Dad–Punch, Mary-Rose and family: *
So there was Peter at Cambridge. Dad, typically, said that he felt he wasted his time there, worked ineffectually and took little part in the many extra-curricular activities on offer. He didn’t get the hoped-for first in his finals, but even so, the college gave him a bursary to study for a PhD. Half way through this he walked into the Dean’s room and the Dean looked up from the letter he was reading and said “Would you like a job on Punch?”
The background to that story was that when the youngest member of the five-strong editorial staff of the satirical magazine Punch turned 40, they decided that they were getting too old and needed to get some younger blood in to keep them relevant. The editor wrote to a don he knew at Cambridge to ask him to find someone to train up. Allegedly someone else also wrote to a don at Oxford who never replied. So Peter was the only candidate. On his way to the interview for the job he was knocked down by a tram and arrived covered with blood and dirt, but they gave him the job anyway. It makes a great first job story and eventually made its way into his novel Death of a Unicorn.
Around this time, Peter went to a party in a friend’s rooms at Kings and met my mother, Mary-Rose. A pretty girl, standing by the fireplace laughing delightedly because she had just managed to break an unbreakable glass in the grate. Family legend then goes that soon after they met, she was whisked away to India (allegedly because my grandparents did not approve) and he thought he’d lost her forever. Almost a year passed—and Dad was at another party when she came up behind him and rapped him on the shoulder with her fan—he turned around and there was the girl of his dreams.
They were married at Bramdean, Hampshire, on April 26th 1953. They set up house in a flat in Pimlico, he continuing at Punch; Mary-Rose working in the display department of Heal’s furniture store. A couple of years later, I came along, followed by Polly the following year.
They then moved to a seedy area of West London called Holland Park** and set about converting a tall, thin terraced house into a single family home (in common with all the other houses in that street, it had been let as single rooms with coin-operated gas fires***). The pub over the road was a favourite haunt for local workers and Friday nights were frequently enlivened by fights in the street. Occasionally accompanied by a drunken fiddler.
They did as much of the conversion of the house as they could themselves. Dad made cupboards and shelves and created ingeniously designed tables and benches to fit small spaces. Many of our childhood memories include laying slabs, bricklaying, painting and decorating in every house we occupied.
Meanwhile at Punch, Dad was progressing through a number of editorial upheavals and jobs. At various points he was Art Editor (despite only being able to draw dragons and trains sideways), resident poet, Literary Editor and eventually Deputy Editor. It was clearly an extraordinary place to work (occasionally the editorial team played cricket in the corridors) and brought him into contact with some of the great humorists and cartoonists of the time.
At home, the family was growing, with the arrival of John and James. My parents bought a couple of small ramshackle cottages in Hampshire and set about converting them into a single dwelling. With a well, a chalk heap, a growing vegetable garden and wonderful views, this was a great weekend and holiday home—and also eventually became the setting for The Devils’ Children.
Some of the most abiding memories I have of my father from this time are the stories. He would read to us every night without fail and every car journey there would be a new episode of a story to listen to. As I think back, I realise how extraordinary this was but at the time, we just took it as normal. Sometimes they were re-tellings of great legends –with a twist, perhaps. More often they would be completely new. The boys always wanted a battle, so there were lots of those. It was a brilliant way to keep four lively kids quiet on long car journeys. He was our in-car entertainment.
Around this time Peter started tinkering with what he believed to be an original idea for a crime novel, working on the kitchen table after supper.
In 1965 Peter and Mary-Rose moved from their cottage to take over half her parents’ house at Bramdean, which must have been a huge stretch on a journalist’s wages. It was a wonderful place in summer—though freezing cold with a leaky roof in the winter. They developed a large vegetable garden and Dad started brewing beer (more successful than his efforts at wine making!).
By 1966-7ish Dad realised that the crime novel he was writing was completely stuck. That must have been a bad time. But it also brought him the cold-sweat nightmare which became the first scene of The Weathermonger. The following evening, he put the crime novel aside and poured his heart into writing his first children’s novel. Once that was done and on the way to his publisher, he returned to the crime novel, saw pretty much instantly what he needed to do with it and finished The Glass-Sided Ants’ Nest (published as Skin Deep in the UK allegedly because someone at the publisher declared that no woman would ever buy a book with an insect in the title).
In 1968 both The Weathermonger and The Glass-sided Ants’ Nest were published to great reviews. By that time he had completed two more novels and was starting on a fifth. With these successes under his belt, he had what my maternal grandfather described in his diary as ‘a sudden rush of blood to the head’, left his job at Punch to become a full-time author – and also bought the other half of the house at Bramdean.
* * *
* by Philippa^ Dickinson, who, when she retired a year ago, was Managing Director of Random House Children’s Books UK, and is now in training to become ruler of the universe because the universe so badly needs ruling. Peter and I used to listen with rapt fascination to Philippa’s tales of taking on various corporate miscreants^^—the kind of miscreants who are used to ploughing ordinary members of the public under, and probably still don’t know what hit them. The trains/transporters/teleportation booths will run on time in Philippa’s universe. Also, the reason Peter’s memorial service went as brilliantly as it did is largely down to Phil. It’s end of year holidays and everyone is closed for business? Well they’re just going to have to open up again. It’s beginning of year holidays and everyone is on a beach in Barbados? Well they’re just going to have to come back again. We all^^^ pitched in at our various levels of competence—that would be me blubbing along at the bottom—and the Dickinson Managerial Gene in its rich panoply of manifestations was much in evidence# but the honours go to Phil.##
^ I had a brain failure last night—they’re a bit endemic at present—and forgot that I hadn’t already posted Phil’s and was queueing up to post John’s. Fortunately he didn’t answer by return electron.
