Hello again, and welcome to my roundup for another busy month. Apart from having nice walks to enjoy the sunshine as usual, I’ve also been to a few theatre shows, watched the Jubilee celebrations at home, and enjoyed various other programmes on TV and online.
However, they’re not the only things keeping me occupied. I recently revealed that I’m being made redundant, after 17 years in a role that was created specifically to harness my IT skills in a local authority print unit. My entire department is being closed, with all the work being outsourced, and therefore I’m on the lookout for a new challenge. I don’t have to rush into anything, as I’m in a fortunate position where I can take my time to find what feels right for me, so I feel quite calm about it all so far. And it might even be that my mother and I move to another part of London, as that’s something else we’re tempted by and are considering given the circumstances, although that’s by no means definite at this point.
But if you have any advice for job hunting or moving, or know of any paid work or volunteering or nice properties that might interest me, please do feel free to get in touch by social media or email. Career opportunities can be related to my current line of work (variable data and print production) or in other areas I enjoy (IT, accessibility, assistive technology, sight loss, disability, museums, theatres, research projects, blogging, Youtube, etc). There’s lots of options to consider, and I will of course keep you posted of any developments!
But anyway, here I’m going to focus on the happier side of recent events, and there’s plenty to get through. So let’s get straight to it, and I hope you enjoy!
Platinum Jubilee & Theatre Shows
I’ve already posted dedicated blog entries about the most important things I enjoyed this month, so I’ll just briefly mention them here.
Firstly we had The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee of course, with many congratulations to Her Majesty for celebrating 70 years on the throne! That is a seriously impressive milestone. So I’ve written a couple of posts in relation to that, firstly reliving the special concerts from 2002 & 2012, before then reviewing this year’s pop concert and other events.
I didn’t go to any of the Jubilee events in person, as it was far too busy. But I did attend a few theatre shows, all of which were great fun, and the assistance I received from the venue staff was excellent too:
- Sarah Millican – Her new stand-up show, Bobby Dazzler, at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith.
- Chris McCausland – His new stand-up show Speaky Blinder, at the Leicester Square Theatre.
- Grease The Musical – An audio described performance featuring Peter Andre, with a touch tour beforehand, at the Dominion Theatre in Tottenham Court Road.
I’ve written a post reviewing all of those theatre shows for you to check out, along with a separate post reviewing all of Sarah Millican’s stand-up DVDs that she’s released to date. So I hope you enjoy reading those posts as well.
Out & About
Before I saw Sarah Millican’s show, I had also spent the morning and afternoon with my best mate, who had a spare day as part of a week’s holiday he was having with his partner and her parents. So while they had gone elsewhere to shop and treat themselves, he popped into London with his Guide Dog to see me, and we had a lovely time.
Then we popped along to Mabel’s Tavern, a pub that we had enjoyed going to once before, where we had a lovely lunch and a catch-up chat. It was nice and quiet, being a Friday afternoon, and the staff looked after us really well, by finding a suitable area for us to sit in with the dog, reading us the menu, bringing our drinks over for us, and giving us a tab behind the bar so we could pay all in one go when we were finished. So we had a couple of pints of cider each, while I had Satay Chicken Wings for my starter, while we both had Beef & Ale Pie with mashed potato and vegetables for the main course, all of which was very nice. We don’t know what my mate was given for his starter, as it wasn’t what he ordered, but they apologised and didn’t charge us for it. And they don’t do desserts in there, but we were nicely full up after our pies and drinks anyway!
After that we had a nice leisurely walk all the way back to London Bridge, which is where he needed to catch his train from. We did pop into a KFC down the road from the station for a burger just to top us up, as the stroll had naturally restored a bit of an appetite by then, and we had time to do so before his next train. So it was lovely to see him again, and hopefully I’ll be popping over to Guernsey at some point to visit him there too, which I obviously haven’t been able to do for a few years!
Apart from that, I’ve continued with my regular solo wanderings, as I continue filling in more of the London map. In particular, I’ve finally walked all of the paths in Regent’s Park, where they have gorgeous flowers in bloom at this time of year.
And I also paid a visit to London Zoo on the north side of the park, where I finally got around to picking up my membership card, which I had signed up for after my audio described tour last year. That was nice and easy to do, as I just took along a printout of the email confirming my membership, sat down in a chair so they could take a photo, and they printed the card there and then. There isn’t anything exciting to share from the zoo itself really, as it was a very warm day and most of the animals I saw were either relaxing outdoors or sheltering indoors. But it still made for a lovely relaxing afternoon out, as I got to walk through the whole site to see how extensive it is, and it wasn’t too busy, plus I did enjoy catching the live talk about the penguins.
This month I’ve been watching a couple of programmes about the railways in London:
- The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway returned for its 4th series, with 2 episodes of an hour each, to conclude the story of how the Elizabeth Line was built and opened. Series 3 was also repeated on TV, so I watched that again as well, along with the first 2 series that are on the Engineering Projects channel on Youtube. Altogether it’s given an intimate and fascinating insight into how the Crossrail project progressed over the years, the many challenges they had to find inventive ways to overcome, all the jobs they had to do that passengers just take for granted and never think about, and the dedicated enthusiasm of all the highly skilled engineers and other staff who worked on it for so long. It gives you an even greater appreciation of what an enormous feat of construction it is, making the new Lizzie Line all the more impressive. There are several clips about the work on Crossrail’s Youtube channel as well.
