Wednesday, September 29, 2004


Hamburg is wet. Not pouring, but a constant drizzle. Which means I haven't really seen all the wonderful sights. But I do like what I've seen.

André B took me out last night for dinner: I had very delicious roast duck with a fruity sauce followed by a form of tarte tatin which was heavenly. Then we moved on for coffee before A dropped me back at my very comfortable hotel, Alsterblick. It may not be four star like the one in Berlin, but it's a great deal nicer with a lovely view over the lake at breakfast.

This morning A picked me up and we launched ourselves into the middle of a traffic jam. We ended up at the harbour area where we looked around a bit and ended up climbing all the way up the tower of St Michael's church. As the lift was inoperable, my legs are still complaining. The view was, well, disappointing, as the cloud was very low; we could make the nearer buildings, but no panorama.

This is very abbreviated, but I'm running out of time. More later.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Berlin - Sunday

I decided to go to a concert by the Berlin Camerata Vocale on Sunday afternoon. It was in the large hall at the Philharmonie, and quite an interesting hall it is, but much too large for the choir. There were about sixty and they performed the Duruflé Requiem and a Dvorák mass with organ accompaniment.

The vocal tone of the group was lovely but there was no oomph, no snap, no crackle and definitely no pop. In the Duruflé the baritone solos were sung by what seemed to be a collection of tenors and basses, though there was quite a nice alto whose low final requiems you could actually hear.

The Dvorák was slightly better, but it was all a bit too controlled. Perhaps it was the venue; there weren't really enough to fill what is really an orchestral hall.

But choristers are the same the world over: one old biddy with her head in the music madly turning pages trying to find her place (no, Tat, she was a soprano); a bass who kept lowering his music in one hand pretending he was a soloist; a blond tenor who kept looking off sideways while singing (Philip who?).

Afterwards I wandered back to Potsdamerplatz where, in the Sony centre, I found an Australian café where I had a glass of Fosters. They even had "chook" and tomato soup (not Tomatensuppe) on the menu.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Berlin - Saturday

Lindy and I met up on Saturday morning and after a short break for Koffie und Kuchen we set off for the Charlottenburg Schloß. We didn't have a lot of time so had a quick run around the upper apartments and the new wing before we had to race back to the Berliner Dom where we were meeting up with Michael and his colleagues.

A fairly long lunch ensued; when we did get going Michael and Samah went off to the Pergamon and the rest of us wandered around the Nikolaikirche. In the evening I went for a walk around the Kufürstendamm and updated this blog up to Thursday.

Before my trip to the Ku'damm I went back to the hotel to have eine kleine Pause. I worked the most direct train route to get me there which turned out to be very interesting. It was obviously using rolling stock left over from before unification and went through some very depressed areas with large tracts of unused land and derelict buildings. I was glad to get off and found another way back later.

Berlin - Friday

I jumped on the train in Utrecht and settled in for the ride to Berlin. I had to change in Duisberg (but, alas, didn't see Herr Lipp) and then had another four hours in the train. I sat in the wrong seat for a bit, but at a later station an old man with two grandchildren(?) in tow said I was sitting in his seat. He directed me to the next carriage; it turned out that he had worked for Krupp in Melbourne building trains many years ago.

When I got to Berlin Zoo station I wandered out to grab a cab -- it would have been easier if I'd carried on to Berlin Ostbahnhof, for reasons which will soon become obvious. The cab seemed to be taking me the long way, until the driver explained that this Sunday is the running of the Berlin Marathon. The penny finally dropped as to why I had so much trouble getting a room this weekend. The route from Zoo to the hotel had to avoid all the roads which had already been closed off; getting off at Ostbahnhof would have been much easier.

The hotel is way out east; sort of like being in a hotel in West Footscray (not that there's anything wrong with that). It just takes a little while to get into where the action and the museums are. I soon got my bearings and rang Lindy at her hotel, she wasn't in but rang me about an hour later.

I went to their hotel on Friday evening for a drink before their conference dinner and we arranged to meet up on Saturday morning. Then I had quite a nice (and not too expensive) Italian meal in Oranienstraße before returning to the hotel and falling stunned.
The surprise

On thursday afternoon I took myself off to Amsterdam, but unfortunately the weather was determined to ruin my enjoyment as it rained most of the afternoon. I did manage to wander round and reacquaint myself with the city, which was fun.

I met Brent at the station and we wandered down to the church stuffing our faces with frites with mayonnaise (where are those cholesterol tablets?). I stopped at a hole in the wall to get some more Euros when Brent whispered, "There's John O'Donnell". I couldn't get out of the way so we had a chat and I swore him to secrecy.

Then we wandered down the street to a cafe to have a coffee, and who should we bump into but Susie F and Niki E. They were also sworn to secrecy.