^^ As if running a large wodge of frelling Random House wasn’t enough. I’m talking about corporate miscreants outside publishing, where no one would know that this woman with the pleasant smile and mild manner is dangerous.
^^^ chiefly Peter’s four kids and I, with crucial input from various spouses, cousins, and Peter’s brothers
# None of Peter’s kids is a wallflower. They had an excellent role model. I remember, early on, once complaining, after a Dickinson family dinner party, that I hadn’t been able to get a word in edgewise. Peter looked at me in surprise. Shout louder, he said.
## This includes a lot of kind and patient support of the blubbing widow.
** For anyone who doesn’t get this joke, Holland Park is like the place to live. Buckingham Palace? Don’t be silly. Notting Hill? So last century. Holland Park is the place to be. But sixty years ago it was urban blight. Peter and Mary-Rose were in the first wave of gentrifiers.
*** And, according to Peter, electricity that consisted of a single naked light bulb on the landing of each floor, and a loo at the bottom of the garden.
Admetus, Peter and I went to the live cinema screening of the National Theatre’s EVERYMAN tonight—yes, the medieval morality play*, yanked into the present day and adorned with bad language and cocaine by Carol Ann Duffy, of whom I am a besotted and drooling fan**, and when I saw this play existed and that, furthermore, the National Theatre was going to live-screen it I WANTED TO GO.***
IT IS WONDERFUL AND AMAZING AND POWERFUL AND TERRIFIC. GO IF YOU HAVE THE CHANCE. They do rescreenings for these live things some times . . . check your local listings.
* * *
* Which I read in college. Hey, it’s shorter than Bunyan’s frelling PILGRIM’S PROGRESS. Even us English majors have our limits. Although I read most of Bunyan too.^
^ And I like Spenser, who usually appears on the same class syllabus. Sue me.
* I admire both her poetry and her politics. Generally speaking I remember a pressing engagement on the other side of the planet as soon as some arty type starts coming out in political activism like a rash, but there are a few who do it with aplomb, Duffy being one of them. The fact that she’s hot on women’s and sexual and gender rights AND HAS A SENSE OF HUMOUR WITH IT might have something to do with this.^
^ Also my wet-liberal tendencies are getting larger and meaner and shorter-tempered+ as my Street Pastor and Samaritan duty hours rack up.
+ Frightening. Yes.
*** There followed several months of frustration. I cannot BELIEVE the level of meatloafhood in many and possibly most arts and entertainment web sites. ARRRRRRGH. I think I only found out about either the play or the live screening because I’m on the NT’s STREET MAIL CATALOGUE LIST. But you have to buy your tickets from your local cinema, supposing you can find the right local cinema, since the cinema list on the NT site will not match the local cinema’s information when, the NT link being dead or missing, you try your local cinema’s own web site. This tarantella of frustration is further enhanced by the original performance site—in this case the National Theatre, but it is by no means the only perpetrator of this variety of on line crime—whining continuously in obtrusive pop-up boxes for your location so it can give you a personally tailored web site experience, and, when you cave and give it to them, and it is, let’s say, Hampshire, immediately offering you 1,000,000 cinemas in London. THANKS EVER SO. I KNOW IT SOMETIMES LOOKS LIKE THE ENTIRE SOUTH OF ENGLAND IS A LARGE BEDROOM COMMUNITY FOR LONDON BUT SOME OF US REALLY LIVE HERE.^
Meanwhile . . . I could not persuade my local cinema to take my money and give me some seats for EVERYMAN, and since it’s a flapdoodling cinema chain, you can’t get a local human being on the phone—nor is the on-the-ground ticket office open during ordinary town-errand-running day hours—to tell you if it’s coming to your particular local. The chain’s theatre local to a town 300 miles away is not really what you are after. ARRRRRRGH. So the NT web site went on saying it was here, and here went on saying Page Not Found. So I finally threw up my hands^^ and bought tickets at a theatre in Greater Footling, which isn’t impossibly far from here.^^^ I didn’t find out that yes, indeed, EVERYMAN is coming to the local scion of national cinema glory until we walked in to see the Royal Opera House live screening of GUILLAME TELL~ there a fortnight ago, and saw large flashy posters for EVERYMAN on the walls. AAAAAARRRRRRRRGH.
BUT THE STORY DOES NOT END HERE. In the first place, there are two theatres belonging to this other incompetently head-officed and web-sited cinema chain, AND with nearly the same name, ie the Toadstool and the Toadstool Phoenix, both of them not merely in Greater Footling but the same end of Greater Footling and Greater Footling is not exactly a gazillion-citizen megalopolis AND BOTH OF THEM WERE SCREENING EVERYMAN. Go figure. Admetus had looked up how to find the Toadstool Phoenix and I had looked up the Toadstool, and there was a certain amount of frantic cross-checking yesterday.
