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Culinary Misunderstandings

After many years of being "Auntie Bessie's" best customer for their roast potatoes, it has just taken my wife (who is, by her own admission not a particularly keen cook) to point out to me that, when the instructions says, "...place the potatoes on a baking tray with upturned edges..." it means it's the baking tray that has to have upturned edges not that have to lay all the frozen roasties out with the round side down and the corners up. I always think I'm a bit of a Mary Berry, but Cheryl has just proven me to be a complete Fanny Cradock...

If It Seems Too Good to be True...

Windswept, frozen and grazed from overhanging branches after an open bus city tour of Belfast. Cheryl is quite amused and has told me it's what I get for misinterpreting the 'Visit Belfast' girl's offer of a topless tour of Belfast for £12.50.

Food Emotions

We have just been to the most beautiful production of "La Traviata," where we heard the most beautiful rendition of "Addio del Passato." As a food lover and keen cook, I think it's wonderful that Verdi wrote such a heart-rending and emotive farewell to sieved tomatoes.

Bernard Sumner RIP

I have only learned in recent days of the passing of Bernard Sumner, a magnificent pianist, stalwart of BBC Scotland and the Glasgow music scene in general. Whether performing concertos with the BBCSSO, accompanying serious recitals, playing with jazz ensembles, leading the band for pantomime or accompanying "stars" of the day, he was superb. He also had a very creative brain and devised and directed several zany, "Goon-esque" comedy programmes on BBC radio. He had a very colourful (some might say hazardous) personality and private life, but his contribution to music was unquestionable. He left the UK for foreign climes in 1984, and sadly his passing last September at age 79 appears to have gone unnoticed and unreported here. Bernard Sumner, born Blackpool Lancashire 1936, died Chiang Mai Thailand 2015.

On the Level

Just trying a new recipe from our diet plan. Very disappointed to find it only requires a level tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. I was dying to see what a rounded or heaped one looked like...

Buy One, Get None Free

I have just been listening to a slightly surreal story from an elderly lady sitting near me in the doctor's waiting room. It would seem that her friend has booked a coach-trip holiday and, having noted on the literature that it was "buy one, get one free," her friend had invited her to join her on the holiday at no cost. She was apparently very much looking forward to it, had made all her preparations and was all-set to go, when the friend realised her mistake: it was not the holiday itself that was BOGOF, but only the drinks once you get there. Apparently the case is being unpacked later this morning...

007

I have just been rather heart-warmed by the very tiny, very elderly lady in winter boots and woolly hat in front of me in Costa, who is obviously somewhat cosmopolitan, asking for "...a wee carpet-sheeno and a tarty dee sitroony..." (in sharp contrast to the hatchet-faced matron behind me, who, on seeing me pay with my Apple watch, turned to her husband and said in a stage whisper, "Christ - it thinks it's James Bond..."

Tempus Fugit

The depressing moment when, while noting that the six-year-old celebrating at the next table obviously shares your birthday, you realise that not only are you old enough to be his father, but you are also biologically and legally old enough to be his grandfather....

Fleeting Conversations

I'm glad that women's quantum leaping in conversation also causes them to confuse themselves sometimes, as demonstrated by a dialogue I've just overheard between a woman and her heavily-pregnant friend in Patisserie Valerie:

Woman #1: How have you been with morning sickness?
Woman #2: It was bad, but I've been fine for a while now, thankfully.
Woman #1: And what about generally? Are you ok?
Woman #2: Yes, I'm ok, except for sore back and hips.
Woman #1: Now that you know it's a girl, have you thought of names?
Woman #1: Well, we've thought of one name, and I think we're sticking with it.
Woman #2: Sciatica?
Woman #1: No, Rebecca..

Forgotten Past

What a very odd day. While at the funeral tea of Cheryl’s godmother, I was approached by an elderly lady who called me by name, exuded familiarity, told me her latest news (every stitch of recent surgeries and bereavements), mentioned other people (by first name only) whom she sees often (and whom I couldn’t place at all) and how they tell her I ask after her frequently – and I thought to myself, “She’s completely nuts! I’ve never seen this woman in my life! She’s mad!!!”

