The inevitable 'group photo' after the performance - l to r: Jo, Sam, me, Kayla, Ruxandra, James, David, Bob, Johm, Martin and Sussi

The inevitable ‘group photo’ after the performance – l to r: Jo, Sam, me, Kayla, Ruxandra, James, David, Bob, Johm, Martin and Sussi

Youtube videos – over the past few days I’ve gained a lot of admiration for those who seem to roll them out regularly. Earlier I’d done a little editing of photos from our ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival for my previous blog post. A doddle! But editing video is something else, for me.

Wanting to put titles, end credits, etc on the just over an hour of our writers’ club ‘performance’ at the Festival, I discovered I’d forgotten much of how to use my graphics program and video editor (2 years or more since I used them). An added complication was that one contribution to our ‘show’ (the first in order of appearance) had been entered into a competition for which rules state no previous publication or broadcast, so I had to take that out before making it ‘public’. Another cut had to be made for another reason so I had to work out how to make this not too ugly.

Superb flamenco guitar

If you appreciate superb guitar playing (Samuel Moore) it’s worth watching the video (our complete ‘performance’, with writers, lasted just about an hour).

Some good short stories

If you’re a writer you may enjoy our club writers reading their own pieces. If you want to avoid me reading mine (published in my previous post) I’m now ‘first up’ in the video as the first on the night has been cut at the writer’s request.

Of course I use only free programs, open source or those offering free basics but the possibility to pay for advanced facilities, which I do not. When in paid employment I used Adobe programs like Indesign, Photoshop and occasionally Illustrator, but I never needed to edit videos.

Scribus and NCH VideoPad

The graphics/publishing program I use now, Scribus, is excellent but rather quirky and with a steep learning (relearning) curve. Much the same can be said of the the video editor, NCH VideoPad. What I didn’t expect was the 2 hours 20 minutes to convert the VideoPad file (for a video of just over one hour) to something suitable for uploading to Youtube (.mp4). Maybe that’s down to my ancient MacBook. Even less expected was the 4+ hours to upload to Youtube (finally I went to bed and left it to it so it could have been much longer).

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If you don’t like so-called ‘classical music’ this post will not be of interest. However, if you do and have yet to discover ‘Classic FM Revision’ it might be.

I have listened to Classic FM for a few years – it’s my background for many things but particularly writing, at low volume – despite the often annoying advertisements, silly announcements that I am listening to Classic FM between every piece of music, some really irritating presenters (hence the low volume) and, for me, one boring programme. Now, with ‘ … Revision’ at least the last two can be switched off without losing the continuous (but it’s not, despite the claim to be music “all in one continuous stream”) music. Also, the music seems to be on a ‘loop’ so we seem to hear the same pieces repeatedly but if it is a loop it’s quite a big one.

Don’t get me wrong, not all the Classic FM presenters are irritating: none of the women, not David Mellor (my favourite programme) , Alyd Jones nor many of the other men. So who are the irritating ones who now definitely have me switching to ‘ … Revision’?

Top of the ‘irritating’ list

First and top of the ‘irritating’ list is that presenter of some pointless tv quiz who tries so hard to be witty, Alexander Armstrong. What is more, although he has a decent voice he cannot sing, but other presenters feel obliged (are obliged?) to plug his albums and people buy them – it’s beyond me; his ‘Christmas’ offering was surely the most boring Christmas album ever produced. He even jumped on the band wagon with ‘Peter and the Wolf’, again irritating after David Bowie did it so well.

I didn’t mind the plugs for Alyd Jones as he really can sing and the diction is wonderful – as both man and boy. Handel/Somervell’s ‘Silent worship’ sung by Alyd is a delight no matter how many times I hear it.

Other irritants and the boring one

Not far behind Armstrong in the irritation stakes are the Yorkshire (unfortunately) gardener, Titchmarsh, and Suchet; both speak to us as if we’re in primary school. The most boring programme? ‘Saturday night at the movies’; there is some excellent film music, written to accompany a film, but relatively little of it can stand alone as music in my opinion, and even less might be given the tag ‘classical’.

Not continuous music

Classic FM Revision’ claims to produce non-stop music ideal for the students who like a music background to studying, as I would. It’s not quite true. The stupid frequent reminders of what programme we are listening to are there, maybe a little less frequent as there are no presenters for each piece. The silly or inappropriate advertisements are still there (are students really interested in buying a holiday home?) but, for the moment at least, they seem less frequent.

But the big plus is that when one of the irritating presenters is due to come on I can switch to ‘ … Revision’, but switch back for a more varied selection of music with a pleasant presenter when they have finished.

Mushrooms cut ready for cooking

This post was going to be just about my mushroom dish, inspired by my recently found Latvian blogging friend, Ilze. However, I must comment on David Mellor’s Classic FM two hour programme on Sunday, about Maria Callas. I said in my post of about three weeks ago following his programme about Pavarotti, that his is for me the best programme by far on Classic FM. I’ve been listening to him when I could for a few years but I reckon his programme last evening was probably his best ever.

I’ve long held that Maria Callas was the greatest diva even though her voice wasn’t always the best, particularly in her later years. Mellor, as ever with carefully chosen recordings, illustrated just why he thinks so too (if you have the Classic FM app for iPhone or iPad, or the Android version, you can listen to the programme, in fact any programme, again for up to 7 days after broadcast).

Back to mushrooms

I’ve had one or two discussions with Ilze, on her blog, about the mushrooms she forages from the close by forest, the latest about a ‘new’ one for her – Delicious Milk Cap. I don’t have much possibility to forage for fungi here and even if I had it would be a steep learning curve to know which are safe; probably I’d never be confident enough.

Reading her latest recipe, with the ‘Delicious …’ she had found, determined me to try to give more taste to my usual dish of cultivated mushrooms in sour cream, a dish I make fairly often for our ‘no meat’ days. So here’s my recipe (tap the pictures to see captions).

Ingredients

Chestnut mushrooms – 300g

Sour cream – 300g

Oil (sunflower, rape or olive – on this occasion I used the latter) – 2 tbspn

Butter -10g (about)

Medium red onion – 1/2  

Cloves of garlic – A few

Ground ginger – 1/2 tspn

Leaves of Tarragon – a few

Salt and pepper – to taste.

Method

Wipe the mushrooms and cut in half. Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan until the butter foam has almost subsided (this indicates it is sufficiently hot to sauté the mushrooms rather than boil them in their own juice – the butter also gives a bit of taste). Sauté the mushrooms till just beginning to brown on each side. Remove from the pan.

Turn down the heat. Add the roughly chopped onion to the pan. Meanwhile crush the garlic cloves by putting a broad bladed knife on them and bash with a fist. When the onions are transparent raise the heat a bit and add the garlic. Stir a few times until the garlic has begun to brown.

Return the mushrooms to the pan, add the chopped tarragon and sprinkle on the ginger.  Turn over a few times until the mushrooms are hot again, add the sour cream and heat, stirring, until it’s just beginning to bubble. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

The result

We ate it just with my home baked wholemeal bread – very tasty – but rice would go well. A good chilled Chardonnay went well too (I know there’s a lot of rubbish with that name so it’s fallen out of favour but a good French one is, well, very good!). A side salad works too.

When I make it again I will probably substitute finely grated ginger root for the ground variety, and maybe a dash of cayenne to get closer to the peppery taste the wild mushrooms (and their more ‘dangerous’ cousins Woolly Milk Cap) are prized by Latvians for. You’ll find Ilzie’s recipe for the Delicious Milk Cap on her blog, and how she deals with the ‘poisonous’ Woolly on her blog too.

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.

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.

 

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.