Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy 2010!



A few cherries - from tree centre left - from the year that's gone. It wasn't all dire, by any means.


A certain wedding in Cornwall in March. Happy times, even though blustery showery weather put paid to a wedding breakfast of Cornish pasties on the beach.



Performance of my Sounds and Sweet Airs (setting of 12 Shakespeare songs for small choir) in June. Splendid occasion, full house, very proud composer.



First of several terraces completed in a beautiful local stone called Dalle de Madale. (G clef not grown from seed.)


Septic tank emptied.



Blue Kitten visits, checks tuning of piano.

Happy days to everyone who comes here!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Glory days



We've been having a lovely time these last few evenings with a DVD of Tutti Frutti, which my daughter gave me for Christmas. Tutti Frutti was a 6-part BBC Scotland series, first broadcast in 1987, starring Robbie Coltrane and Emma Thompson. It followed the catastrophe-driven fortunes of a mediocre rock band trying to re-live the glory days they'd experienced 25 years before, playing Little Richard and similar early rock numbers round provincial Scotland. I was living in Scotland at the time, so I don't know if it was broadcast nationwide. Some of the dialogue might have been incomprehensible south of the Border.

Last night's episode was set in Buckie, a drab fishing port halfway between Inverness and Aberdeen, so unexceptional that 'I'll go to Buckie!' is sometimes heard as a substitute for other Scottish exclamations like 'Jings!' and 'Help ma boab!'. I particularly wanted to watch the Buckie episode not only because it was very funny but because a friend of my daughter claimed she was in it as an extra.

There might have been a fleeting glimpse of someone resembling her standing about gawping as Vince the bass guitarist was stretchered out of the Marine Hotel with multiple stab wounds, but I honestly didn't recognise her. Spotting extras you know can be pretty dodgy, especially if they're with you when you're watching the finished article. 'Look, there I am,' they cry, 'you can just see my elbow' and by the time you've located it the scene has moved on and you've missed a vital part of the action.

When I was a student I had a great friend, an amiable fantasist, who claimed to have been an extra in Lawrence of Arabia. He'd happened to have been in Damascus, he said, when they'd been filming some military parade, and he'd been roped in, given Arab dress and furnished with a Union Jack to wave while shouting 'Allenby el akbar' or some such thing. Well, I've seen Lawrence of Arabia at least half a dozen times and there's not the slightest glimpse of him.

While most of that student intake went on to become respectable teachers and monuments to convention, this chap, a son of Scunthorpe, was last heard of many years ago with his wife Ike (her father was an admirer of General Eisenhower) sailing yachts with dodgy cargoes about the Mediterranean. I've often tried to find him, but never more seriously than vainly invoking the 6 degrees of separation. I bet he's still telling tall stories about his glory days in the film industry.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Magi! Magi! Magi! Out! Out! Out!



If the tradition of present giving at Christmas originates in the visit of the three kings, or magi, to the infant Jesus, then Pieter Brueghel, the great unmasker of vanities, has some pretty sharp things to say about it in his Adoration of the Magi, above*.

On the French news this morning, the second item - the first was about airport security - reported the roaring trade on e-bay in unwanted Christmas presents. This seemed to me to be so sad, a terrible indictment of overblown giving and receiving. It occurred to me at that moment that the very same thing was happening in Brueghel's Adoration of the Magi: the man standing to the right of Joseph in Brueghel's painting was whispering to him that the proffered gold/incense/myrrh might fetch a tidy sum, and in fact he's brought his friend (extreme right, with glasses) along, whose racial origins would have been clear to Brueghel's public, if Joseph was interested in doing a little business. Nor does Joseph object...

I had to look through what seemed like hundreds of much more conventional Adorations of the Magi on Google before I found what I was looking for. I wondered why it was hidden so deeply. Maybe because the truths in it have such sharp edges? Wherever you look there is greed, envy, avarice, vanity, stupidity, underlined by suggestions of violence and death. Mary holds a hand up in an expression of weary resignation, maybe thinking to herself Oh, why couldn't they have brought nappies or baby wipes? (Is this terribly irreverent? It's not meant to be.) The baby Jesus shrinks away, as far as he can, and who can blame him? The 'gift' being offered is myrrh, of which the nearest present-day equivalent is embalming fluid.