We made our way to the Engelse Kerk, which is situated inside a gated community (with only 2 gates). Julie was doing front of house and I leant down and said, "I'll have two please".

I wish I had photographed the look on her face. She squealed then grabbed me and pushed me bodily into the ante-room where the choir were waiting. There were many screams and much hugging and kissing (but no mezzuzzas).

Then they went out and sang magnificently. It was just a pity there was an audience of about 20 there.

Afterwards Brent, Stuart, Peter C and I went out for cake and drinks and B and I jumped on a train back to Amsterdam around midnight. In all, a very satisfying jape.

Thursday, September 23, 2004


Yesterday (Wed) was a bit of a washout -- it rained on and off most of the day so I spent my time in museums. The mechnical instrument museum was fascinating; its exhibits range from early musical clocks through pianolas and reproducing pianos to enormous dance organs which were the precursors of the disco. The guided tour was great, giving us a chance to hear a selection of the instruments in action, including an amazing mechanical piano which also had three violins played automatically.

In the afternoon I braved the showers to go to the Centraal museum. It holds a collection of local artists' work and has material going back to roman times. Some rather ordinary paintings from the sixteenth century on fill up the space. But an interesting way to pass a wet afternoon.

Last night Brent took me to visit some local friends. Although they were out, B has a key so he can practise on their piano, so we had a bit of musical play. The house (what I saw of it) is on four floors and looks lovely with some lovely modern furniture and lots of art on the walls.

This morning the rain has eased so I will go out soon to explore.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

At the home of Dr Strabismus (whom God preserve...)

Yes, I'm in Utrecht. But first a quick catch up.

I got back from Derby yesterday and moved into Greg's in Knightsbridge -- went for a walk in the afternoon reacquainting myself with Hyde Park. Then in the evening we all (Greg, Jo, Jo's mother, Louie and Gary) all went for a wonderful meal at a Chinese restaurant in Queensway; fabulous roast duck and pork, chicken with jellyfish, seafood with bean curd... delicious. Jo and his mother jumped in a cab to go home and the rest of us walked through Hyde Park. It was a lovely night, if a little chilly.

This morning I got myself to Liverpool Street Station and tried the prepaid ticket machine, and, lo and behold, it worked! I didn't even have to enter my magic number. I made my way to Stansted airport where I took a no-frills flight to Schiphol. From there I jumped on a train to Utrecht where I was met by Brent.

It's so nice to see him; we've hardly stopped talking all evening. Unfortunately Arnoud left for Spain today so I won't get to meet him. Brent and I stuffed ourselve with pizza tonight and now he's battling with the wireless internet connection to his laptop.

They have the most gorgeous cat, Cassandra, who's markings are in the same style as Pushka's but with more black.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Reaching a Peak

On Saturday I booked out of the B&B and made my way to St Pancras Station which was completely chaotic as they are redeveloping, which made it extremely difficult to find anything. There was a huge queue for the ladies' toilet with a guard actively discouraging women from joining it.

The train ride to Derby was uneventful, if cramped. I arrived in Derby and was wandering along the platform desperately looking for someone who might be looking for me when I heard a voice shout "Frank!" from the opposite platform. Brian and Rosemary figured it might be easier to spot someone looking lost from a distance; clever thinking, really.

Rosemary and I had a great chat last night about the family; I produced Geraldine's family tree (R soon found at least one omission) and the photos Ian had provided, and R brought out lots of pictures and an interesting family history. She was very amused when I told her about my attitude as an "assertive pedestrian", saying it sounded exactly like her grandfather, John Johnson. We then went on to talk about other family traits.

Today (Sunday) Brian drove us around some of the Peak district -- we walked on a public footpath near Over Haddon, lunching at a pub with a fabulous view before continuing the walk through muddy fields and among assorted sheep and cattle back to the car. We then took the (very) long way home through some very beautiful countryside.

An extremely enjoyable day.

Saturday, September 18, 2004


I spent quite a bit of time in the train yesterday -- I caught the train from Charing Cross to Walmer (near Deal) where I went to see Mum's cousin, Audrey. She used to live in a very quaint little house in Deal where I visited her a few times over the last decade or so. She is now in a retirement home; it's a very beautiful old house with an equally beautiful garden (Audrey said it's won awards) and her room is quite large and light.

She was pleased to see me (as I was her) and I filled her in on Mum and the rest of the family. It turns out she's a month older than Mum -- these Johnsons are a long-lived family. It was lovely to see her; there's a definite family resemblance between her and Mum.

Last night I went to Greg's for dinner -- finally met Jo who had cooked a very delicious meal. It was great seeing Greg again; despite the fact we've kept in touch over the years, it's probably over a decade since we've seen each other. He is still the same old Greg, as I suppose I'm still the same old Frank. I had a lovely evening and am looking forward to spending more time with him and Jo.

