Music


It’s always exciting to get a new follower, not because it adds one to the total (I’m not really interested in increasing the number as such) but because I always go to look at their blog and from time to time find new, interesting blogger friends, sometimes from a ‘new’ country. In the past few months I’ve added Slovenia and Latvia to the list.

View from our bedroom window this morning; it looks over the Wharfe valley

View from our bedroom window this morning

The most recent new follower is Lisa Lennon, who says she’s a professional blogger. As regular readers of grumptyke know, for me blogging is just a hobby and that would change only if I created a business in the future. It could happen but if so it would have a different website/blog.

When I went to Lisa’s blog to see what it was about I saw a recent post on happiness. I won’t quote from it here; if you’re interested her blog is at

https://lisalennonofficialblog.wordpress.com/

Happiness is …?

However, it set me thinking about happiness for me. I’m lucky, in general I have it. Look at the view from my bedroom window above, over the Wharfe valley in Yorkshire (it’s the same view from the kitchen window) so there’s a good chance of feeling happy each morning, whether getting out of bed or making the morning tea/coffee. We’re lucky enough to wake to birdsong too early in the morning, mostly bluetits, blackbirds and goldfinches. How can that not make you happy?

Picture of busker singing in Briggate, Leeds, todayToday I went to my local city, Leeds. Again as regular readers will know I do not in general like cities, I’m definitely a country person, but Leeds makes me happy. Perhaps it’s the young people – it’s an important university city so it’s full of them. Perhaps it’s the buskers on the street, there’s always at least one, ranging from potential rock celebrities to young classical violinists, from young aspiring operatic sopranos to today’s offering, a not so young singer, far, far superior to Classic FM’s Alexandra Armstrong. Not quite Pavarotti but a good voice who treated us to a variety from Nessun Dorma to Sweet Caroline, which again was not quite Neil Diamond but excellent nevertheless. He made me happy, as did a group of three young women sitting on the street eating some wrap or other they had just bought interspersed with hilarious laughter. I couldn’t help but laugh with them.

Music

Then there’s music. I couldn’t possibly list all the music which instantly makes me feel happy so I’ll mention just two pieces. The first is Schubert’s ‘Trout’ quintet; depending on my mood I’ll sit quietly basking in it, or dance around the room singing the melody lines. The second can be guaranteed to make me feel happy no matter what catastrophe has befallen me: Beethoven’s ninth symphony, as I hang on every note waiting finally to drown in the ‘Ode to joy’.

Possessions

I’ve been trying to think of possessions which make me happy. That’s difficult. Certainly there are many things which I’m glad to have but I cannot say they make me happy, though what they allow me to do does, like reading and writing blog posts. In that sense my 10 year old Macbook and my rather younger iPad make me happy. And of course the radio bought for 50p on which I usually listen to music; I have more sophisticated equipment to play my LPs, which include the complete works of Beethoven, many operas and all sorts of other music. That equipment is probably 30 or 40 years old.

I’m rambling, which is anyway how this blog was conceived. So, sitting writing it, I’m happy.

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Pavarotti with David Mellor

Daily Mail picture

Having slated Classic FM for its 25th birthday concert from Liverpool in my previous post (in which I too late saw I had wrongly, in my exhausted grumpy state, typed Bartok rather than Bruch – sorry) I thought I should redress the balance having enjoyed a couple of hours of superb music, with the most musically knowledgeable of the station’s presenters and, for me, the greatest tenor, certainly of ‘our times’. I’m talking about David Mellor paying homage to Pavarroti on Sunday evening, on the 10th anniversary of the death of the ‘King of the high Cs’.

I have to admit that when I first heard of David Mellor’s programme on Classic FM several years ago I groaned and was ready to turn the radio off (I had the same reaction when I heard that damned gardener was joining the team). When Mellor was a Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s then John Major’s Governments I had mixed feelings about him. I admired his outspokeness on Israeli treatment of Palestinians though it got him into quite a bit of trouble; I was saddened by his outburst to a taxi driver but only because it made him sound a twit (Mellor that is) – I’ve had my run-ins with cabbies; as for extra-marital affairs, I regarded them as none of my business. Unfortunately the report that he liked sex dressed in the Chelsea FC strip turned out to be a fabrication. I reckoned the detractors were just jealous that such an unlikely guy had ‘pulled’ a slim, attractive 6ft tall Antonia de Sancha.

Anecdotes

One of the things I like about his Classic FM programmes is the anecdotes about the many great musicians he has met, often revealing aspects of the great men and women of music of which I would otherwise be unaware. One such was a highlight of Sunday’s programme: when Mellor was at his lowest point thanks to the mass media, shortly before he had to resign his Government post, coming off stage Pavarotti went out of his way to give him a hug and tell him not to be put down by it. This confirmed for me a feeling I’ve always had about the big man, communicated to me previously only by his singing.

