Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Verse and worse...

Sorry, terrible old chestnut, that.

I have been asked if I write poetry. Um, er, yes, I do. Lyric-romantic stuff - but chiefly only when I'm in love. The last time I was writing much was about two years ago. No prizes for guessing why. And I haven't written much at all since then; again, no prizes...

New year.

Over a year's end, without ceremony,
Times slips past. Our festivals are done, we
Have offered our hearts and love,
Our blessings, kisses, strength of gifts. And now
We have come here, all
Celebration past, in the official
Slack time, the everyday dull heart
Of winter. Over our heads
As we cross the car park
January's first moon is haunting the windy clouds.

Funny, tonight I do not feel
What convention says I should - neither
Melancholy, wintry, nor another
Year older. We haul our shopping
Into your car boot. You are smiling.
The night is mild, windswept, as if
Spring's here already; blessings
And festivals continuing quietly on.
Year's end is no breakwater
To their flowering, no stop to hope.
And what's begun today, unhesitating,
Carries us into our new-come moonlit year.

(January 1st, 2007).

It feels,as ever, peculiarly sad to re-read a love poem to someone one has lost. I'll step back a decade and see if an older piece still has the same ring of pain.

I have seen the spring...

I have seen the spring turn to autumn without a sound,
And the turning weir spill jade water endlessly,
But I have never seen you smile turning to me.
I have seen the trees streaming with scattering leaves,
And the river weeds flowing in the endless stream,
But I have never seen your dark hair stream
Across your shoulders as you turn to me.
I have seen the dead leaves frozen to the pavement
And winter like a stranger in the garden,
And I have seen you smile upon each season,
But you will never smile and turn to me.
That year is past in which I saw my spring.

(Autumn, 1997).

Ah, this is not good for me. Find me a fella and you might get something new from me; otherwise I'm blue, and through, and done with it all.

Live long and prosper.

Great fun, eye candy and an intelligent story…

No, not “Peter Grimes” again, but the new “Star Trek” film, which I went to last night (using up a free Cineworld voucher I got for eating too much chocolate a couple of months ago). It’s cracking good stuff! If you are feeling blue, I cannot recommend it too highly – provided, of course, you are SF-tolerant, which I do realise not everyone is. I certainly am; I’m almost tempted to go again tonight.

It looks fantastic, and has a good, strong, enjoyably convoluted but intelligent and (bless us!) logical storyline. Before the film started I sat through a series of trailers for films whose sole raison-d’être appeared to be Have As Many Explosions As Possible – but as for a plot, well, what’s that, then? What a relief then to see that I had chosen a movie that did have a plot, and a heart, as well as a good script and decent characterisation. With a set of established characters like these it would have been perilously easy for the screenwriters to have cantered through on catchphrases and stock clichés, but they had the good sense and the strong nerves to write the characters for real instead; and the story is actually rather interesting, riffing on time travel and its paradoxes. An embittered Romulan seeks revenge, ostensibly for the destruction of his home, but really as payback for his own sufferings; by travelling back in time he will in all likelihood have prevented the event in question ever taking place. Only he isn’t clever enough to see this…

The casting of the principals is extraordinary. I’m a trekkie, I confess it, though I’ve always been baffled by William Shatner. I was prepared to be at least a trifle disappointed, but no such sorrow. The new Captain Kirk, a guy called Chris Pine who I haven’t heard of before, plays the man as handsome, immature and full of himself, which is entirely correct, but also as intelligent and capable and brave. I had always suspected the original Kirk’s bravery was of the “I’m not bright enough to have realised this is dangerous” variety; Mr Pine manages to give us the real thing. The new “Bones”, Karl Urban, is so uncannily spot-on it is slightly weird, and the same (to my surprise, I’m afraid) goes for Simon Pegg’s Mr Scott. The new Lt Uhura, Zoe Saldana, is just as stunningly beautiful as Nichelle Nicholls, and has as lovely a voice; and is just as sadly underused. The new Chekov and Sulu are both fine. The “Enterprise” looks just right and yet totally new, subtly different without losing anything of the right essence. And Zachary Quinto’s Spock is not only absolutely perfect but also (forgive me) REALLY HOT. Although I was a bit startled when Lt Uhura threw herself at him so shamelessly, I didn’t blame her in the least, as in her shoes (well, boots) I’d have done the same thing.

