Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Always enter competitions...

Following my own stated philosophy, I'm trying to do as instructed and enter a comp for a free crit. "Gabriel Yeats" has already had one, which it got on merit (yay!); this comp is a draw, though, so totally random. Never mind.
I have to do this:

There; no harm done and it's all grist to the mill, ect ect moleworth he sa. And Editorial Ass is a very funny blog, so I don't mind steering you to it.

Last night I heard Joshua Bell playing Beethoven with the Philharmonia. And then some more Beethoven. Conducted by Maestro Riccardo Muti (= gravitas, presence, fiery control, and the epitome of an attractive older man). I think I'm still a little lost for words...

Thursday, 25 March 2010

A quiet night in...

…that’s what I need.

I have been going out a lot; not on the tiles (no such luck, though admittedly I wouldn’t have had the energy to make whoopee until quite recently) but to concerts and the theatre. Back in December, I looked at my plaster arm and thought “I’m going to need some enjoyable things to look forward to, or I’ll end up moping at home feeling sorry for myself, and drinking too much Laphroig”. Since spending every weekend in the southern hemisphere was out of the question, I compromised on upping my usual quota of theatre tickets, so that I would have a couple of evenings out each week.

And it’s been great – and next month should be great, too, bringing four ballet performances, three contemporary dance performances, one Indian dance performance, three orchestral concerts, three concerts of Sacred Music thru’ the Ages by The Sixteen, Monteverdi's "Vespers of 1610", two “Insight”-type events and a World Music group called Salsa Celtica. No opera, no straight theatre and no cinema (yet). March has had a similar mixture of events and activities, and most of them have been highly rewarding evenings out. But I am getting a bit tired!

Tonight I have a night off. I’ll make a risotto, pack my bag for my weekend away (only going down to Mum’s – nothing exotic) and then I may do some writing on the Work In Progress; or I may just sit on my butt and watch a dvd, and sip a drop of that whisky…

On Tuesday night I was back at Covent Garden for the latest Royal Ballet triple bill. Several of my favourite dancers were appearing – Yuhui Choe, Leanne Benjamin, Sarah Lamb, a good splash of top quality Acosta, and the two company ginger toms, Mssrs Watson and McRae, to complete the mixture. Not forgetting Marianela Nuñez being hauntingly graceful and serene in “Concerto” – though unfortunately partnered by Rupert Pennefather, who I’m afraid I find a singularly unexciting dancer, Bright Young Hope though he be (this may be partly because he looks alarmingly like Baby Bro, which I find oddly disturbing).

“Concerto” was great, and the music (Shostakovitch Piano Concerto 2) was gorgeously played. “The Judas Tree” was powerful and grim, as I’d been warned, and full of huge show-off jumps that just shout “made during the golden era of Mukhamedov”. “Elite Syncopations” was light and sweet and sparkling, but my enjoyment of it was marred somewhat by the chap three seats along from me who kept guffawing loudly. It’s a funny ballet, but soft chuckle funny, not “Ho, ho, ho!" funny. Maybe he really needed the light relief, after the violence of “Judas Tree”.

I also saw Stephen Hough and Rupert Christiansen in the audience (not together, I hasten to add!) and another of my favourite dancers on the Tube on my (& presumably also his) way home.

I was buoyed-up after that, ready for a good day yesterday; but my final one-to-one physiotherapy session has set me back with a bump. From next week I’ll be in “Wrist Group” which sounds a bit like boot camp for broken wrists. I’ve made relatively little progress – indeed, my ulnar deviation was actually worse than a fortnight ago. And I found out something I’d never previously known; the NHS, strapped for resources as they are, are not committed to getting me back my former degree of mobility. They just have to get me to the level of competence that is considered clinically adequate. And this clinically acceptable level is a bit less than 2/3 of my former flexibility. Help!!

If I’d been told that at the start, I would have started looking for a private physio on the spot. Two thirds of my previous capability is not enough, for the god’s sakes! I can’t live the rest of my life with this bl**dy rusted hinge creaking about on the end of my arm. I draw – I write – I cycle – I dance – I undo lids that other people can’t shift – I make my own bread - I WANT MY EFFING HAND BACK, AND I WANT IT BACK AS WAS!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Night Rain

for G.

