Thursday, 28 January 2010

And another thing...

It'll be nice to be able to do my bra up. Can't do a Strathspey till I can wear a bra; not with these boobs I can't.

Touch wood...

Oh dear – please excuse the jesting and very mild ribaldry. I am ever-so-slightly high with nervous tension; because, in theory (& touching wood repeatedly) my plaster cast is due to come off tomorrow.

Then the real work starts. Physiotherapy.

I’m really, really ready for this now. Just this last week or so, I have had virtually no pain in my wrist or arm. The aching and the cramp have both stopped (touches wood again!) and apart from the thumb I seem to have almost normal sensation and tendon flexing in all my digits. The thumb is still slightly numb and distinctly stiff, but it has stopped twitching spontaneously. I have done my finger exercises several thousand times (creeping out strangers on the Tube and in restaurants in the process) and am now very tentatively doing a little lifting of items heavier than a sheet of paper – a teaspoon, for instance, or a glove... Anything to strengthen this poor wee imprisoned wrist in advance of its liberation.

So I’ll be as primed for the un-plastered state as I can be. My fracture clinic appointment is at ten to ten and my occupational therapy appointment is at eleven. Yes, I am absolutely counting the hours. I have no idea what to expect, and I am both excited and scared. My wrist and hand are bound to be weak and comically stiff, and I may find they are almost totally useless.

I need a working right hand. I have learned to type, and to write, albeit slowly and eccentrically, with my left hand; but I cannot draw left-handed. Left-handed, I can do those art college drawing exercises designed to “free my mind” by producing images that are not so much zen spaghetti as Tourettes’ spaghetti. But I can’t draw anything left-handed that I can learn from or be excited or moved by; just uncoordinated scribble. I learned fifteen years ago that expressive scribble is a great tool. But it is just a tool, and not an end in itself.

And I want to get back to my Scottish Country Dancing club. I am missing the Strathspey something rotten.

More injury time

It’s not just me that has got bashed up. One of my colleagues appeared this week with a broken thumb – she can’t stand the Fortuna splint the hospital gave her, so is waving a magnificent hand with bruises the colour of boiled rhubarb around the office. Then another colleague came back from a dream holiday in Laos with her left arm in plaster after falling down a hillside & into a stream and fracturing her ulna.

And then I learn that one of my favourite dancers at the Royal Ballet (no, not that one! – lovely Slava Samodurov, a man who is able to look gracious and noble even in the worst of wigs) has apparently acquired a knee injury so bad that he is probably going to have to stop dancing. Bah! Poor bugger – he can’t be more than 35. It’s a hard career, and a horribly short one sometimes. At least the divine Miyako Yoshida, who I have been adoring from afar for years, has got to 44 before retiring. Gods, I’ll miss her. She has been an absolute delight in everything I’ve ever seen her do. Her Ondine was exquisite; unearthly and heart-breaking. I’m hoping (faint hope!) that I might be able to get a ticket for one of her UK farewell performances this April – funnily enough I’ve never seen her as Cinderella, which is the last role she’ll dance here. Crossed fingers - I might even treat myself to a slightly better seat than usual; if I can get one at all, that is. The Friends may have booked it out already.

I’ve never bothered to become a Friend of Covent Garden as one of the main perks, advance booking, is limited to two tickets per performance, and while for ballet I generally want just one, for myself, for opera I want three; one for me, one for mum and one for Alan. If I can’t get that, there’s no point in joining. The other big benefit (which I’d love!) is occasional access to rehearsals and the like – but this tends to be weekdays only and only during the day, so no use to a humble worker bee like me. Otherwise I'd be there, sketchbook in hand, every time...

Sorry about repeating that link, by the way – I just couldn’t resist the temptation. I do think that picture is hilarious. Whoever said sexy can’t be funny as well had never seen a ballet dancer dressed like that. Goddess knows what the photo session was like…

Here’s a much more respectable pic of Mr Avis in rehearsal recently. Now that looks like the bloke I found myself next to on the Tube station platform back in November. I think one of the reasons I feel simpatica towards him is because like me he has been lumbered by his genes with a face that looks deeply melancholy in repose. I wonder if women on market stalls ever say “Cheer up love, it might never happen!” to him when he’s trying to buy a kilo of apples? They do to me. As do bus drivers. And men in lorries… My late father used to say I had Roman gravitas, only undermined by my Eternal Student hair. Eternal Roman Student Gravitas; a bizarre yoking indeed. Oh well; I’m a Sagittarius, mutability is one of my official qualities.

Hmm… I just looked myself (well, Sagittarius) up; apparently “an air of the eternal student” is another of my official qualities. Okay, now that is bizarre.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Your comedy note for today

From an article about Kew's work, as translated (from the Russian) by Babelfish:

"“Few people know that the yearly scientists are described to 2000 new forms of plants."

Lucky (if bemused) plants.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Cultural snobbery versus cultural relativism

I was on the ‘phone yesterday evening and got my head bitten, a little. I had remarked on what I was doing when the ‘phone rang. It didn’t please the friend calling; she was a bit disgusted, in fact; apparently I was letting her down, or letting the side down, or letting my standards slip, or something.

