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Monday, November 1

Wow. It's November already. Where does the time go? The time on the weekend went by at top speed; I must have been having fun.

Well, another day in the office, preceded by a bus ride into town, which didn't seem to take very long as I engrossed myself in the free paper. It was to be a day of travel, so I was glad to arrive at work in a good frame of mind. I'm not quite sure what I did in the office all day, but it was soon time to start the last minute panic about how long it really takes to get to the station on foot from there. I had about 20 minutes to do it in, and made it in half the time.

Having failed to prevent my weight-problem-inducing instincts from forcing (yes, forcing) me to buy and consume some totally unhealthy pastry-wrapped food, I boarded the train. It was busy. Very busy. My hopes of settling down at a spare table with my laptop to do some writing were totally dashed. This train was packed to the ceiling with people. Well, not literally packed to the ceiling, but every seat was taken. I was also rather hot from the trip across town. I thought it was going to be a totally unpleasant 3 hours on board the GNER 225 to London Kings Cross, via Darlington, York, Peterborough and the pits of hell! I was wrong.

Notable companions emerged from my part of the carriage. Firstly, there was a young child (4 years old) whose eye I caught early on. I flashed her a smile and she totally blanked me. I was only slightly phased by this. Normally, I get a smile back from making cheerful faces at children, but this one was clearly a tough nut to crack. Having said that, I'm not going to be bullied by a four year old. Not much. Another notable companion was sitting across the aisle from me. I observed that our seats were ideally located for conversation in that they were diagonally opposite each other and facing in opposite directions. Thus a conversation was possible and indeed occurred. As we chatted, so the children in the seats immediately in front of me, now no longer feeling as shy and snooty as before, started to vie for attention. I ended up simultaneously talking to the adult companion, the children and a range of soft toys. The toys were initially more talkative than the kids, but this barrier broke down.

The train became distinctly more empty at Peterborough - I lost the adult company - and thus I spend the tail end of the journey chatting to the two children. The four year old girl and six year old boy turned out to be at about my intellectual level. I was amused enough by this chitter chatter. Highlights included finding out that they'd started their journey to Ashford (in Kent) from Inverness that morning. That's a shed-load of travelling and I could tell that these relatively well-behaved children were due to get into their intolerable, insufferable, tantrummy sort of a mood. It was bound to happen, and I suspect that there were tears about 25 minutes after we all arrived in Kings Cross. Another highlight was hearing about the "special" garden of a house they'd stayed in. "It's special because it has deer in it", piped up one child. "Yes, and it has grass," said the other. I could barely contain my excitement.

Arriving in London, I met my weekend companion and, via some supermarketesque shopping, we attended a pub where we spent the rest of the evening. I like the idea of attending a pub - it almost makes it sound like a religious experience. Worshipping at the alter of alcohol and good food. The pub food was not really akin to pub food. Interesting and well prepared, it was a highlight of the consumable substances on offer. The beer was pleasant too. After pubbery (is that a word?) we went back to settle in for the night. However, no night is complete without:
  • A trip to the roof
  • Consumption of fine wine and cheese with a panoramic view of London and its surroundings
  • Inept playing of the piano
  • Talking of nonsense
  • Sloping off to bed as your host reaches utter exhaustion

I awoke to find that breakfast was in the process of being made. It was being made very well. Very well indeed. It also went down very well. There was much toast.

We couldn't hang around getting breakfast (well, it was nearer lunchtime, but let's not go into that). We had a show to catch. After a brief delay of showering, changing, wandering through the gardens, getting various tubes, we were in town and heading, at top speed to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, to see The Producers. I may have mentioned (about 95 times) that I was looking forward to seeing this show. In fairness, we didn't quite arrive at the theatre on time. The show had started promptly and we failed to see the first 90 seconds of it I reckon. Bizarrely, as we hurriedly found front of house staff to direct us, one of them pointed at me and said "I know him" - well, exclaimed it. It was one of the guys who did a show in The Underbelly at the same time as us back in August. It turns out that his whole group work in that theatre. It's weird, arriving at a theatre I was excited to be visiting and finding two familiar faces working in the foyer (I turned round to see a lady whom I'd flyered alongside a few weeks previously). Anyway, we couldn't hang around. We had a show to stop missing.

The run up the stairs, the slight embarrassment of being seated after the show had gotten going, the overheated body... none of these impaired the enjoyment of the show.

The Producers is quite simply stunning. Every moment was a work of art. I was laughing at jokes, admiring performances, staging, writing, sets and loving the way that the audience were as excited as I was that this show was so damned good! There are many many highlights and I won't pick the show to pieces here and ruin it for anyone. I will simply say that I wanted to see it again immediately afterwards. I will be going again. Soon! It's just great. Lee Evans was splendid and Nathan Lane just IS the part and he was so naturally funny, holding the audience's attention effortlessly. I had high expectations of this show, but I would have had to have built it up in my head as some sort of religious experience to have my expectations anything other than exceeded by what unfolded. Wow!

Leaving the auditorium, I ran into someone from Tynemouth Operatic Society, with whom I'll probably be doing a show in February. These coincidences just mount. I had a chat to the front of house staff I'd met in Edinburgh and gave them CDs for our show, which they'd never gotten the chance to see. I happened to have some spares in my pockets - it wasn't a premeditated effort to find the cast of "Eeeny Meenie Miny" and give them CDs.

