241 – Nice but no 42!

The thunder storm just couldn’t hold back any longer! The rain hammered down, the thunder and lightening went on for hours. Don’t reckon I’ve ever seen such a thunder storm over Edinburgh before. On an average 241 Tuesday night there would be plenty of folk about, plenty having to stand in queues in the torrential rain waiting for their next show! They hope it’ll be worth it, well, at least it was a cheap ticket – some shows won’t even be worth it at half price! They’ll sit listening to the rapturous applause at the end thinking, Huh? What? with soaked-through footwear, a still soggy jacket, knowing they’re about to go back out and get even soggier, all for something that barely raised a chuckle.

Okay, so I painted a pretty crappy picture there, but such can be the luck of the Fringe. Take, for example, the first two 241 shows Bud and I went to see. Two by Jim Cartwright, hmmm, remember my cautionary tale about April in Paris? Well, this was like the second time I saw that, all vitriol and plain meanness (I do intend to see One again one year, hopefully as it’s meant to be done). Later that same Sunday we went to see Rich Hall and Mike Wilmot – Pretzel Logic, hmmm, this came across as a self-indulgent wheeze, dreamt up late night in a bar and written on the back of a cigarette packet. Sorry but that’s how we both felt walking out of the Assembly Rooms at one in the morning. How could the brilliant Rich Hall do that to us? Oh yes, he was the bee’s knees to us, sure the show had it’s moments, all his, but not many. We decided it must all be Mike Wilmot’s fault for leading our hero astray!

The Monday was way better with five great shows through the day, faith restored! Since that year 241 Monday was usually a day off work to see five acts, until the year Bud was leaving Edinburgh when we made it six – well, we had to shift up Shakespeare For Breakfast from it’s usual slot. Oo, that was the day we saw Thom Tuck perform Scaramouche Jones (epic), there was an Aussie sponge called Bruce (gritty antipodean epic), yay, Sleeping Trees: Western (possibly my favourite of all their shows), Tom Neenan: Andromeda Paradox was fine (but not one of his best), ending appropriately with Max & Ivan: The End.

Some wonder how one can see and actually take in five shows in one day, well, sometimes the show after lunch may not totally recalled (Tip, don’t have a big, heavy lunch or you WILL doze in the next warm dark room you enter!). Looking back at all the 241 shows that I saw between 2002 and 2015 there are only six that I have absolutely no recall of whatsoever (I’m surprised there’s not a flicker for Opening Night of the Living Dead at C Cubed in 2009, hmmm, nope). I’m quite pleased with that, after all, it’s not necessarily all my fault I don’t recall them!

There are seven shows I would love to be able to unsee, nevermind not being worth half price! Two, I mentioned above, another two God, Inc and The Story of Funk I have spoken of before. They are my Top Four worst 241 shows, fifth place goes to Carnival of Souls a multi-media arty thing performed in the Cameo cinema 1. It was so not our thing, Bud would have happily left early but I wanted to stick it out hoping to find something to like about it, I didn’t.

See, I feel good because I could easily spot the few I have not enjoyed, the vast majority have been good to bloody excellent. There’s so much variety I would be hard pressed to shortlist my favourites. It would take a lot of thought and right now the sun is beckoning me out. Indeed, it’s a beautiful day oot there.

Where’s my sunglasses?

Toodle oo.

 

241 anyone?

Wow, it’s muggy out there today! We were promised thundery showers all through today, but now today’s here they’re not gonna happen ’til the early hours tomorrow. It’s so muggy that Arthur’s Seat has vanished in the haze, or someone nicked it….

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Today would be Two For One (hence forth 241) Tuesday if it wasn’t 2020. Yesterday should have been 241 Monday, not that I have bothered about it much since Bud left town. Oh boy, we were happy bunnies when they introduced 241 days; three days of previews (well, evenings), a rest or maybe a trip to Tarquair Fair on the Saturday, then back into the fray!

Ah yes, originally when the 241 days were introduced they were the first Sunday and Monday of the Fringe, that was in 2002. It wasn’t until 2010 that someone realised that there would actually be plenty of bums on seats on the Sunday without inducement, Tuesday on the other hand – so the day was switched. I know these dates because last night I had a scout back over my Fringe bits and pieces, well, it started off with “I should do something about the 241 days”…. a few hours later I realised it was almost time for Buffy, no time left to blog (and last night’s episodes were particularly fine, especially Hush). So many memories, a few winces and a couple of “that means absolutely nothing to me”.

