Sunday, 25 September 2011

Going, going, gone

A week or two ago J. and I were invited to the inauguration of a private observatory. Our German friend M. had built one in her garden, with her own hands, down to the last nail, rivet and dollop of cement, and finally it was ready to be put into operation. Local legend has it that M. has a supernova named after her, so clearly she is an astronomer to be reckoned with. A bit of a star, in fact.

So off we drove on the designated afternoon to find her house and observatory. After a warm welcome with lemon meringue pie served with a cocktail of rosé and concentrated pineapple juice M. led us to her creation. She has built her observatory on the traditional plan, a sort of giant rotating lemon-squeezer on a circular base. If she wants to view a particular section of the heavens, she rotates the dome, opens a panel and aims the telescope at whatever she wants to observe.

She has also built her telescope herself, everything apart from the reflecting mirror and some of the lenses. Counterweights, gauges, focussing gear, bearings, all these and more she has made herself, often using a lathe she was given for a thirteenth birthday present. A very remarkable lady.

It turned out, very much to our surprise, that we were the only guests, apart from a retired journalist who lived down the lane, whose private water supply had given out and who'd come to beg a shower. So M. produced a half-bottle of champagne and J. and I and the newly-clean journalist toasted her and her new observatory.

Unfortunately the day was overcast, so we saw nothing, not even the sunspots for which M. had rigged up a special viewing screen. The erratic behaviour of sunspots just now is one of the few things that seem to worry M. : auguries for the future aren't good. But we nailed the supernova legend: it wasn't true, M. said. No one had supernovae named after them. She had once belonged to a group of astronomers assigned to search a certain section of the heavens for supernovae, and she had indeed discovered several. They weren't all that rare, but they came and went, and any she had discovered were now very indistinct or had disappeared altogether.

We left at about 10, full of pride in our friend's achievement and also of a Rhineland speciality she offered us, a sort of potato rissole called Kartoffelklösse.

(Apropos of nothing, I see from our local paper Midi Libre that a Ukrainian died after eating Kartoffelklösse in a competition. He consumed 88. I expect Rog would call that deadication.)

Then a few days ago we had lunch with other friends, one of whom is an amateur astronomer, equally full of foreboding about those sunspots, as worried about their continuing effect as people were about Y2K 11 years or so ago, and I hope as needlessly. We told him about our visit to M.'s observatory. In turn he directed us to the supernova M101, saying it was growing fainter by the hour, but we might just catch it if we got the binoculars out that night.

Well, we forgot. The next night we looked again, cricking our necks endlessly scanning the area above Alkaid and Mizar/Alcor at the end of the handle of the Plough or Big Dipper. No luck. It had gone. Will we ever get another chance to see a supernova?

(Blogs come and go, too, and are clearly as unstable as supernovae. Lydian Airs is fading out for a bit. Maybe, like certain comets, it'll come round again. Who knows? Meanwhile, warmest thanks to all you celestial beings who've shone so brightly in the comments columns. You're all first-magnitude stars.)

Monday, 19 September 2011

Cocoa vs. Alveolar prognathism

Glancing through that horrific book Struwwelpeter the other day I was as much struck by the dreadful implications of the story of Little Suck-a-Thumb . . .

. . . as by the extraordinary irony of the advert on the back page of the rather tattered copy in our bookshelves:

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Through a local lens No. 10

Esteemed Organ

Every year about this time my friend Jean-Claude and I give a public explanation and demonstration of the organ in the village church. Jean-Claude's part in the demonstration is to read from the altar steps the explanatory text that I wrote some years ago, while I, hidden up there in the organ loft, chip in timeously with odds and ends of tunes showing the difference between an 8' flute and a 4' flute, the American-type wobble that the Vox Humana gives, the ear-shattering Bass Trumpet reeds, and so on. Finally I play a piece (a fugue in F minor by Charles Burney, a one-time acquaintance of Mozart) which gradually introduces all the stops and ends in a blaze of noisy glory after which everyone can go and have lunch.

It's rather a remarkable organ, because there are only six others like it in all France. It's not all that old, dating from 1845. At that time harmoniums (harmonia?) were coming in, to the chagrin of many a curé. A certain Abbé Clergeau designed a modest, wardrobe-sized organ to compete favourably with the dreaded harmonium in cost, size, specification and - a clear winner, this - purity of sound. One of the few that were ever manufactured eventually found its way to our village. It's so special that it has been listed as an Historical Monument.

We do this as part of an annual Europe-wide promotion of Historical Monuments, generally on the third weekend in September. Great houses, public buildings, whatever forms part of the national heritage, are open for the public. Even organs. Free. I think this is quite a good idea. I don't know what the National Trust would think about it.

(I wrote something else yesterday along these lines. Reading it again this morning I found it so patronising and, worse, so boring that I've rewritten it. Anonymous' capitalised comment said it all.)

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Putting one across

Montpellier. The photo above is of the Place de la Comédie, the great square in the centre of the city. It's called Comédie because the imposing building in the centre is the Opéra-Comédie, meaning that when it was built in the 1860s it was designed for both opera and stage plays. And you could hardly call this majestic square Place de la Tragédie.

I'm possibly in the photo, tucked away under one of those café awnings on the extreme right. It's 31º. These awnings have built-in brumatiseurs, which in very hot weather emit a fine spray, a mist, of cold water over the customers every now and then. Very refreshing. I have my coffee - alone: J. has gone to see her acupuncturist - and a glass of water. And today's Times, printed in Marseilles. I'm about to attack the crossword (1 ac. 'European residing in very attractive city' (6) - could be me, except that we don't actually live here) when my ear is savaged by some dreadful Eastern European accordion music.

It turns out to be coming from a lad of about 11. Faint traces of my former profession swirl up from the depths to ask Why isn't he in school? He is playing an endless sort of waltz, always in a minor key. After about ten minutes' worth of this revolving dirge he locks his accordion, takes a cup out of his pocket and wanders between the café tables soliciting coins from the clientèle. Many just shake their heads. Some put a few coins in. I lighten my net worth to the extent of 20 centimes. I could just have easily have taken something out as put something in. He goes away.

I thought (indeed, hoped) that might be the last we saw of him, but no. Presently he started up a new tune. The same minor key. It was like meeting unexpectedly someone you haven't seen for 30 years, you're unprepared for the change, you're not quite certain...

He was playing a tortured, barely recognisable, ultra-simplified version of Für Elise, a little piano piece by Beethoven, who would for once in his life have rejoiced to be stone deaf. Presently the lad wandered off to work one of the other cafés and I returned to my crossword.

Why wasn't the lad at school? I was reminded of an occasion years before when a parent, an American pastor whom I knew quite well, asked if he might take his two boys out of school for a fortnight. Would this hold back their progress? I trotted out two answers. Taking the narrow view, there would probably have to be some catching up when the boys got back, which tended to slow down the progress of the rest of the class, which was, to say the least, frustrating. Taking the broader view, in the context of the space-time continuum of the whole cosmos, it could not possibly matter two hoots if they took two weeks off school.