Watching these people far below me now
Passing by quickly in the soft night rain,
I think of you, moving thus, but not as these,
Gracefully, purposefully, through the night rain.

The city is a wide-starred darkness, bright
With the jewels of broken glass and rain.
Wet cobblestones reflect each passer-by
And night buskers' music carries to me
Drifting upwards on the wind and the soft rain.

My glass of cold wine has gone to my head
And bells are ringing to call me back to my seat;
Your brief smile haunts me as I go in from the rain.

I will remember you smiling, dancing, walking
Home to your rest now through the mild spring night;
Brighter than winter, stronger than the falling rain.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Dvd warning

I went home yesterday after "The Cunning Little Vixen" (well-played, mostly well-sung, but I thought the production was a bit twee and visually cluttered compared to others I've seen, and over-emphasising the humour at the cost of losing some of the pathos) - anyway, I went home and I saw I'd left the Dvd of "District 9" on top of a loudspeaker. My father would have had fits. So I moved it. Moving it, I found myself reading the back of the box (I've always been inclined to read anything in front of me. Cereal packets, road signs, the back page of someone else's newspaper, you name it. It's as if my brain goes "Ooh look, words; yum..."). Anyway; I read the back of the box, and I noticed this: "Warning; contains scenes of violence and one use of very strong language".

I love these warning notices. First that lovely one for "Mayerling" and now this. One use of strong language? Would that be "one" in the sense of "several thousand instances of strong language, but all of them are of the same word"? Or "one" as in "actually there's so much swearing we think you'll stop counting after a while, and stop noticing it altogether soon after that"?

Now I don't have a problem with foul language (sadly my friends can confirm this) and I'd have to say that, were I in the situations in which Wikus Van Der Merwe finds himself in the film, I would certainly be turning the air blue, too. But I know people who do mind swearing, who might think that "one instance of very strong language" means exactly that - one instance. Whoops.

My guess is that there is a list somewhere of "strong" and "very strong" language; perhaps "f*ck" is only "strong" and other terms are categorised as "very strong". I don't remember, amid the waterfalls of f*cking, f*ckers and f*cks, picking up on any c*nts... but then I wasn't listening out for them, of course...

Who cares? The movie was a thrill-ride anyway, and it gave me back faith in the infinite renewability of the genre. Neill Blomkamp for PM! (Yes, I know he can't be PM, but, face it, the options we do have are so lousy that a talented South African film-maker would probably make a better fist of the job than any of them).

Monday, 22 March 2010

Ballet, History, and Science Fiction.

I’ve had a great weekend… Ballet, Sci-Fi, pizza, sunshine and a stately home.

What did I say a week or so ago about Science Fiction being a great genre when well-handled? I watched two movies this weekend, both of which, in very different ways, were worth watching. One was fun, with beautiful period costumes and lovely settings in the Czech Republic, but it had plot holes you could ride a bicycle through and a casual amorality that left an aftertaste. The other was terrific; thought-provoking, intelligent, scary and moving, and full of really big ray guns. More of this anon - you can have fun guessing what the two films were, while I talk about ballet for a bit.

On Friday evening I was at a Masterclass at the Linbury Studio, watching two young ballerinas being coached as the fairies of the seasons in Ashton’s “Cinderella”, followed by two Ugly Sisters going through some of their comedy scenes. I started off drawing the dancers, and as before I got a couple of good sketches and a lot of zen spaghetti. I couldn’t draw the fellas (the Ugly Sisters are danced by men, as classic Pantomime Dames) as I was laughing too much.

Masterclasses are fascinating. They give one a chance to see just a scrap of the hard work that underlies those polished performances one sees in the main theatre. To watch a lass being taken through a series of fiendish variations, over and over, till she is dripping with perspiration and puffing for breath, yet all the time continuing to move with grace and precision, is astonishing and a bit alarming, and fills one with respect for the dedication needed to attain that skill – and that level of fitness.

