Because Laughing Matters

Exercise is an important part of the Boulevardier’s routine, and to comply I am a regular at Virgin Active, Crouch End. A few weeks ago I went to the Saturday morning spin class, as usual. I was, however, incredibly tired and after about ten minutes started to feel dizzy. Mia, on the bike next to me, looked at me and said I didn’t look great and recommended I stop immediately. I left the class feeling a little dramatic. As I walked to Waitrose I started to feel a pain right across my chest. There was a familiarity to it. It was not as severe as it had been in January and I hoped it was muscular pain rather than more pulmonary emboli. I took to my bed for the remainder of the weekend.

I hoped Monday morning would bring a refreshing spring to my step. Once awake I took a deep breath and could still feel the pain. Eleven hours later I heard those fateful words ‘I’m sorry but there are more clots on your lungs.’

I thought my January episode was a one-off, and with clots dissipated by the anti-coagulant medication, my only reminder was a degree of tiredness, which had been a feature of the year.

This chapter means anti-coagulants for life, a lot more tests and the return of the debilitating weakness and tiredness. I was determined not to let it affect me the way it had previously and tried to press on.

After seeing a preview of Laughing Matters starring Celia Imrie with Fidelis Morgan’s direction, I purchased tickets as soon as they were available. I had been looking forward to the show and wasn’t about to let the blood clots ruin my enjoyment. They would limit but not destroy it. The only challenge was that the performance was five days after diagnosis.

Saturday evening soon came around. I felt tired and weak and needed to ensure I used my depleted energy reserves sensibly. I made quick decisions regarding my outfit and settled upon Ralph Lauren painter’s jeans, All Saints T, and H&M jean and jersey jacket.

The Revue was held downstairs at Brasserie Zedel, which is just behind Piccadilly Circus.


The Brasserie looks quite modest from the exterior. However, the downward sweeping staircase leads to a lovely restaurant, retro American bar, and an intimate and unique venue called The Crazy Coqs.

Crazy Coq’s oozes Art Deco with rich banquette seating along two sides, the stage and a Great Gatsby era bar occupying the others. The walls were lined with pictures from France in the 1930s. Chandeliers are draped richly from the ceiling. The room was filled with clusters of bistro style tables with red atmosphere lamps. 1930s Paris surrounded us.

Zedel - Crazy Coqs4

It was all very civilised, and while it was not possible to reserve seating, the  Maître d’ had our names and escorted us to our table. On stage were a set of drums, a coat stand and an ebony and sleek grand piano. The pianist enticed us to get into the spirit of the show with lots of Noel Coward numbers. I wanted to immerse and enjoy cocktails, served by blackuniformed waiting staff, but decided against it due to the state of my health.

I started to feel too tired already, but I was determined to ignore it. Stomach cramps were setting in too which added nicely to the way I was feeling. I was lucky to be surrounded by Michael, Alkan, Michael and Ange who looked after me.

Celia burst from the back of the room imprisoned by a straitjacket and launched into her version of Twisted made famous by Annie Ross which parodies the psychoanalysis of the protagonist’s insanity.

We were off and early signs were great!

The Revue combined music, dance and sketches perfectly and seamlessly. We were transported back to its golden years, the first part of the twentieth century.

This was going to be good and I wasn’t about to let my clots spoil the evening and popped a couple of paracetamol to lessen the pain.

The marketing for the show told us that Celia really believes that… laughing matters. It was true, she was clearly enjoying herself and we were too. Her classic training, pedigree and star quality shone through. However, she was not aloof. Celia was right there with us; yes on a stage, but if we were around a piano having a sing-song she would have been there too. And yes these evenings still occur. Only recently, after a few glasses of Prosecco at my friend Marina’s birthday, we retired to the home of her friends Patrick and Neil. They have a white, baby grand in the sitting-room of their terraced Islington Villa and we gathered around and sung show and popular tunes to our hearts’ content. Needless to say, we accompanied our singing with a few more refreshments.

One outstanding sketch for me was Common Talk by Alan Melville. It told the tale of a woman who had recently left the safety of central London and decamped to Wimbledon. Her vista allowed her to observe all the untoward (and mostly nocturnal) activity on the Common. It really is a common Common, or so she tells us a number of times.

I also really enjoyed ‘Smut’ where a rather well-to-do campaigner against double entendres tried to persuade us to reconsider hobbies to take our mind off of sex. She asked us to consider gardening and innocently delivered her own double entendres about her impressive melons and the like. I heard this piece, performed by Celia, earlier in the year at a Literary Salon where it was equally successful in having the audience guffawing out loud

There was a mass of nostalgia, of times lost, throughout the show and I for one would welcome back the Revue. We live in an age of auto tune and technical wizardry but none of that supplants the enjoyment received from raw and intimate performance.

