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I promise I won’t say ‘unprecedented’.

100 days without my major diversions – travel, theatre, concerts, exhibitions, opera, dance – is simply unprecedented. OK, I lied. Six cancelled trips, four international, and 63 lost cultural events. So far. I got myself set up with extra streaming services early on, but nothing really replaces live anything. As much as I’ve appreciated the lengths arts organisations have gone to sharing recordings of their work, or creating socially distanced new work, little of it has really engaged me. Lack of concentration appears to be a common complaint and it certainly marred my reading, listening and viewing.

An early positive was exploring the neighbourhood. I’ve lived here for over 21 years, but I’d hardly ventured onto the 220 acre common and even nearer woods 100m from my front door. My daily walks (I only missed one day), latterly twice daily, through the change of seasons from the tail end of winter through spring to early summer were a revelation of nature. When I started the thirty-something trees on the small green I overlook were bare. An entire season revealed itself before my eyes as they came fully into leaf, with blossom coming and going. After the purchase of some new earphones, music accompanied my walks enabling me to mine my vast music collection and reconnect with some classic albums.

Soon, though, the fine weather meant people started invading these spaces in big numbers and it became increasingly difficult to maintain social distance with others two three or more abreast, dogs off leads, pram pushers on kamikaze missions, inconsiderate cyclists on pedestrian only paths……I became a grumpy old man. OK, an even grumpier old man. As is often the case, we see both the best and worst in people in a crisis, so this was balanced by kindness and consideration.

At first impressed by the government’s handling of it all, particularly the economic aspects, despite the slowness of the initial response, it didn’t take long before the lack of clarity, indecision, hypocrisy and incompetence meant I climbed the grumpy old man scale even further. Only the US seemed to be making more of a hash of it.

I shall campaign for Sir Tim Berners-Lee to be elevated to a peerage, as the internet proved to be my saviour, by enabling me to continue my part-time work online, advising clients and running training sessions, and by bringing people into my living room, individually and in groups, on video calls. Some included diversions like quiz’s and other ‘games’. I’ve only spoken to a handful of people face-to-face, socially distanced of course, so this proved crucial. I was expecting the internet or broadband to break, but it didn’t. If only I’d sold my BA shares and bought Zoom shares.

The garage rang asking if I wanted to reschedule the cancelled service, the hairdresser rang to offer me the first appointment on their first day back and the chiropodist reopened to take care of my feet after all that walking. All we need now is the dentist to repair the broken tooth and the green shoots will be complete. There won’t be any live culture for a while yet, but I should get to travel, if only in the UK.

It’s been a tough 100 days, but I stayed sane, didn’t put on weight and strengthened many friendships. I didn’t get very far down the ‘to do’ list, though, and I consumed 23 box sets and too much wine. As I write I’m planning local picnics, visits to friends in other parts of the UK and to hire a cottage or two with others for a change of scenery and some good company. This is what the next 100 days are beginning to look like. Better than the first 100 but a long way from a normal 100.

End of Pandemic Part One.

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Opera

I managed to catch an opera during a visit to Brno in the Czech Republic, a rarely performed Dvorak work called The Devil & Kate. They consider it a children’s show there, so it was an early start and was full of (well behaved) kids. I liked the music, but the story was a bit weak and the performers didn’t seem to have their heart in it. Still, £11 for the best seat in the house!

The Royal Academy of Music’s production of Massenet’s Cherubin was terrific, with sky high musical standards – some stunning soloists and a great chorus and orchestra. Any opera house would be proud to have a production this good in their repertoire, yet here it was at a conservatoire!.

Classical Music

The LSO invited American conductor Andre Thomas and his pianist, soprano & baritone to lead a Gospel evening which included a Mass he composed, with traditional spirituals on either side. With 450 singers, 90% of them in community choirs, overflowing into the front third of the Barbican Hall stalls, it was rousing, but it had its gentle moments too, notably a beautiful unaccompanied soprano solo of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Great to see one of the world’s top orchestras extending itself in this way.

Another lunchtime concert at RAM, this time their Chamber Orchestra conducted by Trevor Pinnock in a lovely combination of Ravel and Mozart. I so love these little gems.

Trying to rescue an afternoon after a cancelled theatre matinee, we decided on a wander along the south bank of the Thames, starting by popping in to Southwark Cathedral where we caught the last half of a delightful concert by Wake Forest University Concert Choir. Our half seemed to be the more interesting selection, five secular works. Lovely.

