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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Clock and Watch Restoration - The Genius of Wood Street, Walthamstow E17 3HX

Those of you who follow me will know of my and my friend Peter's adventures in Antarctica in March. Besides the usual extreme climate stuff ( snow boots, masses of woollen clothing, hats and gloves)  I took my Oris Automatic watch with me. This watch has been everywhere. When my phone froze in Svalbard my watch didn't miss a beat. On my allotment it tick tocked away as I covered it in soil, sprayed it with bug killer and dropped it into a bucket of horse poo.

When I came back from the Southern pole it had stopped. Alas, I thought, it has succumbed to a mixture of penguin poo, sub zero ice and Drake's Passage. That was it  - dead. No doubt rusted solid or else encased in festering poo. It went into the "Irreclaimable" drawer by my bed. A drawer crammed full of victims of accidents, misfortunes and sheer bad luck. My twice dropped iPhone, the mini disc player that chewed up Bob Dylan and spat out The Cowboy Junkies. The Sony mini Walkman that never recovered from downloading from my desk top "Alien Ant Farm", and saddest of all my Window "Expedia" CD ROM - not damaged just back dated.

I would lift my left arm up and expecting to see a smiling clock face would find a bare wrist. Time and time I repeat the action and each time a knife would pierce my heart. I'd have to rummage around for my mobile - getting strange looks as I played pocket billiards retrieving the phone. For three months I endured this torture.

Why you ask? Why put myself through such agony? I will tell you why. A mate also had an Oris which he sent off to be serviced - it cost more than he paid for the watch in the first place. I may be a pensioner with an inflation proofed occupational and a triple locked State Pension but I'm not made of money. I resigned myself to being watch less.Except....

If once you've owned a nice mechanical watch you're hooked. I'd find myself looking on line at new Oris watches,walking down New Bond Street dreaming about going in and buying a disgustingly expensive timepiece. I even looked in pawn broker's window to see what they had on offer by way of a traded in Rolex. This couldn't go on. I was on the brink of nervous breakdown - my mainspring had been so over wound I was in danger of a total seizure.

Then I remembered there was a watch restorer in Wood Street, Walthamstow. That quiet backwater full of quaint shops and ghosts of ages past.

What was there to lose. Hesitantly I phoned him. Yes he repaired Oris watches and mine wasn't that old. Heart thumping, my main spring fully wound I headed for his workshop. I was shaking as I handed over the watch. It wasn't rusted, it wasn't dead - it needed a new shaft and a through cleaning and servicing but he'd repair it. I swear I heard Haydn's "Clock" Symphony when he said that.

Today I went to collect my watch. Cleaned, reset and full of joy and vim. I now risk suffering from repetitive lower arm strain since I look at it constantly. I am so pleased.

The man is a superstar. This morning he'd been out on an emergency call. A public clock in Higham Park had failed to chime. Len Pavitt, soft spoken, watch magician extraordinaire was there to restore the beating heart of a venerable timepiece. And he had time to fix my Oris!! A man in a million.

Walthamstow salutes you! 


Monday, 11 June 2018

"Open the take the money"

Frankly, I have to say that last week we slummed it theatre-wise. On Monday it was "Aladdin" and Wednesday it was "Quiz" at the Noel Coward Theatre.

That's not to say "Quiz" wasn't quite good. You may recall the trail of  Captain Charles William Ingram who in 2001 won a million pounds on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". He, his wife and Tecwen Whittock a lecturer were accused of cheating. For the uninitiated the show offered the contestant 4 answers to a question put to them by Chris Tarrant. The questions got harder and the prize money increased as the contestant correctly answered the preceding question. Charles Ingham got all the way to winning £1000,000 - not a small sum. Except he and his "accomplices" were accused of cheating. Ingram's was given a signal - a cough - which indicated the correct answer. 

The play was built around the court case - to my mind a connivance too far. We had the judge, prosecuting and defence councils and a jury - the theatre audience that night. And we had the game show - we were the TV show audience. Which meant that before the play/quiz proper began we had the warm up comedian. We, the audience, also had quiz sheets and a remote buzzer - as used on the show. 

In the  first half the play re-constructed the events leading up to the winning of the £ million as seen from the prosecution's case. It was a conspiracy. The Ingrams - in particular Mrs Ingrams - had found a way to get on the show and to win the fastest to the buzzer contest used to select the contestant for the main prize competition. It all seemed rather dodgy since both she and her brother had previously been on the game show and won £36,000 each. 

Captain Charles Ingram was pretty poor at quizzes - even though he'd had qualifications by the bucket load, but to ensure he'd always answer the questions correctly his wife and Whittock would be there with a helping hand - or more accurately - a cough. That was the claim brought against them and the first half played that out. 