Oo, the heavens have now opened, and there goes a good low rumble of thunder. We may not have a Fringe this year but we still have monsoon showers, er, yay?! There was a brief but dramatic downpour yesterday evening as I strolled round town past many Not Fringe Venues, it started at six just as I approached Teviot Square. This year it’s a bunch of skateboarders getting soaked; there’s quite a community of them gather in the Square most days, quite happy at the Fringelessness of it.

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You know what? I’m feeling rather peckish . I’m going to have some tea …….

To be continued.

He acted with Will Hay, you know!

Oh hello there! I’ve just been watching six scene snippets from the theatrical play Oh Hello on Facebook; back in April Facebook suggested I might like it, being theatrical and all. Oh ‘ello, thinks I, this rings a bell. Hmmm, a one man play about Charles Hawtrey, ah yes, indeed, on watching the first little scene it took me right back to God knows when. When, when? So I spent bloody ages skimming over my old Fringe calendars – nothing! I started them proper in 2004 so it must have been seriously ages ago, I had to delve into my box of tickets (thankfully kept in ticket holder envelope thingies each year) an age of reminiscences later….. Tuesday 6th August 2002 at 20:30 in Venue 13.

Ah Venue 13, I have a soft spot for Venue 13, not really sure why. It’s an obscure little venue in Lochend Close down off the Canongate (that’s the bottom part of the Royal Mile). I couldn’t tell you what it is the other eleven months of the year, maybe a social centre. It is a bit off the usual beaten tracks but Venue 13 has done me well over the years, certainly nothing awful springs to mind but a number of gems do. Each year I wonder if it will be swallowed up into one of the big companies, but it’s stayed independent and long may it remain so! Oh, and it’s also very close to the Kilderkin, a great real ale pub on the Canongate.

Oh Hello was written by Dave Ainsworth, who I think was performing it too (I know that he did perform it elsewhere around that time). Why did Bud and I pick it? See, Charles Hawtrey was part of our youth, our culture, a favourite in the old Carry On films, one of those wonderful comedy actors who make it look so easy. He had an air of bewildered but twinkly charm, which could have been from all the alcohol it turns out.

Watching the clips from this new production it felt like I’d seen it just last year, the writing is so sharp and memorable; and, as when I saw it, the performance really captures the essence of the man. Charles is played by Jamie Rees here, his Charles Hawtrey impersonating Kenneth Williams – brilliant! The last clip flips from ominous humour to pathos, I was left with a lump in my throat just like the first time.

I think it was meant to be at the Fringe this year (another logarithmic reason for Facebook to suggest it to me), so that’s not happening. The plan is for it to be up next year, do hope so, I’m quite a fan!

Toodle pip!

 

Strictly speaking, he should be oot!

Yes, this is a post about Strictly, all about Strictly, you’ve been warned! It’s just before the Sunday dance-off show. Who’ll be in the dance-off? Who won’t make it to next week’s Final? Can Chris Ramsey defy all the nay-sayers and go all the way?

Nah, I don’t reckon so. Even if his fans keep him out of the dance-off, I don’t think he’ll have enough voting for him in the Final. Or, maybe getting him to the Final would spur on his fans even more to get him the Glitterball. If Chris and Karen make it through, the fans of whoever goes out tonight will be fuming and probably determined to vote just so he won’t win. Let’s not forget the Anton factor – this would be his first ever Final in the show and there’s a lot of love for him out there. I think the voting masses will keep him and Emma out of the dance-off, which could lead to an even bigger groundswell in their favour. And the other two pairs? Both excellent, clearly the best dancers, usually I would want one of them to win, but this year? Hmmm.

I like Chris Ramsey, I liked that he was happily doing a thank you for his time on Strictly even before taking part in the quarterfinal dance-off last week, he reckoned his great run was at an end (I could have told him foxtrot v samba, my money would be on the foxtrot). I liked his quick comeback to a comment on his face during his rumba “I was thinking of that mistake in the viennese!” Yes, he comes across as a lovely chap, why have I never been to any of his fringe shows? Why?

