January 19, 2016

Moving on. Or not.



That’s the end of the memoir bits. You had mine first, which came last on the day, followed by some of his poetry, and the grandson with the amazing voice sang Linden Lea* and then it was over except for the champagne and fireworks.**

And then all of us left behind stumbled back to our lives. It’s funny what catches you out.***  Up till this week when it turned suddenly cold at last† it’s been insanely, unseasonably warm†† and all kinds of plantlife has been shooting out—my snowdrops are going to be over before they usually start—we had purple sprouting broccoli in November instead of February, and I’ve just been shelling my first broad beans of the year . . . broad beans? That should be like . . . May.†††

Broad beans were one of my early revelations about life in England. The only big fat round green bean I knew were frozen limas—preferably as succotash—and while they were fine the earth did not move and rainbows did not explode behind my eyes when I ate them.  But broad beans . . . yowzah. YOWZAH yowzah.  They are so spectacularly awesome they are worth the incredible faff of shelling the beggars.  Those of you accustomed to this task will know whereof I speak.  They grow in these massive great pillowy pods and you pick one up and think, YES!  Big fat broad beans!  And then you grapple your way into the thick uncooperative husk‡ and discover it’s mostly the plant version of bubblewrap and you have to lever out the few beans embedded therein.  ARRRRRGH.  Only the fact of the essential divinity of broad beans keeps any rational person at this desperate activity.

Peter derived some amusement out of my naïve horror at the process. And I did get used to it.  Greed helps.  But the thing is . . . it’s something we did together. We certainly did it literally together back at the old house, podding our very own broad beans out of our very own sweat-of-our-brows garden‡‡  And even since we moved into town and our broad beans come by organic-grocer delivery we at least had each other to moan at, whoever did the actual shelling that meal or that week or that season.  Hey! the one would say to the other, shaking a pot with a modest layer of broad beans spread across the bottom.  It took me forty five minutes to shuck that many!

Not this year. And telling the hellmob just isn’t the same.

* * *

* Peter had eccentric tastes in music as in most things. He would tell you he ‘wasn’t musical at all’ and didn’t care for music, or didn’t care one way or another about it.^  But if you put the wrong CD on you would hear about it and there were certain things he did really love, Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings for example.^^  I still wasted quite a bit of time believing that he didn’t care for music and, for example, originally assumed that the mum in SEVENTH RAVEN was a cellist because he needed her to be something, not because he was susceptible to a well-played cello.  Oh.  Anyway.  He was sufficiently unmusical to like listening to me sing, and I’d been learning Linden Lea shortly before one of Percival’s visits.  Peter certainly knew Linden Lea;  I don’t think you can live on these islands without having some vague idea about King Arthur, Stonehenge and Linden Lea, but I don’t think the last had particularly registered with him before I started doing my dying-pig routine with it.  Percival is always happy to take requests and he knew Linden Lea. Golly.  So while Linden Lea was introduced at the memorial service as one of Peter’s favourites it might be more accurate to say it was one of his favourites for about the last year of his life.

^ And long-term blog readers will recall that he did the loyal-husband thing and accompanied me to many operas although this was not his idea of a fabulous night out and he usually complained about the libretto. Well I complain about most librettos.  Any story-teller who doesn’t complain about opera librettos is an alien from the Crab Nebula only pretending to be a human story-teller.  Well, a human story-teller with any pride.

^^ Which I learnt to pay attention to and then to love because Peter thought so highly of it. I wasn’t a Britten person when I moved over here;  I knew his operas a little because I know most standard-rep operas at least a little, but their emotional reality is mostly too real for me.  There’s no dazzling melodramatic catharsis at the end of Britten’s tragedies the way there is at the end of Verdi’s.  And, just by the way, if I never hear the four sea interludes from Peter Grimes again, my life will be a little brighter.  I should think Mr B would be rolling in his grave at the idea that something he wrote has been essentially turned into a frelling lollipop.  Although I think he was the one who turned them into a concert piece in the first place.  We all make mistakes.

** Well, prosecco. But definitely fizz.^ And yes, fireworks.  Advantages of having a memorial service in January, generally speaking a quite depressing enough month in the northern hemisphere without any help:  It gets dark early for fireworks.  I’ve been saying that we blued the estate on the send-off. It was worth it.

^ I had two glasses and could barely walk.  Maybe I should have eaten something.  They even had a plate of gluten-free and I saw it like once before it ran away and hid in the shrubbery or under the piano or something.

