Tag Archives: humour

Dull, Bland and Boring

I am indebted to Burny, head gardener and Gill’s boss at beautiful Loseley Park, for passing me the Times’ article announcing the new alliance of Dull (Perthshire, Scotland), Bland (Australia) and Boring (Oregon, USA).

The road sign in Dull, Perthshire, has become something of a tourist hotspot

Dull and Boring have been twinned since 2012, but now Bland is getting in on the act in the interest of tourism. This new – and exciting – relationship will be celebrated soon, when Dull councillors will host a civic reception for the Mayor of Bland Shire and his New South Wales delegation.

But that got me thinking….which other places could form well suited and entertaining relationships?

I went to school in Sandwich, one of Kent’s cinque ports, and famously a neighbour with the tiny village of Ham.

RS 5129. Sign Post, Kent, England

Perhaps they could could also team up with Cheddar (Somerset) and Branston (Staffordshire) to make a tasty union. No prizes for guessing what they’d serve for lunch.

Less predictably, perhaps the makers of Durex should hold their annual meetings in Erect (North Carolina), Climax (Georgia, USA), Accident (Maryland, USA) and Come by Chance (New South Wales, Australia), and hope the locals show up.  Or just preach to the converted in Condom (France).

I’m not so sure the civic receptions in Bitter End (Tennessee, USA), Lake Disappointment (Western Australia) or Dismal (also Tennessee) would be a barrel of laughs.

But perhaps the most lucrative global tourism collaboration would be when the good folk of Jackpot (Nevada, USA),  Money (Mississippi, USA), and Poundsgate (Devon) sign on the dotted line. And then they should probably try to hold their meetings in Smug (Poland).

Thanks, Burny. Got any other suggestions…..?

 

Theatre review – The Two Gentlemen of Verona

I have never read Master Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona,  nor seen it performed. Until last night, when the always excellent Guildford Shakespeare Company brought the comedy to vibrant life, in the beautiful gardens of the University of Law and transported to glitzy Italy in the 1950s.

(images from GSC website)

The Two Gentlemen was Shakespeare’s first published play. It is considered to be weaker than the many classics that followed, but it does introduce common themes that he returns to time and time again – love and friendship; infidelity and betrayal; dominating fathers and recalcitrant children; and a girl dressing as a boy.

The two young Veronese gentlemen are best friends Valentine and Proteus. Proteus falls in love with Julia. Valentine leaves for Milan, where he falls in love with Silvia, the Duke’s daughter. Proteus is told by his father to travel to Milan too, where he falls instantly in love with Silvia.

Poor, weak Proteus is completely undone by the urge to obtain the new object of his desire, whatever the cost. Friendship is put aside, betrayal ensues, but contrasted by steadfast loyalty and – ultimately – forgiveness.

This innovative production, directed by Charlotte Conquest, never flags. Comedy quickly overcomes the play’s darker themes, and GSC co-founder Matt Pinches lets rip with his usual array of comic voices – as a slow, West Country station announcer before the curtain comes up, and then as Launce, Proteus’s servant, played with a Welsh accent as broad that of the Pontypool  front row,

But the undoubted star of this production of The Two Gentlemen is Launce’s canine companion Crab. Played by three separate actors throughout the 16 night run, Tiba had Launce – and the entire audience – eating out of his paw last night.

Another triumph for the exuberant Guildford Shakespeare Company. Like Master Will, they just get better and better.

 

 

Book review – The Universe versus Alex Woods

Alex Woods is an unusual boy. It’s not many 10 year-olds who have survived a meteorite landing on them, after all. And who suffers from epileptic seizures. And who has a clairvoyant Mum, and no Dad.

So it’s no surprise that he’s a natural target for school bullies.

But it is a surprise when he strikes up an unusual friendship with cantankerous, reclusive old Mr Peterson. Especially as he only gets to know the old man after breaking his greenhouse.

Image result for the universe versus alex woods

Gavin Extence’s debut novel is a delight from start to finish. Some of the narrative strands arguably struggle to fit together at times, but the depth of friendship this odd couple develop is beautifully observed.

What a shame then that Mr Peterson is dying. And tries to commit suicide. But it’s ok….Alex saves him.

