We did it! An exciting night with a lovely bunch of people: Writing on the Wharfe writers’ club – and our audience of course – at the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’ .

rlfringe_8Petronela and I did intend to video the whole thing but neither of us knowing much about making videos we didn’t succeed to get it all. However, she did get me so if you have a strong stomach you can watch my effort by clicking

my video clip

 

I chose three of my haiku and one short short story, all previously published on this site, for my contribution.

rmmacd_6724_edAs the wonderful lyrical and musical talent of fellow club member Emma immediately preceded me I’ve nicked that for an introduction but other than that I wouldn’t publish clips of others, but will send them their clip eventually if we’ve got it.

Emma’s song is from her album ‘Leaving a Space‘, launched two days before. My usually preferred genre is what is generally called ‘classical music’ but her CD will be frequently in my CD player. Her song in the video clip – Delicate – is from the album. If you’re on Spotify you can stream it but if, like me, you prefer a physical CD (worth it for the lovely picture of her!) then you can purchase a CD (or a digital download) by going to:

http://emmanabarrosteel.bandcamp.com/album/leaving-a-space

Playing the trout. In the hot June sun, the fly arches towards a cooler spot, suspended for a moment then alighting, still yet ominous. Only the midges bite, swooping again and again on bare skin. The daisies behind smile at the sun, a white army, each bearing his shield of gold. Buttercups spread their delicious gold. No rod here, no hook with barb nor tortured fish. Just Schubert’s quintet, spilling with joy from an iPad.


Some of you will know of my love for the ‘traditional’ haiku, the discipline of writing to a very short set format – 5-7-5 syllables – to communicate a thought or feeling.

Recently I was introduced, by Becky whose blog is called Evening Scribbles, to another format which appeals to me for similar reasons: to write a story or introductory stand-alone paragraph of exactly 75 words. They may be published, if accepted, on the website: http://www.paragraphplanet.com/

I have just submitted my first, though have yet to hear whether it will be published on the site. It was prompted by seeing a neighbour loading his car to go fishing shortly before I ventured downstairs to sit in the sun for the first time since my recent surgery, where I wrote the above 75 words. 

I’m repeatedly surprised by wonderful, sometimes life-changing, experiences rising up out of dreadful situations. I had one on 11 March, when I returned by air to Yorkshire from seeing my grandchildren in Dusseldorf.

Helen1

What has this lovely lady to do with disaster at Dusseldorf? – Read on

This is usually a very quick, easy (and low cost) journey thanks to Jet2.com as my grandchildren live only 20 minutes from Dusseldorf and I live even closer to Leeds/Bradford.

The security personnel at the German airport decided to have a 24 hour strike. We were warned to be there at least two hours before our flight was due to board. I took heed.

If anyone suggests to me again that the Germans are masters of organisation they will get a very rude retort. This usually efficient, pleasant, modern airport descended into complete chaos and the most obvious measures – like getting passengers to sit comfortably and call the flights in order – did not happen. I stood in a queue for 2.1/2 hours but even after that I would not have got on the plane had I not used some subterfuge. I was one of only seven passengers who made it on to the plane, despite delaying the take-off till a minute before the airport closed (yes, this major German airport closes at night!); over 50 were left behind.

“I’m going to Istanbul!”

The subterfuge? I noticed that passengers for Turkey were being escorted through (there are a lot of Turks who work in Germany – at the airport too?). So I said I was going to Istanbul and in I went!

Then wonderful things began to happen. At the boarding gate I began to chat to a fellow passenger – clearly not British but speaking English extremely well. However, on the plane I saw that she was anxious to study a music manuscript so I left her alone. But as we arrived at Leeds/Bradford we began to chat again and I mentioned that I was lucky as I lived close by, and hopefully the buses would be running. She said she was being picked up by a friend, asked me the name of the place where I lived, and promptly telephoned her friend and asked whether I could be dropped off there. I was taken to my door.

In the car, remembering the music manuscript, I asked her what instrument she played. “The human voice”, she said. “And what is your name, so I can look out for your singing?”, I asked. “Helen Lepalaan”, she replied.

Now Helen Lepalaan (pictured above) is a wonderful Estonian mezzo soprano, and it turned out she was coming to sing with Opera North, in a production of Mozart’s ‘La clemenza di Tito’, a work of which I was unaware though I’ve been going to the opera for about 65 years. There were only two performances left in the season – the nearest in Manchester but I could not make that, the final one in Nottingham. So I determined to go.

