Monday, December 09, 2013

I do get out sometimes

Went into the West End on Friday night to see the opening of A Long Way from Home, written and directed by Virginia Gilbert*. It was a bit like a less operatic, present day version of Death in Venice, except that the old guy Joseph (James Fox) here is besotted with a young woman instead of with an adolescent boy. I could well see how he might be beguiled by Suzanne (Natalie Dormer). Joseph is revolted by the sight of the old men who sit and watch games of boule in the French town where he has retired with Brenda (Brenda Fricker). He is old but still fit and clearly anxious not to "go gently" as Brenda exhorts him. He does not want to "go gentle into that good night", perhaps. As a result he makes a fool of himself over Suzanne. Suzanne is on holiday with her boyfriend (Paul Nicholls), who is preoccupied with his own plans to establish some sort of wine business. The film centres on paradisiacal scenes round a vineyard, a swimming pool and perplexed, dream-like quests around local streets and the ruins of a Roman temple, where Joseph hopes to run into Suzanne. Brenda Fricker's performance as Joseph's wife rings very true. She knows more than she lets on and keeps her head when all about her are losing theirs. If you're always wishing to see a film that is more akin to something by Bertolucci than to Batman, then "A Long Way from Home" is for you. I saw it at the Odeon, Panton Street.

* P.S. I forgot to boast here that we (me and the missus) met and had a chat with V.G. on the night.

Monday, October 14, 2013


At the back of the plane, in the aisle. Some other people are out of their seats. I press an overhead button to report a small fault. Very worryingly the plane immediately commences a rapid descent. "He's going in for landing." I can see the airport buildings, looks like we're a bit off track. "We're going up again." He's going to take another run at it. I can see the buildings of Ballymun. "We're too low." It's not ascending, not enough power. He's banking sharply to the right. What do they do, they leave a message saying "I love you". No mobile phone. All I have left is a feeling of affection. Eyes closed, curl up. Affection. Warm. On my right side. Heart racing three beats to the second.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Small Wonder 2013

My favourite speakers this year: Jhumpa Lahiri, David Constantine, Lionel Shriver, Don Bachardy, Alison MacLeod and Lonny Pop. Oh and I seem to have won the short story slam, which has not influenced my choices at all (:^p). Well chuffed. It was good fun.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The day before moving house

I gave the wild plants in my garden their last drink.
Goodbye strawberries. Goodbye hawthorn.
Goodbye to lilacs and little Lord Lambourne.
You've done me proud with fruit this year.
Goodbye plum tree and brambles at the end
Where Towser used to try, try to fetch the ball.
I give you, laurels, your last drink, and grass
Have water too, and drive the new ones mad.
Goodbye slow-growing Cypress Lawsonii,
I don't know what will become of you.
And littlest shrub with the aniseed sprays,
Your end will likely come this fall.
Have your last drinks, here's to you all.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On Eden Quay

Dublin, near the start of Eden Quay by the bridge. Somewhat aimless. An unusual tram with carriages of different width, some with skirt-like platforms, is arriving from the right, but instead of rolling on tracks, it moves the ground with it, in squares sliding out of alignment like ice floes. Even the river moves and the bridge. But then I'm blind, standing still and all is black. I ask, 'Is there anyone around? Can you help me?' I feel a hand like jelly wriggle to mine and I can see again. There is a fairly big dog with long hooked teeth and it is biting someone else. I start to say 'Stop it' but then it leaps towards me.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

No more of that

O, Sir John, do you remember since we lay all night
in the windmill in Saint George's field?

No more of that, good Master Shallow, no more of that.

Ha! 'twas a merry night. And is Jane Nightwork alive?

She lives, Master Shallow.

She never could away with me.

Never, never; she would always say she could not
abide Master Shallow.

By the mass, I could anger her to the heart. She
was then a bona-roba. Doth she hold her own well?

Old, old, Master Shallow.

Nay, she must be old; she cannot choose but be old;
certain she's old; and had Robin Nightwork by old
Nightwork before I came to Clement's Inn.

That's fifty-five year ago.

Ha, cousin Silence, that thou hadst seen that that
this knight and I have seen! Ha, Sir John, said I well?

We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow.

That we have, that we have, that we have; in faith,
Sir John, we have: our watch-word was 'Hem boys!'
Come, let's to dinner; come, let's to dinner:
Jesus, the days that we have seen! Come, come.