The final third of the novel sees Alex entering into a pact with Mr Peterson, that is simultaneously heart-breaking and heart-warming.

The author clearly did a huge amount of research into the process of assisted dying in Switzerland, that’s all I’m saying.

The book poses some fundamental questions about the right to die, the right to determine the timing of your own demise, when you’re suffering from a terminal illness that you know will render your last days painful and incapacitated.

But most of all the book is about people at very different stages in their lives, who have much to teach each other and who need each other’s support in very different ways.

Darkly humorous, educational yet entertaining, sad yet uplifting….The Universe versus Alex Woods will surprise and delight you.

Thank you, Gavin.

Image result for gavin extence

 

 

 

 

 

Book review – The Red House

Mark Haddon is a genius.

I still haven’t read his best-known work The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but I loved A Spot of Bother.

And now The Red House has made me envy his literary talent even more.

On the surface, it’s a simple tale of two families spending a week together in a self-catering cottage on the Welsh border, near Hay-on-Wye. But page by page, master story-teller Haddon wraps you up in a darkly comic web of characters. They wrestle with history, youth, ageing, confusion, sexuality, anger…and each other.

Richard is a middle-aged doctor, outwardly successful and recently married to new second wife Louisa, who comes with the hefty baggage of feisty teenage daughter Melissa.

Estranged sister Angela arrives with shallow loser of a husband Dominic, three very different children – each with their own issues – and the ghost of stillborn daughter Karen, whose 18th birthday coincides with the week in The Red House.

There is no single central character, there is no earth-shattering incident, nobody dies and there’s no magical rapprochement between the distanced siblings. But through short sharp sentences and paragraphs, lurching from one character and small incident to the next, Haddon deftly paints a picture of disparate people coming to terms with life, if not each other.

Here’s the writer inside the head of spoiled, confused, beautiful but self-loathing 16 year-old step-daughter Melissa:

She sat on the floor between the bedside table and the wall. Laughter downstairs. She pushed the point of the scalpel into the palm of her hand but she couldn’t puncture the skin. She was a coward. She would never amount to anything. That fuckwit little boy. She should walk off into the night and get hypothermia and end up in hospital. That would teach them a lesson. God. Friday night. Megan and Cally would be tanking up on vodka and Red Bull before hitting the ice rink. The dizzy spin of the room and Lady Gaga on repeat, Henry and his mates having races and getting chucked out, pineapple fritters at the Chinky afterwards. Christ, she was hungry.

And middle-aged Angela, lost in an unhappy marriage and still grieving for a lost daughter from 18 years ago:

Angela poured boiling water over the dried mushrooms. A smell like unwashed bodies she always thought, but it was the simplest vegetarian recipe she knew. Made her want to roast a pig’s head for Melissa, all glossy cracking and an apple in the mouth. Make Benjy sad, though. Earlier she had told Dominic that she wanted to go home, and thought for a moment that he might actually agree, but he had slipped into the grating paternal role he’d been adopting more and more over the last few days. “You’ll regret it….insult to Richard….hang on in there”….Him being right made it worse, of course. Sherry, tomato puree. Risotto Londis.

The Red House is a cynically perceptive dissection of human frailty. I just hope you never meet my family, Mr Haddon.

 

 

Theatre review – Abi Roberts: Anglichanka

Abi Roberts is a total original, a weird and whacky fusion of energy, language, comedy and song.

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Her new show Anglichanka (Russian for English woman) is loosely scripted around her life in Russia – training to be an opera singer – in the 1990s, and her recent return as the first British stand-up comedian to perform there, in Russian and English.

Surreal, or what.

Throw in some graphic imagery of her wild time at Swansea University, her controlling Hyacinth Bucket doppelganger of a mother, a mastery of the Russian language, gentle abuse of President Putin, some audience participation, a lot of ad-libbing and a cracking bit of opera singing, wearing a Russian soldier’s hat (don’t ask), and you begin to get a feel for Abi’s unique brand of comedy.

Grab a bottle of vodka, open your mind and she will transport you to a 10th floor apartment in a Moscow apartment block with a mad family and a dog straddling the toilet, in the frozen depths of a Russian winter.