'That's the wisest thing I've ever heard a teacher say,' he said.

1ac. has to be 'Venice', surely?

Friday, 9 September 2011

Now we are 10

No, I can't remember what I was doing. Nothing special. In the early afternoon, J.'s mother phoned from England, urging us to turn on the television: unbelievable events were taking place in New York. Within a couple of minutes of switching on, the second aircraft went in. Like the rest of the world, we were gripped by the horror, the outrageous enormity pulled into sharp, human-sized focus by those pathetic, desperate souls throwing themselves from windows. Then the collapse, the Pentagon and all it stood for violated, the mystery of the fourth plane.

Then the phone never stopped ringing. J.'s niece was in New York, a couple of miles away. Bizarrely, she had heard nothing about it. My friend A., also with a daughter in New York, phoned; outraged, but expressing a certain stupefied admiration for an organisation capable of dealing such a monstrous blow. The rest of the family phoned, more out of solidarity than seeking news. Each call took us away unwillingly away from the television: might we miss other explosions?

Then the fist-shaking anger, the natural thirst for revenge of so many Americans saying they were going to enlist to fight this evil. (I wonder how many did?) Then the mistrust of the entire Islamic world, and the need for the United States to strike a mighty blow in return. It would have taken a far stronger man than Bush to say no, be patient, wars against enemies like this aren't won by vast armed mobilisations: on the contrary, we must use invisible, low-profile, subtle and secret counter-insurgency weapons. As indeed they were to take out bin Laden.

Then the idiot invasion of Iraq, which seemed to me to be no more than a dismal strategy to satisfy US public opinion that something, anything, was being done to efface the shame of 9/11. Then the treacherous Blair fabricating feeble excuses for trotting alongside, making a bad situation much worse and wasting so many lives, essentially lives to be lined up with those who perished at Ground Zero. And countless millions of ill-afforded national wealth squandered on a pointless exercise.

Then Afghanistan, a ludicrous and shameful escapade, an unwinnable campaign with flawed objectives and no prizes. A futile hearts and minds campaign undertaken by ordinary soldiers speaking no Farsi or Pushtu: how could they hope to communicate with Afghans? Then the honours rightly accorded to the fallen, victims of a more vicious enemy than the Taliban, political ineptitude and military blunder. Then everyone knowing perfectly well that the reasons officially touted for military involvement in Afghanistan are false, and that the mourner leading those sad cortèges at Wootton Bassett is lifting his top hat, and those flag-bearers are lowering their colours, in salute to a sacrifice for a sham.

Please excuse me for writing something less frivolous than usual. The photo above I took in Spain earlier this week. It's of dawn, not sunset. Maybe better things lie ahead.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Crickets and croquettes

We went out the other night to a restaurant in the next village, an eatery called La Gariguette. Since opening a year and more ago it has become a firm favourite, not merely because it's named after a variety of strawberry that I particularly enjoy but because of the excellence of its cuisine.

For €19 (about £17) you can enjoy a three course meal, entrée (starter), plat (main course) and dessert (pud) chosen from a menu with at least two dishes per course. To start with I chose Croquettes d'émincé de poulet, which are slightly crunchy rissoles of minced chicken breast and hazelnuts, seasoned and lightly fried in olive oil, served with a mixed salad, and I hope I'm not disappointing American friends by not having taken a photo of them.

Croquettes comes from croquer, to crunch. Because of their crunchy quality, cat and dog biscuits are called croquettes. Our cat Tonip eats nothing else, bar the odd part-mouse (always avoiding the gall-bladder) and the occasional salad of blades of grass.

Clearly another member of this household, something of a recluse and stowaway, in fact only appearing in the house at the end of summer, felt miffed about not being invited to join us at La Gariguette. There he is up there at the top as I found him the next morning, tucking into Tonip's croquettes. You could hear his jaws (or palps or mandibles, I'm not strong on insect eating irons) crunching away. He's a vine cricket. When he had finished his meal, leaving a few crumbs, I put him into a nearby rosemary bush. You see what preoccupations we have here in rural France.

Friday, 2 September 2011

No foe, beer

Sorry, I haven't been around for a day or two.

Seeking to compare a temporary relapse from keeping Lydian Airs up to date with the agonies of letting the ironing pile up (Interjection from J.: 'What would you know about it?'), I looked for a suitable illustration in Google Images of a life-threatening heap of ironing. To be fair, there were several photos of smug, ill-favoured piles of ironing, but there was also this gem, the one at the top. Maybe one your recent sailing holiday pics somehow got in by mistake.

Google also came up with the photo below, presumably of something happening under the ironing board. If you suffer from AELUROPHOBIA, please don't feel obliged to look at it.

This brings me to what I was going to write about, which is phobias. I can't find any phobia which directly expresses a temporary aversion to blogging, but there are plenty of others, so here is Lydian Airs' Helpful Guide to Everyday Phobias:

BAROPHOBIA: Fear of gravity
KENOPHOBIA: Fear of voids
STYGIOPHOBIA: Fear of hell
ACAROPHOBIA: Fear of itching
COULROPHOBIA: Fear of clowns
PTERONOPHOBIA: Fear of being tickled with feathers
RHYTIDOPHOBIA: Fear of developing wrinkles
POGONOPHOBIA: Fear of beards
MERINTHOPHOBIA: Fear of being tied up
KERAUNOTHNETOPHOBIA: Fear of falling satellites
KAINOLOPHOBIA: Fear of anything new
CYMOBPHOBIA: Fear of tides, waves
MEDOMALCUPHOBIA: Fear of detumescence
NOCOMMENTOPHOBIA: Fear of cyber-isolation

If you suffer from all or any of these, it's best to bring them into the open. Unless of course you suffer from

AGORAPHOBIA: Fear of open spaces (Gr. agora = market place, phobia = fear)

Now in accordance with the title I'm going to pour myself a beer. I'd be delighted if you'd like to join me.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Augustus in the Hole

This little chap lives in the connection box for our vegetable garden hose. He's only about the size of a €2 or £2 coin. He comes and goes. Somehow he manages to clamber up the hose connection and squeeze through the gap between the hose and the box lid. I open the box every evening to open the valve and start watering: sometimes he's there, sometimes he's gone off a-mollocking or whatever it is that toads do.

He shares his home with some rather nasty little beetles.

We have to find a suitable name for him, one that he will respond to when called. 'Augustus' has already been suggested elsewhere recently, and I'm happy with that for now. In the longer term, however, I'm relying on your inventiveness. Please be sensible and practical. The naming of toads is no frivolous matter.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Gaze on them (or peel them) and weep

The label on the onion sets, when I bought them last February, claimed the variety was 'Stuttgarter Riesen', Stuttgart giants. This is the total of yesterday's harvest.

