; West End Musical Review.


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This show has been an absolute smash in North America and I can see why.  It has a certain saccharine sweetness that, for me, gets in the way of a more gripping retelling of a charming and heartfelt story.

Maybe there is no hiding from the truth.  It’s just nice.

Also 9/11 happened there and this is one of the few shows that doesn’t mourn it but finds a nugget to celebrate the human positives that emerged.

The actions concern those of the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, (The Rock) home of the biggest airport in the world that no-one ever uses anymore (since jet planes’ fuel tanks got bigger the planes don’t have to stop there for transatlantic refuelling – for the record).

The residents of Gander’s is a modern day ‘evacuees’ act of human kindness, in that they took the 7,000 stranded passengers, strangers, of 38 planes, that couldn’t land in New York, on 11 September 2001, into their community and then to their homes.

But it’s all a bit hokey for me.  The relentless 180bpm Oirish/Newfie folk music gradually starts to do your head in as its one tune relentlessly ploughs a furrow towards your amigdila but in my case bypassed it and hit the cranial nerve instead.

It’s storytelling on steroids.  $ for $ you get more words here than you will anywhere else in the West End.  But it feels too crammed in – too worthy perhaps. just too much.  There’s absolutely no room made to stop and take stock.  No light and shade (or very little anyway).

Sure, it has its moments and some of the subplots are interesting (real). For me the most successful concerns a mother who’s  fireman son is working on the twin towers and she is beside herself with worry.  It leads to one of the few really poignant moments in this marathon jig.

The showstopper numbers; the opener ‘Welcome to the Rock’ and ’38 planes’ are certainly enthusiastic and well received and the finale has significant gusto and was met with the audience leaping to its feet almost as one.

But, I’m sorry, it missed the spot for me, almost completely, and I found myself sneaking looks at my watch despite its 90 minute run time.

One last thing.  The seating in The Phoenix Theatre was clearly designed for Victorians at a time when people were six inches shorter than today.  Horrendously uncomfortable.

After Life : TV Series Review


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Ricky Gervais has never, ever written a bad script.

And although he is pigeonholed as a comedian, writing comedy-drama he is far more than this.

He is an observer of the deepest human emotions and psyche. How else could David Brent exist?  How else could Derek be considered even remotely acceptable to be the star of a comedy, let alone have Gervais portray the part he had written, rather than cast an actor with learning difficulties?

In this latest offering, brought to us by Netflix, Gervais has reached a creative zenith.  In episode four there is a moment with a rice pudding that is the funniest thing I have ever seen on TV.  In episode 6, I wept for 15 minutes solidly.

It’s the story of a local free newspaper journalist who works to live, it’s not a career, it’s a job to fill the time between leaving his home, and his beloved wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman – Godly talent more like), and returning to spend each and every night with her.

The trouble is she’s just died of cancer and Tony (Gervais) can’t cope.  Only the dog is keeping him alive and it brings his dark cynicism and sarcasm to the fore. It gives him a super-power.  The power to be a total **** to everyone and anyone.  Sometimes to bad people who deserve it, like the school bully, but at other times to borderline cases (like a cheeky chugger).

His dad has Alzheimers and doesn’t recognise him.

His therapist is a moron.

His colleagues, led by the truly outstanding Tony Way as ‘photographer’ Lenny, are all ‘arseholes’.  Except they aren’t.  They’re just ordinary people.

He gradually falls for the nurse who works in his dad’s care home and that has a touch of joy about it.

But more than anything this show just shows that people are largely good.  Even the bad ones like Tony’s naughty postman.

The moments in the graveyard with a grieving widow, played by the magnificent Penelope Wilton, are pure philosophy.

And we have Diane Morgan (Philomena Cunk).

And during the cremation of a junkie that results in Tony standing in the smoke with a nun, it means he has to say to her, “Don’t breathe that in sister, you’ll be off your tits.”

We watched all six episodes back to back and I urge you to do the same.

Better than any TV I have seen in an awful, awful long time.

Utterly perfect.

Thank you Netflix for having the bravery to commission this.

(Oh, and the soundtrack is brilliant too.)

(And so is the dog.)