Friday, September 17, 2004


Another full day yesterday: I had arranged to meet Owen T (who used to work at The Age) for lunch, so made my way to St Paul's. I got there a bit early so went for a bit of a walk around and discovered that they had constructed a flying-fox from the side of the cathedral on which people could pay (for charity) to zoom down. It was all a bit silly but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Had quite a nice lunch and a natter with Owen; he seems to be enjoying life in Britain. He has already done some travelling in Europe and has a trip to the US and Canada coming up in a week or so. Was keen to hear any Age gossip I could provide, which was minimal; he's probably better informed than I am.

After lunch I went up the road to the Guardian offices where I met up with Richard Nelsson who manages the reference library there. Their library systems are not a patch on those at Fairfax; their data is not completed until the afternoon of the day of publication! And their pdf archive didn't seem to work at all! As well, their text and picture reference services are completely separate. I didn't stay too long as Richard was busy and I didn't get in touch with Dean S either; perhaps when I get back to London.

I decided I didn't want to spend the evening at the B&B (Jo's nice, but I don't really want to spend too much time with her, chatting about trivialities) so I grabbed myself a cheap ticket (£15) to see Bat Boy, the musical. It's a fun show with huge energy from a good cast; the title role was played extraordinarily well. It's not going to stop the world, but it certainly deserves better houses than last night's -- the theatre was less than half full.

Today (Friday) is a bit damp, but still not cold. I'm off to Deal to see Audrey this afternoon and this evening I hope finally to catch up with Greg.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

I just lost today's post because of a Blogger problem - damn!

The weather has been great -- warm, but cloudy though they're threatening rain tomorrow until the weekend. Oh, well, this is England after all. Unfortunately the B&B is dreadfully overheated; I usually turn the heater off when I get in (I leave it on during the day to dry the towel) and open the window to clear the room out. I've been sleeping like a baby; this morning any vestige of jet-lag was completely gone. It must be all the walking.

Last night I had a lovely dinner with AC and Dan after walking home with AC -- from the Wigmore to picturesque Little Venice.
My day, briefly

Just a quick one today -- spent the day on my feet walking around the Tate Modern, then after a quick lunch at Festival Hall (which is being renovated -- I think I'm the sam age, what hope for me?) on to the Victoria and Albert. Doesn't sound much on the screen, but took up most of the day.

Have also contacted Richard Nelsson from the Grauniad and am going in to see him tomorrow. Rosemary H is expecting me on Saturday which should be fun; I'm hoping to see Audrey in Deal on Friday.

Had a lovely long email from Tat -- I also have post-concert earworms, mostly from the Handel.

Now I'm just going off to meet AC after work -- I'll report tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

So tired...

The flight was long and relentless; short stays in Singapore and Dubai. But I survived and have arrived in London. The weather is OK, about 16 degrees and lightly spitting just before. I've moved in to Jo StClair's and have had a wonderful soak in a bath, though am glad I'm only there for four nights - I miss my shower.

I had window seats all the way; the upside being I could see wonderful sights (when it was light), the downside that I had to disturb two other passengers to go to the loo.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Last day...

... of work, that is.

Friday has finally arrived and I have spent it tidying my desk (well, sort of) and trying to think of things I've forgotten to do. And then, of course, doing them. So far nothing drastic has come to mind. The cold has settled down and I just sneeze every now and then; thankfully the throat is OK so tonight and Sunday should go well -- from my point of view at least.

There's still a bit to do before I fly out (not least of which is making my bedroom a fit place for JW to sleep in), but at least I'll be kept busy over the weekend. I hope this will result in my being reasonably tired by the time I get on the plane. Ah, the vain thought that I might be able to sleep...

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Counting down

The weekend passed in a blur; I spent much time putting off all the things I should be doing before I go, including writing a will. On Saturday P helped me buy a new waterproof jacket, which justified itself last night when I walked home from B&P's in the rain - full marks.

Rehearsal on Monday went well, but I have come down with a cold and am not feeling 100% at the moment. Finally got my hair cut this morning before heading into town and playing for AC at the VCA. She's working on a large song-cycle by Ned Rorem and will be performing it in November, then again at the Woodend Festival (?) in February. It certainly keeps me on my sight-reading toes (now, there's an interesting mixed metaphor).

Friday, September 03, 2004

So much to do...

I'm still running around trying to get everything ready for the trip; I'm nearly there, but still have a couple of things outstanding. Rehearsals are going well -- it's the dress on Monday (with the orchestra) and I'm hoping both concerts will be well attended.

The garden has begun to sprout wildly; I'm sure I'll come home to find that it's completely full of weeds. I'll have a go on the weekend to clear out what's already appeared and hope for the best.

Went for dinner with Dr D and the Lotus-master last night to a quite nice Japanese restaurant at Southgate. It was nice to spend some time with them; they are coming to one of our concerts (why not both?).