I wish I had had the energy to laugh outwardly as loudly as I was inside. The show was all too soon over, but by this time I was really weak and needed to jump in a cab and straight home to bed.

The reviews of the Revue have been mixed, and perhaps I am not a professional, and therefore overlooked missing elements required to make the show a resounding success, but I thoroughly enjoyed its mix, and refreshingly new retro elements.

Laughing Matters

I can do no better in summary than to quote The Telegraph:

The evening is tinged with palest blue, but the allure is definitely more Anglo-Saxon than Gallic – saucy rather than sophisticated, more Marie Lloyd than Mistinguett, with overtones that are sexy, but also strangely comforting – as though your favourite auntie had dressed up in something sparkly and started twirling her knickers around her head.

We need more shows like this, and who knows, I might just be brave enough one day to put one on.


Virgin (Active)

Crouch End has a number of options when it comes to trying to keep the Boulevardier waistline in check and biceps appropriately pumped!

Park Road has a local authority run centre with swimming pool, gym etc. Rather regular but for the outdoor lido which becomes awash with bathers, both sun and water, in the summer months. However, this tends to attract the family crowd, so if you are happy to conduct your Boulevardier bathing activities amongst hoards of SCREAMING and excited children then this is the place for you. For me, not so much.

There is a Fitness First for Women on Crouch Hill. Again not really so good for me!

A new small centre opened on Park Road, which advertises ‘Burn 1000 calories in 20 minutes’. I am not sure how this could be achieved without inducing a coronary.

YMCA. I have never been, but not really sure how anyone can work out seriously in an establishment thus named without erupting into the Village People and associated dance moves.

I attend Virgin Active, previously Holmes Place, which is right in the centre of Crouch End and housed within an original opera house. A befitting location for a Boulevardier. ‘Yes my gym. It used to be an opera house you know…’ may have tripped across my tongue on occasion. It looks quite small and unimpressive from the outside, saddled between Marie Curie Charity and Red Shoes shops, amid the main parade.

Once through the entrance it extends up and out to house a massive studio (for floor classes), cafe and crèche (this is family central after all). The changing salons, spin studio, pilates studio and Heaven V Spa sit on the first floor, and the main gym, and yoga studio on the second. There is little in the decor to remind me of its grand operatic beginnings, but I know and that is sufficient.

It is quite usual to come face to face with a celebrity in Crouch End, and this also applies to Virgin Active. I have spun with Nigel Harman and Silas Carson (Star Wars and Waterloo Road), body pumped with Narinder from Big Brother, seen Sarah Cawood with her personal trainer and Jimi Mistry pumping iron.

Does anyone else plan what to wear to the gym or is that just me? I do like to make sure I am not wearing the same outfit again and again, and so mix and match various ADIDAS t shirts, of the drifit variety, Abercrombie and Fitch neon pink and green t shirts. The only staple are black Nike shorts. I do believe black shorts look smarter. I always attend to my coiffeur before leaving the house, with extra squirts of spray. The quiff could easily fall mid spin class which would result in not only my having to leave the class but probably being too ashamed to return again.

There are a number of spin instructors but my favourite by far is Kathy. She is of Greek descent, and mixes music between house, pop and rock. An eclectic collection. She motivates without becoming a drill instructor. Those skills are left to military Mel, who takes absolutely no prisoners. I have seen her force attendants to increase their weights, against their wishes in Body Pump, and woe betide an individual who ignores her chant of ‘No drinking while you’re sprinting’ in spin, and ‘I SAID FASTER’. She is petite but would not need a microphone even if performing at the Hammersmith Apollo!

Back to Kathy, she is funny and engaging with the members. I sit at the back in the corner with my friend Mia. Mia is the original Camden gothic punk, fully made up, tattoed from the neck down, corset making, bodybuilder. However, she does like to have a little or rather long chat, and we quite often receive a shriek from Kathy suggesting that our energies from mouths should be put to better use. Mia is a story in herself and I can not do her justice with just a few words in my blog…

Kathy quite often has the room in hysterics, especially when arriving at the front of my bike. I try to look serious and intense and hard working, whilst it has to be said puffing and panting like a rhino.

‘WOW! Feel free to join in at any point Wayne!’

I mop the sweat from my brow and double my efforts.

How do people go to the gym and manage to not even break into a sweat. There are a constant group of guys (it has to be said) who parade and peacock around the mirrors, tensing their biceps and congratulating each other. Do they have somewhere private where they actually work out? They don’t break a sweat, and seem to barely touch a weight in Crouch End, but maintain pumping huge muscles.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to become a body builder. I look to maintain my waist size, and keep my chest biceps and triceps defined and toned. It allows for a Boulevardiers clothes to hang properly, and maintain my Boulevardier persona.

So an aria to the Active Virgin of Crouch End!