Meanwhile, my companion, who claimed not to have a love for musicals was suddenly fired up about the possibility of seeing another musical. Right away. Strike while the iron is hot. Who else could he go and see a musical with? Me, of course. After debating which musical might fit the bill, we narrrowed it down to Chicago and Sweeney Todd. The former would have been more fun, the latter was to be more interesting. The decision was partly made for us as Chicago was sold out. So, off we went to the Ambassador's Theatre to see Sweeney Todd. On the way, we stopped for food at a fabulous Japanese restaurant where not only do they cook your food in front of you, but it's a curious sort of omelette thing, which can only be described as amazing. I'll never look at eggs the same way.

I first experienced Sweeney Todd on CD. Stephen Sondheim does not make musicals easy to perform, but they are great works of writing. Sadly, my first experience of a live performance of this show was at the Fringe in 2003. I was not altogether impressed. This professional production promised a couple of advantages. Firstly, these were professional performers, getting good reviews (from what I'd heard on radio at least) and secondly, the cast were also acting as orchestra. The show was staged with minimal set and part of the action involved instruments moving around with characters, soloists playing the instrument in their hand in between singing and people swapping places at the piano at the back of the stage. This was quite an experience. We really enjoyed the show. It had many fewer laughs than the previous production we'd seen, but it was well executed and seemed not to even slightly compromise the tone of the sound, despite the apparent limitations of requiring the cast to act as orchestra. Splendid!

Of course, you can't go and see multiple shows on the same day outside of some sort of festival? Can you? Well, we'd seen two shows, so surely that was all? Actually, I had a record from December 2002 where I'd seen 2 West End shows on the same day (Macbeth and Art), but I wouldn't have expected to exceed this. This Saturday we bust that record's ass.

After the show "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" they reuse the theatre for an occasional comedy night, starring the cast. We had a go at attending this show. It was pleasing enough, though I have seen open mic spots with more of an idea of comedy stage etiquette than some of the guys who performed for us. When they turned the latter half of their "show" into improvisation games, I could smell the lack of production values. Again, it pleased the audience and Christian Slater probably made the night with his a capella singing of swing classics.

Three shows watched, surely we were satisfied? Well, perhaps just one more? Late night show at the Comedy Store, Leicester Square. I've never been there before. What a smashing gig! MCed by Jo Caulfield, this gig went very well and was closed by Gavin Webster, who is still one of my most favourite circuit comedians.

Then we really did need to get back home. One nightbus later and we were eating toast in Highgate. Then we played piano, creating duets by taking a hand of Beethoven each. Soon it was very very very late. We went to bed.

So we awoke around lunchtime and it was time for more toast. I like toast. This toast was followed by ablutions and then a final trip into town (suitcase in tow, since this was the trip which ended with a trainride back to Newcastle). Seeking a gastro-pub or restaurant for lunch proved to be troublesome. Apparently, Sunday is a day of rest in some parts of London. However, as our watches read 4.45pm we arrived at a theme pub, whose theme was food. It claimed to stop serving at 4pm. We chanced our luck and they were happy to serve us. Wow. That's service. 45 minutes after they stopped serving, they served us anyway. Good stuff.

Food consumed, we mooched around for a few hours, much coffee was drunk.

Arriving at King's Cross, we discovered two surprising things. Firstly, the clocks had gone back and we'd forgotten about it - that explained how we got odd looks at 3.45 asking for lunch in a place that advertises food until 4pm. Secondly, my 10pm train (11pm according to my watch and body-clock), was due to be part-replaced by a Doncaster to York bus service. It was to be a long night.

Eventually on the train, I managed to get a couple of hours' writing in. This made carrying the laptop around with me seem ultimately worthwhile. I still have a lot more work to do before I can get excited about this new show, but I'm on the way there.

Sadly, we weren't really on the way to Newcastle. When our arrival at Doncaster was complete there was much hanging around before a bus arrived.

I spotted this hilarious sign:

In Yorkshire that "T'" gets everywhere

The bus turned out to be full. I ended up in a taxi with 4 strangers, one of whom was a grumpy office worker, another was a pretty sports teacher from America, who now works in Darlington (must be a punishment for a transgression in a previous life). My favourite co-passenger was the pilot. I was in desperately high spirits and made cheery chatter for much of the journey, to the occasional chagrin of the more highly-pissed off of my co-travellers. Most of them had intended to get the earlier train (unlike me, with my scheduled ticket for the 10pm train) and had been frustrated in their attempts to board it (other transport delays). In addition, they were disappointed to realise that the 9pm train would not have incurred the massive delay.

After a long journey through darkened A-roads in a taxi, we arrived in York for a half-hour delay before the train set off for Newcastle. I was looking to settle myself in a seat, away from the taxi-companions, whose patience with me was pretty much reaching its limit. I spotted a familiar face - it was a comedian I knew. We had a great yarn for the course of this journey. Though I consider myself a cheery soul, this man made me look like a miserable curmudgeon in comparison to his genuine bonhomie. Darlington arrived in no time at all.

Sadly, my chum departed at Darlington. Then the train stopped for about 10 minutes with a "mechanical problem" in the middle of nowhere. We passengers were all slightly stunned at the possibility that home would not be reached. Eventually, though, after we got going again and I managed to get a rather surprised taxi from the rank outside Newcastle station, I reached my bed - the time was merely 3.15am (4.15 according to my badly adjusted clocks).

It was an eventful weekend.


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