I had got home and had a cup of tea, and folded (badly, and slowly, needless to say!) some washing. Then I had supper: reheated Waitrose vegetable frittata, garlic bread and cherry toms, followed by some yoghurt. And I settled down to enjoy my dvd of “An American in Paris” and a bag of lychees. The ‘phone went just as Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron were dancing to “Our Love is here to Stay” by the banks of the misty Seine. Grr. I remarked that I was busy, explained what with when I was asked; and then got told off, in a mild sort of way - for watching a “corny Hollywood musical” instead of something “worthwhile”.

Worthwhile!! I think light-hearted romantic exuberance is worthwhile, thanks very much! I think fun is worthwhile; and Gene Kelly’s dancing is certainly worthwhile.

But I’m afraid I wriggled out of arguing my point of view, using my arm as an excuse – “I broke my wrist, I’m entitled to watch what you consider to be slush” was the gist of it. I’m not proud of that. Because I should have stood up and blasted away.

I do not think of myself as a post-modernist; I do think there are greater and less great works of art and of culture. It isn't all one completely level field, a tin can of equal value to the "Virgin of the Rocks". But greatness isn't everything; I think almost all of it has its place in the world, goddammit. What Hollywood does well, it does supremely well. What Katherine Jenkins does well, she does supremely well. What Ursula Le Guin does well, she does supremely well. I watch Satyajit Ray and Kurosawa films, too; I listen to Jussi Bjorling singing Verdi and Favourite Baritone singing Schubert; I read George Elliott, I read A S Byatt. But I enjoy the other stuff too, and I cannot agree that it is rubbish. I will not be ashamed of liking “Firefly”. Don’t tell me that entertaining films, light music, and Science Fiction are no good because they are not “high art”. Don’t tell me that my enjoyment of “Strictly Come Dancing” means my appreciation of an evening at the Royal Ballet is tainted somehow. I appreciate them both, for their different qualities; one is great fun and often fascinating, the other is dazzling, moving and thrilling; each has its place and I have the right to love them both.

I’m not just talking about the fact I have personal tastes; I’m talking about everyone’s right to have personal tastes in the first place. The right to have them, and the right to express them in public without being sneered at. What gives some people the right to judge and condemn the cultural values of others? That is high art/currently fashionable/politically acceptable; and this is not… Says who? There is always someone holding themselves up as an arbiter of taste, belittling what doesn’t fit their criteria of class, worth, or acceptability, and they have no more authority to do so than I. I've grumbled about this before and I expect I'll grumble about it again. Down with cultural snobbery.

Your comedy note for today...

A lovely link which someone sent me ages ago -

Monday, 25 January 2010

New Year, New Me; or, better still, can I just have the Old Me back, please?

I have already noticed it’s a new year; in fact I don’t think I’ve forgotten and written last year’s date once, which I’m rather proud of. But my chief focus at present is on getting back the use of my right hand and arm, and I hadn’t really thought about New Year’s Resolutions, New Year New Me, etc. Time to rectify that, maybe?

Of course, getting my arm back is a Resolution in itself. I gather that it can be anything from a couple of months to a couple of years to recover fully from a broken wrist and the associated surgery. So that is Resolution no. 1, then; getting back my right arm, flexible, strong and fit. I’ll never be able to lift a fully grown woman over my head, I know, but I’d like to be able to play badminton again, and swim, and use a handsaw in the garden, and knead bread dough, and return to my Scottish Country Dancing group able to cope with a fast swing in a right-hand hold…

Resolution no. 2; I want this to be the year of actually looking for an agent, instead of simply talking about it (& then panicking). Gulp. I’m panicking slightly just thinking about it; but writing needs to be read, otherwise it is just distilled daydreams.

Resolution no. 3; do more drawing. I was having so much fun in November, drawing at "Re-Rite" and working from my drawings, and now I have lost momentum, for unavoidable reasons, but I had managed to remind myself of what utter bliss it is, and I want to do more. This is dependent on Resolution no. 1, above, of course. Get arm back, then draw.

Resolution no. 4; see all the cultural events I want to get to. Don’t look at brochures and websites and then say “Oh, I can’t afford it and I’ll probably be too tired anyway.” A great concert, exhibition, ballet or theatre performance boosts me up and fires my spirit. Embrace it. Living in London has its down-sides, after all; so enjoy the rich and hugely varied up-sides as much as possible.

Resolution no. 5; more time out of doors. Seeing the beauty and the sweet ceaseless changing cycle of the natural world also boosts me up, and fires my spirit, just like watching dancers or listening to great music.

I don’t think I need to resolve to write more, since until the broken wrist I was getting on with that fairly steadily. Typing since then has been such a drag, and writing by hand almost impossible, that I have stopped writing temporarily, but I am itching to get on with things. The protagonist of “Café Tano” and her tree surgeon friend have been stuck in a fairly sticky situation for the last seven weeks, and I want to get them out; “Ramundi’s Sisters" is three-quarters typed up/revised; and Iain Siward, Aietes and the android professor are sitting in a shuttle, deep in outer space, worrying about who they are, where they are going, what has been happening, and why Iain is still alive (well, Professor Maddix isn’t worrying exactly, being an android; she’s just terribly, calmly, unexcitedly interested).