Well we got that sorted and we even successfully arrived at the Toadstool~~. Now my on line booking was, according to what I printed out to take with me, only a booking and we had to get there HALF AN HOUR EARLY to pick up the tickets. Fortunately, having wasted time going in several wrong directions, we got there only about a quarter hour early . . . fortunately because the box office was not open. The ticket machine did not show EVERYMAN. The androids behind the snacks counter were only programmed to provide snacks. The whole dranglefabbing complex was pretty comprehensively deserted and since there are 1,000,000 screens at the Toadstool Stepford we might still be there wandering hopelessly down identical corridors except the screen number was on my booking page. We went there. We decided we didn’t like the seats I’d booked—who can tell anything from a web schematic—and sat somewhere else. Since there were only about ten of us perched randomly in a theatre that would probably seat 200 it didn’t matter too astonishingly. And no one ever checked our booking, or asked for our tickets, or offered us a wet fish or a glass of Prosecco, or anything else. But there must have been a Stepford minion pressing the button for the show to run, because it did run. Yaaaaaay.
^ The worst offender in the web site visitor location category however is the frelling New York Metropolitan Opera. I don’t know what the frelling doodah is going on with the Met Live this year—tickets should be on sale by now—and I can’t find a cinema anywhere around here that admits to screening it, including the one I’ve always used in the past. But if you click through all the dazzle to the Met Live page on the Met Opera site, and ask it to find you your local cinema, it will ask you for your country and then for your city. I clicked hopefully on Mauncester, which is even on the Met Live drop down menu of Hampshire cities . . . AND THE CINEMA LIST STARTS OFF IN AUSTRIA. THEN GERMANY. THEN . . . Belgium, I think. I forget. But you’ve scrolled down several pages before you ever get to the UK at all. If they’re trying to impress me favourably with the number of cinemas worldwide that screen the Met Live this is not having the desired effect.
^^ There may have been language.
^^^ Especially when Admetus is driving. Ahem.
~ The now nationally if not internationally notorious new ROH production of GUILLAUME TELL. Yes, yes, William Tell, but Rossini was an Italian writing for the French opera, okay? Whatever you call it it’s supposed to be Rossini’s unknown masterpiece, never put on because it’s five hours long and you’re only allowed to write operas longer than four hours if you’re Wagner.+ I was THRILLED when I heard that the ROH was going to do it, and QUADRUPLY THRILLED that they were going to live stream it and live stream it at a cinema close enough for me to drive to. YAAAAAAAAAAY. I bought tickets more or less the moment they went on sale and was enormously looking forward to it. ENORMOUSLY.
The beginning of that week I got a text from Admetus saying, erm, have you seen the reviews for the opening night of GUILLAUME TELL? I hadn’t. The hot young director++ in his creative capacity as an enormous flaming asshole had decided that the bad guys’ bad-guy-ness—whatever else you do with it, the story is still basically about a bunch of locals being stomped by an invading army—needed to be heightened, and never mind that Rossini and his text provider actually took quite good care of making the bad guys bad in the libretto—and so staged an extremely graphic rape scene during the chirpy ballet+++ at the beginning of the third act. A local woman is harassed and molested by a gang of the bad-guy officers . . . and then stripped naked, thrown on the banqueting table and gang raped. BECAUSE THE AUDIENCE NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE BRUTALITY OF WAR.
Opening night was booed so thoroughly that (according to reports) you couldn’t hear the music. Quite a lot of ink, newspaper and virtual, was spilled subsequently (most of which you can still find on line if you’re interested) and I spent rather too much of that week reading reviews and feeling ill. I almost didn’t go. I don’t need to understand about the brutality of war, or about the gross inhumanity of man to man or men to woman# and I don’t think the first night reaction was anything about British parochialism, which is one of the things that was elitistly suggested.
They’d toned it down some## by the day of the cinema broadcast . . . but I did go, and that scene still made me feel physically sick and I almost walked out. The only reason I finally went at all was because the reviews were also universal that it was exquisitely sung AND I WANTED TO FRELLING HEAR IT which is where we came in. And it was exquisitely sung, and I in fact came home and ordered the CD with the same cast and conductor which gets about twelve stars in the Penguin Guide as well. But for gratuitous, inappropriate, stupid, pretentious shock value, the rape scene takes some kind of gigantic toxic biscuit. I’m also happy to say that the controversy did not put bums on seats around here: I’d never seen the cinema so empty for an opera screening.###
+ I will probably never see Parsifal, partly because I’d be throwing rubbery carrots and small dead animals at the stage by the end of act two, but also because, supposing I hadn’t been ejected yet, I’d have pressure sores by the end of act twelve, or whenever it finally stops.
++ On whose head let there be a positive avalanche of small dead animals in an advanced state of decomposition
+++ French operas of that period apparently HAD to have ballets. There are a lot of standard rep grand operas that seem suddenly and startlingly to come to a thundering [sic] halt for the ballet. Good time to sneak out for another glass of Prosecco. Especially if it’s GUILLAUME TELL under this director.
# Oh, and? The actress does not—or at any rate did not—get a mention in the credits. Several of us saw some further symbolism in this.
## After both director and ROH head did the blustery bit about artistic integrity and said they weren’t going to change a thing
### There was a lot of raging stupidity elsewhere in this production. Why the freedom fighters took their shirts off—rarely a performance plus in a large group of opera singers—to smear themselves in blood and dirt before they went into battle was not clear, and went CLANG in a production that had more or less updated the story to the 20th century. And there is a scene at the end that I’m surprised was even allowed, when the villagers’ children are stripped down to their underwear and bathed in a series of small tubs dotted across the stage. Presumably it was to indicate Fresh Young New Beginnings, the bad guys having been against the odds seen off, but it was creepy in the extreme.
