Friday, 27 August 2010

Fascinating and funny...

I was trying to track down a violinist I once (many, many moons ago) shared a house with - and I think I've found her, teaching music and running the string orchestra at a German secondary school, which is pleasing as when we lost touch she was resigning herself to having to give up the fiddle altogether and getting a sensible office job. Bravo, Beaney, I'm so pleased you got back your mojo and your strings!

On the way to finding her, though, I also found this.

Which is irrelevent to my long-lost friend, but fascinating and funny - and oh, how many instances of this I have seen over the years!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Pick-of-the-Proms, and romantic comedies...

There were seven concerts I wanted to go to in this year’s BBC Proms season. Two were sold out by the time I came to book, and one clashed with a previous arrangement. I was able to get tickets for the other four, though. As an experiment, I had seats in different parts of the hall for each concert; this was interesting, and useful, though of course putting what I’ve learned into use next year will still depend on availability of seats.

My first Prom was “Meistersinger”. I like “Meistersinger” although it is five hours plus of bum-numbing Wagner; because it has buckets of thrilling music, because unlike most of his work it has a happy ending, and because I have played in the overture (& I still know the triangle part!). I had a seat to the side of the gallery, with a fair view and pretty good sound, and despite the heat it was a good afternoon.

My second Prom was number 32; Tchaikovsky, Janacek and Berlioz. I went with my stepmother Jane and we sat in the choir stalls. The sound is surprisingly good from here, though of course it is off-balance. Jane is used to this, as she plays regularly in an orchestra herself. I’m less adapted to it, as I haven't done so for years, but I also have a less-sensitive ear. We were right above the percussion section, with a splendid view of them and of everyone else except Maxim Rysanov. Recommended if you like watching the conductor (which I like to do occasionally) and don’t mind being blown out of your seat when the timpani let rip (not a problem for someone whose Dad was a timpanist), and of course provided you don’t have a crush on a string soloist.

Third Prom was Lugansky playing the Rachmaninov “Rhapsody”, reviewed last week. For this I was right at the back centre of the gallery. Seats here sell out ahead of the sides of the gallery, but my feeling was that the sound was worse - small and a bit muzzy - and the view awful. The back of the gallery is great, sound-wise, in the Festival Hall and the Barbican Hall, and even in Canterbury Cathedral (most of which has bl**dy lousy acoustics). Not so at the Royal Albert Hall. I have a bit of an “I-love-you” thing about Nikolai Lugansky and I’m sorry I wasn’t a scrap closer to him; it’s amazing just how far away the gallery is from the stage, in that huge building. It’s like trying to see the action from the back row of the Colosseum (NB not the Coliseum – where the cheap seats have surprisingly good sightlines).

My fourth and final Prom was on Friday, and it was easily the best. Of course, it was my favourite orchestra and my favourite maestro, so there is a remote possibility I was prejudiced... I’d splashed out on a seat in the side stalls for this. For me, that gave the best of both worlds; close enough to give me crisp, clear sound and a really good view, but far enough back that I wasn’t swamped by one section of the orchestra. It was a terrific concert.

It’s available on BBC iPlayer, at least for the next few days; sadly iPlayer slots only seem to last a week. The four pieces were well-matched; the Mosolov thrillingly hot stuff, the Pärt symphony haunting, tensely meditative and melancholy, the Ravel a jazzy treat. The final piece, Scriabin’s “Poem of Ecstasy”, which I didn't know before, absolutely blew me away. And Esa-Pekka Salonen was simply wonderful. Do have a look and a listen if you have the time (you can fast forward, in a rough-and-ready manner, to get through the applause and the talking-head presenter). I know I am a creature of crushes, and very boring it must get listening to me rave about them, but honestly; watch the Maestro, and marvel. Now that is one brilliant guy, and a damned attractive one too. And it is corking good music.

I had a constructive weekend afterwards. I got several small irritating jobs done - like retuning my television, which I’ve been meaning to do for months, and mending the handle of my nail scissors. I did a lot of gardening, bought my spring bulbs and made another batch of jam (strawberry and blackberry – oh yes, it’s good!). But I slept badly and had weird dreams on both Friday and Saturday night. On Friday it made sense; I was hyped-up after the concert, fizzing with energy after the magnificence of the Scriabin, and couldn’t shake the mental image of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s honey-and-silver hair and elvish smile, and his marvellous energy.

