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Music to my Ears..

28 Apr

Two star-crossed lovers in a novel I read recently shared their ‘moments of beauty’ each day while their flame of passion burned. It was their way of rescuing something fine and untainted from the carnage of the dead and broken. They drove blood-drenched ambulances from the battlefields of Northern France during WWI. Cows canoodling in the sunshine, unaware of man’s inhumanity; a child’s song coming from a farmhouse; a hot bath; silence.

I woke this morning to more news about the Hillsborough verdict fallout. A woman said that the rest of the country was against them. That wasn’t true. The Sun maybe; the South Yorkshire police hierarchy maybe. Perhaps a siege-mentality was needed to keep the great fight going all these years. I admire the fortitude and bravery of the families and the wider Liverpudlian community. But they didn’t walk alone.

I was intrigued by the news that we are going to scrap what Cuba owes us and, what’s more, give them £350million for unspecified ‘good works’ to boost their economy. Hmm. Methinks the Yanks have been pressing our buttons. I’ll ask my economist friends what all this is about.

Further scans of the news brought no moments of beauty. Much news is shabby stuff. Edginess, controversy, scandal, disaster and death prevail. A Muslim MP is anti-Semitic. A cycling guru calls disabled bikers ‘gimps’. Greedy entrepreneurs raid BHS pension pots. I needed some beauty. I turned on radio 2.

Now my relationship with music compares, I am sure, with plenty of my generation of 50s children. Buying singles of the Beatles and Dusty Springfield were rare pocket-money treats. Pop music was in short supply and the BBC struggled to find airspace. Radio Luxembourg filed the black hole and I gobbled up whatever was on offer for the first three decades of my life. And then I stopped. Life, work, children, TV…I’m not quite sure what really got in the way but my encyclopaediac knowledge finished around 1978. I can identify my children’s music (80s/90s) – but only the stuff that blared from their bedrooms. Naturally I couldn’t make out the words but the creeping realisation that much of it was very good sat uneasily with my stance that the 60s couldn’t be bettered. And so I am sad that too much great music has flowed under my bridge and I have let it go downstream without a thought. I do have my old-man modern favourites (Coldplay, Keane, Killers…you know the type) but I’m a CD in the car man and tend to watch Newsnight rather than relax in the arms of Ed Sheeran. You know what I mean.

Ken Bruce played Sounds of Silence by Disturbed, the record of the week. I was transfixed, transported. It’s a beautifully chilling cover of the great Simon and Garfunkel classic. I sat very quietly. Uplifted. Disturbed. I listened on and Peter Skellern was singing You’re a Lady; I’m a Man. Nostalgia. I went to the radio 2 website to check on the BBC Folk awards and found myself watching Rufus Wainwright ‘s tribute to Sandy Denny – a gentle, mesmerising performance of Who Knows Where the Time Goes. He looked like a young, gently rolling Joe Cocker – and, along with the audience, I was spellbound.

Who knows where the time goes? Indeed. Music and Beauty. Made my day.

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Hear, Hear!

31 Jul

The call of agreement with a point well-made is common in debating chambers, pretentious though it may be. More annoying is the smarmy I hear what you are saying.. to indicate a more profound understanding. Annoying really when Yes would do. In both examples listening is actually more important than hearing.

Hearing, listening and understanding are my themes. Yesterday I welcomed a new neighbour. She introduced herself and three children. I heard names but forgot to listen and as the conversation progressed I realised that I had lost those names. Embarrassed, I asked Emma to reintroduce herself.

I don’t much like meeting new people. I know plenty already. When I am forced to engage with an unknown, I am so often faced with someone whose idea of listening is to latch on to the conversational theme and butt in as soon as possible with some long, dull story about him/herself (or interminable stories about children and grandchildren). These boring narcissists lurk everywhere; plenty of my friends have similar tendencies but I forgive old buddies as they have bought me beer. I flatter myself that I am quite interested in what other people have to say but the art of listening seems in a precarious state these days as self-obsession runs riot. Would that we could fit a vibrating boring-alert on dullards which would trigger silence or possibly the exciting enquiry: My round! What are we having?

