Tuesday, 29 June 2010

A nervous night at the Internet café

I am sneaky; I do stuff (like this) in my lunch hour on the computer at work. But there are jobs I can't do at work. Chief among these is getting written material off my dear old antique laptop and into a form where I can actually get at it. The computers here are (probably only just) new enough that they don't take floppy disks. My laptop won't handle anything else. So to transfer anything I've written on the laptop into a form I can use online, I have to put it on a disk and then go to the one internet café I know of that is old-fashioned enough to still have machines that will take floppies.

I guess it's inevitable that said internet café is scruffy and underresourced. They can't afford to fix their computers, after all. Or their carpets; or the holes in the wall.

So there I sat last night, clutching my precious disk of "Gabriel Yeats" in my sweaty paw, in quite the scruttiest internet café in West London. The first machine I sat down at promptly crashed. The second had sellotape over the slot for floppy disks. The third had no mouse and with the fourth, the keyboard didn't work.

By this stage I was starting to feel as if the Almighty had leaned down and marked me with "Today, Imogen, you are going to scramble all computers" magic juice. Luckily the fifth computer worked. Almost hyperventilating with excitement, I uploaded the whole of the final revision (for now) of "Gabriel Yeats" into a draft email. Then I did each chapter separately. Then for good measure I also uploaded the existing material for one of my Works in Progress, tentatively titled "Fortitude". It all went in, and it's all still there in my yahoo email drafts box today. Hurrah! I have an electronically accessible ouevre!

Afterwards I was in a slight state of shock. I've been trying to get this done for months, finding internet café after internet café had modernised and couldn't help me, and getting increasingly worried that I was in real trouble. Now I wandered out and down the road, and in a daze I got on the wrong bus and ended up in Brentford. Nobly, I resisted the urge to go in the Magpie and Crown and get drunk, and waited for a 237 home.

So anyway, if anyone would like to see the final-for-now version of "GY", or have a first sneak peek at the first draft of "Fortitude" (an attempt, heaven help me, at genuine SF, complete with space ships and everything), let me know.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Hot weekend at the hot keys...

Boy, it’s hot. Yesterday was apparently the hottest day of the year so far – I see that today is officially one degree Celsius cooler. It’s a pity it’s so hard to get any air-flow through the office; it’s sweltering in here, and has got increasingly muggy as the day went on. It’s the humidity that gets to me, far more than the heat.

Had a busy weekend; doing all my boring but useful jobs like grocery shopping and washing clothes, and then writing. That slightly weird dream last week, the one that I thought had the germ of an idea in it, has stuck in my brain and got me buzzing a bit; it ties up terribly neatly with an idea I had years ago, and I suddenly want to take it further. I’m making notes and lists, trying to sort out time-scale problems, and working out what research I need to do and what the main problem areas are (the bad guys are cardboard cut-outs at present, one of the male characters is lamentably wet, there are too many identikit tough women, and there’s a vital plot line that doesn’t mesh properly with another vital plotline… oh yes, I’m going to have fun with this one).

I do mean years ago, by the way; I was a teenager sitting on the school bus, drawing maps of imaginary lands… Suddenly one of those imaginary lands has come back to me, and the muse has asked me to look into it a bit more. She's eliminated the dragons, the elves and the wizardry, and the result looks like it is going to be a rather dark non-sorcery fantasy. God know what genre that is officially. Who writes fantasy without any magic at all in it? Is that still fantasy?

I must be mad embarking on notes for another story – I have two things on the go already, and am still tweaking “The Eternal Love of Gabriel Yeats”. Perhaps I am one of those tyro writers who’ll never be ready to show her work to anyone; I’ll just keep writing away and piling up manuscripts in my shed - or in the nook between the hi-fi and the nick-nacks drawers, which is where they’ve all gone so far (apart, that is, from the ones stuck on my ancient laptop, where the revised “Gabriel Yeats” is currently sitting).

Ah, but I love it. I love it as the only end of my life. Making something where nothing was before – whether it be lines on paper where no drawing was, or a story where no story was. It’s the magic of creating.

Friday, 25 June 2010

It's over

I went to Charing Cross Hospital for Fracture clinic again this morning. I was all braced for another marathon of waiting (all my previous appointments have taken about three and a half hours). I had a novel, a notebook and pen, biscuits and a bottle of water. But I was in and out in less than an hour - and I have been discharged. I am, officially, no longer in need of any medical supervision for my wrist.