Of course, the big theme besides the actual plot is the beginning of the friendship between Kirk and Spock; and this, again, is so well handled it just made me want to curl up and grin. Although we have a time-travel-and-altered-history story, and the characters do not have exactly the same development as in the original as a result of this, they are shown growing into the same kind of men (& half-man half-vulcan), with the same qualities drawing them together and the same qualities irritating each about the other. It is all, again, absolutely spot-on, and curiously touching to boot.

And, the final pleasure, the whole thing is played straight, rather than with tongue-in-cheek as the old cast had begun to do in their movie outings. There is humour, but it springs from character and situation and plot, not from recycling wisecracks and catchphrases we’ve heard before.

Quibbles? A couple of tiny ones. Even made-up to look ancient, Winona Ryder doesn’t look old enough to be Spock’s mother. She looks rather unwell, true, but not old. And Ben Cross as Sarek simply isn’t quite right, and his Vulcan make-up makes him look like Rupert Everett, which is oddly creepy. But for Spock’s parents to be the only weak link in the casting is quite something, really.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

...And back again...

Crete was beautiful. What more can I say? Tranquil, sunny, and full of wildflowers and migratory birds; a tiny village with a couple of shops and a couple of tavernas and a big shingle beach edged with tamarisk and poplars and big golden-grey rocks... I wish I were still there. There isn't much more to say, truly. It was wonderful. And now I'm back in London.

However, had I stayed on Crete I would not have been able to get back to my garden. I now have five runner beans and three climbing french beans through, as well as clumps of spinach beet, chard and broccoli, two rows of beetroot, my seven lovely bonny tomato plants and a lot of annual flower seedlings. I would not have been able to get back to my beloved cranky old laptop and my writing.

And I would have missed a fantastic performance of "Peter Grimes" at the ENO last Thursday. It was an odd production; almost good but decidedly muddled, ideas-wise. I didn't like the mixture of expressionism and naturalism - the result is neither fish nor flesh nor good red herring. The big thrills were in the orchestral playing, and in the calibre of the cast, especially the astonishing Stuart Skelton in the lead.

I saw him singing Laca in "Jenufa" a couple of years ago and thought "This is a guy to watch", and was determined to see what he made of Peter Grimes; but my gods, I had no idea how terrific he would be. Quite simply, he blew me away. He has a gorgeous, magnificent voice, lusciously heroic yet capable of the most delicately nuanced subtlety; he is a very capable actor; he even looks the part - he's a big bloke with a mop of red hair [I know, I know, me and my weakness for men with red hair...], more than powerful enough to haul a fishing net or wind a capstan - and he was rivetting, giving an absolutely heartrendingly moving performance. I feel rather as I did when I saw Simon Russell Beale's Hamlet, seeing a fictional figure suddenly become a totally real person, as real and as dear as one of my brothers (though neither of them has red hair or the physique of a rugby prop forward!), instead of being just a familiar character in a familiar stage work.

For me, I think I can safely say, this man will now be the definitive Grimes; I sincerely doubt that I will ever see or hear a finer performance in this role. I gather he does a lot of Wagner, which is a delectable thought; Mr Skelton has the voice, the dramatic ability and the looks to be an utterly stunning Siegmund or Siegfried or Parsifal. I'm longing to hear more of his work, but - guess what - as far as I can find out from the internet, he isn't scheduled to be appearing again in the UK this year. Rats!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Freedom from work!...

...for the next two weeks at least.

Things here have been getting very, very hectic of late; basically, since the beginning of April two of us have been trying to do three people's workload, and it simply isn't working. Unsurprisingly. As the spring advances towards summer we get more and more enquiries in Visitor Information at Kew, and more and more off-the-wall weird requests, and more and more complaints; and we can't keep up.

So I am very relieved indeed to reach the beginning of my two weeks' annual leave. I'm taking ten at the end of Friday afternoon to write this, and then I'll probably be totally silent, www-wise, for the whole fortnight.

