Friday, 1 August 2014

New Music

Jennifer Crook's latest album - Carnforth Station - has arrived at Marsh Towers. Readers may remember reading about the pledge project earlier this year.

A full review will follow soon.

Chess Reviews: 239

The chess product review pile has grown large in recent weeks. It's now time to round up the latest releases. As usual, my more detailed reviews will appear in CHESS Magazine, while here we will present an overview of recent titles, with regular postings on the subject over the course of the next week or so.

A number of chess books have been reissued in an updated format; some with extra material, others without.

Russell Enterprises continue their policy of upgrading classic historical works to ''21st Century Editions'', with algebraic notation replacing the now defunct descriptive. Two well-known books by Fred Reinfeld are the latest to receive the treatment.

The project has the blessing of Fred's children, Don and Judith Reinfeld, who provide a short preface (the same one for both books). Series editor Bruce Albertson has tidied up the text, knocking out typos and occasionally adding short notes to the solutions. Speaking of typos, there's a very unfortunate example at the start of 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate in the section on Chess Notation. In demonstrating how to use short algebraic instead of the long form, the first move for White is given as ''1 e2'' instead of the correct ''1 e4''.

The material is, of course, first rate and makes an excellent resource for chess tutors and coaches. The presentation is very clean and tidy. Improving players will also be able to sharpen their tactical vision by solving a chunk of puzzles before they head off to a chess match. In both books, the solutions are hidden away at the back so there is little danger of seeing the answers ''by accident''.

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate jumps straight in with Queen Sacrifices and then there are chapters devoted to Checkmate Without the Queen, Storming The Castled Position, Harrying the King, Discovered Check and Double Check, Pawn Promotion, A Variety of Motifs and Composed Problems.

Here's one to try. Can you force a checkmate?
White to play
1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations starts with Pinning and runs through 20 chapters of the usual suspects before ending with The Weakened Castled Position.

Here's one I selected at random.

White to play
There's plenty of material here. It should take even the most diligent of students some time to get through all 2,002 puzzles.

There will be more on new editions of books soon.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Further Reading

My reviews of Petrosian Move by Move (Thomas Engqvist, Everyman Chess) and Hacking Up the King (David Eggleston, Mongoose Press) are included in the latest issue of CHESS Magazine.

Ordering details can be found here.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Last Night Of The Pythons

Monty Python Live (mostly)
O2 Arena, London
A short time ago, it would have been a strange dream indeed to imagine having the opportunity to see Monty Python reunited and on the stage once more. Yet an announcement of a series of live dates came out of the blue, with the first show selling out in 43.5 seconds. I was fortunate to be able to attend the final show of the run, which will almost certainly prove to be the very last chance to see the surviving Pythons performing together.

Reviews of the earlier shows had been mixed, with the song and dance routines coming in for particular criticism. True, they did, perhaps, outstay their welcome and each routine took away stage time from the Pythons themselves, but within the context of an arena event they were largely excusable.

Elsewhere, the material was a fairly predictable set of ''greatest hits'' with the Pythons clearly enjoying the experience just as much as the rest of us. A detailed critical analysis would definitely reveal a significant number of flaws, but I found the best method was to simply sit back and enjoy the entertainment - warts and all.

Here's a few (mostly self-explanatory) photos from the memorable evening.

''The Four Yorkshiremen'' - originally from 1967's At Last the 1948 Show
Showbizzy Eric Idle as Noel Coward 
Song and dance! Mostly highlighting body parts and bodily functions
The late Graham Chapman made the occasional appearance on the big screens
Michael Palin and John Cleese performed various classic two-handers

''I wanted to be...''
''...a lumberjack!''

The Bruces - including Eddie Izzard 
Terry Jones, clearly reading a cue card. John Cleese took it off him! 

No Python show is complete without some ''old women''
Flower arranging - Gumby style (Terry Gilliam!)
Two judges relax after a hard day's work
''Nudge, nudge!''
Tonight's celebrity blackmail victim - Mike Myers

''Nobody expects...''

''I wish to register a complaint!''

Long-time female Python performer Carol Cleveland

The last of the Pythons? Almost certainly. I was delighted to be there to share the farewell.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Museum of Comedy

London's brand new Museum of Comedy can be found at The Undercroft, St George's Church, Bloomsbury Way (near the British Museum).
The museum offers a very friendly welcome and an extremely relaxed atmosphere. The main room is absolutely packed with comedy memorabilia stretching back many decades.

