Last autumn, as the occupants of No 10 Downing St changed so frequently a revolving door was installed, many observers quoted Lenin’s famous aphorism,
“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen,”
Less well known is the catchphrase of his fellow, more fun-loving revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who insisted “There are weekends and there are WEEKENDS!’ which so incensed Josef Stalin he had him assassinated on a Wednesday.
I have just had a WEEKEND.
Things started very well (not to mention early) on the Thursday night with that Holy Grail of comedians, the delightful corporate gig. Great crowd, lovely pay cheque AND I got to sleep in a steampunk themed bedroom in Alton Towers. Friday morning found me on the M6 in glorious sunshine, listening to Stanley Tucci’s Desert Island Discs (hard recommend) before Test Match Special came on and gave me something to worry about on the way to Bath.
A group of my oldest friends meet every year on the birthday of one who is no longer with us, at the beautiful natural meadow where he’s having his eternal lie in, then repair somewhere for lunch. This year, The Hare and Hounds, the first pub I was ever barred from in 1989, when I did not realise the barman I was flicking the V’s at was actually walking towards a mirror. Thankfully, I now appear to be forgiven and an excellent time was had by all, even if the company somewhat outshone the food and service. But before I got barred again, I was back down the M4 to allow my wife to avoid our children for the evening.
Not content with a Friday night off, we went for the double as we had tickets to Blur at Wembley on Saturday. Judging by social media, I have never been to a gig with so many people I knew without bumping into any of them, but that didn’t matter because Blur were superb. I have heard a lot of people object to our recently updated national anthem – personally, I’m not that keen on singing a song to someone I don’t believe in asking them to preserve an institution I don’t believe in. There have been many suggested alternatives – Jerusalem, Land of Hope and Glory etc, but none have stuck. I can now attest you haven’t felt truly English until you have stood in Wembley singing ‘all the people’ with all the people, and if you don’t agree ‘God Save the King’ should be replaced by ‘Parklife’ immediately I’m afraid we simply cannot be friends.
As if this wasn’t enough, on Sunday, we moved on to what can now be billed as the main event. Ten years ago I was lucky enough to be cast in the play ‘Coalition’ at the Edinburgh Festival. Not only was it a cracking play, it was a truly wonderful company and remains one of the happiest experiences of my career. (Added to which, I only had one scene, which was a doozy, but also meant I was able to nip out early to gigs when it transferred to London.)
The producer was the wonderful Jason Smith who is about as far from the stereotype as you could imagine, although that may be because he likes helping his friends out by investing in Fringe theatre rather than running a major Hollywood studio and being abusive while smoking a big cigar. To mark the tenth anniversary of Coalition (as well as his 60th birthday,) and with quite remarkable generosity, Jason had organised a lunch for the reassembled company at Kensington’s rather fabulous Kitchen W8, and even raided his own cellar for the wine(s). To say we were spoilt rotten is rather like saying Blur have a couple of decent tunes.
We were welcomed into the dining room with champagne and a competition between myself and writer/director Tom Salinsky for the best powder blue suit (Lib Dem leader Thom Tuck was disqualified for jeans.) I’m not going to list the wines here as I clearly know so much less about them than Jason, but suffice it to say they were uniformly excellent and I was introduced to a New World Chardonnay I liked, which is quite an achievement.
The menu was a choice of three starters, three mains and two desserts. Sorry, but if you’ve got a Michelin star, I’m not having a tomato salad. I plumped for the veal tartare, which I hope is not too controversial. If you eat lamb, I’m not sure why you can’t eat humanely reared veal although I’m sure there are many tomato salad fans who would disagree. It was sublime – achingly soft meat in a delectable truffle sauce punched up with some pickled girolles and the crunch of green beans. I was also able to try a little of the scorched Cornish mackerel thanks to the generosity of Jo Caulfield to my left and Simon Evans to my right. Delicious, but I won the starter. (I’m reliably informed the tomato salad was also excellent.)
Mains were a different story, My cod was as perfectly cooked as one would expect, sat amongst unctuous olive oil potato and sweet grezzina courgettes. Thoroughly enjoyable, but not quite as surprising as Jo’s caramelised gnocchi, which in turn was left standing by Simon’s Pork Pressa and the deep porkiness I had foregone on the foolish assumption I shouldn’t have another meat dish after the veal. I should really know myself well enough by now to realise I have to order anything that says Iberico on it. An absolutely stunning piece of cookery with ancient grains and a bacon choucroute and a depth of flavour that should probably be illegal. Having given me a morsel, I watched Simon hoover it up jealously. But hey! There was wine(s).
As a direct result of which – conversation, never in short supply in this company – was really beginning to flow. This is when the miracle occurred. Jason is a man of huge generosity and exquisite taste, but to actually organise an unlikely England cricket victory in the space between main course and dessert was a masterstroke even I didn’t see coming. Thom and I sneaked outside for a cigarette I’m pretending I didn’t have and a blast of Test Match Special we definitely did. If anyone in Kensington is wondering who the two powder blue pillocks jumping around outside a restaurant at approximately three thirty on Sunday afternoon were – I was the one not wearing jeans. The last time Thom and I did this was outside the Grosvenor House Hotel at a Lord’s Taverner’s do with Jason bloody Isaacs, but even Yorkshire’s very own dark wizard couldn’t have conjured magic like this.
Back inside and thoroughly aglow, we had switched the seating to allow everyone to make sure they caught up with each other and I enjoyed a marvellous strawberry parfait because I wasn’t allowed the chocolate pavé as well, before some genius brought cheese which went down extremely well with a 1963 Fonseca port, but then what wouldn’t? Some toasts were made, a couple of mercifully short speeches and just the right level of sincerity, humour and sentimentality.
I am beginning to run out of superlatives, which is handy, as everything starts to get a little blurry at this point, which seems in keeping. Luckily, the restaurant very gently encouraged us out of the door and having said my goodbyes, I weaved ecstatically up Kensington High St before taking the District Line in completely the wrong direction.
Much may have happened in the years since we all strutted our stuff in The Pleasance, much of which many of us might wish we could rewind, which was perhaps foreshadowed in the play. I look back on ‘Coalition’ with infinitely more fondness than I do upon the actual coalition, and I think it’s safe to say time has been far kinder to us than them. I suppose we should just be grateful Cameron and Clegg are not having a reunion.
Not ony that, but of course thanks to Jason, we got to spend a decade in one frankly magnificent afternoon.