The next day we drove to Bournemouth to see Joanna Lumley in her one-woman show “It’s All About Me”. And it was. But before I review that I must talk about our lunch at a restaurant called The Crab, a Bournemouth seafood eatery, which was at one time, we thought, a sister restaurant of one of our long-time favourite restaurants-with-rooms, The Crab at Chieveley. We both, unsurprisingly, ordered a crab each with a side of fries and a bottle of white to share. Simple enough, one might think, but actually it turned out to be quite difficult. We love picking at a simply-boiled crab but our waiter told us theirs were cooked in the oven, unusually, and came with, or in, a choice of sauces. This caused much consternation as the only crab dishes I’ve ever had in sauce is Singapore Chilli Crab or Black Pepper Crab and they certainly weren’t offering either of those. After some negotiating we agreed on a crab each with a simple garlic butter sauce served separately and we sat back wondering what was actually going to emerge from the kitchen. Crab at BournemouthWhen it arrived the claws and legs were normal, nicely cooked and properly cracked, but chef had made a sludgy concoction of the white body meat and the brown shell meat, mixing it with breadcrumbs or somesuch and served it in the upturned shell. Indeed it had also been warmed in the oven. It had an odd consistency and we both left it, feeling it such a waste of lovely crab meat. We did enjoy the claws and legs but the fries were leathery and the garlic butter had been so overheated it had separated. So what should have been a simple and wonderful lunch had been spoiled by a chef trying too hard, or one just not knowing when to leave beautiful produce to speak for itself.
No matter, what we had was nice enough so we drove to our dog-friendly hotel on the sea front but found it covered in scaffolding due to ‘problems with the roof’. It was pouring down and blowing a hoolie by now so we hoped the scaffolding was at the end of its job, not the beginning, but it meant our advertised ‘sea views from every room’ was heavily compromised. This quickly became a minor inconvenience when we found the heating in our corner room didn’t work at all, hence the reason for the plug-in fan heater located under the arm chair. The hotel lift, which we didn’t really need as we were only on the second floor, was heavily padlocked out-of-order on each floor (so not a temporary out-of-order then) and by now we were fully expecting Basil Fawlty to come around the corner at any moment but actually, all the staff turned out to be very nice. The kettle in our room worked so we made tea and read for a couple of hours, lucky that Paula likes reading lying down as we only had the one chair to sit on. First-world problems, I know, but come on….
Later, Joanna’s show also didn’t turn out how we were hoping or expecting either. From someone with a lifetime in modelling, film and television we had hoped to hear about the off-camera experiences of this much-loved national treasure, enjoy some of her renowned gentle humour, learn about her activism, some of her experiences from the ‘swinging 60s’, her many TV and Hollywood roles and off-camera patronages… not unreasonably given we were paying for such background, we thought, but we actually learned little more than we would have done reading her autobiography. She bounded onto stage with a big smile and in glittery trainers. OK, she does look amazing given she’s 72 and she immediately launched Joanna Lumley 1into a Lumley-breathless review of some of the highlights of her career. I know, Joanna, we’ve all of us here watched almost all of it, but she didn’t talk about what seemed an almost too-easy entry into modelling, any behind the scenes Hollywood experiences recently highlighted by the #Metoo movement, her upbringing in Malaysia, her successful campaigning for the Gurkhas, or even what she really thinks about just about anything, really. You might think putting on a one-woman show to a theatre full of adoring, paying (not ‘baying’, this was a love-in) fans, all of whom would be expected to excuse her just about anything, she might have taken us to her heart and put together a more entertaining show than one simply introducing a number of photos and film clips on a too-small stage screen. Considering she was a friend of Patrick Lichfield and one of the top ten booked models of the 1960’s there was hardly a word. She spent some time discussing the ‘Girl Friday’ programme many years ago when she was supposedly marooned on a desert island, operating the camera herself when, instead of wearing uncomfortable wet trainers to walk on the sharp rocks, she turned her 34B bra into a pair of slippers (remember?) and joked things would have been a bit more difficult had she’d been Dawn French. It wasn’t like she had to kill a wild boar to eat (she’s vegetarian) or start a fire with two bits of wet driftwood and she was only on the island for nine days but I guess it probably was a tough time for her. She showed us the actual bra slippers she’d made on the island and told us they meant so much to her that she wants them to be buried with her. The Northern Lights is her favourite travelogue, of course, and we watched a clip of her describing the experience vividly and animatedly again. Yes, seeing them ourselves is on our Bucket List too. Not everyone in the theatre, surely, knew she was a Bond girl in George Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but I did. What I didn’t know was she was a Ken Barlow love interest in Coronation Street or that she appeared in Christopher Lee’s last Hammer Horror film. She also described, with a great deal of miming, the press call to announce her being cast as Purdey in The New Avengers at the Dorchester, when photographers wanted to pose her with a gun tucked in the top of one of her stockings. As she was wearing tights she described how she’d blagged a pair off a much shorter old lady in the hotel lobby then found her new-old stockings weren’t a pair! Yes, that was funny but she took the fact that we all knew about her Gurkhas activism as read, she didn’t mention the failed Garden Bridge project she championed with the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and she ignored the opportunity provided by a safe audience to share, report, confide or speak out. In fact, she shared none of her thoughts or opinions at all except that everyone should ‘be kind to each other’. 