Oh dear. And yet I love presents, as long as they're unconditional.

*Title inspired by Rog. Thanks.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Unknown correspondent



While Dr Johnson was compiling his Dictionary someone unknown to him contributed the origin of 'curmudgeon' as a corruption of the French coeur méchant, i.e. 'wicked heart'. Accurate or not, this notion took Dr Johnson's fancy. He included this derivation, acknowledging its source as an 'unknown correspondent'.

Some years later a Dr Ash, a rival and lesser lexicographer, discovered this while plundering Johnson's dictionary for good things to put into his own. Reluctant to allow Johnson any credit, however, he announced that 'curmudgeon' was derived from coeur, 'unknown', and méchant, 'correspondent'.*

I only put this in to slake my own Christmas curmudgeonliness. It's not a case of Scroogeism, of bah, humbug. Enjoy what you can while you can, I say. Carpe diem. I just wish, I just wish, I just wish I could share it without pretending. I hated Christmas as a child. Z's (over there on the right) beautifully written Christmas memoirs reveal worlds unknown to me: I feel like a tousled orphan furtively staring in through a gap in the curtains, ashamed of my beggarly status.

It's not that people were ungenerous, quite the reverse. There were presents galore. I really didn't care for opening them very much: so many presents connoted an obligation to the giver, an intrusion into my independence. I hated the food, which was perfectly good, well cooked and imaginatively presented Christmas fare. My earliest memories of being sick stem from Christmas time. Lifelong dislikes mostly originating in Christmas won't go away, however hard I try: dates, brazil nuts, stuffing, bread sauce, potatoes, dark chocolate, especially the sort you got in gold foil-wrapped 'coins'.

I carried this uncomfortable burden with me into adulthood. I was afraid of passing it on to my children. However hard you try to mask them, certain hereditary phobias always get through. Working in schools didn't help: the end of the Christmas term was always so frantically active, especially in Scotland where it wasn't unknown to break up on Christmas Eve, that there was no energy left for Christmas at home.

Twenty years or so ago I tried to get this out of my system by writing what I decided was to become the definitive novel about Christmas. It was never finished and I don't expect it ever will be, now. In an early chapter the hero attends a watchnight service. While waiting for proceedings to start he tells his pew-neighbour Mrs Woods, who has brought her cat to the service in a basket, about St Francis of Assisi and the origin of Christmas cribs. St Francis, a very great saint indeed, once created a life-size stable, manger and all the rest of it. Into it he drove cattle, donkeys, poultry and maybe - who knows? - cats as well. His Mary was about 13. He wanted to show the dirt, darkness, stink, squalor, poverty and unwantedness that Jesus was born into, and to invite his parishioners to draw their own conclusions.

I don't know where this story came from. An unknown correspondent, probably. As for me, please don't worry. I'm a happy little soul really, and I do try hard not to be a skeleton at the feast. But I shan't be sorry when it's all over. Happy days, everyone!


* Mustn't fall into the same trap: I got this story from The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, ed. James Sutherland, OUP London 1975

...to cheer everyone up after this lead-weight of dismalness here's an extraordinary piece of truly seasonal music.


Monday, 21 December 2009

December, 1910


Born in December 1910, my mother recently celebrated her 99th birthday and entered her 100th year. Here she is, very faint, when she was a few months old.

A random selection from Longman's Chronicle of the 20th Century gives a flavour of 1910:

*Girl Guides, a youth movement which encourages girls to be obedient, clean-living and resourceful, is formed by Sir Robert Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes

*Socialists are shot and sabred in Berlin during a suffrage demonstration

*Kissing is banned on French railways because of delays caused to trains thereby

*Diaghilev's Ballets Russes open their Paris season with première of Stravinsky's The Firebird

*Duncan Black and Alonzo Decker set up a tool company in Baltimore

*A London doctor claims that if lunacy increases at the current rate, the insane will outnumber the sane 40 years hence

*In Leipzig British officers Lt. Trench and Capt. Brandon are found guilty of espionage.