~~ Some of our wrong turnings tonight looked very familiar since Fiona and I had made them a while back when we tried to find the Toadstool. We had of course complicated the issue by stopping at a yarn store first which for some reason Peter and Admetus were not interested in. Men. Sigh.
This one: http://www.metopera.org/opera/la-donna-del-lago-rossini-tickets [If the link dies at the end of the season: LA DONNA DEL LAGO by Rossini]
In the first place it was fabulous. I’m enormously glad I went. The singing from the four principals was AMAZING.**
In the second place, however, it’s way up there on the silly scale—not quite ERNANI but close. REALLY SILLY PLOT. REALLY REALLY SILLY. REALLY. SILLY. I also felt the translation was more cack-handed than was strictly required.*** We want to know what’s going on, we don’t necessarily want the exquisitely precise rendering of the Italian, which word choice may have more to do with how it sings rather than whether it makes any sense at all as something anyone might ever say, even two hundred years ago in a Walter Scott novel. †
In the third place, it’s all about Joyce Di Donato’s breasts.
I admit I wasn’t expecting this last. I’m fine with the fact that she has breasts, but I wasn’t expecting them to be Triumphant Before Everything, aka Beware the Bustier.†† I suppose the designer/costumer might be trying to make sure we know that Di Donato is the girl, since her boyfriend is played by another mezzo soprano†††, and the boyfriend is, furthermore, in a kilt, which is perhaps not the best choice for a girl playing a trouser role. I mean a kilt role. It turns out that the entire Highland army—you got it that this is Sir Walter Scott, yes?—is in kilts, but you haven’t taken this in yet when Malcolm first strides on stage/screen and starts mooning over Elena. Even knowing that Malcolm is going to be a mezzo the urge to giggle is powerful when she appears in a kilt. It took me about four bars into her, um, his, um, her first aria however to become her drooling slave and beyond that I couldn’t care less. ‡
But I get ahead of myself. The first bloke we see on stage is Juan Diego Florez ‡ in really icky plastic leather.‡‡ He’s the king, who has allowed himself to be distracted from stamping the crap out of the Highland rebels by tales of a mysterious beauty, whom he has disguised himself to get a glimpse of. I mean, you don’t expect to see your king in plastic leathers, do you? Elena is picking plastic‡‡‡ heather in another one of production/design’s curious choices for stage business. She, for some reason, thinks he needs help§ and offers to take him home with her. That loud bang you just heard was plot credibility exploding. HONEY. YOU’RE OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE WITH A MAN YOU’VE NEVER MET BEFORE§§ WHO IS, FURTHERMORE, SHOWING SIGNS OF FINDING YOU HOT §§§. I THINK YOU MIGHT AT LEAST MENTION THAT YOU LIVE WITH YOUR DAD, AND THAT A CHORUS’ WORTH OF HENCHPERSONS IS JUST OVER THAT PAPIER MACHE HILL. I think. The operatic geography remains a trifle underexplained. Because the show is called The Lady of the Lake~ there has to be a lake, which our heroine rows across every day, apparently, to gather plastic heather and have random encounters with gleaming-eyed strangers. After that, beyond a throwaway reference to taking the current random stranger back to the shore~~ the characters just hop around from set piece to set piece. Special non-points are awarded for Elena’s cottage, which is a small roof on two walls, like a capital letter ‘E’ stood on its front with the central bar removed, plonked down in the middle of the stage, and through which the henchpersons/chorus eventually swirl, and to give themselves something to do, set up some banqueting tables out back. Hope it doesn’t rain.~~~
I was regularly distracted from all the nonsense by the sheer glory of the music. I like Rossini, I like bel canto, and I’m now passionately in love with not one but two mezzos.= But this is one of those evenings when I came away thinking, It does not have to be this daft. It does not have to be this daft. It’s hard to do a lot of acting when you’re a girl in a trouser role dressed in a kilt, the king is mainly required to flounce variously, which is fortunately one of Florez’ skills, the superfluous tenor has nothing to do, poor man, but stomp about looking heroic== and be spurned by his affianced bride, who wants to marry the other mezzo. But Di Donato is a really effective actress, and watching her creating small shining bits of sense within all the doolally is almost worse than if she’d been a student of the Leontyne Price school.&
Let’s also just take a moment to contemplate the character of the king. Okay, he falls for Elena big time in that insta-whammy way popular in both opera and Hollywood romcom. He’s the king. What is he planning to offer this small-time laird’s daughter, before or after he finds out she’s one of the revolting scum raising arms against him? I kinda doubt it’s anything her dad would recognise as honourable, even if her dad weren’t a member of the revolting scum. And this is an era when the male relatives get to dispose of the bodies of the females, you know? And when the short hero she doesn’t want to marry objects to her clear loathing of him, her dad tries to play it off as virginal modesty. Uh huh.
But the king is supposed to be a good guy. Well, I think. I think he’s supposed to be being a good guy when he leaves the battle to go hunt up Elena and give her a ring that he says, rolling his eyes theatrically, if she shows to the king he will be merciful and give her safe passage to somewhere or other. Tahiti. Guam. But there’s this hilarious exchange between them when he’s trying to go for her again&& and she says No no no! I’m in love with the other mezzo! And he replies, in what I feel is not wholly inexplicable bewilderment, Well, why didn’t you discourage my ardour when you took me HOME WITH YOU the other day? Well, yes. Although possibly because she’d only set eyes on him half an hour ago and she was wrapped in a sweet naïve mist of Scottish hospitality and concentrating on her rowing. Oh, and she’s already in love with the mezzo named Malcolm. But I repeat . . . what exactly is the king of Scotland OFFERING her? A big fat dowry to cover up the fact that she may be pregnant when he pats her on the . . . head and sends her on her way again?
