Posts Tagged ‘Cambridge’

Pink / poems / patterns / pregnancy

August 8, 2018

12 January
To read Proust is to make an excursion into one’s own memory. This lunchtime Marcel first glimpsed Gilberte Swann among the pink hawthorns that had bewitched him, and I thought how unlike me he was in his boyhood interestedness in flowers and in his love of pink. My memory is that pink was anathema to me, but I now doubt that was the case. Certainly I’d not have wanted to wear or own anything pink, but I’m sure I must have slept in pink sheets sometimes, and the colour didn’t deter me from The Pink Panther, a cartoon I loved to the point of catalogue-type obsession, certainly more than any other cartoon until The Simpsons came along. And I suppose I liked flowers too, some of them. Peonies in the front garden, fuchsia and snapdragons in the back yard, dandelion clocks. Anything you could put in a vase with food colouring in and transform the blossom from white to blue. Or indeed pink.

***

13 February
Something nice: found J’s ex (the previous one) on Twitter; followed links to various blogs; found poem he’d written for her; thought, that’s impressive; started to read it; utterly awful.

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27 February
During the first interval K and I were chatting about E, and something he said prompted me to say ‘When he gets an erection it looks like a rocket taking off’ and he nearly spat water all over the man in front. It’s a lovely line that I must use more often.

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14 April
Email from someone claiming to be an ‘antique and collectable hobbyist’. He certainly has a high opinion of himself.

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31 May
How obsessive behaviour starts: I noticed earlier in the year that by chance several of the books I had on my library account had been borrowed at fifteen minutes past the hour or on the hour, which was neat. I engineered, partly consciously, to read and return those books that didn’t fit the pattern. (I’d probably have read and returned them sooner or later anyway, but still.) Now I have reached a point at which all six books on my account were borrowed at neat times: 10:20, 17:15, 12:00, 12:00, 12:20, 17:30. Here’s the kicker: I can’t now borrow any book at any time that isn’t a multiple of either ten or fifteen. (12:35 or 12:55 would be right out.)

***

17 July
‘Shit off’ is quite good, isn’t it. Could start using it.

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15 September
I don’t recall why I had two pregnancy tests in my possession. One I could understand, but two? I ended up throwing them out. I now wonder why I didn’t use at least one of them myself. What a waste.

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12 October
A couple of weeks ago I was walking to work and spotted a new conker on the ground. Kicked it away with my left toe, it bounced off the heel of a man walking to my right, and I trapped it with my right foot instantaneously. Messi couldn’t have done it better, conkers are unpredictable.

***

30 November
The advantage of keeping certain books locked in a cupboard is that occasionally a student will appear at the issue desk and ask me for Transgressive Sex, as happened this lunchtime.

***

18 December
When I came to Cambridge for interview many years ago, the place seemed forbidding and inhospitable. Approaching King’s from an unfamiliar direction this morning, that mood came right back to me. Only there was a boy coming out of a barbershop on Silver Street who smelled unmistakably of Turkish delight, which took the edge off somewhat.

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2017 foursomes

December 31, 2017

In which I celebrate another year of having successfully cheated death by looking back at my cultural highlights of the past twelve months.

Top 4 theatre
My two best shows of the year, towering above the rest, were Angels in America and Follies, both at the National Theatre, sublime and superlative achievements, thrillingly staged and acted. I’d like to list the entire casts of both, really, but the performances that have stayed most in my memory are those of Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough, Aidan McArdle and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett from Angels, and Tracie Bennett, Di Botcher, and the central quartet from Follies, perhaps especially Imelda Staunton, desperately vulnerable as Sally. I saw excellent productions of Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus at Stratford, but my Shakespeare highlight of the year was Twelfth Night, again at the National, with Tamsin Greig imperious as Malvolia, Tim McMullan swaggering all over the place as Belch, Daniel Rigby as good a communicator of Aguecheek’s damagedness as I’ve seen (the man bun clearly a cry for help), and Tamara Lawrance a touching Viola. (Also, anything with Oliver Chris in it ticks my box.) And She Loves Me at the Menier Chocolate Factory, which I saw in January as a post-Christmas treat, a twinkly production of the most chocolate-boxy of musicals. I’d gone expressly to see Mark Umbers as Georg, but in the event his understudy Peter Dukes proved excellent. The decision to use British accents worked a treat, with ‘A Trip to the Library’ in Katherine Kingsley’s broad Cockney the high point.