Oh, I want my life back! I want my right hand back! I want my arm, I want my arm!!

I am working like mad at my exercises, and the residual post-operative numbness is fairly minimal now, and all my tendons except the one in the thumb seem to be working fine. It’s not long now; on Friday the cast is due to come off. Gods, get me through this last push, these last few days of prison; get me through, get me through…

Friday, 22 January 2010


Last night I went to hear David Fray playing Mozart at the Festival Hall. Lovely. Bizarre-looking lad, though, I must say. His publicity pictures make him look smouldering, chiselled and cheekbone-y - trying to draw in the "Twilight" audience to classical music, perhaps? In the flesh, he looks like baby bro aged thirteen; six feet-odd of gangly, skinny, stooping awkwardness with huge feet, and hair in his eyes. By gum he can play, though. His Mozart (Concerto no. 20) was delightful, beautifully balancing emotional tension and delicate precision; his encore, which I didn't recognise, a distillation of ethereality, floating melodic veils of sound (excuse the attack of the purples). But it's Nikolai Lugansky they should be promoting as a pianist-sex-symbol, not this wee boy; and his (Lugansky's) publicity shots make him look like a horse. Weird.

Why won't the rest of the world agree with me about what constitutes good looks, I wonder? Now there's a rub...

The second half, for a bit of contrast, was Mahler 5. So I am pretty tired today - though not as tired as the Philharmonia boys and girls, and Maestro "Father Christmas" Segerstam must be.

Things kept going funny on the computer this morning, and at first I thought it was me, because I was so tired; it was almost a relief to hear we had a virus in the system. In the end everything got shut down for an hour and a half. Poo.

Off home, via Sainsburys in the rain; it's Friday, hurrah, and this time next week, touch wood, I'll have both hands and both arms free. I may even be able to hold a pencil and make a line that goes where I want, instead of where it willeth. I am so nearly there... and I am so very tired... I am a weed.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Ah, bitter chill it was (not)...

Last night was St Agnes Eve. I forgot to put herbs in my shoes. Nonetheless, I dreamed.

I dreamed I was having my first physiotherapy session, post-cast-removal, and it was going well, and the physiotherapist was pleased and I was incredibly happy. My wrist was regaining flexibility with each stretch, and my hand was regaining grip and precision control. Then I dreamed that I was walking beside a large lake with a certain ballet dancer and two of the characters from "Firefly"; we were having a nice, funny, intelligent conversation, and it was raining. I have to put the latter down to old-fashioned wishful thinking (and a bad attack of Crushia saltator); the earlier part I'll hope and pray was indeed the foretelling dream St Agnes is meant to give. I want my hand back.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

More beauty (& without lechery this time)

One of my great passions is drawing from nature; birds, animals, plants, and of course people. I often take a sketchbook to the London Wetland Centre(WWT) in Barnes and draw the waterfowl - that's where this goose and coot were drawn, I think...

Many of the birds at the WWT are quite tame and are unconcerned by my standing staring at them and drawing. Others, the wild birds, I have to draw through binoculars (I don't just use them for ogling men at the ballet!). But the challenge of drawing a living subject, something animated, moving, and getting on with his/her/its life, is always a delight. The orchestral musicians of the Philharmonia, and the handsome Maestro waving his arms; people on the tube; the wildfowl at the WWT... It is always a joy to draw.

Years ago in Granada I spent almost the whole of the fiesta of Las Cruces drawing the dancers in the streets. It was heaven; sunshine, music, happy people dancing sevillanas and boleros, the streets and squares all decorated and chiringuitos selling cold beers, cold cola, manzanilla and pinchos; and me drawing like a madwoman.

Please, dear gods, let me get enough use of my hand back - soon - to write and draw again. It is nine days today till I get the cast off. Yes, I am counting.

Snowdrops and lust

If winter comes, as the poet says, can spring be far behind?

This time of year, amid the cold and damp and the skies that look like dusk all day, I love to see those first tiny signs of the cycle of life moving on again; the green fingertips of crocuses poking through the leaf litter, the tight buds on trees and the first snowdrops with their graceful downturned heads. If a human being hangs their head, they look melancholy, yet the droop of a snowdrop is the most cheering sight in the world.

Thinking of cheering sights, I am only human, and on being asked by a friend "Who is this bloke at the Royal Ballet you're always burbling about?" I was inspired to search (after saying plaintively "Not always..."); and I found this.

Now do you understand?

I know nothing about Mr Avis except that he's a damned fine ballet dancer - and, now, that (like most men in that profession) he looks pretty good in nowt but his kecks. So thanks for jibbing me; I like that picture, and I only found it because of you!

