Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Muswell Hill by Torben Betts

The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

From Abigail's Party at one end of the scale to The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie at the other, one can guarantee that six members of the middle class dining with one another on stage, telly or big screen is going to end in tears (actually, the Bunuel film is cleverer - it knows that the bourgeoisie just keeps strolling on), and so it does here.  What is more the reasons tend to be the same or similar: shallowness, self-delusion, sexual jealousy, selfishness, complacency - especially selfishness and complacency.  This play, which is funny and tart in that way which makes the audience unsure whether to laugh or not, features high-end career woman Jess (brilliantly played by Jasmine Hyde) hosting a dinner for her widowed friend Karen (Katie Hayes, also terrific), her husband's old college pal Simon (a role thoroughly enjoyed by Dan Starkey) and her own young sister Annie (played fetchingly by Tala Gouveia).  Annie brings along her new date, 60 year old, pony-tailed Tony, theatre director (Timothy Block).  Also present is Jess's husband Mat (Leon Ockenden).

They are of course all messed up and get even more messed up as the evening proceeds.   In one way or another they all recognize Jess as a still point in their turning worlds.  It is wholly appropriate that Jasmine Hyde simply does not stop moving throughout the show.  She is forever entering and exiting or (actually) making omelettes or filling the washing machine or taking desserts out of the fridge.  I am fairly sure the bread came in and out at least three times.  At the same time as preparing the dinner Jess is dealing with the facts that her adultery with an electrician has been revealed, that her troubled sister is being bamboozled by the charlatan director, that her husband is a useless slacker, whom she has "carried for years" (he's an unsuccessful writer, natch), that her home has been invaded by a Dave Spart who believes everyone except himself is a liar and a murderer, and cannot stop yelling, and that her best friend cannot stop talking about her deceased husband (the last two do find some kind of redemption in one another and leave together after a rather sanctimonious Buddhist homily about licking maggots off the festering wound of a dying dog).

And of course we the audience, too, are attracted to Jess over and above the others.  In this rather incoherent play, that doesn't quite know what it is about, Jasmine Hyde forces us to see that it is about Jess, and what she has to put up with.  At the end, she leaves for a breath of air, and we suspect (and hope) that she is off to her electrician (who of course is not remotely middle class, one must suppose).

Taken all-in-all this was an engaging play, made more engaging still by  strong performances that serve it very well.  Recommended. 

Sunday, 26 February 2012


Mr Cash's Piemont Peppers

Take a red pepper, split it lengthwise.
De-seed and remove any membrane.
Fill with a Basil leaf, half a plum tomato, a couple of capers and about half an anchovy fillet.
Drizzle some quality olive oil and sprinkle some cracked black pepper,
Bake or grill on high heat for 10-12 minutes.

England 12 Wales 19

Priestland poor.

Farrell terrific.

Warburton magnificent.

Williams - fortunate to be given the opportunity to atone for not passing to 'Pence'.

Strettle try? - dunno, but England only didn't deserve to draw because they didn't deserve to beat Scotland (karma, see).  Who would have put the conversion over, though, with no Farrell on the pitch? 

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Interpreter's House

The latest issue of the magnificent The Interpreter's House contains the poem ('The Glove') I wrote about Pom and the baby rabbit.  In the unlikely event of your wanting a copy, but also because it behooves me to support good little poetry magazines, you can buy copies or subscriptions by going to the website and following the clues.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Dylan Thomas & Evelyn Waugh

From 'On Evelyn Waugh' by Joseph Epstein
New Criterion, April 1985

In his biography, Christopher Sykes reports Waugh’s strong aversion to Dylan Thomas, who used to appear from time to time at evenings at Cyril Connolly’s house. Waugh asked Connolly, in fact, never to invite him when he knew that Dylan Thomas was to be there. The reason, as Sykes explains, is that in Thomas—who dressed in checked suits resembling Waugh’s, whose language was like Waugh’s made up of parody and fantasy, who like Waugh again was small and portly, and who like Waugh still again was often drunk (though Waugh was not, like Thomas, a boisterous drunk)—in Thomas Evelyn Waugh saw a caricature of himself. “He’s exactly what I would have been,” Waugh told Sykes, “if I had not become a Catholic.”


Mr Giles O'Bryen's Mother's Pullover Pie:

Ingredients (serves four):

Four portions of potatoes
Four eggs
White sauce (aka bechamel sauce)
Two tins of chopped tomatoes
Hard cheese


Boil your potatoes until they take a bluntish knife quite easily but remain
firm, and certainly not until they start to collapse as they still have a
bit of cooking to do. Hard boil your eggs. While these boilings proceed,
make your white sauce out of butter, flour and milk (I can't tell you how to
do this because I always make a right mess of it). Add the tomatoes and stir
in well. Cut the eggs into halves. Now put everything into a casserole dish,
mix gently, and pop in the oven for fifteen minutes or whatever. Top with
grated cheese and brown under the grill. Serve with a pot of tea.


This is comfort food for a weekday evening in winter. The recipe is my
mother's and it is so named because I had a pullover that exactly matched
the flecked orangey colour of the completed dish.

