Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

Books do Furnish a Room

June 30, 2016

BooksDoFurnishARoom

I’m unpacking and shelving my books after moving.

Once, inspired by the book-lined walls of lecturers’ offices in which tutorials were conducted, I aspired to acquire books.   I suppose I felt that to own a book was to own its contents.

At some point I began to cast off books. What’s the point of owning them?  If you need one, find it in the library!  Well, if not the library, given the way libraries are going these days, the internet.

I have sometimes sold old books.  In preparation for the move before last, I found that so dispiriting and the prices offered so insulting that I arranged for volunteers from 2MBSFM to come to my house.  They took boxes and boxes away (as well as practically all my LPs).

On my latest move I didn’t manage such a ruthless culling, though I did take a few boxes over to the radio station and gave others away.  That included my set of Anthony Powell novels which I had previously given away to my friend Sq/Sx.  After his death, his parents offered them back to me and it seemed churlish to decline the offer.

I still have just a few vestiges of a collection: the remnants of a poetic canon, books about music, a few favourite writers.  Otherwise, it’s a scrappy assemblage: books with some sentimental attachment (school prizes, parental keepsakes, books by friends/relatives); a very few books that I expect I will want to read again; some reference books (increasingly supplanted by the internet); books which are rare or hard to replace (foreign language materials; obscurities which will never make the internet); and, worst of all, books which I have not previously discarded because I thought I ought to read them first.  Some of these I’ve had for years and still not got around to reading.

And so this week I finally got round to reading James Baldwin’s Another Country.  I took it with me for train reading on the way to and from Armida.  There my (somewhat older than I) friend CB told me that Another Country  was originally banned in Australia and that CB had only a single weekend to read the illicit copy passed to him before returning it.

My copy is a book club edition from London which has had the bookplate torn out but retains a pencilled note that it was a gift on 23.6.67.  Somebody, possibly me, paid 20 cents for it.

It took me a while to get into it.  Everyone was either an artist or a novelist or a musician.  The central character, Rufus, beats  up his girlfriend and takes his grievances out on a male lover as well. He’s a black jazz musician down on his luck – why doesn’t he just get a day job?  – and then Baldwin lets slip that Rufus is a drummer.  But as Rufus’s despair spiralled the writing drew me in.  Rufus jumps off the George Washington Bridge to his death on page 72.

It’s a well known book and you can find out practically everything you need to know about the plot on the internet so I won’t attempt to recount it further.  But there were two little aspects I want to record as a memento – a way of, possibly, saying goodbye to the book before I pass it on.

One of the characters is an expatriate actor in France.  He has a (younger) boyfriend.  They are somewhere warm and sunny and going swimming.  The boyfriend goes swimming in a “bikini.” I suppose that means that bikini originally meant any skimpy swimming costume. Who knew?

Here Baldwin is describing a scene in a bar.  It’s ostensibly from the point of view of Vivaldo, an Italian-Irish wannabe novelist who a little later has an MSM epiphany which is central to the book.

Another Country page 235

I just love “who really should have been home in bed, possibly with each other.” I don’t think that is Vivaldo – his gay sex is yet to come, and it’s too sharp.  Baldwin just couldn’t help himself from slipping it in.

Mystery solved

May 31, 2016

Our house has been in disarray as we ready for a move.

For a couple of weeks I have been mystified by a terrible smell in my bedroom.  Had I stepped in something and walked it inside?  Was it the smell of manure drifting in the window from the neighbours’ gardening?  Had I had an accident?  There were some suspects.  I eliminated them, no matter how unlikely, but the odour persisted.

Sometimes I noticed it, other times not.  I’ve read of studies about how quickly we filter out olfactory stimuli. These have been about how quickly we stop appreciating pleasing fragrances such as perfume. It works both ways.

This morning, tidying up ready for more packing, I found the culprit.  Neatly folded in a tea-towel and resting on a chest of drawers was an opened bag of once-frozen peas that I had used as a cold-pack.  It must have been some weeks ago – my best guess, for a cooking burn.

Another lesson for life: always put the frozen-pea cold pack back in the freezer.

 

If a tree falls….

May 22, 2015

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Lest an unblogged concert suffer the same fate as an unheard falling tree, I’m returning to blog life with a bit of a catch up. This has turned into a bit of a marathon post.

