Archive for January, 2009

A view from the stage

Friday, January 30th, 2009

It’s always an interesting moment seeing the CPO programme list for the next year.There will always be some pieces I like balanced by some I’d rather not have to bother with.This year was no different, and scanning the e-mail I took an involuntarily sharp intake of breath when I saw ‘Tchaikovsky Symphony #5’. What a treat – fantastic.I won’t say which pieces prompted a groan!

Tchaikovsky symphonies are packed full of delights and challenges for your average first violinist (and I am a very average first violinist).  Lovely tunes, fast passages, grunty bits for effect, subtleties that need a great deal of skill and refinement, and sections which, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter what you play because you’re being drowned out by the brass anyway.  They like doing that.

Sitting waiting to start playing there won’t be much going through my mind, but the sense of anticipation will be powerful, boosted by doubts about all the personal little tricky corners which, in rehearsals, I haven’t quite managed to get to the bottom of.  At least this time we don’t play at the start – I can sit and compose myself a bit more until we join in with the rest of the strings.

Once we get going the audience fades from my consciousness, and it’s just the music.  It sounds clichéd but it’s true.  There is so much to concentrate on that awareness of anything else would be wasteful.  Am I playing exactly with everyone else ?  Are the notes right ?  Am I counting the rests properly?  Will I get that high note right this time?  Am I playing loudly enough – am I playing too loudly? Is my bow going in the right direction?   And they’re just the basic technical details.  Am I managing to deliver what passes for music, let alone Michael’s interpretation of it?  That’s the key question, and the one that time after time, brings us all back for more.

We move through the music, pumping adrenalin just as much in the really quiet bits as in the loud fast sections.  We get to relax and swing with the tunes.  Some sections are more difficult than others and need more focus and wide-eyed, unblinking concentration.  My favourite part ?  The horn solo in the second movement.  From my vantage point in a large section of violins I always think it must be a high-pressure moment for the horn player, and am silently urging him to relax, do his best, and enjoy it.

After all the false summits of the last movement, and past the bit where the brass drowns out the strings, we reach the end flourish.  The baton stops.  A short pause.  Then, we hope, the applause.  The audience’s appreciation is the icing on the cake.  If you’ve enjoyed it half as much as me, you’ll have had a great evening.

Hole In The Wall

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Personal yet impersonal,
Grubby and soulless,
Addictive, without joy
Source of money, sometimes –
Swallow hard.

Herald of bad news,
Card swallower.

Watch your bent back
In litter-strewn streets
Of cloned city centres

All in all it’s just
Another hole in the wall.

The Box

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

At arms length from other boxes
On the outskirts of town stands a box,
Poorly protected by a flimsy slat fence
A thin hedge takes the full blast of the wind
Across the bare fields and over the quarry below.

Paper walls make for little comfort
And no cats swing here though they
Lap at saucers at the exposed back door.
The cheap settee fills the room, with the TV
Which sits on its altar next to the gas fire.

The small garden patch is shaded by the shed that
Stands large on the patio next to the rusting barbecue.
The paint peeled garage door opens into clutter
Where the car seldom fits,
Idling instead on the tarmac on the front drive.

The local pub survives, just,
Its new brick blandness mixed with gassy beer
And a desperately bored clientele.
Frozen food, fried, microwaved, boiled.
Choiceless, characterless, tasteless.

The box, uninspiring, the bulldozed architecture
Of (optimistically) a 100 years hence,
Thrown together, built with hopes and dreams,
Stands on the outskirts of town
An arms length from other boxes.

Telephone Conversation Overheard In The Pub

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

“I’m sat here pining for you.

I wish you’d answer my texts.

I aint giving up on you that easily sweetheart.

I’m sat in the Morning Star with my wolfie (his dog).

I wish I could see more of you, it’s doing my head in girl.

Is your son alright?

Where’s his next tour to?

If you want to get a taxi up to the pub I’ll pay for it and buy you a couple of drinks. I’ve got the cash.

Alright then my darling. Next time get yer fingers working and text me back to let me know you’re alright.”

Finishes conversation and talks to his dog.

“She’s poorly big guy. Any excuse not to come down to the pub. Mardy arsed bitch.”


