Monday, July 25, 2011

Cambridge revisited

I arrived in Cambridge on Saturday afternoon and got a cab to the hotel I had booked - it turns out that with cheap hotels you get what you pay for. The room, on the third floor of a two-storey house is tiny - box-room tiny. There's a single bed along one wall with not much room to spare at the foot and the bed is against the curtains and the wall making them unclosable; the bathroom takes up most of another wall and there's a small desk filling in a third. wall. The last wall, of course has the door.

The bathroom has a teeny basin with a small cabinet above artfully placed so you hit your head with it when you are cleaning your teeth. The shower, to be honest, is quite good, lots of hot water. However the shower door is not easy to close from the inside - the result being that the bath mat, placed outside the door, gets soaked.

The desk is covered with: a small tray with the makings for (instant) coffee and tea, a kettle, a mirror and a small television - this does not leave a lot of room for anything else.

Oh, and there's a clock. A battery-powered digital alarm clock. Which beeps ...




Who has a clock that beeps on the hour? Beautiful little gilt clocks that chime delicately on the hour (and quarter and half) I can understand, but a digital clock that just ... beeps?

It took me several hours before I actually identified that it was the clock that was beeping. However it was then a very easy job to remove the batteries.


Cambridge itself has been lovely to re-visit. I have done some very long walks, yesterday spending some time along the Backs and wandering through Clare College.

On Saturday night I went in to King's College Chapel to hear the Aurora Orchestra play. They're a new group of young musicians and the program was Mozart, Mendelssohn and Beethoven, so I thought it would be nice.

They were set up in the back half of the Chapel, in front of the rood screen. However as soon as they started, with the overture to Cosí fan tutte I realised that it was totally the wrong place for an orchestra to play. The echo in the chapel is so long that any detail in the playing was completely lost. They seemed to be very good, but it was impossible to really be sure. I left at interval.

Yesterday evening I went to evensong at Great St Margaret's, which sits dwarfed opposite the magnificent King's Chapel. Being holidays the choir was made up of the "younger girls" - the youngest appeared to be around 5. But they didn't do a bad job and the congregation struggled through the hymns.

The high point of the service was the unexpected entry of a woman who announced herself during the reading of the second lesson: "How dare you!"

The elderly lady reading the lesson stopped. However the newcomer was just starting and, using colourful language, proceeded to harangue the church in general for, as far as I could work out, not allowing her to light a candle for a deceased friend. Eventually the vicar managed to carefully shepherd her out (nobody touched her at all) and shut (locked?) the door behind her.

The woman reading the lesson then continued from where she'd stopped and everything proceeded as if nothing had happened.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

The good and the bad (no ugly so far)

Last Saturday afternoon I went to Covent Garden for a performance of Massenet's take on the Cinderella story, Cendrillon. The production was by Laurent Pelly (I have a couple of his productions on DVD, notably Rameau's Platée, which I love) and was a straightforward telling of the story, with a great deal of humour, aided hugely by the wonderful sets and outrageous costumes.

The glorious mezzo, Joyce DiDonato, sang the title role with Alice Coote as a rather believable Prince Charmant. The extraordinary contralto Ewa Podles did an a very entertaining comic turn as the evil step-mother. Musically the work is pleasant but fairly unmemorable, but the quality of the production and, above all, the performances made it a great afternoon's entertainment.

Life was entertaining in a different way this week with the direct broadcast of the appearance of James and Rupert Murdoch in front of the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Murdoch senior looked initially like a sad old man; junior was quite glib, if not verbose. In the long run, probably, not very much was achieved, but it was very satisfying to see. I've been in Britain at a rather interesting time, seeing a complete volte face being done by many in the public eye who had previously courted Murdoch and News; and seeing various people being caught up in their own webs of lies.

On Tuesday Paul B came over to Lewisham and we went to a local Turkish restaurant A&A had recommended. The food was very tasty, but there was so much (probably enough for four) that P took the leftovers home in a doggie-bag.