I'll have a piece of metal in my arm for the rest of my life, but it isn't hurting me, and it only sometimes triggers security scanning machines. But according to Mr Thomas, the consultant orthopaedic surgeon who saw me, I have made a very good recovery from a nasty little injury. "Well done," he said, and he actually beamed at me. I fear this means a lot of his patients do not make good recoveries. Maybe they don't drive themselves nuts with boredom doing the exercises...

I walked out of there with a huge grin on my face; I was smiling so wide that about seven people smiled back at me between the hospital and Hammersmith Broadway (note to self; do this more often - it would appear it's a really simple way to spread a little happiness!).

I'm at about 85% normal mobility now, and Mr Thomas, going by the low-tech measuring system called "squeeze my finger, please", thinks I'm at about 90% of normal strength.

Hurrah! The endless exercises, the physiotherapy sessions and Wrist Boot Camp and all the pain and worry (& grumbling) have paid off!

Thank you to all my friends and neighbours, and everyone out there, for all your support while I moaned and groaned my way through this long uphill slog of recovery!

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

ENO's "Idomeneo", or, how to c*ck up a really good idea.


Not that young chap Mozart’s finest hour, but lovely stuff nonetheless. ENO field a terrific cast and a very odd production, and I come out at the end feeling wildly frustrated. The production is almost worse than a downright ropey one would have been, because it is very nearly superb, but fluffs it totally by continuously restating its cleverest ideas, over and over like a nervous tic, until one wants to shake the director.

The basic idea of relocating the action to the contemporary corporate/political world is a good one. The device of the lover’s debate/duet being sung during a formal meal was interesting, first time around; it neatly pointed up the misery of having to hide your feelings in public, of being a Public Face and not able to have messy things like emotions visible - much less allow them to affect one's behaviour, when Duty has to come first. The device of having besuited corporate functionaries hurrying about the stage with clipboards was effective, for about a scene.

But as the repetition of these ideas - endless successions of waiters bustling, endless pacing Suits in noisy shoes - goes on it becomes first irritating, then distracting and finally infuriating, and I begin wanting to shout “No more bl**dy waiters, please!” It isn’t until the third Act that the constant stage business, and busyness, calms down enough to let the music and the performers carry the piece properly.

This is particularly rough when, in the amazing Paul Nilon, and in Robert Murray, Sarah Tynan and Emma Bell, the ENO have four principals who can handle every delicate nuance of their music, every lovely phrase and fancy frill, and who also act their socks off. It seems almost mean of Katie Mitchell to have surrounded them with endless fussy distractions on stage, rather than setting things up and then having the confidence in her concept and in the piece itself to let these great acting singers - and the orchestra, in excellent form as usual – just take it from there.

It was also unwise, I felt, to make so much of a figure of fun out of Electra; being the unwanted one in a love triangle is hell, as I can vouch - it is not funny at all. Hell for the participant, and boring for their friends, but funny? - no. Besides, it means you have the comic relief committing suicide at the end, and that's a big jump for the audience to make.

On a different note, I'm really sorry to learn that Nicholas Mahut lost – finally – his protracted battle with the Human Barn Door Isner at Wimbledon. It seems bizarre that I watched the first part of this match on Tuesday after work, and they have only just finished playing now. But to me it looked, at least on Tuesday, as if the underlying battle was that old cliché, David and Goliath, aka brains versus brawn; and I’m afraid in that situation I am firmly on the side of brains. Call it intellectual snobbery. Besides, Mahut looks like an elf. Intellectual snobbery with a side-preference for elvish men, then...

Going home now, to reheat the rest of that curry, and get back to my drawing.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

More constructive stuff...

And yesterday evening, I:

made a huge lentil and cauliflower biriyani;

and a huge bowlful of sliced and lightly-sugared strawberries;

ate some and put the rest in the fridge for another night;

put on some cheerful music to sew to;

realised after mending one shoulder strap that I simply couldn't sew to this particular music (the Warsaw Village Band) as it was far too energising;

and set up my easel with a sheet of A4 cartridge paper and spent an hour drawing like a maniac, working from some of my orchestra sketches from the autumn, getting covered in charcoal till I looked like a comedy coal miner...