I have always enjoyed the oral and aural quality of poems. Rhyme, assonance, the combination of sounds that poets use rather deliberately to hit or caress the ear and enlarge the experience of reading the poem. Meaning becomes three-dimensional. Sound, vision – indeed all the senses. I was musing on this when I read the first few poems from Both Brittle and Beautiful, a new volume of poetry by my very old chum, John Trotman. It’s a meaty, full-value book of 60 poems, public and personal, nostalgic and modern, thought-provoking and witty, traditional and experimental by turns. Now I‘ve plugged it, I’ll come to the point. The poetry is wonderfully aural. Read, hear, listen, picture, reflect. Poetry could do with Bang and Olufsen speakers.

These days I seem not to be able to hear much in public places, even though I have wax-free drums. Why is it that important announcements in railway stations and trains, airports and planes are rendered inaudible by a vast range of factors?

Bang and Olufsen have clearly not got the contracts for departure lounges the world over; nor for any onboard PA system. So the world’s most sophisticated travel-machines loaded with extraordinary technical kit, have the amps and speakers of the Dansette that used to crackle out my Beatles singles in the 1960s.

If you’re munching a breakfast croissant at Jamie’s Italian in Gatwick North, you must stop masticating when the jingle presaging an announcement alerts. Any head-noise will severely limit your chances of receiving vital flight info. Luckily Jamie has installed updating information screens all around his cool Italiana pad. He clearly knows that quality audio isn’t going to hit our travel hubs any time soon.

And then you’re heading for the gate. If it’s a budget job the gate-lounge is bound to be Dansette-audio. Who can tell if Speedy Boarders, the aged, disabled or family groups – or the rest of us -are being called? The announcer’s accent and machine-gun delivery speed distorts the already distorted. And of course there is the lemming-like need for all Brits to get up at once and queue.

Once on board and sucking boiled sweets like mad to ensure the airwaves remain open, the flight attendant in charge of the cabin crew seems to have been selected on the basis of the impenetrable accent richter scale. Speed seems to be of the essence too. It’s an unhappy marriage. At least we can look forward to the calming welcome of our captain. Then we realise that the Airbus 370’s speakers are more than a match for the cool tones of Captain Peter Thompson from West Sussex. No wonder he and his first officer barely attempt another announcement. It’s embarrassing. His own sound system at home is, of course, B and O – and speaking into the Airbus PA gives him tinnitus.

Back on land and a trip on British Rail (is it?) does little to ameliorate the aural discontent. Again the combination of speed and sound is a toxic one – on platform or onboard my Thameslink pod. At Wimbledon station competing announcements on platforms 7 and 9 send commuters into an ear-hugging fit of frenzy. Then there’s the added nuisance of the driver explaining the reason we have stopped for ten seconds. I hear snatches…Sorry…red li…soon....but we are on our way before clarity is established. I read another Trotman poem and look out of the window. I check my fellow passengers. Most are plugged into their Ipods.

Bet the speakers are good.

Memento of Sorrento – 1

22 Jan

There is a romance about Italy that neither Spain nor France manages. The Italians don’t do as they are told; they’re charmingly corrupt and inefficient but steeped in a love of music and art and food and wine. They seem to sense that civilisation began somewhere near Rome, way, way back when.

The Italians are not proud of Silvio Berlusconi or the trash which lines the streets of Naples or Mussolini or the Mafia…but they smile knowingly if others try to take the higher moral ground. Let him who is without sin…Having already enjoyed the fantasies of childhood holidays in Diano Marina, the misted hills of Tuscany, the brilliance of Venice, Padua, Verona, Pisa…the lakes – I continued my love affair in the Spring of 2014 with a trip to Sorrento.

What follows is a diarised account which, I hope, captures the whole experience of travel and not just the sexy Italians doing what they do best – crashing cars and ogling women.

************

Dragging ourselves out of bed at 3.30a.m. is one of the questionable pleasures of cheapskate package tours. Thomson’s slot on the runway at Gatwick was 6.15 so a quick slurp of tea and we were on the road with that slightly fluey feeling you get when your body is reacting to the Godforsaken hour. We saw no other cars along the A 217 until we neared the M25 at Reigate. Then the London orbital woke us up and we were at the Gatwick Summer Parking Check-in in a trice. A group of early risers huddled on to the Airport bus. They were panicking. Only 15 minutes till check-in closed. A mother was chatting about her daughter needing 3 As for Bristol University. She should get them easily. Easily?! I thought – bloody grade inflation. In my day you were a genius if you got 3 As. Now it’s the requirement for Media Studies.

