All Part Of The Process

Princess Ida programme 3.14The annual O’Connell/Rivett family attendance at the Godalming Operatic Society’s Leatherhead Theatre production of a work by Gilbert & Sullivan directed by Pat O’Connell follows a carefully choreographed process. Taking advantage of the close proximity of each point in the proceedings, arriving in very good time to dine before the performance, we all stay at the Travel Lodge hotel in the town, walk around the corner to dine at an Italian restaurant, and across the road to the theatre. Afterwards we enjoy a drink in the company of the cast, spend the night at the staging post, and breakfast at Annie’s cafe before making our ways home.

The outing was yesterday. The operetta Princess Ida.

All part of the process is that Helen and Bill will have parked in the more expensive car park a bit further away. Ron will then offer to go and collect their car and move it to the one that is free after 6 p.m. and over the weekend, about 100 yards away. He will do this just in time for us to take possession of our seats before the prompt start of the overture.

There is one popular restaurant near enough and willing to feed the entire cast and guests in good time to facilitate the promptness. This year, having changed ownership, it was undergoing refurbishment. It was not yet officially open, but the new proprietor offered to provide a restricted menu for us all, provided we placed our orders in advance. We did so. The orders were placed in a relay of mobile phones. This meant that there was some confusion about my pizza, but this was rectified with good humour. I am not sure what the original name of this establishment was. It is now Rialto, and is to be recommended. There were no complaints about the previous one, but all were agreed that this reincarnation is a general improvement. If they live up to their first night, they should do well.

Rialto meals

There was, however, one part of the process that was maintained by the new staff. Traditionally, one of our group goes without something until the waiting staff are eventually alerted to its absence. It may be an entire meal, a drink, or simply a glass with which to imbibe a share of a bottle of wine. Until now, Shelly has been the victim of all these omissions.Pizza Perhaps it served me right for speculating about what she would miss out on last night, for it was I who went without my pizza. Drinking my share of the house red wine, I watched the others enjoying their various dishes accompanied by red or white wine. Eventually I got my own back, and they all watched me consume mine, which was excellent.

The Leatherhead Theatre is an excellent venue. This morning, during a wander around the town, I noticed it was occupied by a group engaged in a religious service of some denomination, so it is perhaps as versatile as the Regent Centre at Christchurch. I also noticed a plaque on the wall, part of the information provided by Leatherhead Heritage Trail, giving a history of the building:Thorndyke Theatre

The theatre was very full, as warranted by the usual accomplished performance. Familiar faces included Simon Cakebread, bravely surmounting a chest infection, as King Gama; Richard Arthur as King Hildebrand; and Richard Hales as Hilarion. The Society is fortunate in having a leading lady lady, Jen Sanders, who, being tall and elegant, has a beautiful and powerful voice belied by the slenderness of her frame. Many of the actors and singers have most expressive faces, bodies, and hands, none more so than the entertaining Nora Price who, this time, played Lady Blanche. I found myself transfixed by her hands in particular.

The costumes were splendid and the choreography faultless. Pat explained to us later that one joke that brought the house down had been created at the last minute by members of the orchestra. When Ida claimed to be able to play a number of instruments at once, these players rose from the pit and offered her their various pieces.

Early this morning I finished reading The Folio Society’s edition of ‘Good Behaviour’ by Molly Keane. This is a clever. well-written novel, surprisingly first published in 1981. My surprise is that it skilfully describes a past privileged age, depicting mostly unlikeable characters. On the other hand we do like our period television dramas such as ‘Downton Abbey’. Jane Gardam, in her introduction, tells us that the books was originally turned down by two publishers as being ‘too dark’.

Good Behaviour cover 3.14I can see those publishers’ point of view, although the darkness that strikes me is perhaps a different one than theirs. I find the heartrending despair of the naive yet nevertheless spirited narrator Aroon rather less than amusing. Debra McFarlane’s exquisite illustrations, one of which decorates the boards of the cover, perfectly depict the young lady. The family culture of denial is stifling. However, I have to admit that the writing sparkles with wit and the characters are only too credible.

After this, still too early to meet the others for breakfast, I walked around the small Surrey town, spotting another Heritage plaque, this time giving us the tale of a former post office the demise of which must have been repeated throughout the land:Former Post Office                                                                                    Penny BlackA possibly less imaginative title is borne by The Old Post Office public house in Newark.

Breakfast at Annie’s continued two parts of the process. The first was the encounter with Michael, a regular customer there. This is a very homely little place with just a few small tables. It offers wholesome food, and every Sabbath some of the residents of an establishment for people who are at least partially sighted attend for their Sunday roast dinner. One of these is the septuagenarian Michael. He is so politely gregarious and able to communicate with the use of his other senses, that the first time we met him we had not realised he was unable to see us. Today, Jackie and I arrived before our companions, so we had Michael to ourselves. We come but once a year, yet he does seem to remember us.

Breakfast at Annie'sThe next part was not usually attached to Annie’s. Perhaps it was because there were eight of us, two more than usual, that two of us went short of a meal for a while. Shelly distracted herself with the ‘i’ crossword, and I entertained myself by watching the others scoffing. I won the race to be served by a short head.

