I remember 4

September 18, 2016

I remember being scared of going on downward escalators when I was about nine or ten, and being ashamed of it as I knew I’d been able to go on them when I was younger.

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I remember light pink fluoride pills.

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I remember hearing Chopin’s Funeral March on the radio when I was ill and thinking how beautiful it sounded but wondering if it might just be delirium.

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I remember making a boiled egg for my father, perhaps because it was his birthday, and dropping it into the pan, under the impression that it would float, never having done it before, and the egg cracking on the bottom of the pan and the albumen emerging from beneath, and him being angry.

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I remember a Year 5 Music lesson where I became aware I couldn’t see the board because I didn’t have my glasses and hoping desperately that I wouldn’t be asked by Dr T to read anything out because it would have meant admitting I couldn’t see.

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I remember wrinkled fingertips.

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I remember my little tin of blue Humbrol enamel paint that I bought to paint a model perhaps but ended up just opening every so often, prising the lid off with the end of a teaspoon to see the magical blue inside.

humbrol

I remember visiting Hinkley Point and being given blue plastic earplugs which I kept for ages afterwards.

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I remember eating and enjoying tongue, without acknowledging to myself what it was.

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I remember assuming ‘several’ meant at least seven or so, and coming only slowly and stubbornly to the realisation that it might mean, say, three or four.

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I remember praying for God to kill me.

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I remember the big yellow metal train in Welshmill Park with the graffito on saying PENIS LOVERS MEET HERE FRIDAY 8PM, and wondering what went on at such meetings.

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I remember an awful assembly at St John’s in which I was part of a presentation on hair, explaining that people had straight hair because of flat follicles and curly hair because of round follicles, and not understanding why flat and why round, which I still don’t. And then saying of Charlotte M the line ‘Her perm won’t last long,’ not really knowing what a perm was or why anyone would want one, and dimly sensing, perhaps, the absurdity of parroting words I didn’t comprehend written by some teacher who had no idea what children were.

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I remember Mr P saying it was always worth having a go during oral exams even if you didn’t know the word, as a pupil of his had once had his Brummie-inflected ‘a bee’ taken as ‘abeille’ and accepted.

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I remember feigning that I’d expected Gianluca Vialli to be sacked as Chelsea manager, though I hadn’t and it upset me.

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I remember Maths Circus.

Diary excerpts 5

August 24, 2016

4 January
Today I worked out why the Cambridge Librarians in Training group calls itself Camlit.

13 January
Les Troyens from the Met at cinema today. Wondered why the Trojans were discussing Shakespeare, then realised they were singing ‘J’expire’.

20 January
A reading at evensong tonight about the impossibility of circumcision reversal. I shake my head, as if in regret. A man opposite laughs.

29 January
There’s usually an appropriate German word and it’s usually Sehnsucht. The feeling you get on looking up at someone’s window.

5 February
Walking home, ‘Le vent dans la plaine’ came on and I found myself thinking of J when we were sixteen and seventeen, talking about Zimerman and the Debussy preludes and playing two-piano improvisations for what felt like ages but might have been as little as half an hour or 45 minutes, and realising I’d found something important.

8 February
New German reader appears at the desk: ‘Am I right here?’ Hard to say no.

15 February
Granny is 88 today, and opening birthday cards with a knife. ‘Careful or we’ll be off to A&E!’ ‘I’d rather bleed to death.’

21 February
A man in a fluorescent jacket humming ‘Voi che sapete’ in Sainsbury’s.

10 March
You can tell how reliable someone is as a person by their past library fines. L is in his final year and has 38 books out but has never had a fine (and I suspect never will). I would quite readily give him a job here for life.

