A Slight Break With Tradition

The Mikado poster

Yesterday afternoon Jackie drove us to the small town of Leatherhead in Surrey for the family group attendance at the Godalming Operatic Society’s Gilbert and Sullivan performance directed by the sisters’ cousin Pat O’Connell. As will be seen from this extract from the programme: Pat O'Connell 3.15Pat is much appreciated by this thoroughly professional amateur group who delivered their usual acclaimed rendition of ‘The Mikado’.

Leatherhead Theatre

My post ‘All Part Of The Process’ gives the history of this theatre.

As usual, we dined with Jackie’s sisters, brothers in law, and Pat, Christine, and their daughter Olivia at the Rialto Italian restaurant, where I enjoyed a starter of squid followed by a well-filled calzone, and shared a carafe of merlot with the director. As usual, after the performance we met in the bar for convivial drinks. I drank sparkling water and Tiger beer.

We then spent the night in the Travelodge in High Street. This is a good example of a low cost hotel chain which generally offers a good basic service. The view from our bedroom window, across the flat roofs, wasn’t too savoury, but then, this wasn’t a stately home.Rooftops from hotel window

High Street at dawn

 Travelodge stands in High Street between Argos and Swan shopping centre.

Thus we followed tradition. The slight deviation came this morning.Crescent Street

 

North StreetBarton's Bookshop

I rose with the sun at dawn, left everyone else sleeping, and wandered around the deserted streets, watching the changing light.Rooftops and supermarket trolley

Wishing to look down on the morning, I climbed to the top of the six storey car park, where I discovered someone had been there before me, with a supermarket shopping trolley.pigeons and 'peacock'

What appeared to be a rather ragged peacock perched above the pigeons occupying a leafless tree. There are many other options for what can be visualised in a tatty bit of black bin bag caught in the branches.

At 10 a.m. we convened in the hotel foyer. Excellent as are both the fare and the service in Annie’s cafe where we normally have breakfast, were the establishment to appear in an estate agent’s brochure, it would be described as a ‘bijou residence’. Pat had had his meal at the Amici in High Street, and recommended it. Although the same group as had dined together yesterday had to be split and seated at two different tables, there was more accommodation and the food and service was quite as good. We all enjoyed Full English breakfasts, with some slight amendments.Amici cafeHigh Street

There is no pedestrian precinct as such in Leatherhead, although the three photographs of the High Street demonstrate what to me is an unique arrangement in which slow moving vehicles share the centre of the road with walkers, who have to weave in and out of cars parked on the sidewalks. It seems to work quite well.

Jackie drove us home in time for me to watch Ireland shatter England’s hopes of a grand slam in the Six Nations rugby tournament by beating them 19-9. It was an intriguing, tense, tussle.

Acute observers will have noticed that we had  stopped dining at The Jarna restaurant in Old Milton. That is because toward the end of last year they received some very bad press concerning illegal immigrant labour and failure to meet cleanliness standards. Shortly before Christmas the establishment changed hands and was renamed Spice of India. We decided to try it this evening, and were not disappointed. Jackie enjoyed her prawn bhuna and mushroom rice, as I did my naga chicken and special fried rice. We shared good onion bhajis and an excellent parata, and both drank cobra.

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.