It didn’t sound as if she was all too keen. Tref, Morning Star, 24th January 17.15pm

It’s Cold And It’s Damp

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

It’s cold, wet and miserable.
We are back to the normal British winter.
One or two smiles break the gloom
At Kings Cross station
But they are the exception.
People don’t smile in London.

The waiting room is warm and quiet.
The cleaner talks to the attendant,
With almost a smile!
An effort, forced through the boredom,
After ten minutes collecting
Three empty coffee cups.

I tap away on my laptop.
A woman brushes her eyelashes,
Another eats a sandwich
And some read newspapers,
But most just stare blankly,

Colours in Winter

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

The colours at this time of year are wonderfully dark. All variations of black and brown with only the occasional frosty white for a fringe. There is a wan green but it’s limp lack of chlorophyll offers a pitifully muddy contrast with it’s richness at the height of spring. Moreover this insipid, underexposed carpet is only really seen on the verges of roads and in the occasional  pasture, empty of cows.

Green isn’t thought of as a glorious colour but when it is almost absent it doesn’t seem an unreasonable description, thinking back, or ahead to more productive times. The evergreens are dark enough in shadows cast by the low January sun to be almost black.

Normally this is a depressing time but this year the coldness has provided a surprising boost to the system. We rarely see proper winters. Winters with killing temperatures that punish the unwary, the unprepared, the weak. Winters of tradition. There has been little snow but the flat land of the East rarely attracts it.  As usual there is plenty of wind and this year it feels as if the full force of the Siberian Winter has been blowing our way. 

Interestingly there don’t seem to be many takers for the birdseed in the garden. I suppose hibernation must be in full swing, or the birds have already died. My friend the robin is absent. I hope he makes it through the far side. Even the blackbirds, normally reliable, seem to have disappeared. Time will tell. Spring has a way of fixing things.

The beauty of a long hard winter is the contrast it provides with spring when it finally arrives. This year I am not in a hurry. I am content with having to sit in in front of the fire, or to wrap up well when going out. Sunday afternoons spent in the kitchen, spicy vegetable soup with rustic brown bread and butter, crumpets, ginger cake and tea. Then a roast dinner in the evening before settling in for the night.

Tree Forty Four

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Spheres of silver, or gold, or red, or blue,
Or one of those with glittery powder sprinkled on and glued.
Glimmering and glinting with reflected light
From Christmas tree lights all bright and sparkly and white.

Old favourite angel, looking down
At silver snow slopes of tinsel cosily draping round
The rich, deep green, bowing branches.

Ragged, ripped ends of chocolate-coin foil, all spent,
Mountains of scrunched-up wrapping paper rent
Asunder all too soon in one long-awaited, ecstatic moment

Dumped, decaying, municipal-machine-mulched,
Tree Forty Four, short-lived, for sure
Ends up in the butchers shop on the floor.

Winter Tennis

Monday, January 5th, 2009

It’s freezing point
On the tennis court
Though the action is hot.

Vestigial muscles rediscovered,
Youthful opposition forces the pace,
Balls blaze a trail in the crisp January morning.

Breath hangs in the air,
The score hangs in the balance,
Youth triumphs and handshakes firm.

Finally the snow arrives.
Small flakes drift across the court
Satisfying our romantic sporting spirits.

We retire to Starbucks
For hot chocolate with a warm glow,
Marshmallows and whipped cream.

Villa Retreat

Monday, January 5th, 2009

We’re in! Centre Parcs, Sherwood Forest. Anne must have clicked on the button for a villa near to the centre by mistake because we are so close it isn’t worth using a bike to get there. All we would be doing would be pushing the bike across the road.

What’s more when we arrived there was no room in the car park so they asked us to drive straight in and park outside the villa. So we got in early, were unpacked early and got back to the car park as soon as they let everyone else in which in turn meant we got one of the parking spots nearest to the centre. Result all round really.

Now we’ve settled in, arguments settled over who gets which room, and I’m settling down on the settee with a cup of tea and a slice of chocolate cake. Aaahhh.

We are here for a long weekend. It’s a perfect short break. It only takes 40 minutes for us to drive here so it is easy.

The biggest downside is that I am forced to sit in front of the TV with the kids watching The Simpsons. There is no escape. Nightmare!