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.

I have my own little tradition for 8 MarchInternational Women’s Day (but first encountered as simply ‘women’s day’ in Romania). I try to do a post about women, remarkable (aren’t they all?), undervalued or oppressed, on this day.

Remarkable

I have several in this first category close to home in our local writers’ club (see below), all with outstanding talent, and at least one in Romania who I’ll mention though there are far too many to mention individually – just look at the bloggers I follow, some of them as young as in their teens!

I’ll try to mention some remarkable women below. As a start I’ll just mention two most influential for me: my grandmother, an unmarried mother in the early years of the 20th century who managed to regain ‘respect’ and was the most influential adult in my early years; my mother who, as a war widow raised three young boys, I being the eldest, with very little money, despite being seriously ill much of the time.

Of course I have to mention my wife if only because she’s stuck with me for almost 17 years. However, one notable achievement was, arriving in the UK with her English limited to “Hello, I’m Petronela. I don’t speak English”, she obtained the GCSE C grade English, necessary to have her Romanian degree and teaching diploma recognised and gain ‘Qualified Teacher Status’, within a year and has been teaching in UK high schools ever since. Highly valued by her pupils and their parents, getting results from children labelled as under-achievers as well as those in ‘more able’ streams, she’s still undervalued by her current so-called ‘senior management team’. Despite this, while many colleagues have long and frequent absences for ‘stress’, many leaving the profession altogether, she has days absent – for genuine physical maladies – counted on no more than two hands in a decade or more.

I mentioned my grandmother above but I’ll add my ‘honorary grandmother’ (there’s only a year between our ages) who kept some traditions of the Romanian Bucovina alive when oppressed by the ‘Securitate’, secret police, in communist times. She still makes some of the best traditional food I’ve tasted. I’ve blogged about her more than once. Her name – Lucreția Hariuc.

Undervalued

I’ll mention just one group this time – nurses (of course I know there are male nurses), not undervalued I think by most patients but certainly by successive Governments in the UK.

Oppressed

I’ve had a go at two dreadful sources of female oppression in the past: female circumcision and forced marriage, both still rife even in Britain either directly or indirectly, especially in my locality.

I’d add every female in the USA, whether they know it or not, now that Trump is in the White House.

For this year I’ll add another group, just giving you the link here:

https://www.facebook.com/SheDecidesGFI/?pnref=story

Some of my local female heroes

I say ‘female heroes’ because giving them a different title already discriminates in my view. Just to list all the amazing females only in my village would make my post impossibly long so I’m going to mention only the female members  of our local writers’ club, founded and run by, of course, a woman. I cannot do them justice here nor would I wish to choose among them so here they are in alphabetical order (there are a few others in the members’ list but they rarely come to meetings so I don’t know them well enough to comment). Where the members listed have an example of their writing on my village website the name is a link to this.

Becky Bond

Becky, writing with unique humour, even on tragedy, recently threw in her job at the BBC because she was told she could not write anywhere else and went freelance. At the moment she’s my ‘muse’, being instrumental in extending my story-writing from a maximum few hundred words to, currently, over 10,000!

Have a look at her (non WordPress) blog. Often hilarious, always unique.

Ruxandra Busoiu

Certainly a remarkable young (mid 20s) Romanian woman who not only founded and runs our local writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) but over the past year has pushed us into involvement in the Ilkley Literature Festival (Fringe) and performing in a local (Ilkley) library. She’s served on a local youth offending team for a while now and is currently seeking to become a magistrate; will the white haired male wrinklies dominating our magistrates’ courts allow it?

Marjorie Hanbidge

Marjorie, before retirement, founded and ran a nursery school in the Wharfe valley. She’s another who usually makes us smile or laugh when she reads her poetry at club meetings. I call her our own Pam Ayres. Despite being very seriously ill just before Christmas and still not fully recovered, she was at the first meeting after Christmas to entertain us.

Kelly McCarthy-Wright

Kelly is a wonderful illustrator. I’ve said that in the unlikely event that I have a book published which requires illustrations, I’ll insist on her being the illustrator. She’s no mean writer either and is another who has the ability to make me laugh with her writing.

Emma Nabarro-Steel

Emma is our singer songwriter. A talented musician on both guitar and piano, she once regarded herself as a jazz singer. Now she says she doesn’t know what she is; all I know is that her songs – music and lyrics – delivered in a wonderfully soothing, soft voice, frequently have my hairs rising and sometimes bring a tear. You can explore, or buy, an album released late last year. She also delivers some super-crafted short stories and poetry, being eg instrumental in my attempt at writing a sonnet.

Catherine Turnbull

Catherine, when she joined the club, was editor of a local newspaper but, victim of the now familiar reorganisations in news media, she crossed the fence and now works in ‘PR’ for a large national organisation. She’s been widely published in the mainstream media and is instrumental in keeping us in touch with writing and learning about writing opportunities, some of which I’ve taken advantage of myself.

Does ‘promoting’ posts on Facebook and/or Twitter do more harm than good? It seems to me that readers often stick a ‘like’ on the FB/twit summary or photo without ever going to read the post.