But Saturday puzzles me; I’d had a good, busy day, spent plenty of time outdoors in the fresh air, and had a very nice supper of home-cooked fasoladha and roasted squash with feta cheese. Then I dreamed that someone I was at college with had gone to live on the island of Hvar in Croatia and got in trouble. I woke up and said to myself “It’s just a dream”, got back to sleep – and had the same dream again. Creepy.

Last night I really wanted a relaxed, no-need-to-think evening. I cooked a dead-simple supper of pasta, veg and tuna, and sat down and watched tele. So I’m a slob. I ended up with a film called “Sweet Home Alabama”, which I’d heard was a good straightforward romantic comedy. It starred Reese Witherspoon, who is such a delight in the first “Legally Blonde” film (& is so badly let-down in the second by a truly dire plot and script). It didn’t look too intellectually taxing, which was fine, as I wanted fun, not intellect. I have plenty of opera and classic French art movies on dvd if I want to be intellectual.

But it just didn’t work for me. I didn’t really like any of the characters. I felt the heroine was silly, shallow and mean, and so was the husband she had fled from. There was no explanation of why their marriage hadn’t worked, beyond a nasty story about him throwing up at the wedding. I have no doubt that that would be vile, and infuriating – but grounds for separation? Not among grown-ups, I hope. The man who wants to marry the heroine seemed far too old-fashionedly decent and nice to be in love with her. It just – didn’t work. I gave up about halfway through, so I may have missed the moment when suddenly it all came together. But I don’t want to have to sit with a film for over an hour without a single character getting my sympathy.

It’s funny what works and what doesn’t, in films, tv, fiction, you name it. I guess it’s partly a matter of taste. Comedy is such a personal thing, too; and romantic comedy must be particularly hard to write and to play. I loved “Legally Blonde”, I enjoyed “Maid in Manhattan” and “Pretty Woman” – and the latter is about as air-headed a fantasy as they come – and “While you were Sleeping”, and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, and “Practical Magic” and “Hitch” and “Mystic Pizza” and “Moonstruck” and “Groundhog Day”… So I know I am perfectly capable of sitting down with a chocolate box Girls’ Night-type movie and enjoying it for exactly what it is. I just wish I’d had one last night.

At least I slept okay afterwards; and no bad dreams. But no lovely orchestral ones, either.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

I am officially in love...

...with Nikolai Lugansky.

At last night's Prom he was playing the "Paganini Rhapsody", looking elegant and cool despite the sweltering heat inside the Royal Albert Hall. His playing was delicate and passionate; carrying one away on the swooningly romantic Big Tune, then dancing gleefully in the spikier, more percussive fast episodes; mad and manic, solomn and magnificent, soft and rueful at the end... It was real hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff, utterly, utterly gorgeous. Like Mr Lugansky himself.

A pity the second half was a bit rum-ti-tum; a Tchaikovsky suite that would have made a good final act to a happy-endinged ballet. The finale would be perfect stuff for an OTT Grand Pas de Deux, with lots of tricky balances and big one-handed lifts, a show-off variation for the bloke and something with fish dives to finish off with. Perhaps to tag on to one of those weird (to my eyes) Russian "Swan Lake"s with the happy ending? I know one is prejudiced by background in these things, but I always find the happy-end "Swan Lake" versions jarring... The music is so melancholy in its triumph, so luminously, tearfully transcendant, that I can't match it to Odette's sudden reappearance in a hastily-thrown-on pink frock and happy-bride smile...

For those who aren't mild balletomanes, by the way, that link shows the great Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo, at the end of a fish dive; ten seconds before that picture was taken, Ms Rojo will have been above Mr Acosta's head, probably balanced by him on one hand. If they both look just a trifle stern, that's why - they've just executed a complicated and rather dangerous manouevre. In another fraction of a second they would both have dazzling smiles on their faces again, but this picture captures the split second thought of "Is this going to hold?" any sane person would have if they were doing this. For comparison, here are two stars of ABT, also looking more determined than smiley, and here is Alina Cojocaru and another chap from ABT, also looking slightly worried. It seems to be a move that gets to everyone, even the greats.

