Most of the time it’s no big deal. I’ve got green fields, a dog and a big-screen TV, and any time I need to be in London I can be there in a couple of hours and know that at the end of it I’ll be going home to my green fields, retriever and my earth-munching plasma.
I got to know my way around the capital in the mid-seventies, in my first job as a researcher for Yorkshire TV based in their Burlington Street offices. And then later, when I was making Oktober, I took a six-month lease on a flat in West London. That spoiled me somewhat. It’s all very well being able to make the trip for a special occasion, but what I miss is what I suppose you might call ‘routine culture’ – lectures, shows, readings, pub meetings. Things that slot nicely into a couple of hours of your life, but are hard to justify when they involve the loss of two days’ work, a night in a hotel, railway parking charges, even kennel fees…
I’m in a few societies, and I rarely get to any of the events they organise unless I can tag them onto a meeting or justify them in some way. I’d love to just hang out in the BAFTA bar. I could, I’ve got a card and everything. But I’m never there. I’ve never made it to a Crime Writers’ Association party. Friends in the British Fantasy Society are probably forgetting what I look like (or trying to). There are various Writers’ Guild events I’d slide along to if I could. Andrew Cartmel kindly invites me to plays and readings all he gets from me in return is drivelling excuses.
And then there’s this one, mentioned in an email from the Henry Irving Society, and which pushes my buttons for reasons I can’t really explain:
Jeffrey Richards, Professor of Cultural History at the University of Lancaster, is giving a lecture for the Society for Theatre Research at the Art Workers Guild, 6 Queen Square, London WC1, on Thursday 19 February at 7.20pm. Admission is free. Details are as follows:
John Ruskin and the British Pantomime
This lecture draws on the results of a study carried out by Professor Richards with two colleagues – Professor Kate Newey and Dr Anselm Heinrich. The study they undertook was of art critic and social reformer John Ruskin and the theatre. They were surprised to find that he had wider theatrical interests than they had expected, including a passion for the panto; Ruskin went to several pantos every year and once tried (unsuccessfully, it seems) to persuade Thomas Carlyle to go with him.
Which… I dunno. I just love the whole idea of it.
The irony is that Jeffrey Richards teaches at Lancaster, which isn’t far from my doorstep, and Brantwood, Ruskin’s Coniston home, is hardly any further. But to put the two together…
There are compensations. Last year there was one similar event given a heads-up by the Irving Society that I was able to make… again a Jeffrey Richards talk, on Irving and his World, and it took place in Blackpool’s gorgeous Frank Matcham-designed Grand Theatre (pictured). And then there was the Lucien Freud exhibition in Kendal where, had it been in London, I probably would have had to pay through the nose for a timed ticket and crane over the heads of a crowd to see the pictures… instead of making a short cross-country trip and virtually having the place to myself.
Oh, yes. We’re not entirely starved of Technicolor up here.