© Giles O'Bryen, 2012

Thursday, 23 February 2012


Mr Michael Herbert's Chip Buttie 
(Grade: Level 5.  Should not be attempted without some previous experience of buttie-building)


v   random shaped chips (from a chip shop, not home cooked) with fluffy potato inside and a crisp brown outer (good quality potato, cooked in good oil is a surprising bonus but rare)
v   salt and malt vinegar according to personal amounts
v   soft white bread (as this is an overwhelmingly unhealthy snack, any pretensions to anything different with brown bread, would not suit), crucial is thick cut (or cut yourself thick)
v   mayonnaise (Hellman's will do, M & S not bad)
v   ketchup (only top brands will do, not daddy's, have used tomato puree, when run out of the other!!)
v   lemon juice (lime juice too much flavour for me but personal taste could go with this)
v   black pepper (freshly ground, one of my favourite things, hopefully a mixture of large and small chunks - grinder is important for this - not powder, pre-ground pepper, and definitely not white)
v   unsalted butter - there is an unsalted alpine butter beginning with 'm' (can't remember the rest, hard to find) that is the best, creamy, unsalted butter, but otherwise wheelbarrow or president will do

Possible extras or replacements:

v   French mustard has come into the equation once or twice, usually as a result of running out of something, but must be used carefully due to strength.


v   Bearnaise sauce has been used once but I regretted it as I was trying to be far too fancy and it didn't work at all.
v   Hollandaise sauce has popped up once or twice but suffered the same fate as its cousin Bearnaise


Proportions are everything with this "buttie".  For me that means lots of everything. You should eventually create a cholesterol-high, hydrogenated fat soaked, carbohydrate-fuelled 'goo' of sufficient amounts to nearly come through the bread.

First, spread a base layer of unsalted butter, soft so that a good even but thick spread can be applied.

Second, mayonnaise and ketchup are applied to both pieces of bread (for total saturation).

Then the chips can be placed on one piece of bread in random fashion, allowing space for oncoming lemon juice to filter through.

If more salt is needed then now is the time to do it, but crucially the ground black pepper goes on now, with attention to an even but lively spread.

Then squeeze half a lemon over the chip sided piece of bread - depending on sizes more lemon juice can be used (do not skimp on lemon juice!)

Press the empty slice of bread onto the 'packed' one, press down so the juices come through and are pushed into the all the crevices around the "buttie".


© Michael Herbert, 2012


UPDATE: Wonderful piece in the Guardian by Paul Rees, to be found here.

My father preferred Gareth: that had to do
with pluck and mud and moral fibre.
Not that he dismissed the king - the Methodist
in him simply warmed to a humbler talent.
But I was entranced. Barry John was beauty
triumphant, the world as it ought to be
and, I was young enough to think, as it was.

I suppose this could be regarded as a kind of lament both for my happy childhood and the Golden Era of Welsh rugby, but of course it is actually inspired by the New Hope.  It may be that England scratch a win on Saturday, as they have against Scotland and Italy, but the joy that Welsh rugby has brought recently cannot be gainsaid, and although there will never be another Barry John, there are Lydiates and Halfpennys and Priestlands, for which many thanks to whomsoever orders these things. 

Sunday, 19 February 2012


I watched two films on the telly last night: Drive and Melancholia. Both are extremely mannered, both bear the stamp of a director who regards himself as an auteur.  However, while the former is diverting and smart, the latter is engrossing, intelligent and unlike other films.

Melancholia is a film by Lars von Trier.  Indeed he shares substantial billing with the title.  This is thoroughly justified, because in the end it is impossible to avoid the fact that this is one person's vision.  And a wonderfully odd vision it is.  Part One takes place in a wedding reception during which the bride realises she has made a mistake. She tells her ghastly mother that she is "frightened", but we never really find out by what: it is not merely marriage.  Perhaps it is the odd arrangement of stars in the sky...

Is it melancholy she succumbs to or depression?  She seems in a fairly bad way when she turns up in the second part of the movie, although bit by bit she recovers in time for, well, in time for the end of the world (literally).  In one transcendental shot Justine is pictured naked by the bank of a stream, shone upon by the light of the planet Melancholia, which is on a crash course for Earth.  The Wagner score swells.  It is from the Prelude and Liebestod, from the opera Tristan und Isolde, a work profoundly influenced by the philosopher Schopenhauer.  Schopenhauer was a refreshingly cheerful pessimist (desire only ever leads to pain etc).  I'm not sure he went so far as to say, as Justine does, that humans are 'evil', but he certainly thought most people fools, and perhaps that melancholy was the default temper of any averagely intelligent individual.

The film is full of little references, most of which I am sure I missed, but I did get the Ophelia (the famous Millais picture gets a flash and is reproduced at one point by Justine holding her bridal bouquet of lilies) - Hamlet of course being the most celebrated melancholic in literature (and a Dane to boot, like von Trier himself).

The film is dominated by, on the one hand, startlingly beautiful imagery, and on the other by the performance of Kirsten Dunst, who is utterly convincing from first to last. 