Haven't been able to find a picture of Marianela Nuñez, she of the 1000-watt smile, doing a fish dive. It's hard to imagine anything making her frown, mind you.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Back to work

Last week I saw a shooting star; a Perseid, despite the urban light pollution and the hazy night! But I am feeling a bit withdrawn, and I’d much rather be at home again today. I had a very quiet weekend; read a lot, did some mending, and made five pounds of greengage jam. The rain kept me indoors a lot more than I’d planned (I got soaked on Saturday carrying my groceries home). I've finished A S Byatt’s “The Children’s Book” (terrific, but terribly sad) and am about halfway through re-reading “The Count of Monte Cristo” (which is terrific, too, but of course in a completely different way from the Byatt). Sometimes it’s good to have a really quiet patch, though; sometimes soul and body require it of one.

Back at work now, anyway; but still so tired that I’ll probably have an early night again. I want an easy supper and a good night’s sleep and a quiet day tomorrow.

Friday, 13 August 2010

TGI...'s Friday. Yay, friday night...

I don't know why, but I have been really tired all day. Two coffees and a lot of teas, and still I am yawning. I feel about sixty; quite ready for retirement.

One bug-some thing; I bumped into Mr. Marinated Artichokes during my lunch hour and he frowned at me and didn't speak to me. Bother; have I been getting fresh without meaning to? I haven't told him I dreamed about him (I do have some common sense!). I should hate to lose a good professional working relationship with someone I respect and who until now have always got on with. Rats.

At least the rain seems to have stopped for the moment. I'm going home; hoping for a good weekend and that Mr. M. Artichokes has just been having a busy day and wasn't even thinking about me. I over-analyse these things, always have. Let be and let go, Imogen; and go home.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

First signs of autumn

It's odd; the newspapers and the BBC are saying all the signs are that this will be a late autumn; yet everything I have observed suggests the opposite. A straw poll around the office (very unscientific, I know) produced similar thoughts to mine. Everyone has seen prematurely yellowing leaves, early blackberries and plums, and so on. This morning there was heavy, sparkling dew on the long grass, and for the first time this year I saw cobwebs covered with dewdrops, too.

I've noticed that the first blackberry-gathering expedition has got steadily earlier - when I was a kid it was a September activity, about ten years ago I remember picking blackberries on my mother's birthday in late August for the first time; now I am planning a session this coming weekend.

But this year, the official version disagrees with my amateur phenological observations. No matter; I know what I've seen. They look like good blackberries, too.

Not much else going on; chugging along at work, which is steadily busy at this time of year; a terrific Prom on Monday with the gorgeously (& most appropriately) Byronic Maxim Rysanov doing a lovely job of the delicate and difficult solo part in "Harold in Italy"; nothing yet from the first literary agent I sent "GY" to; and I've had my first courgettes, runner beans and french beans from the garden, but no tomatoes as yet.

And I've had some more bizarre horoscopes. Yesterday, a long-lost beloved was meant to come back into my life, a changed character. I must admit to being pretty relieved that this didn't happen. I'm honestly not too sure I'd want some of my past best-beloveds back. With the benefit of hindsight, I have usually ended up thinking "Thank goodness that didn't work out the way I wanted it to!", about a year after a relationship has ended.

Today, I'm meant to have a chance to make a romantic connection with karmic overtones. Oh, my!...

Monday, 9 August 2010

Peace and quiet and open air...

I had a wonderful weekend. I went to see my mother. She’s having some health problems and I was afraid she’d be depressed and hard to cheer up, but I found her quite buoyant, working hard on seeing her glass as half full and not letting herself worry about things she can’t control. We had a pleasant lunch out on Saturday, did a giant general knowledge quizz (nicely tough) in the afternoon, and spent most of Sunday sitting in her back garden in companionable quietness, reading and drinking cups of tea.

Sunday was a bright day, sunny but not too hot, and the garden was full of the hum of bees and the flutter of birds’ wings in the trees. Dozens of butterflies, gatekeepers and small whites, tortoiseshells and red admirals, were looping about between the fennel plants and lavenders and the last, spicy-scented Frau Dagmar roses. Goldfinches flitted about in the cypresses, chirruping constantly to one another, and the thrushes came down to the terrace steps to bash their snails, and paused to give us the leery eye, and went on bashing. A lawn mower buzzed a few gardens away. Flying ants were climbing up grass stalks and launching themselves, and a handful of gulls soared high overhead, picking them off. At about four pm a blackbird began to sing in the top of a neighbour’s apple tree. Then at about five thirty the man in the house at the far end came into his garden and began to do his accordion practice, adding a layer of soft, sweet folk music in the distance.