The Thomson check-in was all efficiency and smiles. Then security. There was some guy complaining about his hand luggage being searched. I wanted to say that that’s what security is all about but my attention was grabbed by a tiny child setting the bleepers off for no apparent reason. His little shoes were taken off for further examination with parents looking bewildered. More weird was the ageing English couple who complained they didn’t know that they couldn’t take a litre of vodka and a similar quantity of whisky through security. Voices were raised as the toxic liquids were confiscated. The grey couple were offered the chance to retrace their steps and recall their luggage to house the contraband but, all things considered, they wisely decided to eat humble pie and enter the departure lounge quietly, without alcohol in their satchels.

An hour to go before the flight. We headed for Jamie Oliver’s kitchen where Jamie is everywhere – on posters and screens and packaging. The display counter was groaning with carbo-loaded goodies:pastries, breakfast croissants stuffed with hams and cheeses – never mind healthy eating for kids in school, this was Jamie-fare for adults and we were in cholesterol city. I loved it and went for a £4.99 vast, ham-stuffed croissant. Magic.

The screens alternated video streams of Jamie in Italy with flight updates and soon enough our gate – 47 – flashed up. The Thomson clan trooped off and, as usual, there weren’t quite enough seats at the waiting area to accommodate the plane’s complement. We were Ok, though,  and that was all that mattered. We had numbered seats so unless something very unusual occurred, our places inside the tin cabin were designated and secure. This didn’t stop half the passengers eschewing what seating there was and standing in a snaked line in front of an unmanned checking station. When the Thomson uniforms arrived a painted woman screeched something that was barely audible because of her high frequency and the ensuing vibration in the speakers which served Gate 47. The gist was that passengers should sit down until the boarding was called. Moreover when boarding started passengers would be boarded in ascending seat number order. She didn’t use the word ascending, of course, but you get the idea. No one moved. Again, you won’t be surprised. The triumph of hope over reality when the Brits are queueing is one of life’s comforting certainties. When boarding actually started several high-pitched seat-number reminders had been barked by understandable irritated Thomson staff (appropriately clad in blue and purple). I counted five couples or groups being sent to the back of the dinner queue for misbehaviour.

I’m not a good flyer so every bubble of turbulence sends butterflies racing round my intestines like Lewis Hamilton at Monaco. As we accelerate towards take-off I start counting, slowly – eyes closed. I don’t sit in window seats. By the time I reach 200 the captain has usually turned the seat-belt sign off which tells me that he doesn’t think we’ll crash for the time being. I open my eyes. On this occasion the suave Captain Harris warbled that we were going to rise to 38000 feet but at that height we would still be just sitting on the top of some cloud, so we ‘Might enjoy a bump or two’. I grimaced at his calm levity but couldn’t find much to smile about as we hopped across the Alps and my coffee slopped over my Kindle. Captain Harris’s landing left a lot to be desired. The disc brakes had to work overtime.  I remembered the emergency stop on my driving test and wondered idly whether the co-pilot had slapped his hand on the cockpit dashboard.

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Safe and sound we arrived to a dull but warm Naples airport and were met by James who was gay in every way. He directed us to a bright blue coach which was to whisk us from the grotty environs of the airport to the romance that would be Sorrento – about an hour around the bay. Sam was to be the rep. on board and she was an eyebrow-pencilled Geordie out of the very heartiest hi-di-hi stable. Say hello to Gennaro, our driver, everybody! No seat belts. Something about this pleased me and made me admire the Italians for their clear disregard of some EU Brussels directive. We rumbled on around the Bay of Naples which was built up and ugly. Every now and then a church or a lemon grove would awaken a thought of what was enduring. The rain came on quite heavily.

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As with most package deals punters are dropped off in hotel sequence and our Hotel Admiral was at the end of the line. So inaccessible by large transport was the Marina Grande in Sorrento, that we transferred to minibus and even this couldn’t take us to the front door. Our smart hotel was perched under cliffs at the furthest end of the improbably named marina, as it is by far the smaller of the two. The other – Marina Piccolo – is the large ferry harbour where jetfoils and other sizeable craft take cargo and humans to Capri, Sardinia and beyond, while ocean liners park offshore and cruise-trippers make their way in to Sorrento for the day.

