Friends and Family, Life in London
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Feb and March- everything but the art*

aka, the things we did between my return from Australia and the end of March.

(*and ok, also not the guests)

We started the month, more or less, with a Feb 9th Lunar New Year Celebration at Yauatcha.

Last year, Sameer and I managed to see a real Tiger, a real Puma, but no actual Lions.

So this seemed like a good opportunity:

Overall, while it was nice to see the Lion dance, and I appreciated the aesthetics of the dragon cake, the food was not at all impressive, and the service was terrible. It was supposed to be a kind of set menu, but there was barely any food (and most of it was cheap rice and veggies!) and no description of what we were eating.

At one point, a waiter ploinked two baskests of dumplings down on our table without telling us what they were, and when we tried to ask another waiter about them they did a sort of ‘oops you shouldn’t have two’ and took away one of the baskets! (Which also, for hygiene reasons, is super off-putting. Noone should have to eat food that has already been on someone else’s table).

Two dumplings each is not a suitable amount of dumplings.

It was a disappointment. And an expensive one at that.

We made up for it somewhat by eating at Sameer’s new favourite hipster cafe the next morning- which he’d been betraying me by visiting while I was away.

Here he is looking super happy he got a coffee card, and here is some extremely helpful rearrangement of food ‘to make a better photo’ while I was photographing it.


On Feb the 11th I did a 5k Run.

I’d signed up for the run as a way to stop myself from being a totally sloth during the long months of travel at the end of 2023. And it kind of worked: I made myself use the hotel treadmill in dubai, joined some Womens’ Fitness classes in Dehli, and went to the gym 3-4 times a week during my month in Perth.

I finished in almost exactly 40 minutes, which is pretty slow, but what I had hoped for (I’m not a runner).

See if you can guess which of these is the before and which is the after:

We stopped by Chinatown afterwards and met up with Sameer’s friend David, but the area had what can only be described as a surplus of people.

We didn’t stay long.

On Feb 21st, we won a frigging pub quiz!

Which, look, when I say we, I am being very generous to myself.

Technically, my team won.

Actually, I made very very little contribution to that fact.

On the 22nd Feb we went to see some Art, which doesn’t belong in this blog post.

And then on the 23rd we went to see Ralph friggin’ Fiennes and Indira Varma in Macbeth at DocX.

The atmosphere was cool- DocX is a huge space, and they had decked out the area surrounding the theatre itself with rubble and associated soldiers. The staging itself was fairly simple- some stairs came out and in and tables came and went, but it wasn’t an overly dynamic space.

Which would have been fine, but for us, the performances didn’t quite work. Ralph played the character very stiffly- and came across as a bit of an old man, and I completely missed the attraction between the leads. Macbeth should be powerful and sexy, and none of that came through.

Sameer fell asleep.

I only payed 15 pounds for the tickets, and to be honest that felt just about right.

The next day, there was more Art (please hold) and then on the first weekend of March, we had Chiara and her sister Giulia visiting us (maintain holding pattern). In amongst all of that, we went to see a Yoko Ono exhibit at the Tate Modern, which thoroughly impressed me. But as that is Art, you’ll have to hear about all of that a bit later.

March 7th was a panel discussion event at Bloomberg on Balancing AI Bias. Sameer, Giulia and Monica and I went to watch Sameer’s study buddy Seraphina and a bunch of others.

Serarphina -who has just submitted her thesis on a very much overlapping topic- was definitely the best of the panelists.

But maybe that’s my bias speaking?

The next weekend we hung out with Sameer’s work friends who were visiting from the New York office…

We generally just spent the day wandering around the sites of London, but also had incredible middle eastern food, and went on a bus that was friggin’ blowing bubbles!!

And after all of that, I somehow got very very sick.

It felt like food poisoning but no-one else got it- and Sameer didn’t get ill enough to make it seem like a normal bug.

Honestly, I think my work being completely terrible with my visa renewal led to such stress that my body just shut down.

Or more accurately, chucked up.

Continuously, for 24 hours.

Sameer was very nice and pushed various disgusting liquids on me and threatened me with NHS evac when I didn’t want to drink them.

Thanks partner.

I had recovered enough by March 14th to see An Enemy of the People, at Duke of York’s Theatre.

I’ve only ever seen one other Ibsen play (a Doll’s House in NYC), so I was pretty excited to see this.

It also had a few known faces, including Matt Smith from Dr Who fame playing the lead (Dr Stockmann), Jessica Brown Findlay (Downtown Abbey) playing his partner, and Subham Saraf playing Hovstad.

I have to say I really really liked this one- it’s probably one of the best things I’ve seen in the last years. And it got pretty solid reviews (although I always try not to read these before watching). All the actors played really well with Matt Smith particularly convincing as a slightly twitchy scientist who couldn’t see past the scientific facts.

The set was simple- with chalkboard backgrounds which were altered by the players between scenes, and the use of music (it leaned pretty heavily on Bowie’s Changes), was nice. I saw that one review that thought it was strange of the director toput the main characters in a band at the start of the show, but I think this was a really great way of showing that they were old college friends, who were working through the transition into real adulthood (the singing at the start was constantly interrupted by the Stockmann’s baby).