If I had a euro-centime for every stone in the vegetable garden, I would be fabulously rich and would spend all my days dishing out the dosh to the worthy, i.e. Lydian Airs regulars. The 'soil' consists of trillions of small stones bound together with a sort of natural cement, a clay composed of minute particles of Lybian desert blown across the Mediterranean over the millenia. This serves me well for wall-building (even if nobody else has got a good word for you, while there's still just time I'd like to say thank you, Col. Ghaddafi), but for growing things I might as well plant them in coal. In summer it dries to a hardness recognisable on the Moh scale. Some ash trees shade the vegetable garden from the pitiless sun, but in doing so they take all the water I lavish on it every evening. Full of hope each autumn I dig in compost and peat and other nutrients, but the goodness is quickly leached down far beyond the reach of any onion roots.

(In fairness to Mother Earth, strawbs and rasps do quite well in spring and early summer. The beetroot harvest in June marks the beginning of the season of despair.)

So their size isn't their fault. But I can't help feeling 'Stuttgarter Zwerge' - Stuttgart dwarfs - would be more appropriate.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Haven't a cluedo

As a pre-teen I adored board games. No one else in a somewhat dysfunctional family having the slightest interest in them at home, I played them at boarding school and dreaded - for this and many other reasons - the end of term and nobody to play with.

Monopoly, of course, even though it took so long to complete that most games ended up being abandoned, the winner being the person with the most money.

Contraband, a card game a bit like cheat or hearts, where by keeping poker-faced and lying through your teeth you might manage to smuggle the crown jewels and other goodies from the pick-up pile clockwise round the table to the discard pile.

Totopoly, which had a mechanism with a handle that enabled little horses to stagger fitfully to the finishing line, hopefully carrying your shirt on it.

And of course we played chess.

But my favourite was Dover Patrol, perhaps not surprising in a school with strong naval ties. This came out in 1919, and had firm echoes of Jutland and other great World War 1 battles the Royal Navy might have fought if the Kaiser's Hochseeflotte had put out to sea a bit more. It was a sort of naval chess, with the difference that you couldn't see the value of your opponent's pieces. Each player started off with a complete navy of about 30 ships, represented by dramatic drawings of ships of varying firepower on little rectangular cards stuck into tin stands. The back of the card was either blank red or blue, so that your opponent across the board couldn't see how your fleet was disposed.

The object was to manoeuvre yourself, one ship, one square at a time, across the board into your opponent's harbour, capture his flag, and sail back with it in triumph to your own harbour. Each ship had a numerical value, from your Flagship (10) to the lowly Patrol Vessel (1). Naturally your flagship blew everything else of lower value out of the water, but - who doesn't have his or her Achilles' heel? - was vulnerable to mines and submarines. The 3 submarines in your fleet, perhaps reflecting contemporary preoccupations at the Admiralty, had no numerical value but sank everything sinkable except Motor Torpedo Boats (2). Among the named ships were HMS Manchester (6) and HMS Gnat and Hornet (3), presumably Insect-class frigates. The submarines were designated E1, E2 and E3: an echo of then recent history, because low-numbered, un-named submarines (E10, E11, E15) had performed feats of daring in the 1915 Dardanelles campaign.

I never owned my own Dover Patrol set until many years later, when I was about 25. I saw a set in a Southampton toyshop window, nostalgia took over and I bought it. It had been upgraded, taking into account World War 2. The ships were mere silhouettes, no longer greyhounds of the ocean shipping it green among 10-inch shell and depth-charge. There were now flying boats too, like the Sunderland flying boats I used to see as a child taking off from Calshot on the Solent. I kept it jealously and eventually - I think - gave it to my son.


Then when I was about 12 Cluedo came out and caught on at once. Cluedo has survived well, while Dover Patrol and its fellows (L'Attaque, Tri-tactics) haven't been able to withstand the onset of computer-based games and have sunk beneath the wave, as far as I know.

Since mentioning this I've fallen to wondering who among the regulars or indeed irregulars here fit the Cluedo bill? We already have our highly-esteemed Miss Scarlet, of course, but whom would you nominate for the other suspects? And while you're pondering this, here are two other Cluedo observations:

The French version of three of the characters. Pervenche is 'periwinkle', i.e. blue.

Just in case you were wondering, this desperate fatality didn't occur at our house. For one thing, our piano is an upright, and I don't remember a steam-roller being among the Cluedo murder weapons.

Which naturally leads me to this:

'There's been a terrible accident! Your husband's been run over by a steam-roller! They've taken him to hospital...'

'Oh, how dreadful! I must go and see him at once! What room is he in?'

'A5, A6, A7 and A8.'

Please excuse me. Happy Sunday.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Langue d'Octet

For several nights we've had musicians billeted on us and elsewhere in the village. Just now we're in the middle of an annual festival called Autour du Quatuor, Around the Quartet. Embiggenise (© Dave) the poster if it comes out too small. So we've had Sarah (viola), Juliette (cello) and Lola (bassoon) staying with us.

Goodness, they work hard, these people. Several hours' individual and group practice a day, plus performance at night. The major work they performed was Schubert's Octet, a rich and enjoyable work for string quartet plus clarinet, bassoon, French horn and double bass. The basic framework was provided by the Zaïde Quartet, with the woodwind and double bass drawn from the general pool of French musicians who take time off from their regular orchestras in summer to tour the provinces, turning an honest centime at the multitude of music festivals with which France is peppered in July and August.

Some impressions:

* The extraordinary cacophony heard while walking down the guest bedroom corridor, with something different being practised in each one

* So much modern music appearing to employ this particular effect

* Some woodwind players preferring to manufacture their own reeds - here's Lola making bassoon reeds out of a special variety of cane. I believe she uses the garden fork to stab them into submission

* The Zaïde Quartet practising, all very serious-minded on a hot and sticky afternoon. In the kitchen next door J. is making her spiced figs (it's the fig season just now), a speciality for which she is justly famed. We agree that it's a privilege, having a string quartet of this quality playing in our sitting room. Even now the Zaïde girls may be discussing the privilege of occasional heady wafts of spiced figs accompanying them while they tease out tangled skeins of Brahms.

* An unusual story someone told me. There's usually an encore at the end of each concert. At one concert the Zaïde girls played a fast Haydn movement as an encore, with great verve and spirit. As the audience filed out an Englishman, unknown to me, said 'Are you the O'Reilly that owns this hotel?' Mystification. He explained: Haydn wrote this music during one of his trips to London. A popular song at the time (1793?) was 'Are you the O'Reilly' etc. Apparently Haydn heard this, maybe sung in the street, and incorporated the tune in the movement les Zaïdes played. I wonder if anyone can confirm this?

They've all gone now, and the house is quiet, apart from a certain delirium in the washing machine, heavy with towels and bedlinen. I drove Sarah, Juliette and Lola to the station at Béziers early this morning, sending them on their way to their next engagement. This is how they live.