She then said to Cheryl, “You know, Gordon and I go back a long way – I could tell you some stories from when we were in London!”

I thought, “She’s completely insane!!! I haven’t a clue who this woman is!!! I’ve never been in London with her in my life!!!” I then got a hold of someone at the funeral who might know her and asked her name, hoping this would reveal all. They told me and it meant absolutely nothing to me, so I spent the whole funeral tea telling everyone that the woman was entirely psychopathic and I hadn’t a clue who she was.
It was only when driving home that the penny dropped and the name clicked from the mists of antiquity: she was a friend of my former head-of-department’s mother (from my teaching days) who once came as an extra helper on a school music department trip to London in about 1999 or 2000, and the aforementioned mother and husband were the friends she kept referring to. And so, she’s not a dangerous psychopath at all, but everyone sitting near me at that funeral now thinks she is…

Large Livestock

You know how you sometimes find yourself witnessing a moment that makes you think you've stumbled into a Monty Python sketch? We live diagonally opposite a veterinary surgery, and we often see all sorts of animals coming and going. This morning a Winnebago horse box has just drawn up opposite, and Cheryl and I have stood by the kitchen window waiting to see the horse. The lady driver has just alighted from the cab, opened the back door and brought out...... a miniature chihuahua.....

Fashion Trouble

I've just had a notification about a singing engagement I have next month, which says that, so as to remove the "stuffy" preconceptions about opera and to make it easier for everyone in terms of changing, we have to dress casually in jeans. Might I be the only person in the world who doesn't own a pair of jeans...?

Florence Foster Jenkins

Just been to see "Florence Foster Jenkins." Another gorgeous 1940s-inspired filmscore that I would have loved to have got to write. It is a sign of a film's quality (or anticipated quality) when actors of the calibre and notoriety of Maggie Steed, Thelma Barlow and Paola Dionisotti are willing to appear in walk-on parts.

Ralph Sharon

Ralph Sharon was one of my all-time heroes of understated jazz and "standards" piano accompaniment, and I cannot believe I have only just found out he passed away over a year ago.

Click here for clip

Identity Theft

When you work in a job that very often means lots of people are focusing on one of you while you are not necessarily focussing on them as individuals, it stands to reason that you occasionally bump into people who enthusiastically seem to know you while you don't necessarily recognise them - and they very often give you very few clues as to whether you have actually met eyeball-to-eyeball. Like, I'm sure, many of my performer/musician/retail friends, I have become quite adept at passing myself off in this situation. Imagine my dismay, then, when I was giving a friendly, minimum-risk response to a lady who approached me in the car park, and after a very long chat during which I pretended to know about everything and everyone relating to her conversation, she asked, "And how are you getting on with your new hip?" Turns out she didn't know me at all; she thought I was someone else entirely. I am now unsure who thinks who is the more crazy...

Productive Mills

Mrs. Mills. A great inspiration to me in my youth. A sadly underestimated technique - judgement perhaps being clouded by the lack of diversity in the styles she played. However, the one style she did work in, she executed with enormous accuracy. If any pianists would care to maintain a bright tempo, a stride left hand and chorded-octaves right hand melody (punctuated with all the little single rhythmic passing notes) and see how long they can go without hitting a wrong bass note, melody note or chord. She did it immaculately. We always thought she was an old lady, but she was sadly only 59 when she died. She was only 53 in this clip.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNVYwRVhJOg

Being Live

The word "live" is so overused nowadays. Just tuned into Sky Arts with great interest to see a broadcast entitled, "Live from the Wigmore Hall" which turned out to have been recorded three years ago. Of course, every morning on one channel or another we get, "Andre Rieu Live in..." at which moment, of course, Mr Rieu is most likely sitting up in bed somewhere restringing his fiddle and counting his cash. I assume, by "live in concert," nowadays they mean "recorded in concert," which really is tautology, considering that it is very hard for the non-live to be in concert: some of the dullest concerts I have ever attended have been performed by the dead. Mind you, the deceased also make rather unpleasant and unproductive colleagues in small recording studios.