Hotel Admiral lies right on the water. Directly across the bay Vesuvius rises clearly looming above the city of Naples. As we rumbled our luggage over the typical pockmarked black, large cobbles the last few steps to the door, the sun broke out.

 

Poems of my Life: My Grandmother

2 Jan

Grandmothers. We all have them. The pair allotted to me were rather distant. One didn’t intend to be, the other did. Nanna was my English granny, my mother’s mother; Farmor my Danish one. The former was a kindly but self-absorbed depressive lady; the latter a rather cold Cruella.

So many years on from their deaths, I find Elizabeth Jennings’s poem the first to come to mind when thinking of my grandmothers. It has nothing to do with them – and everything. Were I to write a granny-verse, I’d focus on my Nanna. She and my grandfather (Poppa) lived in a flat above a gentlemen’s outfitters. The sense-impressions of that poky pad teem. The mustiness of granny-smells: Gifty the mangy dog; old-lady perfume; cigarettes and pipes; over-steamed vegetables; seaweed by the front door; barometer to tap by the stairs; outside toilet an Bronco paper fro big jobs; damp blankets and counterpane, brylcream-stained antimacassars; ashtray stands with spin-away push buttons to make the stubs disappear; spare teeth in a glass by the bureau; complete Dickens and Encyclopedia Britannica hiding in a glass-front bookcase; ash hanging precipitously from Nanna’s lip (she would set herself alight more than once before her time was up)….I miss that stale, musty, can-only-be-Nanna smell. Despite not really being that close to her in her self-absorbtion, there are times when I catch a sense of her in a Victorian print, the scent as an elderly woman walks by, a look of despair. And in this poem.

MY GRANDMOTHER BY ELIZABETH JENNINGS

She kept an antique shop – or it kept her.
Among Apostle spoons and Bristol glass,
The faded silks, the heavy furniture,
She watched her own reflection in the brass
Salvers and silver bowls, as if to prove
Polish was all, there was no need of love.

And I remember how I once refused
To go out with her, since I was afraid.
It was perhaps a wish not to be used
Like antique objects. Though she never said
That she was hurt, I still could feel the guilt
Of that refusal, guessing how she felt.

Later, too frail to keep a shop, she put
All her best things in one narrow room.
The place smelt old, of things too long kept shut,
The smell of absences where shadows come
That can’t be polished. There was nothing then
To give her own reflection back again.

And when she died I felt no grief at all,
Only the guilt of what I once refused.
I walked into her room among the tall
Sideboards and cupboards – things she never used
But needed; and no finger marks were there,
Only the new dust falling through the air.

 

I’m resolute: no resolutions this year.

2 Jan

I mean what’s the point? Two days into the new year and resolve is crumbling. All over the civilized world, hapless souls in their millions have thought up life-changing new behaviours or privations to which they have committed. In the steeplechase of 2015 most will fall at the first fence but some will steer through the mess of fallen runners and riders and, as that luckiest of all steeplechasers, Foinavon did in the famous Grand National of 1967 , win against all the odds. At 100-1 and with his owner, Cyril Watkins, giving him no chance, the plucky steed navigated his way through the carnage of the 23rd fence and realised that 3/4 of the field were no longer in the race. Eleven only of 44 starters survived beyond that fence. The odds for new year resolutes are far, far longer. Just a few, a happy few, will be sitting smugly on NYE 2015 in the knowledge that they have scored some sort of victory. Pyrrhic? Probably. And who gives a toss?

I can hear do-gooders carping at my scepticism. They can trot out endless lists of genuinely life-enhancing changes that people can make. Cut out the bottle of vodka a day; phone granny once a week rather than once a month; actually give the Red Cross some money rather than using their Christmas card for free. The list is endless. Gym memberships soar in January, apparently; sales of chocolate, beer and cake plummet. Bicycles pour forth, de-rusted, from asbestos sheds; libraries experience a surge of borrowers; TV ratings fall. Simon Cowell and the Strictly crew aren’t stupid.They know that telly-sloth peaks before the old year is out so all reality and other banal TV fodder must, must, must be done and dusted before Big Ben chimes at midnight on the 31st.