The second half of the show was quite bizarre as it simply comprised audience questions grouped together and used to introduce further prepared career archive film snippets and answer some of the questions which became more and more cringeworthy, ‘What face cream do you use?’, ‘Will you marry me’, etc. The show duly ended as if it had run out of steam, not that anyone was complaining because Lumley was on stage and it really was all about her, as advertised. She’s had an amazing career, had the most amazing fun, dahling, and her back catalogue is indeed impressive but we left feeling the event was a crude money-making exercise. Even that would have been OK had she given her long-loyal fans a few more laughs and certainly a more entertaining and worthwhile evening for our 50 quid each tickets, long drive and overnight stay. Very disappointingly, even as a fan, I can’t give her more than two stars.
We drove back across town to our seafront hotel for a nightcap. The four-spaces-only ‘free parking’ car park was full so we had to park down the road before taking the dogs for a very short toilet walk in the even stronger hoolie than when we first arrived, driving fine rain and sea spray. We scuttled into the deserted hotel bar where a friendly barmaid soon poured us our drinks. We sat discussing our day pretty grim-faced in the dog-friendly end of the lounge when another couple of senior guests, also glum-faced, walked in too. We joked to each other that it probably wasn’t the weather that had made them glum-faced but that they had probably been to the Joanna Lumley show too, and they had! We walked up the four flights of stairs to our room to bed but it was one of the smallest double beds we’ve ever (tried to) sleep in, I’ve slept in wider single beds. At 4:30am, after being kept awake for much of the night so far by the lack of bed room and my lovely wife’s onset of a cold, a rather unpleasant smell wafted over to me. George had pooed on the carpet.
[After our disappointing lunch at the Crab restaurant in Bournemouth we rechecked this restaurant’s reviews and found reports on the Bournemouth Echo web site from last year that this two AA rosette restaurant had changed hands following a surprise inspection by public health inspectors who had given the restaurant a shocking zero out of five rating, requiring ‘urgent improvement’ in the management of food safety and hygienic food handling. Three months’ later, in another surprise inspection, it achieved a top five out of five rating so was safe when we visited. We’ve found it worth checking the Food Standards Agency website before we eat at a new restaurant as it is not compulsory for rating stickers to be displayed by businesses in England and Scotland (yet) unlike those in Wales and Northern Ireland. Of course, in England the FSA found in a recent survey that it is the businesses with lower ratings that are more likely not to display one. Stories such as these underscore that no matter how smart a restaurant looks at the customer-facing end, it’s what’s going on in the kitchen, behind closed doors, that really matters and we may well end up paying a lot more than the price of the meal if things are not 5: Very Good. All businesses serving or preparing food in the UK should have an inspection rating on the relevant Food Standards Agency website. You can look up a business and even view all low-rated businesses in your town/city which sometimes makes for surprising reading. Here’s the England-Wales-NI FSA ratings search site:  ]
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