Top 4 student theatre
It’s been a very good year at the ADC in Cambridge, starting with my first García Lorca, The House of Bernarda Alba, done by an extraordinarily strong cast of future stars (the performances of Xanthe Burdett, Daisy Jones and Emma Corrin among the standouts) in Jo Clifford’s translation. Alecky Blythe’s London Road received probably the finest student production I’ve seen of anything ever, an exacting musical done brilliant justice by a cast and band who clearly knew it inside out (Footlight Orlando Gibbs, playing one of the press photographers, even managed some improvised business when the lens fell off his camera). Its composer Adam Cork saw the production, and I can only imagine he was thrilled. Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce is a bit dated now, but still very amusing, and was fortunate to have some of the funniest people in Cambridge in its cast, most notably Colin Rothwell, having a ball as the perpetually whinging Nick, and John Tothill, who must surely be recognised before too long as one of the great character comedians of his generation. And recently, Gypsy, a show I begin to see the point of. Ashleigh Weir (Rose) is one to watch, but everyone in Cambridge knows that by now.

Top 4 Edinburgh
Although I didn’t have the energy to blog about it here at the time, I had a good few days at the Fringe this August, the highlights being as follows: Colin Hoult as Anna Mann (‘Oh, fuck off!’) in How We Stop the Fascists, fabulously warm and witty, the funniest part for me being the point at which Mann asked the audience what we thought a fascist looked like, then slyly produced a mirror for us to look at and pass around, concluding with ‘Anyway, you get the point – fascists look like mirrors!’ (Maybe you had to be there.) Joseph Morpurgo’s Hammerhead, the discussion following his nine-hour one-man performance of Frankenstein, was a tour de force. Then there was Ivo Graham’s fun and exciting Educated Guess, a stand-up show with a difference, the difference being a quiz in which Graham’s encyclopaedic knowledge of MPs and their constituencies was put to the test. The night I saw it he fell down tragically on Jeremy Wright (Con, Kenilworth and Southam), but the video at the end helped to soothe the pain. And lastly but mostly, Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, the worthiest winner of the Edinburgh Comedy Award, though as she says it’s not really comedy, it’s very dark and very important. She made me feel worthless, and somehow in a good way.

Top 4 live music
I’m surprised at how few concerts I’ve attended in 2017. Theatre seems to be usurping music in that respect. But it was special to see Joshua Bell and Dénes Várjon in Edinburgh playing, among other things, the Brahms G major violin sonata, which almost moved me to tears, an effect music almost never has on me. Brahms has not shifted from his place at the top of my personal pantheon, and seeing the Endellion Quartet and Barry Douglas play the G minor piano quartet in October was exciting, especially that furious Hungarian finale. I saw Mitsuko Uchida twice, playing two different Schubert programmes, the better of which was the one at Peterhouse in Cambridge, where the ‘Con moto’ movement of the D.850 sonata was particularly divine. And it was great to see Max Raabe and Christoph Israel at the Wigmore Hall, where Raabe sang a lot of unfamiliar songs by the likes of Walter Jurmann. Especially lovely was Jurmann’s ‘Tomorrow is Another Day’, complete with whistling duet.

Top 4 albums
Of this year’s releases, up with which I have very much not kept, Nelson Freire’s Brahms recital has been on repeat – I hadn’t known the third piano sonata, but it’s beautiful; the shorter pieces are exquisite, and exquisitely performed. My great discovery early in the year was the fourth symphony of Franz Schmidt, in the recording by the London Philharmonic and Franz Welser-Möst, a masterpiece whose organicism excites and entrances. I’m pacing myself, but want to get to know the other three (and got the Bychkov recording of the second for Christmas). The NT production sent me back to the 2011 Broadway recording of Follies, admirably exhaustive and addictive. And lastly, loads more Prefab Sprout. Why has it taken until my thirties for me to become properly obsessed with this band I have known from my teens? Maybe they’re too good for the young. I’ve listened to their 1985 album Steve McQueen constantly, as literate and elusive and romantic a collection of songs as anyone could wish to hear.