I’d forgive either the story or the staging a lot if the last scene weren’t quite so determinedly demented. So, the rebels have been crushed absolutely, the (short) heroic rebel tenor has been conveniently killed, and Elena, with the safe-passage ring&&& has gone up to the palace to try begging for the life of her dad and her beloved. And she meets the bloke she last saw in plastic leathers now all decked out in white and gilt and she says, oh, hi, I’m here to see the king, um, I have this ring that this random guy gave me . . . um, you gave me. You’ll see the king, the random guy says. Grandly.% So now we have languours of daftitude while the court all processes in and does galliard-y type things around Florez, who stands there looking like a stuffed prat, while poor Di Donato has to go on and on and on and on and on NOT GETTING IT. She doesn’t get to get it till one of the courtiers plonks a frelling crown on Florez’ head.
Okay, whatever. Cue general rejoicing. The king pardons both dad and Malcolm and is apparently not requiring them to emigrate to Tahiti or Guam, which is very nice of him, and proves that he is supposed to be a good guy. And if he draws Malcom aside later and mutters something about droit de seigneur, it doesn’t happen till after the curtain comes down.
I’m glad I went! The music was spectacular and my head is still full of it!%% I just wish—um—I just wish—um!
. . . And if not writing regular blogs causes me to write three thousand words when I finally get around to it again, even under the extreme provocation of an opera to rant about, I’d better rethink. Um. Again.
* * *
* How Christianity Ruins Your Life. My Saturday evenings are now dedicated to sitting in the dark with monks. The thing is that I want to sit in the dark with monks, but I miss my Live at the Mets.^ I have not figured this out yet. ^^ There are slowly more live opera broadcasts at your friendly neighbourhood cinemas but the New York City Met is my opera company and they broadcast to the distant punters on Saturday afternoons in New York, which is Saturday evening sitting in the dark with monks time in Hampshire, England. Also, most cinema web sites are possessed by demons. For example, apparently the ROH^^^ is streaming a Guillaume Tell which I would love to attend and THEORETICALLY it’s coming to my cinema but my cinema’s web site won’t discuss it. ARRRRRRGH. And since it’s a chain, you can’t get a local on the phone—and because something is coming to the chain, that does not mean it is coming to all the individual theatres belonging to that chain. ARRRRRRRRRGH.
^ Including the prosecco and knitting in the interval. There’s no reason I couldn’t do prosecco and knitting at home, I just don’t. Way too self-indulgent somehow. Because of course I am never self indulgent. Ever. About anything.+
+ Choooooooocolate. Also how many books in the TBR pile(s)? And we’re not even going to mention yarn. # Or All Stars. ##
# Or for that matter furry four-legged creatures of the night.~ Some people would consider three of these somewhat self-indulgent. Personally I just call it dangerously insane.
~ Although the ‘of the night’ part is kind of my fault. I go to bed late.
## I had to THROW OUT A PAIR OF PINK ONES recently. I’m still in mourning. But the amount of water they were letting through the holes in the soles was getting kind of extreme.
^^ I have told Alfrick that they should lay on more silent sitting-in-the-dark contemplative services. Only one a week seems, you know, careless. Unprofessional. For a bunch of monks.
^^^ Royal Opera House. Which is one of my problems. The ROH tend to be up-themselves scum-sucking banderglizzards. When I first moved over here a quarter century ago and was bouncing all over the landscape with JOY at the prospect of two, count ’em, TWO, world-class opera houses only a little over an hour away+, my heart was quickly won by the English National Opera, which was the other one, both because it was CHEAPER++ and because they hired real human beings who answered phones and personned the front of house if you wandered in off the street and who were nice. The ROH hired scum-sucking banderglizzards. And, guys, in today’s economy, including twenty-five years’ ago economy, you can’t afford not to take the money of vulgar Americans who want to buy full-price+++ seats and you should behave accordingly. Vulgar Americans don’t necessarily think brass-balled rudeness in a British accent is charming. Some of those memories linger. Although the memory of going to The Huguenots at the ROH on what I think was my first birthday in England, with Peter in a dinner jacket and me in green velvet, also rather lingers. I’m not sure what Peter has done with his dinner jacket but I still have the green velvet.
Anyway. The ROH does beam some of its screenings down here to the one cinema within my driving range, but the ENO does not. Yet. I hope they’re planning to cast their webby net wider soon.
+ Especially the way Peter used to thunder up the motorway when he and Wolfgang were a lot younger.
++ And before any ROH supporters tell me, with lashings of dudgeon, that the ROH offers cheap seats too, it didn’t use to. And I’m only taking it on faith that you can actually hear and/or see anything from the cheap seats.
** I admit I didn’t think the supporting-role baritone was quite up to the standard set by the two tenors and two mezzo-sopranos, but that may be the sheer physical facts of a low voice emerging from a human voice box. Are there coloratura baritones? I don’t know.
*** But I think I’m losing my grip on the whole translation question as a result of struggling with the Bible. There are a lot of WHAT? moments about the Bible anyway and groping hastily for some other translation usually only makes it worse.
† What is it with opera composers and Sir Walter Scott? Surely they could have got their silly from a wider range of sources?