It was one of those days of simple magic, a day that just is; when one steps aside from the bustle of busy life and mental chaff, and the strong and gentle stuff of a deeper reality comes in at every pore and through every sense. Whatever one conceives the divine to be, he, she or it is intensely present on such days and in such places.

The air was warm, perfumed with the old roses and the resinous pungency of herbs and conifer needles. The birds chattered and sang and the breeze murmured, but there was no traffic, there were no aircraft going over, no trains passing. It could not have been more different from my dear, but very noisy, little bit of London garden, hard up against the embankment of the District Line, and half a mile from the Heathrow flight path.

I do love my bit of Chiswick garden, though, despite the fact it isn’t a patch on mum’s huge and peaceful haven of towering green and crowding life. I love my local birds, though I can’t afford to keep four different birdfeeders all topped up (she has fat balls, sunflower seed, peanuts and niger seed; a veritable birds’ deli counter). I love my lavenders, though they are a fraction the size of hers, and my very ordinary lobelias and pansies and petunias, and the urban fox cubs scuttling among the buddleias along the railway line and yipping at one another in the dusk… It isn’t the home of my heart, I know, but it is home, and I have dearly loved having the caring of it for this time.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Horoscope madness

My horoscope for today just popped into my inbox. This just may be the weirdest horoscope I've ever had...

"Is your wandering honey in Southern California, or are they off playing music or dancing, maybe on a journey of scientific discovery? Tonight or tomorrow could be a day to call or text them to remind them that you're there for them. It can't hurt. Meanwhile, back at the office, you can apply your hard-earned skills to really fire someone up, maybe even someone attractive. Swim into the depths with them a bit and see what happens. As Sag well knows, you can be loyal and have the fun of flirtation at the same time."

Come again? Am I really being urged to go out and get myself into an office flirtation? That's the most blatant bit of "advice" I've ever had in a horoscope. More fool me, I guess, for never having gotten around to cancelling it. Now, of course, my mind is boggling with imaginary scenarios involving falling in the big tropical pool in the Waterlily House and being rescued by the lovely Wes Shaw, or the ever patient Phil Griffiths... I'll end up with another crop of wild dreams at this rate. Good grief. Down, girl!

I don't have a honey, wandering or otherwise, so at least the first bit doesn't apply by any stretch of the imagination. Thank heavens for small mercies.

I was in the Waterlily House in my lunch break; it is looking stunning at the moment, with a marvellous display of Nymphaea species, mimosa and hibiscus everywhere, and great baskets of Aristolochias hanging from the ceiling. It would be criminal to fall in the pool at the moment. I might break a Victoria cruziana!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Rain to come?, pt 2

No rain, as yet, though the BBC are now promising it. It seems I am just achey anyway.

I wish it would rain. As I've just been emailing to Piia, Kew Green, outside my office window, should be renamed Kew Brown at the moment. We need rain. At the moment it is a coolish day, though the humidity is still high enough to be uncomfortable. Please, please, send us some rain!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Rain to come?

My wrist is aching - it has been all morning. I hope it isn't going to rain - I've left a line of washing out, on the say-so of the BBC that today would be sunny!

Come to think of it, I hope I'm not going to have a weather-monitor wrist. I don't want to ache in damp weather - that could make the British winter a pretty uncomfortable time.

Kew Green is full of schoolboys playing cricket - slightly chaotic catching practice at the moment. Gentle Lammas-tide weather so far; cloudy sky, fluffy green trees, and the Green itself burnt to dusty brown by the summer heat and drought. Into August already; my goodness, the year is whizzing by...

Monday, 2 August 2010

Merciful Monday

It's quiet. A quiet Monday, thank heavens. I've had a busy weekend; theatre, groceries/cleaning/washing etc and other domestic stuff, and a full day showing an old friend all over Kew. Have just been forwarding some of her ecstatic comments to the people in charge of the sections in question - she loved the Gardens and was so complimentary I just had to pass the pleasure on. But we walked a great deal on a very muggy, sticky day, and I am pretty tired today, so very grateful that it's not a busy Monday at work but a quiet one.