Back home in Hampshire Helen and Bill will collect us this evening for a visit to Totton’s Fuchi restaurant, to complete a pleasant weekend. I will report on that tomorrow.

Trawling

Yesterday afternoon Jackie drove us to Leatherhead for what has become an annual family trip to see a Pat O’Connell Gilbert and Sullivan production.  This year it was ‘The Gondoliers’.  Jackie’s cousin Pat is a freelance director.  The Godalming Operatic Society are clearly satisfied with his work because they keep asking him back.  As usual, we were entertained by a polished performance from this amateur group.  There are some real stars there; good voices, with stage presence.  The costumes were splendid.  The sometimes elaborate choreography worked well, and the customary introduction of up-to-date jokes rewarded close attention.

As usual we ate first in the Italian restaurant nearby.  The G.o.S. G. & S. members traditionally dine there.  Our table included Pat, Christine, Shelly and Ron, Helen and Bill, and Jackie and me.  Pat and Christine’s daughter Olivia, who normally attends, was herself performing at the Manchester University Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s presentation of ‘The Grand Duke’.  Her father quipped that she either had had to be a singer or she didn’t eat.

The restaurant had a pulsating atmosphere; the service was friendly and efficient; my minestrone soup was delicious, and originally presented in a bowl made of pizza bread; my sirloin steak was succulent and cooked to perfection; my vegetables were overcooked; my chips were limp; the house red wine was very good.  Maybe I should have chosen a totally Italian meal.  Last year a problem was caused by the waitress having forgotten Shelly’s meal.  This year Shelly wasn’t provided with a wineglass, although she was to share the bottle of white wine.  We considered that a small measure of progress.

Leatherhead’s Travel Lodge, just around the corner from the theatre, is basic but comfortable and reasonably priced.  We had a good night’s sleep there, then the eight of us assembled in the foyer and repaired to Annie’s cafe for the traditional breakfast.  On the way up to the little cafe that looks very like an old-fashioned tea parlour, with small lace-covered tables, a man we recognised from last year stood in the centre of the road and told us that there was a car coming, but we would be okay.

This gentleman we now know as Michael entered the cafe whilst we were there, stayed until just before we departed, and left having exchanged banter with another isolated customer.  On our previous visit Michael had stood in the centre of the room and engaged us all, severally and individually, in conversation.  It was only when we were leaving that we had realised he was blind.  The two other individual customers today, one with a guide dog, were also unable to see.  One woman in particular, who did not wear the dark glasses sported by the dog owner, looked very careworn and troubed as she entered, pushing her basket through the doorway.  In her later conversation with Michael, in which I joined, she proved herself to be lively and witty.  These customers were all well known to the waitress.  I speculated that there must be some sort of care facility for blind people nearby.

After breakfast we all went our separate ways, in our case home to Minstead.

Elizabeth with balalaika 3.13This afternoon Elizabeth came, as arranged, to make a selection from my blog photographs, for potential use on her website.  If you knew my sister you would know that something would delay her arrival.  This time it was the fortnightly antiques fair at Minstead Hall.  It would have been impossible for her to pass it unentered.  She arrived with a broad smile on her face clutching a balalaika she had just purchased.  Well, you never know when one might come in useful.  And she thought it looked beautiful, which it does.  Not only that, but she might learn to play it.

After tea and scrumptious carrot cake she had bought from the village shop, we got down to the business of trawling through hundreds of pictures.  She made quite a collection.  Added to those of her own she is considering, that should normally ensure another twelve months deliberation before the final choice is made.  Unfortunately she only has twenty four hours.

Bindweed 8.12Of her choice she has picked out three for specific mention.  The convulvulus, taken at Morden last summer, has appealed to Elizabeth because she has fond childhood memories of picking the blooms and squeezing the bottoms so they popped out.  These grew profusely along the railway path (see 11th May last year) alongside Stanton Road.

We searched a long time for ‘New Forest pines’.  I was puzzled because I hadn’t noticed any.  This was a picture Elizabeth had chosen from a recent search through my posts.  That was how she had deciphered her own note.  She was unable to read it clearly and passed it to me for my opinion. Ponies 2.13 ‘Pines’ became ‘ponies’, and the photo was found.  I had realised that the problem had been compounded by my not having included ‘New Forest’ in my title.

Despite the last picture having been clearly labelled ‘Dawn across the lawn’, Elizabeth’s notes had referred to ‘sunset’.  That was another that proved difficult to identify. Dawn across the lawn 1.13 Eventually the error dawned on us and we were able to find the relevant illustration.

While we were engaged in this exercise, Jackie produced one of her excellent soups, followed by delicious roast pork with perfect crackling, and a choice between bread and butter pudding and rhubarb crumble.  The chef drank Hoegaarden and Elizabeth and I shared a 2011 reserve Cotes du Rhone.

Having watched the beginning with us, Elizabeth left Jackie and me to finish episode 6 of ‘Call the Midwife’.