As well as theatres, I also frequently visit London’s many museums in normal times. They are starting to re-open, along with galleries. However, some are only partial re-openings (the British Museum is only opening their ground floor, for example) and there is a trend to force visitors to take pre-determined routes around the displays, and discouragement from going back to see something from earlier on your route. For this reason I’ve not yet visited any of the larger institutions.
But I’ve been meaning to visit the Garden Museum for a while. I saw that they have a temporary exhibition (until the 20th of September) about Derek Jarman’s garden at Dungeness which also includes some of his art works. It’s a teeny tiny museum, so if it’s open at all it’s all open. Hurrah!
The Jarman exhibition, which is small but well put together, is very good and worth a visit on its own. Alas, no copy of Sebastiane playing on a continuous loop, but I imagine that the museum’s landlord, the Diocese of Southwark, would disapprove. The rest of the museum, their permanent collection and displays, left me a bit cold. I’m not really a gardener though – I like gardens but don’t enjoy gardening – so maybe I’m not their audience. They do have a small but interesting collection of historical tools, especially mechanical improvements to simple hand tools such as multi-bladed trimmers.
The building itself is a fairly uninteresting mostly mid-19th century church, deconsecrated in the 1970s. It has one interesting feature, an immersion font set in the floor. It is apparently one of only two such beasts in Anglican churches in England, as most Anglicans baptise with a mere sprinkling.
I normally go to the theatre at least once a month, to big professional shows such as put on by the English National Opera or elsewhere in the West End, to regional theatres, to some of the tiny pub-theatres around London, and even occasionally to amateur community theatre. But my last was at the beginning of March. The big theatres are still closed. They’re allowed to open but with much reduced capacity, and a combination of that smaller capacity being loss-making and that they need lots of time to rehearse, and maybe to re-write to enable actors and technicians to work safely means that I’m only aware of one of the big theatres reopening. That exception is the Bridge Theatre, one which is exceptionally commercially driven, and even there they’re only putting on one man shows, which are much less complex to rehearse and stage.
For the last several months London has been a theatre desert, something unseen since the interregnum over 350 years ago. I have been watching theatre online, as the National Theatre put quite a bit of content on Youtube, there’s been Operavision, the Royal Opera, and Glyndebourne, and many smaller theatres have put stuff online from their back-catalogue. But there’s been no live theatre, and live theatre is always better than filmed theatre.
But today, I went to see local amateur theatre! Live! A short version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, put on in their car park after just two weeks of rehearsals by Croydon Youth Theatre Organisation with a very young cast. It was … patchy. The very brief rehearsal period accounts for much of that. Some of the dance numbers were hampered by being performed on rough Tarmac instead of a stage, and being outdoors in high wind meant that they struggled to be heard sometimes.
But none of that matters. It was live theatre, put on by a cast whose enthusiasm was infectious. I understand that theatre barely happens in state schools these days, and in a relatively deprived area like the north of Croydon many children will have hardly any opportunities to go to the theatre, never mind take part in a production. CYTO does important work to supplement education and personal development, and to train its older members in technical skills. Even if the show had been a colossal flop CYTO’s work would still be worth supporting.
I’ve been back at work part-time for a week, working half my normal hours, and despite joking about how horrible it is to experience mornings again it’s not been too bad. It took me a few days to get back up to speed as there was a huge backlog of correspondence and I wanted to at least glance at everything that had been done in my absence. The usual meetings where my team keeps each other informed of progress, plan our work and so on, all of which are useful, take an annoyingly large proportion of my time given my reduced hours, but they are necessary.
On Saturday I was umpiring again, in Malden this time. One of my father’s cousins lives very close to the ground so I invited him and his wife to come and watch, and then went to dinner and a good chinwag at their house afterwards. Quite a bit of our nattering was about what we’d been up to in these strange times, as expected, but also about how they and everyone else were beginning to chafe at the bit. When people like them, community-minded law-abiding people, a retired engineer and someone who works in a medical practice, are getting to resent their loss of liberties – and are putting it quite clearly in those terms – it is clear that any significant re-imposition of restrictions will not be tolerated by the population as a whole.
A little while back there was talk that the schools must reopen in September, and that we could either have schools open or pubs open. The logical conclusion was that pubs must close. But I do not think that would go down well! Not only would the child-less majority of adults resent it, you have to remember that pubs and restaurants re-opened because to not have them open would do terrible harm, socially and economically, to the very large number of low-paid workers who staff them. As much as the whining twitterati hate it, the government has had to, and will have to, accept that some deaths are a price worth paying for reduced harm elsewhere, and that life and happiness do in fact have a finite value that can be expressed in pounds and pence.
The actuaries and liberals in my vast audience will, of course, all be going “well duh”.
It looks like I’ll be returning to work next week, working – and being paid at full rate for – half of my normal hours until the end of October, and then back to full time from November. The other half of my hours will continue to be paid by the “job retention scheme” although how exactly the various percentages and caps and whatnot work is unclear right now, I’ve seen at least three different ways of calculating it.
My last day at work was the 9th of April, so it will have been almost exactly four months of not working, then two and a bit months of half time.
For ages I’ve been saying – truthfully – that I’ve enjoyed furlough, but I am glad to be getting back. Unlike many people I’ve been able to trim my outgoings back a lot without my lifestyle being especially affected, primarily through taking a mortgage holiday and haven’t had to rely on savings or borrow to make ends meet, but even so, not paying the mortgage for several months means that when I do start paying it back again my payments will be about 10% higher than they were previously because of the extra interest that is due on the capital I didn’t pay back.
Things are going to be Interesting for my employer for at least the rest of this year. Hopefully my currently rather dim memories of how things worked, where everything is, and what I was working on when I stopped, will come back quickly, but it will still take me a little while to get back up to speed with where I was, and I was still very much a neophyte. But I have also been accruing holiday entitlement at the usual rate throughout all this, and not used any of it as all the events that I was planning to take time off for have been cancelled. There’s a corporate policy of not carrying leave over from one year to the next, so unless that’s changed I’m effectively only going to be on half time even when November comes! And it’s not just me in this boat – everyone coming back will be affected so some degree, and I expect that even amongst the employees who continued working full time all the way through there will have been a lot less holiday taken than in a normal year. Something that I think I shall have to discuss with The Boss when I speak to him to sort out what my hours are going to be.