The LSO were on fine form at the Barbican yet again, with a pairing of Britten’s Violin Concerto, superbly played by Norwegian Vilde Frang, which I was hearing for the first time, and Vaughan Williams uncharacteristically dark 6th Symphony, which I have heard before but it felt like the first time. The curtain-raiser of VW’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis completed a superb programme brilliantly played. Antonio Pappano thanked us for coming to support them, acknowledging the many seats clearly vacant due to Coronavirus fears. This had somehow added an air of foreboding and melancholy. It turned out to be my last dose of culture, excluding art, before lockdown.

Dance

We’ve been inundated with juke box musicals, but the dancical, which followed at the beginning of this century with Contact and Moving Out, never really took off. Well, Message in a Bottle, hip hop dance to the music of Sting at the Peacock Theatre certainly did. The twenty-six songs, many re-recorded by him with the help of Hamilton’s Alex Lacamoire, sounded great. The refugee narrative worked well, thanks to playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s dramaturgy. Kate Prince’s choreography was thrilling, often taking your breath away. Now to see the man again in six months’ time…..hopefully.

Film

I enjoyed Military Wives, even though I blubbed through a lot of it! I was however puzzled and a bit upset by the fact they wiped Gareth Malone and The Choir documentary series out of the story altogether. It felt like changing history to me.

I like and admire films that expose injustice and Dark Water was a fine one, though embarrassingly close to home for someone who once worked in the chemical industry. A lack of law suits against the film suggest its story is true, so shame on you DuPont.

Art

Masculinities: liberation through photography at the Barbican Art Gallery had some interesting photos, but I’m not sure what the point of it was. It was vast and varied, but it was one of those exhibitions you go to because it’s free for members; if you’d paid, you’d be even less satisfied.

At Borough Market, I popped in to see Picturing Britain, an exhibition of photographs about the poor and those working with them. It was a bit small and the space didn’t really do them justice, I’m afraid.

On a visit to Oxford I went to the Ashmolean Museum to see Young Rembrandt, which focused mostly on pictures from his late teens / early twenties, much of it drawings. It was a stunning body of work and a way more satisfying exhibition than the recent Rembrandt’s Light at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

On the day before the lockdown, I decided to do an art binge of exhibitions I didn’t want to miss, starting with Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain which was brilliant, and an astonishing body of work by a man who only lived until he was 25. It was easier to get social distance in the gallery than any shop, workplace or school so I continued by travelling on the Tate to Tate boat (at one point the only passenger) to see Andy Warhol at Tate Modern. I’ve seen a lot of his work, including visiting his museum in Pittsburgh, but there were still things new to me. Next stop was the Royal Academy of Arts to be introduced to a new artist once again, Belgian Leon Spilliaert, whose exhibition was particularly diverse and well worth catching. The final stop was a double-dip at the NPG, staring with David Hockney’s Portraits. Again, I’m glad I caught them, but there were only really three or four subjects in addition to a lot of self-portraits which made it a touch monotonous, though his diverse styles were indeed fascinating. Finally, a retro treat in Cecil Beaton’s photographs, most from the golden age of the mid-20th century, mostly black and white. I was exhausted but satisfied. It’ll be a long time before I see a fraction of what I saw on that day.

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Antiques Roadshow

Spooks

Dr Who (Eccleston/Piper)

Tony Robinson’s WWI

Pie in the Sky

New Tricks

Luther

QI

Homes Under the Hammer

Bargain Hunt

Inspector Morse

….and something with David Attenborough. Obviously.

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SOCIALISM
You have 2 cows. You give one to your neighbour

COMMUNISM
You have 2 cows. The State takes both and gives you some milk

FASCISM
You have 2 cows. The State takes both and sells you some milk

NAZISM
You have 2 cows. The State takes both and shoots you

BUREAUCRACY
You have 2 cows. The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away

CAPITALISM
You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income

ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND CAPITALISM
You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Islands company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release. The public then buys your bull

SURREALISM
You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons

AN AMERICAN CORPORATION
You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has dropped dead

A GREEK CORPORATION
You have two cows. You borrow lots of euros to build barns, milking sheds, hay stores, feed sheds, dairies, cold stores, abattoir, cheese unit and packing sheds. You still only have two cows

A RUSSIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows. You have some vodka. You count your cows and discover you really have five cows! You have more vodka. You count them again and discover you have 42 cows! You stop counting cows and have some more vodka. The Russian Mafia arrives and takes over all your cows. You have more vodka

A FRENCH CORPORATION
You have two cows. You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows

A JAPANESE CORPORATION
You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called a Cowkimona and market it worldwide

AN ITALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are. You decide to have lunch

A SWISS CORPORATION
You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you. You charge the owners for storing them

A CHINESE CORPORATION
You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim that you have full employment and high bovine productivity. You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation

AN INDIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows. You worship them