I have friends who have serious faults which they should have addressed years ago. From tight-fistedness to cup-half-empty syndrome; from the unpunctual to the impolite; from sexist to other ‘ists’, I have a pretty full set of flawed acquaintances. The thing is, I like them like that. If any of them resolved not to be annoying for 2015, it wouldn’t be them would it?

Imagine my friend Geoff announcing, “I insist on buying the first beer every time I walk into a pub this year!” Or Gill proclaiming, “I know that I have been unreasonable about immigrants so I’m going to give my spare room, rent free, to a Polish builder.” It isn’t going to happen is it? Moreover Geoff and Gill wouldn’t be the same people if they made such seismic shifts. You might be thinking that my friends don’t sound very nice anyway. Well, as my Dad once told me, “You don’t pick your friends son; somehow they pick you.”

Resolutions should be made when the spirit is resolute, not when we are at our weakest, bloated with turkey sandwiches and midnight champers. The distractions of Ben Haenow, Ant and Dec, Sir Alan and Miranda are lost in the mists of Christmas past. We are prey to that dastardly of all illusions: hope. Now they say that it is better to travel in hope than to arrive. New Year resolutions work counter-intuitively, you arrive on 1st Jan before you’ve had time to travel in hope. Disaster.

 

(ps I hope my friends Geoff and Gill will forgive me)

Week – End

4 Nov

I did say, midweek, that I would return to the Odeon Epsom for more comment. You will recall Gone Girl – the movie, on which I briefly commented. Well the 25minutes of advertising preceding the blockbuster was wearily illuminating. Now I’m not on air-kissing terms with Germaine Greer but the shameless and shameful sexploitation is so much more apparent at big screen venues that on our little flatscreens at home. Loadsamoney spent on lavishly, digitally undressing gorgeous women who look as if they are about to orgasm over the leather seats of their new pink cars. Stubbled men (who invented this silly sandpaper? Do one thing or the other; shave or no shave) drool looking like cats who will get cream. Prudishly and rarely  I thought: what on earth are we doing to ourselves? I got over it pretty quickly, you’ll be glad to know.

Excitingly old buddies from university days came to stay for the weekend. The weather held for a grand Saturday walk along the Pilgrims/South Downs Way above Reigate. Clear and heart-swelling views over the town and, turning 180degrees, there way Wembley Stadium, the Eye and Shard and the rest. Gatton Park was a joy to wander round despite the National Trust’s unforgiveable misuse of apostrophes. Beers at that great pub on Walton Heath, The Sportsman and back to select a feast from The Haweli, Sutton’s finest Indian takeaway.

We moderated our Saturday alcohol intake as Friday’s arrival of old friends had seen quite an assault of various bottles. The evening had taken its usual majestic course:the easy slipping back into college banter; incredulous reflections on how irresponsible fun-junkies of the 1970s became tolerably regarded members of the professional classes; disregard of body clocks and vitriolic contempt of a range of modern mores from the ubiquity of Apple-tech, ‘like’, silly children’s names, political correctness, tattoos, shit politicians, X-Factor, Jamie Oliver…..you get the picture. And fucking apostrophes.

It was Halloween night. That’s another thing. What’s happened to that estimable member of Catesby’s team who planned to obliterate James 1st and the whole rag bag of Parliament on Nov 5th, 1605? In the deeply grey 1950s and early 60s, I slogged for weeks (well days) making gruesome, scarecrow facsimiles of the would-be multi-murderer, to wheel around on old pushchairs extorting money for my personal charity. We’d buy firecrackers from the local tobacconists (that’s another moniker lost to the idiocy of pc) to scare our primary school girlfriends. Our back garden for a few minutes would sparkle with Catherine Wheels and sparklers. My father would put a few impossibly large rockets tiltingly in precariously placed milk bottles. The blue touch paper rarely responded with brilliant ignition so he always risked life and limb returning for another Swan Vestas relight. The resulting take-off and orbit was as unpredictable as Richard Branson’s tourist space rocket, though mercifully not as calamitous. Stories abounded of those who had filled hospital casualty departments on Bonfire Nights. No Sorro ever suffered but there were close shaves aplenty. This mightily wholesome activity has been replaced by wizards and witches and the execrable fraud of trick or treating, not to mention the waste of millions of nutricious pumpkins. You can imagine the bile effused by me and my mates, frighteningly articulate at 2am.