There were many wonderful moments in Sunday’s broadcast, many of the recordings I had not heard before, but three stood out for me. One was Pavarotti singing to his home crowd at an open air concert in Modena. His enjoyment, sheer joy, was evident in every song. The second was him singing with Joan Sutherland, a partnership made in heaven. Third was him hitting the nine high Cs as Tonio in, La Fille du Regiment; I’ve heard it many times but it is ever a wonder.

As for Mellor, I don’t know how he gets away with it but he doesn’t add “On Classic FM”, as seems obligatory for all the other presenters, to the end of every announcement of a piece. It’s extremely irritating and generally untrue.

And he doesn’t try to sing! Lord preserve us from Alexander Armstrong – neither tuneful nor witty and now he’s tried to emulate David Bowie with Peter and the Wolf. It took me all of five seconds to reach the ‘off’ switch. But it’ll be on again before next Sunday’s Mellor spot.


An aside: after six weeks writing almost only my Facebook diary (I don’t regard that as writing) I’ve suddenly got the urge really to write again. At the moment it’s an urge to write blog posts (never, I promise you, several a day!) but I’ll maybe get to fiction again soon.

Our real life Cruella de Vil

Returning to UK after the longest period away since I returned, in 2004, from living in Romania there’s so much to write about. Should I settle on a theme or just ramble away as is my wont? The latter is more my style so here goes.

Britain used to be the most liberal of countries and we thought of Germany as very strict and restrictive. Now it seems to have reversed. Stupid regulation after regulation governing everything here, so called ‘Health and Safety’ reaching ridiculous proportions, every child seems to have an allergy so cannot eat this or that (we’d have starved!), excellent recruits for the Nazi SS, unintelligent bullies, controlling train travel (at least on Northern Rail) and car parking, not all of course but a substantial proportion; teachers now expected not only to teach but to take over the role of parents in the most basic of  ‘education for life’; teachers and nurses bogged down with stupid form filling rather than getting on with the job for which they signed up, so leaving their professions in droves. Essential utilities companies, like British Gas (foreign owned of course), hiking their prices by stupendous amounts while rewarding their senior executives with massive pay rises.

We have a perfect Cruella de Vil leading the country using leaving the European Union (I refuse to use that dreadful ‘B…..’ word) as a perfect excuse to remove the power from Parliament and put it in the hands of a few of her lieutenants, so called ‘Ministers’.

Of course, everything is the fault of the immigrants, especially if they’re from eastern Europe or Muslim – I don’t think.

In fact, it’s the fat cats who are determined to get even fatter and roll in their slime.

Even (now this is going to upset 10% of the population) my previously favourite radio station, Classic FM, has sunk further into the money-making mire with repeated self-congratulation from the majority of the presenters, advertisers who seem to think the audience is made up of cretins. Their much (self) lauded 25th birthday concert, with a superb orchestra and chorus (the Liverpool ‘Royals’), was largely rubbish with no obvious reason for the bits and bats played. There was a super rendition of Bartok’s violin concerto by a young man, only 21 I think, and a premiere of a very interesting, exciting, piece composed by a young woman, only 23 years old, whose name I cannot remember but I’ll be seeking her out. With that fabulous orchestra and chorus why the devil didn’t we get, eg, Beethoven’s 9th instead of that mishmash of bits of this and that?

What prevents me jumping in the car and going back across the water? An elderly lady’s smile, sitting on a wall in my village main street and discussing the weather with me yesterday morning while waiting patiently for her bus.

 

We’re not likely to do much today as it will be so hot but this evening we will meet up with the former ‘county inspector of history’ who had and has a high regard for Petronela as a teacher and has now become a friend. She wanted to meet in an excellent restaurant “to eat fish”; we agreed to the location but will settle for an icecream or sweet of some kind. As I said on my Facebook ‘diary’ yesterday, I did nothing of note so it seemed a good idea to write another post on grumpytyke after about a week here in Iași.

A picture of some small carp in a bowl, prepared for cooking

Small carp

Today many Romanians will eat fish. A high proportion of the Romanian population are practising Orthodox Christians so follow rules of ‘post’ (ie , fast) laid down by the church and today is a day on which they can eat fish but not meat.