*** No it’s not funny. It’s not funny at all.

† And I found out again how many frelling gazillion geraniums I have when I had to bring the suckers indoors to save them freezing. I had visitors coming and the sitting room floor was suddenly wall to wall to bookshelves to sofabed with geraniums.  I spent a day that might have been better spent cleaning the house^ hacking and repotting and wedging, got the floor clear enough to open the sofabed and the windowsills JAAAAAAAAAMMED . . . and then there was a family crisis and I have a nice clean sitting room floor and no one to admire it but me.

^ I lost the will to live on the subject of the kitchen floor of the cottage several muddy months ago. Now I know the hellmob do walk into the little garden courtyard to pee and so it is not surprising they come back in again mired to the elbows but I SWEAR the flaming mud can jump. I’m standing in the doorway just making sure that no one with a high-angle aim pees on a rosebush and the mud makes a sudden lightning raid and gets all over the bottoms of my house slippers. Arrrrrrgh.


††† Not that I wouldn’t be glad to have May’s daylight. This time of year, bad weeks the hellmob and I barely see the sun.

‡ The how-tos tell you blithely to run your fingernail down the seam and split it open. LIKE HELL.  The how-tos, which have obviously never podded a broad bean in their lives, neglect to tell you that you have a better chance of seaming one open if you start at the rear end rather than the stem end, but even so, at least one pod in three disintegrates in nasty messy little spiral flakes as you claw at it.  Think about running your fingernail down a line of bubble wrap and expecting it to pop open.  Ha ha frelling ha.

‡‡ Note however that I personally did almost nothing in the vegetable garden. I was flowers^ all the way.  Our broad beans were the sweat of Peter’s brow.  I admit however that I’ve started surreptitiously growing a few broad bean plants in pots in my little garden.  I get about one good plateful from them, but they’re not fussy as plants, it’s only when you’re trying to extract the frelling beans that their depravity manifests.

^ Hey. Only about 85% roses.  Okay maybe 90%.


The Return of an Old Friend and a Surprise Meeting


Also to say that as washed-out, dumb-as-a-brick, you-overdid-it-yesterday*-and-today-you-will-PAY, ME-ascendant days go, this one has not been too bad.  But this is still likely to be a motlier**-than-usual entry because I haven’t got the brain to tie it together.*** 

            I brought Wolfgang home today.†  If it weren’t for the yawning ravine in my bank balance you’d never know.  He’s all red and smooth and shiny and clink-clink-rattle-free†† . . . and when you put your foot down on the go pedal of a 16-year-old Golf VW as opposed to a six-month-old two-bobbin Citroen something happens beyond the distant hum of a worried sewing machine.  Also while I am going to try very determinedly not to run into anything again, driving the pristine little blue wonder was very hard on the nerves.†††   When one of the monster Hampshire buses comes flailing around a tight corner at me—as happened today, on my way to fill up the wonder’s tank before taking it back to the garage—I want to dive into the hedgerow first and fret about the paintwork later.  

            On my way home from the garage I stopped at the vet surgery for wormer.  There was a vaguely familiar-looking gentleman at the counter in front of me, who stood aside while someone went off to rootle in the back room for what he wanted.  I gave my name and my hellhounds’ names and the vaguely familiar gentleman winced and said something terribly British like ‘one might want to ask how they’re doing.’  I looked at him and he said, they were our puppies.

            Oh—!  The last time I’d had any contact with their breeder was nearly three years ago, when I was still completely at a loss about what was wrong with them.  It is still mysterious to me that out of eight puppies apparently only my specific two have a cereal allergy—but since that’s clearly what it is, or at any rate going off all cereal has been the thing that works—I don’t really care any more.  So I chirruped on for several minutes about how beautiful and charming and excellent my hellhounds are—and observed that he looked relieved.  But the thing I wanted to tell all you animal folk out there is that I couldn’t remember his name to save my life.  I could look it up, I’ve still got it among the hellhounds’ papers.  But his dogs’ names . . . totally present and available.  Asked after them individually, while I could only say ‘you’, ‘your wife’, ‘your daughter’.  The reason I remember the daughter’s existence is because she was the one responsible for puppy socialisation (and an excellent job she did too).   But pigeon frelling feathers and stale cookie crumbs—I run into the hellhounds’ breeder on maybe the only day in the last four years I haven’t had hellhounds in the back of the car if I’m driving around New Arcadia.  So I finished by saying, if you would like to see them again, give me a shout. . . .