The came a knocking on the door. God, not more T or T’ing at this time. No, there stood a solitary shivering lass, clad in strips of wispy green looking like a  Robin Hood groupie with face paint. She was in some distress – let’s call her Maisie – and a certain amount of drink and/or drug-fuelled confusion. She had escaped, so she said, from a place, up the road, where she was being held captive. Could she come in? Crying, frightened creature she was too. Quite clear in speech but weirdly wired and making little sense. Had she been harmed? This prompted a flood of tears. Was she with friends? More tears. Clutching a completely empty  handbag and shivering rather cold turkily poor Maisie cut a pathetic and sad figure. We erstwhile complaining men sprouted arm hair and bravado. We walked her to where she thought the ‘party’ had been – and where her money, clothes, friends and phone (ie her life) were last seen. An open ground floor window. No sound, no sign of life. We knocked loudly. Nothing. We returned. Phone police.

Within 5 minutes two highly attractive young constables, he a ringer for Jude Law; she Cameron Diaz. perhaps I have just watched The Holiday far too much in my downtime moments – it’s on ALL the time isn’t it? Sorry – digressing. Anyway these guys were brilliant and took Maisie’s plight very seriously.What were the possibilities? Endless unfortunately- rape, rohypnol, mugging, theft, drink and drugs….and, of course -and hopefully- a girl who had got pissed, become disorientated and wandered off in fright but come to no harm.

The PCs wandered down the road to investigate. I contacted mother – in Coventry. She and her partner leapt into a car as I was speaking. A 3 hour drive to Sutton police station or near-hospital, ETA 5.30am? Back came the bravos in blue. The party was going on in the garden shed. Maisie had been put to bed by her friends when she peaked early- she had been ‘out of it’. No one had checked her and they were not a little surprised to hear she had gone AWOL. The blue-brigade decided she had better stay with the authorities (good choice) and await the arrival of bleary mummy.

The delightful constables took the tearful Maisie off and we were left having to revise our opinions of earlier on the quality of young professionals today. Jude and Cameron were quite outstanding.

Oh I forgot to say what Maisie did for a living. She is a 26year old teacher. Well I never.

Midweek

31 Oct

 

Now here’s hoping that the technical difficulties which assailed The Week (Mark 1) will not scarily attack again, like the weirdo monsters (varmints) who inhabit the minds of children in Neil Gaiman’s eerily striking fantasy The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This is my antidote to Stephen Fry’s mostly unscary, autobiographical tome so I have fact and fiction on the go at the same time. I combined the two last week by reading the sometime harrowing but ultimately empowering and wonderful The Narrow Road To the Deep North, a marvellous Booker-winner this year. Richard Flanagan’s homage to his father who, as an Aussie prisoner of war in 1945 survived the brutality of the Japanese internment camps as the Emperor’s henchmen forced ever-weakening prisoners to build the Burma railway. It’s a love story too.  Butchery and beauty in equal measure.

I have already digressed. I left you on Tuesday mid-lunch south of Tunbridge Wells and full of lamb burger. Needless to say I needed soda water and Gavascon later in the day but watched  The Missing to assuage my indigestion – it’s that not really about Madeleine McCann eight-parter fronted by the suitably Irish angst and facial contortion of James Nesbitt. Mind you he does ‘desperate’ brilliantly. I’m hooked, even if AA Gill savages it at the weekend.

I must backtrack because on Monday evening the Sorro siblings, now with sister in tow and partners abounding met up for another little probate party. Our lovely mummy didn’t have much  (thank God she spent it) but Sis funded the meal from bootfair takings. I have yet to dispose of the porcelain and silver but we could be looking at The Ivy . Meantime we were in Il Capriccio in Ewell Village, a smart Italian job chosen for no other reason than the other smart Italian jobs in Ewell (three of them) were closed on a Monday. Now Ewell nestles stylishly and quietly under the powerful and embracing wing of the bustling eagle market town  that is Epsom, famed for salts and thoroughbreds. This is where I grew up. Get the connection? Anyway I started with French, moules mariniere; continued with Italian, veal (yes, sorry I like it) al limone; finished with a nice British slab of apple pie. Now that’s Europeanism.