First, concerts I went to.

1.   Australia Ensemble 14 March Raising Sparks

As usual, I went with my old friend, P. This was the Australia Ensemble’s season opener with guest artists Alice Giles, harp and Fiona Campbell, mezzo soprano. The program was:

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937): Introduction and Allegro (1905)

Arnold BAX (1833-1953): Harp Quintet (1919)

Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924): Piano Trio in D minor Op. 120 (1922-3)

James MACMILLAN (b 1959): Raising Sparks for mezzo soprano, flute, clarinet, harp, piano and string quartet (1997).

David Stanhope conducted the MacMillan.

I enjoyed the Ravel the most, even though it is a shamelessly written-to-order promotional piece for a new model of harp which reflects Ravel’s compositional practice at the beginning of his career rather than where he went later. Harriet Cunningham of the SMH was less enthusiastic but she wasn’t sitting as close to the harp as I was. Sometimes luscious sound is its own reward. (It would be nice to say that conversely making a beautiful sound with crap music is also a harpist’s tragedy but I’m not sure things work like that.)

The ensuing Bax was a bit of an anticlimax, mainly because the harp was further away. The Fauré met (reasonably high) expectations, save that rather a lot of it was written in unison for cello and violin which seems odd for a trio. The MacMillan was fascinating and Fiona Campbell did a great job but towards the end it became less fascinating as it went on a bit.

If I had to start taking MacMillan’s ideas seriously I don’t think I could. It’s one thing to tolerate guff from someone long-dead such as Wagner but I am less tolerant of my own contemporaries.

2.   Sydney Symphony Orchestra 21 March

This featured Janine Jensen (violin) and her conductor husband, Daniel Blendulf, with the Brahms violin concerto in the first half and the Sibelius Fifth Symphony in the second. I think that’s a pretty solid program. A piece by Nigel Butterley marking his eightieth birthday was a bonus. Though hardly flashy (it was commissioned by the Ku-ring-gai Philharmonic, a “community” orchestra) this grew on me as it went. It is too long ago for me to say anything else intelligent about the Brahms and Sibelius (which is not meant to be a self-congratulation that I have said anything intelligent about the Butterley) other than that I remember Mr Blendulf as a young man in a hurry when he got the bit between his teeth although JJ more than matched him in the Brahms finale.

3.   Louis Lortie in recital at Angel Place, 13 April

This program was entirely made up of preludes, by, in turn, Faure, Scriabin and Chopin. The Fauré were a bit of a mixed bag (the most amiable was reminiscent of Kitty-Waltz from “Dolly”), the Scriabin were a revelation and the Chopin the most familiar and probably for that reason the most enjoyable.

4.  18 April – Australia Ensemble My Twentieth Century

Again, to this with P and her music-student son, this time on some kind of special offer to Sydney Youth Orchestra members in honour of Dimity Hall and Julian Smiles having recently performed the Brahms double concerto with them. The program was:

Martin BRESNICK (b 1946): My Twentieth Century (2002)

Peter SCULTHORPE (1929-2014): Irkanda IV (1961) arr. by the composer for flute and string quartet

Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937): Duo for violin and cello (1920-22)

Elliott CARTER (1908-2012): Esprit rude, esprit doux (1985)

Edward ELGAR (1857-1934): Piano Quintet in A minor Op.84 (1918)

The Bresnick, for string quartet, flute and piano, is one of those pieces that requires the musicians to speak portions of a text, in this case leaving their instrumental places and stepping up to the microphone to say their allotted portions of a poem reproduced here. So I was trepidatious on two counts – musicians speaking and mixture of amplified and acoustic sound. It turned out there was no need for my trepidation – none of the speaking was cringe-making and it wasn’t too loud, and the device of the speaking also provided a neat means of varying the texture as in turn a different instrument was excised from the ensemble. The music itself was a kind of mild semi-post-minimalism. I enjoyed it.

I wasn’t so sure about the Sculthorpe. Is there no limit to how often the late PS could repackage essentially the same music? Sculthorpe right now basks in a kind of post-obit afterglow but after watching some of the television manifestations of it (especially the party scene featuring a young Alan John and even younger Jonathan Mills bashing away in piano duo) I wonder how long this will endure now Sculthorpe isn’t here to be so Charming to Everyone. I know I am going out on a limb here.