Winter rains

Delicate rain, gracious as falling night;
I walk like the Fisher King, cradling
My maimed hand and crippled arm
Through these grey trailing scarves
Of winter storms. I dream
Of reaching out again to pull life in,
Of stretching above my head to greet the sun;
Of dancing again in the strong right-hand hold
And unforced grace of a Strathspey... I see
Snowdrops are coming out already.
The spring will come,
And this damned arm of mine
Will be released, and I will see the sun
And have possession of my frail limbs again.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Grateful Monday

I seem to have done a lot of grumbling lately. My arm hurts, it’s cold, my gnocchi are mouldy, I’m afraid of falling over… Wah wah wah. What a whinger.

So I am declaring this to be Grateful Monday, and am not going to moan. Surely I can manage that, for one day at least? Here instead are some things I am thankful for.

I have some very lovely colleagues, and even lovelier friends, and a bloody wonderful family, all of whom have been unfailingly kind and patient with me since early December. They have helped me, carried things for me, given me lifts, made me tea, cooked me supper, plied me with alcohol, commiserated with me, encouraged me, and just let me know I’m not alone. I know some great people. I love them all, and I am so blessed that they all love, or at least genuinely like, me. I’m a lucky dog.

Thinking of which, I met a truly gorgeous dog this morning, on my way to the bus stop. Schnauzer cross, perhaps? – short and wiry and particoloured, with chestnut chin whiskers and a “What’s in there? Who’s this? What’s that? Look sharp!” expression on his bright little face. His owner looked as tired and bored as he looked alert and alive - I hope she grows into being like her dog and not the other way around (with the exception of the hefty ‘tache, which probably suits him better than it would her). He was so full of beans, bounding along on a Monday morning, interested in everything; just being eyed up by him gave me a boost.

Another thing I am grateful for, besides my dear circle of friends and family (and the delight of watching other people’s dogs) is my dvd player. That was a good buy; one of those expensive purchases that really do make life better, rather than it rapidly becoming clear that they were a waste of money (my omelette pan is another; and the blender; and the electric blanket; and the radio). Thanks to the dvd player I have been able to spend the evenings when I was not out (ie, most of them) with quality entertainment in the form of movies, ballet, contemporary dance, opera, and the odd tv series. Too tired to type one-handed all evening, unable to draw, paint or sew, frustrated by the difficulty of holding a book and turning the pages, I have instead been entertained, enlightened, moved, scared and delighted by my dvd collection. I’ve cried over Christopher Bruce’s “Swansong”, flinched at “The Devil’s Backbone”, thrilled to a glorious production of “Aida” and marvelled at the wonder that is “Some like it Hot”. I’ve letched after Brendan Fraser in “Blast from the Past”, worshipped Miyako Yoshida’s Sugar Plum Fairy, cried over the understated brilliance of “Shane”, wallowed in a compilation of past winners of the Cardiff Singers Competition, enjoyed the switch-off-your-brain sheer fun of “Viva la Diva!”, and discovered “Firefly”. Yep, pretty good stuff, all things considered.

I am also enormously grateful for living in a country with a free-at-point-of-demand national health service, and a hospital within half an hour of my home.

And on Friday I was able to get to Covent Garden to see MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet”; hurrah. It was an evening of slip-ups, actually; a weird squalling noise from one of the oboes, a mobile ‘phone going off somewhere; then Leanne Benjamin came down awkwardly from a lift in the Balcony Scene and put a hand down on the stage to keep from falling; and during Act Two Edward Watson landed badly from a jump and was visibly in trouble for several minutes. I couldn’t see exactly what had happened; it may be that his shoe was loose, rather than an injury, as he slipped offstage for a few minutes during one of the crowd dances and was fine when he came back. Despite all these little whoopses, however, it was an excellent evening out - and I was in tears by the end, which is surely the mark of a good “Romeo and Juliet”.

Friday, 15 January 2010

How to solve a crisis with the old distraction technique

Last night I visited Rock Bottom briefly. I’d had a quick look-in at the place on Tuesday, when I spilled a mug of cup-a-soup on my desk, all over a lot of papers including all my original notes for something, and found that mopping up is most definitely a two-handed job. I swore and then started to cry with frustration. Not a good moment. Yesterday’s was a slightly longer visit. In its way, it was educational; I managed to get out of it quickly, with assistance from the fridge and the secret stores in the bottom of my wardrobe, and one of the more bizarre jewels of my dvd collection.

I’d done a day at work as usual, made my way home, had a cup of tea, and at 7 o’clock I went down to the kitchen to put together some supper. Only to find that a) my half-used packet of gnocchi were growing pale grey fuzz, and b) I couldn’t open my new jar of tomato sauce, and none of my flatmates were in to help me with it. Which left me with an evening meal of Brussels sprouts.

Now apart from anything else, there wasn’t very much of it, as I had no other easily-cooked carbs to hand (note to self – get another packet of couscous). I looked at this sorry plateful, and I suddenly felt my life was dust and ashes. I ate it, of course, but it was a meagre and boring meal. I like my greens – but not served completely on their own. Then I ate three-quarters of a tub of this (it could have been worse, it could have been this), and had a bottle of this, and finally two packets of these.

The moral of this is that feeling blue leads to comfort eating. One of those terribly obvious things that one always thinks other people do, but never me. Ha.

