24 January, 2007

from Bermondsey to the BBC

Well, once again our friendship with the perennially elegant and yet cutting-edge Vincent has taken us to unknown lands. Wednesday afternoon saw us wending our way across the river to his new flat, in a neighborhood that sort of borders Borough Market, called London Bridge. Both John and I immediately felt that we were back in Tribeca, with the factory and warehouse architecture, but with the winding streets of the Wall Street area. It feels very up and coming down there, which is appealing, and for sure Vincent has scored an amazing loft, but it feels like... New York. I still think we want to hold out for an English experience. But it was great fun to tour his new, empty home, waiting for the container of belongings to arrive later in the day. In fact, our lunch was unhappily punctuated for Vincent by many telephone calls from the inept movers, who at first seemed to think it would be acceptable just to let him know that they wouldn't actually be able to bring all his things to his new house, just some. "Well, all I can say is that the house doesn't belong to me anymore, and new people are moving in who won't want my things, and I do want my things, so I am going to rely on your professionalism to solve this problem, and I will look forward to another call soon telling me how you have managed just that," Vincent said with alarming patience.

However, it was not that simple, and we had the experience of watching his famous sang-froid slip finally, with "You are about to make me very unhappy! Just fill the *&^% truck and get it to my new place!" Poor guy, nothing more stressful than moving. But in the midst of it we had a delicious lunch at a restaurant right in his new neighborhood, called Village East. Apparently the new brainchild of the people behind another Bermondsey restaurant called The Garrison. Very warm and inviting, in a sort of minimalist New Yorky way, with what I would call very good, fresh food, but I think I could have ordered better. My starter was an individual pot of parfait of foie gras, under a sinful layer of pure fat, accompanied by toasted slivers of a sourdough bread studded with sultanas. Perfect, and I did not eat the pear and chutney that came with it, although it was tasty, because nothing must sully the perfection of foie gras, in my opinion. My main course was another starter, a deep-fried soft-shell crab with a perfectly mundane dipping sauce that claimed to be wasabi-based, but not only was it red instead of green, it was... not spicy. I think I've been distracted by the accompaniments to the soft-shell crab at Mandarin Kitchen, and what I really like about the dish is not so much the crab, but the sliced hot red and green chillis and ginger. But it was very nicely cooked at Village East, and the boys greatly enjoyed their meals as well (John had a divine venison carpaccio salad, and macaroni with roasted red peppers and Jerusalem artichokes, while Vincent had a very scary-sounding salad of squid and chorizo, no no no).

Mostly we had fun chatting about his exciting plans for his new home with Pete, and the new neighborhood of Bermondsey he has now to explore. I became fascinated with a building across the street from his house, with the carved legend "Time and Talents Settlement" above the door. What on earth? It looked vaguely turn of the century, and seemed empty. It was but the work of a moment, once home, to find that in Victorian time, a movement was launched that took advantage of the "Time and Talents" of leisured young ladies to give of their riches to poor factory girls, in the way of donations of food, clothing and the Gospel. Finally actual homes were established for them to live in as they scuttled to their horrible-sounding jobs at gin factories, leather factories and possibly worst-sounding of all, onion-peeling factories. Can you imagine the floods of tears? Peeling onions all day. But at least they had their settlements to go home to, with tea and biscuits, flowers and Bible Study. I've been learning all about this from a lovely little book called "By Peaceful Means: The Story of Time and Talents 1887-1987," by Marjorie Daunt. The farthest I have got in my researches into what they're doing today is a website extolling their work in the "Old Mortuary," a building that used to house all the dead bodies that turned up in the Thames, for the police to try to identify! Eeew. But the latest activities they describe are in 2001, so I'm going to dig a little deeper.

Yesterday was comedy class, and I have a whole host of new cultural references to look up, among them a Radio 4 show called "Down the Line," which classmate James assures me is hilarious. Also a sitcom called "The Green Wing," worth watching just for the lovely Tamsin Grieg, and "Drop the Dead Donkey," and a comedian called Harry Hill, who everyone claims is as funny as Jon Stewart, although that cannot be the case.

Our task at class was to break up into small groups and come up with a setting for a sitcom, and three or four main characters. Needless to say, our small group couldn't agree on any one idea, so we pitched four! I really think an art gallery would be a perfect setting, with excellent crazy artists, unreliable young assistants, spoiled rich clients. Of course the hard thing is how to have all the main people appear every week, which is a must in sitcoms, and a notion I hadn't ever thought of before. Of course, yes, you want to return cozily to the place and people you've come to look forward to, not to have inconsistent stories and people. It's surprisingly complicated to work all this out. James wanted to set his show on a city trading floor, and Liz and Leo wanted a library and a firm of personal injury lawyers. We decided the comedy world was a far poorer place without us, so with great energy pitched our ideas to Guy, who took us quite seriously and had great suggestions. Namely, I got my best laugh on a line from one of "my artists," who paints in a mixture of human ashes and breast milk. Ever since such a lady really did walk into my gallery, I've been desperate to use her for something, so maybe this is it. However, Guy pointed out that it's going to be hard to keep her around, since artists are transient in galleries. The undreamed-of pitfalls! How does anyone manage to be successful at these writing tasks that I approach and give my all, only to find out how difficult they all are. Sigh.

James kept us all distracted by a running series of gags, among them a response to Liz's suggestion of a library for her sitcom. "Did you hear the one about the guy who came into the library and said, 'Can I have an order of fish and chips?' and the librarian said, 'This is a library,' so he whispered, 'Can I have an order of fish and chips?'" He's clearly a natural, with an MPhil in creative writing from Trinity College, Oxford. My favorite kind of Englishman.

Ah well, even if I never write a great sitcom, we're having fun, and Guy is an extremely organised, pointed, talented tutor with, thank God, a sense of humor. What I think I would really like to do is work with people who already have a successful show going, so I can just slip in an add to someone else's genius, not apparently possessing any myself. But I think I could be a good team member. One never knows.

I'm off for lunch with one of my screenwriting friends, Dalia, and if she's willing, I must ask her what she makes of the craziness in Beirut the last few days. She still has family there and it must be horrible. And then, incongruously, ice skating after school with Avery and her little friends Kimia, who is Persian. What a town.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello from another American in London... also have a daughter and I was a professor too. I came across your blog while googling various school names, because we're in the midst of making school decisions now! All the best...