In the second half the Elliott Carter was short but invigorating and the Elgar was satisfying.

5.    Sydney Symphony, Des Knaben Wunderhorn & Nutcracker Act II – 8 May

Mark Wigglesworth conducted.

I was keen to get to this because DkW via Schwarzkopf & Fischer-Dieskau and Szell was my point of entry to Mahler, when in my teenage years we still thought of him as a slightly recondite but definitely groovy and for-the-cognoscenti composer. Berlioz was another in the same category and thinking back I’d say LP recordings of the 60s and 70s had a lot to do with it.

Oddly enough, DKW does not seem to get onto the SSO’s roster so often these days. The latest Sydney performance the program notes identified was not by the SSO but by the VPO on their last visit, and the 2010-11 SSO Mahler-fest did not extend to it. Natalie Shea’s program note for Symphony Australia (adapted for the this occasion and lacking any explanation of the selection of songs in the concert and explaining only by omission their sequence and assignment to particular singers) dated back to 2002. DKW seems to have been relegated to Mahler-lite and crowded out by the symphonies and the more heavy-duty orchestral songs.

For this performance, the SSO supplemented the set in its final form with “Urlicht” now better known as part of the “Resurrection” Symphony.

The songs were divvied up between Caitlin Hulcup, mezzo, and Randall Scarlata, baritone. Ms Hulcup is an Australian with a growing career in Europe. I am not quite so sure how Mr Scarlatta got the gig. He is an American lieder specialist who has studied in Austria and does not at first glance seem an obvious choice for a set of orchestral songs in German in Sydney. Both singers sang without a book. Oddly, Scarlatta sang a different version of the text from that printed in the program and he seemed to have memorized a kind of typo at one point, singing “Heid” (heath/hedge) for “Held” (hero). I confess I listen to the music more than the words when I am there in the flesh and I only picked this up when I followed the text when listening to the broadcast at home. None of this detracted from my enjoyment of his performance on the night, and as one of the songs points out, the judge with the biggest ears may well be an ass.

The “Nutcracker” was an entirely different and very lush world. It was fun but hard to take very seriously (as if one should). The final waltz could not match the “Waltz of the Flowers” for impact.

6.     Sydney Symphony “Romantic Visions” 16 May

The title for this program struck me as a bit of a misnomer. The works were:

Siegfried Idyll
Bartok Piano Concerto 3 (soloist Peter Serkin)
Brahms arr Schoenberg: Piano Quartet op 25.

The justification for the title seems to have been that the Wagner and the Bartok were both written (in different ways) for their wives, and the Brahms is a romantic piece (in a different sense).

The Wagner was upscaled to a full if small string orchestra, so both it and the Brahms/Schoenberg are arrangements and not in the symphonic mainstream and the Bartok is slightly left-of-centre. Sales were presumably slow on account of this as I was able to take advantage of an “invite a friend” offer and take D along (or rather, he took me, for reasons that will become obvious later in the song).

Clive Paget in (or rather on) Limelight has decried conductor Matthias Pintscher’s approach to the Siegfried Idyll as “somnolent.” You have to imagine you are Clara, waking (or possibly pretending to wake and be surprised) on Christmas Day (the first after you have managed to marry the father of three of your children) to music wafting up the stairs of your villa by a lake in Switzerland. Paget also called it glacial and I suppose this would not be inauthentic either if you think of the likely temperature. I can see what Paget meant but I didn’t mind it – the real question is whether it is good programming to start so gently. Even so, I felt the audience took it quite attentively in the spirit in which it was intended.

I enjoyed the Bartok – Serkin’s playing struck me as pointillist. D was less keen. He prefers his soloists younger and more romantic.

I have never entirely warmed to the Brahms/Schoenberg. It’s fun and the orchestra pulled out every stop in a cracking rendition but in the end as with people who go to a film and say “the book was better” I prefer the original quartet. I still enjoyed it – it would be stupid not to. The second and last movements were my favourites, which simply reflects my favourites in the quartet.

8.    Peter Serkin in recital at Angel Place, 18 May

This was an unusual recital. It began with an arrangement of a motet by Josquin des Prez and a run of pieces from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, followed by some variations by Nielsen to finish the first half. The second half opened with three rarities by Max Reger, dipped into Mozart with a Rondo in A minor (the slow one, not the Alla Turca) and finished off with Beethoven Op 90.