Tito

I was not prepared for ‘La clemenza di Tito’. A stupendous production which belied what seemed at first to be a sparsely simple set with equally understated costumes. Without exaggeration, I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish, as gripped as in any episode of Spooks (a UK television ‘spy’ series). David Cameron would do well to watch it attentively. I can tell you it was the most exciting experience of opera since I saw Aida in Verona, elephants and all, or my first opera ever – Carmen with the Carl Rosa company, in Bradford over 60 years ago.

I’ve come to expect excellent voices from Opera North. It wasn’t always so. When I first began to go to their performances in the late 1970s I was often disappointed; I was used to the likes of Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland and of course Maria Callas on my vinyl discs at home. I usually found the men even less satisfying – but with discs of recordings from Tito Gobbi to Robert Merrill and Jussi Bjoerling, and of course Pavarotti, at home that wasn’t surprising.

No such reservations now. The singing was superb and it was an odd satisfaction that the tenor Paul Nilon (Tito) is a fellow tyke; he comes from Keighley, a few miles from where I live now and where I went to school.

Sesto - the man that Helen becomes so convincingly, even to me

Sesto – the man that Helen becomes so convincingly, even to me

But I came to Nottingham to hear Helen Lepalaan. I had listened to a short clip of her singing on YouTube so her beautiful voice was no surprise; what was a surprise was her acting. Cast in the role of a man, despite the ‘affinity’ I felt I had with her having met her off stage, she just became Sesto.

He (she) has two wonderful arias, one in each act. What a pity there’s no recording of the production. I’d be listening to it again and again, especially these two arias.

Of course one of the great roles for a mezzo soprano is Carmen, for which not surprisingly I have a special fondness. Helen has played the principal role and you can hear her singing from it on the following clip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsyYYeSv0EU

So my disaster in Dusseldorf introduced me to a fascinating opera and a beautiful woman with a divine voice. I could live with that kind of disaster on a regular basis.

 

Because I have no particular theme for this blog, I am often torn between several subjects. I’ve shunted off classic photography to another blog, but even that’s a problem as there are so many commonalities between cooking, which I often write about on this blog, and the processing side of ‘classic’ photography (ie on film) – measuring, timing, weighing, careful attention, care (even love) – come to think of it, much of that applies to the taking of photographs too.

fragi

Fragi – tiny Romanian wild strawberries

As I’ve said before, I’ve no need of the WordPress daily prompts; my problem is how to find the time to write about everything which motivates me to write, especially as I have an hiatus in my soujourns on internet as I spend two days away from home attending to the ‘communications’ needs of the small charity for which I work (and I’ve recently introduced  a weekly blog for that, though it’s a very simple one).

Then there’s the whole ‘grump’ thing; I originally set up this blog to ‘have a go at’ so much I find wrong with the world, particularly the UK, today. And I’ve written almost nothing about music, which has been an inseparable companion for the whole of my life. It’s coming: I’ve got a major grump boiling up about ‘Classic FM’ radio, which – X-Factoring everything including Beethoven – is getting close to being shut off permanently in my home.

This afternoon I made a small pot of tea (my Romanian wife doesn’t drink it), Yorkshire tea of course (no, it doesn’t grow on the moors here but we know how to select the best) and, fancying something sweet, I spread a couple of slices of my home-made bread with ‘strawberry’ jam. But I don’t like strawberry jam! Except for a very small summer window, strawberries with any really ‘good’ taste no longer exist. The ‘window’ coincides with one of my pet hates – Wimbledon – but this is the English strawberry season.

However, the strawberry jam I ate this afternoon would blow your mind. I say ‘strawberry’ but this was made with miniature versions of the fruit we buy, or maybe grow, here – between 0.5 and 1 cm across. They grow on the lower slopes of the Romanian mountains and are called ‘Fragi’ (that’s ‘fradge’). Even as jam they taste extraordinarily good, but picked fresh on a Romanian mountain they explode in the mouth insisting “This is what a strawberry should taste like”.

Red cabbage with quickly seared pork shoulder (forget the old wives' tale that pork must be well cooked if you want some flavour)

Red cabbage with quickly seared pork shoulder (forget the old wives’ tale that pork must be well cooked if you want some flavour)

That’s not to say there’s nothing in the UK which tastes good – there are many British bloggers I read who show that to be untrue – so today I’d like to sing the praises of red cabbage, which I’ve been cooking to accompany quickly seared slices of pork shoulder around taking some pictures and processing the film for a grumpytykepix photo post – probably tomorrow morning.

