Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Prince and the Pauper

I was up with the lark this morning, eating stale sugar puffs in a shaft of early morning sunlight.

My task for the day was to travel down to Raynes Park to meet the two Jeremys and travel, by car, to a place called Bagshott House in deepest Surrey.

We arrived early, and pulled into a Premier Inn car park to see if we could find a quick drink. Bizarrely, just as we opened the car doors, the most peculiar, empty noise literally filled the sky. The only way I can describe it was as an air raid siren... Not in the distance, but right the way around us, and terrifyingly loud.

We stared at each other, making nervous jokes about World War Three, and after a couple of minutes, the sirens wound down and stopped.

We entered the Premier Inn. The woman behind the desk looked refreshingly unconcerned. "What on earth was that noise?" I asked. For a moment I thought she was going to ask what noise we were talking about, but then she smiled and said "oh the air raid siren! That's Broadmoor Prison! Every Monday at 10am they test their alarms and we're right by one of the sirens. Frankly, we'd worry if we didn't hear it! Any moment now they'll signal the all clear..." And sure enough, just as she finished the speaking, a bizarre nee-naw sound screeched through the air. It was without doubt the eeriest sound I've ever heard and triggered all sorts of childhood insecurities which only the son of a CND women could ever have!

A quick sip of tea and it was time to enter Bagshott House which, Republicans around the world will probably not realise is the home of HRH Prince Edward, youngest son of the Queen of England.

The three of us were meeting said Prince to discuss a potential project and we were welcomed in a most convivial manner by the man himself and a delightful selection of his administration staff.

The house is beautiful, and decorated inside with hundreds of ornate Indian dark wood panels which seemed entirely out of keeping with the Victorian red brick exterior.

The Prince served us coffee and biscuits in the drawing room and we nattered away for an hour or so. I was deeply impressed by how down-to-earth he seemed... And then utterly distracted by the astonishing views over glorious fields outside.

My favourite moment was when eleven o'clock happened and myriad clocks started simultaneously chiming from around the house, some with the most ornate tinkles, and, somewhere, far away, even a cuckoo clock. Two minutes later a lone clock arrived late to the party! It's funny the sounds you notice...

We returned to London, and I met Nathan at Stock Pot on Old Compton Street for a cheap lunch.  We spent the afternoon in Starbucks. Nathan knitted as I orchestrated. What a peculiar pair we are!

Tonight, in a rare evening off, we went to see our friend Luke's marvellous production of Carousel at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. Luke is such an ingenious and creative director who uses space incredibly well. Much as I hope he'll be directing in the West End within a year, I also have to acknowledge his particular brilliance when it comes to fringe theatre. He knows how to create a wonderful atmosphere - and that's half the battle.

Carousel itself is a peculiar beast of a musical, ending as it does in an extended and rather surreal dream sequence which interrupts the narrative flow like a train crashing into buffers at the end of a platform. I didn't know the piece at all, and was utterly perplexed.

But none of this undermines Luke's work in any way, shape or form. That young man is going places. Dead cert. I was proud to know him.

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