14 March
On Cesc Fàbregas: ‘His father was made of fibreglass and his mother was some wood shavings.’

Cesc

Edinburgh 2016

August 17, 2016

Another flying visit, another bunch of shows demolished. My findings:

The first show I saw was also probably my favourite, Mr Swallow – Houdini at the Pleasance Courtyard. Two years ago I loved Mr Swallow’s Dracula! so much that I went three times, twice in Edinburgh and once in London, but his Houdini tribute ups the ante. Not merely songs and hilarity and clowning and magic (and breathtaking magic at that; nice to see the return of the satsuma/sashu) but a genuine sense of danger and a mix of exhilaration and bewilderment at the climax. For logistical reasons I can’t see it going on tour, but a London run must surely follow that anyone down south would be foolish to miss. I marvelled at the all-round song-and-dance-and-physical-stuff excellence of Nick Mohammed and his stooges David Elms and Kieran Hodgson. The Guardian review is spot on.

Houdini

Another highlight, entirely predictably, was Kieran Hodgson’s solo show Maestro, Hodgson hotfooting it across town to the Voodoo Rooms every night. On further acquaintance it might even turn out be an improvement on last year’s unimprovable-upon Lance. It’s about Hodgson’s love of Mahler, his attempts to write a symphony, his unsuccessful love affairs. So much for me personally (as a freak of a child who not only listened to Classic FM aged ten but even appeared on it) to relate to. At some point midway through the show it became apparent to me that I was Kieran Hodgson’s ideal man; by the end I was devastated. It’s got a great deal of heart and an uncanny Christoph Waltz impersonation.

The established stand-ups didn’t let me down. Lucy Porter’s Consequences was cosy (this is a compliment) but incisive. I think her great virtue, as with Mae Martin (see below), is her innate likeability. When she’s not making you laugh, she’s making you smile. Paul Foot’s ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Piglet was a different beast. I’d never seen him live before. His manic aggression and posturing are a delight to watch if you’re not in the front row. The people on the receiving end of his scattergun attacks might have felt differently. I laughed most at the teacher’s absurd address to children informing them of the dismissal of a member of staff: ‘We always suspected Mr Trundle was gay, but what really took the biscuit was when he stole the minibus.’

Paul Foot

Mae Martin’s Work in Progress show is as enjoyable as last year’s Us. She starts with 15 minutes or so of material before answering questions submitted by the audience at the start and improvising a song. You just love her. Not stand-up exactly, but I also saw a great show by Dr Phil Hammond, Life and Death (But Mainly Death), a funny and moving story of his family history, ending with a stirring entreaty to love one another and embrace life. Hard not to leave without a smile on your face.

Of the up-and-comers, I enjoyed Naomi Petersen’s I am Telling You I’m Not Going. Ostensibly about her agoraphobia, it’s really a trawl through childhood memories and traumas. Favourite bit: ‘Jennifer’s teasing was water off a duck’s back – if the water was tears that I’d cried on to a duck.’ The Pizza Express aficionado will find a lot to identify with. Sam & Tom’s Peter Fleming and Wilbur Bilb: Over the Airwaves I loved very much, family loyalty or no family loyalty. Fleming’s twisted take on 1960s children’s TV had me helpless at times. The furore surrounding the ‘mechanical synagogue’ was one of many golden moments. I’ve never been less ashamed to be his brother. And the joke I contributed got a laugh, so I was happy. Sam’s semi-improvised anarchy provided an excellent contrast to Tom’s discipline and tightness. I was proud to be shot in the head by him.