A BRITISH CORPORATION
You have two cows. Both are mad

AN IRAQI CORPORATION
Everyone thinks you have lots of cows. You tell them that you have none. No-one believes you, so they bomb the **** out of you and invade your country. You still have no cows, but at least you are now a democracy

AN AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows. Business seems pretty good. You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate

A NEW ZEALAND CORPORATION
You have two cows; the one on the right looks kind of cute

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National Theatre Wales’ contribution to the Dylan Thomas centenary wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but it proved to be a lovely afternoon and I was glad I made the trip from London. A wander around Laugharne to see installations, watch VT’s and listen to ‘broadcasts’, bookended by scenes behind the Tin Shed, in a bus garage and outside the Town Hall, with a funeral procession through the main street following a fish & chip hut with neon signage!

There are only two characters, Mike Voyce (Russell Gomer) – a spin on Thomas’ first voice / narrator – and Roy Ebsworth-Williams (Charles Dale), our ‘tour guide’, but we also get all sixteen Lauharne Players, who’ve been putting on Under Milk Wood annually since 1958, including the town mayor, who proves to be a proper raconteur in true Dylan Thomas fashion. The ‘broadcasts’, superbly written by Jon Treganna (who runs Browns Hotel!), emanate from loud speakers at four points during your wander, with ‘handouts’ for you to relish the Dylanesque narrative. The installations created by Marc Rees are all over the town, and in a series of huts (Corrugation Street!) on the edge of the estuary you’re shown footage from the (then) forthcoming BBC Wales (Welsh) star-studded TV production of Under Milk Wood. You peer into Dylan’s writing shed, walk through his home The Boathouse and make a pilgrimage to his grave in St Martin’s Church yard.

We struggled to visit all of the locations in the 90 minutes allowed between the two opening scenes and the finale, but caught up with those we missed later. It had a homespun feel, a real community project, and when we’d completed it all and read the broadcasts it all fell into place, leaving a very satisfying feeling. A sunny afternoon probably helped. I so admire the ambition and imagination of NTW and have loved all four of the shows I’ve managed to catch and now can’t wait for my First World War adventure in a field in Usk next month!

 

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This year I’ve doubled the Christmas card budget and found a better home for the money, so I hope you won’t mind this simple message.

In previous year’s we’ve bought yaks, cows, pigs & goats and theatre tickets for kids. This year, we’re funding the university education of an African orphan.

Have a great time.

Gareth

Christmas 2012

Order number: 100003020

More info at www.goodgifts.org

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Do you have feelings of inadequacy? Do you suffer from shyness? Do you sometimes wish you were more assertive?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist  about Cabernet Sauvignon.
 
Cabernet Sauvignon is the safe, natural way to feel better and more confident about yourself and your actions. It can help ease you out of your shyness and  let you tell the world that you’re ready and willing to do just about anything.
 
You will notice the benefits of Cabernet Sauvignon almost immediately and, with a regimen of regular doses, you can overcome any obstacles that prevent you from living the life you want to live.
 
Shyness and awkwardness will be a thing of the past and you will discover many talents you never knew you had.
 
Stop hiding and start living.
 
Cabernet Sauvignon may not be right for everyone. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use it. However, women who wouldn’t mind nursing or becoming pregnant are encouraged to try it.
 
Side effects may include: dizziness, nausea, vomiting, incarceration, loss of motor control, loss of clothing, loss of money, loss of virginity, delusions of grandeur, table dancing, headache, dehydration, dry mouth, and a desire to sing Karaoke and play all-night rounds of Strip Poker, Truth Or Dare, and Naked Twister.
 
WARNINGS:
 
* The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may make you think you are whispering when you are not.
 
* The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may cause you to tell your friends over and over again that you love them.
 
* The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may cause you to think you can sing.
 
* The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may create the illusion that you are tougher, smarter, faster and better looking than most people.
 
Please feel free to share this important information with as many as you feel may benefit!
 
Now just imagine what you could achieve with a good Shiraz.

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I’ve blown the Christmas card budget on a good cause again this year. After yaks in 2009 and cows, pigs and goats in 2010, this year its closer to home – 50 theatre tickets for class 7 kids. Hopefully I won’t be at the same performance as I can’t abide all that sweet rustling and texting! I hope you have a great Christmas and a happy 2012.
 

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Last year I blew the Christmas card budget on a few Yaks for families in Tibet and the feedback was terrific, so this year we’ve bought one of these for a family in Africa …..

…..and one of these for a family in Asia ….

…..and this goat couple for a family in Central America ….. 

So it’s a moo, a honk and a couple of bleats from me. Have a great Christmas & New Year!

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