I drew my favourite Maestro. I know, I know, crushes are the mark of a feeble mind. Tough; it's a good drawing. Yes, I did actually say that. I'm quite pleased with it, and I don't say that often; this morning I woke up to find the figure on my drawing board staring across the room at me, which is spooky but very satisfying. It means the drawing has "got" him, at least a bit.

Tonight I'm off to "Idomeneo" at the ENO, so won't be able to get back to the drawing until Thursday. I hope that when I get in at midnight or so tonight, I will still see him watching me (a girl can dream!...).

When I work in a large scale in charcoal I tend to overlay drawing upon drawing, so that part of the interest comes from the interaction between multiple layers of images. I discovered years ago at college that this process worked with images of buildings, especially interiors; and have since learnt it is also very effective with portraits. So at the moment my image of the Maestro has five arms and two layers of head; he looks like Shiva in a black velvet jacket.

It was interesting to realise that the Warsaw Village Band is absolutely not music to sew to. They're terrific; slightly mad stuff, a wildly trippy fusion of traditional Polish folk music and psychadelic trance, hypnotic and driving. As "get up and dance" - or "get up and draw", in my case - music, they're hard to beat. I sewed to Sibelius (Violin Concerto) and Rachmaninov (Symphonic Dances) yesterday; fabulous music, but music I could sew to.

Different energies, different rhythms, and different responses to them. Neither is less than the other; but they are not the same. No, different magics altogether.

Long live all the many and various magics of this world! - including the magic (for it certainly is one) of charcoal.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Constructive stuff...

Yesterday evening I:

Sewed patches on three pairs of trousers

Did a lightening extra edit on GY after re-reading part of it and seeing a new shade of purple where I'd not spotted it before

Made and ate a nice stir-fry with smoked tofu and greens

Watched the film of "Let the Right One in" - beautifully made and acted, not particularly scary, very, very sad. One of the best films-of-the-book I've come across. Could the fact that John Ajvide Lindquist wrote the screenplay based on his own novel have anything to do with it?

And - had a very good dream. One of my favourite sorts of dream, the kind that gives one the germ of a story. GY started with a dream, and eventually led me to over 100,000 words. No idea if this dream is cooking like that, but it was still a good dream. A Sci-Fi dream (oh, yes, I'm low, I am).

Monday, 21 June 2010

Summer Solstice

Midsummer’s Day; a strange, haunted, grey-skied day with an aura of brooding. Not a menacing brooding, I’m glad to say, but a tension is palpable in the air. It is as if something is coming, but something that is as yet not fully formed; something beneath the surface, hesitating in the sweltering air as it strives to find expression.

I sip my green tea with peppermint and wonder at it. Is this the beginning of a new phase, or the hovering on the brink before a fall? It is midsummer, but not a midsummer of dewfall and roses; one of sweat and muted light. Solstice means “sun standing still”, and it is that standing still I feel I’m sensing, that pausing of the whole world, as if in doubt, or before something is brought into being.

Stillness at midsummer;
On the cusp of the seasons,
The wave-crest
Edging over to break
And, breaking, change.
Things unsuspected
And things longed-for, both
Will come, if the gods
Will it; meanwhile we
Carry on, here beneath
The grey heavens, waiting
For the storm to break
Or for joy to break through
As the magic of the future
Becomes present magic now.

In all likelihood my emotions are a purely psychosomatic response to the heat and the humidity today. I half hope so, and half hope not. Like that enchanted Christmas Eve feeling in childhood, there is something inherently thrilling about sensing one is on the eve of some event. Only, it would be nice to have some idea of what the event is to be!

Going home now to do some sewing – three pairs of my summer trousers have all sprung holes at the same time, so I’m patching madly, as I happen to like wearing trousers…

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Just finished reading...

I forgot to mention in my last posting that I did one other thing last Saturday; I went into the local park to see what the "Bedford Park Festival" could offer, and spent an hour going through the stock of a fantastic second hand book stall. Bliss. £2.50 later I had a Hornblower I hadn't read before, a Zoe Oldenbourg I hadn't read before, the "Collected Letters" of D H Lawrence (win!) and "The Prestige" by Christopher Priest. Sadly it's the film tie-in edition, with a very silly jacket illustration.