Serkin is billed as an “intellectual” player and the wannabe intellectual in me would like to be able to get right into this, but I found I couldn’t. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t capable playing, or that there weren’t bits I enjoyed, especially the Reger pieces which were unknown to me. The Nielsen variations were unknown to me too but I find it hard to believe that they should be played with such little variation of mood or tone.

Of course everybody’s playing is mannered in one way or another but what was wearing me down was a kind of intense scrupulosity, studded with micro pauses signifying intensity and refinement – sustained pointillism, I suppose. In the Mozart Rondo these threatened to bring the music to a stop altogether.

By the time we came to the Beethoven I was actually becoming irritated by this. This is stupid because after all it is still great music and I should have been able still to get a lot about it. Maybe my problem was an irritation that others (eg) were feeling that something incredibly profound was going on that I couldn’t share.

I shall listen again to the broadcast (advertised in the program as on 22 May but now set down for 31 May) and see if I can appreciate the playing better then.

Postscript, Sunday pm I did and I did. Still thinking about what made the difference second time around.

Maybe I was just having a bad Endone trip.

For completeness, there was one concert I had a ticket for but didn’t make.

9.    SSO Louis Lortie, Y-P Tortelier, Mozart and Franck, 10 April

This was a concert I was very much looking forward to. Unfortunately, the day before I was diagnosed with a fractured knee I had been walking around on for a few weeks. Put in a brace and on crutches for which I had absolutely no capacity or stamina, I just couldn’t manage it. As I have since found, thanks in no small part to the helpfulness and professionalism of the front of house staff, it is not so difficult as you might think to get to a concert at the SOH when you are mobility-impaired.

P went in my place. Had I gone I would have been able to catch up with my friend and former high school music teacher, E, visiting from the far north coast for an orgy of big-city musical events. E enjoyed the concert so much that she went a second time on the Saturday afternoon instead of the Musica Viva Festival concert she was booked for, and said that the second time was even better.

Later, at home between Endone snoozes, I caught the second half of this concert on the radio, which was a consolation of sorts.

Seeing the quack

March 24, 2015

When I was a child, our family doctors were called Angel and Himmelhoch. It was, as my parents liked to joke, a partnership made in heaven. In a piece of slang which seems to have disappeared now even from my father’s idiolect, they also used to talk about going to see “the quack.”

In my first few years of high school I was very unhappy at school and became a bit of a malingerer, especially on days when PE was on the timetable. I was taken or sent to the doctor rather more often than I really needed to go.

These days I don’t go to the doctor often. I know most of the things which are wrong with me and the remedy largely lies in my own hands (more exercise, less eating/drinking, stop smoking – though attempts in that direction can be pharmaceutically assisted).

So generally, when the odd need for a diagnosis or a prescription or a referral arises, I go to a medical centre in the city.

I’ve found a doctor there I like. I saw his birthdate once on some paperwork on his desk (I’m good at upside-down reading) and the year was 1938 – or it might have been 1936. In his surgery he has some old photos including a graduation photo and some group shots presumably with other young doctors which by the cut of the suits corroborate this date.

I ask him why he keeps on working. He says he loves it. He comes in for 3 or 4 days a week and as far as I can gather, works for 12 hours on each of those days – from 8am to 8pm.

Maybe that’s just a bit much. Last time I was there he needed to ring up for an approval of something he was going to prescribe for me (OK, I confess: to do with another quit attempt), and there was quite a long conversation with the operator before he finally realised he had rung up the number for people with a militarily-derived entitlement rather than the ordinary Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme number for the rest of us. It was almost 8pm and I suppose he was tired. He claimed this was the first time he had ever made this mistake, which I find a bit unlikely.

The time before, I had a lengthy consultation about a shopping-list of long-deferred issues. During it I noticed a rough patch of skin on the outside of my forearm. At the heel of the hunt I mentioned this to him and he took a quick look at it. “I’ll give you a referral to the skin cancer clinic. They’re very reasonable.” By the latter he meant their fees.

That’s exactly the words he used last time he referred me to them, some years ago. There’s a lot of repetition in the work of a General Practitioner.