The next night I went to the Apollo Theatre to see a performance of Yes, Prime Minister. It has been up-dated to the twenty-first century (references to the Internet and Blackberries) with even references to the recent tribulations of News Corp. Like much of the television series the story revolves around Jim Hacker landing in a moral/political dilemma, from which he is eventually saved by Sir Humphrey. It won't win any awards, but was a bit of fun.

Last night's outing was to a concert to celebrate the life and works of the composer Geoffrey Burgon, most well known for the music for the TV series Brideshead Revisited. The City of London Sinfonia played well and other performers were the choir Wellensian Consort. Ex-Python Terry Jones, who knew Burgon from childhood, introduced the works including his viola and cello concertos, the latter receiving its premier public performance.

The bad occurrence this week was the cancelling of my Visa card - I'm not sure why, but my credit union said Visa claimed its security had been breached. I managed to use my alternative card (from another bank) successfully, but on the second attempt it too bombed out. Luckily I have my Cash Passport which still seems to be working OK - I just can't book anything online.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dublin, Derby and back to London

On Friday I returned from Dublin and went to stay with my cousin Rosemary and her husband Brian in  Derby. They took me for a fascinating walk by the Trent and Mersey canal at Shardlow. As well as narrow-boats there was a regatta of small steam-powered boats, six of which shared the lock. After lunch at a local carvery (tasty roast pork for me) we went to Lichfield where we attended evensong at the cathedral.

On Monday I caught the train back to London and made my way to Lewisham, to Andrew G and Alyson L's. They kindly said I can stay here for a while. It turns out they are going camping this weekend and then off for another family holiday in Suffolk on Monday, and as they have a cat they're happy for me to stay and feed the cat.

More museums this week:

  • the Museum of Childhood has a wonderful collection of things including a huge range of toys. It's lovely to see them, but a bit sad to see them all in glass cases - toys are not toys if they aren't being played with.
  • the Handel House Museum (including a small memorial to Jimi Hendrix who also lived in the house in the sixties).
  • Treasures of heaven exhibition at the British Museum. Wonderful collection of mediaeval artifacts showcased in what used to be the British Library Reading Room. Nice to see the wonderful dome, but  a shame not to be able to experience the wonderful room as it was. Nonetheless, the collection on display was pretty breathtaking.

This morning I caught up with Danny E, who I knew from work at The Age, and then later with Polly M - she and I had a very tasty lunch at a splendid Turkish restaurant near the BM.

When I got back to the house this afternoon A&A and the family were still getting ready to leave for their camping trip - the bad news is that the weather forecast isn't particularly positive for them.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

After a very enjoyable week in Oxford with Taffy, Julie and Emily I left on Sunday morning for Heathrow where I got on a plane for Dublin. I was here last in 2009 and this time am staying with DVR and Kirsty H in their very nice seventh-floor flat in the redeveloped docklands area.

DVR gave me a Luas card (their version of an Oyster or myki) for me to use on the trams. There are only two lines, but they provide access to all the areas I want to visit. The system is very easy to use, but differs from Melbourne's myki system in that you must touch on with your card on the stop before you board - there are no card-readers on the trams - and touch off when you get off. An ideal way to avoid clogging the doors of crowded trams. According to DVR the inspectors (and I have already encountered one) are very strict about infringements and will fine you on the spot.

I have spent the last couple of days re-acquainting myself with the city: yesterday I visited the Chester Beatty Museum with its extraordinary collection of ancient manuscripts and books, and its current exhibition of the books of Henri Matisse.

Today I took the tram to the Kilmainham Gaol where I joined a tour around the grim prison. Starting in the earliest part we saw the ghastly environment locals were condemned to, including young children, often for very minor offences. A later section was built based on Jeremy Bentham's idea of the panopticon which housed only one prisoner per cell - this section of the gaol has been used in a number of films, including In the name of the father. Outside we were shown the bleak exercise yards and, even more sombre, the Stone-breaking Yard where many prisoners, including some interned after the 1916 Easter Rising, faced the firing squad. Grim.

After this I needed a change so I took the tram along to the Collins Barracks part of the National Museum to see, among other things, a lovely collection of Irish silver.

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