Sunday, July 26, 2015

Many happy returns, Julia!

Hi, guys! Well, yes, that's what folk are saying to me today because -  obviously-  it's my birthday (Happy Birthday yesterday,  Helen Mirren)  When we mention 'returns', we send lot of good wishes or positive feed-back.    However. . .   here's another slant on this pleasant greeting.   On our birthdays the Sun returns to the precise position in its Zodiac Sun-sign it was in on the day when we were born.   Serious astrologers use this astronomical phenomenon as one interesting background factor to what we might usefully focus on during the coming twelve months. It's a sort of twelve months snap- shot.   In this context it is our  Solar Return.  It's not going to tell us what will happen - that's just not on - but it's useful, and the 'Solar Return chart' is cast for when 'the return' is exact in the individual's location.   Sometimes this particular 'return' is stunningly important.   Yonks before I became interested  in - let alone a serious student of - astrology Derek and I were married on my birthday - it was also the time of the Leo New Moon  but I didn't know that at the time. . .  Well guys, that was. . . 58 years ago today!!!
  If all this sort of thing fascinates you, very soon I'll be blogging on about Jupiter.  That's another fascinating story,   Today we're celebrating, so wish me   a 'Happy Solar Return!  cheers from Julia

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Latest inventions on trial

Dr Strabismus of Utrecht is working hard on about fourteen thousand and fifty new inventions. These include a collapsible salt-bag, a bottle with its neck in the middle, a rice-sifter, a stanchion to prop up other stanchions, a suet-container, a fog-horn key, a leather grape, a new method of stencilling on ivory, basalt cubes for roofing swimming baths,  a fox-trap, a dummy jelly-fish, waterproof onions, false teeth for swordfish, a method of freezing meat-skewers, a hand-woven esparto grass egg-cosy which plays Thora when released from the egg, a glass stilt, a revlving wheel-barrow, an iron thumb for postmen, a hash-pricker, a beer-swivel with blunt flanges and a red go-by, a fish-detector, a screw for screwing screws into other screws, hot pliers, a plush sausage-sharpener, a rope-soled skate for use in mountain quarries, an oiled cork for use in rabbit-hutches, a cheese anchor and a chivet for screaming radishes.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Leo's trembling passion . . .

Qualities of the Sign Leo   Is the onely house of the Sun, by nature Fiery, Hot, Dry, Cholericke, Diurnal, Commanding, Bestial, Barren, of the East, and Fiery Triplicity, Masculine.
Diseases   All sicknesses in the ribs and sides, as Pluricies, Convulsions, paines in the backe, trembling or passion of the heart, violent burning feavers, all weaknesse or diseases in the heart, sore eyes, the Plague, the Pestilence, the yellow-Jaundice.
Places Leo Signifieth   A place where wilde Beasts frequent, Woods, Forrests, Desert places, steep rocky places, unacceptable places, Kings Palaces, Castles, Forts, Parks, in houses where fire is kept, neer a Chimney.
Shape and Description   Great round Head, big Eyes starting or staring out, or goggle-eyes, quick-sighted, a full and large body and it more then of middle stature, broad Shoulders, narrow Sides, yellow or darke flaxen haire and it much curling or turning up, a fierce Countenance, but ruddy, high sanguine complexion, strong, valiant and active.
Kingdoms, Countries and Cities subject to Leo   Italy, Bohemia, the Alpes, Turkie, Sicilia. Apulia, Rome,Syracuse, Cremona, Ravenna. Damascus, Prague, Lintz, Bristol.

-          William Lilly, Christian Astrology (1647)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hurrah for Pooh! (tiddlely-pom)

Auntie Phyllis gave me A. A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner for Christmas 1941, and the thing is that it's as entrancing and funny in 2015 as it was when I was nine. It is, after all, the best children's book ever written - and pretty nearly the best book for adults. It radiates humour - good humour - and joy, and captures childhood on the page as no other book does - and re-reading it rejuvenates the oldest reader. Much of the delight of course is in the characters: the ultimate pessimist, Eeyore, the simple, charming Alan Bennett-like Piglet, the brash, bouncy Tigger, the Wise Owl, Wol, and of course Pooh himself, the resident Bear with a poem for every occasion: (sometimes dropping into vers libre):

'I could spend a happy morning
   Seeing Piglet.
And I couldn't spend a happy morning
   Not seeing Piglet.
And it doesn't seem to matter
If I don't see Owl and Eeyore (or any of the others),
And I'm not going to see Owl or Eeyore (or any of the others)
   Or Christopher Robin.'