†† That’s bust-ee-ay as in corset, not bust-ee-er as in possessing more bust.
††† And as the off-duty operatic soprano doing the backstage introduction to us nonpresent audience drones finished her plot synopsis by saying: and so the mezzo gets the mezzo, and tough luck to the two tenors.^
^ Note that this opera has a HAPPY ENDING. YAAAAAAAAY. Mind you this happy ending requires the killing-off of the awkward superfluous tenor, but hey. He starts breathing again in time for the curtain calls.
‡ Her name is Daniela Barcellona. And it’s just as well she doesn’t have an enormous back catalogue or I’d be taking out a bank loan.
Just for the record, they kiss. Which I like to think is another blow for irrelevant-detail-blind staging.^ Like the Oscar Wilde play—I can’t even remember which one—I saw in London about twenty years ago where the actor playing the female lead was black: which I’m afraid is the first time I’d seen historical-drama colour-blind anywhere but Shakespeare. Yessssss. But while Wilde plays don’t call for black actors and Malcolm in DONNA DEL LAGO is written for a mezzo, Di Donato and Barcellona’s duet that the kiss is at the end of is so frelling ravishing you’ve probably forgotten everything but ohmygodohmygodohmygod, and also, Barcellona is TALL, so she can do the male-swagger thing, including the looming protectively over the girl, pretty well. Better, in fact, than most tenors, who tend to be bandy-legged midgets. Barcellona towered over both of last night’s tenors. Just by the way.
^ Maybe Rossini was thinking about gay sex really. But the story on stage is het.
‡ Who is a SHORT TENOR. Di Donato, who doesn’t look very tall herself, was in flats. Florez’ boots had substantial heels on them. But he is a bloke.
‡‡ Or if it was real leather, the Met needs a new buyer.
‡‡‡ I perceive a pattern. Not in a good way.
§ HE’S IN PLASTIC LEATHERS. IF HE WERE A GOOD GUY HE’D BE WEARING A KILT.
§§ WHO IS WEARING PLASTIC LEATHER.
§§§ I know you’re a legendary beauty and all, but the bustier is not really supportive^ of the modest Scottish virgin thing. And while Florez does the overheated Latin^^ lover persona very well the character he’s playing in this case would be forgiven for the thought bubble appearing over his head saying NOBODY TOLD ME THE LEGENDARY BEAUTY IS FAST.
^^ He looks about as Scottish as Barcellona looks like a bloke. I can deal with this. The plastic leathers must go.
~ Um, why? The Lady of the Lake as an Arthurian trope has been around a long time, and Scott must have known Malory’s Arthur? Surely? Or is there some Arthurian resonance in the Scott novel that I’ve forgotten?^ And if Rossini’s librettist cut it out why didn’t they CHANGE THE TITLE?
^ I read shedloads of frelling Scott at various times in my misspent youth, but in my memory, never my best feature, the stories have all mooshed together in one gargantuan wodge of forsoothly, studded with hopelessly wet, floppy heroines. Don’t Rebecca me. She only looks good in comparison.
~~ And leaving him there? What?
~~~ It’s the Scottish Highlands. IT NEVER RAINS THERE. NOOOOOOO.
= The tenors are fine. And I’ve been a fan of Florez for a long time. But . . . give me one of those mezzos. Please.^
^ I am of course Giving Up Singing Forever again. Had a voice lesson today. . . . No, no, this blog post is already reader-numbingly too long.
== which is harder still when you’re the shortest person on the stage. Pav is taller than this bloke.
& Stand Like Fence Post, Wave Arms and Sing. I adored Price and have a lot of her recordings but she was not an actress.
&& Nothing like a little rumpy-pumpy to soothe those battlefield nerves.
&&& I mean, how much can you trust someone wearing plastic leathers?
% Trying not to take a cheap shot here. But grandly is not Florez’ metier.
%% To the extreme detriment of my own singing. Sigh. Why didn’t I take up the xylophone?
THERE’S TOO MUCH GOING ON* including various bits of news** both good and bad that I haven’t entirely got my head around yet*** although when I do some of them will make it onto the blog.
Meanwhile I thought I might at least post some photos of an attic full of book boxes as requested by some strange person on the forum.
This is what greets you at the top of the stairs. That’s the corner of my old double bed from Maine on the left, hard up against the end wall, pretending to be a Guest Room. When I get it made up again it will be a very good place for Lying with the Hellmob. The hellhounds and I had begun to explore this interesting possibility back when Third House was still Third House. And a double bed is enough bigger than a sofa I may be able to trap the hellterror in place more effectively.
But this is what I mean about lack of impressiveness–although you may be dazzled by my colour sense–you’re looking at nineteen or twenty boxes wedged into that corner, but since you can only see the outside rows it’s a big meh.
You’re now standing with the bed behind you and the yellow filing cabinet to your left, looking down the length of the attic. This is the long kitchen table, worth £1.79, built out of bits Peter had found in rubbish tips, that when we moved out of the old house I REFUSED TO GIVE UP. And I was right. It is perfect as a long skinny attic table. That’s the notorious dormer window that has produced those interesting ceiling angles, some of which you can see. And those are avocadoes on the window sill, in case you’re wondering, ripening in the sunlight that blasts in during the day. If you peer into the murk to the far end of the attic you may just about be able to make out EMPTY SHELVES. Yes. I keep putting stuff on them and then taking it off again because how am I supposed to choose? Although Peter’s 1,000,000,000 bound annuals of PUNCH take up a good deal of the space you can’t see, and my encyclopaedia will go on those shelves too when I find the rest of it.