I often imagine the end of the world being accompanied by beautiful, achingly sad music (the Albinoni Adagio - that kind of thing).  Here I find it impossible not to think of von Trier feeling the same way, and bothering to share his imagining with the rest of the world.  Very sad, very beautiful.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


I won't pretend I wasn't cock-a-hoop when the Italians scored their second try against England in Rome yesterday, or that my heart didn't sink as the ice-cool young Mr Farrell kicked England to victory, but I do feel that England deserve some credit for having won two away matches.  That these victories were winkled out against opposition that was not obviously inferior is even further to their credit.  It is certainly the case that the fixture list has worked very nicely for them, in playing the two weakest teams in the competition in their first two matches, away, and face their toughest opposition at HQ. Whether this gives them false hope (they are not that good) or useful confidence (they can certainly improve) remains to be seen.  There is little to warm to at the moment; it is hard to determine the team's character.  Owen Farrell, perhaps, is the man making his name.  He is intelligent, brave and talented.  An obvious star.  Is there a case for him at fly half?  I think so.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Harry, Harry, Harry

Well, obviously they are going to offer him the job, and obviously he is going to take it.  So the question is: who will replace him?  there has been a good deal of chatter about Mourinho.  i don't want Mourinho.  He is overly defensive and can be childish when made to look silly.  My son, incredulous, said "What?  I suppose you want Ian Holloway?" - and i thought for a nano-second and then I said "YES! That's exactly who I want.  i want Ian Holloway..."  But there is little chance.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Barbie ' n' Bob

Always loved this Milton Glaser poster (er, it's the one on the right).

Casa Blanca

Lo Fi Culture Scene as was.  Cracking new song, 'Needed to Know', here.  For the faint of heart: it contains what a Pinter character would probably call 'language'.

The band playing at 93 Feet East in Brick Lane just before Christmas

Monday, 6 February 2012

George North

I can't really get enough of this:

I will however concede that it might not have been so straightforward had that number 13 shirt been worn by its regular keeper.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Moonlit Apples by John Drinkwater

At the top of the house the apples are laid in rows,
And the skylight lets the moonlight in, and those
Apples are deep-sea apples of green. There goes
A cloud on the moon in the autumn night.

A mouse in the wainscot scratches, and scratches, and then
There is no sound at the top of the house of men
Or mice; and the cloud is blown, and the moon again
Dapples the apples with deep-sea light.

They are lying in rows there, under the gloomy beams;
On the sagging floor; they gather the silver streams
Out of the moon, those moonlit apples of dreams,
And quiet is the steep stair under.

In the corridors under there is nothing but sleep.
And stiller than ever on orchard boughs they keep
Tryst with the moon, and deep is the silence, deep
On moon-washed apples of wonder.

I print this lovely poem to express my pleasure at a short story of mine, 'Apples', being accepted - as a Leonard A. Koval Memorial prize winner, no less - for inclusion in a forthcoming anthology, Gem Street (Labello Press) .

Reading Charles Moore's biography of Mrs T. , I come across the following: "In 1937 Margaret won the Silver Medal at the Grantham eisteddfod for her recitation of John Drinkwater's 'Moonlit Apples'."

Thursday, 2 February 2012


When the proud crowds march
And wave their banners
And bravely lung their chants,
I fear for innocence, and despair
At how easily discontent turns
To bile and anger and deeds done
In the name of Something Better,
That merely blood the young
In battles fought in righteousness
As by old crusaders cleaving
Mohammedans in the Holy Land.
So what I wonder should I tell my sons?
Trust no-one?  Trust everyone?
Or simply keep away from crowds,
Those Mobius bands,
That run truth into the gutters.
It is no better to yell than it is to mutter.
So speak evenly and listen,
And stiffen the sinews only
For the hell that dogmas brew.

Wynn Wheldon

NOTE: Recently, I read a debate in the current utterly splendid literary journal Acumen about the relationship between poetry and politics (Yeats, Neruda, Blake, Owen, but no mentions for Pasternak, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva or Mandelstam - Lionel Trilling said that the place where politics and literature meet is "a bloody crossroads", and it certainly was for the latter four great poets).  I myself tend to write 'confessional' poetry (in other words it is all about me, me, me) so I thought I'd have a bash at a political poem - and still I end up in there. This is really just a poorly disguised way of saying I don't like crowds. They are very easy to manipulate.  Madonna tried to manipulate me once, but I was having none of it...  (Note to note: the cleaving of the Mohammedans was inspired by watching James Purefoy - playing a Templar just back from the Holy Land - cleave a mercenary Dane in the extremely cleave-full movie 'Ironclad'.  There is sometimes no telling with synchronicity.)

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

RACHEL by Walter de la Mare

Rachel sings sweet—
Oh, yes, at night,
Her pale face bent
In the candle-light,
Her slim hands touch
The answering keys,
And she sings of hope
And of memories:
Sings to the little
Boy that stands
Watching those slim,
Light, heedful hands.
He looks in her face;
Her dark eyes seem
Dark with a beautiful 
Distant dream;
And still she plays,
Sings tenderly
To him of hope,
And of memory.