Ricardo Muti, this year’s conductor and in the year of our marriage, 2000

I’d usually write about my New Year experience in one post but this time was persuaded to break it into two parts, so here’s the second instalment.

New Year’s Day became ‘special’ for me 20 years ago when, then living in the student hostel of the high school in which I was a volunteer English teacher, I was invited to spend New Year’s Eve with the family of a history teacher, urged on by her younger sister. Having followed the Romanian tradition of a ‘midnight feast’ I was invited to stay the night rather than return to my chilly hostel room 7km away. Little did anyone know, least of all me, to what that would lead, or did I? Two years later that history teacher became my wife and a tradition for us was set.




Romanian traditions and Vienna New Year concert

The following morning was spent with a background of New Year dance and traditions on the tv, something I was well versed in having spent a few years in the Romanian Bucovina, one of the regions where traditions are best preserved. Then in common with tv stations throughout the world the Romanian station switched to covering the Vienna New Year concert. Petronela and I have followed that every year since, the following year at a mutual friend/colleague’s home where a month or so later on that friend’s birthday you might say that the romance was perhaps recognised as ‘serious’.




So, back to this year. The kitchen had been left a ‘disaster’ as we fell into bed at 2am, bubbly consumed with the background of Nile Rodgers (see yesterday’s post) then Jools Holland with truly amazing artists like Ruby Turner and Mavis Staples (and I’d better mention Ed Sheeran who doesn’t have such a bad voice 😜).

As I said, the ‘kitchen’ was left a disaster but in fact we don’t have a kitchen as such, the sitting room area and kitchen being ‘open plan’, separated by just a counter, next to which we have our dining table – a beautiful mahogany drop-leaf amalgamation of a modern top in classical style and a base from the mid 18th century. You can see it with one leaf up in yesterday’s post. First to be cleared in the ‘disaster’ zone was the table; I just ate what remained on it from ‘the feast’ for breakfast 😂).

Eclectic musical taste?

But to return to the Vienna New Year concert (you get the idea I have a somewhat eclectic taste in music? Though ‘classical’ is top for me). The tv on which we watch and listen to the New Year concert is in what I term our ‘musical corner’; you might see two Romanian nai (panpipes) in some pictures, one tourist and one for a musician, as well as a harmonica; under that, unseen, is a piano, ‘hifi’ and a large collection of LPs, orchestral and opera. CDs are next to it.

One of the things I love about the Vienna concert is the ballet sequences; I’ve been an avid follower of ballet since my Grandmother took me to my first, Swan Lake, when I was seven years old (so you can imagine how pleased I was that Darcey Bussell was made a ‘Dame’ in the New Year Honours). The grace and beauty of ballet I saw in gymnastics when the Romanian team was preeminent so gymnastics are now the only sport I’m really interested in. You might say that ballet is now my second favourite art form, the first being music itself, whether instrumental or sung.




An innovation this year was an informative trip through Vienna with a young lady on a bicycle, calling at many of the most notable venues in this wonderful cradle of music. I enjoyed that.

This year’s conductor of the New Year concert was Ricardo Muti, not who conducted the first one Petronela and I saw together in 1998 but he who conducted the concert in the year of our marriage – 2000.

I consider myself very lucky as through things I do, day to day including my work, I learn of some of the amazing things our oft derided youngsters do. 

The latest is about 14 lower sixth formers from the excellent high school within our village boundary – St Mary’s Menston.

St Mary's Menston pupil Hannah Smith reads abut football to South African children

Hannah Smith, pupil at St Mary’s Menston, reads Frank Lampard to Zulu children

St Mary's pupil Kavindu Appuhamy gives an African child a lesson about rhinos, or is it the other way round?

St Mary’s pupil Kavindu Appuhamy gives an African child a lesson about rhinos, or is it the other way round?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I recently created a blog/website for the Wharfedale, Yorkshire, village in which I live – Menston. Looking around for news as the schools started up again after the summer break I found out about the latest phase in a project in which St Mary’s is involved, now in its seventh year.

Bambisanani (more…)

Two things happened in the space of about twelve hours to prompt this post. First, I spent a little time last evening with one of the tenants of the supported housing of the small charity for which I work part time. Second, I read some comments responding to the latest post on Australian photographer Leanne Cole’s blog, which I follow from my photo blog.

I spent the time with Gordon, completely blinded and brain damaged in an accident when he was young. One of several of the tenants who have been known to say “I’m not disabled; I just can’t see”. But what was he doing last evening? Scaling the climbing wall at a local leisure centre while I watched safely from below (taking pictures and making a video clip).

Gordon, blind and with severe brain damage, nearing to top of a climbing wall on 27 June

Gordon, blind and with severe brain damage, nearing the top of a climbing wall on 27 June


I’ve said on this blog before that I am not a sportsman – neither as participant nor spectator. It is no accident that when thousands of people were arriving in the UK for the Olympics 2012, I was on my way out.

However, there cannot be a Romanian anywhere in the world who was more delighted than I was when gymnast Sandra Raluca Izbasa took gold for Romania in the vault yesterday evening. This was not just because it gave me an excuse to open a bottle of wonderful Romanian red wine, Feteasca Neagra from the Murfatlar wine region in south east Romania.

For me the Romanian female gymnasts are the epitome of Romanian womanhood: very beautiful in a physical sense, hard working, determined, confident, intelligent but also with personalities which can only be called ‘beautiful’ – polite, modest, helpful, simply a pleasure to be with.

One of my followers, a Romanian abroad, commented that the Romanian ‘girls’ – ie young women – are “cute”. That’s a word I would reserve for the children, like five year old Bianca pictured above, who I met at a school gate on Friday afternoon; she was waiting for her mother.

If you watch Sandra in the few seconds of her approach during the vault, you can see all the qualities I mention above in her face. And see how, on the podium, she made no aggressive victory salute, just a winning smile and a grateful wave to all the crowd.

In recent years the Romanian gymnasts have suffered from poor conditions in the country and their dominance in the sport had begun to wane. It was so good to see them fighting their way back. They have in the past given me so much pleasure, completely overcoming my aversion to sport.

Having said that, I am really sickened by the concentration of the media – especially in Britain and the USA – on gold, gold, gold. In my opinion it is a symptom of the sick society we have developed in both my own country and that across the Atlantic. Every one of the athletes who has worked and strived to eventually participate in the Olympics is an Olympic champion, from whom we can all learn much.

Just look how obviously delighted Maria Paseka was to take bronze for Russia in the vault, and that is how it should be.

But to return to the Romanian women: to walk down a Romanian street in the summer, when the women are not padded and furred against the way sub-zero winter weather, you can see that the majority – and yes it is a majority – would not be out of place in the line up for Miss World, except they have a little more in the head than most you’d find there today.

During the time I lived in Iasi and Suceava (another town in northern Romania) I calculate I taught at least 2000 of them, some in their first year at school at 7 years old, others in the final year at 17 or 18, and everything in between. It was a delight. And it is a delight now to hear what they have done; just yesterday I learned one is now a doctor at the Marie Curie Institute in Paris, and another had just gained a place at Churchill College, Cambridge, to study science.

So, women of Romania, I want to take the opportunity opened up by Sandra Raluca Izbasa, to salute you. Felicitari. Salutari.