Scene after scene is etched in the memory - Pooh's encounter with the Horrible Heffalump was the first piece of prose which, read to me, reduced me to helpless hysterical laughing. But every scene in the book has its own laughter, as when Eeyor first encounters Tigger:

'Hallo, Eeyore,' said Pooh. 'This is Tigger.'
'What is?' said Eeyore.
'This,' said Pooh and Pioglet together, and Tigger smiled his happiest smile and said nothing.
Eeyore walked all round Tigger one way, and then turned and walked all around him the other way.
'What did you say it was?' he asked.
'Ah!' said Eeyore.
'He's just come,' explained Piglet.
'Ah!' said Eeyore again.
He thought for a long time and then said:
'When is he going?'

I don't think I could love anyone who doesn't love The House at Poor Corner.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Hi, Pluto! - where's Mickey?

Well, it's all very extraordinary, and I'm sure scientists will be poring over all the new information they'll be receiving about Pluto as a result of the fly-past. My problem is that I don't really believe that Pluto is there. Of course I know that it's there, just as I know the other planets are there, and that there is an infinite number of platenary systems elsewhere in space as the great vacancy goes on towards infinity. The trouble is, I con't accept it, emotionally. I look up at the sky, and it's very pretty, and obviously considerable time and trouble has been expended in setting all the lights out and moving them around for our pleasure - but as for them all being actual physical places - oh, come on, pull the other one.
I don't mean to give comfort to those who still believe that the Moon landing was an exercise carefully contrived by the US government and filmed in a studio just south of Disneyland, or that the earth is flat (obvious though that is the case: just look at the horizon, and planes diving over it). But, actually, I can see where they're coming from - they share my own difficulty in believing that man could have stood on the face of the Moon, the problem being that they don't accept, as I do, that actual fact, as suppoorted by rational evidence - just the same as the evidence that proves that Goofie, I mean Pluto, does exict. And where's Mickey, may I ask? Now him, I do believe in.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cocktails at six

It was said a while ago that younger people were beginning again to drink cocktails, out of fashion for some time. Certainly long lists of sometimes very peculiar brews can be found in most pubs and restaurants, but I rarely see anyone drinking them. Julia and I for many years now have enjoyed a cocktail at six in the evening - a pleasant signal that the day's work is done. Well mixed, they can both give you a lift and/or prepare you for a relaxing evening.
The classic dry martini goes without saying (but not without drinking): a measure of gin and the merest glimpse of a dry vermouth - the old story was that the perfect martini consisted of allowing the sunlight to pass through a bottle of vermouth onto the surtface of a glass of ice-cold gin. Ourt favurite cocktail at the moment however is the Bartender: 20 ml dry vermouth, 20 ml sweet vermouth, 20 ml gin, 20 ml dry sherry, 5 ml Grand Marnier -  maybe a touch sweet for some palates, but a gorgeous effect.
We're fond too of the Sidecar - 60 ml brandy, 7 ml Cointreau, 7 ml lemon juice. Actually, there are several good cocktails with Cointreau, including the Kamilkaze (30 ml vodka, 30 ml Cointreau, 30 ml fresh lemon juice, 5 ml lime cordial) and the simple Sidecar (60 ml brandy, 7 ml Cointreau, 7 ml lemon juice). Even simpler, the gimlet - just a measure of gin with a splash of lime juice - the good old gin-and-lime, with plenty of ice.
Oh, dear - 9:05 a.m., and I feel like a . . . no, no - only nine hours to wait.
P.S. - my own invention (names for it welcome) is 60 ml vodka, 20 ml blue curacao, 20 ml sweet vermouth and a splash of lime juice. Maybe just the SixOclock?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A message from Saint Augustine

Idly turning the pages of St Augustine's De Civitate Dei (as is my wont) I come across the following:
'There are those who can move their ears, one or both, as they please; there are those that can move all their hair towards their forehead, and back again, and never move their heads. There are those that can counterfeit the voices of birds and of other men, cunningly; and there are thiose that can break wind backward continually, that you would think they sang.'
This is clearly an important message to the faithful; I am not personally sure of its application.