1910 was a busy year for the Ferryman:

*Edward VII died and was succeeded by his second son, George V

*Dr Crippen was hanged

*No amount of intercession by Dave could save Florence Nightingale

*The last surviving Pre-Raphaelite Brother, William Holman Hunt, died

*Charles Rolls, pioneer aviator, crashed fatally in Bournemouth, severing the Rolls-Royce partnership

*Reports of the death Mark Twain were no longer exaggerated.

My mother came from Colne, in Lancashire. The Burgh of Colne motto is, very aptly, 'We long endure'. She has been variously a teacher of home economics, a hotelière, a fashion retailer and a private caterer. She had to resign from her first post, in the West Riding, when she married. Married women were not then allowed in the teaching profession.

Several quotes have passed into family legend.

*When asked how she is: "A little better, thank you." Than what? We're never told.

*When tackling a bowl of raspberries, having emptied at least a quarter-pint of double cream into the dish:
"Do you eat much cream, dear?"
"No, I don't, really."
"Neither do I."

*Of her two marriages: "I never had any luck with my husbands."

Here she is with her great-grand-daughter, AKA the Blue Kitten. Almost 100 years separate them. When the Blue Kitten reaches a similar age, I wonder what her children will find remarkable about 2008, the year she was born?

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Mulling it over




It's very strange that Sarah could well have thought of asking me for my mulled wine recipe on the very evening that the troops came round to sample it at our Christmas do. You're very thoughtful, Sarah. Thank you. A seasonable request too, just in time for Christmas. If you try it, I hope it transports you and yours to unsuspected regions of delight.

I allow one 75cl bottle of red wine for every three people. It has to be a good red, obviously not a top vintage, but a quality red costing maybe £6-7. There's no point in mulling mediocre wine; it just comes out hot, but thin and so acid that it takes the lining off your throat. I used a heftyish local red called Mas Roueyre Terradou 2005, but I doubt if you'll find this on supermarket shelves elsewhere in the world. Any good red Vin de Pays d'Oc, Faugères, Minervois or St Chinian would do as well. The price is the pointer.

I was catering for nine people, so three bottles of Terradou went into a wide saucepan on a low heat. One of the secrets of a successful mulled wine is not to let it boil. If it boils, you might as well throw it out and start again. While the wine is warming, I prepare and add the other ingredients:

The juice of 6 navel oranges, freshly squeezed. Just the juice, no pulp or peel.

A muslin bag with goodly pinches of this and that: cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, ginger, whatever you fancy. Sometimes you can buy these in ready-made sachets, like tea-bags.

6 level tablespoons of brown sugar. Muscovado is best, otherwise Cassonade or Demerara

Add all these in turn, stirring gently. If you have time, bring it up slowly to just below the boil, turn off the heat and leave it to stew for an hour or so. Just before serving, heat it up again, and as soon as the first beaded bubbles start to wink at the brim, i.e. boiling point is not far off, reduce the heat and add my SECRET INGREDIENT: sprinkle the mix with a little pepper. It makes all the difference.

Remove the muslin bag, and it's ready to serve. For your guests' convenience, ladle it into pre-warmed mugs with handles.

A few don'ts:

Don't add brandy or other spirits. It doesn't improve the taste or the texture, and it really isn't fair to turn your guests surreptitiously into hostages to fortune if they're driving.

Don't call it glühwein. It isn't. The French call it vin chaud, hot wine.

Don't use fancy methods to heat the wine. I learnt my lesson twice over: a) Don't use a tea-urn for large quantities. It stains the inside, flavours the wine with canteen tea and vice versa. b) Don't use a red-hot poker, as I did once, anxious to impress with a display of sizzling artistry. It works with ale, but not wine.

Here are the troops, or some of them, at the top of this post. They had to sing for their supper. They are a choir, after all. One, M., brought a wonderfully gooey birthday cake, all fruit, cream and chocolate vermicelli. Otherwise the ever-stunning J. made mince pies, a winner every time with the French. And we had crackers, but that's another story.

Happy days, Sarah.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

O, vary clevair



More pits, more poultry.

I was once involved in a pit band at panto time, in Basingstoke Corn Exchange, or Guildhall, or whatever they have there. The pantomime was Mother Goose, the pit was tiny, the weather outside was foul and the single servo-driven windscreen wiper on my 1954 Ford Popular didn't work, so that I had to drive back to Southampton, where I worked at the time, with my head out of the window for most of the journey. Not something I call to mind with deep nostalgia.