On checking back through my old fringe programmes, I clearly missed the window! It maybe didn’t help that he was often next to Chris Martin in the programme. No, not that Chris Martin, the comedian Chris Martin, but, well, I have a bad aversion to that name so would have quickly turned the page. Looking back, Ramsey did have very odd hair styles, I could snapped a few to show you but, well, I like him, we’ve all had bad hairdos.

Chris Ramsey burst on to the Fringe in 2010 with Aggrophobic at the Pleasance Courtyard, performing every day from the first preview night, no middle week night off for this lad, right through to the final Monday night. He was back at the Courtyard again for full runs in 2011 and 2012, I say full but he only went up to the Sunday night. Obviously things were going awfully well for him because he’d made it by 2013, just three nights of Feeling Lucky at the Underbelly Bristo Square at £15 a pop! Chris returned again in 2014 and 2015 to big venues, Pleasance One and Assembly George Square Theatre respectively, each time in the latter half of the Fringe so no cheap previews and no 241 days.

Yes, I didn’t pick up on Mr Ramsey in his initial Pleasance runs and by 2013 he’d done a Noble and priced himself outside my range. Come back again, Chris, do something odd and fringey! Come back, you have my attention now, and my admiration for getting so far n Strictly. It’s the first time I’d be happy if the best dancers didn’t lift the glitterball!

 

 

 

It was a very good year (part II)

2013 saw McNeil and Pamphilon Go 8-Bit! Okay so if I just saw those words it would mean nothing to me, but the pic and blurb informed me it was about classic videogames. I had never been into videogames or particularly understood the appeal, but, well it was M&P so hilarity was expected. And how! So I didn’t know any of the games, but from my distance it was an entertaining hour of anthropomorphic insight; comedy, rivalries and the most evil forfeits (I really felt for Pamphilon by the end). The sheer enthusiasm and joy of watching a bunch of comedians mucking about and having a laugh was just a pleasure.

Go 8-Bit! embraced the new multimedia, these were young, tech-savvy comedians, or least, they knew someone who was! The following year the tech went even higher, the audience participated on their mobiles! Needless to say, I didn’t, and just as well as interaction meant you may be picked to play the next videogame – that would not have been pretty! The technology and interactiveness really fascinated me, but only as an observer.

The Pin was our opener that year (was or were? The name of comedy act, but it’s a double act) two fresh-faced youngsters, Ben Ashenden and Alexander Owen. It was the first preview which is possibly why they seemed to be trying too hard for the first while, but then it became much funnier as they relaxed. My journal says “They do have potential. ☆☆☆” I have seen them since and indeed, they’re doing well, they’ve even had the 6:30 comedy slot on Radio 4. I’d say that’s doing well.

2013 was our third outing to see Max and Ivan, who had moved into the Pleasance Queen Dome for Max and Ivan: The Reunion (they were going up in the world!)  The show was nominated for Best Comedy, though for me whilst it was slick and very well-done, it didn’t tickle my funny bone quite as much as their previous two shows. Indeed, the first time I put “A very enjoyable show, even though poor Holmes had broken his ankle… ☆☆☆☆+”, yes, Max Olesker had broken his ankle but he carried on and even got laughs out of it. Radio 4 beckoned and they’ve had two series of The Casebook of Max and Ivan with some great guests like June Whitfield and Reece Shearsmith!

Ah, I’ve just spotted on Thursday 15th at 14:10 I saw Sock Puppet in The Cellar at the Pleasance Courtyard. It was a monologue about a murderous possessed sock, and my first encounter with John-Luke Roberts. What a bloody fine year it was!

(To be continued……)

 

It was a very good year (part I)

2013 was the year the Free Fringe got really quite exciting, no longer was it just stand-up comedians in back rooms of pubs, there were proper shows to see! Or, at least, that was how my buddy and I perceived it. Casual Violence: Om Nom Nominous in the Voodoo Rooms was one such show, so good we went to see the company’s other non-free show the next day; the live musical accompaniment was a fine asset!