And to watch Philip Mosley’s snub-nosed hobbit of a shorter Ugly Sister and Gary Avis’s rubber-faced (but still very cute) taller Ugly Sister ramping up their comedy till your sides are aching is awe-inspiring in a different way, too. I do like Gary Avis, and it is nice to see him get to do some comedy, after all those villainous gaolers and vicious Tybalts, and noble French Princes who never get the girl, and doomed Hilarions.

Yesterday I had a day out, with no grocery shopping or cleaning; instead I went into Richmond, mooched in the shops, had lunch at Pizza Express and then walked along the Thames towpath to the beautiful National Trust property of Ham House. The sun was out and along the river bank groups of people were strolling, walking dogs, birdwatching, going fishing... Buds were breaking and the willows were just starting to turn green, and there were clumps of daffodils in the water meadows. I watched the rowers and the ducks and made friends with a lot of dogs, and came down to Ham feeling full of good will to all men.

I last visited Ham House on a school trip when I was about fourteen; my O’level History course included a module on “The Social History of the English Country House”, which at least got us some good field trips. But I haven’t been back since. Walking around yesterday, what struck me was how much my dim memories of Ham had informed the fictional house of Falmory in “Gabriel Yeats”. I have spent a lot of time “in” Falmory in recent years, so much so that at times it felt like a homecoming.

The smells of dust and furniture polish, the tapestries and shining furniture and checkerboard marble floors, the paintings looking down with their distant smiles, and the magnificent carved staircase, it was all so right, somehow, so purely and truly the imagined Falmory itself; it moved me strangely, to find myself there, “- and know the place for the first time.”

As the NT were having a free entry weekend, I spent money in the shop that I would otherwise have spent on my entrance fee, and then treated myself to the luxury of a full Cream Tea (with proper Cornish clotted cream), sitting in the sun in the formal kitchen garden behind the House, where the first hyacinths were blooming in the shelter of old brick walls, and buds were opening on the espaliered peaches. Then I went back across the water meadows to the bus stop at the bottom of Richmond Hill, and home again with a heart full of sunshine and history.

My Saturday night movie was “The Illusionist”; Edward Norton being handsome and enigmatic as stage magician Eisenheim, in a mystery set in an alternative 1900 Vienna (the give-away is that there’s a Crown Prince who never existed). It’s good fun; not a film to take too seriously, but classy entertainment. The protagonists are credible, as are the villain and the compromised Chief of Police, and it looks fabulous (and Edward Norton is startlingly sexy in a gangly, repressed-intensity kind of way).

As regards Eisenheim’s illusions, the film makers want to have their cake and eat it; to say “yes, of course it is all just stage magic, all illusionism” while not actually showing how most of it is done, so that it still looks beyond belief. I felt that was a bit of a fudge, to be frank.

There are two other big problems. One is that the main big plot development is so full of holes that it doesn’t do too well to think about it afterwards. Of course, being me I did think about it, and so found myself also reflecting on our hero’s rather dodgy moral choices. We are asked to accept and approve the fact that he sets an innocent man up as a murderer. A very unpleasant man, it’s true, a licentious and violent man and one who is plotting treason; but a man who would be entirely innocent of the particular crime for which he is framed. With hindsight it sapped some of my sympathy for Eisenheim, and it also seemed out of character in Chief Inpector Uhl to be so cheerful when he discovers the truth, given that he also discovers he has been duped into contributing to the accused man’s downfall.

My Sunday night movie, on the other hand, was a winner; “District 9”. If you haven’t seen this (and always provided you are an SF-lover) see it asap. It's marvellous.

Sometimes, when something is much-praised, when one finally gets to experience it it is a wash-out in comparison to the hype. “Tectonic Plates” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” both fell into this category for me (and that may well be the first time they’ve ever been lumped together!). But equally, sometimes things live up to their preview hype. And just occasionally they exceed it. “District 9” exceeds it.

It’s one of the best science fiction films I’ve seen in years; intelligent and nuanced, quite terrifyingly scary at one point, and full of subtle historical references, not only to the obvious issues of South African history (the whole thing is set in Johannesburg, mostly in a nightmarish slum township) but also to the Palestinian intifada, Europe under the Nazis, the Cherokee Trail of Tears... It’s intensely moral, but also scrupulously honest about moral decisions and personal valour - the hero is pretty deeply unheroic until he realises it’s all up for him and the only worthwhile thing he can do is save someone else. It’s horribly violent, but the violence is to a purpose, and one which would not be properly served if the violence were not shown (and a lot of the time the violence is also off-screen, illustrated by reactions and by a sudden splattering of gore, or seen in long-shot, rather than graphically foregrounded).