The so-called 'martyrs'

Thinking about the bombing atrocity in London a decade ago - and also of the more recent atrocities of IS - it seems to me an insult to civilisation describe the silly young men (and indeed women and children) who strap bombs to themselves and detonate them among their brothers and sisters as 'martyrs'. The suicide bombers, and those who machine-gun shoppers in supermarkets and holidaymakers relaxing on beaches are themselves innocents persuaded to kill themselves for the mythical god of a religion (including, in the past, Christianity) created by the wicked to prey on their fellows. The IS 'martyrs' in particular go happily to their deaths because they have been persuaded that they find themselves in a happy land of milk and honey where naked virgins will wait upon them to provide every delight they have rejected on earth. The tragedy - though perhaps it is for them a happy chance - is that they will never know that they are in fact going to simple black oblivion, having thrown away, it seems, every pleasure less gullible people get out of life.
Even worse, it seems that they have been taught that their main pleasure and accomplishment in life should be the elimination of anyone who does not worship their particular god - it is the Old Testament view of religion, that anyone who does not subscribe to My idea of god is not worthy to live. Simple and undiluted idiocy - and profoundly anti-Life. An attitude which has of course appeared from time to time in almost every civilisations, from ancient Rome to 17th century England and the Puritans. Nothing is new. But that the phenomenon of IS has appeared and proved so forceful makes any optimism about the progress of mankind towards genuine civilisation extremely difficult to summon.

Monday, July 6, 2015

No, no, f-secure

It seems that the more successful a company is the less likely you are to be able to get any help from them when something goes wrong. At least, on-line. They have taken to refusing to give you an email address which you can contact, but instead put on-line a long, long list of things thast might have gone wrong, not one of which (of course) applies to you. There may well be a system by which you can talk to 'one of our experienced engineers'. This means that you click on a contact button and get a message telling you that an engineer will be on-line to you 'as soon as possible.' This morning, I hung on to one of those messages for over half an hour, with no response whatsoever. (The guilty firm in this case was f-secure, a very highly regarded company that keeps your compouter secure from anyone wanting to barge in on you). There is of course the telephone option, but this means that you find yourself either talking to someone whose accent (all too often Indian or Pakistani) is so thick you cannot understand him/her and he/she cannot understand you - or the telephone connection is so tenuous you might be spoeaking, for all you know, to a Martian with a severe head cold.
All right: I've vented my spleen. I shall now put on a recording of 'No, no, Nanette' (see a past blog) and try to calm down.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Tea for Two

One of the two or three best evenings we ever spent in the theatre – competing with, say, Fonteyn and Nureyev in Giselle and Olivier’s Otehllo - was, you may think ludicrously, a revival of the 1920s musical No, No, Nanette!
 It was the producer Harry Rigby who conceived the idea of reviving this very popular show, over half a century after its first production in New York in 1924. All that audiences of the early 1970s knew of it was the awful 1950 film starring  Doris Day – and that was retitled Tea for Two, with most of the numbers cut. The show was considered rather scandalous when it was first produced; Rigby excised any suspicion of slease, and the evening was simply the best possible example of a good night out in the musical theatre. Julia and I were fortunate enough to get seats during the first week or two of the show, and from the first notes of the overture (a huge orchestra, with grand pianos to left and to right) it was a riot. The production was by Busby Berkeley, probably the greatest of directors of stage musicals (53 of them, from Whoopee in 1930 to Rose Marie in 1954). He came out of retirement to direct and choreograph No, No, Nanette! and whatever the degree of his participation (it’s said he actually did little of the work) the magic rubbed off. The other great star of film musicals who leaped lithely onto the stage was of course Ruby Keeler, who came out of retirement to play the lead, and who at the age of 71 did two tap numbers - in ‘I want to be happy’ and ‘Take a little one-step’, and having finished the latter, came on to ringing applause and did it again! Bobby Van was remarkable in ‘Call of the Sea’ and Helen Gallagher’s ‘You can dance with any man you like’ brought the house down about her ears and properly won her several awards - as did the show itself.
Alas, as far as I know there is no visual record of the show, though the original cast recording is excellent (and four DVDs have been worn out in our house). The real joy of the evening was that sublime silliness which no modern musical embraces – thirty chorus boys coming on dancing and playing ukuleles – and the wonderful idiocy of the whole thing. You can keep your Miserables and Phantoms and the rest of the productions which seem to emanate from a production company entitled Gloom Inc. Where’s all the pleasure gone?

