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Sunday, 14 October 2018

In a Land of Make Believe

According to one survey the Tories are 4 points ahead of Labour. Why? The poll might be completely wrong but I don't believe so. So why are the Tories ahead?

On the face of it it doesn't make sense. The Tories are at each other's throats over Brexit. They have overseen a stagnation in living standards for many, a significant fall for the poorest and a rise for those better placed. A Tory run council (Kensington and Chelsea) dismally coped with the Grenfell disaster - in part the result of Tory cuts and an obsession with balancing the budget. A collapse in the prison system directly due to cuts in staffing: crime rates rising after many years of decline due to cuts in police funding. Local authorities cutting staff and services to the most vulnerable because of the Tory's belief in small government - whatever the price. A laissez faire attitude to employment - claiming merit for creating millions of jobs yet blind to the types of low pay jobs created. In hock to a small group of Northern Ireland politicians who hold the rest of the country to ransom. A Government made up of C list politicians who seem to be more concerned about their own careers in the Tory party than what just might be good for those they nominally represent.

Yet this Government, possibly the most disastrous in 50 years is ahead in the polls. Frankly I can't explain it. Labour is not attractive, granted, but it has policies which do try to address the major failings in our country. Housing, benefits, transport, Brexit, investment, policing, local authority funding, business rates etc, etc. Labour have reasonable alternative policies (except the Tories have no policies in these areas). And additional taxation. Of those who can afford to pay more and those  who believe genuinely better provision in a vast swathe of public enterprise is worth a tax hike.

It can't be personalities. Jeremy is not the most attractive of leaders and most of his shadow cabinet are unknowns except for  Diana Abbot and John McDonnell Yet the Tories are led by a most unattractive Prime Minister - don't take my prejudice for it - the polls say the same. Her cabinet is made up of some of the most vote repellent people you could imagine. Gove, Hammond, Truss and that guy who's supposed to be in charge of Brexit. Oh and the leader of the House, not forgetting the Secretary of State for Transport who in earlier times wouldn't have been employed as a ticket collector on the Bluebell Railway.

I give up. I put it down to the British genius of suspending disbelief until we're totally fucked. Drifting back into a mystical past where we were ruled by well intentional betters and the rest of us let them get on with running the country.

Finally, I also blame the Internet, virtual reality, Facebook and the inability of anyone to concentrate for more than 10 secs on any question. And David Dimbleby's imminent departure from Question Time. There, I think I've covered all the bases.

Friday, 12 October 2018

As I was saying to my friend the other day.....: "Pray, do not mock me: I am a very foolish fond ol...

As I was saying to my friend the other day.....: "Pray, do not mock me: I am a very foolish fond ol...: Last night Roger and I saw "King Lear". I have to say that to my taste it reads better on the page than performed but it is a ...

"Pray, do not mock me: I am a very foolish fond old man"

Last night Roger and I saw "King Lear". I have to say that to my taste it reads better on the page than performed but it is a great play.

Ian McKellen played the old king. What with fabulous  reviews and possibly the last chance to see Sir Gandalf in this role the theatre proudly displayed the "House Full" sign outside.

Roger and I met at the Cote Brassiere St Martin's Lane for a pre-theatre meal. We often go there and have their early evening set menu. Every time it's jam packed - if you haven't booked - no chance. It's full of people of our age most also anticipating an evening at the theatre.

This time there was a surprise. Beside the everyday set menu on offer there was a deluxe version at four or five quid more. We agreed to go deluxe but on closer inspection we decided that the difference in choice wasn't worth the extra dosh so we kept to the everyday. Roger and I are creatures of habit. He invariably has soup and a fish dish. I have two meats - my guilty secret and indulgence. He has a beer or cider I have wine. He has one bottle I have 2 glasses. We usually round off the meal with a double espresso. Such high living! I skipped the espresso last night - part of an economy drive.

All the waiters are young and foreign. They have to be young because anyone over the age of thirty wouldn't have the stamina the run up and down stairs, take orders, return incorrect orders, and handle  "l'addition" - the restaurant has a faint whiff of Paris about it. We had a most delightful waitress - so French - petite, smiling and a joy to be waited on by. She was much in demand. I took to her because she reminded me of a French girlfriend I had - I stayed with her in a village near Rodez in 1967. They had a hole in the floor loo, but grandma with her arthritis was provided with a loo d'Anglais. I recall breakfast consisted of freshly baked bread, wonderfully creamy butter and a pail of milky coffee. Lunch and evening meals were supplemented by 2 litre bottles of Nicholas vin ordinaire delivered by the minivin man. 

It's amazing, that memory! That waitress and I'm back in deepest France more than 50 years ago. What was I talking about? The play of course.

I pride myself on being able to buy decent seats on line. Roger always compliments me on my choice. Close to loos, near the aisle, good view of the stage: that sort of thing. He didn't compliment me last night. I can't recall when I bought the tickets but I must have had one or two glasses of the good old Californian CabSav from Naked Wines ( must tell you: bought my first case from the Wine Society the other day - delivered this morning at 7:30 am!) 'cause the seating was awful. Upper Circle C1 and C2 RV. Didn't take us long to figure out what that meant. Frankly one move more to the left and we'd have seen bugger all. 

Luckily for Roger and I both knew the play off by heart - well he did. I thought I did having seen it at least 5 times but I realised that my recollection was not as it should have been when this character appeared on stage right at the beginning and I had no idea who they were. They were Kent - they could have been West Midlothian for all I knew. Anyway, I did have some grasp of the plot so the fact that for much of the first half I saw one half of the stage and less than half of the players wasn't fatal. Luckily Sir Ian must have known  where we were because he spent most of his time on the side of the stage we could see. 

I didn't think much of the first half (Acts 1 to 3). Not because I had difficulty seeing round a post but because I don't think the play gets going until the last two acts. It's all bloody scene setting, introducing the characters and telling you  who you should hiss at and blow kisses to. The second half ,and this is where Roger and I changed ends, was much more my meat. Lots of lovely speeches, much self discovery, a blinding and a poisoning, suicide and stabbing of foul villains. Just what you want out of one of Shakespeare's finest works. 

But seriously folks. Lear's scene with the blinded Gloucester is enough to move anyone to tears. Lear when he slowly recognises Cordelia (an impossible part) and then when he carries on her dead corpse are sublime moments.

Ian McKellan at 79 had both the boorishness and frailty of a foolish fond old man. At the end,it is too much - he's lost so much - his children, his friends  and initially his kingdom. What has Lear gained? Suffering, madness, our compassion and he's regained kingship. Is that a fair swap?

His daughters Regan and Goneril were pretty nasty - especially Regan in this production portrayed very convincingly as a sexual psychopath. Goneril was the Mrs May of the Celtic World - chillingly calculating and heartless.Both women were married to weak men. Edmund, Gloucester's bastard son - straight out of the Elizabethan Machiavellian typecasting studio. Lear, for all his faults engenders love and obeisant from Kent, Gloucester, Edgar and Cordelia.

He reaped what he sowed but was saved. By love and experience. Or was it all emptiness?