What impressed me the most is that the play is written in 1882, and- if anything- seemed more suited to modern times than something more ye oldey. Yes, it had been modernized- this was an adaptation by Ostermeier and Borchmeyer- and I’ve not seen the original so can’t truly compare. But it just seemed to fit in so well with current times of disinformation and fake news. Stockmann’s rant at the end involved discussions of Trump and the NHS and a billionaire prime minister- and (slightly confusingly), led to what I think was real audience participation (I stopped assuming the commenters were plants as their comments got a bit more obscure).

I did see online that the ending of the play has also been changed from the original- with I think a lot of success.

The evening we watched Enemy was also the evening that Nadia was supposed to arrive. As it turned out, her plane got cancelled, so she crashed into the city one day late.

Just in time to watch My Neighbour Totoro, at the Barbican Centre.

Back in Autumn last year, Nadia visited and we all went to see some some comedy, and the incredible Mahabharat at the Barbican (still unblogged, oh the eternal shame!). We also saw ads for Totoro, and Nadia vowed to return to the city to watch the show.

To be 100% honest, I think this is one that I probably wouldn’t have prioritized going to see without the push. I like Miyazaki, but never embraced Totoro itself as my favourite, and also didn’t really understand how the cartoon- featuring mostly two quite small children as well as mystical creatures- could possibly transfer to a stage show.

Boy, am I glad we went.

Everything was incredible.

First off, huge kudos to the main actress, a fully grown woman playing a four and a half year old cartoon without it being on the nose. Her acting was almost like circus clowning, and so so accurate that throughout the play you’d get these incredible moments of deja vu to the film.

And this feeling applied across everything.

The music was stunning- with a live orchestra sitting in treehouses at the back of the stage (the main singer sometimes came down to centre stage for the more poignent moments). The set was a beautiful combination of real and fantasy, and the creatures were SUPERB.

The little dust sprites were puppets, tiny balls of feathery fluff dancing around on sticks held by very skilled puppeteers. They also handled chickens, as well as the key stars of the show. Totoro hangs out with two smaller totoro-esque characters, and the way they managed the to get expression into these characters just from the way they rushed and paused and scurried across the stage was magical.

Totoro’s first entrance- involving a huge on-stage puppet the size of my kitchen- was met with gasps from the audience, as too was the arrival of the Catbus.

What was especially brilliant was how they played with scale. The original Totoro was huuugggee, to allow Mei to sit on him and bounce up and down as she does in the film, but later scenes had slightly smaller versions, which I assume was necessary for the puppeteers to move him across the stag. Overall we think they had at least three or four versions. Similarly, the Catbus was a giant inflatable creature- but at one point it leapt into the foreground and we saw a tiny hand-puppet sized bus jump across city high rises.

And, as I said, all of it so perfectly mapped to the movie- both in terms of the visuals we saw but also just the overall vibe-, in a way I wouldn’t have imagined was possible.

You can go here to see some official photos from the show, because I really can’t describe it well enough.

On March 19th, Sameer’s friend Sindhu came for dinner. We ate fancy Indian food, they talked about the good old days, and I interrogated her on Life In Berlin (with a strong motive to hear what she liked about it with the agenda of convincing Sameer that it might not be the worst place in the world to be).

On March 21, we went to see The Picture of Dorian Gray at Theatre Royal Haymarket.

I queued for the tickets (virtually, I am not an animal), and paid 40 pounds per ticket, which is not super pricey, but is more than I usually pay.

This was always going to be one I wanted to watch. I’ve read the book, love Oscar Wilde broadly, and have already seen Earnest in at least a few forms. Plus, it featured Sarah Snook aka Shiv from Succession- a show that Sameer and I have just started to watch (NO SPOILERS!).

This was just so so brilliant.

Firstly, they had made a decision to include a lot of the full on narration from the book- a risky but excellent choice, given how perfectly witty Wilde’s turn of phrase so often is.

The whole show only had one Actor- Snook, who handled narration, Dorian, and all the minor characters he interacted with (apparently 26 in total?).

This began with Snook simply walking on stage in a fairly plain outfit- and switching voices for narrator and the characters. It then gently amplified with application of props (first, a cigarette and drink), facial hair and wigs, and outfits. And then was further escalated by the use of multiple screens, pre-recorded voice and footage, and even phone filters.

All of this was handled by a large crew, who quietly moved around her on stage, dressing, undressing, moving and removing props, and filming the whole thing (often to simultaneously project on the screens).

It’s really hard to impress just how brilliant this all was, and how brilliant she was as an actress. Pulling something like this off – and having it work so well, is a near-impossible task. Despite the fact that it was just one person talking for two hours, it was never boring, and despite the juggling of characters and props, it was somehow never on the nose.

Sameer and I actually got into a debate afterwards about whether or not it was ‘camp’, mostly based around the fact (in my opinion) that it was camp – there was a lot of overthetop drama and silly costumes and vocies, as well as a tonne of quite twee fourth-wall-breaking ‘winkwink’-ing at the audience- but it managed to never veer into farce or pantomime or seem silly.

You can read a review here, or go here to get a vibe of the show.

But if it ever comes to your city, or if there is a film release, it’s really a must watch.

On 24th March we had an amazing dinner with our friend Giulia, but took no photos, and then on the Easter weekend has fancy dinner at Planque (one of the best european-style fancy meals we’ve had so far), and then less fancy Japanese food with my housemate.

See if you can guess which is which from the photos 🙂

That weekend was mostly a chance to relax, do some chores, do some sewing (more on that later) etc. The weekend ended way too fast, as did the first quarter of the year.

Feb, March, 2024

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