Next up we have a quartet of French horns, all blokes. One of them is called Hocquet. This means 'hiccup' in French. Like name, like nature? I hope not. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

As you were, I'm afraid

Owing to an embarrassing misunderstanding between myself and society photographer Scarlet B. the image I posted yesterday (see below), supposedly of the future appearance of three of my blog friends, was not of them at all but of the Fates (seen above in a somewhat stylised depiction). I can only apologise.

These ladies, well known to Greek mythology as the three Moiras (more correctly, Moirai) control all our futures.

Clotho, the spinner, spins out the thread of our comments lives.

Lachesis, she who allots, measures out the thread for each of us.

Atropos, a lady not for turning, cuts the thread irrevocably at the moment of our demise.

Some of you have identified yourselves with one or other of these ladies. You've thus clearly given yourselves away. I've always been kind to you, haven't I?

I thought you ought to know that I know that you know that I know.

Clotho East .... Great-Aunt Lachesis .... Atropos Z

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Seek to know no more

Last night I was vouchsafed a vision of the future appearance of three of my blog-friends.

It wasn't established who was which, though. Nor if anyone had taken to wearing drag.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Oh deer.

This photo from Le Figaro reminds me - can't quite explain the logical progression, I'm afraid, maybe Scarlet could oblige - of the story of the flock of ostriches. Suddenly aware of some danger, they all buried their heads in the sand. One, bolder than the others, lifted his head out first, looked round him and said 'But where are the others?'*

Happy Sunday. Or whatever day you read it on. If you read it at all.

*Courtesy my Aunt Evelyn, ca. 1956. Other little gems may follow at discreet (and indeed discrete) intervals. Be prepared.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

It's the bees' knees

Before I came to live in France I can't say that kissing played a huge part in my everyday life. It wasn't a thing we did much in our family. The odd goodnight peck. A special greeting or leave-taking with someone known for a long time. Or kids' games. Truth or dare. Spin the bottle. It wasn't that we never felt affectionate or loving: it just expressed itself in other ways than kissing. I'm speaking about day-to-day co-existence, of course. We just weren't particularly demonstrative, that's all. Les grands amours were clearly different, from that first tentative brushing of lips to those vertiginous occasions when you just had to come up for air or you'd have passed out.

Coming to live in France brought many surprises. One was la bise, the habit of kissing on both cheeks, left-right in quick succession. Or right-left, there's no etiquette: you just have to guess which cheek to proffer first and adapt if necessary. All you do is touch cheeks together and go mwah, change cheeks and go mwah again. Nothing more. It's a curious thing, but while many expats, particularly men, hang grimly on to the apron strings of the Mother Country and sell their Britishness dear, indeed over their dead bodies, they're prepared to abandon themselves to la bise without any problem, indeed with enthusiasm.

Now it's a commonplace, a daily courtesy. The magic lady that comes to clean, Kathy the window-cleaner, our doctor, local lady councillors, waitresses, neighbours, the girl in the tourist office, visiting musicians, lady members of my choir, friends generally. Children, girls and boys, automatically put their faces up to be kissed. When attractive 17-year-old girls do this as a matter of course, I still find it more exciting than perhaps I should. And Brit friends that I would never have dreamed of kissing back in Blighty, who have also become devotees of this very agreeable habit.

And we find the number of bises varies. Mostly in France it's twice. Locally it's three times, L-R-L or R-L-R. Occasionally we meet people from the north, and Belgians, who expect four bises.

Men mostly shake hands with each other, on first meeting each day and often on parting. La bise between men isn't uncommon. It took me a long time to get used to it. A few summers ago J. and I were taking part in pre-lunch drinks (known as the apéro, short for apéritif) at which the village mayor, a squat, gravel-voiced local politico, and other notables were present. In the course of conversation I remarked that la bise wasn't very common in the UK (although now it seems to me to be becoming more and more usual and I'm all for it) and it was practically unknown among men.

As it happens I have been kissed by this same mayor for various of my activities, mostly musical, which he seems to think have brought credit to his bailiwick. On hearing me say, at this apéro, how rare kissing between Brit men was, in the general run of things, he said that la bise I'd experienced between men in France wasn't kissing: it was l'accolade républicaine, the Republican Accolade.

H'm. Very curious. And how very different, as a late Victorian theatre-goer was heard to say after a performance of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, from the home life of our own dear Queen.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

What's Your Problem? Lydian Airs' Useful Guide to Patron Saints

AGUE St Pernel and St Petronella cure

BAD DREAMS St Christopher protects from

BLEAR EYES St Ottilic and St Clare cure

CHASTITY St Susan protects

CHILDREN St Germayne. But unless the mothers bring a white loaf and a pot of good ale, Sir Thomas More says, 'he wyll not loke at 'em' (p.194)

CHOLERA Oola Beebee is invoked by the Hindoos for this malady

DANCING MANIA St Vitus cures

DEFILEMENT St Susan preserves from

DISCOVERY OF LOST GOODS St Ethelbert and St Elian

DOUBTS St Catherine resolves

GOUT St Wolfgang, they say, is of more service than Blair's pills

GRIPES St Erasmus cures

IDIOCY St Gildas is the guardian angel of idiots

INFAMY St Susan protects from

MADNESS St Dymphna and St Fillan cure

MICE St Gertrude and St Huldrick ward them off. When phosphor paste fails, St Gertrude might be tried, at any rate with less danger than arsenic

MUMBLING St Modget will hear

NIGHT ALARMS St Christopher protects from

PUMPKINS St Rusticus limits undesir'd growth

QUENCHING FIRE St Florian and St Christopher should not be forgotten by fire insurance companies

SCABS St Rooke cures

SORE THROATS St Blaise, who (when he was put to death) prayed if any person suffering from a sore throat invoked him, he might be God's instrument to effect a perfect cure

SUDDEN DEATH St Martin saves from

TEMPERANCE Father Matthew is called 'The Apostle of Temperance' (1790-1856)

TOOTH-ACHE St Appolonia, because before she was burnt alive all her teeth were pulled out


(From The Reader's Handbook, of Famous Names in Fiction, Allusions, References, Proverbs, Plots, Stories, and Poems. By the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. (1898)

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Learn modern Greek with Christos

It was finished in December. It was hard parting with this composition, like giving a child away. I still miss it, to tinker with and call my own. It took me 18 months, on and off, to write.

 Trio Hoboken: Saskia Lethiec (violin), Eric Picard (cello), Jérôme Granjon (piano)

Anyway, since then it's been with Saskia, Jérôme and Eric, the musicians who are going to give it its first performance on Friday, June 15th, in the little 9th-Century chapel called the Prieuré de St Julien, below.