            I now have to pull myself together to cram madly for tomorrow’s handbells, sigh.  I’m 99% certain that three hours of learning a plain course on the 3-4 to bob major yesterday on the train will have served chiefly (a) to dislodge the plain course on the 1-2 to bob major which I had learnt (mostly) and (b) to render me incapable of learning to ring a touch on the 3-4 to bob minor which is what is going to be expected of me tomorrow.  Brain, brain, brain, brain. . . . ‡

 * * *

* I am so glad I did not make it to handbells last night or I would probably be a little smudge on the floor today.   There is no credit union option for overspending your energy supply. 

** motleyer?  Eww.  More motley.  Whatever. 

*** I’m sure I’ve got plenty of green garden string . . . 

† And he smells like wet dog.  Five days in the body shop and he smells like wet dog.  Which is nonetheless an improvement on the alarming New Car Smell^ of the little blue wonder.  But I think I might nonetheless change the hellhounds’ car bedding which I perhaps tend to be a trifle cavalier about. 

^ I always feel that if I breathe too much of it I’ll start to glow in the dark. 

†† Except for the steering.  Sigh. 

††† Negotiating with a gear box where all the gears are trying to duck away and hide in the back seat is also bad for morale.  

‡ And one last piece of semi-news:  I may have my first voice lesson with my new voice teacher Monday week—the week after next.

          . . . This is the last day of the Everything Mozart Ever Wrote, Quite a Lot of It Several Times, twelve-day Nothing-But-Mozart-Fest on Radio Three.   They’ve done several of these one-composer-only marathons and as a rule I think they’re a dumb idea;  nobody can stand being obsessed over to this level.^  Well.  Um.  I’m going to miss him^^ when it’s all Strauss and Tchaikovsky and Schoenberg tomorrow.  Especially Schoenberg.

            However as I’m writing this the last Mozart programme is on, which is for listeners to ask for and dedicate favourite bits, and the presenter has just read out a dedication from ‘Robin’ to ‘all things beautiful’.  Ewwwwww.  That’s not me.  Just in case you might have wondered.  But the chosen piece is Horowitz playing the Rondo ala Turca . . . which might very well have been me.  Or something from the Marriage of Figaro.  I have pretty simple-minded tastes about a lot of things I’m afraid.  Chocolate.  Champagne.  Beethoven’s symphonies.  Mozart’s piano sonatas and The Marriage of Figaro.  

^ The JS Bach-athon still holds first place however for the Fatuous Prat award for dipstick audience comments.  Jeez.   This is a problem for an All-Star wearing guttersnipe listening to classical music:  it’s the literature of music.  We’re all so frelling exquisite.  And I’ve mostly lost my cheap-genre touch.  I know, I know, I could get it back . . . but I need to listen to the Eroica or La Traviata or K 331 again first.  Or Una Voce Poco Fa because I want to sing it.

+ No, I don’t yet know how good my new voice teacher’s sense of humour is.  

^^ Although I’m pretty sure I said this about Beethoven too, and he wrote a lot more rubbishy bits than Mozart lived long enough to.

All Singing. Not All Dancing.


There had better be nothing happening tomorrow.  Nothing, okay?  N o t h i n g. *   I want to hurtle hellhounds, drink too much tea, open the PEG II file and recognise what I find there**, talk to Merrilee***, write another blog entry and go to bed†.   I’m tired of the endless shiny excitements of recent days.††  I want predictable!  I want familiar!

            I’d managed to forget that I had my first proper rehearsal of the Octopus and the Chandelier today.  At least this time I checked my diary before I stretched out on the sofa with two hellhounds and six[teen] books.  But since service ring was late today for Remembrance Sunday††† the rest of my life ran late too.  I managed to stuff down about half my lunch before I ran off to rehearsal and was still about ten minutes late and . . .

            . . . um . . .

            . . . er . . .

            I’m telling myself it’s educational.  I wanted to broaden my musical horizons.  Well, broaden some frelling horizons or other.  I think possibly what I learnt today is that I’m not a musical kind of girl.  The problem with the back row of the chorus is that you sit around doing NOTHING an awful lot.  I’m not enormously talented at the sitting around and doing of nothing.‡  In fact it made me fairly nuts.  And no, this does not mean I’m trying out for a principal’s role next time.‡‡  I’m back row of the chorus because that’s where this voice belongs.  I suppose it might conceivably mean that when this is all over I’ll try a little harder to find that nice local chorus that can use a lacklustre mezzo‡‡‡.  Oh, where is the eleven-person choral group seeking a twelfth when you want them?