Exeunt FALSTAFF and Justices


Henry IV, Part 2

Sunday, April 28, 2013

At the Western Eye Hospital

I have had four lots of dilating drops, the first at 5pm in Specsavers. I'm seeing a fleck like a tealeaf in the corner of my eye. The optician couldn't see what was causing it and so she sent me off with a letter to Eye Casualty, Western Eye Hospital, Marylebone Road. I have been waiting since then. It is now about 9pm.

While I was waiting, not having brought a headset to listen to music on my mobile, I had to find a way to fill the time. I searched for lit mags readable on the phone. By chance, the latest Five Dials pinged into my inbox and I read a few of the poems. They ranged from the prolix and banal to haywire randomness, which had as little appeal. Eventually I decided I'd try and write something. Bear in mind that I was waiting for about five hours. I tried to work the scene before me into the lines. I ended up with a sonnet, a wonky sestina and three limericks.

Now the doctor rapidly pops more eyedrops into my eyes and on second thoughts chucks in another two lots for good measure. So I go back out and wait another half hour till I must look like a shark with completely dilated eyes. When I'm called back into the dimly-lit room, he does some rapid searching of my eyes with a bright light from different angles. He can't find the problem. The toolkit changes. Now I'm getting some anaesthetic drops instilled in my right eye. My right cheek goes a bit numb.

The doctor explains that I'm to have a thing called a "three mirror contact lens" fitted. He warns me more than once that it will feel a bit unpleasant. It will enable him to see "beyond the horizon" of my eye, or something like that. When he pushes it in, it's like being the receiving end of a power supply cable being pressed into my brain. A man a few inches from my face is pushing something into my eye that feels like a plug. As he does this, he tells me to open my eyes wide and to look at his ear. I am pleased to look at his ear in this near dark room. I fear that looking at his ear is my only tenuous link to the ordinary world.

He says, "Keep your eyes open wide". I say, "It's hard to know if my eye is opening." "Don't worry. You're doing very well." "I'm glad one of us knows what he's doing." Then he says, "Sit back for me." So I sit back with my right eye closed and streaming wet. "I've never had a contact lens in before," I say. He gets a quick smile and says, "It's not in yet, it fell out." The same thing happens again on the second attempt.

"Third time lucky, as they say," he says. With a lot of pushing, in which I call on reserves of bravery I never had to start with, he gets it in. With the three mirror lens in I feel like Kent in King Lear, after he's put his eye out. I can hardly see with my right eye, only odd kaleidoscopic flashes. When he scans it with a searchlight, he says to look left, right, up, up left, etc. Around my eye I can see a map of tiny capillaries in lightened salmon red, like an impossibly complex river delta viewed from space. That's where they end. Those are the ends that will be the end of me, I guess.

The doctor's hand movements are rapid and expert. He's playing on me like a virtuoso. He has found the posterior vitreous detachment that corresponds exactly to the tea leaf I'm reading my fortune in from the corner of my right eye. He explains that it's in the position exactly opposite, because of the way our vision works. "Can I open my eye now?" He says it's not what they were worrying about. "Oh, great." That's a relief.

It's this other thing where your vitreous is shrinking and it's torn a bit of pigment off the back of your retina. "Oh." But it's okay, it's a part of ageing. It mostly happens to people in their sixties or over but it's not uncommon in the forties and fifties. From the age of 43, the eyes start to deteriorate. Oh, that's okay then. In about one percent it can become serious. Oh, hmm. Occasionally instead of detaching a speck, it can peel away a larger patch from the back of the retina. So if I start seeing showers of floaters or flashing lights, I must come back straight away. "It's a long wait but we can complete the tests really quickly."

"You're doing a great job here." I'm a bit in love, as always when I am in the hands of a medical professional. "So busy though," I say. "Yes." Chit chat and goodbye. If doctors and dentists did what they do in any other context, they'd be considered monsters. As it is they're called angels. Between angels and monsters, we make our way.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Willesden Green Blues

This feels very appropriate as my time in Willesden draws to an end. By summer, I expect to have moved further northwest, all the way to Stanmore, the last stop on the Jubilee line. [Correction: don't know where yet - or when, really.] The sad thing is leaving Willesden after 21 years but the the good thing is no longer owing my soul to the bank after the move. (Update: We moved to near Sudbury Hill about the end of August.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

All things must pass

I am about to leave Willesden for further west in London. I leave behind the memory my two beautiful dogs and of course I won't forget our little canary either. I haven't told you that Tipsy, the wee Yorkie from Dublin, left us a couple of weeks ago. Tipsy was always the Queen of Sheba in her own mind, a very bossy character but none the worse for that. She had been deaf for some time and appeared to go blind or suffered some catastrophic cerebral event that left her unable to get around.