I haven't seen the film, and now am wondering how on earth a novel with such convoluted nuances of unreliability among its several narrators could be filmable in the first place (I'm suspecting heinous simplification was involved).

Anyway, I finished it at 1am last night. VG, & highly recommended.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Good days of many kinds

It’s such a beautiful day.

The sky is clear deep blue, there’s a fresh breeze, and a chaffinch is singing in the tree outside my office window. I went out into the Gardens in my lunch break and cycled down to the formal rose garden by the Palm House. It looks an absolute picture. The whole rose garden was replanted last spring, with hundreds of shrub roses donated by David Austin; the whole list is mouth watering, from classic old rose varieties like “Maiden’s Blush” and “Empress Joséphine” through to some of the most recent Modern English Hybrids like “Darcey Bussell” and of course “Kew Gardens”. The scent as they all come into bloom is simply incredible.

I had a lovely weekend and a lovely couple of days off . How lucky I am; I have interesting friends who have parties with home-made meringues, ukulele-playing and a trampoline; I live in an interesting and culturally vibrant city; I have a bit of garden to plant (with a lot of cadging of cuttings and nurturing of seeds); I have my bike, I have my tele and my radio, I have enough money to go to the theatre and occasionally have a meal out…

Friday after work I went to the Royal Ballet triple bill, and was thrilled silly by it. By damn, the Company are at the top of their game at the moment!

Saturday I gardened and did my grocery shopping and cooked a huge casserole and cleaned the whole house and ran the washing machine twice and dyed a pair of old trousers turquoise blue. And was knackered; but felt completely entitled to make whoopee on Sunday.

Sunday I went to a party in Reading and made whoopee; met some extraordinary people, had some fascinating conversations, ate too much, and had a whale of a time on the trampoline. Now that’s what I call a good party; well worth the ridiculous complications of trying to get from Chiswick to Reading and back by public transport on a Sunday (I could probably have got to Stockholm quicker).

Monday I got up late, and gardened.

Tuesday I met my Mum in the West End for a Moroccan lunch and a lot of exhibition-going. An hour in the National Gallery, where the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists have been rehung with some of their other radical contemporaries from elsewhere in the world; then lunch; then to the BM for the South African wildflower landscape, “Treasures of Mediaeval York” (on loan from York Museum) and the exhibition of bronze and terracotta sculptures from the Kingdom of Ife. These last are astonishing. The show closes in early July; if you are in the London area before then, go.

Good days...

Friday, 11 June 2010

A good week so far... Good, did I say? Best!

This has been a good week; passably good weather, a party, a concert, a behind-the-scenes tour, a chance to meet a hero of mine, then the ballet tonight and another party on Sunday. And most of my French beans have come through, and my tomato plants are thriving and growing daily.

I do love getting behind-the-scenes. Yesterday, after the dress rehearsal for their evening’s concert (& it was fascinating to discover how detailed and rigourous this was), I and four other middle-aged Friends of the Philharmonia got a backstage tour of the Royal Festival Hall. Good grief, what a labyrinth. It’s as bad as the Herbarium here at Kew.

Dozens of passages and dressing rooms and storage areas are packed together, folded round the great central box of the auditorium in an amazing piece of architectural origami. The nice Friends’ co-ordinator showing us around admitted she still gets lost sometimes – and later proved it by losing the way out. We also got a chat with one of the stage managers, the chance to go on the stage (sorry if this sounds incredibly starry-eyed, but this was a huge thrill for me), and best of all we got to meet Maestro Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Who turns out to be a very sweet, rather shy guy who needed a shave, and who couldn’t have been nicer, friendlier, or more interesting. I was, as I’d feared, completely tongue-tied at first; two of the men in the party rather monopolised things, though, giving me time to go through the process of saying inwardly “be still, my beating heart” over and over, until I was fine and could participate rationally in the conversation, even under the gaze of those brilliant slate-blue eyes.

Oh, yes, I have a crush. Horsesh*t yes. I already had, but this has reinforced it. What a lovely bloke. Oh horsesh*t yes…

Well, as I’ve said before, I’m attracted to genius, and that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Married genius, in this case, so quite safe from any tendencies to embarrassing behaviour on my part.