            And thank the gods§ that I went for ‘singing only’.  I hadn’t fully grasped the implications of ‘professional choreographer.’  I suppose I thought a professional was licensed to use a cattle prod on amateurs, and that the shepherding from one side of the stage to the other would be done smartish.  But—yeep—this woman has ideas.  I think she watched too much Busby Berkeley at an impressionable stage of her development.§§  But she had the principals and the poor beggars who signed up for dancing walloping across the floor like Fred and Ginger§§§ . . . on a bad day.  On a very very very bad day.  Yowzah.  If our fearless leader and her minions hadn’t been wandering around looking relaxed and interested and saying things like ‘oh, it’s always Krakatoa and sinking the Bismarck at this point’ I might be worried.  But . . . the cast have to learn all that and sing too?   I am too old to take on learning any more new skills.#   I can just about cope with two hellhound leads while shouting.  Choreographic grapevines, shunts and canons and singing are beyond me.  But I wouldn’t mind being in the blokes’ chorus.##


* Barring a film option offer of $1,000,000,000,000 for PEGASUS.  Hell, I’ll throw in PEG II for $1,000,000,000,000.  I wouldn’t mind if that happened tomorrow.^ 

^ Just so long as they promised not to make it.  But option money . . . fab.  Yes please.  I’ll finally get that new door for Third House. 

** I think that falls into the ‘prayer’ category rather than the ‘to do’ category 

*** We have a situation in which I want several people dead or at least permanently exiled to Betelgeuse.   Merrilee gets to talk me out of trying to accomplish this myself.^ 

^ Those hammering noises, as of someone building a rocketship in their back garden?  Whatever can you mean?  

† I might go bell ringing tomorrow night.  Ahem.  But that doesn’t really count.  Why doesn’t it really count?  Um.  Because I usually go bell ringing on Monday nights? 

†† Remember I’m old.  ‘Shiny’ and ‘excitement’ are relative.  I’m the woman who got excited by sparkly socks.  

††† But I’m still short of sleep 

Why didn’t I bring a book?  Very good question.  I asked myself that repeatedly over the course of the three hours.  But it had seemed sort of pathetic to schlep my entire knapsack—with book, and I never seem to be reading small slim paperbacks—to back row of the chorus rehearsal.  I had just put Pooka in a pocket and bolted.  At least there was Pooka.  Pooka and, what’s more, itty bitty earphones.  I got desperate enough I fired up Mobel and rang handbells with my thumbs for a while although the sound of other people singing and that frelling piano was very distracting.  


‡‡‡ There were two blokes and about twenty women.^  The woman sitting next to me started singing the men’s chorus parts too, so I joined her.  In the proper register, mind you, none of this octave-higher stuff.  We made rather good blokes. 

^ plus an enthusiastic rabble of small-to-medium children 

§ and muses, especially Euterpe 

§§ She’s also so young and perky I feel my inner Shub-Niggurath stirring. 

§§§ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxPgplMujzQ&feature=related 

# My thumbs are sore.  And I’ve just bought Beltower.  Which is another frelling ringing ap.  This is all, all Tilda’s fault.  Okay, I admit I asked her to bring it with her, but she didn’t have to be so zealous about it.  The exciting^ new thing about Beltower is that it has little cartoon people pulling on its tower ropes.  Those of us ringers entirely lacking in talent tend to be over dependent on ropesight, which is to say looking around frantically to see the person you’re next supposed to follow (remember that your position in the row changes pretty much every stroke, so for every stroke you’re usually following a different bell too).  Ropesight includes watching people raise their hands to grab the rope.  Abel, the simulator programme I’ve got, just has the ropes twitching from hand to backstroke.  It’s one thing too many that isn’t like being in a bell tower, and I’ve never been able to use the wretched thing.^^  

            Friday night in honour of Tilda’s presence we went to the pub after practise.  Usually people with lives and other inessentials are members of the party and the conversation becomes general.  Not this time.  There were four of us—Tilda and I, and Niall and Edward—and we sat around Tilda’s laptop and geeked over Beltower.  I enjoyed it a lot.