The Hawke Papers at the Blind Poet (loved that pub, alas, no longer there, that fine old boozer has been absorbed by the Pear Tree) was an interactive murder mystery using the full space of the pub for us to move around, look for clues and talk to the various characters. It was popular for a morning show, we missed out one day but were given a signed flyer and told to be there twenty minutes early the next day to be sure of getting in!

We heard that Death Ship 666 at the Three Sisters was very good and very popular and at 10:45 in the morning! After one miss we made it in plenty of time on the second attempt, great show, dubious venue. It may be fine now (I haven’t seen any shows there for a few years) but the back of the Three Sisters used to have a whiff of stale urinals, watching a show distracted from it, but hanging around waiting for a show to start was not pleasant!

The Free Fringe show that sounded right up our street was Captain Morgan and the Sands of Time at what was the Fiddlers Elbow at Picardy Place – ours and every other bugger’s street. We’d heard it was popular so headed down a good twenty minutes early, apparently not a hope in hell said the guy who came out to count the queue.  The next time we were just over half hour early, so did we get in? Argh, by a gnat’s crochet, no!!! We were right at the door, next in, sorry, jam-packed full!! Now fainter hearts may have given up at this point, not us, another evening another even longer wait (forty five minutes) but, yes, we made it in! Was it worth it? Absolutely! Two actors, one musician (yes, more live accompaniment), lots of characters including Poseidon, a Lovecraftian creation played by the actors together.

2013 was the year we saw the wonderful Aidan Goatley for the first time, another visit to the Voodoo Rooms to see Ten Films With My Dad, a Free Fringe show. It was also the Fringe we finally scaled the mighty Arthur’s Seat, not once but twice, to see This Arthur’s Seat Belongs to Lionel Ritchie, a gala spectacular of Barry Ferns and friends (not quite at the top as it was a very windy squally day) and then Barry on Arthur’s Seat, which poignantly turned out to be the last time he’d do his solo show up there – his knees had decided enough was enough.

Here’s a little collage of pics from the Arthur’s Seat shows. See, you can tell it was a proper Free Fringe show – there was a doorway to go in through and it’s where he stood with the bucket at the end 😆

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What ever happened to the sideburns?

So back in April Logan’s Close played the Voodoo Rooms with a new addition of a keyboard player – fine. Next thing, the new pics on FB only show four guys, four plus one should be five? Was it an aesthetics thing – sorry only four to a photo, five would be too much!? The drummer with the great sideburns seems to be oot of the picture, literally. The Close have a new single out soon, no doubt they’ll play Edinburgh to herald it’s arrival, and we’ll see who’s in or out. Same drummer, new drummer, drum machine?!?

It’s reminded me of one of my favourite Fringe acts, Dead Cat Bounce. They wrote a rather magnificence song about the day they fired the drummer, performed at the end of the show literally as though the other three had just agreed earlier that day to fire him. Nine years later I still laugh when I hear it, absolutely brilliant, but then Dead Cat Bounce were top class comedy writers and performers as well as being great musicians. They would most definitely be one of my Desert Island Fringe Acts!

Ironically it was the keyboardist who left the band just over a year later. Sadly the remaining trio only played the Fringe one more time in 2012, it wasn’t quite the same without Mick; and it put Outsized Orthopaedic Shoe and Four Lads off the playlist, shame. In 2013 they called it a day, well, playing live, until in 2017 they apparently did a 10th anniversary reunion show, and there’s a DVD of it!! I must hunt one down. I shall keep on with the occasional stalk to see what they’re up to, in case they reform proper!

The Penny Dreadfuls, particular favourites of mine, were originally a four-man sketch show when my buddy and I first came across them in their Victorian sketch show Aeneas Faversham. It was our favourite show that year, silly, surreal, clever, witty, and thoroughly British! The following year they pulled it off again with Aeneas Faversham Returns, by George, even Bud’s elderly maiden aunt loved it, especially the Invisible Man sketch – the one part we feared she would disapprove of! Why? Specimen 626 had escaped from the lab and they had to find him, he was invisible, at least to them on stage, we could all see Specimen 626 who was stark bollock naked! He was prancing around, jiggling about between the others talking trying to put them off, he even did a cartwheel across the stage! By the following Fringe Jamie (aka Specimen 626) had left them. Had the naked cartwheels been too much for him? So 2008 saw the Penny Dreadfuls down to a trio for Aeneas Faversham Forever, and they’re still loosely together, every now and again popping up on Radio 4 and Radio 4extra, besides following their own solo careers, occasionally popping up at the Fringe. David Reed is up for  four nights with Inside the Comedian and of course, Thom Tuck is up as usual doing lots of silly things with lots of silly people.