It's not known exactly what age she was as she was a rescue dog when my mother got her in Dublin. I in turn adopted Tipsy when Mam was no longer able to mind her. We brought Tipsy to London and she took a long time to settle down, always trying to escape and probably thinking she could run back to Dublin. She was terribly afraid of fireworks and literally used to climb the walls and shelves trying to get away from them. It was a blessing in disguise when she went deaf about three years ago and couldn't hear them at all. We were able to go for walks while fireworks went off all around and she didn't even notice.

Tipsy was never a dog to beg. When she wanted something she barked and you obeyed. Even when all but the last spark of life had left her and she lay there in my hands in the waiting room at Harmsworth, exhausted, looking up with a gentle expression, there was that feeling, very faint then but still there, of observation and self possession, and of both of us knowing that she was the Queen of Sheba.

Tipsy, 5 May 2008

Tipsy and Skippy, 5 May 2008

I want to thank the staff and volunteers at Harmsworth Animal Hospital for their kindness and consideration and great fortitude in helping me and Tess with our dogs, in their hours of desperate health crisis. They are unsung heroes and heroines working for the RSPCA.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dragon fruit

Dragon fruit. The peel is like rubber.
The flesh is like kiwifruit but tastes blander, like diluted gooseberry.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

W.A. Mozart between the lines

From: Coronation Mass in C-major (K317)
Rome, St. Peter in Vatican
Herbert von Karajan conducts The Vienna Philarmonic and The Vienna Singverein
Soprano: Kathleen Battle
Altus: Trudeliese Schmidt
Tenor: Gösta Winbergh
Bass: Ferruccio Furlanetto

I suppose Mozart himself introduced the repetitions, no need for a librettist here. There is a subtle difference between saying "who takes away sins" and instead saying "who takes away sins, sins of the world". It distances the narrator further from the sins and adds a bit of side to the statement, a space where sarcasm could easily fit. If you think about each of the repetitions in that sort of way, you might imagine you can glimpse some thoughts originating from the composer rather than from the working text.

In the transition to the repetitions of "give us peace", there is a complete stop after the last "who take away sins". Then, and I don't know but I presume this is from the instructions of the composer, there is an "aaaah" before "give us peace", which is so exquisitely beautiful. It follows the "a" at the end of "peccata". But if you think about it in this other way, it's really saying "Ah give us peace!" To me that's like a Dublinesque "Would you ever give us peace", "Give my head peace!"

There is one line, only one I can spot, where the words are "Dona nobis, nobis, pacem", "Give us, US, peace". It's the line Kathleen Battle sings right after the first line the bass sings, right before the others join in, which gives it another "come on!" sort of feeling as well. While all the other repetitions might be for purely musical justification, though that still doesn't exclude meaning, but this one seems to have none. It is slipped in where it might easily have been omitted.

The ending is thunderingly loud, which does not fit with a sort of meek supplication. It might be either anguished or perhaps angry. I wonder if anything has been written about that? So, I have spaced the words the way I think I hear them. Note: the subtitles in the video don't show the repetitions at all.

Lamb of God, Lamb of God,
who takes away sins,
sins of the world,
have mercy, have mercy on us,
have mercy on us,
have mercy, have mercy
on us.

Lamb of God, Lamb of God,
who takes away sins,
sins of the world,
have mercy, have mercy on us,
have mercy on us,
have mercy, have mercy
on us.

Lamb of God, Lamb of God,
who takes away sins,
sins of the world,

Lamb of God who takes away sins,

give us peace.

Give us peace.

Give us peace.

Give us, to us, peace.

(Soprano, Bass, Alto, fugue)
Give us peace.
Give us peace.
Give us peace.
Give us peace.

(Choir and all, in fugue)
Give us peace.
Give us peace.
Give us peace.
Give us peace.
Give us peace.
Give us peace.
Give us peace.
Give us peace.
(lost count!)

Give us -
give us -
give us peace!
Give us peace!
Give us peace!

(Lost count, but you see? And that is the end of the entire Coronation Mass, "Give Us Peace!!!", not once but drummed out many times with ever more power.)

This is the most sublime performance by the conductor and Kathleen Battle, especially, who makes it seem effortless. At times you wonder does she breathe at all.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A heart-shaped potato

Maybe "astounding" is a bit hyperbolic.
(But then so is this potato.)
I'm easily amazed.