The picture above isn’t up to much but I forgot to tart up the plate and take a photograph before I dived (or is that dove?) in.

So, for two people: chop up quarter of a small red cabbage (they’re actually purple of course). Chop up a large shallot (or onion) alongside. Spread freshly ground black pepper over it, sprinkle on a pinch of salt and a handful of juniper berries, tip into a saucepan with a knob of butter and a bit of oil (any good oil will do so long as you avoid the over-publicised poison – margarine). I’d add a chopped up Granny Smith or Bramley apple but then my wife wouldn’t eat it. Put on a low heat with a tightly fitting lid for about 45min, stirring occasionally, until it’s well cooked. Delicious and the perfect accompaniment to pork. I tried some Stella Artois cidre with it (it was a cheap offer in the local supermarket). OK, but a poor substitute for the real thing from Somerset, or Britanny.

Although I love to labour over complex classic French recipes, I also like to throw things together quickly, especially when I’m using my female ‘multi-tasking’ alias. Such was yesterday – when, among other things, I wanted to scan a film and do a post for my photo blog. Accomplished. However, seeing that a number of people had dropped in to my ‘About’ on this one, while I was quickly ‘throwing together’ a meal which reminded me of my student days I thought I’d expand a bit on my ‘About’ bio.

Student days - the '74' skiffle group. After a year of fun, gigging up and down the A5 trunk road, we all did badly in our exams and gave it up.

Student days – the ’74’ skiffle group. After a year of fun, gigging up and down the A5 trunk road, we all did badly in our exams and gave it up.

Towards the end of my apprenticeship (so approaching 21 years old), when I was studying for a Higher National Diploma in Applied Physics, I was awarded a scholarship to go to university to do a BSc in Physics (clever little sod at that time despite spending most of one year doing gigs up and down the A5 – no M1 motorway then – as the thimble-toting washboard/ukulele player in a skiffle group. Anyone remember skiffle, Lonnie Donegan, a real musician?). By then I was beginning to want to change to something involving writing but I took up the scholarship in London. It lasted only a year before I made a determined attempt to get in to journalism, a goal I reached in about 3 months.

Suet dumpling and Baby Belling

Back to student days. We received our student grant in three amounts a year, one at the beginning of each term. Being totally unskilled in financial management, and caring even less, we spent most of it in the first few weeks. So, what to eat for the rest of the term?

Top_1060925

I invented a kind of large biscuit, basically the same recipe as suet dumpling, but flavoured with an Oxo beef cube (or maybe Bovril?), flattened out to a circle about the size of a dinner plate, which went under the grill of the bed-sit Baby Belling cooker for a few minutes. That was ‘dinner’ most days of the week (unless I had a good win at poker).

Pot_1060924

Yesterday, while drafting this post, I threw some chicken legs, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, a lot of lentils and a very large ‘bouquet garni’ into a Romanian gypsy pot, added pepper (a lot) and salt (very little), covered with water and left to simmer till tender. Then I made my large suet ‘biscuit’ (flour:suet two to one) but instead of Oxo laced it with parsley and sage. Rolled out very roughly to fit the pot, dropped on top of the chicken then in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Cooked_1060927

Simple, quick, but deliciously, warmingly filling on a day when snow is falling.

Into Fleet Street

So, having finished my first degree year I decided not to continue. I walked down Fleet Street, then the true centre of the Press, and called in every editorial office saying I wanted a writing job. “Have you any experience?” was the inevitable question in each one. “No”. “Well come back when you have”.

I was lucky. A good friend’s sister had a boyfriend who was a journalist with a north London newspaper group. He took me to meet the editor. “We can’t give you a job”, he said, “but if you want to come in every day and do whatever we ask we’ll buy you a beer and sausages lunch in the pub every day”. Of course I took it.

First I had to learn to type. I was put in front of a very ancient Underwood typewriter and given a para, which used every key, to type over and over again. It wasn’t ‘The quick brown fox …’ and it’s not repeatable here. I mastered the typewriter.

Then I was sent out on every imaginable kind of story – court reporting, council meetings, accidents, sports events, more than I can remember now. I loved it. I learned so much, but particularly how to make a front page story from nothing, how to condense a story into a selling headline, what makes a good picture, how to cut a story to fit a space without losing its essence and, most important of all, the fact that you can never, never miss a deadline.