A side room - The Cooper Room - is dedicated to all things Tommy Cooper. A big screen replays scenes from his shows and there are many photographs and authentic props to be seen.
In the Cooper Room

Authentic Cooper prop.
Back in the main room, there's a large amount of printed matter, including scripts from Goon shows and  several folders crammed full of Hancockiana, such as the comic strips from Film Fun. One can pull up a chair and spend hours just reading through the contents of the museum's library.
Film Fun with Hancock and James
A special display celebrates the life and times of Max Miller, the finest stand up comedian the world has ever seen.
Max Miller's hat and jacket
It's essential to look in every corner of the museum as no space is wasted and there are some fine items tucked away. Other artifacts are harder to miss, such as this beauty.
The bear from Steptoe and Son
''There'll never be another, lady''
The Museum of Comedy fills a significant gap. It is set to expand as more items are added to the collection (donations are welcome!).
Part of comedy's rich heritage, from more innocent times
There's a lot to see and I'll certainly be back for more in the near future.

Planning a visit? Head for the museum's website for further details.

Thursday, 24 July 2014


The Centenary of the First World War seemed as good a time as any to see War Horse, which has been on my list of things to do for a number of years.
War Horse
New London Theatre
The basic premise of the play is well known; set during the First World War, with men and horses  caught up in a tale of universal suffering. This is by no means a stereotypical story of good against evil and it is not afraid to portray the suffering and misery ''from the other side of the trench''.

The horses are, famously, puppets, realised in such a way that the required suspension of disbelief takes no special effort.

Without spoiling the story for those who have yet to see the play, it is enough to say War Horse thoroughly deserves its tremendous reputation (it's far more than merely ''Lassie with horses'' as someone once described it to me) Just don't get too attached to any of the characters, human or otherwise.

For further information, head for the official War Horse website.

Staying with the First World War, I paid a visit to the Imperial War Museum to look at the brand new First World War Galleries.

The galleries are well worth a visit. Entry is free. I got there early and was in the first bunch of visitors but there was a queue for subsequent sessions (but it's worth the wait).

There are plenty of artifacts, lots of detailed visitor notes and even a recreation of a trench, complete with authentic machine gun noise and other sounds.

To round off the WW1 part of my London trip, I called in at the British Library to see their Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour exhibition.

It's a relatively small exhibition (and another free one) but is definitely worthy of attention. The propaganda aspect (based largely on guilt) is particularly striking, as these sample posters demonstrate.
All very interesting stuff.

My next museum trip, which will be highlighted tomorrow, was an altogether different experience...

Wednesday, 23 July 2014


Playhouse Theatre, London

''If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.''

Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 delivers a new slant on the classic story.

A reading group, studying the text of Winston Smith's book, tries to determine the truth of the story. At certain moments, Winston is seen to bleed into their time zone and/or consciousness (and vice versa). Such a breaking of the fourth wall - from the internal narrative point of view - is taken a stage further later on, as Winston pleads with the real audience to help him as he is forced to confront his greatest fear - ravenous rats! - in Room 101.

Such a challenging of the perceptions of both characters and audience is a recurring theme throughout the play (which lasts, incidentally, 101 minutes - without an interval). Scenes are replayed, but with key differences; characters formerly present have been erased from history and narrative simultaneously. Flickering lights and obscure noises frequently distract the audience, who look again to find characters have somehow appeared on stage, literally in the blink of an eye.

We are left to try and distinguish between a number of different realities. What is real? What has been censored by an unseen hand? Can any of Winston's own story be trusted or is it all in his mind?
Some of the action on the stage is enhanced by large screens set against the backdrop, showing, for example, a close up of Winston writing things down and crossing them out in fear. The performance are all very strong but I particularly enjoyed Tim Dutton's portrayal of O'Brien, a study in composed menace (he would make a great No. 2 in The Prisoner).

The story of 1984 become more relevant as time goes by. Despite the warnings, we willingly rush headlong into our own compromised futures with every online click. Big Brother still needs you, but he doesn't need to work anywhere near as hard as he used to.

This version of 1984 simply demands attention. It is creative, thought provoking and extremely challenging. It's touring later in the year; keep an eye on the official website for further details.