Post (fast) in Orthodox Romania

When I first came to Romania I lived for six months with a Romanian family and although something different would have been cooked for me I preferred to go along with whatever they were eating so became used to not eating meat on Wednesdays and Fridays and for longer periods at certain times of the year (eg pre Easter, and now). As it seemed a good idea, for health reasons, not to eat meat for a couple of days a week, and for longer periods a couple of times a year or so, I’ve followed this ever since and having a ‘schedule’ makes it easier though I don’t do it for religious reasons. In fact, according to the rules of  ‘post’ it’s not a matter of not eating meat but of not eating animal products, so ‘vegan’. We don’t do this; we often eat eggs, cheese etc on ‘post’ days but sometimes ‘vegan’ meals, eg a kind of ‘baked beans’, ‘borș cu fasole’ – bean borsch, or ‘tocănița cu cartofi’ – potato stew, which are three favourites of mine.

Pește, fish

There’s not a day each week when it’s ‘allowed’ to eat fish but in periods of post there are days where eating fish is allowed and today is such a day. So, as Petronela’s mother follows post pretty strictly today we have fish on the menu. However, because most Romanians (at least in this part of the country) will eat fish today it was difficult to acquire it unless you’re an angler. So Petronela’s father stood in a queue for 1.1/2 hours in the market yesterday to buy the preferred fish – carp.

The carp bought yesterday are extraordinarily small (see picture). I’m more used to them weighing several kg but none larger were available.

(As an aside, I was amused when UK anglers were horrified when east europeans expected to eat the carp they caught. Equally, the east Europeans  were perplexed by UK anglers putting back the carp and other fish they caught; it seemed a pointless activity).

In the UK we usually eat fish on Tuesdays. There’s no link with the church in that, it comes from my ‘honorary grandmother’ in the Bucovina, but that’s another story. Again, having a schedule ensures we eat fish at least once a week.

Mujedei (garlic ‘sauce’)

Obligatory with fried carp is a raw garlic sauce, ‘mujedei’ (pron mooj-day’). This can be simple crushed garlic with water, with sunflower oil, with milk, with a combination of the latter two, or other variations. I prefer it simple with oil, particularly as carp, like tuna, is more like a beef steak with little fat.

To accompany the carp we’ll have ‘mămăliga’ – a kind of cornmeal hash similar to ‘polenta’ but far better if made with the cornmeal from the countryside here; I think this is because a proportion of ‘tăriță’ (chaff) is left in it and probably also because it it is grown on the smallholders’ lots so truly ‘organic’ – a ridiculous term but you know what I mean. (Big Romanian food producers or Western invaders have invented a new one, applied to many packaged, branded foods which, of course, have preservatives, etc: ‘Bio’ is now plastered over packets of such products – more crap!)

Crap

Crap in Romanian is, of course, carp in English, a source of great amusement to Petronela’s students in the UK and to my fishmonger in Leeds Kirkgate market where I buy it, particularly for New Year when it is a traditional Romanian dish. His come from France so not as good as those from Romania, but OK.

WordPress app “beautiful new editor”

I’ve always ignored the WordPress suggestions to use the “improved” editor or the WordPress app. They have always been crap (in the English sense) compared to the traditional desktop version so I use that on both the Macbook and the iPad (as now). Most recently there was a notification that the app had a “beautiful new editor” (or was it “lovely”?) so I had a quick look.

Again complete crap!

In my experience, apps are almost always rubbish compared with the desktop versions, including Facebook, with the exception of Messenger which works very well. The Twitter app is also good. Of course many of the small specialised apps, for which there is no desktop equivalent, are very good. An example is a thermometer app which I’m using to report temperatures on my daily Facebook ‘diary’ – Dusty2Romania.

If the day ever comes when WordPress withdraw the traditional editor interface, as they once threatened to do but relented after a scream of protest from long-term bloggers, I will look for another platform or cease blogging altogether.

Why so many developers insist on fixing things which ‘ain’t broke’ I don’t know; maybe they have scores of programmers sitting around with nothing to do.

Drawing of a rose, with thornd

Drawing by blogger ‘mopana’, see below

Recently I began a story which currently stands at over 17,000 words. That’s a big jump from the maximum of around the 1,000, more usually a few hundred, I managed before. Even that number surprises me; I’m more likely to turn out a haiku or a 100 words, precisely. For some reason I like the discipline which those impose.

However, what I’ve found is that it is just the discipline which prevents me writing longer and for the first time I have understood why I’ve always been averse to attending any kind of creative writing course. Any kind of planning, or thinking too deeply about plot, characters or the like just makes me wrap up the whole thing quickly or abandon it. If nothing else, it just makes it boring, for me.