Grammar We Love You, Grammar We Do

That smart-suited, posh-voiced solicitor on the Gladstone Brookes advert is really annoying me to a disproportionate level by saying "...to you and I..." Granted, he is probably an actor reading lines written by someone else, but I can't stop my grammar police blue light coming on. Did no-one in the whole process of producing that advert pick up on that?

I was just getting over that when I watched the ITV News coverage of the Justin Welby paternity story, in which they newreader said the words, "...distinct similarities between he and the Archbishop of Canterbury..."

Rusalka's Song to the Moaning

Glorious production (in all respects) of Rusalka by Scottish Opera tonight. It has only been marred by the woman behind me who, as I took my seat, felt the need to say very loudly and pointedly, "Why do I always get 'the big person' right in front of me EVERY TIME?" I felt I let myself down a bit when I turned to the complete stranger on my right and said equally loudly and pointedly, "Why do I always get the ignoramus a*****le right behind me EVERY TIME..?"

The late Anna Russell, in her comedic distillation of Wagner's "Ring Cycle," used to amuse me by talking about 'My Friend, Erda, The Green-Faced Torso.' Tonight, in Rusalka, Sir Willard White is singing the role of 'My Friend, Vodník, The Silver-Faced Torso.' (Incidentally, at 70, still vocally in a different league to many half his age.) At the end of the second act, he actually emerges from his trap door fully onto the stage, at which point a lady in front of me whispered to her husband, "He HAS got legs...!"

I don't think I have ever heard the Orchestra of Scottish Opera play so well;  they were quite magnificent.

The Seal of the Confessional

The moment of quandary when you get a new black shirt and consider leaving the white cardboard stiffener in the front of the collar to see if anyone sidles up and starts telling you their dirty secrets...

I only ever did it once for a laugh. I was sitting on a bench at Kilmarnock Station and an old man rushed up, sat down beside me and said, "Oh, Father; I am a 92-year-old widower and I have just been told I have impregnated a 26-year-old showgirl." Not wishing to embarrass either of us by admitting my deceit, I said, "Would this not be better waiting till you're in chapel?"
He said, "I never go to chapel - I'm not even a catholic."
I said, "Then why are you telling me?"
He replied, "I'm telling everybody!"

Lightening Conductors

This morning I happened upon a very interesting clip of the late Sir Thomas Beecham talking about the folly of young conductors' approach to rehearsing an orchestra, and the folly of being so arrogant as to believe that you can educate a body of skilled people such us the LSO.  He believed in a much lighter approach, allowing the musicians' own musicianship to be the guide.

In my own view, the most constructive thing a conductor can do is to accept that no one at all, save a few inquisitive members of the audience, are paying the least attention to him or anything he does.

Nothing Old, Nothing New

I hope I never get to the stage that so many elderly people I know have reached, which causes them to loudly detest all television repeats and yet flatly refuse to watch anything new...

The Forces' Sweetheart

I have been overjoyed to realise that Dame Very Lynn has today reached her 99th birthday.  It is unlikely that we'll meet again, but I treasure the two occasions when our paths briefly crossed:  the first at the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in 2006, when I was more excited to be seated beside Dame Vera than to be meeting the Royal Family, and the second when I had the pleasure and honour to be present at the 90th birthday lunch given for her by the Grand Order of Water Rats and Grand Order of Lady Ratlings at The Wallace Collection, Manchester Square, London in 2007.


I knew before most members of the public that the 1990 Gulf War was going to break out;  I was passing Vera Lynn's house and I heard her gargling.


I Liked It - Quite a Lot

I have been so sad today to hear of the passing of the great Paul Daniels, whose name was so synonymous with the art of magic and prime time television entertainment throughout my childhood. I only had the pleasure of meeting and working with him once, in 2009, when we both appeared on a vast charity gala bill in aid of The Grand Order of Water Rats at the Blackpool Opera House.  My impression of him then was of an easy-going, jovial, friendly man. Admittedly, it has been widely remarked over the years that, if forced to spend any significant time around him, his incessant urge to entertain everyone with magic tricks in bars, restaurants and in "digs" could become wearing, but who am I (or anyone else, for that matter) to frown upon an inbuilt compulsion to amuse and entertain? I have worked with colleagues in all fields with far worse traits; I may even have some myself.