If I had to name a favourite Sondheim musical I’d probably be torn between Merrily We Roll Along and Company. This festival I saw productions of both, each excellent in its way. Eltham College’s Merrily We Roll Along was slick right from the off, the overture underscoring a montage of images and newspaper headlines moving forward in time up to the starting point of the musical, which occurs in reverse chronology. Condensed into a single act of under two hours, I didn’t miss the couple of songs that were jettisoned, but I did regret the absence of the reprise of ‘Not a Day Goes By’, which should be a gutting moment. Most reviews and online comments have (rightly) drawn attention to Ruari Paterson-Achenbach’s Charley, but the central quintet were all remarkable, and I was blown away by Sophie Holmes as Gussie, who wouldn’t have been out of place in a professional production. The band was impeccable. The Lincoln Company’s Company was on a smaller scale, a ninety-minute abbreviation with an unmiked cast of ten, an electric piano and a few black boxes in the cavernous Saint Stephen’s Stockbridge. When (female) Bobbi asked ‘Are you ever sorry you got married?’ and the play moved straight on, my heart sank. How can you have a production of Company without ‘Sorry-Grateful’? But it worked, multiple gender switches and all, because it’s such a malleable show and because the talented performers were so committed to it. The nature of the building’s acoustic meant their diction had to be excellent, and it was. Alice Saxton’s ‘Getting Married Today’ justifies the price of admission alone. It runs for the rest of the month and deserves an audience: do go, and sit near the front.

Merrily We Roll Along

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, on the other hand, is a play that defies truncation, given the mathematical precision of its perfection. Could the Pembroke Players’ 90-minute abridged version possibly satisfy? Not wholly – I missed Septimus consoling Thomasina over the loss of so much Ancient Greek drama – but there were a number of things to love. Not the performance space, perhaps, which was sweltering and had the players competing against ceiling fans to be heard; but the performances, especially those of Daisy Jones, the embodiment of Thomasina, sweet with a hint of archness, Colin Rothwell as Bernard, and Xanthe Burdett as Hannah (doubling well as Noakes). If Os Leanse’s turned-up-to-11 Chater felt a bit overdone (he was excellent as Valentine in the modern scenes), it was at any rate audible, a virtue not shared by everyone on stage. I also missed Gus; but with limited resources and playing time this must count as a success. I saw the first performance; I suspect its fluency will grow.

Last but not least, a play by the children of the Dolphin School Theatre Company, Tales from the Tent by Judy Seall, the final performance of which I caught on Saturday morning. It’s a piece that grew out of the school’s involvement with the Refugee Relief charity. Two Russians (played touchingly by bilingual brother and sister Andrei and Ulyana Roberts) pass through a refugee camp, whose other residents pass the time by retelling familiar stories. One girl is the Librarian, who looks after all the books. She has one member of staff: ‘I’m the Assistant Librarian, and I … help.’ One boy plays the violin throughout. The highlight for me was the story of the Hare and the Tortoise, the boy playing the Tortoise (Jamie Thorogood, I think) quite remarkable in his comic instinct. I don’t think you can coach such things: this was an innate funniness, as (for instance) in his deadpan lament when the Hare upsets tea all over his tank top. Some great physical theatre (lights waving in the air), and at its heart a message of tolerance. Very hard not to be inspired by the talent for acting and music and dance on display. Looking at the pictures here brings back how magical it was.

Tales from the Tent

I also had my first deep-fried Mars bar.

Piano progress

July 23, 2016

Four weeks ago, as a refuge from despondency, I decided to learn some new piano music. I love the late Brahms piano pieces, but don’t play many of them. They always sound so forbidding, but although the music is complex the notes aren’t, always, and so I made a longlist of about ten that I thought were surmountable, starting with Op. 118 No. 2. This is how it’s sounding at the moment.

Simon at Stuck in a Book writes that ‘maintaining the good things in life in the face of evil is as much a defence as most of us can manage’ – more or less my attitude in turning to Brahms. On a possibly related note, I’ve been pleased recently to note that I’ve not lost my ability to fall in love with new things. So many of my favourite books, films, pieces of music are things I’ve known since childhood or adolescence, but within the past week I’ve started to explore for the first time the piano music of Billy Mayerl, which contains many jewels, and just last year I watched for the first time Carlos Saura’s spellbinding 1976 film Cría cuervos, which has already become important to me. In that film, Geraldine Chaplin plays for her daughter Ana Torrent this Mompou piece, which I learnt last weekend. (Only now does it occur to me that one of my childhood memories of my own mother, rather neatly, is of her playing the Brahms intermezzo, Op. 117 No. 2.)