There was one redeeming feature in an otherwise forgettable gig. Pit musicians are sometimes privileged to enjoy glimpses on stage that no audience ever gets to see in such close-up, and it's not always just a vulgar case of looking up can-can dancers' skirts. Mother Goose of Basingstoke was massive, a feather-and-fibreglass creation on a scale to accommodate the actor/actress inside it.

Seen from below the full inventive genius of this rigout became apparent. There was more behind to it than the before, which was taken up with yellow-clad legs. The overhanging, cantilevered behind was taken up with a mechanical ovary for the laying of golden eggs. Indeed, there was a rack for unlaid eggs, like a bomb-bay on a WW2 Lancaster. I can't give any details of the release gear, but each laying was accompanied by monstrous clucking, puffing and blowing and was followed by deserved applause and cheers from the audience.

This is the only association I have in my mind with Basingstoke.

Mother Goose surfaced again many years later in a book by somebody with the splendid name of Luis d'Antin van Rooten called Mots d'heures: Gousses, Rames*, a title which translates from the French as 'Words of Hours: Cloves (of garlic), Trains'. Bizarre.

You read on, noting with curiosity that among the acknowledgements 'Miss Beauty Love Johnson, laundress', isn't forgotten, and you discover that the book is a collection of 'poems'. Among them you find:

Pousse y gâte, pousse y gâte

Et Arabe yeux bine?

- and even with good French you scratch your head : not only is the title meaningless, the poems make very little sense: 'Push there spoil, push there spoil, And Arab eyes hoe?' But, ask someone French, especially someone with a rich speaking voice, to read this aloud, sonorously, with full regard to the rhythm, and you get, near enough:

Pussy-cat, pussy cat,
Where have you been?

Yes, well. And there are 40 of the wretched things.

*Pretend to be Inspector Clouseau. Make sure nobody else is about. Close the door. Draw the curtains. Read this aloud. Go on, I dare you: Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Rames = Mo - der - goose - rahm = Mother Goose Rhyme(s).


Monday, 14 December 2009

Night of the Garter



Watching Offenbach's La Vie Parisienne on French TV the other night I became quite nostalgic over my days playing in pit orchestras. It was during a performance of La Vie Parisienne (playing the 2nd bassoon part on 'cello) in Scotland that I probably reached the very pinnacle of my musical career.

At the end everything becomes very animated with can-can dancers. Experience of this in the pit can be varied. If you're playing horn or trombone, they've probably put you right underneath the stage apron, and all you're conscious of is elephantine thumpings above your head, with each thump accompanied by showers of dust.

If you're playing violin, well to the front of the pit, the choice between appreciating the view immediately above you and keeping your eye on your music must be agonising. As it happens, the 2nd bassoon can-can part is so simple that it can be played effectively from memory, allowing the player to look about him/her and take in the whole frenetic ambience. I was lucky enough to be placed well forward.

On the last night of the run the famous can-can finished with the dancers ripping off their frilly garters and throwing them into the audience. Girls sometimes have problems throwing things any distance, and one short-trajectoried garter ended up on the end of my 'cello bow. I have to say at this point that it brought no privileges or benefits whatever, and I never discovered whose garter it was. But such an unusual trophy had to be kept, so it went into my special drawer and stayed there for many years.



When we moved house five years ago I emptied my special drawer into a bin-liner - we were only moving about 200 metres, so packing was fairly low-key - and into the black plastic bag went the frilly garter along with other treasured needments like a fossilised shark's tooth, some Spanish after-shave, a bird-warbler (put a little water into a bird-shaped container and blow gently down its hollow 'tail'), a lock of raven hair, a lucky Victorian penny, my favourite nail-scissors and so on. Then there was the Jolly Jumping Pecker, a wind-up penis that staggered fitfully about the floor, a prize I won at the Christmas do of the RAF band I played with for a time. All men should have a special drawer to keep such mementoes of halcyon moments in, wayside shrines filled with votive offerings to life's little triumphs and the winning hand fate occasionally deals. (Although at the time there were murmurings across the breakfast table about essentially frivolous natures, feet of clay, what would the neighbours/Board of Governors think, have you no sense of dignity?, capering's like a disease with you, etc., etc.)