Prieuré de St Julien, Hérault département, France

It's crammed with visual images, mostly about the village. The up-and-down outline of its shape. Crocodiles of infant classes going to the school canteen. The village cats. A lizard, even. The youth of the village assembling behind the bus shelter, revving their bikes. A little old lady dancing - in this instance, trying to do the Gay Gordons without falling over. The time in about 1930 when the church roof fell in during Mass. (No one was hurt. A miracle?) The monsoon-like rain that sometimes soaks us. A love duet for cello and violin, over a plainchant accompaniment, inspired by the Prieuré, the place where it will actually have its first performance. The strong  Spanish element in local dances...

Do you (i.e. does anyone) see pictures, form visual impressions when you listen to music? Of events, or places, or people? I know I do. One of the poverties of modern popular music is that it depends so heavily on the visual, and the visual becomes more important than the music. It's all done for you, your choice in the matter has been stolen from you. Is this a terribly unfashionable, indeed arrogant, thing to say?

Anyway, I've managed to cram about 5 minutes'-worth of extracts here:

With this time limit it isn't possible to include all the things listed above. It's not the real thing - I'll post that after performance, all being well - it's the approximation my composition software comes up with. I hope you enjoy it. And if you should happen to be in this area on June 15th, do come to the concert, details here, click on CONCERTS 2012. I should be so pleased to see you.

(Copyright 2011, of course, though it seems churlish to mention it. But you have my full permission to hum the tunes if you want to.)

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Brifknefs in the Lifts of Venus

I've been reading The Shocking History of Advertising!, by E. S. Turner, a versatile writer and journalist who penned his last full stop in 2006 at the age of 97.

He quotes from The Spectator of about 1740:

Famous Drops for Hypochondriac Melancholy: Which effectually cure on the Spot, by rectifying the Stomach and Blood, cleanfing them from all Impurities, and giving a new Turn to their Ferment, attenuating all vifcous and tenacious Humours (which make the Head Heavy, clog the Spirits, confufe the Mind, and caufe the deepeft Melancholly, with direful Views and black Reflections), comforting the Brain and Nerves, compofing the hurried Thoughts, and introducing bright lively Ideas and pleafant Brifknefs, inftead of difmal Apprehenfion and dark Incumbrance of the Soul, fetting the Intellectuals at Liberty to act with Courage, Serenity and fteady Cheerfulnefs, exciting Agonifts in the Lifts of Venus to great Deeds, and caufing a vifible, diffufive Joy to Reign in the Room of uneafy Doubts, Fear, &c., for which they may be truly efteem'd infallible. Price 3s 6d a Bottle, with Inftructions. Sold only at Mr Bell's, book-feller at the Crofs Keys and Bible in Cornhill, near the Royal Exchange.

Sounds exactly what's needed. I think I might order fome.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Mistaken identity

In the course of the village street market this morning J. and I met our friends M. and Mme Hector. While we were chatting I thought I recognised Mme Martin, a secretary at the Mairie (a sort of village town hall) and her husband coming towards us. They're neighbours, they live just up the lane from us.

I detached myself, smiled, held out my hand to be shaken and greeted them warmly, fulsomely, even. I asked them how they were, remarked how good it was to see so many people at the market, asked how the family was. They shook not only my hand, but J.'s and the Hectors', as courtesy demands. We wished each other good day, and they strolled on.

'Who was that?' Hector asked.

'But you must know them! Why, that was Mme Martin, the secretary at the Mairie,' I said. 'And her husband. He's a chauffeur to senior members of the regional council.'

'That wasn't Mme Martin,' Hector said. 'Nor was it M. Martin either.'

'She might have looked something like Mme Martin, but that certainly wasn't her,' J. said with great firmness.

Abashed, I said: 'Who were they, then?'

'No idea,' J. said. 'I've think I've seen her before. She might be something to do with the village drama club.'

So I've spent the rest of the day in a squirm of embarrassment.

* * *

Apparently once on a drive in Windsor Great Park, in the early days of his madness, King George III ordered his carriage to be stopped. He stood up, got down and walked a few paces towards an oak tree, which he addressed as the Prussian Ambassador.

Am I going the same way?

J. Zoffany (1733-1810): H.E. Baron von Bomburst, Prussian Ambassador to the Court of St James (Royal collection)

Friday, 29 July 2011

Dew est mon droit

If only it would rain. Good, day-long gardener's rain. I've had to water every evening, bar two hallowed, heaven-sent occasions, since May 22nd. Not just flowers, shrubs and vegetables, but three of our more delicate trees as well. I've abandoned watering what passes for a lawn.

This morning J., looking out of the window at the parched dwine, said 'I'm fed up with summer. I'm really looking forward to the autumn'. And we've got all August to go yet, with no rain forecast.

The morning dew, such a friend to gardeners, packed up weeks ago. Which takes me naturally to Encyclopedia Britannica, fourth edition (1816):

Alleged Virtues of Dew

The dew of heaven has always been regarded as a fluid of the purest and most translucid nature.


...the people of remote antiquity fancied that external application of dew had some virtue in correcting any disposition to corpulence. The ladies of those days, anxious to preserve their fine forms, procured this celestial wash, by exposing clothes or fleeces of wool to the humifaction of the night. It was likewise imagined, that grasshoppers feed wholly on dew, and owe their lean features perhaps to such spare diet.

So, ladies, if you're concerned about your fine forms, here's your answer. Go and roll in the dew.

I can only finish by bidding you A dew, dear friends.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Ho ho, Monsieur


Last night J. and I watched A Prairie Home Companion on one of the French film channels. A bit sceptical to start with, I gradually became more and more engrossed, then helpless with laughter, and by the end I couldn't wait to order the DVD via the link here.

It was in prairie English, with French subtitles. Very often French subtitles are poor. Sometimes they don't even complete the sentence, e.g. 'Je t'ai demandé si' (I asked you if) or 'Avez-vous terminé votre?' (Have you finished your?)

And of course there's the clever stuff that just doesn't, or won't, translate. Carry on, Cleo had the immortal line 'Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me! which came out in French so unconvincingly (L'infame! L'infame! Ils m'en veulent tous!) that I suspect the low-grade translator hadn't twigged Kenneth Williams' line.

But full marks last night to the subtle subtitlers. In a song called Bad Jokes singing cowpoke Lefty (or Dusty, I can't remember which) sang about his horse which, although gifted in chemistry, physics and mathematics, had problems with philosophy: he found it hard to put Descartes before the horse.

I could imagine the translator thinking long and hard about this one. He/she came up with a stroke of genius: the horse 'ne savait pas la différence entre Socrate et sa crotte', didn't know the difference between Socrates and his dung.


Saturday, 23 July 2011

Eden Tate Gallery

Yes, I'm afraid I won't be biting anyone to death just at the moment. I don't have any teeth. Well, I've got a quite a lot, but not the sort of incisors and canines you need to take on a couple of sabre-toothed tigers before breakfast with. And win.

Recently M. Tanguy the village locum dentist put in a couple of pre-molar crowns, with the result that the plate I've worn since I lost some front teeth in a flawed exercise in inebriate pugilism when I was a student, didn't fit any more. So while I wait for a new one I'm obliged to revise and extend my intimacy with soups.