A few days later the area on my arm began to itch and soon after the rough patch began to come away. I decided it must have been a previously unnoticed scab from some encounter with sharp vegetation in the garden or somewhere else. I told the doctor about it last time I was there (ie the next time I returned) and he half-heartedly defended the earlier quasi-diagnosis: “It can happen [and still be something which the skin cancer clinic should look at].”

In fact I’m happy to go for another check-up for potential melanomas though it might take me a few months to get around to it. We’ll just have to pass over the bit in the referral letter which refers to the spot on my arm because it is totally gone.

If I had something seriously wrong I expect I would be referred to a specialist with up-to-the-minute expertise, but in the meantime I find it quite comforting to be able to see an old-school doctor.

I suppose that is a short-term view. The longer-term approach at my age would be to find a doctor a good deal younger than oneself.

Strange meeting

February 24, 2015

One night last week, in the early evening and after the post-work rush, I took a lift from my lofty workplace to the ground. One man, probably a bit older than I, was already in it. It was just us two.

At first he seemed to be reading something. He eyed me quizzically for a moment and then spoke.

“Did you go to Gordon West Primary?”

“No. I went to West Pymble. But my mother taught at Gordon West.”

“Librarian?”

My mother was the librarian. I probably nodded.

“Did you go to Barker?”

“No, but I did go to Artarmon.”

That might seem a bit of a non-sequitur but not, I think, to him: it was my explanation of where he might have known me – when we were both taking the bus to Gordon Station to our respective schools.

He told me his name; I told him mine; we shook hands. We talked a little more about West Pymble and West Gordon. Oddly, he was a little vague about the name of the street he lived in, but he did lay claim to living on “the poor side” of Ryde Road (that’s the east side, though I don’t think there was much in it).

My curiosity whetted, I found a picture of him on Trove in a Women’s Weekly story about Daffodil Day at Gordon West Primary in 1964.

Aided by the captions to the picture, I can recognize the man in the boy. I’m pretty amazed that he could recognize the boy in me.

Self portrait with stationery

January 26, 2015

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Patriotism does not greatly attract me. That is not to say that I am any more free than anyone else of an attachment to where I was born or where I live, but the clamour of the nation state holds less appeal.

I have observed Australia Day as it originally appeared to me at the time I was first able to notice such things: the last day before school – a kind of delayed end of the old year.

It’s just over 2 years now since I moved to my present house. I still believe the previous house was nicer, and perhaps it was.

Meanwhile, I decided today to sort through the above oddments which, as part of my last move, I gathered up from one of my desk drawers. So far (ie, since the picture was taken) I have managed to throw out the pens which didn’t work.

There is at least one object there the nature and use of which (even if ever so slight) remains a mystery to me.

One month ago

September 26, 2014

Rotation of IMGP0713 Monster the classic view

The earliest digital picture I have found.

Compare:

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He was a placid cat:

Monster and rabbit

Pussy at kitchen window 2005

More nestling:

Monster curled up at Dulwich Hill 2008

monster in blue pot

His first and most popular appearance on this blog:

Pussyporn

The last picture, just before we took him to the vet. He was very sick by then: no need to confine him in the hated cat cage in the car. Forty minutes later, he was dead.

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The grave, that night:

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Meanwhile

September 15, 2014

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It is three weeks today: we still miss our cat.  He is buried in our (rented) garden. “Do you think his body is rotting yet?” asked D yesterday as we stood near the grave.

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That’s not him in the dust-pan on the way to it.

He had a rather beguiling habit of nestling. I know that’s not unusual for cats, but we loved him for it.

5 sep second lot from 4gb sd card 072

A little life

August 27, 2014

Cat in a pot

Cat in box

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Signs of the times (2)

May 8, 2014

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I

Our new car doesn’t have an ash tray.

II

Searching at the supermarket the other day for bars of soap, I could scarcely spot them amidst the shelves of shower gell and liquid soap.

III

The weather has taken a nippy turn.  Last winter in a retro and frugal mood (our house in Ashfield is electricity-only and so expensive to heat) I bought a hot water bottle.

As a heat-seeking child  I resented the covers on ours. I finally learnt their rationale after a winter’s night in the (unheated) lumber room in Shanghai sleeping up next to an uncovered and not even particularly hot hwb when I awoke with two enormous blisters on the back of my calves.  In fact you can get closer to a covered hwb when it is hot and it will keep its heat through the night better.

D has knitted a cover for me using yarn of his own devising.

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