Talking of The Missing, last night, Thursday, I caught Gone Girl the movie. The frighteningly successful book was well-written and wholly unconvincing tosh. The film is better but still tosh. Tension was just about maintained, despite loud popcorners behind – and I didn’t fall asleep. Usually a good sign. And Rosamund Pike is very good. Ben Affleck plays Ben Affleck. Quite a lot of sex and a bit of hilarious violence. The multi-screen Odeon experience is one on which I shall comment further to but, characteristically, I’m ahead of myself.

As I relaxed after James Nesbitt’s first hour of losing his son I heard a Talksport argument about the epidemic of pushing and shoving in soccer penalty areas. It’s Shawcrossgate. For the uninitiated Ryan Shawcross is a burly Stoke defender who many think should be in the England team because he commits GBH on attackers and gets away with it. Well until t’other day. Now he’s been stood down as enforcer by manager Mark Hughes, while things calm down. In the blink of an eye he’ll be back beating shit out of pansies like Terry and Ivanovic who, in a breathtaking example of pots and kettles ran to mummy ref. when they were mildly stroked by two smaller Man Utd defenders. The Talksport argument was wonderfully clichéd and circular. I’m not sure how many inarticulate ex-pros are paid a good wedge to comment on the idiocies of modern football but the supply of dimwits seems inexhaustible. Personally I like the rugby tackle in soccer. It beefs up what otherwise has become a tame game for tarts.

Wednesday and the Festival Hall. First an early evening catch-up meal and chat with Al and Danielle, old, dear colleagues. TAS – the Turkish chap at the end of The Cut (you know, just up from the Old Vic) does a mean shishk and buzzes with mezze life. Danielle, being a classicist pointed out that Kristin Scott-Thomas’s Electra belonged to Sophocles. Of course Euripedes had also written an Electra. Of course. We moseyed to the RFH for an evening of Rachmaninov. Lest you are worried about my gentle move to higher status culture, fear not. An attempt to mask the philistinism in my DNA perhaps but I do love sitting in the Art Deco splendour of the Festival Hall.

We met up with grand old buddies from my harder working days. Vivien, who had been a stylish Senior Mistress at our large coed grammar school. Those were the days when such posts were seen as important and necessary rather than sexist and tokenist. Ho hum. Smiles and laughter with her hubby, John, who uses the word wanker with such punishing timing and weight that it’s a joy to hear the word burst forth. I can’t match him on this but I do a mean bollocks when I’m roused.

Into the great  auditorium at level 6, row N – top of the house and a grand view of all. I know purists like to see the pianist’s fingers and the mole on the first violinists chin but I’m happy looking at this glossy Busby Berkeley of a place. The chrome-rimmed boxes stick out of the like open cash tills. I settle into my seat and await the young starlet Pavel Kolesnikov. We had done the jokes about his name before he wandered on with conductor Vassily Sinaisky. He looked like a mop-haired pre-pubescent, certainly a Kolesnikov minor. Russians are good at music aren’t they, I mused to myself and settled in for a captivating bit of Rachmaninov. Pavel’s fingers were a blur from my distance but they danced like Ariel at breakneck speed across the ivories (pre 1947 so OK to talk about). The second piano concerto. Most of my fellows had agreed – their favourite. I agreed because I wasn’t sure what to compare it with. My mind wandered an I caught sight of a woman being sick – pretty much in Pavel’s line of sight. He was underterred. She was under the weather. Stewards ushered her away and mopped up noiselessly. Rachmaniov’s 2nd unaffected. Roaring approval at its conclusion. Wow.

The interval gave way to his 3rd Symphony – plenty of light and shade and culminating in the sort of sound and fury I like. My eyes were trained on the guy playing the xylophone. Little to do but he’s got to be on the money every 10 minutes when the spotlight is on. Does he get the same cash at the end of the evening? The woodwind and brass sections would be seriously pissed off. The strings would be apoplectic.

We missed the train back by 39seconds, we calculated. I used the oaths previously italicised – and a few more. Luckily I had Stephen Fry in my pocket. The 30minute wait passed in a blink.

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