^ There’s that word again 

^^ Mobel’s handbell division and I are, however, warily becoming closer acquainted.  I got through a plain course of bob major even with that piano racket this afternoon.

##  Especially if it meant I got to wear a tux or a dinner jacket in the show.  But I think I have learnt something useful: that I’m interested in singing.  That I’m not particularly interested in all the theatre part.^   

            Sigh.  I wonder if the Cherub has run off to Florida?

 ^ Unless they wanted to tackle Sweeney Todd.  Mmmmmm.  Mrs Lovett.  Mmmmmm.  Hey, a girl can dream.

My husband the comedian and other funny men


So when I got down to the mews today for lunch this is what I found standing beside my chair in the kitchen: 


            Oisin is finally home from his fabulous holiday** but since he’s been gone an entire fortnight there was serious catching up that needed to be done.  This proved to include various ugly threats about what penalties he might extract if I don’t remember my guise as a music student.***  But we also had a go at how the world should be taken apart and rearranged to attain a much higher standard than it supports at present.  There’s a lot more arts funding in our version.

            So I got back to the cottage late and in a hurry.  But I noticed my neighbour’s car was not only in his driveway but had its boot open, so I thought, ah ha, he’s there, this might be the moment for a lightning introduction. . . .

            I have to go back a bit.  About a week ago my semi-detached neighbour, whom we will call Phineas, was strolling down our cul de sac when hellhounds and I were emerging from the cottage door.  Oh, Robin, said Phineas.  I wanted to tell you, I’ve got a kitten. . . .

            A KITTEN? I did not scream, because it is a good thing to remain on friendly terms with your neighbours, however sorely they try you.  THE LAST THING WE FRELLING NEED IN THIS FRELLING NEIGHBOURHOOD, I did not continue, IS ANOTHER FRELLING CAT. 

            I did, however, visibly droop, and I believe I may have said oh dear.  Phineas looked nonplussed.  There are kind of a lot of cats around here already, I said.

            There are? said Phineas.  Phineas is a very nice man and an almost perfect neighbour, but he’s not what you’d call noticing.

            Yes, I said, firmly.  There are.  Some of them sing under my bedroom window very late at night.  What a good thing I’m not usually trying to sleep.  And your last cat used to get into my garden over your conservatory roof—and then have trouble getting out again.†

            A little silence fell.  I sighed.  It’ll be fine, I said.  But I wish you’d got a dog.††

            I have been thinking gloomily about this dranglefabbing kitten, but if I’m going to have to put up with another cat, I could at least meet the kitten while it’s still little and cute.  So the next time I saw Phineas I asked if I could meet the new addition.

            He looked nonplussed again.  I didn’t think you’d want to, he said.†††

            I sighed again.  I like kittens, I said.  I even like cats.  I’m just a little oppressed by the number of local cats already in residence.

            But Phineas had brightened up.  Come round any time, he said.  Happy to see you.

            So I went up the drive‡ this afternoon and knocked on the door.  His son, whose name really is Robin, which is very confusing, and so we are going to call him Eidolon, answered the door.  Your dad said I could come round some time and meet the kitten— I began. . .

            . . . when around the corner, coming out through the conservatory door, was Phineas, carrying a little bundle of orange fluff, which he simply held out to me.

            I took the creature, of course, and cuddled it up against me because it’s hardwired that if someone hands you a kitten you cuddle it, and it looked at me with large amber eyes and I could feel my face doing that Kitten Thing. 

            Eidolon said, gosh, he really likes you, he bites and scratches everybody. 

            Yes, said Phineas, look—and he held out his hands and forearms which are, indeed, a network of tiny red lines and gouges.  He said wonderingly, I’ve never seen him so quiet.

            This is such a set up.

            Meanwhile the small fluffy orange demon was still lying comfortably on my forearm, looking as if he never bit or scratched anybody in his life.  Woosha, I said, or something equally clever, rubbing his little fluffy orange head with my other hand.  Oh, kittens.  Gah.  Little furry things with little pointed faces.  Woosha woosha woosha woosha‡‡  Gaaah. 

            How would you like to take care of him this weekend? Phineas asked suddenly and insinuatingly.  We’re leaving in about half an hour. . . .  It’s really simple, he went on eagerly.  I’ll show you where the food is. . . .

            GAH?  BLAH?  WHAT?