The leading man revels in the name of Sharlto Copley (Sharlto; is that one of those odd Afrikaaner names, like Charlize and Tarryn? I suppose it must be) and is astonishingly good. The aliens look real, and are refreshingly uncliché-d. There’s no attempt to make the ending conventionally happy. The filming style, slewing between mock-documentary and normal narrative action, ought to be an instant fail but instead works marvellously. It is, quite simply, brilliant.

What was I saying about Science Fiction being a great genre when well-handled? Well, there you are; a perfect case in point. Brilliant.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Spring cheer and wintry bleakness

I went for a walk in the gardens in my lunch break. It was warm enough that I was okay with only a sweater, no coat. Spring bulbs are coming out everywhere and birds are singing, and the air smelled of wintersweet and viburnum blossom, and of pine trees in the sun. Heaven is coming; it’s spring. This has felt like a long winter, what with the successive snowfalls, the colder than average temperatures, and my bl**dy broken wrist. To see the wheel of the year turning is such bliss at these times. It spurs me on to keep working at my physio exercises as the gardening season approaches again.

Last night I had the first dose in a short course of Janacek shots; “Katya Kabanova” at the ENO. Wintry despair to contrast with my own spring cheer. Gorblimey it’s bleak stuff, guvnor.

It’s a bleak story, of toxically unhappy families, adultery, betrayed passion and suicide, and it's a bleak production, of barren open spaces and crowding, bare walls; a solitary lamp-post, a room full of angular shadows, an icon of Christ that is swiftly turned to the wall...

Patricia Racette is Katya, who has married (god knows why) the spineless, mother-fixated, deeply knotted-up Tichon Kabanov, played by the ever-reliable John Graham-Hall, and is now tormented daily by his truly horrible mother (Susan Bickley having a whale of a time being a poisonous old toad). Katya is a good-hearted woman who wants to be a good wife; she is deeply religious, with a mystical sense of connection with God, but she is also passionately emotional and longs for a freedom of experience her small-town life can never give her. Unable to escape her mother-in-law’s endless demands, she tries without success to get some demonstration of her husband’s love, or even some sort of reaction from him. When she meets neighbour Boris, Stuart Skelton’s six-foot hunk of red-haired Australian beefcake, well, what with his magnificent rich tenor and all, she is lost.

Listening to him, I don’t blame her. I don’t normally go for the beefy type, but Mr Skelton could rock my boat any day. What a voice! And he can act (and he’s ginger!). This is the third time I’ve seen him in action; roll on the fourth – it can’t come soon enough. Stuart Skelton is the heroic tenor for me.

There are a secondary pair of lovers in the story, as well; Tichon’s adopted sister Varvara is in love with the amiable local schoolmaster Kudriash; rather like Anne and Simon to Katya and Boris’s Gabriel and Rose, they are saner and more balanced, in both their love affair and their general way of dealing with life. Shortly before the final scene they decide to run away to make a new life together in Moscow. Their directness and good humour in the face of the situation is a touching contrast to the superficially more romantic but utterly self-defeating passion of Katya and Boris. In their music, simple folk-dance melodies and ballad-like lyrics express their healthily cheerful attitude to love. Boris and Katya, however, have fabulous music of great dramatic outbursts, lyrical and wildly emotional, full of wonderful characteristic Janacek sounds I haven’t the technical vocabulary to describe. It tells you everything you need to know about the uncontrollable intensity of their feelings, and the thoughtless passion with which they rush into their affair.

Of course, their love is poignantly brief, doomed from the start. Boris turns out to be a man of straw; Katya loses her marbles, confesses all, loses some more of her marbles, meets Boris one last time and then, flattened by his farewell, drowns herself. So it’s hardly laughs all evening by the Volga; but well-done, as last night’s performance was, it makes for a very powerful, deeply upsetting evening.

