Sunday, 1 April 2007

Another Sunny Day, I Found You At The Herbaceous Border

The Joy of Together

Celebrating Mr. Keith’s 47th birthday

Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes with me will know how importantly I take those markers in the year when a community takes note of significant milestones: New Year’s Eve is a great time to think about what you’ve been up to over the last 12 months (in my case: to reflect on those to whom I could have behaved more charitably); Christmas time is about reminding yourself that the winter will end, and Easter time has such obvious renewal imagery that nuff said (apply own theology for added benefits of course). All of these markers refer to something external to one’s self, really, so I think everyone deserves one day a year where they are quite clearly marked out as Numero Uno, where no apology has to be made for putting one’s self centre-stage, and where every minute should be crafted around the advancement of one’s own (perhaps guilty) pleasures. That’s your birthday, that is.

It was Keith’s birthday yesterday. I think we didn’t celebrate it sufficiently last year, so we started the evening before, Keith’s-birthday-eve that is. I had got surprise tickets to Boeing-Boeing, a West End farce which has garnered 5-star reviews across every review in every publication and which stars such luminaries of stage and screen as Ms Tamsin Slapper, star of dozens of hours of crap TV that you feel sick after watching (like when you eat too much cake), Ms Gomez-Gomez, the oddly-limbed squirrel-creature from TV’s Green Wing (no, I didn’t laugh at the second series either), Mr Mark Bender, all-round-luvvy and someone who would skip gaily at a funeral procession and – the star de stars – Ms Francis De La Hag, the 410-year-old craggy cliff-face – the Eiger - of British Theatre and who is destined to be remembered for nothing other than that rubbish sitcom from the 70’s that one’s parents inexplicably found amusing. OK so you know the West End theatre drill: for just one hundred of your earth pounds you and the husband of your choice can cram yourself into uncomfortable chairs designed, not for the mass of the audience (American tourists in Velcro-ridden comfort ware), but for midget stick-insects, while the air-conditioning is set to “Desert Storm”. You get to pay an extra twenty of your earth pounds for two glasses containing a sparrow’s spit worth of gin and Martian tonic water. And then the show begins, and while all around you people are literally howling with manic laughter, you get to sit stoney-faced, staring at the lumbering, illogical, tired and over-acted drivel taking place on the stage in front of you. Such was our experience of Boeing Boeing and so typical was it of our West End theatre experience that afterwards we decided we’d had a great time.

Tuesday dawned bright and sunny, one thing about Keith is that it’s quite clear that God loves him, because it’s always teeshirt weather on the 27th March. Remember this if it ever falls on a weekend and you’re considering a picnic. So – pausing only to devour special birthday bacon-and-egg sandwich (not me) and watch two special birthday episodes of Fawlty Towers we rang for our driver (the no.48 bus) and proceeded in a southerly direction until we hit the buffers at London Bridge (London Bridge! What a gorgeous station!). We then spent a couple of hours being terrified by the London Dungeon Experience. What happens is this. You get put underneath the ground in a sequence of unlit tunnels which smell of something excremental … think Paris in the strong summer sun … while various young gore-covered actors (who put the cast of Boeing Boeing to shame) play the part of nefarious characters from London’s history … I was physically unwell during the Jack The Ripper chapter and picked on mercilessly by the Newgate judge. And there’s one of those ghost-train water-bath journeys too! Absolutely fantastic to be honest, I loved it.



Blinking back into the sun we made our way westerly along the Thames’ southbank. We found a new Wagamama next to Vinopolis so stopped there to stock up on noodles, chillis and edamame, soya beans so fibrous that I was farting like a sleeping puppy well before the meal was ended, much to the well-hidden joy of the couple at the table behind us who were trying to conduct an office affair.

Back onto the riverbank and we meandered along till we got to Tate Modern where we remembered that there’s a Gilbert and George exhibition on at the moment. You know Gilbert and George: those two gay blokes who live in the East End (sounds familiar) and who make art by taking pictures of themselves naked, which they then blow up (fnarr) to art-gallery-wall size and cover with bits of graffiti they have photographed on the benches of Victoria Park. I think it’s really good, surprisingly, and not just in the “that’s a nice bit of colour for the wall that faces the garden” sort of a way. I think there’s something pretty bloody clear about what they’re saying about the state of the East End, but amazingly, not, one never reads about this in the Guardian’s review of their work. Nuff said matey.

You’d think that would be enough for a day out wouldn’t you! Well think AGAIN. Because at this point Keith’s birthday overlapped with a present he gave to me last Christmas: yesterday evening we had tickets to attend the Times/Intelligence-squared public debate, held at the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, where the motion to be voted on was that We Would Be Better Off Without Religion. Speaking for the motion was Prof Richard Dawkins, Prof A.C.Grayling, and Christopher Hitchens. Against was Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Prof Roger Scruton, and some loser called Spivey who makes programmes with names like “Digging for Jesus”. Now I wasn’t completely mind-made-up before we started, though Dawkin’s last book acted like a sort of wake-up call on my general beneficent drift towards Anglicanism. I’ve been sort of thinking about the importance of a national agreement on the way we should act towards one another, and the Church of England seems to embody that for me. But there’s no getting away from the anti-scientific belief in the supernatural on which all these belief systems are based, and at the end of the day that’s an appalling basis. I do love Roger Scruton though, surely the most intelligent Briton alive? He nearly persuaded me, but I think the spiritual beauty he described was a description of the transcendental, not the religious. The Anti side were severely let down by Rabbi Julia. She almost got it right, by beginning her talk by referring to systems of behaviour and communal practice. But she stuffed it up by ending with a recitation of the Lib Dem manifesto and implying, strongly, that only religious people are capable of being decent-minded. This was a theme which ran through the opposers’ speeches and which I believe was a tactical mistake; because you don’t convince people like me, who believe that they’re more or less living a Good Life, that they should incorporate a belief in the divine, by telling us that without such belief we’re tantamount to dull, prosaic horrors who would happily force children back up chimneys (this example was used). In the end – to my surprise – the motion was strongly defeated by around 1200 votes to 700. Absolutely brilliant night out.

After that there was time only for a quick tube ride home, a ridiculous amount of birthday cake, and a butcher’s at another birthday DVD, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby On the Road to Singapore.

Happy Birthday Mr Keith.

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