Oddly, he turns out to be a lot taller in person than he looks on stage. I had thought (no offence meant) that the Maestro was a bit of a short-arse, but he’s about my height; at most, maybe half an inch shorter.

The evening’s concert was, as usual with my favourite orchestra, terrific. An interesting programming zeugma gave us Brahms, the ultra-classical purist, paired with Berlioz, most passionate of the early romantics. Both were played beautifully. Sergey Khatchatryan was a tremendous soloist in the Brahms Violin Concerto. I wish my father could have heard him; he would have been purring, figuratively speaking. In the second half, Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique” was as huge and dramatic and intense as it should be, and, again as it should be, a tad bonkers.

Chatting earlier about the programme, the Maestro had remarked that Brahms “would have had a fit” at finding his work played together with Berlioz. “He would have hated every note,” he said, and then went on to remark that in the early nineteenth century there used to be fist-fights in the streets between the supporters of Brahms and of Bruckner; comparing this to today, when only football seems to arouse such violent emotion, he said rather sadly that he felt it suggested classical music was now tangential to the dialectic.

It’s an interesting point; the sort of question I’d love to corner him in the pub with. Is it that classical music is now tangential, or is it that the social structures that inform that dialectic are so different now as to render direct comparison meaningless?

After all, in the nineteenth century it was completely normal for people to want to “better themselves” – a concept so loaded now with socio-political baggage that I feel unable to use it without inverted commas. The interests, activities and passions of the educated classes were once things to aspire to, whereas today the aspiration is to become yet more intensely involved with the latest pop culture, yet more post-modern in one’s outlook. The bourgeois today aspires to be (or at least to seem) less like a bourgeois, rather than more so.

To my mind the whole things is deeply tied-up with the ingrained dirt that is the British class system. But then, how does that work in other countries? How widespread is that class system? I’ve always been taught to see it as a specifically British thing, but it must have equivalents in other countries and other cultures...

And how specifically British, I wonder, is the other factor I think may be contributing to this situation – namely contemporary culture’s profound alarm in the face of sincerity? The post-modern world view is fundamentally flip. Since everything is held to be of equal value, nothing can be genuinely serious or genuinely sincere; hence anything that is is viewed as suspect, even dangerous. And classical music, even at its lightest and most upbeat, is fundamentally serious - and most of it, absolutely sincere as well. But a cultural discourse which maintains that nothing can be authentic, that everything is relative and contingent and nothing can be understood unless seen in this way, pours out mockery and bile when confronted by sincerity. It reflects, to my thinking, a deep, deep insecurity. Contemporary cultural discourse is as terrified of the real as a mediaeval atheist would secretly have been terrified of divine retribution. And as a result, as one of the characters in “Sunday in the Park with George” says, “It seems to be more and more about less and less”.

Oof, heavy stuff, Dent. Going back to the pleasure of meeting the Maestro, seeing the orchestra rehearse, visiting the Green Room and so on, I have to say it gave me one other thrill. It is so easy, watching performers of any kind doing their thing with grace and brilliance - beautifully costumed, distant, glowing under the stage lights - to fall into a childish admiration, and see them almost as demigods. Yesterday I saw the Philharmonia in street clothes, with shopping bags and cups of coffee at their feet. I heard them push themselves hard, even make mistakes, working for hours to achieve something better and finer than the last time. It all suddenly became much more about the collaborative effort of a great body of individuals, rather than some shining final product. And that is a precious extra dimension to bring to my experience of their performances.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

It's still early morning to my befuddled brain...

There are times when nothing will do but a strong black coffee. It's nearly mid-day, but I slept appallingly (no idea why) and I still feel three-quarters asleep. Tea just won't hit the spot. Sometimes you've got to have a hit of solid, onyx-coloured caffeine-heavy black coffee.

When I did get to sleep, I had a really weird dream. My mother, my stepmum and I were travelling by Space Shuttle to Southampton - for my wedding. My third wedding; in the dream-world I have been married and divorced twice. First husband's name was apparently Julian, and second husband's name was Carl. This is crazy. Julian and Carl? I have never known anyone by either of those names.