Now, Paul Daniels: there is a shining example of someone who has, as I outlined in my previous post, transcended their medium. How many people outside the magical fraternity could name one solitary trick, one single illusion, one individual effect that this master invented or created?  There may even be those who do not remember any of the brilliant tricks he ever performed - and yet everyone knows and recognises Paul Daniels. This is evident in the interest the world has maintained in his private life (in documentaries and reality shows), in his final illness and in his death, long after his sparkling performances have been craved on stage or screen.  Even now, decades later, our screens are awash with David Blane, Derren Brown and Dynamo, and yet whenever some civilian endeavours to perform some magic trick in a pub or at a party, someone is bound to say, "Look at him! He thinks he's Paul Daniels!"

Transcending Media

Having recently been discharged from hospital, I have been catching up with the last few days' television and have been very interested to note the method of reporting the recent passing of Sylvia Anderson, who co-created "Thunderbirds" and voiced the character Lady Penelope.  I have only seen two news reports of her death, and have been quite fascinated to note that on neither of these features was a photograph or footage of Mrs. Anderson shown, but on both occasions footage and photographs of the Lady Penelope character were used.

This, I feel, is a very fine example of someone who has been surpassed by their own creation.  I have often heard philosophies which say that one must remain greater than one's work - one should transcend one's medium.

If I could drag into the middle of the main hall of Kelvingrove Art Gallery a large lump of concrete with a hole in it, the onlookers would say, "It's a Henry Moore."  But, if I could drag into the middle of the main hall of Kelvingrove Art Gallery Henry Moore, no-one would know who he was.

Therefore, however great your talents and however marvellous your creations, it is important that that which makes you so like yourself must always be greater than 'things.'

Bodyswerves

Well, I have apparently averted the surgeon's knife - for now, at least. 


They've given me one of these electric beds with the remote controller.  What fun:  bed up, bed down, feet up, feet down, shoulders up, shoulders down, tip forward, tip backwards.  The only one that isn't fun is "CPR" which, when accidentally leant on with your thigh, makes the bed suddenly, quickly and without warning, slam flat, leaving you in a state of alarm, and putting most of your Lucozade over the front of your pyjamas.

Theatre Possibilities

Well, I breathed a sigh of relief too soon. I approached my follow-up appointment with great confidence, only to find myself on a ward awaiting an overnight stay on IV antibiotics and IV analgesia, necessitated by a further excruciating procedure performed with callous brutality by a Nordic or German female registrar, reminiscent of Eva Braun, of whom I could not speak in the same terms as I did of her junior colleague last night. I am further unsettled by the plan to fast me from midnight so that I am ready for whipping to theatre tomorrow for surgery under general anaesthetic if necessary. I think I'll just get them to whip all of my treasured Cowdens* out while I'm under and fit me with a gleaming set of Salvadors** to save any danger of ever being in this position again. 


* Cowdens = Cowdenbeath = Teeth
** Salvadors = Salvador Dali's - Wallies (Glasgow colloquial for dentures)

The Object of My Infection


I have been very touched by everyone's kind expressions of concern on social media during my impromptu visit to A&E tonight. It turns out that, in the aftermath of what should have been a very boring wisdom tooth extraction, I have been fairly unwell and wasn't even aware!  Not only had the socket, wound and stitches become infected, but I was starting to get infection in my bloodstream too and my temperature, blood pressure and inflamation/infection markers were apparently causing concern.  The staff scared the living daylights out of me by intimating their intention to keep me in for observation on an IV antibiotic for 48 hours, not to mention a passing reference (threat?) of surgery under general anaesthetic if it would not drain! However, they were happy with the improvement made to my general condition by a re-opening and cleaning of the wound, followed by a fairly traumatic jaw-draining procedure, and so I have been allowed home on condition that I report back to maxillofacial at 3.30pm tomorrow for a progress check.  Meantime, I have no less than 19 antibiotic tablets to take per day.  