On Monday, I’m off for my Janacek booster shot; “The Cunning Little Vixen”. Again, bliss; and it will give an antidote to yesterday’s tormented gloom. It’s as full of green growing life and natural cycles as “Katya Kabanova” is of fractured hearts, denatured relationships, and death.

And so the wheel turns, and the way of things goes as it wills; and we go on.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Random baker's dozen life lessons

Twelve things I have learned in my miss-spent life…

1) Good weather should always be appreciated.
2) Getting drunk is great, but it passes. Being hung-over is hell, but it too passes. And the same thing goes for all experiences, foul as well as fun. To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.
3) Do not wait until you are desperate before you go to the loo, if you have an arm in plaster.
4) Fear can ruin anything.
5) Health is wealth. It really is. And friends really are a treasure precious above rubies.
6) It is also true that travel expands the mind. Never pass up on an opportunity to travel.
7) Life is too short to refuse chocolate, crisps, ice cream, pie, decent cheese, single malt whisky, MacSweens’ Vegetarian Haggis, blackcurrants, passion fruit, damson jam, or any recipe involving aubergines (or eggplants, if you’re not in Europe).
8) Nothing is so much of a thrill as doing creative work when it is flowing. Nothing.
9) It is worth saying “please”, “thank you” and "excuse me". Courtesy really does cost nothing, and it makes life more civilised.
10) If you see someone holding a map and looking lost, and you know the area, stop and try to help.
11) If you want good food, learn to cook. If you want something mended, mend it yourself. If you want clean clothes, wash them. If you want a garden full of flowers, plant some. Self-reliance is under-rated.
12) The only hot-air hand driers that work are the ones that seem to be squashing your hands out of shape. Don’t watch, or put up with having wet hands.
13) Say yes to freebies. New taste experiences, new bootlace varieties, new brands of contact lens fluid, you name it, it’s worth a try. Also always enter free prize draws, raffles, tombolas and the like. Over the years I’ve won a fuchsia, six wine goblets, a deckchair, a stuffed toy dog, a five pound voucher for Cadbury’s chocolate, a ten pound book token, two cinema tickets and a hundred pounds off a holiday in Greece. You can’t say no to that!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Busy busy bee...

It's been a busy few days. At work, the sunny weather has brought people out of hibernation and into Planning Mode; we are humming with enquiries about spring flowers, Easter children's activities, what will be looking good next Tuesday week, do we have hanami sessions, and so on. A few people are even planning what they'll be doing in July, August, October...

The colleague who seemed to be cracking up has come back to work, distinctly manic and not her normal self, but insisting she is fine. She's not quite off-beam enough that she can be required to go home, so we are all watching her with trepidation as she rushes about in an alarming display of hysterical energy, knowing that at any moment an ill-judged remark may infuriate her and precipitate an outburst. Poor woman; I don't know what's triggered it, though I have my suspicions, but it's deeply worrying to watch, and there is nothing any of us can do to help - especially since she denies vehemently that anything is wrong...

On the home front, Mauro, the pleasant but terribly self-absorbed Italian guy who has been running a catering business from home (in complete violation of both food safety regs and the terms of his tenancy!) has suddenly moved out. Hurrah! We no longer have to work round the edges of "Mauro's Italian Kitchen"! That "hurrah" would be in bold were it not for the fact that, on moving out, he has nicked a couple of the household saucepans, the colander, one of the wooden spoons and about a dozen clothes pegs. He also tried to take the throw from the living room sofa, and all of my teatowels, but was stopped by Lana who just happened to come home early and noticed them among his boxes of stuff. I don't condone his stealing some of the pans (and it is bl**dy inconvenient suddenly having fewer pans than one used to have - oh, and of course he has left behind the scratched and battered ones and taken the decent quality fairly new ones) but I can see how someone might think selfishly "I want some saucepans, I can't afford to buy my own, why shouldn't I take these?". But to pinch a wooden spoon? A plastic colander from Poundshop? Clothespegs? That takes petty theft to a whole new level...