As I said in a recent post, I’ve become more and more disillusioned with these other two ‘social media’, often superficial and frequently ‘nasty’, and have severely cut my use of them but until recently assumed ‘promoting’ WordPress posts on the other two platforms would be a useful way to reach a wider audience. I’m coming to the conclusion that it is, in fact, counter productive.

Anyone else think the same?

PS. Since writing the post referred to in the link above, sick of Trump’news’ and La La Land bull I now listen to BBC radio in the afternoons far less, and don’t watch BBC tv news at 6pm regularly. So I’m writing far more, including getting back into regular blogging and, more important, reading others’.

martisor2_edgSpring, the meteorological spring that is, came upon us with a beautiful dawn and a sunny morning which lasted until almost exactly noon. Also came symbols of one of the loveliest of Romanian traditions, mărțișor (see re my problems with Romanian grammar below).

Differing accounts

You will find many differing accounts of the tradition on the internet but in the part of the Romanian Bucovina where I say I was ‘brought up’ I learned that it is the males who receive symbols of spring from the females on this day, 1st March. The ladies have to wait until 8th March, long celebrated as ‘women’s day’ in Romania but in more recent years marked as International Women’s Day worldwide, to receive their tokens from the men. It was on 8th March that I first arrived in Romania, appropriate for me I think.

martisor1_edgIn its simplest form the symbol is just white and red silk threads twisted together which can be tied on the wrist, as one of mine received today (thank you Nectara) is shown here. However, now it is more usually tied in a bow and pinned on the breast, often with a small ‘talisman’ attached, as is the one received from my wife Petronela, pictured on the spoon above, which depicts another lovely tradition, dragobete (this year on 24th February) – I think the loveliest summary of this is ‘the day the birds fall in love’.

Basically they are given to bring the recipient prosperity and happiness for the coming year. They are worn (or should be) until the end of the month then tied in a fruit tree breaking into blossom.

I said in my immediately previous post that although speaking and reading Romanian is little problem for me, writing it is quite another matter so after several attempts I settled for the mix you see in the title. Just one of the problems is the Romanian ‘mărțișor’ is not just the name for the symbol but also for the tradition itself. On line translators, it seemed to me, were of little help. Is it:

Au venit mărțișoare/mărțișoarele/mărțișorii/mărțișoarelor, mărțișoare/mărțișoarele/mărțișorii/mărțișoarelor au venit, or none of those?
If you see this Corina, forgive me ?.

The author, Christmas morning 2016, with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and champagne breakfast.

Breakfast, Christmas 2016

I’ve been following Cristian Mihai’s blog almost since I began blogging approaching five years ago. I was first attracted to it because of the excellent writing in English by a Romanian, having taught English in Romania for around a decade. Since then I’ve found other Romanian blogs written in excellent English covering one or more of the wide diversity of topics you would find on mine, which as followers will know, breaks one or two cardinal rules if you want a lot of followers: posting frequently, even daily, and sticking to a theme. As I also speak and read Romanian pretty well, though I’ve never cracked writing it well, I now follow quite a few Romanian blogs posting in just Romanian or both Romanian and English, though I was sad to see that after my long absences several seem to have ceased to blog.

I used to post fairly frequently, though never every day, but some serious health issues two and a half years ago meant that posting became very erratic, particularly as I was also attempting to keep up with editing, and blogging on, a site I created for the Yorkshire village in which I live.

Our 'music corner' at home, showing tv with Vienna New Year concert 2017, panpipes sitting on the Yamaha 'piano'

Vienna New Year concert 2017

So followers may well find me writing on any one of my major hobbies – music, photography (on film); food and cooking; my efforts at writing fiction or ‘poetry’, as distinct from journalism (which was my profession), and our local writers’ club formed and run here in Wharfedale by a Romanian (!); classic cars particularly my mini and vw camper; and a few others. Or my major hobby-horses which include: discrimination in any of its many forms; the beauty of Romania, it’s people, traditions and food, particularly my love affair with the Bucovina; the idiocy of politicians; my experiences with our superb National Health Service and its staff here in the UK and the determination of those in charge of it and successive Governments to destroy it; habitual use of certain ‘four letter words’; and again, a few others, including scrambled eggs! (I know, overuse of exclamation marks but perhaps merited here 😉 ).

So, you have been warned; I am not taking up Cristian’s reblogging offer to find a lot more followers, but just to give him a bit of support. Hence this introductory blog which will be the first I’ll be asking him to reblog. After that, perhaps a few of my past blog posts then one or two new ones.

This facility must surely be invaluable to those younger than me who wish to get better known and maybe make a bit of money out of their writing so it would be very sad to see it not continue. I have no such ambition. I write because I like to write – that’s all.

It’s been quite a while since I posted here, one of the problems resulting from running other websites/blogs of one sort or another. To keep the pot boiling (no, this is not one of my cookery/food posts!) I’m blogging here my contribution to yesterday’s meeting of our local writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. We had been set a theme, ‘reflection’ to write something. The situation out in the world, particularly Romania (not surprisingly) and the closeness of Valentines Day, really got me going! It’s the first time I’ve attempted a sonnet.