Irritatingly, I don't remember the name of Number Three, the husband-to-be! And I woke up just as I was walking into the wedding venue, so all I saw of him was his back. Bah humbug. He was not very tall - my own height at most, indeed to be frank probably a little shorter than me; he had light brown hair and perhaps unsurprisingly he was wearing a smart dark suit. Description ring any bells with anyone?!!

If I had just dreamed of getting married, I wouldn't be bugged by it; it's a bit of a cliché dream for a single woman, true, but hardly difficult to interpret. If I had just dreamed of going up in a Space Shuttle, that wouldn't bother me too much either - we were weightless at the top of our trajectory, a wonderful sensation, and it strikes me as a great metaphor for the experience of a brief total freedom from the world.

It's dreaming I've been married before - twice before - I just don't "get" that at all. What on earth can that be a metaphor for? I can even visualise them, these two ex-husbands of mine! - Julian is fair, sweet-faced and rather wet-looking, Carl is tall, dark and capable, curly-haired and rather handsome. Who or what do Julian and Carl represent?

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The last few days...

The glorious hot weather has broken thoroughly and we’ve had a lot of rain in the last couple of days, which is probably no bad thing as the soil in my little garden was as dry as dust. I haul cans of water and promise it further doses of compost come autumn, but in the meantime it is still basically London clay with a lot of stones, and it bakes hard as cement in next to no time. Mother Nature waters things a lot more effectively than I, anyway.

As for the last few days; well, “Pearl Fishers” was indeed hokum, with tumty-tum music and an inordinately silly plot even by operatic standards. Add on the fact that two of the three principals had throat infections, and the fact that my friend Alan hated it and went on about it at every opportunity, and you have a rather mixed evening. The best thing about it was the production itself, which was an intelligent and coherent updating and had a magnificent set and stage designs. Though I must admit the thought of the lovers escaping to consummate their passion soaked in petrol was a little yucky…

Saturday night, on the other hand, I went to see the programme of New Works by Royal Ballet Company Members at the Linbury Studio, and that was an out-and-out wow. I know I have a tendency to be wildly enthusiastic a lot of the time, so that sometimes anyone reading this must think everything I see is a wow! - in fact this is partly because I tend not to review things I didn’t like (just try and forget them asap), and partly because I am pretty picky about what I go to in the first place; music by A Lloyd-Webber? – I won’t bother; directed by C Bieto? – er, no, thank you; an iconoclastic and challenging production? – probably a yawn, then… But this really was an outstanding evening.

Even if some of the choreography had been dud, it would have been a treat just to see members of the Royal Ballet so very up-close-&-personal (I was in the second row, and had Thomas Whitehead’s perspiration literally flying around me at one point). There were no turkeys among the six new pieces (five premiers and an expanded version of something I saw at a gala in the winter); even the weakest piece was interesting, and tremendously well danced, and the best were downright thrilling. It’s very hard to single out highlights when standards are this high: “Hallelujah Junction” was a feast of incredible athleticism in sky-blue Star Trek uniforms; “Lieder” was a haunting pas de deux about longing and disconnection; “One Shade the More” made wonderful use of the chemistry between Steven McRae and Roberta Marquez.

I clapped so much my wrist watch stopped, which must be one of the odder tributes one can pay to a bunch of performing artists. Mind you, that said, I used to have a front-fastening bra that would come undone if I applauded hard while wearing it; I’d be clapping away madly and feel this sharp “ping” and think “oh dear, the puppies are loose”… Most embarrassing.

After that I had a lovely meal out at my local Turkish place, Lara Restaurant on Turnham Green Terrace; cold beer, tarator, which is basically tsatziki but with spinach instead of cucumber, and wonderful falafels with tabbouleh and a garlicky dip. My mouth is watering now just thinking about those falafels. I do love my grub…

Most of Sunday was taken up with gardening. I had a list of jobs that I thought would take a couple of hours, but I kept seeing more things to do, and it grew and grew until at 7 pm I was gasping as I tried to straighten my back, and the day was almost gone. Gone very satisfactorily, but gone nonetheless!

Yesterday evening we had a Work Do; a buffet and barbecue on the roof terrace of the naffly-named Inn The Park, in St James’s Park. Kew’s new caterers run this, so I think it was basically a charm-offensive; we enjoy the food, we tell enquirers the food is good, they eat and enjoy, everyone wins. Everyone would have won if it hadn’t been raining hard, but that did slightly dampen things down. Nonetheless the food was good, the wine was plentiful (and much better quality than I can normally afford), and the setting, looking out over soft green trees in the rainy dusk, was poetic in the extreme (but wet).