So I gave up on my plan to watch my new dvd of “Le jour se lève” as I knew I’d simply end up crying over it, and I dug out a ballet instead. I’ve watched all my “happy” ballet dvds in the last few weeks, so now I’m starting on the “sad” ones; beginning with the one which has the distinction of the highest body-count of any, namely “La Bayadère”. This also comes close to three other ballet records, for my money; Cruddiest hero (2nd place after the louse Albrecht in “Giselle”); silliest plot (2nd place after the completely dotty “Le Corsaire”); and loveliest White Act (2nd place after “Swan Lake”).

Spoiler alert, as the phrase goes; this is why the plot is so silly, the hero such a jerk, and Act Two so ravishing.

La Bayadère, Act One.
Long, long ago and far away in Ancient India (~ish), there lives a warrior called Solor. He is in love with, and is loved by, the beautiful bayadère, or temple dancer, Nikiya. The High Brahmin is also in love with Nikiya, and is tormented by jealousy (know the feeling). If he knew what a creep Solor is, he’d feel even worse about it; because, believe me, Solor is a creep.

The Rajah decides that Solor is the man for his daughter Gamzatti. Solor does very briefly think about saying “No”, but then he sets eyes on Gamzatti.
Solor (mime); “My God, she’s hot”.
Solor now accepts his fate, pretty much unhesitatingly. Gamzatti thinks he’s jolly peachy, too; but then she learns about Nikiya. She sends for her rival and a dramatic mime scene ensues:
Gamzatti (mime);You’re good-looking. B*gger.
Nikiya (mime); I don’t understand.
Gamzatti (mime); See this portrait – the cute guy? He’s marrying me.
Nikiya (mime); No! – it can’t be true!
Gamzatti (mime); Meh – is too.
Nikiya (mime, very agitated); I’m telling you – over the sacred fire – he swore – eternal love – to me!
Gamzatti (mime); Look at this palace – all mine. Look at yourself – mere temple dancer. Go figure. Have some nice gold jewellery to make up for your broken heart.
Nikiya (mime); He’s mine, I tell you! I’m in despair!
Gamzatti (mime); Take the jewellery, be sensible now.
Nikiya (mime); Never! I’ve got a knife – I’ll kill you first!
Gamzatti (mime); HELP!
Nikiya (mime); Oh my god, I just threatened the heir to the throne, oh what will become of me?
Exit Nikiya in anguish.
Gamzatti (mime); The bitch is going to die.

Now that’s what I call mime.

Solor and Gamzatti’s engagement is announced and is celebrated in a grand feast. Cue celebratory dances assorted. Nikiya is brought to dance for the guests, and Solor has the grace to look miserable and embarrassed, but he is far too scared of the Rajah, and far too hot for Gamzatti, to do the decent thing. Nikiya is given flowers, among which Gamzatti has hidden a snake; it bites her, and she feels the pangs of approaching death. The High Brahmin, who feels terrible about all this because it was he who betrayed the secret of her love for Solor, rushes to her side and braves the Rajah’s wrath by offering her a snakebite antidote. But looking round, Nikiya sees her beloved leaving with his fiancée, and in despair she drops the bottle and dies.

Act Two.
Solor, too late, is tormented by guilt. He smokes opium and hallucinates an entire White Act; the famous Kingdom of the Shades.

In a moonlit glade, high in the shining Himalayas, a seemingly endless line of ghostly Nikiyas, all clad in white, are discovered dancing. They process across the stage, executing hundreds of slow arabesques penchées in unison; floating, unreal, hauntingly sad. Their cool stateliness and grace echo the tragic resignation of Nikiya’s broken heart, and her eternal beauty, dancing now forever for the gods she once served. The silent, magical figures fill the stage, and you watch with your jaw dropping as the line goes on and on. I think the dancer at the head of the line must do well over a hundred arabesques before she reaches the front of the stage. It is so simple; and it is breathtakingly beautiful.

Solor, in his dream, dances with Nikiya one last time in a series of exquisite adagios (& the odd show-off solo). Waking, he feels even worse. Hard drugs are not the answer, folks.

Act Three.
Solor and Gamzatti’s marriage is being celebrated. Cue more celebratory dances assorted. Gamzatti feels bad about having murdered her rival. Solor feels bad about marrying for sex, wealth and status (& because he is terrified of the Father of the Bride) rather than for love. The High Brahmin, officiating, feels life is no longer worth living. The gods, angered at the betrayal of their faithful servant Nikiya, cause lightning to strike the temple and destroy it, killing everyone inside. In an apotheosis, the souls of Nikiya and Solor are reunited, joined forever by the long silk scarf of love (& no, I don’t know what that is all about, either).

It’s quite an old recording; the Royal Ballet production when it was new, in 1991. Altynai Asylmuratova, she of the largest eyes in the business, dances Nikiya; Irek Mukhamedov, looking impossibly noble to play a character so weak and faithless, dances Solor; the young Darcey Bussell is a deliciously spoilt and sexy Gamzatti. Among the minor roles you will spot Deborah Bull, Nicola Tranah, Benazir Hussain, Viviana Durante, and Cristopher Saunders. So the dancing is high-calibre stuff. Yes, the plot is idiotic; yes, the notion that Solor could be called a hero requires a hefty stretch of the imagination. But it was lovely, even so, it and soothed my frazzled nerves (and rumbling tummy) perfectly.