I continue to make very slow improvement with the wrist. I can now lift about two kilos, provided I do it very carefully and at the right angle. I am confident enough of handling a sharp knife to have resumed a bit of cooking; at the weekend I made a spinach pie, some banana and chocolate chip buns, and a lot of carrot soup. I've eaten a lot of mass-produced food in the last few months, with the inevitable higher fat and salt intake (& I have the extra lbs and fluid retention to prove it), so it is particularly satisfying to get back to doing some normal cooking, however clumsily.

And the sun is out, and the daffodils are just starting to open, and in my back garden I have four Narcissus "Tête à tête", a polyanthus and about sixty crocuses out. Spring is coming!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Sketching moving targets...

Yesterday evening I went to the "Insight Evening" at the Royal Opera House; the seats in the Clore Studio are vilely uncomfortable, but luckily the content made up for it. We started with a discussion between Barry Wordsworth and Brian Elias about Elias' memories of composing the score of Kenneth MacMillan's "The Judas Tree" - Elias was a charming, funny and articulate raconteur, and having sneaked in a sketchbook I managed to do a competent thumb-nail portrait of him. Then we got Irek Mukhamedov coaching Mara Galeazzi and Thaigo Soares in two chunks of "Judas Tree" - fascinating, and I'm glad they can laugh as they work on something this disturbing. Then Julie Farmer coached Nathalie Harrison and Michael Stojko on one of the numbers from "Elite Syncopations" - not surprisingly this was also funny. And I had fun drawing the dancers. Now that is a really challenging subject! Their bodies are so superb (sorry, I know how lecherous that sounds but I can't really phrase it any differently!) and their movements so perfectly controlled and so athletic; and they move, well, all the time. In the end I simply went for an overdose of the Zen Spaghetti; one or two of the resulting frenzied looping scrawls are quite evocative, too. Altogether a rewarding evening.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Random scatterings...

There was another bit of blue sky this morning, but it went away again.

The red and yellow apple was rather cotton-woolly when I ate it. It's okay, though, because The Rox only got it from a basket of free apples left in the staff kitchen, so someone else is responsible for buying mushy apples, not Her Roxiness.

I simply have to pass this on as despite the strong language it is so funny and so true, even for those who are not professional/succesful/published writers. Once it is known that you write, people say "Will you read my writing and tell me what you think of it? I really, really want an honest critique" - and then they hit the roof, or cry themselves to a saturated solution, when you do give them an honest critique. So you try giving a dishonest, fuzzy one (and know you have cheated, on many levels, just to avoid hassle) or you start saying "I never read other tyro writers' stuff" and sounding horrendously smug instead. Thanks to Hellie in Cape Town for putting me on to that link.

Thomson Holidays are still prejudiced against solo travellers. Their website now announces there are no seats left on the plane if you try to book as a single; then if you try to book for two people, suddenly the plane has plenty of room. They are stupid for turning away custom. And I am equally stupid for hoping they'll change their ways.

Watched half of "Contact" last night; saving the rest for Friday as I'm out tonight. What an interesting film; it explores the tension between scientific detachment and spirituality with sympathy for both sides. It's intelligent and exciting in equal measure, has lovely special effects (and shots of the real - and spectacular - Very Large Array in New Mexico), lovely Jodie Foster, lovely William Fichtner (sadly only in a small part) and Matthew McConaughey proving he can underact if he wants to... Science Fiction is a great genre when it is this well used.

I can now lift a small tray with two coffee cups on it - cups actually containing coffee, that is. I have been given a piece of pink Squeezy Therapeutic Exercise Sponge by the physiotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital. By the middle of the month I may graduate onto Squeezy Therapeutic Putty - or even Squeezy Balls... I soldier on with the two-minute-stretching exercises and the labourious lifting of half-kilo weights. I often ache by evening, but I won't give in.

There is a gorgeous white dog with a black patch on one side of his head, running about on Kew Green in the misty grey light.

Someone I was at grammar school with has written to me out of the blue. Hello, Carol!

Life is weird. Wouldn't change it for anything else, though. And even with this dull sky and chilly wind, and all the seagulls inland (scattering before the excited arrival of that eager little dog), it is still, slowly, edging towards spring.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

A little bit of blue sky

As I look out of the office window I can see a small break in the cloud, and a tiny scrap of blue sky is showing through...