And that architectural feature in the upper right-hand corner is the boxed-in, so to speak, chimney. Why it has a sort of hoop skirt built out from it halfway down (or up) I have no idea, but all shelves to pile books and book boxes on are good shelves.
This is the left-hand far corner, so what is beyond the table on the same side of the attic. And again . . . not so impressive. But you’re looking at nearly thirty boxes you just can’t see most of them. What you are seeing at the bottom of the picture in the open box is the limited edition illustrated ROSE DAUGHTER.
This is now behind the chimney. Peter’s gazillion PUNCHES are immediately to your left; the corner with the unimpressive thirty boxes is now behind you . . . more or less. You’re a bit crowded back here.
I am particularly pleased with the table. It’s one of the few pieces of furniture that came over with me from Maine, with the bed and the blue velvet sofa, and it was for the chop this move; there was nowhere to put it. I’m a little nostalgic about the stuff I brought over with me because barring the 1,000,000,000 books there isn’t a lot of it–and I did have to get rid of my baby grand piano. This table has been sitting at the mews waiting for the axe to fall since like the kitchen table it isn’t worth anything BUT IT’S A PERFECTLY GOOD TABLE. And then I thought, wait a minute, I can use it a Mediating Structure to make the wrangling of book boxes marginally less appalling. So it’s shoved up against the back of the chimney and there are and/or will be stacks of two boxes below it and stacks of two boxes on top of it . . . instead of stacks of four boxes of books. Hurrah. Yessssss.
The view from above. Just by the way, don’t get too excited by any labels you may see. Most of them are wrong. Well, most of the ones on Peter’s backlist are wrong. My backlist, on the other hand, is 99% gorgeously and specifically accurate because I have a secret weapon named Fiona.
And, when appropriate, I get books out of their boxes and pile them interestingly in available gaps, available being another of those mutable concepts. I’ve got a lot of Peter’s piled up on the chimney shelf just out of frame in the long shot of the ex-kitchen table. And just by another way, I have no idea where SHADOWS is. I haven’t seen it at all. I hope it’s hiding somewhere at the cottage.
And because I am hopelessly neurotic, I’ve saved a few empty boxes . . . just in case I need them later. Yes, that’s a sink on your right. I have them piled in the loo because there isn’t anywhere else.
* * *
* Well how unusual
** No, no, not the kind you want
*** Although I HAD MY FIRST VOICE LESSON IN FOREVER on Monday YAAAAAAAY. It wasn’t even as bad as feared^ but I still have a good deal of lost ground to make up. AND BOTH MY PIANO AND I SOUND DIFFERENT IN THIRD HOUSE’S SITTING ROOM.
^ Although if it had been as bad as feared it would have involved alien abduction and earthquakes and a recount in Scotland that demonstrated that they’d left the UK after all, which leaves quite a lot of room for a voice lesson still to be pretty bad in.
All 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 boxes of it. I should know, I shifted all of them. I am a HEROINE. Peter says so. I am a heroine having a nice little quarter bottle of champagne.* I’m kind of assuming I won’t get out of bed at all tomorrow** because all my muscles will have gone paralytic*** as well as the ME saying, you did WHAT? Lie down,† but tonight I am aglow with virtue and a certain amount of astonishment. I’m still half spazzing with adrenaline so I thought I could tell you about how amazing I am.
Everything went wrong really early when I had a tech disaster over breakfast†† so I got up to Third House, to meet Atlas and his trailer, a good half hour later than scheduled. Fortunately Atlas is used to me.
It took two trips to haul all those boxes home††† and Atlas got all lugubrious the first time and said it might take three‡ whereupon I went into Frantic Action Mode and shoved a dozen boxes into Wolfgang, who is a bit tardis-like that way. We weren’t going to get our somewhat bedraggled loot‡‡ into the attic today so Atlas unloaded it onto a pallet of black plastic garbage bags on the paving in front of the summerhouse‡‡‡ and then we rushed back for the second load . . . well, ‘rush’ does not pertain to Atlas’ trailer, but he set out while I went back to the cottage for Pav and (a) got embroiled with a neighbour having a flap (b) WOLFGANG WAS MAKING A STRANGE NEW NOISE§ (c) got stuck behind a bicycle for about three miles.§§ By the time I finally arrived Atlas had nearly finished his plan for world peace and was just drawing up his list of world leaders to send it to.
When Atlas got the last of the second load into the back garden it was past his time to leave. So I was left looking at an Alp of book boxes. Peter told me helpfully that it might very well rain tonight. Not enough to do the garden(s) any good. Just enough to wet down boxes of backlist.
Tarpaulin, said Peter. Um, I said. And started carrying boxes upstairs. I meant to keep count, but I kept forgetting. Nearly a hundred. No, I’m serious. Over ninety but not quite a hundred. I think. Some of them were small. Not very many.
It took me quite a while. Atlas had sensibly put most of the biggest boxes in the bottom layer and by the time I reached it I had blisters on the middle joints of my little fingers and the insides of my arms just below the elbows. I was also cranky. I shifted about twenty of these last leviathans under the porch roof by the garden/sitting room door in the niches created by the bay windows. Everything else is in the attic. Oh, and yes, it is all going to fit. . . .
