Monday, July 19, 2004

A pretty good Friday

Well, it was a half day off work, for one thing.  I went up early, not because I thought I might be late, but because I haven't had time for a potter for too long.  So I went to South Ken and I pottered.  I pottered about in the soon-to-be-no-more classical music shop, and I watched a woman spend £1138 on CDs.  Yes, over a thousand pounds.  Pity I'm too polite to ask, really...

I pottered in the Serpentine Gallery, but I wasn't all that inspired, I'm afraid.  I pottered in the Science Museum, but if they still have moon rocks, I couldn't find them. (Remind me to tell you about A Man in the Moon sometme soon).  And I pottered in the new South Foyer of the Albert Hall, where they have a proper shop, and a cafĂ© and everything.

And then I went and queued up.  It was comforting to be back in the queue again - was it really 10 months?  I tried to blog from there - I managed it last year, but Blogger seems to have forgotten how to work with hand-held devices.  Then there was a deal of cnfusion about bag searches.  We have to have all bags larger than a briefcase searched now.  Fortunately, mine was deemed just small enough not to warrant it, but there was much muttering and mumbling, not least from the stewards, who are normally very cheerful and polite.  Still, it all sorted itself out in the end, and soon there was the familiar snaking, as the queue first contracts as everyone stands up, then expands as the recess in the steps gets ironed out.  The dry, if humid weather, and the general excitement of being back again seemed to produce a real buzz in the queue, and there was a real air of expectancy as we burst upward into the arena.  Now the Hall is finished, it is a truly spectacular place to be in an audience - what it must be like to play, I can only imagine.

The fountain was in place, but the inflatable snake, for some reason, was not.  Miraculously, there were no TV cameras in the arena, which made for a much less crowded experience, although the alternative, a precarious looking boom affair was a tad distracting at times, particularly when it seemed to be in imminent danger of decapitating the tuba player.  Anyway, a review is called for:

Prom 1 - 16 July 2004

The whole point of this evening is to hear the organ, but to be honest, just seeing it all cleaned, polished and properly opened up is quite enough treat for the senses.  The mirror is shining, the stops positively gleam, and for some reason, the surrounding area is trimmed with a kind of mottled blue instead of the traditional maroon.  This, it transpires, is Progress.

So, we wait with bated breath for the hissing and whooshing of the bellows, last heard drowning the old organ out entirely about 3 years ago.  But whooshing came there none.  Instead, crisp, clear, resonant sound issues forth, and it's rather a shame when the orchestra takes over for the fugue.  With most organ music, a little goes a long way, but Bach knew what he was about, and I'd have liked to have heard some of the more unusual settings.  Still, the final rumble was deeply impressive, arriving as it did simultaneously through the ears and the soles of the feet.

Even its best friend couldn't describe The Music Makers  as Elgar's finest work.  Rather too concerned with shoehorning in quotations from everything else he ever wrote, it seemed to me a patchy thing, which only really took off towards the end, when the soloist (who was superb) was soaring all over 'Nimrod'.  What kept it together, however, was some glorious singing.  The BBC Symphony Chorus are justly lauded - I've never seen them be anything other than impressive, and they really excelled in this.

As they did in the second half, albeit briefly, and slightly puzzlingly. The Planets is, I fear, rather on the verge of being hackneyed.  Which is a shame, for it's a splendid thing, with much to enjoy.  Therefore it was slightly worrying that the orchestra got off to a bit of a shaky start - Mars was a touch ragged to begin with, but all fears were misplaced.  As it progressed, the playing got better and better; Jupiter sounded fresh and new; Saturn sublime, and Neptune could not have been bettered.  At the end, the ethereal chorus drifted in - not sung by any of the singers on the stage, and I didn't look around for them, because it would have broken the spell.  I don't know how well it would have come across on TV, but the control as the voices faded and faded and faded was superb, and for once a Proms audience kept quiet until every last breath was done.

Quite wonderful, and an excellent omen for the rest of the season.