There was also a pack of some pills called Wind-Eze, which I bought once simply for the name and the diverting possibility of passing the pack round, straight-faced, towards the end of any formal dinner parties we might be invited to.

It was a great mistake to put these treasures into a bin-liner. They were never seen again. As regards the Wind-Eze and the Jolly Jumping Pecker, probably just as well.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

QED

On hearing that we were going to the UK for a few days, our friend Amilcar, a bass in my choir, asked if we could bring him back a tea cosy. 18 months ago we took the choir on tour to England. Amilcar had seen tea cosies at the house of his B & B hosts and had decided he wanted one.

Besides being a bass in my choir he's a market gardener. He has various fruit and vegetable plots around his village, a little place hidden in the mountains a mile or two to the north of us. Occasionally he takes an after-lunch pot of tea outside on to his terrace and he likes to keep it warm for as long as possible. A tea cosy would provide the solution.

You wouldn't have thought there was any problem with keeping things warm outside in the south of France, but then the French have never cottoned on to using boiling water to make tea. They rarely have kettles and instead use an open saucepan to warm water, which is often deemed to be hot enough as soon as the first tiny bubbles wink on the base of the pan. It's useless to remonstrate.

We promised to do our best. We found a very nice knitted one, which we gave him when we came back. He was delighted.

He is his own man, a person of great charm and individual appearance, and I think he may be of Phoenician descent.

Somebody defined curiosity - or was it eccentricity? - as that force which compels a man confronted with an otherwise unused tea cosy to try it on his head.

QED.

Friday, 11 December 2009

A literary critic cricket

Ever a dedicated follower of fashion, I'm not going to be left out of a current blog trend to feature insects and spiders. I need do no more than mention recent offerings from:


1. Rog (a spider, natural enough on the www), and

2. Z (an ant, a Portuguese paradigm for pulling our weight but not overdoing it, a very comfortable philosophy)

- and if you want chapter and verse for these you'll have to click on the Followers thumbnails just over there on the right, because in my immeasurable computer thickness I've never learned how to insert a hyperlink, if that's what it's called.

Anyway, here's my offering. Actually it's not a cricket at all, it's a grasshopper. It's had its fill of English Literature (Part 1) and is hopping off to where the grass is greener. Grasshoppers are much more likely than crickets to leap off into the unknown, not having the slightest idea where they may end up. In summer I can hardly complete a length of the pool without having to stop to rescue some venturesome soul who's launched himself into the wide blue yonder, only to discover that the w.b.y. is indeed blue but is also very wet. Once in the water they kick wildly and unavailingly, sometimes for so long that their legs come off. Mostly I take them in the palm of my hand, make for the edge in a sort of treading-water-cum-doggy-paddle, and then shake them or blow them on to dry land, making certain that they face away from the pool, otherwise they jump back in again. Swimming here can become one long intervention on behalf of the RSPCI. As for the ladybirds...

...but my theme was crickets and grasshoppers. At this time of year they think about finding somewhere warm to spend the winter. How they get indoors is a mystery, but we find them, vine crickets especially, all through the house. Not in any great quantity, but here and there, beside the extractor fan, inside the piano, behind the paintings that seem to feature inordinately in this blog and so on. Some crickets lurk in the bookshelves. This I can understand. Clearly they're looking to spend an agreeable winter in the pages of Wisden.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Hitherto

Going through hundreds of old family photographs recently I found this one. It shows my grandfather, whose first name was Ebenezer.

Please don't imagine there's any seasonal connection with Ebenezer Scrooge. In the 1870s, when my grandfather was born, Ebenezer was an acceptable name in the strict Methodist family from which he came. Apparently it means 'hitherto the Lord has helped us'.

Anyway, never mind all that. Here he is on the right, with his pals Dave (extreme left) and Vicus (centre, nodding off), who call him 'Eb', 'Ebby' or even 'Uncle Eb'. What I'd really like to draw attention to is the painting above the mantelpiece. This was given to him and my grandmother Sarah as a wedding present in 1909 by a friend called Walter Hey, who bought it from a Leeds art gallery with which the late Victorian artist Atkinson Grimshaw was associated.