Just to show you there were originally four Penny Dreadfuls and also what an awesome act they are……

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behold, the Penny Dreadful playing cards! Yes, they didn’t just do badges, they had decks of playing cards! Three years in a row! The chap at the back of the middle card is Jamie. I wonder what became of him? And can he still cartwheel?

 

A Poster Is Not The Show

See what I did there? I’ve heard it said that the songs in Mary Poppins Returns aren’t memorable – poppycock! Ok, so I don’t remember the words much but I often find myself humming them, even whistling them on occasion (when did whistling tunes go out of style?)  Anyways, the song A Cover Is Not The Book has been making Jeremy Lion, a bygone Fringe performer, pop into my head. Why? Because I judged and made presumptions about Mr Lion from the poster.

And here it is in all it’s glory!

2019-02-18 23.11.30Nothing about this poster appealed to me, not even the Perrier Best Newcomer bit – we hadn’t always seen eye-to-eye Pez and I about what funny actually is. This was 2003, the year of God Inc. the only show Bud and I had ever walked out of at that point, and not just because it was running an hour late!! The show we caught after God Inc was thankfully also running late, but it really wasn’t up to much and hadn’t been worth our mad dash to catch it. We’d also had the pain of watching April in Paris (see A Cautionary Tale), I was in no mood to waste more money on a dubious poster!

2019-02-18-23.23.15The following year Mr Lion returned with a new show; The Guardian described it as “Play School meets Hellraiser”. Actually on that description I’m surprised we didn’t give it a punt!

Looking at the posters again now, they are perfect for the show they were advertising; all the colours and tones have an old-fashioned, yester year feel. It’s the 50s and 60s and Butlins again (I do have vague memories of Butlins holidays as a young calf!) He’s the children’s entertainer who wants to be anything but that, but he keeps going with what he thinks is entertaining (and educational) with the aid of the odd drink or two or three or ……

So when he returned yet again in 2005 with Jeremy Lion – What’s the Time, Mr Lion? Bud and I decided we should give him a go, after all, three years in he must be doing something right! Even then we bought tickets for 241 Monday, 18:25 in Pleasance Beyond (by’eck I’ve seen an awful lot of shows in that hut over the years,  worth a post of its own at some point). OMG!!! One of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen to this day! So good we saw it twice, both immediately having agreed that we had to see the show on the last day to check if he was still alive!! Surely no-one could drink that copiously through an entire month and live to tell the tale?! We debated long into the evenings how much may not have been actual alcohol but decided he really was drinking that much, wow. We drank plenty ourselves at the time but even we would have been under the table against old Lion! And the belching – he could have done a masterclass, such was his talent. It wasn’t just about the drinking and the belching though, it was a brilliantly conceived, written and performed show. Total Fringe. We both felt thoroughly miffed with ourselves that we’d poo-pooed his previous shows.

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Did he come back again? He reappeared in 2010 moving over to the other Pleasance presence the Dome. It had taken five years to have sobered up and now be looking back fondly thinking what fun to do it again. Mind in those five years he’d got older, could the liver take such punishment again? He now had the very enchanting Lucy Porter as a wife and a child on the way (she was at show we went to, looking very pregnant). Ah, she’s married to Justin Edwards, Jeremy’s alter-ego, I’m not sure there’d be many takers to be Mrs Lion. He’d obviously taken time to reflect on life, the world, the times, and so his final Fringe show was Jeremy Lion Goes Green, an environmentally-aware show, which as usual with Lion went awry with arguments with his pianist, daft props and, of course, drinking. We did murmur to each other that he wasn’t drinking as much, until, to quote from my Fringe diary “Finding bottles of Malibu in his bit of the desert was the start of the end and the finale was a marvellous rendition of Ten Green Bottles that he decided should be ten empty bottles to recycle – so he drank a lot of them.” I notice I said “a lot” rather than “the lot”, well, the mother of his child was looking on 😆

 

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Some Lillies are Tigers that bite

Last night I headed down Leith to the recently re-opened Leith Theatre to see a performance of The Last Days of Mankind by Karl Kraus featuring the The Tiger Lillies. No, didn’t know anything about it, but the poster suggested a hard-hitting, provocative piece of theatre about man and war, and The Tiger Lillies! Oh yay! If they were providing the music, then definitely hard-hitting, plenty of sarcasm and black humour and no shying away from man’s vileness and depravity. It’s been just over five years since I saw The Tiger Lillies at the Fringe, way too long…….