Thanks to the Guildford Fringe Festival and the Back Room at the Star Inn for providing the perfect venue.

Edinburgh…..are you ready for Ms Roberts?

Theatre review – The Comedy of Errors

It’s hard to believe that the same man who wrote the farcical, slapstick The Comedy of Errors also wrote Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello.

 

“Errors” is one of Master Shakespeare’s earliest plays, and it’s also his shortest.

The knock-about tale tells of two sets of identical twins, their father Egeon – a Syracuse merchant on the cusp of being executed for entering Ephesus – and Emilia, Egeon’s long-lost wife, now Abbess at Ephesus.

One set of twins are called Antipholus, the other – the Antipholean bondmen – are both Dromio.

Separated from his wife and one pair of twins during a tempest at sea, Egeon is trying to track them all down. What follows is an exhausting helter-skelter ride, with mistaken identity, wordplay and slapstick comedy providing a farcical theatrical experience of Feydeau and Brian Rix proportions.

The ever brilliant Guildford Shakespeare Company pull it all off in their usual exuberant style, the mobility of the open-air set – at both Guildford Castle Keep and around the Castle grounds by the bandstand – adding to the air of fluid confusion.

The loose ends are all neatly tied up with a bow on top, before Will gets his head down for some serious tragedy.

 

Movie review – The Nice Guys

I’m not going if it’s just a blokey film, Ruth said.

But it’s getting some great reviews. And it has a 91% Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer ratingparried John.

We were looking for something to do, on a soggy Saturday afternoon and within spitting distance of Dublin. Something to stop us eating and drinking for just a few hours, after a heavy couple of days enjoying Irish hospitality. Something that wasn’t too mentally challenging, after a Leonardo da Vinci culture-fest at the National Gallery the day before. And something sitting down, after some energetic yomps through the moody Wicklow mountains.

John won.

Sure enough, The Nice Guys is a grand way to escape reality. Just park your critical faculties at the door, stick your nose in a bag of Maltesers, lean back in the velvety seat….and let your mind drift back to the 1970s.

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe stumble around a time-warped Los Angeles as a private-eye Odd Couple.

The plot is a load of old hokum, but has something to do with a dead porn star, a missing girl, some dangerous gangsters and a conspiracy. Maybe.

But forget the plot.

The point of the movie is the undoubted chemistry from the unlikely pairing of Ryan and Russell. Gosling in particular is a revelation in a comedy role, what with his droopy moustache, drink problem and bad father issues.

Enjoy the authentic soundtrack, party scenes, clothes and scenery. Hell, even the title credits transport you back to 1977.

Enjoy some good one-liners too, and a cracking performance from Angourie Rice as Holly, Gosling’s wise-beyond-her-years teenage daughter.

Angourie Rice Picture

It’s a buddy movie. We laughed a bit. It won’t win any Oscars. We stayed dry for a couple of hours. We ate and drank loads more afterwards.

Job done.

Theatre review – Sideways

There was a dramatic surge in sales of Pinot Noir wine, after the 2004 movie Sideways became a surprise hit.

Writer Rex Pickett has adapted his script for the stage, and after success in La Jolla it has now made its way across the pond to the St. James Theatre in London.

Miles is a wine bore. And he’s depressed. He’s a failed husband and a failing writer. He loves Pinot Noir. He hates Merlot.

He and his buddy Jack are hitting some California wineries for a week before Jack’s wedding, but they have very different agendas. Miles is searching for some answers at the bottom of an expensive wine bottle. Jack – a second-rate actor and ageing lothario – just wants to get laid before his nuptials.

Opportunity knocks in the form of Terra – a winery host – for Jack, Pinot Noir – and waitress Maya – for Miles.

After a languid first sip or two, the performance really hit its stride mid-way through the first half. By the time the bottle is emptied, the audience is gurgling with laughter as Miles and Jack have to face the music.

Sideways is a touching, funny and poignant story of love, friendship and grapes. The English cast admirably ape the American characters and voices, but Paul Giamatti as Miles and Thomas Haden Church as Jack in the original movie are hard acts to follow.