Long live the magic of ballet.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Of hopes and hygiene problems

Two weeks (tomorrow morning) to go…

There are so many things I am looking forward to being able to do again, it would probably be unwise to list them. Using cutlery. Being able to dress myself normally. Cooking my own food. Eating a pomegranite. Putting my hair up…

Unexpectedly, one of the activities I am missing most is washing my hands. I’ve never been one of those “wash every time you touch a door handle” hygiene fiends – I figure you have to accept that microbes do exist and sometimes they get you, and I normally wash my hands after the loo, before cooking, and (because I was taught to as a child) before going to bed. But I have, now, not washed my hands since December the 8th. Now isn’t that a disgusting thought?

I’ve washed my hand – the left one. At least, I’ve had it under the shower once a day (as soon as I got my “Limb-O” brand limb protector, that is), and have slopped it with liquid soap and sluiced it under a tap regularly. But the poor, puffy bits of the right hand that appear like extrusions from the end of the cast have not been washed in over five weeks. They’ve been wiped, with those disinfectant “handy wipe” tissues one can buy. These are, I was assured by the hospital, adequate for a time, from a hygiene point of view. But the alcohol-based stuff with which they are impregnated, while it may be removing bacteria, is also drying out my miserable dirty hand. If I moisten my exposed knuckles and then rub hard, the dead skin cells slough off in a greyish paste - and underneath is noticeably paler. It’s gross. It’s grotesque. It’s my own body, reduced to its fundamental basics; I am made of cells, doing their thing and then dying.

Please, you gods and little fishes, just let the other cells, the ones inside, be growing and packing in lots of calcium (or whatever it is that goes on inside a healing bone fracture).

Meanwhile in the wider world, natural disasters shatter homes and communities and lives, idiots get themselves killed doing stupid things in the snow, talented people who had something to contribute to the world die, and a long-lost Chagall painting goes on exhibition in London. At least that’s one good thing happening; otherwise the world seems to be in a right royal mess at the moment.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Immies 2009; my cultural highlights of the past year...

It's been a quiet day at work.

Thinking about "Les Patineurs" I was reminded of how, a bit less than a year ago, I came out of Covent Garden after seeing "Isadora" (a muddle, I'm afraid, and a waste of the very considerable talent performing it) and the magically wonderful "Dances at a Gathering", practically walking on air because the second piece had been so brilliant. It was definitely one of my highlights of 2009, and I have been wondering what, with hindsight, I would classify as the others.

I must emphasise that this is a purely personal collection of things I attended during 2009 which have stayed with me and which spring to mind instantly when I think "What were the big highlights of last year?" SO - not necessarily the greatest, just the particular things that hit my cultural g-spot; highly influenced by my current tastes and passions and by the fact that for some reason, I went to a lot of concerts and relatively few exhibitions last year; and certainly not selected through democratic decision-making processes. And if I had to think too long about why something was good, then I didn't count it; it had to be right there in my memory, leaping about like a spring lamb, bleating "Remember me?!"

So here, anyway, are the winners of the Imogen Awards - The Immies 2009.

Albums of the Year (by which I mean, the top-played recordings among those I bought in 2009; I'm excluding things bought in the past but played a lot last year, like "The Cunning Little Vixen"):
Spiro "Lightbox"
Michael Nyman "MGV"
Edgar Meyer, Joshua Bell and friends "Short Trip Home".

Exhibition of the Year:
"Wild Thing" at the Royal Academy. The Gaudier-Brzeska and Epstein works are simply astonishing (though Eric Gill I can walk away from without a backward glance).

Concerts of the Year:
Mahler "Symphony no. 2" in Westminster Cathedral; Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Benjamin Zander.
Berg "Violin Concerto" & Mahler "Symphony no. 6"; Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Janácek "Sinfonietta", Lindberg "Graffiti", Stravinsky "The Firebird"; Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Orchestra of the Year:
The Philharmonia (in case you hadn't guessed).

Theatre Performance of the Year:
"War Horse"; Royal National Theatre. Unmissable.

Dance Performances of the Year:
"Dances at a Gathering", "DGV" and "Ondine" - all at the Royal Ballet, all terrific, all perfectly cast, perfectly danced, and perfectly played in the pit. "Dances at a Gathering" even gave me three gorgeous ginger men all on stage at once.
"Akademi Daredevas '09" at the Purcell Room - breathtaking Indian classical dance and contemporary dance drawing on Indian classical models.

Opera Performances of the Year:
Verdi "Don Carlo"; Royal Opera.
Adams "Dr Atomic"; English National Opera.
Berg "Wozzeck" (concert performance, part of the "Vienna, city of dreams" series at the South Bank); Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Esa-Pekka Salonen, soloists inc. Favourite Baritone in heartbreaking form.

World/Folk Performances of the Year:
WOMAD 2009 at Charlton Park. Sheer music-festival-bliss, despite the rain, and so much good music it is hard to single out individual performers or groups.
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers at the Royal Festival Hall.