Here is a list of the soups the splendid J. has fashioned for me:

Brown Windsor
Ale and Coracle
Gappo Root
Consommé Beauharnais
Carrot and Coriander
Leek and Bovril
Imperial Game
Iced Walter
Oxtail with Red Wine
Mushroom with Champagne
Drabbed Bawlor (Soup)

If you have a favourite soup that doesn't appear on this list and which you think I might find both toothsome (if you see what I mean) and nourishing, perhaps you could let me know?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Noise Fludde

Gustav Mahler, maybe the world's most original orchestrator, a composer forever searching for new - some would say excessive - orchestral effects, once went to see the Niagara Falls. His comment was 'Endlich, fortissimo!' (Fortissimo, at last!)

I've never been to Niagara, but I have been to Eas Coul Aulin. Well, sort of. I believe this is the highest waterfall in the British Isles. It's a few miles inland from Eddrachillis Bay, in North-west Sutherland. We went to find it once, when we lived in Scotland. I'm ashamed to admit - I have to take the blame myself - I made an imbecile mistake, the unerring effort of a complete cretin: instead of clambering through the heather to view this slender skyscraper of a cascade in its entirety from the foot, I clambered through the heather at the head of the grumbling family + dog to view it from the top. All we saw was an insignificant burn* disappearing over the edge of the cliff. Had I been Mahler I suppose I could have said 'Endlich, pianissimo!' but even if I'd thought of it at the time it wouldn't have been much consolation.

I can't account for this photo. (The choir isn't my vocal group Les Jeudistes, in case you were wondering.) Maybe they're performing something very noisy from Mahler. There's a mighty chorus towards the end of his 8th Symphony which includes the words (from Goethe) Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis, All that is transitory is but an illusion. Or possibly metaphor. Not a bad notion to draw from a waterfall.

Please could any comment you might feel moved to make not include any anagrams of 'Waiter! Scum!'? Thank you.

* burn = stream, brook, Jimmy.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Through a local lens No. 9

Le Pont du Diable, the Devil's Bridge, Olargues

This bridge, according to a legend carefully fostered by the Office de Tourisme, took a very long time to finish because of an unusual phenomenon largely unknown to today's building trade.

As fast as the 12th century masons put this bridge up by day, the Devil came by night and threw the newly-laid masonry into the river below.

Tiring of constantly helping the builders to fish blocks of limestone out of the river, the villagers consulted the one amongst them who might have the readiest access to the Devil. So the village priest sought him out, and a pact was made whereby the Devil would allow completion of the bridge on condition that he could claim body and soul of the first living creature to cross the bridge when it was finished.

On the day the bridge was completed the villagers gathered at one end while the Devil, come to claim his due, stood at the other. The two parties advanced towards the middle, the Devil with arms outstretched to receive his sacrificial victim, while the villagers shuffled forward uneasily.

When they were but half-a-dozen ells apart, near enough for the villagers to be almost overcome by the stink of the antichristian mercaptan, the villagers' ranks suddenly opened, and a cat was hurled into the arms of the Devil.

The Devil, outwitted and snarling with disappointed rage, vanished in a miasma of putrid smoke. The bridge has been open to traffic ever since, but nowadays few feel the need carry a cat with them just in case. Given the number of strays about the village, you would have thought the Office de Tourisme could have hired them out to gullible or romantically minded tourists, or those in deep trouble, as laissez-pussers.

This photo, with the classic view of the village and the Devil's Bridge, was taken by my friend Jean-Claude Branville, a man of many talents and a distant cousin of St Theresa of Lisieux. The logo in the bottom right-hand corner is that of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, The Most Beautiful Villages of France, of which Olargues is one out of about 150, to some extent due to Jean-Claude's efforts.

This is the view of the bridge from the terrasse of one of our favourite restaurants, Fleurs d'Olargues. It's the Devil's own job to get comfortable in those chairs. Maybe....?

There's a line from one of Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales concealed in this post. If you spot it you're entitled to either a warm smile or a devilish grin. Please indicate your choice with your entry, as stocks are limited.

Friday, 15 July 2011

John Cage

This is what it feels like when the musical ideas I'm trying to set down on manuscript paper just WILL NOT come.

If as you pass you'd like to push a slice of cake through the bars, I'm sure this would help no end.

And if you could avoid seed, walnut, Battenberg or cattle cake, I'd be very gratified.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The mouse that boared

Once again (remember the nightingale last week?) our much-esteemed friend and neighbour Hector comes up with something a bit special. Having set up a movement-triggered infra-red camera in a swampy bit of bamboo thicket on his land, he was gratified one morning recently to find this encounter had taken place during a night of storm and tempest:

The eyes have it, don't they?

There are more close encounters here and here.

Thanks, Hector. Life in your bamboo thicket is never dull.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A wry glance

This arrived a couple of weeks ago...

----- Original Message -----
From: D
To: C
Sent: Monday, June 27, 2011 5:14 PM
Subject: What is Scotsman's image of "comin' through the rye?"

Hi C,

How are you? We hope you are enjoying your summer so far. You will probably chuckle when you read what I am concerned about. I thought of you recently when G. read Salinger’s “Catcher in The Rye.” I have heard enough about the novel since it first came out that I feel like I read it, but I know I didn’t. While we talked about the novel and its title, I realized that I did not really know what Burns’s line means, “When a body meets a body comin’ through the rye.” Because I grew up in a part of the country where there are many descendants of Scottish immigrants from both Ulster and Scotland itself, I heard the song already as a little child. As a child I imagined the rye stalks being taller than people. I imagined that a person would wade through the rye not being able to see where he was going and occasionally run into another person who also happened to be wading through. I have never seen a rye field, but G. has seen them in Germany. She says the rye is typically about 25 or 30 inches tall or so. Any now my question. When a Scotsman in Scotland reads Burns’s line, what image does he have of people coming through the rye? It seems that if people simply walked across a rye field, the farmer would do something to stop them from damaging his crop. Or are there big rye areas with numerous rye fields separated by paths? Or did Burns mean something metaphorical or allegorical?

Cheers, D

I got round to replying this morning. It took me fully from 9.15 to 1pm to put this together...

Hello D,
Thank you so much for this, and sorry to have taken so long to reply. The question you pose is quite complicated and I can't do more than offer a few observations. In the early 1780s Robert Burns wrote his own version of a south of Scotland folksong, of which there existed many variants, which was so well-known at the time that eventually it became, duly bowdlerised, a children's song. The original, as published in The Merry Muses of Caledonia in 1800 (although in existence for many years before that), was downright bawdy. Burns may have had a hand in editing and even adding to it:

O gin a body meet a body
Comin thro the rye:
Gin a body f*ck a body,
Need a body cry.