- Secrets Of The London Underground – This programme, exploring disused stations, old train stock and lots of other historical wonders relating to the Tube, has concluded its second series, and it’s been brilliant. I already sang its praises last month, so I won’t say much here, but it’s well worth a watch. It’s not a show that’s just for train nerds, it’s deliberately accessible and fun for all.
Man vs Bee
As ever, there have been lots of things keeping me amused this month. And to start with there’s Man vs Bee. This new comedy series on Netflix, starring the fabulous physical comedian Rowan Atkinson, is a lot of fun, and it only takes 1 hour 40 minutes to binge-watch all of the 9 short episodes as a continuous movie. He plays a guy called Trevor, who has all sorts of mishaps while house-sitting a rather fancy residence. As the title implies, his primary foe is a bee, which refuses to leave him alone despite his increasingly desperate attempts to get rid of it. But there are lots of other problems he encounters as well, involving the dog, precious artworks, a luxury car, the police, etc. So it never feels boring as, even though it’s a continuous story, every episode has a fresh and unique set of circumstances for him to contend with.
It sounds a bit like Mr Bean when talking about humorous physical disasters like that, and some of the slapstick humour here is naturally akin to that, as Rowan excels at physical comedy. But Trevor is a very different character. For a start, he talks and behaves like a normal human being, and he’s clearly more intelligent, when you see the creativity and skills he employs in dealing with some of his misfortunes. It still doesn’t go his way, but you have to admire him for trying, he’s a very kind and likeable person. Indeed, you do feel sorry for him when you understand why he’s so keen to make the money, as he has a bit of backstory as well. He really does care about the important people in his life and he’s clearly doing his best, he just needs help really. And he does get it in the final episode, after things seem to have gone the worst possible way.
So I enjoyed the show, and I would certainly be up for a second series if they wanted to do one, it is lovely to see Rowan doing something new. You can read an interview with him about the show if you want to find out more. And there’s even a special Rowan Atkinson flower display in London, which commemorates the launch of the series and raises awareness of how people can help endangered bees, so I might try and take a look at that if I get time.
On Channel 4, Series 13 of Taskmaster has come to an end. It’s been fantastic as usual, and there are plenty of amusing outtakes in addition to the many highlights from the show. Ardal O’Hanlon and Chris Ramsey, the two I’m a particular fan of, were as great value as I knew they would be, but all of the other contestants were brilliant too.
There was also a new Champion Of Champions special featuring the winners of Series 6-10, including Ed Gamble literally going above and beyond by sending his original trophy up into space! It’s a shame it was only one episode, rather than the two they did for the previous Champions contest for Series 1-5, but never mind, it was still really good fun.
And at the end of that special they announced the line-up for Series 14, from which I’m really excited about seeing Dara Ó Briain and Sarah Millican. I’m not familiar with the others (Fern Brady, John Kearns & Munya Chawawa) but even the people I don’t know on this show tend to be enjoyable anyway. So I’m really looking forward to that.
On a more dramatic but still funny note, I’ve watched Series 2 of The Outlaws, the comedy thriller created by and starring Stephen Merchant. It was filmed alongside the first series, hence it’s come out so quickly. Here the gang are rather pre-occupied from doing their community service work, as they find themselves on a slippery slope into the dark criminal underworld as they try to pay back the money they stole in the first series, and end up having to become amateur drug dealers in order to survive.
It’s nicely written, with a good mix of humour, action, tension, emotion, and surprises. And there’s a twist at the end of the final episode that makes sense given developments up to that point, which would be interesting to explore the consequences of if they do a third series. Stephen is keen to continue the story, so hopefully it’ll return. There is a DVD of Series 1, with Series 2 coming out later in July – which I’m not planning to buy, as I don’t feel compelled to purchase every show I’ve ever liked, but they’re worth noting anyway.
Stephen Merchant – Hello Ladies
To coincide with that series, and to follow on from all of the Ricky Gervais stand-up shows I watched back in May, I rewatched my DVD of Stephen Merchant’s stand-up show Hello Ladies this month, which is very funny.
The show is 80 minutes long, and was filmed at the New Theatre Oxford, plus there’s an MP3 version included on the disc as well, which is quite rare for a stand-up DVD, though it’s not the only instance I have of that. The show is loosely based around Stephen’s search for a wife, but he covers a variety of topics, including newspaper cuttings, his height (6’7″!), being recognised in public, Venn diagrams, weddings, noisy food in cinemas, splitting the bill in restaurants, going to nightclubs, trying to watch porn on VHS as a teenager in the 80s, text abbreviations, dogs, men seeming to do a lot of the work during dates and sex, the problems of making love as a tall man with glasses, and how he got his Blue Peter badge. Then for the encore he invites a man and a woman from the audience on stage, to help him recreate the first play he wrote with a friend in school about prejudice and difficult choices, which is hilariously awful.
