Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday 28 February 2010

From the sublime...

What to do with an impromptu day off? Just lazing around with the newspaper seemed too much like any weekend, so eventually I took myself into town to look at the National Gallery, where I haven't been for years. It took a TV programme to alert me to this treasure in the Gallery, the Wilton Diptych. Just another reminder of how little one takes advantage of all the things available to Londoners.

And when due respect had been paid to that, and Rembrandt and the Dutch painters, what then? I finally set about an idea I've had for some time, to get a turntable that will play 78s, with a view to digitising the shelves full of family inheritances and junkshop acquisitions from decades ago. I had it down for a retirement project, but who knows how long it will be before suitable turntables are no longer made?

So I spent most of a wet weekend getting to grips with records I'd almost forgotten about, and learning the limitations, not only of technology, but also of my patience in getting the best out of it. For some prized old recordings, I might make the effort to try to suppress the worst of the hiss and clicks (though come to think of it, the really great old performances have probably all been professionally done and put on CD years ago). For others, it seems only too appropriate to hear them as though they were ghosts dimly perceptible through the aural fog of decades. This, by the way, is from a record (possibly from 1910) of Maritana, in mid-Victorian times a hugely popular opera (be warned, I think I sense a theme coming on for future posts):

Sunday 21 February 2010

A night at the opera

It's one of those commonplaces that people who live in a city too rarely take advantage of all the things it has to offer: it's too easy to follow the same old rat-runs to and from work and the couch in front of the telly.

But on a whim, from reading a rave review, I found it took only a handful of mouse-clicks to look up availability, choose a seat and pay for it. Which is how I came to spend Thursday evening in the over-the-top gilding of the Coliseum watching a drama of love across the chasm of family feuds, marriage by trickery, madness, murder and suicide. Just like EastEnders, but with better singing.

I could quibble about some of the production details: this style of opera tends to make everything stop for the Big Numbers, so in the wedding scene, the man who knows his bride has been offered for political reasons and suspects she might not be too willing, only to find the long-disappeared rival bursting in at the crucial moment, is given next to nothing to do for quite some time (I don't think that would happen down Walford way).

It can't be easy to find a suitably non-speaking way to have everyone else make "Corblimey, whatever next?" faces and movements through ten minutes or so of arias. To cover it, the principals seemed to be doing rather too much climbing on the furniture for no apparent reason; and at one point one of them was made to do the exact opposite of what the words said.

It was also over-egging it a bit to imply that Lucia's brother had some sort of suppressed incestuous passion for her, rather than just being the standard domestic tyrant. But I did like the way they managed to suggest that both the brother and the forbidden lover were, in their own way, not much further away from impetuous adolescence than the heroine. And there was a very impressive thunderstorm.

All that said, the heart of it all was Lucia's plight, and the beautifully convincing performance by Anna Christy. You can't but be moved at how, for once, the tour de force coloratura singing actually serves the psychology of Lucia's final fantasy. Here's Natalie Dessay, one of the current stars in the role:

Thursday 18 February 2010


An email from "Mimetic Gillespie" (one of a silent order of Gillespies, I assume) offers me an "Often updated sugary original archive" - not something I encountered in my classes on records management, I have to say.

Reading (not much) further on, I discover that it is an archive of a lady from Port Stanley (who knew they could be so adventurous in the Falklands? You'd think the wind would make it inadvisable) displaying what are apparently now called (if I am to believe a rather shouty Chinese gentleman I've seen on the televisual apparatus) her "bangers".

Later in the day, there's something similar from "Objector Prescott" (surely not our former Deputy Prime Minister?!).


Thursday 11 February 2010

Ive discovered a new gauge of temperature...

Cold enough to be glad there's some ironing to be done.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Move over, Maragarita Pracatan....

I've been reading through the blog of an old friend who's retired from the US to Mexico. Much of what he's experienced sounds familiar to anyone who's visited a Mediterranean country or watched one of those TV series following people who move to another country (though they seem to concentrate on people who make "good television" by being - totally the opposite of my friend - hopelessly unrealistic and unprepared). But it's always interesting to read about the cultural adaptations of such a big move.

And if I hadn't, I would never have found out about a lady who seems to be something of a Fanny Cradock of the castanets, and has managed to clack her way into decades of diva-dom.

Take it away, Sonia!

Sunday 7 February 2010

Back in the saddle

One good thing about cycling (as I'm rediscovering, the weather having turned a little more conducive recently) is that you don't (well, I don't) go so fast as to miss all sorts of quirks and curiosities, and (with due care and attention to other road users, of course) you can stop and investigate.

That's how, instead of sailing past All Hallows by the Tower, I came to put my head inside. The church may have been empty of visitors, but it's certainly full of memorabilia of its associations - mariners (a poignant memorial book listing people lost at sea, as recently as the last few years), famous Americans (Penn, and one of the Adamses married here) and Toc H, a community foundation growing out of a solder's rest and recuperation centre in World War I, founded by a former vicar) - and in the crypt, a room-size expanse of tesselated floor from a house that stood here in Roman times. It's that sense of sudden connection to generations past that is so beguiling: like uncovering old newspapers and photographs forgotten at the bottom of a cupboard, but on a millennial scale.

The City of London is fertile ground for checking out curiosities, since it's still full of by-ways and semi-hidden alleys, and on a Saturday afternoon, it's possible to do a U-turn across Cannon Street or Ludgate Hill with barely a vehicle in sight. Items like this, tucked away by the Stationer's Hall, will make another contribution to a Facebook group I belong to, "The London You Don't Know".

The sun having decided at last to make a comeback, St Paul's (recently cleaned once again) was looking particularly imposing; but more striking still was the way the low late afternoon sun can make stained glass shine from the inside of a building out - here at St Mary's in the middle of the traffic in the Strand:

And the final quirk of the afternoon was that, as I passed All Hallows on the way home, the bells began to ring, not a peal, but a carillon, and, of all unlikely things, this tune I remember from childhood:

Monday 1 February 2010

It's not about the toys, it's about the spin-off merchandising....

What a coincidence that my superficial thoughts on e-books and readers came just before the hooha about Apple's new iPad device. It all looks as slick as other Apple products, but if it is indeed the case that it won't multitask (no listening to music while you read?) it sounds like a first attempt rather than a finished product.

The meat of it seems to be not so much what the device will do as another attempt to set up a "walled garden" to supply content. On which topic, some recent goings-on at Amazon are of interest.

It all seems to add up to another good reason not to commit oneself (not that I ever need an excuse for that).