I managed to book a late holiday, by changing some other things I was all booked up for in order to give myself more flexibity on dates. This enabled me to get a late-deal trip with Olympic Holidays (who unlike certain tour operators I could mention not only will "undersell" but also give thumping great discounts to last-minute travellers). I'm now going off on Tuesday morning for a week in northern Crete, in what looks from Google Earth to be a very small quiet place indeed, with a huge beach that has scrubland and olive trees coming right down to the sand in places. I will paint, read, write, swim, eat too much, and walk. At present the BBC world weather forecast for Chania (nearest weather station) is for a sunny week next week. Bliss; sunshine, swimming, solitude, and Cretan food.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Kew is now officially 250 years old.

..and I saw the Queen at the birthday party. My goodness, she's short. She had on a wonderful hat, though; shocking coral pink with a black band, and assymetric. Very dashing.

Ate too much cake at the Reception, afterwards. Almost flirted with the head of catering. Had an interesting chat with David Shipp, a bloke I met three years ago at a training session on "making the most of your annual appraisal" (yecch). The other Kew staff at said training session were the only good thing about it, and I've often wished I'd had a chance to follow through on more of these brief aquaintances - but this venerable place practices some rather arcane operational blocks to fraternisation between departments. Result; I have (I think) chatted to David three times in as many years. Whereas The Geek, who was also at the training day but was also in the same department as me, went on to become a friend (& a good thing too).

An odd weekend. Tried twice to book a holiday; balked both times by the ridiculous prejudice more and more package tour companies have against single travellers. All I want is to go to Greece for a week and have a clean warm sea to swim in and wonderful scenery to walk in and sketch; good Greek food is another vital element, and that's about it. I want to eat, drink, walk, sketch, swim, eat, swim, sketch, walk back, eat again, and sleep. In the sun, if possible. Good birdwatching and wildflowers a plus.

Now I'm reduced to trying to book something independently, at twice the cost, knowing that if I fall down and sprain a wrist (not impossible, sadly) I do not have the safety net of a rep in the resort to whom I can turn and say "Take me to the nearest doctor". If I were part of a couple, I could not only go to my favourite Greek island for £225, but stay in my favourite resort of Skala Potamia, on Thassos, and be in a lovely apartment place I've stayed in once before that is literally twenty yards from the beach, with swallows nesting under the eaves and dozens of cats, lounging on the balconies and drinking out of the swimming pool like rock stars. They have plenty of availability; but they "never undersell"; company policy. I was sitting there in the travel agents saying "Please, take my money, I want to give it to you!" - but the computer says "no" and there's no arguing with the computer. Company policy.

Stuff them, then.

Never mind; I'll sort something out. I also planted a lot of dahlia tubers, did some more writing and made a cake, and went to a very enjoyable if slightly crazy late First-of-May picnic on Monday, which was forever threatened by rain but never quite got soaked, only dampened a little in places.

Going home to make a loyal toast, since I missed that bit of the celebrations, and to eat picnic leftovers, and no doubt do some more writing. "Café Tano" is proceeding into chapter three. I'm not entirely sure it may not be in fact "writing-as-therapy", which I believe is generally deplored as being a Bad Thing and jolly poor show, what, what?... "Café Tano" is proceeding anyway. Face it, no-one will never write a believable character that isn't created in large part through their knowledge of human nature; and my knowledeg of human nature comes from the people I have known and the relationships (small "r" as well as capital) I have had with them. So it is unavoidable that at times I will hear echoes of the voices and see flickers of the reflection of people I have known, as I write. That's my excuse, anyway.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Another Friday...

...and I am knackered again. This has been another painfully hectic week. Thank goodness another Bank Holiday weekend is now upon us. If only they came this frequently all year round.

Going to go home, via Sainsburys to buy muesli, yoghurt, fruit juice and (in case you are reeling at my healthiness) a pizza and some booze, and flop in front of the lap top and do some writing. The Play (read story)'s the thing, wherein I'll - on second thoughts never mind... I know what I'm trying to say but can't mangle the words even of poor Shakespeare, infinitely variable though they are, to fit my wilful posturing...

I think what I'm trying to express is a desire to get out of myself and into another place, although as it is a place within my own mind it isn't really outside myself at all. But it is outside this office and the copious stresses of this really very unimportant job. Heavens, I'd never have made a doctor, I'd go insane, either with anxiety or rage, over every patient.

Hope all are well out there in the universe. Have a wonderful May Day eve!