The DVD also contains an interesting 20-minute interview called Going Back To Stand Up, where Stephen talks to Christian O’Connell about having another crack at stand-up after his attempts many years earlier hadn’t gone so well. It includes some footage from his 90s gigs, plus his more recent appearances in clubs as he experiments to see if he can re-build his act, and a few clips from his tour video diary with support act Josh Widdicombe.
Backstage With Katherine Ryan
Also on the stand-up comedy front, over on Amazon Prime I’ve watched the new series Backstage With Katherine Ryan, which has 6 episodes of roughly 50 minutes each. It’s really entertaining, and has audio description as well.
In each of the first 5 episodes we see Katherine Ryan hosting a comedy gig at the Roundhouse in London, where she introduces 4 of her friends from the comedy circuit to do a short set each. And they’re all funny, they do a great job. I wouldn’t watch full shows by every single one of them by any means, but the short routines they do here are generally pretty good. My personal favourites are Jimmy Carr, Sarah Millican (who naturally uses a bit of material from her current tour that I recently reviewed), Sara Pascoe, Sue Perkins (who nails her first anxious attempt at doing stand-up for 14 years), Rob Beckett, Nish Kumar, Jo Brand & Rosie Jones. Overall it’s an impressive line-up of comics.
But what makes this series original and interesting is that you get extensive behind the scenes access throughout. So you get to observe the banter and preparations in the dressing rooms before the show, Katherine brainstorming with fellow comic Geoff Norcott as they try to write roast-style jokes to introduce each guest, the comedians reacting to each other’s performances while watching from backstage, and their thoughts after the show has finished.
It’s great to see the humour, camaraderie and strong friendships that they all share, and the support and encouragement they give one another. Everyone gets nervous to some extent before going on stage, even seasoned professionals like these, yet you’d never know just from watching them perform. So it’s great to get this kind of insight for a change. There are also occasional short discussions of a deeper or more serious nature, as they address topics like sexual predators who have targeted performers, people’s different religious beliefs, Seann Walsh’s Strictly Come Dancing scandal, and the exposure of Joel Dommett’s Skype sex tape, for example. But on the flipside, there’s also amusing talk about things like colonic irrigations, peeing in the shower, fake tans, circumcisions, and an issue that both Katherine and Joel have with their lactating breasts! The conversations go in all sorts of unexpected directions!
Of course, I said that only the first 5 episodes feature stand-up gigs. The original intention was that all 6 episodes would be in that format. However, during the 5th episode there’s drama and confusion mid-way through the show when a shocked Katherine is suddenly taken away and informed that she’s had a positive Covid result. That forces an anxious Geoff Norcott to step in and introduce Sarah Millican, and the more confident warm-up act Mark Olver to come on stage afterwards to close the show. And so the 6th show has to be cancelled while Katherine isolates for 10 days.
To make up the shortfall, therefore, she invites Jimmy Carr, Judi Love, Nish Kumar and Sue Perkins over to her house for the final episode, where they have a good chat and a laugh together while watching a few highlights and deleted scenes from the series. Nish also delivers a surprise present from Rosie Jones that fuels some discussion on a few different topics, and Geoff Norcott joins them towards the end as well. Again the discussions are interesting and often very amusing, so it’s great to be a fly on the wall for a get-together like that. It actually makes a very effective end to the series, even though it wasn’t originally planned that way.
Morecambe & Wise: The Lost Tapes
And finally, I’ve bought Morecambe & Wise: The Lost Tapes, which is a new DVD release from the BBC that fills in all the gaps from their old so-called Complete Collection box set. So here we get all of the episodes from Series 1, and the final episode from Series 4. Some are complete film recordings, while a few only survive in audio form. And one episode has been reconstructed using still frames combined with an audio recording, after an absolutely extraordinary and impressive amount of work was put into retrieving the pictures from a roll of film that was so badly decomposed that many experts were adamant it would be impossible to salvage anything from it.
There’s also a fair amount of bonus material on the disc, including brief deleted scenes, an uncut audio recording from the production of a classic Christmas special, rare interviews with the two guys, and a couple of short restoration featurettes. So it’s decent package, and I’m in the process of writing a much more detailed review that will be part of a future post about all of my Morecambe & Wise DVDs.
And that’s it, I hope you enjoyed reading through all of that. There are still plenty of other new things I haven’t watched or listened to yet as well, but I’ll get around to them eventually, including the fourth season of Stranger Things on Netflix, and the Blu-ray of Licked Live In NYC by The Rolling Stones (plus the new BBC documentaries celebrating the band’s 60th anniversary), along with movies like The Matrix Resurrections, Top Gun: Maverick and the Toy Story spin-off Lightyear. Those are just some examples of course, there are plenty of other shows and films that I’m planning to watch at some stage. I don’t have time for everything!
As for July, I have a couple more theatre visits and a weekend getaway coming up this month, so I’m really looking forward to those, and I’ll be going out for plenty more walks in London, with one particularly important place I’m exploring at the moment. So there will be plenty more to share after all that, and I hope you have a good month too!