Sigh. If winter comes, can spring be far behind? I have got the winter-blues a bit this week.

Guernsey was beautiful, if bitterly cold. With clear skies and lashings of cold fresh air, and long walks along the coastal path, I got all the London cobwebs blown out of my head, and felt like a new woman by Sunday night. Then back to reality with the proverbial bump, of course.

Work is getting livelier by the day; now the colleague who had a breakdown last year appears to be having another one out of the blue, which places the whole department under a bit of extra pressure as we try to cover her work as well for an unspecified future period, just as the busy season starts. I wish I were back on the cold, sunny strand at Vazon Bay, with the wind in my hair and a good hot meal to look forward to.

But it doesn't do, to go wishing oneself elsewhere, or wishing oneself back in time or off away anywhere. Here and now is all we really have; here and now, with the early evening just starting to pearl the clouded sky with pink, and someone laughing in the next office, and the lovely red and yellow apple The Rox gave me sitting on my desk inviting me to eat it... Live in the moment and find what is best in it, among the simple things. Even if part of what is best in it is that it is now five-fifteen and I can pack up and go home!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Forgotten reviews and weekend breaks

It’s been a busy week – work is getting a lot livelier now. Spring seems to be genuinely on its way, too (for which relief much thanks). I haven’t reviewed the wonderful ballet and contemporary dance charity gala I went to at Sadler’s Wells at the weekend; or the concert of luscious Rachmaninov (with luscious Lugansky), or the flamenco performance last Friday, or the Royal Ballet triple bill that I went to on Tuesday... and with all that dashing around, plus a busy week at work, I am a touch knackered.

However, I have tomorrow off, and I’m going away for the weekend to the Channel Islands with my stepmum, for a couple of days of (probably chilly) walking and tourism and fresh air. The weather forecast at the moment is good – cold but sunny and dry. I hope Guernsey will be quiet and peaceful at this time of year, and with luck the famous Channel Island narcissi will be out by now. I’m looking forward to switching off “London-mode” for a little while and having nothing more serious to think about than “Do we go west along the coast path today, or east along ditto, or inland?” We may buy Guernsey sweaters, piles of duty free, or bouquets of alstroemerias. We may eat huge bags of Channel Island Cream Fudge. We may do nothing at all but birdwatch and walk and relax. I’ll report on Monday.

The flamenco was terrific fun; all-stops-out, wham bam, yee-ow wild stuff; four excellent dancers with back-up assorted, including a skinny woman in a purple shirt who was one of the best flamenco singers I've ever heard. The latest Philharmonia concert was a dollop of Verdi followed by main course and a huge desert of delicious Rachmaninov; a real wallow in lush romantic glory. I had to keep my eyes averted from Andris Nelsons at times, though - he jumps up and down so much I was afraid he'd fall off the podium. If one conducted like that in a film, people would say one was going over-the-top; still, even if he did look a bit bonkers the results were lovely, so I can't complain.

The gala was in aid of a charity run by Royal Ballet principal Mara Galeazzi, "Dance for the Children", and it was a feast of wonderful dancing; three top-notch items of classical ballet, a couple of well-judged comedy things, a great display of tap dancing from the insouciant Steven McRae - if he can sing like he can hoof, he could move onto the West End stage without turning a (beautiful, ginger) hair - and a whole bunch of new contemporary/ballet pieces, several of which were excellent. It's hard to pick highlights as the standard was astonishingly high. I guess the cream of the crop were The New Ballet Boyz (or possibly they are really The New George Piper Dances - how does a company cope with having two names? It must be confusing at times); and a duet for Mara Galaezzi herself and the lovely Gary Avis, danced to a couple of Brahms lieder; full of suggestions of isolation and projection, of people reaching for one another yet holding themselves apart, it was subtle and allusive and melancholy, and full of fiendish-looking lifts. I think choreographers must look at Mr Avis' partnering skills and think "Aha!"...

The triple bill was also good; but it's gone five pm and I want to go home and pack for my flight to Guernsey tomorrow; forgive me, but I'm going to stop right now! After all, no-one is itching for my reviews, and I am itching for my little break...