Friday, July 16, 2004

First Night nerves...

It's here at last.  My first First Night - I just had to hear the renovated organ, with its 9,999 pipes, and since it feels like an eternity since I was last in the queue, I'm kind of looking forward to it. There will, I'm sure, be a review afterwards; in the meantime, if you can get BBC2, look out for me in the Arena, won't you?

*exits, humming Bach...*

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

20 years? More like two or three, surely...

Friday, July 13th, 1984. Several hundred of us, dressed up as if we were real academics, parade around the McEwan Hall in Edinburgh, are invested with academic magic, and emerge, sheepishly, clutching our little red cardboard tubes. We had, I recall, a rather splendid evening the night before, we saw each other briefly on the day, and then we were gone, newly-qualified graduates (honours graduates!) all, off to be linguists or something else.

Something Else, mostly, I suspect. I remembered this anniversary about a week ago, but there has been no time to do anything about it since. Tonight, in a rare bout of peace, I tried to contact some of them. It's been a bit of a struggle, and so this is my final resort. Here is the roll of honour, in the hope that one or two of them might Google their name someday, and find us that way. Well, it worked for Ranoch Donald.

  • Stephanie Markman

  • G. M Anderson (Graeme)

  • Laura Barnett

  • Jacqueline C. Gulland

  • R. Lickley (Robin)

  • Janice Parkin

  • Susan E. Sentance

  • Catherine A. Urquhart

  • Jaqueline M. Young

  • Janet P. Hawkins

  • Kirsty V. Jeffery

  • Fiona Kennedy

  • Fiona A. Lawrence

  • Margaret Purcell

  • R. M. Watt (who he?)

  • Also:
    Linguistics with AI:
  • H.I.Tobermann (Harald)

  • English Lang and Linguistics:
  • Gillian Lindsay

  • Valerie M Wilkie

  • Italian and Linguistics:
  • Melissa M. Cudmore

  • Marietta di Ciacca

Well, you never know. I raise a virtual glass to you all - wherever you may be. Maybe someone else is out there, remembering that day...

Monday, July 05, 2004


I've tried to read Lord of the Rings three times now. First as a teenager, when I got through it but it seemed to make no impression on me; then about 15 years ago, when a copy liberated from my former employer found its way on to my bookshelf. On that occasion, I read most of it, and the broad outlines of the story stayed with me, along with all those evocative names, some only half remembered.

Then I watched the first two films, and I know people who were much exercised by some of the liberties taken with the text. Fair enough, I thought, it's a film - you can't just put every word on the page into a film, no one would watch it. But I was intrigued. There were things I didn't remember, and I wondered how the dialogue of the books squared with the language of the films. So I rooted around in the roof, and I found my extraordinarily large copy, and I set out to read it properly this time.

There's no point in reviewing it, really, but here are a few passing thoughts:

  • There is far too much poetry. Yes, I know most of them are songs, but we can't hear the music, so it's poetry. I'm not saying it's bad poetry, but there's too much of it.

  • There's a difference between letting the reader flesh out the characters and not telling us anything about their physical appearance at all.

  • Everyone has at least two names; some of them four or five. This is confusing when you are tired.

  • I think I gave up before because the structure of the thing required me to keep too much information in my head at one time. Concurrent action really shouldn't be happening several hundred pages apart.

  • I found the bookmark from the last time just past page 1000 - there was hardly any of it left, but I still gave up.

  • The language is - well, interesting. I could survive a long time without reading about anything else which is carven, for instance.

  • The maps are way, way too small. Headache-inducingly small. for the first time in my life, I seriously considered getting a magnifying glass to help me with my reading.

  • But.

  • But it's still an amazing experience.

  • Having seen the films helped fix certain things in my mind, but Frodo doesn't look like that (although I think Bilbo does).

  • Do I recommend it? Unhesitatingly. Is it the greatest book in the English language, or whatever? Nope. But I think it ought to be read nevertheless. It might help to take notes, though.