Like so many late Victorian artists Grimshaw was obsessed with evening, as though he and his colleagues knew their era was coming to a close. It's the same with this picture, Highland Sunset, painted by an artist called Clarence Roe. It probably dates from about 1880.

Eventually this painting came to me. For a long time I wondered where this scene was. The mountain appears to be Slioch in Wester Ross. The configuration of the church or castle (you can't really tell which) and the surrounding cottages with chimney smoke rising straight - there'll be a sharp frost as night falls - suggest Kilchurn in Argyll. In fact it isn't anywhere definite. It's a composite. An illusion, again.

It had never been cleaned, although it never suffered the smoke damage suffered by several of the paintings I've blogged about. I took it for cleaning a couple of months ago to Aude Ficini, a wonderfully gifted picture-restorer in Montpellier, whose magic touch has brightened it up so much, but not so far as to mask the deeper sense of the onset of night and the end of a glorious day. I collected it yesterday. Here she is with Highland Sunset in her studio.

Decorative arts on the left, wouldn't you agree?

Monday, 7 December 2009

Dressing-up chests

This is a scene from Nicolai Gogol's The Government Inspector.


One of the world's great comedies. Briefly, a very badly-run provincial town in tsarist Russia is expecting a visit from a government inspector. A penniless aristocratic rake, Hlestakov, has lost his last farthing at cards. On his way to his father's estate he stops in the town and puts up in the inn, although he has no money to pay the bill. He is mistaken for the promised inspector. The Mayor and other town officials fête him, lionise him, bribe him outrageously while denouncing each other to him. Hlestakov revels in all this, flirts with the Mayor's wife and daughter (on the settee in the photo), and has a high old time until he judges he can't push his luck any further. He leaves. Shortly afterwards the postmaster Shpyokin intercepts a letter from Hlestakov to a friend in St Petersburg in which he reveals all. The town officials round on each other. At the height of their angry recriminations the real Government Inspector is announced.

It was an all boys' school, meaning that female parts had to be played by boys. This may have been in the best Shakespearean tradition, but for us teenage actors it presented certain problems. Least of these was the inescapable rustling of bosoms stuffed with tissue paper. Tissue paper bosoms don't return to their original shape after being rudely squeezed by impious hands; more fluffed-up tissue paper has to be stuffed down the bodice. A greater problem was that of falling in love. Gogol's script may have required Hlestakov to pretend to fall in love with Marya Antonovna, the mayor's daughter, in order to draw the maximum advantage out of the situation, but little did our Hlestakov know he had other real-time rivals actually on stage or in the wings. I'm in this photo, but I neither played Marya Antonovna nor fell in love with 'her'.

Off-stage, 'she' was the first person I ever went to into a pub with. Not in costume, of course. In my naïveté I ordered a glass of Liebfraumilch. It's not easy, growing up.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Starkadder v. Fraser


This chap is playing Romanian folk-dances in a Montpellier tram. No one is listening. No feet are tapping. No one reacts, except me: I give him 2 euros for allowing me to take his photo.

Copenhagen starts tomorrow. No one will listen. Feet will only tap in frustration. No one will react.

"Ye're all damned!" as Amos Starkadder bawled in Cold Comfort Farm.

"Ye're all doomed!" as Pte Fraser said repeatedly in Dad's Army.

Here's the Place Côme in Montpellier. Look carefully. It's a trompe l'oeil, a beautifully crafted illusion. In reality the entire façade is a blank wall.


I feel very down about the whole wretched business. I can't see any solution other than a mass cull of humanity. Persuade me otherwise, somebody. Cheer me up.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Off limits

No doubt I was lucky. At the time it was taken this photo was damning, incontrovertible evidence of Olympian disdain for School Rules.


It was taken from the gateway into the The Walled Garden. The photographer, another 12-year-old, wouldn't cross the line, and aimed his Box Brownie at me inside. The Walled Garden was out of bounds. I shouldn't have been in there. For those with a subversive streak putting somewhere off limits just fires curiosity. What forbidden fruit was in there? What was to be hidden from pre-teen, pre-pubertal eyes?