The first time I saw them was 2004, performing Punch and Judy at what was called Pod Deco, this was an odd pop-up venue in the much-loved but sadly closed-down Odeon cinema on Clerk Street (I saw many films there, it was a proper old cinema). This was no family-friendly puppet show – the big clue being the blurb in the programme, “A lurid operetta, with supporting cast of shadows, glove puppets and rubber blow-up dolls. Step into the dirty, chaotic and violent world of Punch”. Yeah, violence and blow-up dolls, but still some idiots brought children along, only to leave before the second song was over! My friend who’d introduced me to the TLs told that when he’d seen them the year before at St Stephen’s the singer warned a mother with two children, she waved him off only to skunk out during the first number!

Punch and Judy was like nothing I’d ever seen or heard before, grotesque, heart-searing, beautiful, depraved. I came out needing a good shower to cleanse my soul – this reaction became my benchmark for a good TLs show. To paraphrase Eric Olthwaite, their humour is black, very black, even the white bits are black. Not for everyone, given the lyrics, but the music itself is sublime; a trio of very talented musicians who will spell-bound you and Martyn’s voice will stay with you forever.

Described as “an avant-punk Brechtian cabaret trio” the Spiegeltent was the perfect venue in 2005. We felt transported to another era, just without the thick cigarette smoke that would have been there. They returned to the Spiegeltent in 2008 with their 7 Deadly Sins. Loved, loved, loved this show, a brilliant set of songs, a burlesque dancer and a puppeteer/clarinetist with little angel wings who seriously looked like Timothy Claypole (a character from a long-ago children’s tv show).

The next two years the TLs were in the Pleasance Beyond, a soulless, functional, modern theatre with no ambiance at all. The performances were great but after the sleazy atmosphere of the Spiegeltent, well, it wasn’t the same overwhelming devineness, they were a band on a stage.

It was 2013 before they returned to the Fringe, playing at the Underbelly’s Cowbarn (aka Reid Concert Hall). A much better venue for them, I seem to the remember the lighting being really good, especially the uplighting on the bass player’s face, fair gave me the willies it did! Another great show with the usual crowd around their CD stall afterwards, they are quite prolific doing all sorts of musical projects, so there will always be new CDs to procure. Sadly I haven’t seen them at the Fringe since, so when they put a picture on Facebook with the comment Watch out Edinburgh, ooo.

So I got me a cabaret table seat in an old slightly dilapidated theatre, even walking in the ambience was right, a piano was centre front in amongst the cabaret tables, percussion at the right wing, bass in front of the left wing; liking it. Two gents with paled faces sat at desks on either side of the raised piano. The Tiger Lillies walked on to their instruments and played…

What a theatrical performance! Everything just outstanding!! The Last Days of Mankind was written in the early twentieth century, satirically charting the war and it’s effects on humanity as the author saw it in Austria; the collapse of civilisation in Europe at the time. Apparently the original play has over 200 scenes, almost 500 characters and an estimated 10 day running time! This new adaptation had a cast around 30 (from all around Europe), 35 scenes and a running time of about 3 hours, phew!

The whole theatre was the stage, with scenes emerging from the sides, the back of the central aisle, even the balcony! Pictures and film clips were projected on to the backdrop and curtain of a sparse stage. Martyn moved between the piano and stage to serenade us with his sarcastic dark wit (his accordian was a thing of beauty, always fancied learning to play one). It was a breath-taking, thought-provoking, mesmerising evening. My cabaret table seat was great, sometimes being right next to the action, but I am quite tempted to go back before it finishes to see it again from the balcony! After all, god knows when the Tiger Lillies will come back to town.

Toodle pip!