I can't speak highly enough of the registrar who attended to me; qualified in both medicine and dentistry (most people would settle for one or other), she worked in a room with a very inadequate chair, a light that wouldn't stay in position and no assistance whatsoever, having to retract my cheek, source instruments, do the procedures, operate the suction etc. completely on her own, and in spite of this, never stopped trying to keep me calm and make sure I was comfortable.  Whatever the pay and conditions for her and those like her are, they cannot possibly be enough.

I did think to ask her if she might like to consider also having a harmonica on a frame and a pair of cymbals between her knees, but I wasn't actually able say anything. 

Unfinished Sympathies

Is there some part of a woman’s psyche that will not allow her to finish an existing batch of something after a new one comes into the house? After copious complaints about “stuff everywhere” and “no storage for anything,” I have waited until my wife is out of the house and attacked the pile of storage crates in the corner of the bedroom.

There are several; I have only emptied the first, and so far there are (in varying degrees of usage):

27 deodorants
9 toothpastes
7 mouthwashes
33 various hair products
9 dried-out open packets of facewipes
17 skin creams and products
13 soaps/showergels
5 half-used liquid hand-soaps
3 tubs of cotton buds,

and at least a dozen other things I do not even recognize.

Only another four crates, two Tesco woven carrier bags, three drawers and an entire bathroom to go, not to mention how many half-used washing up liquids, bleach bottles and scented disinfectants I suspect there are lurking under the sink…

Professional Recognition

This morning while waiting for Mrs. Cree to have her hair done, I installed myself in a nearby tearoom, where I was drawn into conversation by a lady of my very slight acquaintance at a neighbouring table, who was able to recount in great detail many of my artistic ventures in the locality. I was just settling into basking in the recognition, when she asked, "So, did you never fancy turning professional?"

This in turn took me back to two different occasions:

The first when the great John Rutter was leaving the concert hall after conducting a large opera and choir in one of his works, whereupon he was stopped by a well-meaning member of the public who asked, "Do you write the orchestrations yourself?"  When Rutter replied in the affirmative, the gentleman responded, "They sound so nice that I wondered if you had them done professionally..."

The second occasion was many years ago when I was the preferred accompanist for a very well-know lady soprano who was famous on television, had several dozen albums and at least six Royal Variety Performances to her credit.  She had been engaged (at enormous expense) by the executors of a deceased wealthy fan to sing at her funeral, and flown in from her tax haven home overseas to perform one operatic aria at the service part of the funeral in a church in Milngavie, which she did with great style, aplomb and class, almost blowing the church roof off with the power of her voice and the mesmeric performance she gave.  Afterwards, as we were leaving by the front door of the church, the lady church elder in attendance (who was old enough to have known better) stopped us and said to the aforementioned grande dame (in her best Milngavie accent), "That was very nice, dear.  Do you go out singing?"

There is a saying which says one is never a prophet in one's own land.  I prefer the version laid out to me by Tom Alexander, of Alexander Brothers fame:  "You're never a star at yer ain midden-heid."

The Art of Being an Audience

Although I am not old – I would not even concede to middle age - I now find that I have lived long enough to see distinct changes in the world and, of course, the only way the world really changes is by the change in the behaviour of those of us who inhabit it.  Live performance and people's approach to it has been subject to very definite, constant evolution over the course of my life and career.

 

The generally accepted etiquette and art of playing the role of audience member is now much more elusive and hazy.  One theory I have (but cannot test) is that people now learn the art of being an audience member in their own homes as a viewer of television - that portable theatre and concert hall in the corner of the living room which can have its sound volume increased or decreased, its progress paused or rewound, its screen larger, smaller, wider, squarer as whatever is going on around us dictates. I am not, of course, inferring that your average audience member is so unintelligent that he or she cannot tell the difference between the live and the televised, but I do suspect there is something coming about in the habit and subconscious of us humans relating to the proportion of live-versus-home entertainment to which we are exposed, especially those of younger generations who have been brought up with that ratio more heavily-balanced against live performance than ever.  This I also see in the cinema where, although the performance is not 'live,’ you are nevertheless sharing the experience with a large roomful of paying strangers.  Admittedly, part of the blame for this must be apportioned to the demise of Hitler-in-Knickers, that breed of torch-wielding matron, indistinguishable from a Rottweiler were it not for the lipstick, who used to stalk the aisles of the cinemas of my childhood.