In our local writers’ club we are usually given a ‘theme’ on which to write for reading at the following meeting after two weeks. That has always resulted in something short from me, which is ideal as writing longer means there is time to read only an extract, which is never really satisfactory. However, one recent theme ‘What if …’ opened up so many possibilities that I found myself just writing and writing, with no plan, just waiting for the two characters (Miranda and Peter – M and P; where they came from I have no idea, or have I?) to ‘speak’ to me to tell me what was happening.

Blocked

I first became ‘blocked’ when they fell silent, at around 6,000 words. I’d written what I thought was the beginning and the end but felt the journey between the extremities was too short for my two characters. They had not enjoyed themselves, nor suffered enough, to satisfy me. They spoke to me no more but clearly wanted to carry on their journey. I decided to call on my fellow writers’ club members, though just a select few (I won’t say more other than that I’ve always had more empathy with women than men, as any regular reader of this blog may know), asking them to comment on a printed version. One responded almost immediately; with her suggestion in my head M and P began to speak to me again, telling me much more about themselves, so another 6,000 words was rapidly completed.

Stalled again at about 12,000. Then another club member gave me some notes handwritten on my script with some words of encouragement. Again, M and P began to speak, suggesting that they had a discussion about their star signs, so each would be able to see how the partner saw them and how they saw themselves. Another 5,500 words resulted, so now 17,500 in all.

Another suggestion was that an ‘observer’ who I’d introduced right at the end should have something to say earlier, now and then, to make the reader question whether they were in reality or fantasy. This fell into place quite readily and, I thought, much improved things.

No one has yet suggested the author/book from which I ‘nicked’ the idea of the outside observer but I know.

Anne Brontë

Throughout this process I did not know why I was compelled  to write the story or what the underlying theme was, though I had an idea that it was perhaps about the strength of women and the weakness of men. Throughout the writing, from the first idea, I had the feeling that the answer lay in a quotation which I could not recall though I spent long periods thinking about it. I had a vague feeling it was Emily Brontë but, having read her novel many times, could not think where it might be; in her poems perhaps? But no luck there either.

It came to me suddenly a couple of days ago. Not Emily, but Anne:

On all her breezes borne
Earth yields no scents like those;
But he, that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

In a poem, The Narrow Way. I was rather annoyed that I had not been able to recall those last two lines earlier. They are the key, I think, to adding a few more thousand words, even perhaps finishing the story.

However, something even stranger, a remarkable coincidence (but I do not believe in coincidences!). A few hours later I was scrolling through the bloggers I follow and came across those same two lines in a post from a young Romanian woman, very young in comparison with me. What is more, she’d written a haiku to go with them (and her drawing of a rose, above). I find her blog refreshing, creative and entrepreneurial; you can go to it by clicking her user name: Mopana.

Music

Now, I cannot write in silence, so after hearing several authors interviewed on radio who felt the same, but many who did not, I was intrigued to find out what accompaniment my fellow club members used, if any, so tried to begin a discussion about it on the club Facebook (closed) page. So far only three have responded but of those two demand absolute silence, one is with me but the music, he says, is random. Mine is not.

Below is a picture of what has been keeping me company during my writing marathon. Some were there from the beginning. Some I added to jog my memory (one I even bought for this purpose) when I realised that I was writing about 1960s London. I have music mostly on LP, including many complete operas, but they are not really practical unless you just want to sit and listen.

It’s a motley collection you might think but it does reflect a part of my musical taste.

For the record, they are, left to right approx, Ella Fitzgerald with Count Basie; some operatic divas (as selected by Gok) – I posted about this recently; member of our writers’ club Emma Nabarro-Steel; Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin; Schubert’s ‘Trout’ quintet; Sofia Vicoveanca (my favourite Romanian ‘popular music’ artiste, though she’s joined from time to time by a delightful young one I don’t yet have a CD of, so from internet, Andrea Chișăliță; the Brighouse and Rastrick brass band; one of several Beethoven string quartets, particularly the late ones, played by the Romanian quartet Voces; and Eric Clapton. There’s one missing in the photo as it’s on LP – Mozart’s clarinet concerto. If I had it I’d have Stephane Grappelli with Django Reinhardt in there too. What I select depends partly on mood, partly on what I’m writing about.

I’ve now realised I have a story in waiting behind every one of those music choices. Maybe I’ll write those stories sometime.

I’d be interested to hear about any other’s writing process, whether you like a music background or not and if so what and why or anything else about how you write. I am, of course, talking about writing fiction. Blogging is something quite different though, again, there’s no theme to mine; I just write about anything which takes my fancy as and when, the words spilling out like blood from a stuck pig rather than from a finger pierced by the thorn of a rose.