Often and often had I wondered what secrets the Walled Garden held. In fact there wasn't anything very interesting. Some bales of straw, greenhouses, cold frames, manure heaps, just the usual impedimenta of a large kitchen garden. As so often happens, it was better to travel in the mind's eye than to arrive.

In due course the photo was developed and printed in the school dark-room. Nothing happened. My trespass was forgiven.

It's in the same vein that I wonder, often and often, what the regular visitors here are really like. It's clear that you're all very charming, personable, intelligent, articulate and friendly people, and there's no set of people I'd rather have in my mind's eye when putting posts together. But all I have to go on, apart from Dave, whom I've actually met, is the trade-mark image (I won't use the Av-word, I'm afraid) and what you reveal of yourselves in your writings. Nevertheless I'm drawn - very humbly indeed - to certain conclusions...

Geoff I see as strongly resembling George Clooney, but with glasses. He spends a lot of his time, at home and at work, looking out of the window, but he sees much more than what's in sight. If he has a middle name it's possibly Regret. He has a winning smile, unchanged since he was very small. He takes a lot of care with his dress , which owes more to Next than M&S. An affectionate, patient and witty man, very loyal to his friends. You wouldn't easily find a better neighbour.

Sarah allows us glimpses of her true appearance from time to time, but beyond that I see her as beautifully spoken and much given to wild laughter. She is excellent company. She dresses in a very individual and attractive way, and her sense of colour indicates great depths of artistic feeling. She lives more for the moment than for eternity, prefers outdoors to indoors and loves the wind in her hair and sea-scents in her nostrils.

Vicus is tall and ascetic, slightly resembling George Bernard Shaw. Dress is important to him. He would never dream of going out without cleaning his shoes. He has beautiful handwriting. The disappointments he may have known have only served to magnify the greatness of his heart. He is a very careful and considerate driver, a great family man with wide interests. He has thought of going into local government, but is glad to have resisted the temptation. I could never beat him at chess. I don't expect he goes in for darts or arm-wrestling much.

Rog, you stand alone. There is none like you.

Z is a marvellous compendium of good things above the price of rubies. There is steel and determination woven into her otherwise affectionate and outgoing nature, although once she may have been at some pains to overcome a basic shyness. A certain attractive insouciance masks the depth both of her reading and of her willingness to organise competently. Her smile will light a whole room, her pearly laugh is infectious. She rarely speaks ill of anyone, although often ready to tease gently. Very good company, with an enviable gift for keeping friendship green.

I,LTV's capacious brain is perpetually buzzing with original ideas clamouring for attention. The endless jigsaw of highly-coloured objects and bright and lively people in her life will never be completed. As she quivers with energy others sometimes find it hard to keep up. She always looks for the best in people. I feel I should like to read her poetry, but I suspect this may be a very private activity.

Then there's Dave. A sovereign bloke, if ever there was one. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be writing this blog. So you can blame him if I've trespassed, again.

Anonymous has a beguiling smile which he bestows on everyone. Apart from the wholly merited reputation for an easy-going bonhomie which this gives him, it allows the smilee to note that he has no fillings. Our friend is an orthodontist, and good wine needs no bush. Like us all, he sometimes allows himself to dwell in the past, especially late at night. A public-spirited man, he has toyed with the idea of becoming a freemason, a prison visitor, bedesman, but was so disappointed at being refused membership of the Soroptimists that he has developed a tendency to turn in upon himself rather than deploy himself more extrovertly. He once won - and subsequently ate - the Mrs Joyful Prize for raffia work.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Ciao, Joe Green



My introduction to Verdi came during a Medway Towns Soroptimist 'Victorian' evening. I was required to accompany on the piano a gentleman with mustachios and a central parting, who towered over a very small lady with a squeaky voice. They sang a duet from the world's most disorganised opera, Il Trovatore. I was 14 and wished I was somewhere else.

The duet was Ai nostri monti ritornaremo, we will return to our mountains. Today's photo, of the first dusting of winter snow on the mountains we see from our front door, is dedicated to all those rugged mountain folk of eastern England and elsewhere, mustachio'd or very small, Verdi fans or otherwise.