 

These changes are never more obvious than when I actually form part of an audience.  Last weekend, while at the Kings Theatre, Glasgow, there was a group of ladies seated behind us, one of whom clubbed me shoulder-head-shoulder with her handbag on the way into her seat and in reverse on the way out of her seat in each half. As a group, their conversation was unceasing for the duration of the performance, as was the incessant kicking of my seat (I contained my wrath on the assumption it was a child, only to discover at the end it was one of the aforementioned ladies).  Worse still was the couple at the end of the row with the three-month-old baby whose reaction to its ongoing screams were not to take it outside for a few minutes, but to try and soothe it with a rattle, the sound of which had the decibel equivalence of a South American maraca band. 

 

Later that evening, at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal, during a performance of Handel’s “Ariodante,” we watched one audience member leave his front-row aisle seat in the grand circle and stomp up the steps, only to return with his plastic glass replenished (possibly only with water) once in each half, another person at the end of a row come and go several times, and a lady in the very middle of the row, two in front of us, get up during an aria, disturb the whole row to let her out, only to return and do the whole thing in reverse – not during a pause, interlude, scene-change or applause, but during the next famous aria – three minutes before the opera ended.  All these entrances and exits were of course via a very carelessly-handled door whose closing each time reverberated around the auditorium like a musket volley.

 

That said, of course I would rather live performance would have a slightly ill-behaved audience than none at all, but I often think that the epidemic of theatre and performance schools that are sweeping the nation should have alongside them schools that teach the art of being an audience to the rest of us, for as long as the human race long to be performers, there will be onlookers, and how wonderful it would be if they knew how to play their part with skill and grace.

A Theatre Double Bill

A real day of the theatre yesterday.  First to my old stomping ground of the Kings Theatre, Glasgow for the touring production of "Annie,"  with my friend Elaine C. Smith playing Miss Hannigan for the Scottish dates - two weeks in Glasgow now and later productions in Edinburgh and Aberdeen in May.  Great production and generally an excellent cast, with an outstanding performance from Ms Smith.  Added excitement halfway through a scene in the second half, when suddenly and without explanation the curtain came in and the lights came up.  After a very long minute, a sepulchral voice from the speakers said, "Due to circumstances beyond our control, this afternoon's performance of Annie has had to be stopped.  Please remain in your seats and we will get back to you as soon as possible."  An uneasy ripple started to spread through the assembled mass.  Was it a bomb?  Was it a fire?  Then word started to pass around the auditorium that one of the cast was taken ill.  Cheryl turned to me and said,  "Oh God, I hope it's not the dog..."

We then learned from the same voice (working hard not to sound so sepulchral this time) that Annie had injured her ankle and that the understudy would take over for the remainder of the performance.  Henceforth, the remaining twenty minutes of the show continued with a non-red-haired Annie, half a head taller than the previous whose joyful energy at actually getting to go on almost blew the spotlight bulbs.

Scottish Opera's production of Handel's "Ariodante" was last evening for us.  I cannot remember when I last saw a splash of colour in a Scottish Opera production, with there seeming to be a preference in that company for a production designs in grays and browns, and lighting designs in cold whites, which I have to admit to have been previously finding tedious, but on this occasion it did suit the stark landscape of the setting.  All-in a superb production.

It is however a myth about larger people's posteriors being better padded than our slimmer friends.  I now find sitting for a three-and-a-quarter-hour opera fairly uncomfortable, and could have done with a "stand break" after every scene.

Of course, one of the wonderful things about Handel opera is that, although one is still distracted by the surtitle changing, it is only once every six or seven minutes.

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