A few cautionary words. There is a lot of swearing. And some full-frontal nudity. And get some Pinot Noir down the off-licence before it sells out.

 

Theatre review – Mummy

Well, that was different….

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Just back from seeing our first Guildford Fringe performance – Mummy – in the Back Room of Guildford’s Star Inn.

We had no idea what to expect. Other than a pint and a pasty. And probably a different experience than going to the Yvonne Arnaud theatre, just down the road.

Written and performed by the very talented Amy Gwilliam, this one-woman show packs more thought-provoking theatre into 60 minutes than most West End dramas do in twice the time, and for at least three times the price.

Dr. Elizabeth Niccoll, a Cambridge graduate and Egyptologist with a specialist knowledge of death rituals, returns to her old school to give a presentation on her newly launched book: Mummy – The Art of Saying Goodbye.

Initially in total control of herself and the teenage audience, it all unravels when memories of her own dead mother froth to the surface.

Expect some interaction, a bit of mummification and some rather black humour. And a pasty.

Directed by old Guildford friend Sophie Larsmon, I hope we get to see more collaborations from this exciting team in the future.

 

Book review – The Road to Little Dribbling

The first Bill Bryson book I read was Neither Here Nor There. Actually, it was very good and I really enjoyed it.

Neither Here, Nor There: Travels in Europe

Published in 1992, it was his second travel book, after he had dissected his native America in The Lost Continent.

In NHNT, he rediscovers Europe, replicating a journey he had made as a student 20 years earlier. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, cementing The Bryson Template: witty, episodic and opinionated, yet educational and perceptive, skewering a country’s weaknesses but lauding its quirkiness and achievements.

Notes from a Small Island, published in 1996, used The Template to tell the world why he loved Britain so much…before he decamped with his family back to the US for a few years.

Notes from A Small Island

Another 20 years on – safely repatriated and now more English than a chicken tikka masala – Mr Bryson has written The Road to Little Dribbling. Zig-zagging his way – on foot and by public transport, wherever possible – from  Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, it’s a revealing sequel to Neither Here Nor There.

He still has that unerring ability to weave together keen observation, social history and humour as deftly as an artist mixes paint on a palette.

Salcombe is smart and prosperous and jaunty. Everyone was dressed like a Kennedy at Hyannisport. I had to get a jumper out of my bag and tie it around my neck to keep people from staring. They all had a robust, healthy sea-sprayed look about the. These people didn’t walk from place to place, they bounded.

The main street in Salcombe is Fore Street. The Daily Telegraph has deemed it the sixth coolest in Britain. I have no idea how they make such an assessment, though I suspect, this being the Telegraph, that it has little to do with science or much real thought. The shops were unquestionably upmarket. At the Casse-Croute deli, the special of the day was Brie and asparagus tart made with organic cider, which I was pleased and relieved to see. How often have I had to decline a Brie and asparagus tart because the cider wasn’t organic. 

Call me an unreconstructed savage, but the sooner we get back to a national diet of chips with gravy and that sort of thing the better it will suit me. In my day every restaurant meal started with prawn cocktail and finished with Black Forest gateau and we were all a lot happier, believe me.

But Mr Bryson revels in portraying himself as a bit of a grumpy old git in this book, yearning for the England of old. I suppose his National Treasure status has earned him the right, but I did sometimes feel like he was jumping on his soap box a little too often. Rudeness, poor service, litterbugs, TV celebrities, planning regulations, incorrect punctuation and grammar, gastro pubs, boutique hotels. The list of soft targets wounded by his hard words is almost endless.

“…the boy was gone and the crisp packet was on the ground. There was a bin three feet away. It occurred to me, not for the first time, that if Britain is ever to sort itself out, it is going to require a lot of euthanasia.”

“But then, I suppose, that is the thing about the internet. It is just an accumulation of digital information, with no brains and no feelings – just like an IT person, in fact.”

He loves our countryside, our traditions, our history. He spends more time in pubs and coffee shops than I do. He’s an avid walker. And he has a mastery of the English language like few others. All things about him I greatly admire. I just hope he doesn’t lose his mojo, like a football legend staying on for one season too many.