Response to the set theme ‘reflection’

haiku

leaves in still puddles
reflections of lost summer
rusted    yet to fall

A short short story (100 words)

Mia stared at her bedroom door, closed. Had she really been that bad? No tv, no mobile, no games for the evening; grounded for a week.

“Shit, shit, shit”, she said softly, delighting in the idea that if her parents could hear her it would mean another week’s grounding for sure.

At least they had not made her wash, she thought as she turned around. Wonderfully iridescent blue over long, painstakingly applied black lashes framed the bright saphire eyes regarding her, as brilliant red lips pouted for appreciation.

Smiling, she reached into her pocket …
for her mother’s Chanel Number 5.

Free verse

Rays of gold touch golden locks
Evening shrouds the muted bird song
Fading light illuminates a different vision
Lost memories emerging in gentle ripples
Even in the silence.
Cautiously, I feel for her hand
Tenderly taking it with a gentle squeeze;
Illusion comforts at such times.
One more reflection flickers; we were absorbed one in the other then.
Now, the lake is still, its duty done.

tanka

i saw you lovely
looking in a cracked mirror
quicksilver faded
too late I crossed the fractures
to reflect with you what might

Sonnet

Reflecting on the state of this sick world
I do retreat in love of those close by
When life its fighting flag has almost furled
I look upon what we have brought and sigh.
I leave the fight to those with whistles wild,
Some horns or signs with words both old and new,
E’en those who stand and wait with others mild
In cold, to show more silently their view.
When votes have failed or over-ruled by law
When corrupt men of state or wives deny
The truths so clear to those no less, or poor
Exponents of those truths rest with just “why?”
… I now do little more than pick up pen
… To scrawl my feeble protests now and then.

Blank verse

I know a grain of what I want to say
It’s how to find the words which makes me pause.
I would with love your heavy heart address
But fear my good intent be misconstrued.
The words, as rays from some distorting glass,
So oft bounce back, their meaning now corrupt.
I would not be so mute in other time
Thus quietly I just address your soul
And wait our paths to cross in future lives.

diaryRomanians in general are quite superstitious; Petronela is no exception and with that in mind the number 17 has become pretty significant for us. So, she assures me that the coming year will be good for us, because:

  • It’s 2017
  • We live at number 17
  • In Romania we lived at number 17
  • We’ll celebrate our 17th anniversary this year
  • P was born in ’71 (deci 17 reversed!)
  • Whenever P wins on Lotto, only ever a small amount so far, including New Year’s Eve, her selection includes the number 17

There are possibly a few more but I can’t bring them to mind for the moment.

Romania, Romanian doctors and medication

Towards the end of 2016 the year became better as a very poor prognosis for me earlier in the year was revised to be much better and new medication (thank God for the NHS; I’m told it costs around £2,000 a month!) has resulted in me feeling better than for two or three years (though I think that 6 weeks of Romanian summer and food had something to do with that too! I’d add to that, odd as it may seem, ending up in A&E my first day in Romania, when the wonderful Romanian doctors identified why long journeys were causing me a problem, so now I can take preventative steps).

I had a lot of problems getting in the ‘Christmas spirit’ last year, with the slaughter and starvation of children in Syria and the Yemen, to mention just two, let alone the events in France and Germany. I’ll probably return to this in future posts.

To end on a happier note, I can do no better than end with my New Year’s post on what I think is the best social media site (I’m excepting WordPress), blipfoto, when I ‘blipped’ a photo of our ‘musical corner’, where the tv sits. I returned to this wonderful community, which has none of the ‘crap’ so often evident on Facebook, just before Christmas after a long health-enforced absence (it’s based on keeping a photo diary). I don’t privatise my posts on this so if you’re interested you can probably find ‘realgrumpytyke‘ there.

The world stops for Vienna (my 1 January ‘blip’)

vienna99-17

Little did Petronela’s younger sister (RIP) know what she was starting when she insisted that I, then a volunteer teacher staying alone in the school hostel in 1999, be invited to spend New Year’s Day with the family. We watched the Vienna New Year’s concert together, P and I married about 18 months later, and we have watched the Vienna concert together every year since that first time.

The concert combines two of my great loves, so-called ‘classical music’ and classical ballet, a love affair probably begun when I was about 7 years old, being taken to live performances at Bradford’s St. George’s Hall and the Alhambra by my grandmother after years of listening on the ‘steam radio’ and wind-up gramophone.

I think there was less ballet this year but it was great to see flashbacks to earlier years in this year’s concert, including ‘our year’, and to see students from the Vienna State Opera Ballet Academy dancing among the audience.

Thankfully no CCTV in our flat to catch P and I dancing/clapping to the Rodetzsky March in our pyjamas (the concert did start as early as 11.15am!).

PS. I see that unthinking I slipped in a word of ‘the other language’ – for me Romanian – above. I’ll leave it. We often do that in our conversations as I often cannot think quickly of the English word and P cannot think of the Romanian one! So our conversations are often a garble of the two languages. Very confusing for eavesdroppers.