Unclassifiable Cultural Event of the Year:
Re-Rite at the Bargehouse.

Individual Performers of the Year:
Instrumental; Nikolai Lugansky playing Rachmaninov Piano Concerto no. 3 at the Royal Festival Hall.
Vocal; Stuart Skelton in "Peter Grimes" at English National Opera.
Roderick Williams in "The Magic Flute" at English National Opera.
Dance; Miyako Yoshida and Edward Watson in "Ondine", Royal Ballet.
Melissa Hamilton and Gary Avis in "DGV", Royal Ballet.
Theatre; The horse-puppetry teams in "War Horse", Royal National Theatre.

A mixed weekend...

Friday evening I went up into the West End again, for another of my "I will not be defeated by this" outings; this was good fun, but the rest of the weekend was a long, miserable slog. The cramp in my wrist is slowly getting worse and worse and I am becoming increasingly tired and frazzled, by it and by my general situation. The weather remains cold and the pavements remain slippery, and I feel blue.

My friday outing was to see the Royal Ballet in "Les Patineurs" and "Tales of Beatrix Potter". Another frozen trudge through the frozen sludge to Kew Gardens Tube; another pasta supper in another chain restaurant; another slightly-worrying arrival and departure, shuffling through the happy, blinkered crowds at Covent Garden with my arm cradled before me like a sick puppy...

Luckily the evening was delightful. "Les Patineurs" is short, charming, and I suppose basically rather slight - yet magical. The inventiveness of the choreography, finding balletic equivalents for (or echoes of) the movements of skating, is a joy. I wasn't entirely sure at first about Michael Stojko's Blue Boy - a trifle too self-consciously winsome for my tastes, but he had the requisite virtuoso stuff, and was a haunting figure as the curtain fell, spinning away lost in his own world in the dusk (& with very little 'travel', appropriately for someone who is meant to be doing a series of shotgun spins!). The little mini-corps weren't always quite together, which was unexpected - I haven't noticed this problem so much recently at Covent Garden. Best were the Couple in White; Cindy Jourdain, honey-coloured and bright, and the lovely Gary Avis (I do like Gary Avis!!), his partnering all strength and tender consideration, and his big smile radiant.

He turned up in "Beatrix Potter", too, as an athletically villainous Fox, whacking the hollyhocks with his brush as he leapt about. "Tales of Beatrix Potter" is great fun, albeit very frivolous (& perhaps just a scrap too long). But I am always dogged by the thought of what those costumes must be like on; bulky, padded, awkwardly shaped, probably pretty heavy... It's clear that the wonderful naturalistic masks don't give the wearer much of a field of vision, either. All in all, I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for Laura Morera (a sweet Jemima Puddleduck) et al. The cast must know they are winning new converts to the magic of ballet with every performance of this piece (the auditorium was full of children on post-Christmas family outings) and I hope that compensates them for what must be a physically uncomfortable experience in some ways. I guess dancers are pretty much used to physical discomfort, anyway...

I wish I could say as much for myself. My inability to cope with the pain and frustration of my injury seems to be worsening, not lessening, with time. It is driving me nuts. I can't carry more than one bag of shopping. I can't hurry - at anything. I am stiff in odd places from all the awkward compensatory movements I'm making. My over-used left arms aches all the time. I'm sleeping pretty badly and feel like a corpse-bride every morning as I drag my clothes on. I look a mess. I feel a mess. I'm in pain and my nerves are grissini.

Back at work, now, and it is an oddly quiet day. Out of the window, Kew Green is a misty monochrome under a sky that looks alarmingly pregnant. On Saturday evening we had my greatest dread, more snow on top of existing semi-thawed snow; I only went out on Sunday to refill the bird-feeder. I am terrified at every step that I'll turn turtle and go flying again, and break something else.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

...and on it goes...

An eventful few days.

As advised by NHS Direct, I took tonnes of drugs and avoided using my right hand all day on Tuesday. Result, very little difference. I still got cramp in my wrist, and hand, and forearm. I battled through a day at work and set off to Covent Garden, determined to get to “La Bohème”. I couldn’t remember who was conducting or who was singing (ah, the joys of heavy analgesia) but the idea of throwing away nearly two months’ worth of opera, ballet, theatre and concert tickets because I have a broken wrist really offends me. I am a determined creature and I will not let this beat me; and besides, I like “Bohème”, hopeless romantic that I am. I had a plate of pasta and a large glass of red wine at one of those chain restaurants near the opera house and then toddled to my opera.