Two musicals

Spent a lazy Sunday afternoon watching a couple of musical films on DVD - both alas rather seriously flawed by casting mistakes. I'd forgotten that, of all people, Francis Ford Coppola directed Finian's Rainbow. This has never been a favourite of mine, though it has a couple of good numbers by Burton Lane -'How are thing in Glocca Morra' and 'When I'm not near the girl I love', which got a Tony award for David Wayne as Og.. Alas, Og is played in the film by Tommy Steele, unutterably winsome - butter could not only melt in his mouth but covers him from head to foot. Not keen on Miss Clark either; but nice to see that Fred Astaire, nearing the end of his career, could still twinkle a toe or two. Actually the whole show seems very clunky now; what on earth persuaded Coppola to direct it, I wonder?
 The other film was of Hello, Dolly!, with that wonderful score by the great Jerry Herman - remarkable how it was dismisssed by some critics as being without any tunes!  Gene Kelly's direction, as one might expect, produces excellent dance numbers, and he deals with the crows scenes very adeptly (striking opening to the film, too). But oh dear, Miss Streisand is almost a caricature of herself in the title role - cast no doubt because  Carol Channing wasn't a big enough international star. Channing was stunning in the first spage production: it's a real ragedy she didn't get the screen part. I remember the critic Walter Kerr on her: 'Channing opens wide her big-as-millstone eyes, spreads her white-gloved arms in ecstatic abandon, trots out on a circular runway that surrounds the orchestra, and proceeds to dance rings around the conductor . . . With hair like orange sea foam, a contralto like a horse's neighing, and a confidential swagger, [she is] a musical comedy performer with all the blowzy glamor of the girls on the sheet music of 1916.' But Even dear Dora Bryant, in the London stage production, was a great deal better than the squeaking, squealing, gesticulating over-the-top-in-the-wrong-way Miss Streisand.The film well worth watching for the immortal Walter Matteau, however, and interesting to see Michael Crawford, with little tatters of his best-known TV character still sticking to him, and little sign that within a few years he was to play a sensational Phantom in the first production of Mr Lloyd Webber's little piece. And however much the producers paid Satchmo for his tiny appearnce, it wasn't too much.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Don't just sit there . . .

For some reason - and I don't know whether the Good or Bad Fairy was active at my birth - I simply can't 'do nothing.' When I was working full out, in the '60s and '70s, writing and broadcasting four or five programmes a week, I used to fantacise about sitting in a chair on a nice warm patio sipping a cool drink and thinking of nothing. But it was never going to happen, not in real life, and still hasn't. I can sit on the patio with a cool drink and a book for perhaps an hour, then I get the nagging feeling that I should be doing something - whether it's compiling a concert for finemusic - you can listen on your computer at - or writing an article to (hopefully) sell to someone or even just writing a blog. Reading is sometimes, maybe always, 'doing something', as is listening to music (or used to be before my hearing let me down) - provided there's an intention, provided one is learning someting fromthe boook or really feeding one's soul with the music. Even reading or listening 'for pleasure' is in a sense 'doing something'. But just being 'busy doing nothing', though it isn't exactly a sin - there's no moral dimension about it at all - isn't on. It's being mentally or emotioonally inactive that I can't stand.
I don't suggest this is in any way something praiseworthy; life being what it is, five minutes after I breath my last I cease to be of the least impoirtance, and nothing I have written or done is likely to be read or remembered for longer than - what, ten years? I don't in any way feel I should be working, or doing what passes for work. So whence the compulsion? And to how many people does it apply? If someone is'bored' does it mean they really need to be 'doing something' - even if it's just putting a washer on a tap? And why do we, alone among the animals, feel this?
Answers on one side of a postcard, please.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Gay marriage, and all that jazz