Fleet Street again

It was time to attack Fleet Street again. The walk of three months before was repeated, to no avail until I reached Bouverie House, headquarters of a then renowned publisher of trade/technical journals, Benn Brothers. The Editorial Director, Mr Woolley (no first names in those collar and tie times!), agreed to see me. He listened to my story then asked, “Do you know anything about chemistry?” “Not a thing”, I said, though I did have to belatedly sit and pass the GCE ‘O’ level chemistry exam to take up my BSc Physics scholarship. “I’m sorry”, he said, “but the only vacancy we have is on a weekly chemical industry newspaper”. “I’ll take it”, I said, and surprisingly he accepted that. That was 1962.

Again my luck was in. As I have written in my ‘About’ piece, the editor of the chemical industry news journal, Mike Hyde, a superb journalist, was one of the two biggest positive influences on my journalistic life; although he ‘threw me in the deep end’, giving me a major story to cover on my first day, he was always there to advise, guide, correct and understand, helping me to continue to accrue the knowledge and skills which had begun earlier on the local newspapers. He also sent me, for the first time in my life, all over Europe, including Communist Europe, an invaluable experience for someone in their early 20s in the 1960s. (Imagine arriving in, say, Prague, not a word, sign or speaker of English anywhere, everything in Cyrillic. You learn very fast!).

At that time I set myself a target, to be an editor and have an income of £3,000 a year (£42,000 or much more in today’s money) by the time I was 30. I achieved it two years earlier than that, no small credit to Mike Hyde.

Nowadays the chances of a keen young writer being able to repeat my experience is about nil; without a degree in journalism, media studies or the like they’ll have no chance. This has done nothing for the standards of journalism today. The appreciation of the value of learning by experience, as I did during my apprenticeship and my early times in the Press, has been replaced by the idea that everyone MUST go to university. It’s a sad, destructive nonsense.

So now – 1962 – I’m a journalist; I’ll continue the story another day.

I am not by nature a city dweller, I much prefer rural life. However, it has been a real pleasure to return briefly to the city where I lived, and taught English, for several years in Romania. The city is Iasi (pronounced ‘Yash’ – in Romanian the ‘s’ has a comma under it, rather like a cedilla, and so has the sound ‘sh’), which is a major city in north east Romania with the country’s oldest University.

Fountain in the Palas Mal park, Iasi, with the Culture Palace museum in the background

One of the pleasures of living in Iasi was that artistic culture was very much alive and to share in it cost very little, but the downside was that many of the facilities were very run down. Today, many of the buildings are being renovated, some almost complete. The building in the background in the picture above is ‘Palatul Culturii’ (The Palace of Culture), in fact a museum. The Romanians cleverly allowed a developer to build an enormous shopping mall, together with a delightful park (pictured below), only on condition they undertook the renovation of the museum building, an enormous and incredibly costly project. It is now almost completed.

Entrance to the Palas Mal park, Iasi

When I visited the park, complete with carousel, it was full of families with young children, courting couples, older couples, all looking happy and contented in a green and colourful environment despite the severe drought which has made much of Romania look like a desert. (When I left Romania in 2004, this area was also a desert of waste ground). Looking up through the pierced copper roof of a cupola on a lake in the park, seeing the ‘biscuits’ stamped out from the sky, prompted my ‘sky biscuits’ picture haiku, posted on 3 August.

Carousel in the Palas Mal park, Iasi

Nearby is the church of St. Nicholas, which was renovated some year ago. It is the church in which I was married and where I went on many Sundays to listen to the magnificent choir, at Easter, and at Christmas to hear the wonderful Romanian carols.

St Nicholas's church, Iasi (Sf Nicolae Domnesc)

The ‘Filarmonica’ (Concert hall) was almost a ruin when I went every week throughout the ‘season’, a season ticket costing less than £30 for more than 20 concerts! Every five years this included all the Beethoven string quartets performed over several weeks by a magnificent Iasi quartet, ‘Voces’, whose playing reminded me of the renowned ‘Amadeus’ quartet (I have vinyl LPs of the complete cycle played by them at home in UK). Now the concert hall has been renovated and looks magnificent.

The 'Filarmonica' concert hall, Iasi, and poster advertising performances of Shakespear's 'Midsummer Night's Dream'

In the foreground of the Filarmonica a poster advertises Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – outside the nearby ‘Teatru National’ (‘national’ theatre), a smaller version of the theatre in Vienna but just as magnificent now that it is almost completely renovated.