And on Thursday I am going to a behind-the-scenes “Meet the Philharmonia Orchestra” event before their concert at the Festival Hall; a wonderful opportunity – I like getting to see backstage pretty much anywhere. Of course I will probably go tongue-tied and be unable to think of anything sensible to say if I meet Maestro Salonen, who is conducting them that evening. But I’m hoping to have the chance to tell Andrew Smith and Peter Fry how much I always enjoy watching them at the timps.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Ear-worm boo-hiss

I still haven't got rid of Peggy Gordon. It's a sweet little comic ballad - the gist of it is "I love you, why are you pissed off with me? - All that I did was go out drinking! - and I really really love you!" - but it goes too low for my voice (not easy - according to my stepmum I'm a contra-contralto) and if I transpose it up an octave it then goes too high! So I can't even work it out of my system by singing it round the office.

Hopefully by Monday I'll have a new tune on the brain.

Have a good weekend!

I love summer

Off to “The Pearl Fishers” tonight; sounds like pure hokum, plot-wise, but ENO seem to be on something of a roll at the moment so I’m hoping it will be another musical treat. I wish Covent Garden were on a winning streak opera-wise, but I loathed their new “Aida” – all the more bitterly disappointing as it’s an opera I love, and David McVicar’s productions are usually intelligent and insightful.

I’ve been haunted for over week now by that “Tosca”. It took me a while to work out why it was suddenly so fresh and exciting – not just the terrific conducting and singing, and subtle acting, but over and above that the fact that it had been directed as if for someone who’d never seen it before and didn’t know the plot. Not once was there a reliance on cliché or on the audience already knowing what happens next; not once was a performer’s motivation “I have to do this because it says so in the stage directions”. So - Tosca tries to tell Cavaradossi how to “die properly” because she really believes his execution is going to be faked, and it soothes her nerves to remind him he isn’t an actor [sadly true of the singer in question]. And so - Scarpia clearly has every expectation of spending the next few months breaking Tosca’s spirit still further, and enjoying every minute of it, right up to the moment when she sticks him in the guts with his own letter-opener.

The opening chords have been ear-worming me for the last week, too. Last night I managed to get rid of them, finally, by the not-always desirable tactic of replacing them with something else. In this case, “Oh Peggy Gordon, you are my darling”… Oh well, one can’t win them all.

Just went out for my lunch break to eat my sandwich under a tree and take a stroll in the glorious hot sunshine. The Gardens are looking wonderful; but it’s half term, and I had to stop six times to say politely “I’m sorry to disturb you, but I’m afraid ball games/frisbees/roller skates/bicycles/scooters/tree-climbing are not allowed” to visitors who have not read the sign at the gate which reads “The following are not permitted – ball games, frisbees, roller skates, bicycles, scooters, tree climbing…”. If I have lunch indoors, I don’t have to do this embarrassing duty, but I don’t get the sun, either, or the irises, or the glorious sweet and pungent smells of a hot June day – dry grass, Escallonia myrtoides, linden blossom, acacia blossom, lavender... I love summer.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

It's been a glorious sunny day...

I had a picnic in the Gardens with some colleagues at lunch; we all sat in the sun on the grass bank beside the Slate Towers fountain, eating wholemeal bagels and hummus and tomatoes, and cake (Viv had been baking), and getting somnolent and comfy like a gang of snoozing cats. The first lindens are just coming into flower, and their sweet scent was cascading over us. I really did nearly fall asleep, after having a rotten night last night (I had eaten an entire bar of chocolate, my first chocolate in a month, and was plagued by unsavoury nightmares of crashing cars and fighting off Second Favourite Baritone's creepy Scarpia - I'm sure Mr M-M is a perfectly nice guy who goes home to kiss his kids goodnight and walk his dog, and I guess it's a compliment to how unnerving his characterisation was that I subsequently have bad dreams about it!). Anyway, I managed not to drop off to sleep in the blazing June sun... and now as I set off home it is just a tad cooler so that cycling in it will be a pleasure rather than a toil. Please, dear Lord, please you gods and little fishes, let this really be summer now!