Who needs Netflix these days with such a wide range of entertainment available, at home and abroad, on the news platforms of the world. Every taste is catered for: farce, tragedy, comedy, tragicomedy and sheer absurdity. And all for free! No subscription necessary. The Westminster bubble has burst and out has plopped The Clown and His Shudder leaving chaos and laughter in his wake. That and a lot of other awfulness that makes my feet itchy and the sand seem a good place to keep my older, balding head!
But Wow! June has been quite a month. Last week I turned 70 and entered my 8th Decade, dear Friends. Some of you have got there already; some of you have entered your 9th Decade and I bet you all can’t believe it? I certainly cannot and still view the world as if through the eyes of a sixteen year old. That has been quite exciting enough without the lunacies of the world to amaze and depress!
I suppose June started really at the end of May with a short visit to The Hay Festival to see Damon Galgut being interviewed and talking with Elizabeth Day, one of the best I’ve seen him give. His winning book, The Promise has been an enormous success and he has been much in demand for interviews and promotional book launches, but he never seems to repeat himself.
We were with friends Geoffrey and Francisco, staying in Hereford for the weekend, back to a pre-pandemic tradition when attending the Festival but also went to listen to husband & wife duo Maki Sekiya and Ilya Chetverikov playing works for two pianos by Debussy, Stravinsky and Rachmaninov at St. Mary’s church in a lunchtime concert there.
So. June. Yes. Two highlights. Turin and Glasgow at the beginning and the end.
Turin for two reasons. We’ve neither of us been before and the chance to see and hear Jonathan Coe performing at the annual Jazz Festival there made a visit irresistible. Music he wrote, though he says he neither reads nor writes it, was taken up by the arranger and conductor of the Artchipel Orchestra, Ferdinando Farao who leads this Italian big band, popular in Italy.
We also attended an event at the Fondazione Circolo dei Lettori where, through a brilliant interpreter, Jonathan revealed his two passions for literature and music, explaining along the way to Italian author Giuseppe Culicchia interviewing him, how it was that he had landed up playing a version of his own music with a Jazz Band in Turin in the first place!
Aprè Concert pizzas in the Piazza Carlo Alberto next to the Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano
What a beautiful city. Bearing in mind the utter chaos prevailing on some of our airlines and in our airports we decided to go by train which turned out to be a wise and restful decision. With an easy change in Paris we were whisked across a sun drenched France, through the Vanoise National Park to Turin. Even a delay outside Lyon seemed painless when in such comfortable seats and with a view of such green fields, well fed cows and snow-dusted mountains. Bucolic is a good word and if the view got boring the excellent on-board WiFi and/or a good book easily passed the time.
Now that dotage stares us in the face, we have started to avail ourselves of the Hop-On-Hop-Off buses that are endemic wherever tourists round the world gather. We used to disdain these as Disneyesque rides designed for cheap packaged holidays and visitors who do not have the time or energy to explore alone and on foot, by far the best way, of course, to discover a city. Well we have finally caved in on this front and found that actually you do get to experience a useful overview of a place without having a heart attack, and a sense of direction which enables further exploration.
So off we set.
It was very hot so perhaps the top deck was not the best place from which to see this elegant city in its lovely setting along the Po and under the western Alpine Arch. But it served its purpose and we got back onto our pegs and stumbled into a wealth of culture, excellent cuisine, handsome architecture – largely in the city centre – from our base at the Victoria Hotel which boasted among other things, a wonderful, cool underground spa: a blessing at the end of a hot day, I can tell you.
The surprising Museo Egizio came highly recommended. I say surprising because it seemed an unlikely place to find such an enormous and beautifully displayed, easily accessible collection of Egyptian antiquities – until the explanation of their presence there was made plain: all in English. In fact all the museums were dual medium except, understandably, the Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano where I wished I spoke Italian so as to follow the fascinating story of the reorganisation not just of Italy but really the whole of post-revolutionary Europe.
Turin is of course the car manufacturing capital of Italy. The Centro Storico Fiat, itself a magnificent Art Nouveau construction, houses the whole history of FIAT but, rats, was closed – a victim of the pandemic, hopefully only temporarily because I could have spent days in there!
Not to be thwarted though, I set off to walk the four miles along the river, through parks and past fountains, to the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile which turned out to be a spectacular collection of every kind of mode of transport from beyond the Romans, housed in an equally spectacular post-modern building.
I was like a child in a toy shop and was carried back to my childhood when I stumbled on a Fiat Topolino, first produced in 1937, one of which my mother drove, albeit a 1954 model, back in Durban when we had recently settled there from Cape Town in 1957. It had a tiny 500cc engine and I vividly remember that in order to breast the steep hill out of our hotel, my brother and I and particularly Betty, our nanny, who was a large lady, had to clamber out and walk to the top else the Topolino would simply have stalled or, worse, stripped its clutch!