I think I’ll take another arnica.§§§
* * *
* It’s going to be a drunken, revelrous week: we’re taking Nina and Ignatius out to dinner on Friday as an INADEQUATE THANK YOU for everything they’ve done around the house move. Ignatius installed the much delayed splashback just this weekend. I hadn’t had a car^ all week so I finally rang the Hardened Glass People on Friday and my impression is that they went around looking under everybody’s desks till they found it. However, they did find it.^^ And Ignatius installed it. Hurrah hurrah hurrah. Tick one more thing off the House Move list. Only nearly as many things left on said list as there are boxes of backlist.
^ And they mended the thing they found+ but everything I took him in for is still there going zap whine roar moan.
+ Note to self: next time Wolfgang starts rattling like a nearly twenty-year-old car, ask them to check that there are no shock absorbers ready to fall off and go whirling down the road independently while Wolfgang and I blast away in a sudden, unplanned different direction.
^^ I should not have been driving on Friday—I told you it was a bad ME day—but God was looking out for me. He/she/it/they could have just not given me an ME day in the first place but I suppose that would be too easy.
** YAAAAAAY says the hellmob. MOVE OVER.
*** See, the champagne is therapeutic. Really. Absolutely.
† Yes, all right, don’t be so pushy, I need a pee first. I’ll lie down again in a minute, supposing the hellmob has left me any space. Bed sharing presently is a bit problematic because HALF the bed is still taken up with all the sheets and towels out of my airing cupboard. And have I mentioned that Atlas, my shelf builder, is GOING ON A FORTNIGHT’S HOLIDAY?
†† Most of my frelling kit at this point is ancient as tech goes, and while I hope the desktop—which is in fact the oldest of all—will soldier on for a while and possibly Pooka also, both the iPad and the laptop are frelling racing down that last long slope. Poor Raphael would already have the new stuff at least ordered and probably installed by now if I didn’t KEEP CHANGING MY MIND. There’s this vast horrible continuum of specs and . . . and . . . but the bottom line is that the Apple experiment has been kind of a bust. Pooka—who is an iPhone, for anyone who has forgotten (!)—is okay and I’ll worry about what to upgrade her to when she starts failing, but I have had it with the iPad refusing to play nicely with all the Microsoft stuff I’ve been living by for the last fifteen or so years. Fifteen or so years ago you could not get Apple over here, or at least no one would support it, so when I bought my first real computer it just was not an issue that all my American friends said Apple is better. And I loathe Microsoft but it’s what I’m used to and I can’t be bothered trying to learn a whole new ratbagging system which, from my experience with the iPad is not so blindingly marvellous thank you very much. My next tablet will run Windows. Sue me.
††† Which is not wholly a bad thing. I took the hellhounds along the first time and hurtled them in the farmland, splendidly riddled with footpaths, beyond the storage place—loading Atlas’ trailer with book boxes is not really a two person job—and then brought the hellterror the second time and hurtled her. The hellhounds aren’t what I’d call safe to stock, but they do know I won’t let them chase anything interesting. The hellterror got a little overexcited because she hasn’t had as many long country hurtles as the hellhounds had at her age but I’m still bigger than she is. And she was so beside herself about the game birds that she missed a perfectly good rabbit sitting in the middle of a stubble field.
‡ We did this today^ in case it Did Not End Well because his only other free day before his fortnight away is Thursday,
^ When I could have been having my first voice lesson after a way-too-long break. Summer holidays are overrated.
‡‡ Some of those boxes have been loaded and reloaded and written on and written over and written over the over so often they probably need new shock absorbers. And speaking of the disintegration of crucial parts I wish to remark again on the sheer bloody awfulness of British tape. I swear half the frelling boxes’ bottoms are falling out because the heavy packing tape has lost the will to live and started falling off like hair from a hellmob. Grrrrrrr.
‡‡‡ Which is full of Atlas’ tools and unfinished projects and leftover stuff from moving house. And I need to get it cleared out before the first frosts so I can get plants in there and the growlight back from the cottage’s sitting room. ARRRRRRRRRGH. Maybe I’ll lie down till January. No, March.
§ Which seems to have been something he picked up bouncing over back roads, which then clattered its way back out again. I HOPE. But I wasted about five minutes crawling around on my hands and knees trying to find . . . whatever.
§§ I HATE BICYCLES. I am not sane on this subject.^ I have many friends who ride bicycles regularly and I have at least two who frelling race. I HATE BICYCLES. If there isn’t room on a given road for a car to pass a bicycle it should be BANNED to bicycles.^^ They are a sodding hazard. And for example today there were I think eight cars behind this bozo going fifteen miles an hour—which is a perfectly good speed for a bicycle—before we could get past him. It regularly happens in the local equivalent of rush hour that #8 in the queue out of town will simply rocket on by the rest of us, white-knuckled with fury at our steering wheels ourselves, with the bicycle in the lead—and those adrenaline spikes when I’m waiting for all of us to die in a colossal pile up when a juggernaut comes over the hill and hits #8 on the wrong side of the road are very bad for me.
^ Consider yourselves warned. This is my blog. You want to argue about it, go elsewhere.
^^ Or to cars. But these two forms of vehicular transport are incompatible on shared road space. And I don’t want bicycles mowing down the hellmob and me on the pavement either.
§§§ You don’t have to be in pain already to take arnica. The likely prospect will do. If you know you’ve overdone it but you don’t know how badly . . . take some arnica. And maybe you won’t have to find out.