Something which impressed me about Romanian high school pupils – 12 to 18 years old – when I lived here was that I could stop one at random in the street and ask them to quote me a line of Shakespeare and at least 9 in 10, probably 99 in 100, would do it flawlessly, often not one of the most quoted ones. What would the proportion be in the UK? I doubt better than 1 in a 100, if that.

The 'national theatre', Iasi, with street banner advertising opera

Another banner across the whole street outside the theatre advertises opera (and I do not have to remind opera lovers that one of the world’s leading ‘divas’ now – Angela Gheorghiu – is Romanian).

Talking of pupils, below is a picture of one of the three high schools at which I taught English in Iasi – Colegiul National which was founded in 1826 and remains one of the top two high schools in the city.

The 'National College', Iasi

It was becoming twilight when I reached Piata Unirii (Unity Square), which celebrates the unification of the different regions to become Romania in 1859 (Transilvania became a part of Romania in 1918). Dominating the square is another magnificent building – the Hotel Traian.

Grand Hotel Traian, Iasi, at twilight

Nearly ‘home’, I passed by what was the only antique shop in Iasi when I lived here – in what was in the distant past the city’s main street – Str. Lapusneanu. A model galleon in full sail sits in our living room back in the UK; I bought it in this shop, which lights up the wares in its window in the evening.

The antique shop window in Str. Lapusneanu, Iasi, in the evening

Buildings in this street are now being renovated and a gigantic protective cover reminds the people of Iasi what they have and need to protect, as said to them by one of the country’s most renowned historians, Nicolae Iorga, a superb writer, who was assassinated by fascists in 1940.

Protective cover over a building in renovation, with quote from Nicolae Iorga, Romanian historian

“These are our historic monuments, so many, from the beginning until 1850, so full of value both materially and in an historic sense, with their surroundings devasted, with everything destroyed, with the patina of age covering each, so varied and original in which is seen what they were. Where you see it, recognise it, respect it and raise them up, if you have the strength, from the ruin and disappearance”. (My translation, not perfect but hopefully adequate). Nicolae Iorga, 1871-1940.

It’s taken a long time but the rebirth has begun.

All these ‘snapshots’ were taken on a Panasonic GF1 with 14-42mm Lumix G ‘X’ lens. I may be able to get some C41 black and white film (Ilford XP2) developed and scanned here towards the end of next week, but colour and ‘conventional’ black and white will have to wait until I’m back in the UK.

I got pollen

I got nectar

I got freedom

Who could ask for anything more?

         With deference to George and Ira Gershwin

No time to think about something ‘interesting’ to say today but I didn’t like the ‘thing’ which came up as my gravatar as I hadn’t myself chosen an image.

So, as I’ve declared my interest in VW T2 campers but not written anything about it yet I chose to put up a picture of my 1972 ‘crossover’ van. His name is ‘Lofty’.

Lofty, my VW crossover camper, enjoys a picnic between Bolton Abbey and Embsay.

Lofty, my 1972 VW crossover camper, enjoys a picnic between Bolton Abbey and Embsay. There has been some sun in 2012!

He’s well used. He’s my everyday ride and since converting to LPG last December he’s pretty economical. He’s also my ‘bed & breakfast’ as I work away a couple of days a week and he’s comfy and costs me nothing.

Difficult this gravatar thing. I don’t think my mugshot is of interest to anyone, and certainly doesn’t say much about me. So, a picture from Yorkshire? Well, I’ve got that in the header of my blog.Then there’s Lofty’s little sister – Mini, born in 1975 – but she is laid up at the moment (dreaded SORN) and needs some TLC so I didn’t think she’d be too happy to be made public. A pic of some of my ‘classic cameras’, which range from a pre-war  Zeiss Super Ikonta (battered!) to an engineering wonder, the Contax AX (with its equally wondrous Zeiss Planars); or the simplicity of the massive Mamiya Press or, almost as simple, the Voigtlander Bessa T (can’t afford a Leica M4) with its wonderful 35mm Color Skopar (the digitals, a Canon 5D and a Lumix GF1 are useful, but not so interesting). On the other hand, I did think of taking a pic of my vinyl collection of the complete works of Beethoven – but that really needs some audio. And, of course, there’s the food – maybe I should have chosen a Yorkshire pudding.  

So, for the moment, Lofty it is. Now the sun’s come out he might actually get a few bandaids on the holes in his non-structural bits, and so get his steps back on. The wrap-around bumper looks a bit sad without them.