Comin thro the rye, my jo,
An comin thro the rye;
She fand a staun o' staunin graith,
Comin thro the rye

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro the glen:
Gin a body f*ck a body
Need the warld ken.


And so on for another three uninspiring verses...

Pause for glossary: Gin (hard G, as in 'begin') = if, should: a body = someone: jo = darling, love: fand = found: staun = something upright: staunin [play on words] = standing/astonishing: graith = growth: warld = world, everyone: ken = know:

Burns used the above as the basis for a much more subtly suggestive poem of his own:

O, Jenny's a' weet, poor body,
Jenny's seldom dry:
She draigl't a' her petticoatie,
Comin thro' the rye!

Comin thro' the rye, poor body,
Comin thro' the rye,
She draigl't a' her petticoatie,
Comin thro' the rye!

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need a body cry?


Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the glen,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need the warld ken?


Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro' the grain;
Gin a body kiss a body,
The thing's a body's ain.


Ev'ry Lassie has her laddie,
Nane, they say, have I,
Yet all the lads they smile on me,
When comin' thro' the rye.

Glossary: a' = all: weet = wet: draigl't = (be)draggled: ain = own; [the line means 'it's no one else's business']: nane = none. Warld is pronounced in two syllables, 'wah' and 'rlld'.

So there's a strong sense of an earthy sexuality in both the original folksong and Burn's version of it. Jenny is the village tart, or at least generous with her favours. The tune to the original, incidentally, is pentatonic, suggesting great antiquity.

Both versions also evoke secrecy and concealment with 'rye' and 'glen', both enclosed places away from prying eyes. In Burns' time and for long after rye and other cereals ('rye' is clearly more convenient for rhyme than 'oats' or 'barley') were grown with stems 5' to 6' high. Moreover, the contemporary method of ploughing (called 'rig and furrow') left much wider passages between the stands of cereal, sown haphazard by broadcasting rather than in neat rows, as via a modern seed drill. A field of cereal was thus a good place to hide in, and the likelihood of trampling much less than we would expect nowadays. Your childhood imagination was, maybe unwittingly, 100% accurate. The stalks were chopped and used as winter animal feed. (Waterloo was fought in mid-June: Wellington's troops used the concealment offered by long-stemmed cereals, almost ready to harvest, to great effect.) 'Glen', also good for rhyme, means 'valley', usually a narrow one. 'Strath' would be used for a wide valley. Where there's a valley, there's water, and consequently trees and bushes offering concealment, in addition to the enclosing hill- or mountainsides. There may be further sexual overtones here.

I'm not certain that J. D. Salinger was aware of any of this in 'The Catcher in the Rye', although I think he probably guessed at the implications and overtones of the poem(s), even if Holden Caulfield 'misheard' it, and saw how applicable the image was to his novel.

I hope this helps.


Thank you for reading this far, if you have. Please don't feel the need to include the word 'draigl't' in any comments you might be kind enough to make.

Monday, 11 July 2011

End Of The World Found On Moon

So the News of the World is no more. I can't say I ever saw a copy of it, except maybe when I was about 14 and preoccupied with behind-the-bike-shed ethics and practices. Sleaze was more gentlemanly (and no doubt more ladylike) in those days: the NOTW's genteel in-house euphemism for sex was 'intimacy'.

E.g.: 'Witness Miss F. , a hotel employee, having knocked at the bedroom door while carrying the breakfast tray, understood the sounds from inside to be an invitation to enter. As she did so she observed intimacy was taking place.'

I regret more the passing of the Daily and Sunday Sport, not for the unending diet of sleaze but for the occasional inspired, indeed poetic, zaniness of its headlines.

E.g.: 'Statue Of Elvis Found On Mars'
'Bus Found Buried At South Pole'
'Rose West Ate My Guinea Pig'
'WW2 Bomber Found On Moon'
'Mum Gives Birth To 8lb Haddock'
'Man Fights Shark With Wife's False Teeth' .

I nearly bought a copy once, one afternoon when I was wandering rather disconsolately round Lee on the Solent with my daughter Patroclus, killing time before the night ferry from nearby Portsmouth to Le Havre. The Daily - or it might have been Sunday - Sport headline in a newsagent's window was 'Hide And Seek Champ Found Dead In Cupboard'.

Mightily intrigued by the implications of this, I was all for going in and buying a copy, but Patroclus restrained me most insistently, claiming that she would rather have her teeth pulled than be seen in close proximity to her father carrying a copy of the Sunday Sport. Or words to that effect. So I gave in.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Going, going, gong

During my very first teaching appointment, uncertificated in a prep school, in the days when a pint of bitter cost one and fourpence and a packet of Senior Service half-a-crown, a Mr James Blades came to the school to give a lecture about percussion instruments. He was a very likeable man, spirited and enthusiastic, with a wide range of instruments, among which he moved with absolute confidence and mastery. Xylophone, timpani, snare drum, tubular bells, gong, traps (i.e. drumkit), shakers, rattles, bells and whistles, the complete 'kitchen'. The most dramatic moment came when he demonstrated his gong, a heavy Chinese instrument measuring about 40cm across. He claimed its original purpose wasn't to summon diners to table or to provide an orchestral boom, but to torture captives: they were tied to a post, the gongman blocked his ears with wax and built up a gradual crescendo with his beaters until the torturee could bear it no longer and cracked, spilling the beans.

Or it might be used to execute criminals: when a certain volume and reverberation had been reached, the condemned's eardrums burst and his head exploded, spilling the brains. Or something like that. 8- and 9- year-old boys, basically ratbag monsters, lapped this news up and wrote home about it the following Sunday, no doubt saying that when they grew up they wanted to be percussionists and/or Chinese executioners.

Years later, all degreed and certificated up, when a pint of bitter cost £2.40 and I'd stopped smoking, I was attending a summer school in Cardiff when the same man turned up again, by now Professor of Percussion at the Royal Academy of Music in London and universally known as Jimmy. He gave exactly the same lecture as I remembered from 20 years before, but tuned up and filled out musically and, in deference to our adult sensibilities, with the Chinese torture bit left out.

Curiously, everyone must have heard Jimmy Blades playing at some time or other. In 1942 he recorded the Morse code V for Victory, dit-dit-dit-dah (the same rhythm as the opening of Beethoven's 5th) on a favourite African drum for the BBC to preface coded messages to the French resistance. It was heard again in the film The Longest Day. More familiarly perhaps, he was the striker of the mighty gong that introduced J. Arthur Rank films. Not the one you saw on screen: that gong was a fake, made of papier maché. Jimmy Blades stood at one side with his much smaller Chinese gong and beater when the title footage was filmed, while the bare-torsoed gongman mimed his strokes.

He died in 1999. In a roundabout way (I was never a direct student of his) he taught me a great deal about percussion.

(I'd like to continue this, but there's the gong calling me to supper.)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades

Our much-esteemed friend and neighbour Hector has set up an infra-red camera in a bamboo clearing on his land. All the local fauna*, rabbits, martens, jennets, wild boar, tigers, drop in from time to time, drawn there by scatterings of maize or fresh bones nailed to a convenient branch in camera range.

