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.

 

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.

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.

I’ve always disliked Facebook. After resisting it for years I finally succumbed when teenagers in a project I ran in the village where I live said it was the best way to communicate with them. For this I created a private group. Later our local writers’ club created a private FB group and that remains very useful.

I have found limited use of Twitter useful too – letting me know of new posts from blogger friends who do not have a ‘follow’ possibility on their non-Wordpress sites but ‘boost’ their posts on Twitter, and to let friends who do not use WordPress, and do not wish to follow by email, of my new blog posts.

But the love affairs with FB and Twitter, if they ever existed, are over. On the other hand, my love for radio has regrown over the past few months. The following rundown refers, of course, to when I am home alone on weekdays.

Twitter

After signing up to FB and Twitter I was rapidly bombarded by ‘suggestions’  for new groups/people to ‘follow’. In Twitter particularly posts appear regularly from organisations or people I have not ‘chosen’. Almost never are these of interest. On the other hand I did sign up to several favourite musicians but most of these are just promotional rather than containing interesting information. Then there are ‘friends’ who rarely post anything original, they just ‘share’ posts from others. Again, these are rarely of interest. In Twitter particularly annoying are multiple, lots, of posts per day, and many repeats; TES (more sensibly named in the past Times Educational Supplement), which I chose to follow because my wife is a teacher, is really irritating in the respect. It’s no longer followed but I continue to follow GuardianTeach. (In the past I unfollowed quite a few WordPress bloggers who blogged multiple times a day and bunged up my reader and/or inbox).

Facebook

As far as FB is concerned, it seems often to bring out the very worst in people. One recent example was prompted by a mildly contentious post on the WordPress site/blog I do for the village in which I live. It concerned an organisation run by someone with whom I am regularly in contact; in fact only a few days before she had emailed me for some help, which I had given. However, when she did not like the post on the village site did she comment there or approach me directly? No, she posted her objection on a village FB page and, of course, this was followed by a host of FBers joining in.

The village FB page, despite the pinned post asking that posts be limited to “Anything that adds life to the village”, probably has more that do not do this than do, and so many are barely disguised advertising. Many have nothing at all to do with the village other than they may have been written by someone who lives in it but often promote events, and businesses elsewhere (and of course self-promotion is rife). I’m only too aware of the problems for the admin to control this. 

Going to ‘home’, the reader is littered with ‘suggested posts’ and advertisements which are almost never of interest, and other ads are often promoting ‘scams’.

Messenger

Something I do like is ‘Messenger’. Very useful for short communications with friends and ‘friends’, including my wife. It’s become even more useful as free WiFi has been introduced on local bus and train services. The telephone and texting have become almost redundant!

Drastic prune underway

I’m sure that anyone running a business should be using FB and Twitter but I do not so they have become more and more irritating and time wasting. Recently I decided to do a drastic prune of both. I am now in the process reducing ‘follows’ to a small number of friends (in the original sense) and an even smaller number of organisations with which I am involved in some way. I’ve not yet completed the job but already my daily FB and Twitter trawl is quicker and much more relevant. One of the first to go was the village FB group mentioned.

Radio

On the other hand a love of radio way in the past has been revived. It’s not perfect, but so much less superficial than tv. The few minute bites on tv usually leave me with a host of unanswered questions; more often than not a radio programme tackling the same subject satisfies my information need.

Classic FM

Most mornings I have Classic FM on the radio; I deliberately did not say I ‘listen’ to it!’ I have found a perfect low volume at which the music is a pleasant background but the majority of presenters’ interjections can be ignored and, even more important, so can the advertisements the perpetrators of which seem to have the view that the Classic FM audience is either senile or stupid.The station has improved a lot recently by running fewer of the assinine ads and also by airing the musical pot-boilers less frequently and introducing me to many new pieces and even previously unknown, to me, composers. I have found that I have a volume control in my head which I can wind up if something interesting or I wish to stop and listen to comes on.

I find the women presenters far more acceptable than the males with one exception, Aled Jones (and every time his rendition of Handel’s ‘Have you heard my lady’ is aired I wind up my in-ear volume control to experience the exquisite tingling in the spine which his voice and amazingly clear diction always provoke). 

At 1pm I switch to BBC4 to catch up on what to the media is the most important news, following which I get a host of facts and opinions on everything from gardening (even though I do not have a garden) to finances, books, science, medicine and the tortuous thinking behind Round Britain Quiz. I don’t switch off the Archers though I might use the 15min intermission to do some urgent small job. Although the 45 minute drama at 2.15pm is of variable quality it is always interesting to me as a would-be writer. I may make it until 5pm at which point I usually turn my attention to preparing the evening meal, often a bit before that.

Of course another advantage of radio over tv is that you can often do other things while listening, as I usually do. When the radio is in ‘background’ mode this includes writing, as now.

TV

At 6pm on goes the tv for the news as we sit down to our evening meal; I stick with BBC 1 mainly because I like to watch Look North, especially if my three favourite presenters – Lara Rostrom, Charlotte Leeming and Tanya Arnold – are on air. Lara is a fairly recent addition (a year?) but Charlotte and Tanya are old hands and whatever else I just enjoy watching the professionalism of all three (Tanya is a surprise as I’m not generally interested in sport!).

Back to blogging

Culling FB and Twitter should, I hope, allow more opportunity for blogging, both reading blogs – usually so much less superficial than FB and T – and writing them – so much more enjoyable!

A wonderful end to the year on Saturday afternoon for our local (usually Menston based) writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, ‘performing’ with short stories, songs and poems in the intimate setting of Ilkley library.

Picture of all the 'performers' lined up after their performances in the Ilkley library, with book-fillwed shelves behind.

In the wonderful setting of Ilkley library, left to right: back row – Bob, me, Ruxandra, David, Catherine, Rich; front row – Alina, Emma, Dan, Becky. Sadly two valued members, Kelly and Marjorie, couldn’t make it.

Unfortunately I do not have the contributions available to post here or links to most though I did post my short story in a post recently and you can hear Emma’s wonderful Christmas song and buy it for £1 on bandcamp (should be No.1 in the charts in my opinion!). She also treated us to ‘In the bleak midwinter’, retaining Harold Darke’s melody but substituting her own lyrics, apart from a short spoken excerpt of Christina Rossetti’s original lyrics in the middle.

Becky, Ruxandra and David sharing a joke measuring something with hands

Picture of the day? Measuring what?

Click on any picture in the gallery below to see them larger as a slide show. Many thanks to Adam Nabarro-Steel for photo recording the event for us. Many thanks also to our wonderful ‘leader’, Ruxandra Busoiu, a remarkable young Romanian who founded the club and worked very hard to bring off this event and the previous one at Ilkley Playhouse.

Thanks also to the wonderfully supportive staff of Ilkley library who made this event possible. This library and those in my village of Menston and neighbouring village of Burley in Wharfedale had been scheduled for closure by Bradford Council. Against a background of  appalling illiteracy in the UK, especially in Bradford, libraries should surely be high on any local authority’s priorities. Thankfully, a lot of people from the local communities are now working to take them over and run them as Community Libraries. Let’s hope they succeed.