            So I’ve got a frelling kitten on my conscience for the weekend.‡‡‡

            And then only a very little later this evening Niall said, Robin!  Would you please ring the tenor for a touch of Grandsire doubles on the back six!  —I don’t ring our tenor.  It’s a big frelling bell, I scare easily, I’m a jerky ringer—and you can’t afford to be jerky on a big bell—and I have ME, which means I’m always kind of trying to stay well inside the boundaries. 

            I rang the tenor.  Nobody died.  The other thing about our tenor is that it’s really a very nice bell.  It pretty well rings itself, if you don’t get in its way.  Mind you, I don’t want to turn it in, as it’s called, which is to say do anything but bong behind—I don’t want to ring a method when the tenor plays with the other bells rather than remaining statelily at the back.  But stately at the back I can probably do.  Bong.  Bong.  Niall grinned all over his face afterward.  He looked a little like Phineas after I said I’d look after the frelling kitten for the weekend.§

            And then hellhounds did not come out of their bed and mill around my feet for scraps (carefully and selectively dropped) while I was cutting up the chicken for their dinner and I thought oh nooooooo . . . because they always come out and mill when they’re planning on eating.§§ 

            And then they ate just fine.

            All the men in my life are comedians.

* * *

* He made some conciliatory mayonnaise for my supper.  Hmmph.  It’s hard to remain cranky while eating Peter’s mayonnaise.  But I’m a strong woman.  I’m up for the challenge.

** Which seems to have chiefly consisted of having their plane flights cancelled and being forced to take slow ferries.  Stay on the mainland.  Islands aren’t worth it.^

^ My slow ferry for Brittany leaves in half an hour.   

*** Finale doesn’t work?  Mozart didn’t have a computer!  Beethoven didn’t have a computer!  Verdi didn’t have a computer!   And have I mentioned that Oisin is involved in a local musical-theatre company that is going to be putting on some damn thing this winter?  I think I did tell you about it.  Because I went to their Meet the Usual Suspects rally this summer, and Oisin saw me there. 

            When all else fails he threatens me with piano duets.

            And I really must ring the cherub.  Must.  Ring.  Cherub.

† I didn’t mention Third House at all.  Another cat will be hardly noticed in that affiliate of the local mob, which, as the crow flies and the cat runs, is only the other side of our little hill.  It’s only people (and dogs) that have to go around.

†† He used to talk about getting a dog!  He could take it with him to work!  And then he decided he was going to get one when he retired!  Which was last year!

††† Apparently he had a strip torn off by our top-of-the-hill neighbour with the fancy garden.  My sympathies are a trifle . . . mixed.

‡ I have told you that Phineas’ house is twice the size of mine?  Plus conservatory.  Plus cellar.  He has a cellar.  And the garden is probably three times the size of my garden.  Plus garage.  And driveway.  The builder was going to live in Phineas’ house and make his wicked stepmother live in mine.

‡‡ Does anybody know how to spell this?  Or possibly wuhsha.  It is a not-uncommon noise to make at small furry things with little pointed faces, but I can’t find it defined anywhere.

‡‡‡ Of course I said yes.  What do you think I am, a brute?  Apparently Phineas has already entrapped another neighbour—a neighbour responsible for one of the singers-under-windows, just by the way—into occasional kitten duty, but is delighted at the prospect of developing a list of possible patsies.    

§ You realise this includes operating the correct toys in the correct manner.  Kittens must have their tiny minds stimulated and their tiny reflexes honed.

§§ Sometimes they mill when they’re not planning on eating.  But they never not mill when they are going to.  Okay, almost never.

Stephen Sondheim


This really is going to be Short Monday because I’ve just spent the last two hours* cruising the web for Sondheim music clips.  Of which there are lots, but very few of them are anything I’m looking for**—and furthermore way too many of them are students practising for their vocal finals and . . . not all of them are going to pass. 

Everybody knows who Stephen Sondheim is, right?   http://sondheimsociety.webs.com/aboutstephensondheim.htm  I feel that not knowing who Stephen Sondheim is would be like not knowing who Bill Gates or the Queen of England or Elvis Presley is.  You may not approve*** but they’re monuments of the age.