The other night another visitor made his presence known, although I doubt if he was much interested in pecking at shreds of meat. Here he is:

Nightingale (mp3)

There wasn't much to see on Hector's film. He - the bird - far from appearing as colourful as his song, looks like a dun-coloured dicky bird, a little bigger than a robin. Now that the summer heat has set in and his brood has flown the nest, he'll be flying back to Africa.

It's very considerate of him and his all-nite singing pals - you can hear them in the background - to vanish just as hot nights oblige us to sleep with windows wide open. If only those carousing Belgian holidaymakers up the lane would follow their example . . .

I'm glad to have a permanent record of nightingale song. A piece of music I'm writing just now ends with a nocturne featuring 'nightingale' song high up on solo violin. (Ottorino Respighi did the same with one movement of his suite The Pines of Rome, but he specifies a recording rather than an imitation.) Nightingale song is surprisingly percussive and I may find myself asking the player to tap with a fingernail on the finger-board or even on the body of the violin to produce the desired effect.

I understand Hector once played the violin, but I assure you the recording above is 100% genuine.

*spot the odd one out

Monday, 4 July 2011

Ferrari Testarusta

Yes, there's been some talk about getting a new car.

Miss E., aka The Blue Kitten, rather fancies this model, as seen in the village recently.

But could there be a problem with low bridges and multi-storey car parks?

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Putting the Bard in Bardou

This appeared on line this morning. I think it's a super record of a concert we gave a couple of weeks ago in Bardou, a very special nearby hill village, despite the producers thinking that rather than add subtitles to the spoken bits - in the introduction - they would have both languages, French and English, on the go simultaneously. Actually, if you latch on to the English, your ear may block out the French and you can probably follow it through. If you need to, of course.

Despite one or two infelicities of intonation and an acoustic like the inside of a bedroom slipper (very intimate and cosy, all the same), I was reasonably pleased. The first sung item, by Anton Bruckner, otherwise known for vast symphonies, is called Locus Iste a Deo Factus Est (This place was built by God). The second, Bogoroditsye Dyevo (a needlessly complicated way, it seems to me, of saying 'Hail, Mary') is a setting of the Russian Orthodox words by Arvo Pärt, an Estonian composer born in 1936, I think.) The third piece is my own setting of Shakespeare's Orpheus with his lute made trees And the mountain tops that freeze...bow before him.

And of course the village peacocks have their say, too. You can find the post from which the You Tube clip was taken here.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Atomique ou pas?

Today I bought a fez in the village street market. I don't know why.

Friday, 24 June 2011


The music on the piano desk is a song called Aus meinem grossen Schmerzen, Out of My Dark Despairing, music by Robert Franz, words by Heinrich Heine, who I believe was once arrested and locked up for revolutionary activities and self-indulgent versifying.

Probably by the officer in pink.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs

Going to Aberdeen?

Speak like a native with our oh-so-easy Listen, Read, Speak method:

Northfield Episode 1 (mp3)

1. June, it's Aggie, Fred's Aggie here ... phone me back on 0778052736 ... now phone me back June and I tell you ... I swear it on the bones of my mother that I'm going to murder you and that homosexual Abdully 'cos you've just rotted the constitution of my boy ... if you want to take £50 off my boy I'm going to take £50 off your face, prostitute ... you'd better phone me back 'cos I'll come up to your house, June, and I'll put the whole lot of your house in a knot ... and you can tell [redacted] he'll get his throat cut ...

Northfield Episode 2 (mp3)

2. June I'm telling you you'd better get back to me because I swear afore this weekend's out ... if I get my hands on you ... and I'm telling you I'm going to rip you from arsehole to breakfast and that wee poof Henry Glass that you married I'm going to crop that and all ... you'd better go on the phone ... give me the money back, June, and we'll forget all about it ... or else you're dead and I don't give a f*ck who's in your house I'll burn the whole f*cking lot of you out ...

Northfield Episode 3 (mp3)

3. Look I'm very sorry, my dear, whoever you are ... I phoned up and left a message on your answering machine and made a threat phone call ... I'm sorry, I got the wrong person ... I hope I haven't disturbed you in any particular way ... sorry.

Increase your word power: crop - geld, emasculate

Sunday, 19 June 2011

A priori at the Priory

Well, I thought it was disastrous. A whole year on and the sudden memory still shocks me into panic palpitations in the middle of the night and dagger-thrust consciousness that everything I've ever attempted in my life is doomed.

The measure of the hype gives the measure of the fall. A year ago we - my little choir Les Jeudistes and I - were in full preparation for the first-ever performance of L'Imitation de Notre Dame la Lune, The Imitation of Our Lady the Moon. It was a cantata I'd composed for choir and string quartet, based on the poems of one Jules Laforgue, a little-known French poet of the 1880s. It was the most ambitious score the choir had ever tackled. We rehearsed till the crotchets and quavers fell out of our trouser bottoms. Posters went up on every public notice board for kilometres around. Local radio featured it, so did the local press, local English language magazines enthused about it, local music websites buzzed about it. And the word went round. Sisters, cousins and aunts fought to get in.

The result was a packed church, standing room only in the Priory of St Julian, an idyllic place shown above. Enormously gratifying. We'd arranged for a live recording to be made.

It's a curious thing, but conductors - in this case myself - very often don't hear what's being performed. They're too preoccupied with hearing in their heads what's coming next, and preparing for it. Many conductors conduct in anticipation, several beats, even a bar, ahead of what's actually being played. At the end of the performance I was pleasantly satisfied, having heard throughout what I felt, a priori, it ought to sound like.

A week or two later the truth was told as the recording became available. It was disastrous, I couldn't listen to it. I was deeply ashamed. The choir seemed to have forgotten the most elementary disciplines. They sang out of tune, the words were indistinct. The strings sounded tired and slack. Of the twelve tracks only four showed the faintest spark of the fire and energy and laughter we'd known during rehearsal.

I've just discovered - or, much nearer the truth, my daughter Patroclus has discovered for me - how to put audio tracks on line via Audioboo. We put a test out the other evening, to see if it worked. It did, brilliantly. We deleted it almost immediately in anticipation of this post, but all the same one or two managed to pick it up. So here are two tracks from The Imitation of Our Lady the Moon, Je te vas dire ('I'll tell you') and O félines Ophélies en folie ('O crazy feline Ophelias': you see how Laforgue loved to play with words). In both the men sing something pretty condescending, stuffed-shirt-pompous even, as if womankind owed them something. The women reply appropriately, teasingly, mick-mockingly. As they do.

People have been kind enough to ask to hear some of my music. Here's some, in the raw. I have to say the best music comes right at the end, after the singing has stopped.

Je te vas dire (mp3)

O félines Ophélies en folie (mp3)