Top 4 old films
Don’t judge me, but I’d never seen Ninotchka before. Actually I’m not sure I’d ever seen a Greta Garbo film before. But I love Ernst Lubitsch, and it has his usual gemütlich charm and cosiness in spades, while at the same time, like his To Be or Not to Be, commenting smartly on the politics of its time. Garbo is fabulous, especially in her stone-faced incarnation, and Melvyn Douglas is a pleasing foil, but Felix Bressart steals every scene as usual. Is there any film actor pre-1950 I love more? Sidney Lumet’s bleak masterpiece Fail-Safe, a sort of Dr. Strangelove without jokes, left me deeply discomfited, a chilling film to watch at a time when the threat of nuclear war seems greater than ever before during my life. And two Japanese films: Juzo Itami’s ‘ramen western’ Tampopo, playful, erotic and hilarious from start to finish; and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister, a straightforward drama of human relationships made with such delicacy and acuity that it’s exhilarating to watch. Kore-eda has an amazing hit rate in recent years, and this film is up there with I Wish and Still Walking. It’s been a very good year. Films that narrowly failed to make the cut: Ikiru, Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Nobody Knows (more Kore-eda), Girlhood, Love is Strange, Holy Motors, In the House.

Top 4 new films
It’s been a great year at the cinema too. Most of all, Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous Call Me by Your Name, one of those films I felt might have been made just for me. Given the novel is a favourite book of mine, the film had a lot to live up to, but it succeeded in almost every particular, a sensual, slowly intoxicating adaptation, sensitively scored, gorgeously performed, delicately devastating. Earlier in the year, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight had a similar effect on me, brutal and tender, poetic and pulsating. (I know, I’m overdosing on adjectives again.) Toni Erdmann was an unexpected delight, a film about an eccentric man’s dysfunctional relationship with his daughter. Sandra Hüller is tremendous as the daughter Ines, but my favourite moments were those where I suddenly became aware of Peter Simonischek’s Toni in the background, half Clouseau hunchback, half Les Patterson, simply being funny. It has its melancholic side too, but there’s a lot to be said for fun and funniness. And of course, Paddington 2, supremely entertaining. Not only are Paddington and the Browns lovable (hardly a given, considering how few film families one would wish to spend time with), the supporting cast is stunning. Tom Conti and his various physical indignities, randy Simon Farnaby, forgetful Sanjeev Bhaskar, and Hugh Grant giving the performance of his career (and even starring in a ‘Prisoners-of-Love’-style rendition of a number from Follies that was the cherry on the cake). Irresistible. Honourable mentions for The Big Sick, The Florida Project, and My Life as a Courgette.

Top 4 books
In a pretty good reading year there are a handful of books that stand out above the rest, among them Andrew Hankinson’s gripping You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat], Maggie Nelson’s audacious The Argonauts, Peter De Vries’s heartbreaking The Blood of the Lamb, and Muriel Spark’s wicked Symposium. But if I had to pick four, I’d choose three of my Grand Tour reads – Erich Kästner’s The Flying Classroom, the perfect book to read this Christmas (though you may have left it a little late); Margarita Karapanou’s darkly beautiful Kassandra and the Wolf; and of course Tony Parker’s housing estate compendium The People of Providence – and for a fourth, probably Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow’s mesmeric tapestry of early 20th-century America. I also loved his The Book of Daniel.

More of this stuff in a year, if we all make it.

Diary excerpts 7

February 26, 2017

4 January
Looking at old home videos I realise I peaked physically at New Year 1998. But I’m better now than I was at ten, which is a consolation.

13 January
Glimpsed through a window on Hertford Street: a middle-aged couple watching Up Pompeii in stony-faced silence.

30 January
M’s idea, several years ago, of an 11-year-old maths prodigy coming up to Cambridge and leaving with a third because he spends all his time with Footlights seems to me as brilliant now as it did then.

8 February
Wandering past the gift shop on the corner of Rose Crescent, I spot the same Mr Bean coaster set that’s been there for several years. Thinking of Mr Bean coasters as status symbol. Who would own such a thing? Someone who loves Mr Bean, perhaps. Thinking of the universal appeal of Mr Bean, given the absence of any language barrier, and the jarring notion of a family in Ethiopia, say, using their set of Mr Bean coasters (which isn’t after all so unlikely, given the work of Comic Relief). In a gift shop on King’s Parade, a Queen figurine and a Mr Bean figurine side by side. Perhaps Mr Bean would be one of the, say, ten most globally recognised British people. I can certainly think of several less desirable candidates.

8 March
We’re all so full of unacknowledged prejudices, aren’t we. I just walked past a pigeon in Webb’s and called it a fat fucker for no reason.

pigeon

21 March
Message just received on my voicemail: ‘I’m really sorry, I called your number by mistake and I think I might have sworn, which wasn’t intentional, so please accept my apologies.’

