4 March 2012

Man! What a social life we enjoy! A veritable whirl of exciting and exhilarating experiences which it has been our pleasure to endure over the past couple of weekends. A week ago on Friday Ms Playchute did not feel much like cooking (and, you’ll be surprised to hear, neither did I) so we spoiled ourselves with an Indian take-away. Now, I know that’s not too exciting for those of you who live in a metropolis of any significance but for us in beautiful downtown Byfield, this is a real treat, even if it does mean having to travel down to the next village to collect it.

Then, a week ago Saturday we had a wonderful day in the big city (more of which anon) followed on Sunday with a delightful lunch out with Nick, Lucy and Annabelle which was all the more delightful for being a complete surprise. (Apparently, Nick had informed Ms Playchute of his intention to take us out to lunch but she understood the message to imply that they were going out to lunch and would try to stop by for a brief visit and/or a walk either before or after their meal).

And this week the pace has continued unabated: on Friday we had some old friends over for one of Ms Playchute’s more memorable luncheons – the Timings who Mom and Dad will remember visiting in the middle of a field in Winchcombe all those years ago. (We still have the sofa and chairs that Phil reupholstered for us and which we strapped to the roof of our car to transport home again). Then, last night it was dinner at the Waltons near Abingdon. I’m not sure I can keep this pace up too much longer (but I’ll try my best).

The LadykillesLast weekend, as I say, we were up in London on Saturday for the day. The main purpose for the outing was the matinee performance of The Ladykillers at the Gielgud Theatre which was excellent. Some/many/most of you, I guess, will remember the original 1955 Ealing Studios version starring Alec Guinness in the main role of Professor Marcus; if you haven’t seen it you should! Some of you will also have seen the Coen brothers’ remake starring Tom Hanks. The stage version is very closely modelled on the original film version and features Peter Capaldi as the Professor and, as I say, it was excellent.

Charles DickensWe started the day, however, in the City where we followed a Dickens audio walk I had run across on the Guardian web site. You will all no doubt be aware that this year is the two hundredth anniversary of Dickens’ birth (7 February 1812) and, not surprisingly, there have been numerous television programmes and films about him and his work which we have enjoyed (I do enjoy the films and television adaptations of his novels much more than I enjoy reading them, I have to confess. He never used three words when forty-three would do. Still, it is marvellous stuff).

The audio guide takes you around the City pointing out some of the sites that he would have seen, providing an interesting history of the development of the City of London during the Victorian period and leading you up tiny backstreets and alleys along which Dickens himself would have strolled. The weather was glorious – bright, sunny and warm – and the tour was fascinating. I was annoyed that I forgot to take a camera but, if you are interested in listening to and following the tour in a virtual way you can link to the audio tour here and see some photos of some of the sights mentioned on the tour which I have gathered from the interweb here.

Then, after the performance we strolled to Wahaca Soho for a delicious early evening meal. We’ve written about Wahaca before – it was opened some years ago by a woman who won the UK Master Chef competition. The original restaurant was just off Covent Garden and is inspired by Mexican street food – lots of tasty little titbits similar to tapas. This original restaurant was a huge success and she has now opened six others in London; the one in Soho was just a five minute stroll from the theatre so we meandered along and, because we were relatively early for a Saturday night, were seated straight away and enjoyed a very tasty collection of dishes.

From there it was a short walk down to Piccadilly Circus to catch the tube back to Marylebone and our train home – all the connections worked well and we were home before 8.00 pm. A grand day out!

Finally – From the Same Old Story department

Regular readers will recollect that, from time to time, I have run across instances where the Coalition Government’s mantra of “cutting the deficit no matter what or who it hurts” has actually led to an increase in government expenditure. We’ve learned of the rise in university tuition fees which has had the effect of increasing the cost to government due to the increased costs of administering the explosion in the student loan scheme. There’s also the increased costs to local authorities due to the  limit on housing benefit paid to claimants wiping out whatever savings have been achieved. Now we have another example affecting the prison service.

Cuts to the prison service have resulted in redundancies and decreased levels of staffing. This has resulted in the paperwork necessary to process prisoners being delayed due to these same staffing shortages. This has resulted in many prisoners being held in prison beyond their release date simply because the paperwork hasn’t been completed in time. (In some instances a prisoner’s release from prison has been delayed because they have not completed their assigned rehabilitation program. This has been because the cuts have meant that the designated rehabilitation programs are not available or oversubscribed). The result of all this is that the government has to pay compensation to the prisoners who are held beyond their release date to the tune of something in the region of £500 million per year (and, of course, that goes on year after year) when the savings amounted to something like £50 million (one-off). Another fine example of joined up thinking in government.

Love to you all,