And here before my eyes was the exact model.
The National Museum of Cinema is housed in the Mole Antonelliana believed to be the tallest unreinforced brick building in the world (built without a steel girder skeleton). It is certainly the tallest museum!
Originally intended as a Synagogue when it was built in 1889, financed by the Jewish community, it was never used as such and housed various civic projects until its current use began in 2000.
It’s a staggering place. Brilliantly designed. I could easily have spent far longer in it. I love looking at every detail but there is simply never enough time.
They were running a special exhibition of the works and times of the Director Dario Argento, “Master of the Thrill” and the “Master of Horror”, which took an entire floor of this extensive museum.
On with the motley!
Three days in Turin and not a wasted second. Time for convivial lunches and dinners with friends and plenty of “fizzy makes me dizzy”. The food there is excellent – and the company too!
What to do?
And so to the end of June – the 30th to be precise.
Google lists 295 important events having occurred on this day in history. I like to think there are 296 though, as of course it is my birthday.
I’m in excellent company:
The Night of the Long Knives in 1934. The failed coup attempt by cocaine growers in Bolivia in 1984 and the birthdays of such illuminati as Lena Horne and Walter Ulbricht to name but a few.
At 10 I served a dozen Hubbly-Bubblys and a square, richly iced & decorated birthday sponge with twelve selected friends at boarding school in Pietermaritzburg; at 20 I drank far too many gins and tonics at The Pig & Whistle while at University in Cape Town; at 30 I was at the Connaught Theatre in Worthing playing John Wesley in A Touch of Spring; at 40 I was about to undergo surgery in The London Clinic; at 50 I was playing in Regent’s Park; at 60 I was taken to St. Petersburg. So – obviously at 70 it had to be Capriccio at the Staatsoper in Vienna, overnighting at the Sacher?
No such luck. Couldn’t get in there. Couldn’t get a ticket either so we went to Glasgow instead – with friend Helen – to visit the newly refurbed Burrell Collection, look in at the Huntarian Museum, seat of much Mackintosh, and naturally, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. Not to mention the Riverside Transport Museum and, over at a sadly de-industrialised Govan, the Fairfield Heritage, celebrating the astonishing history of the great shipyards of the Clyde.
All fascinating, especially the magnificent Burrell Collection in its purpose-built home in Pollock Country Park. Years ago I filmed in that building. I was making a commercial for the about–to-be-privatised Scottish Electricity Board who I think may have been early sponsors. So I spent two days in there. It is so light; there is so much glass and it looks out into the woods and parkland which you feel you could almost touch; I saw my first red squirrel there and peering deeper into the trees, there were deer too.
With slim, chic friend H, well into my third trimester carrying quads!
Three great days with these visits interspersed with excellent dining at Unalome, Graeme Cheevers’ wonderful restaurant, now with one Michelin Star; a great evening at The Ubiquitous Chip with friends Rose & Rob and some good Italian nosh at Sarti’s before jumping on the Caledonian Sleeper to return to London.
Graeme Cheevers outside his Unalome.
A few more pictures to help you all with the new Pedrordle Game I am launching. Fairly straight forward multiple choice questions – this time available online and with no time limit. Remember: black ballpoints only.
Of course a lot of other things happened in June but many of them will induce a rant so I’ll pass over them. Some excellent theatre, notably David Hare’s offering this year, Straight Line Crazy at the Bridge Theatre. We thought Ralph Fiennes as the Town Planning-Expressway-Building Robert Moses, took a while to warm up with a rather wobbly American accent but later became powerful and rather moving.
I thought if he’d had gesticulated a degree less and explored two or three degrees of stillness more he’d have been even more powerful. Danny Webb was brilliant as Governor Al Smith – an award-winning performance.
We’ve enjoyed Operation Mincemeat , I’m Your Man and The Outfit but not in the cinema. I don’t know why this is. We’ve been slow to get out of Covidly habits I suppose, and tear ourselves away from the TV screen. These things are so readily available there now and at a fraction of the price. The new Borgen, The Lincoln Lawyer and The Holiday have amused us too – among others.
Other jubilations? Her Majesty’s 70th was celebrated around the nation. Whatever one may think of Royalty, Queen Elizabeth II certainly shows up the current tawdriness at Westminster – Hats off to her I say. I think even Republicans say it too. I often wonder what she must really think of some of her ministers and the state of her nation generally.
If I were her I’d be weeping.
Well, perhaps she is.
Stay safe dear friends!