24 March
I like to think of Lemsip as the proprietary name of a generic drink called lemon sip.

13 April
Awoke today to hear myself singing ‘Was ist Silvia?’ What a lovely voice I’ve got, I thought. Turned out to be Fischer-Dieskau.

King’s College School miscellanea

July 16, 2016

A month ago I picked a slim volume, R.J. Henderson’s 1981 History of King’s College Choir School, Cambridge, off a library bookshelf, hoping it might provide some entertaining anecdotes. It did.

A History of King's College Choir School

The school was founded alongside King’s College in 1441 to provide somewhere for the choristers to be educated, and has grown into a co-educational prep school on West Road, a place I used to walk past in student days to get to the Music Faculty. The book’s fun, full of details from dusty archives and the unpublished memoirs and diaries of its members, and features plenty of people called e.g. Scrope, which is reassuring.

Two eccentrics spring off the page, the first being Charles R. Jelf, Headmaster from 1912 to 1927:

It might be thought that a headmaster who had accepted the post of Master over the Choristers at King’s College might well believe in the spiritual value of choral services and that the school existed primarily for the benefit of the choristers. On the contrary, Jelf’s extraordinary mixture of Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelicalism produced an attitude of derision towards the chapel services, which he openly decried as being nothing more than a concert of sacred music. He himself was a vicar-warden of St Giles, which he attended regularly with his family but, although he attended all chapel services, he derived little inspiration from them.

A similar contradiction was his extraordinary attitude that Oxford was superior to Cambridge in every respect. He refused to pay King’s College the compliment of incorporating as an MA of Cambridge University, wore an Oxford hood in chapel and never dined in College, although entitled to do so.

The other is his successor, the scatterbrained Cedric Moulton Fiddian:

Having sent a boy to his study to be disciplined at 9.30 in the morning Fiddian then forgot about him until, on returning to his study at four o’clock in the afternoon, he asked him why he was waiting there. The boy did not know, nor for that matter did Fiddian, who sent him back into school. On another occasion the headmaster instructed [senior matron] Miss Aikin to prepare a bed for a new boarder, a brother of one Bayliss, already at the school. The new boy was to arrive that evening. A brief remonstration from the matron that Bayliss was an only child was quickly waved aside. An hour later a shame-faced headmaster was forced to apologise and explain that he had only just that day opened the letter advertising the arrival of the ‘real’ Bayliss, who in fact had entered the school three years earlier. Like a good deal of Fiddian’s correspondence, it had disappeared under a sea of books and papers.

~~~

Some time ago I found a 1979 copy of the school magazine Fleur-de-Lys, from which I excerpt the following story, a magnificent tribute to a young girl’s imagination:

IF I WASN’T ME

I was madly in love with my pony, Misty, and I said to my dad, “Could I marry Misty?” and he said, “Of course you can’t,” and I said, “Why not?” and in the end he said, “Oh, all right,” and we married. The next day we got married. Only my sister came to the wedding. The next day I was grooming Misty and I looked in his water trough and realised I was a horse. The previous day dad had been told that there was a pony coming that I had to look after and he mistook me for that pony and he gave me some oats which I thought was the most disgusting stuff I had ever had and I spat it all over my dad and he was furious. Misty said that was delicious and kept on teasing me so a divorcement was made.

K.H., aged 10

~~~

If this sort of thing piques your interest, see also the brilliant King’s College Choir Book edited by Jonathan Rippon and Penny Cleobury, published in 1997. Full of delightful details, including this letter home from a 1950s choirboy that anticipates The Very Hungry Caterpillar:

Dear Mummy + Daddy,

I hope you received the Travel Form. Please return it as soon as possible

Last night was Founders Feast I ate.

1 Tongue sandwich
1 cheese     ”     (Dutch cheese)
2 chocolate biscuits
1 sausage roll
1 Orange
1 Ice
1 Banana
1 Apple
6 Dates
1 Candy sweets
3 glasses orangeade

BUT it was spoilt by Poor Nicholas (Steinitz) who turned white and fainted at the end He wasn’t drunk but I think he ate something which does not agree with him. I don’t know how he is but I expect he is better now.

Yesterday was the Fellowes match. A dog joined in and it kept running after the ball and worrying. In Mr Gaskell’s speech last night he said, “With the aid of some 3-year young research fellowes and a dog we managed to withstand the savage onslaugt put up by the choir school and beat them 2-0.” All clap except us who B-O-O-O-O! and then some chaps go S-S-S-S-S at the other end of the Hall!

Don’t forget Travel Form please

Much love

Clifford

(XXX) 1000,000.