Thursday, 31 March 2011

And there's another one gone...

I’ve just been downstairs bidding goodbye to Briskwoman, from Kew Foundation (the fundraising arm). Briskwoman is going to be missed – she’s retiring, and has put in above and beyond the call of duty, so one cannot begrudge her her retirement, but she is one of those completely direct people who aren’t afraid to call a spade a spade, and every large organisation needs a few of them. The first time I met her she scared me stiff! – which is a perfect example of why one should always be prepared to move on past a bad first impression.

Her current boss, Moustachioman, made a little speech and tried manfully to disguise a gift-wrapped Kew Gardens flowerpot as a lampshade by waving it about upside down. Everyone who retires here seems to get a flowerpot. In another twenty years, maybe I’ll get one, who knows?

The more serious part of the retirement present from her team wasn’t ready yet, but merely being told it was coming made her jaw drop. They’ve commissioned a painting by Rachel Pedder-Smith for her. In botanical art terms, this is the equivalent of being given a small Matisse.

Happy retirement, Briskwoman, and go well! – you’ve deserved it.

Anyway, I’ve said goodbye and had a glass of Cava and rather more cake and strawberries than were good for me, and come back to the office to print off some letters which I’ll get into the post tomorrow, and now I’m off home, into the bouncy-breezed evening. Sunshine and wind and wild banks of dark cloud are dancing by outside; Mad March weather indeed.

I’m not quite sure why, but I have been fearfully tired this week – the clocks going forward last Sunday seem to have thrown me rather. What a wimp, eh?! At least now it is officially spring. The Gardens are full of early cherry blossom, though this wind will be playing havoc with it, and outside the Orangery is a carpet of Chionodoxa siehei in flower, like cobalt blue paint spilled across the grass. And the air smells sweet, of petals and honey and the first grass-mowing of the year. Spring is heaven.

Monday, 28 March 2011


... crikey and ooof.

I'd really like a quiet week now, please, Lord? Would be really grateful if that could happen... Just peace and quiet, and my insides behaving themselves.

The week before last was hectic at work. Then last week went haywire after I went crashing & splattering down with a second attack of the celebrated winter vomiting bug first thing Thursday morning. Twice in six weeks, boo hiss.

This is not a pretty illness; thank goodness it passes fairly quickly, even if it does leave you washed out and low-spirited for a few days. It is simply astonishing to a puke-antipathist like me to think that there are people in this world who advocate starting every day with a good spew (if you don't believe me, ask Bruce Parry). Clearly I wouldn't last a week in the GRHP-green Amazon.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Good things today

It’s turned windy, but the sun is shining.

I had a very nice lunch of cheese and tomato salad and rye crispbread.

The first flowers are opening on the myrobalans, and their sweet honey-and-clean-skin scent is filling the air.

And last night I finished the revision of “Ramundi’s Sisters”.

It’s been sticky going, as the final scene had to be totally re-written from scratch. I’m still not entirely sure it works, so I have to treat that last scene as “first draft” level, when the remainder is now at “third revision” level. This is a bit frustrating, to say the least, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t really right yet. But it’s a lot better than the original, which was a really bad example of characters pushed into actions that served the plot with no regard for what would be natural to the characters themselves.

Anyway, it’s nearer to done than it’s been in a long time. Now I’ll sit on it for a few weeks and then try to give it a first revision all of its own.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Alice in wonderful-land

Last night I went to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, Christopher Wheeldon’s new two-act ballet at the Royal Opera House. It was something like the third performance – but then, they are only doing six. My mum is gnashing her teeth, as there were no matinees, and she would have loved to see it. Now I’ll be going to see her this weekend and I’m afraid I’ll ratchet her frustration up a notch - because she’s bound to ask how “Alice” went, and I’ll have to be honest. “Alice” is brilliant.

It’s mad, too, of course, but then “Alice in Wonderland” ought to be. It's very funny and great fun. It has amazing design and staging, looks stunning, and manages to graft a moderately logical story onto Carroll’s original tale without crippling it in the process. And it is packed with lovely, expressive, true classical dance. Mr Wheeldon can feel very, very proud of himself; he’s given the Company an out-and-out winner. This should stay in the repertoire for a long time, or I’ll eat my hat.

The design is a major element, it’s true, possibly more so than in an older, more established piece. It’s hard to imagine the Cheshire Cat sequences, for example, being done with other designs – but then, if it is a success and supposing another company wants to acquire it into their repertoire in ten years time, Mr Wheeldon will still be a young fella then, and can tweak things if necessary to accommodate a different designer’s vision. In the meantime, well, Covent Garden has the technical facilities to do something that requires complicated sets, multiple drop curtains, forward and back projections, marionettes and butoh-style puppetry and so forth, so why shouldn’t they use what they’ve got? Just as they have the means, in casting terms, to fill the stage to the brim with dancers (looking at the curtain call I was thinking “good grief, am I dreaming or is practically everyone in the Company on stage right now?”) and to field performers of the calibre of Sarah Lamb, Federico Bonelli and Tamara Rojo as the second cast…

I don’t want to just write a string of superlatives (I think I do too much of that as it is), so I’ll shut up now and finish by saying, if you possibly can, get a day ticket for one of the three remaining performances next week. You won’t regret it.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Steady, there we are, nearly home...

I'm really tired today after another late night typing. I've nearly licked the re-write of the last chapter of "Ramundi's Sisters". It's proving to be tricky going, but I need to get it right - it was all so wrong to start with, it was embarrassing. I've had to scrap a large chunk completely and start again from scratch. But I'm onto the home straight and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and all the other clichés - gathered at the end of the road, cheering me on. Nearly home...

I really want to get this sorted out because I've started on something else, too (as well as the two projects on the go, plus the back burner project). I was reminded recently of some short stories I started a few years ago and abandoned (because the linking structure was derivative drivel and proverbial pants). I looked them up and found my notes for another one, and suddenly saw how it would go better than the original plan; and it took off.

Rah, there's nothing like having a story straining at the leash! I love it when my creativity flows like that. And when it does, I've learned I need to go with it as much as possible (given the constraints of normal life). The energy of the Muses is an erratic one, it flows at unexpected intervals; like the Nailbourne, only not made of water and not in Kent.

I promise to get the Ramundis sorted out soon. They deserve it; they've been very patient.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Wagner at the weekend

Parsifal was pretty mind-blowing. Bum-numbing, too, of course, but I didn’t really mind as the music was so good.

I’m not entirely sure, with hindsight, that I ever had a clue what the production was trying to say, but there were a lot of striking stage pictures and musically things were absolutley top notch. My admiration for Stuart Skelton went up another level as he threw himself heart and soul (and frequently bodily as well) into things, armed with that huge and incredibly beautiful voice of his. To maintain such immense beauty even at that scale of volume is astonishing. To play a gawky boy when you are six-foot-odd and built like a - well, like a Wagnerian tenor - is pretty impressive too.

Iain Paterson’s Amfortas was searing and John Tomlinson’s Gurnemanz an anguished, patient, saintly figure - and vocally amazing, especially considering he must be well into his sixties. The three of them made the Kundry pale a little into the background at first, though she fought back. The orchestral playing was shattering.

I just wish I’d known want the heck the director was trying to say. I don’t have a problem with non-traditional productions; but I want them to be coherent; and this wasn’t.