Picture of CD cover 'Gok's Divas'Until recently I found Gok Wan irritating, possibly because I find the fashion scene irritating and he’s just a bit too ‘camp’ for me. It all changed when I heard him interviewed recently on Classic FM (UK of course). It was interesting to hear what I guess is the real person. It turned out that he loves opera, particularly the divas, and that he “likes, or needs, to be surrounded by strong women”. Perhaps not his exact words but whatever he said it could well have been me I thought. Moreover, I heard that he had curated an album of his choice of divas; so many would have been those I would have chosen, headed by the incomparable Maria Callas. The only amazing omission was Joan Sutherland – as Pavarroti said, “the voice of the century.”

When the interview finished I was on to Amazon and bought the album.

Back to the ’60s

Forgive any lapses of memory please – it is half a century ago and someone disposed of my record collection when I was in Romania. Several of his choices took me back to the 1950/60s; at that time I had several of the operas on LPs with divas he chose. Here are some:

Maria Callas did not have the greatest voice but she could stir the emotions like no other. “The Bible of opera” Leonard Bernstein called her. Like many thousands of others, I was stopped in my tracks when I first heard Casta Diva (Norma, Bellini). It still does it, as it did when it was played during the interview with Gok. Lucia di Lammermoor with Giuseppe di Stefano was among my LP sets in the ’60s.

Montserrat Caballe was just amazing when she sang pianissimo. Quite unlike any other. I had her 1967 recording of Lucrezia Borgia. Much more recent of course, she sang with Freddie Mercury.

Kiri Te Kanawa was quite a bit later. Always a delight to listen to, I can’t remember all the recordings of her I had but Die Fledermaus and Madame Butterfly were among them.

Elisabeth Schwarzcopf was an early favourite singing Wagner, having been taken by my grandmother to hear The Ring at an early age (not with Schwarzcopf unfortunately). The only opera I had been to before was Carmen at 7 years old, which began my love of opera though I had heard a lot before on radio and ‘gramophone’. I think Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg was an acquisition in the ’60s but a much earlier recording.

Victoria de los Angeles was rated no.3 in a BBC list of top twenty sopranos of all time (after Callas and Sutherland). I have two abiding memories of her: a recording of Carmen with Sir Thomas Beecham, from the ’50s I think, and a recording of Madame Butterfly with Jussi Bjoerling. Someone I shared a flat with had this latter recording on tape  (remember those? – 4 track stereo) but mine was on LPs.

Katherine Jenkins is much later of course and, as far as I know, has never taken a leading role in a staged opera. I’d have chosen her singing something Welsh.

Joan Sutherland is, for me, an inexplicable omission. I would have had at least a track of her singing the mad scene from Lucia de Lammermoor in place of one of the ‘musicals’, which I find out of place.

Interesting isn’t it that when we think of opera we think ‘Italian’ but there’s not an Italian among them – Greek, Spanish, New Zealand, Welsh and, with Sutherland, Australian? If we did a similar thing with the men I guess Italians might dominate, though I’d be torn between Jussi Bjoerling and Pavarotti to head my list.

Eclectic

That comment on musicals does not indicate a restricted taste in music, I doubt you’d find one much more eclectic. I just find the sudden change from grand opera to ‘musical’ too much. To make the point, last Friday evening, my first ‘night out’ for more than a couple of years (all down to the pills – I may become as camp as Gok!), I was with members of our writers’ club to hear a couple of indie bands and our own singer-songwriter in a superb smokey church venue (see pic – Left Bank Leeds). She can move me as much as Callas – almost. Click for her recently released CD, which is frequently in the player.

solitudeAs I said in my post a couple of days ago about social media, very occasionally the unexpected and unrequested intrusions on Facebook are welcome. So it was with a video of Nigel Kennedy‘s performance of his own composition ‘Solitude‘. Not surprisingly it has attracted a few ‘anti’ comments. My own comment, shared to our writers’ club, was:

I think even those of you who do not usually listen to ‘classical’ music might appreciate this. Nigel Kennedy’s own composition, ‘Solitude’, transports me to being alone on some isolated hilltop that I can no longer reach. The piece is dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin, without whose support Kennedy says he may never have played ‘classical’ music. Menuhin, in turn, was taught and supported by the Romanian composer George Enescu, without whom …

I’m hoping that it might prompt some writing from other members. It prompted this 5 minute jotting from me:

Solitude

Being alone
Is not loneliness
For me.
Sitting on some isolated hill or mountain peak
As I used to do
Set thoughts, desperate to escape
Free

A poem, a verse
Tumbling about in wondering head
Till spoken to rocks about, there a while to be.
Being a lover of the ephemeral, not jotted
Words long forgotten
To die, in their happy solitude
With me

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