I can't say I'd go to the stake for the right of homosexual couples to get married (whatever they mean by the word), but I've certainly no objection to it, and it's difficult not to be appalled by the violence of those who do object. I have to say it seems to me that - if you set aside those people who believe they have been instructed by some nonentity in the sky that gay marriage is almost as bad as covetng their neighbours' ox - the objectors are those who have some more or less secrect horror or cotempt for any sexual activity between people of the same sex. Where this comes from, I can't say - humans seem to be the only beings on earth who are worried about it; animals happily gambol about irrespective of what sex they are, and planets seem on the whole disinterested where sexual activity is concerned. In any case, surely what people do with this or where they put that is a matter for them provided they don't, in the famous phrase, do it in the street and frighten the horses. The objectots aren't identifiable by classs or politics - indeed it's one of the few prejudices shared by left and right, though the right in the shape of Mr Murdoch's Press was pretty violently opposed until the climate of opinion changed and it was obvious that most readers either didn't care a damn or were on the side of gay marriage.
The Australian Government is one of the last bastions of prejudice as far as the West is concerned, and the reason seems mainly because the majority of members of the Prime Minister's cabinet, incuding himself, are Roman Catholics. Their eagerness to explain that they are against gay mrriage because it's a left-wing plot got up by the Labour Opposition is pathetically weak. They will of course give way sooner or later, probably sooner, if only because of the votes they'll lose if they don't. Mr Putin and the Duma may be another matter.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The outdoor barre

Julia has had a ballet barre fixed out on the deck of the patio. This morning it's 8 degrees, so there aren't many plie's going on.

But -


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

More trouble at the Opera House

Covent Garden may not be the most beautiful of  opera houses – I suppose the Fenice would carry off the prize – but we grew extremely fond of it, as one does for any theatre which plays a large part in one’s life (I felt and feel the same way about the Old Vic, and that most beautiful of the world’s theatres, the Theatre Royal, Haymarket). But the Garden certainly has provided me with enough anecdotes to fill a gap in any conversation. The booking queues were always good for a story. In those days the fruit and vegetable market was still alive and kicking all around us as we lay in our sleeping bags on the pavement (three nights a minimum for, say, the first London appearance of the Kirov company). There was plenty of banter with and from the market porters. ‘You’re all mad,’ one guy said cheerfully as he stepped over us. ‘Well,’ someone said, ‘you’d sleep out for a cup final ticket.’ He thought for a moment. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘but then you get a result.’
Then there was the moment when I was greeted in the crowded crush bar one evening by a young man who clearly knew me; I knew him, too – but couldn’t for a moment remember where or why. I heard myself say, in a voice loud enough to cut through the hubbub, ‘Oh, I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on.’ I usually saw him in the sauna at the gym (I knew no good would come of going to a gym). There was a certain frisson in the air as people cleared a space around us. No gays ever went to the ballet in those days, but the crowd clearly thought there might be an exception.
Fellow members of the audience in our favourite stalls circle (usually £2 10s a seat – round about £60 now) were usually well behaved, but occasionally there were exceptions, such as the lady who munched chocolates and talked audibly to her companion through the first act of Giselle. In the interval I asked her if she would mind perhaps not talking quite so much during Act II. ‘Why?’ she said incredulously – ‘it’s only music.’ To which I could really think of no reply.
I’m a fairly inoffensive person and not given to violence; the only time I have almost hit someone was at the London Coliseum when Reginald Goodall was conducting his magnificent, but decidedly leisurely Ring. The two seats in front of us were empty until the very last minute, when a couple shuffled into them. It soon became clear that the man disagreed fairly violently with Goodall’s tempi, for he began ostentatiously conducting the first act of Valkyrie. After a while his movements became really irritating, and I prepared to deliver a karate chop to the side of the neck when he turned to speak to his companion and I recognised the unmistakable profile of Leonard Bernstein. My hand stopped in mid-air. I might have been banned for life.