It’s a scrupulously detailed, strictly in-period, very old-fashioned production; which is not a bad thing in itself, but can make things a bit crowded and stuffy at times. Act 1’s garret is appropriately grimy and ill-furnished; the Act 2 street and Café Momus are horribly crowded, with the chorus madly hamming it up in character wherever you look. Real fake snow falls through large parts of Act 3. The odd flake drifts down from the rafters in Act 4 as well… A production to which you could safely take almost anyone, except your Calixto Bieto-loving, iconoclasm-worshipping cousin with the flat lined with hip-hop posters and Britart prints…

Reasons to see this? Well - I must have seen “Bohème” dozens of times, but I can’t remember when I last cried at the end. The music is trying so hard to make one weepy, it is just too easy to overdo it. On Tuesday, as Rodolfo and Mimí sang their last scene, crouched on the stairs hugging one another, I started to cry and couldn’t stop. Granted, I am a little fragile at the moment, but still; no-one was milking it – it just worked. Why? 1) The orchestra were on top form; real velvet in the lush romantic moments, real sting in the crack of icy wind that opens Act 3. 2) The second cast – third cast, in the case of the Rodolfo – are uniformly excellent, convincingly young, and are putting their hearts into it. 3) The afore-mentioned Rodolfo, Ji-Min Park, is terrific. Young, skinny and good-looking, he is a credibly gauche, boyish romantic dreamer, bowled over by unanticipated passion – and he has a delicious voice, like heather honey. He was near-perfect for the part, and a real thrill for someone who hasn’t seen him in action before. I will be watching out for him from now on.

Getting out of the opera house was unpleasant, though. I got pushed and jostled and elbowed so many times I lost count – one bloke shoved me aside bodily, pushing me by my plastered arm, and didn’t even look round as I yelped in pain. In the end I crouched in the lee of a pillar until the crowds thinned enough for me to feel safe. And it was snowing hard when I got out. A miserable end to an otherwise lovely evening.

On Wednesday I went back to the hospital, and they changed my cast for a new one that fits better. For a short time this managed to ease the cramp – but already it is almost as bad as ever. Apparently it works like this: Oedema goes down a bit; cast gets a bit loose; patient inadvertently moves more; injury gets stressed and oedema increases again, but at the immediate site of the injury, inside the cast; cast gets tight; circulation gets restricted; patient gets cramp. Basically, I am stuck with it until the cast comes off for good – three weeks from tomorrow (can’t wait can’t wait). All I can do to try and ease it is keep my forearm elevated as much as possible, and keep doing the finger exercises. Wiggle wiggle...


It occurs to me that when I first met Favourite Baritone, standing outside the post office nearly six years ago, this was almost exactly the state he must have been in. Like me, he had had an accident four weeks earlier, had had to have surgery, and had soldiered on manfully for a while (several performances as Papageno, with heavy bandages and a sling). When I walked into him in the street, he was pale as cream and looked exhausted, miserable, deeply stressed and slightly frightened. And now I know exactly how he must have been feeling. There is an initial stage after an injury when one is still running on the residue of adrenalin from the original accident. One is determined to cope, and to let no-one down. One is pretty out of one’s skull on painkillers, too; and then, every day one discovers something else that one can do for oneself – the “Hey, I can open doors with my teeth like a border collie!” stage. But after a few weeks it just starts to seem like a nightmare of fruitless struggling. There are no more discoveries to make, as every imaginable extra use of teeth, chin, armpit and crook of elbow is put to the test, and the limits of one’s independence become painfully clear. One has to drop the strongest of the analgesics, or die of gastric trouble. The fact one is sleeping badly really starts to tell. And one becomes horribly aware of being a bore and a burden to everyone. But there are still weeks to go; and then an unknown number of months of physiotherapy to get back the normal use of one's body.

Well, Favourite Baritone got through it; and so can I. Somehow. Of course, unlike me, he met his future spouse while waiting to see the ROH physiotherapist. I should be so lucky!! But I will get through this; I will.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

One-hand Sally (pt 2)

...or, Boy you'd better slow that One-hand down.

I'm back in London, back at work, and back on the ibuprofen after the NHS Direct advisor I spoke to yesterday said she thought I may be getting cramp in my incarcerated wrist because I have been "overdoing it" with the finger exercises. >sigh< She suggested I take a day of rest, use my right hand as little as possible (instead of as much as possible, as I have beeen doing) and take plenty of analgesia - rather as I might treat a strained back or a pulled hamstring for 24 hours. And then if that doesn't ease it, to go back to A&E. >>HUGE SIGH<<

I must remind myself that there are some benefits to being temporarily semi-crippled. I am allowed to eat loads of full-fat dairy produce - CALCIUM, YEHAY!! - so bring on the cheese board. Not to mention the yoghurt, the drinking yoghurt, the pouring cream, the ice cream, and the hard sauce.

And a really nice-looking bloke helped me with my suitcase on Sunday. Though by the time I've been eating full-fat dairy produce for another 3 1/2 weeks I doubt if I'll look frail enough to need help... >small sigh<

Christmas was lovely, if a bit weird; I'm usually the main cook in my family, especially at any kind of gathering, so to be banished from the kitchen ("You keep getting in the way...") felt odd, to say the least. The bitingly cold weather made our regular winter walks programme particularly bracing, and reduced the annual Christmas flower count in the garden to a measly 8. And, unusually, I got only two books among my gifts. Rather disappointingly, one of them is weird, but not quite the right kind of weird, at least in my present state. Swedish surrealist/existentialist Sci Fi comedy, anyone? I really wanted to like this, as the poseur-value is incalculable; but it just isn't tickling my funnybones. Not even the bruised one.