In the second half it was the defence's turn. There was no conspiracy. There was masses of hard work to get on the show , win the buzzer round and then a huge amount of digesting useless facts to be able to answer the questions. Captain Ingram, despite his degree in Engineering, his MSc in Corporate Management and membership of Mensa, was shown to be pretty poor on the uptake when it came to quizzes. But a determined wife and lots of lucca at the end pushed him on. He was shown to be a diligent army officer and loving if ineffective husband.

At the end of the first Act we the audience, as jury, were asked to vote "Guilty or "Not Guilty" - we found them "Guilty by a landslide. After the Second Act a "Not Guilty" verdict was returned by the audience. That was it; we went home wondering what was the truth of the matter. 

In fact all three were were found guilty by a jury at Southwark Crown Court in April 2003. The trail wasn't straight forward in that originally the jury found the two men guilty of conspiracy but not Mrs Ingram. Since a charge of conspiracy requires all three accused of the crime to be found guilty the judge sent the jury away to reconsider. They changed their mind finding the wife also guilty.

Ingram was in court again the October of that year on fraud charges arising out of an insurance claim. He was found guilty. He was kicked out of the army, and wrote a highly successful book about his "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" adventures.

"Quiz" isn't really a play: more a theatrical event. The characters were slightly drawn, used to carry the story. Only the character of Chris Tarrant - whose facial expressions were grossly exaggerated - was of interest and the source of much laughter. It was a clever idea - although as I've already mentioned I thought the court scene effect was laboured. 

It was, hoawever, a couple of hours of good entertainment. What more can you ask for in the current climate?

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Aladdin Sane

Your theatre critic here! Thought you'd all like to read my critique of the most recent show I've seen.

It was a musical. Went with the missus - neither of us is that keen on this theatrical genre but when you're offered free tickets....So yesterday afternoon we trotted off to the Prince Edward Theatre on Old Compton Street to see "Aladdin".

I remember going to that theatre when it was a cinema where I saw "2001: A Space Odyssey"in the summer of 1968! I saw "Evita" when it was converted back into a theatre in 1978 and later on in 1986 "Chess". Which is a bit of a coincidence because Tim Rice has had a hand in all three musicals.

The missus had done some beading work on the Sultan's costume and as a present - she hasn't yet been paid - she was offered tickets to the Monday matinee. Except it wasn't exactly that - rather a dress rehearsal for the new cast. The circle and upper circle was full of screaming school kids and only half the stall were occupied, with friends and family of the cast, performers from the other Disney show in town "The Lion King". Positioned in the middle of the stalls was the director and his minions all of whom were involved in making sure if anything went wrong they'd note it.

Before we settled down the director, who was one of those gushing Americans, welcomed us all on behalf of the Disney Worldwide Syndicated Entertainment Empire or something similar. He was really excited with the new show with its brand spanking new cast ( I did wonder what happened to the old one; were they put out to pasture being knackered by the relentless enthusiasm of Disney Inc.)

And the show started. I now know why I haven't seen a musical in over 30 years. Don't get me wrong I loved the early 1990's cartoon with Robin Williams as the Genie but this was a bit like "Sunday Night at the London Palladium" set somewhere out East. For a show supposedly representing the Middle East it had very few, if any, Arab looking cast members.And did my ears deceive me but did everyone speak and sing in an American accent? That really annoyed.

Frankly, not one of the main characters interested me. The Princess and Aladdin were like wet rags, limp and quite useless. The songs were cheesy and totally predictable. The sets were good, clever but nothing out of the ordinary.

Except for one character - the Genie and one set - Aladdin's cave. We waited a life time for the big number that closed the first act and it was worth the admission price, although we got in free, but you know what I mean. The dance, the music, the song and the set ( what a set!) were fabulous, brilliant I couldn't stop tapping my feet and smiling. That was real show business.

And onto the second Act and it started at a low level and never recovered. At the end of the First Act I wondered how they could they top that. Well they didn't bother trying. Lots of plotting and scheming, more pretty girls wiggling their hips in a supposedly exotic Arabic manner, preposterous sword fights, -  tricking the evil Grand Vizier and his demise was the one highlight in an otherwise dull second act. Even the magic carpet ride was ruined by some silly love song.

But the kids loved it: which is the audience Disney's after. Disney Inc is a bit like the Jesuits: catch 'em young and they're yours forever.

I learn something about the production values from my wife. No variation in the design is allowed: it's all controlled from the States. No local "colour" is allowed, everything has to be as laid down by the Grand Viziers of Disney World. I swear that every detail on stage replicated the movie right down to the colour of the desert sands. World wide branding or what?

And the best "love" song? It was from another Disney film "Beauty and the Beast" - the audience roared in recognition. The trouble is, I suppose, I've been spoilt by "Shrek". "Aladdin" just doesn't hack it anymore.