It’s Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday today.  I haven’t been keeping track or anything;  I only know it because I’m a Composer of the Week junkie† and this week it’s Stephen Sondheim http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00rjycs.  I know I’ve ranted and bayed to you about the absolute supremacy of Sweeney Todd over . . . everything.  There was an era of my life when Sweeney was the permanent soundtrack to . . . well, everything.  And I saw it at all by chance;  my then boss at Little, Brown†† was a musical-theatre freak and I eventually got curious.  Also this was the era when I was spending all my disposable income on concert series—I felt myself to be a country girl with a lot of catching-up to do and I’ve never been very social:  Hang out?  Why would I want to hang out?  So I went to concerts—and when the latest Stephen Sondheim came to Boston I decided to give it a go.  Wow.  Wow.  WOW.†††  Suddenly I thought musical theatre was great. 

I don’t agree with a lot of this‡ but it’s an interesting and thoughtful overview:  http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/03/22/stephen-sondheims-80th-birthday/   One of the ways I diverge from standard Sondheim worship is that I think Company is . . . kind of a snore.  Oh, gods, more neurotic frelling New Yorkers.‡‡  Snoooooore.  But I love Not Getting Married Today, and it’s an example of just how mind-bogglingly brilliant Sondheim is as a lyricist.‡‡‡  And that in terms of patter songs he makes W S Gilbert look like he wasn’t trying.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iiz8nql5ps   And do watch the Weekend in the Country clip (from the Macleans article) too, which is an example of the delight of both his ensemble work and what the article-writer means about his ability to move the story along in the music.

            Very Happy Birthday, Mr Sondheim. 

* * *

* Since I got back from bell ringing.  Colin’s tower.  They were actually glad to see me, because I made six.  We rang Cambridge, which needs six ringers.  Colin allowed us small panting breaks between assaults on our campanological Eiger.  In another hundred years I’ll be able to ring it.   Probably.  Tonight my education was further expanded and developed by the fact that everybody but Colin went wrong at some point or another.  The fact that they didn’t always take me with them proves I’m learning something. 

** There are at least 1,000,000,000 versions of Send in the Clowns out there, which I think remains his one Top of the Pops type hit.  Note that if Send in the Clowns is not a big favourite of yours this does not necessarily mean you will never be a Sondheim fan.  One of the many, many things he is terrific at is jerking his audience around with stuff they’re not expecting—some of his most conventionally beautiful melodies^ mean something else entirely in the context of their original show.  Oisin, who doesn’t know Sweeney Todd,^^ had the music to Greenfinch and Linnet Bird lying on his piano stand last week.  One of his students is singing it for one of those grade-test doohickeys they have over here^^^ and he was raving about what a beautiful song it is.  Well, yes, it is . . . but see the show.  Yeep.  The one that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up however is Not While I’m Around, a conventional-sounding love song which is also from Sweeney, and is sung by the rather dim assistant at Mrs Lovett’s pie shop, who has a major crush on Mrs Lovett.  Sweeney’s evil deeds are about to catch up with him, and the dim assistant is comforting Mrs Lovett that nothing bad can happen to her ‘Not While I’m Around’.  Mrs Lovett is—I think this hardly counts as a spoiler—another homicidal lunatic, and if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll get out of there fast. 

            I don’t myself much like Send in the Clowns (or Not While I’m Around) all by itself but it works a treat in context.  

^ If you can ever say ‘conventional’ about Sondheim with a straight face. 

^^ Sweeney Todd:  greatest musical work of the twentieth century.  I’m not going to argue with you so don’t bother.  And I’ve already told you I hated the film.  Hated. 

^^^ http://www.abrsm.org/?page=exams/gradedMusicExams/latestSyllabuses.html 

*** That would be three out of three . . . but I approve of Sondheim.  


†† http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little,_Brown_and_Company Oh gods they publish Twilight.  . . . Speaking of books Pollyanna cannot control me about, I may have to have a rant about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which, like Twilight, really really really bothers me for the not-very-subliminal message it’s putting out. 

††† Note that the travelling show had George Hearn as Sweeney, not Len Cariou.  Len Cariou is fine, and I wore through I think two copies of the original Broadway cast on LP^ before I got it—I assume permanently—on CD.  But I liked George better.  I managed to see Len once live in New York but George, to me, always had an even darker, madder, more powerful edge. 

^ I know.  You keep forgetting how old I am. 

‡ A Little Priest is not too long.  

‡‡ I am so not a fan of Another Hundred People.  Let ’em get back on the train and go back to Peoria. 

‡‡‡ Everybody here knows he wrote the lyrics to West Side Story, yes?

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