Salaga at Kennington, Oxfordshire
An occasional online journal, about music, books, ideas, plus the voyages of Narrowboat Salaga.
Also, visit my new Classical Music Blog, The New Lyricist
And my new Youtube channe
MUSINGS 2014 can be found here
MUSINGS 2012 can be found here
You can email me on l a h g b r @ g o o g l e m a i l. c o m
Sunday 27th October 2013
The clocks went back today, and after a week of wind and rain interspersed with a bit of sun too, it is starting to feel a little wintry - although on the whole still remarkable mild, with no frosts as yet. I came up river today to get above Osney before the maintenance works start on the 4th November. It's a bit early, but with all this rain I was worried about getting trapped downstream for the winter if it started flooding; at least up here if there's a bad flood I can always go onto the canal. So I will be up here for the winter, probably. Actually, it's amazing how little the rover has risen in the last weel or so, given all the rain we've had - the water table must have been extremely low after the dry summer, which makes a change.
I went to a most interesting, if slightly alarming, talk at the History Society the other day - about psychopaths, by some fellow of Magdalen who has recently published a book on the subject. Apparently the worst pyschopath so far recorded in history on the basis of various measurements is supposedly Henry VIII - which is a bit surprising, but not that much! Also the Hayek Society had a very good talk from Mark Lirttlewood, director of the Institute for Economic Affairs - a bit of a character, it seems - he goes on holiday regularly to Las Vegas and is a self-confessed gambling addict! The talk in the pub afterwards was quite interesting too - only I do wish they wouldn't go to the horrendously muzak-ridden 'Chequers'. I also intend to go to some more of the C.S. Lewis events at Magdalen; I went to my first evensong of the term there on Tuesday, and spoke to Micheale Piret, the Dean of Divinity, partly about the lovely piece Rhosymedre which the organ scholar played as a voluntary. The trebles were sounding pretty good for the beginning of a new academic year.
Friday 18th October 2013
Autumn is well and truly here, with plenty of mists and quite a bit of mellow fruitfulness as well - I have had quite a lot of nice free vegetables from Oxgrow, Oxford's edible community garden; actually the weather turned fairly dry and a bit warmer for a while after the cold start to September, but in the last few days it's started raining heavily on and off, and things are definitely starting to feel a little wintry. No frosts though, as yet, and I managed to get a good supply of coal in yesterday, after having to pursue the coalman up the canal when I found he'd arrived early and I'd missed him!
I achieved the incredible age of 61 on the 5th - time passes so fast when you're having fun! The University term started this week, and seem to have been frantically busy and totally exhausted. On Sunday I went to the Solo Songs at Eton, which was brilliant as ever; then on Monday I had to move the boat round to Osney to meet the safety inspector, who finally passed my boat as OK, so at least that's out of the way (even if it cost about £400 whcih I can ill afford); then I had a walking tour to do on Tuesday, and in the evening I went to a fascinating C.S. Lewis event at Magdalen, at which Walter Hooper, who was Lewis's secretary in the last year of his life, and has edited his letters and many other books since, talked about working with the great man - it was both fascinating and touching, as Hooper, who is in his early 80's, is probably the last living link with C.S. Lewis. Yesterday I was suddenly called to do another tour and very short notice, and in the evening I went to a 'talking stick' session in a pub held by Oxford pagans, which was quite interesting. Then today I finally managed to escape from central Oxford to Iffley and hopefully to get back to something like my usual routine. I feel so tired, and an aching all over! I need to rest a lot more these days, and really going out almost every night doesn't suit me any more. On the other hand I met a lot of new people and had some interesting conversation and intellectual stimulation, which was good.
Friday 13th September 2013
The weather has well and truly gone down the drain now - cloudy and wet, though not so cold. Yesterday when the weather cleared for a bit it was actually still quite hot. But the rain and cloud are persistent and depressing. They are also preventing me from doing the work on the roof I want to get done before the winter. I had a safety inspection the other day, and as usual failed on one or two fairly minor things; I need to get the work done at the local boatyard, but they say they can't fit me in for a couple of weeks, which is a bit of a nuisance, as I wanted to go down river again while I still can, rather than hang around waiting.
I've been so much enjoying watching the old Tony Hancock programmes online; lots that I don't remember, and they give such a fascinating glimpse of that lost world of the late 50's/early 60's - strangely familiar and yet so infinitely remote now. It wasn't all good, by any means, but there was a certain innocence and also a kind of shared, understood cultural outlook then that made such understated comedy possible.
Sunday 1st September
Quite suddenly in the last couple of days there has been a distinct chill in the air - autumn seems to have come rather early, which is a bit of a pain as summer came distinctly late. It all seems to be to do with this insistent northerly and easterly wind which seems to have been blowing most of the year. I hope we have a bit of a reprieve before the cold really sets in - this morning I actually thought I might have to light the stove, which is a bit much on the 1st of September!
As usual I have been very remiss in keeping up this journal - it's not that I have nothing to write about; as usual I feel quite busy and occupied, but somehow I never seem to find the right moment or impulse to write about it all. I have been away a bit, at the Proms (Tippett, Britten and Elgar - about the only concert that I felt like going all the way to London for; there have been some delightful individual works but few inspired programmes this year, I feel), and also doing some camping in a distinctly 'alternative' context. Also I have been preoccupied with slightly tiresome boat problems, such as fitting a new water pump, which became more complicated than I expected, and now I am getting ready for a safety inspection at the end of the week (more expenditure). Also behind everything is the worry about lack of work and thus income. The guided tour work has got more and more sparse recently, and now seems to have dried up altogether for reasons which are not entirely obvious to me. Which means of course I now have no regular income at all. I've been applying for the odd part-time job, but without success so far. Some nice quiet part-time work in a university library would just about suit me now; after all, I only have to survive just over another 4 years and I can retire - on a pittance. I would be quite happy on a pittance, though, as long as it was enough to keep going - I really don't need much money; but what I do need is a bit of peace of mind - sadly a commodity increasingly hard to come by these days, it seems. If I could find it, I think I might sleep better, which would be a great boon.
At least I have found one or two interesting things to get involved in recently, apart from the endless struggle for financial survival and the frustrations of musical neglect. Apart from the Oxford Libertarians and the University History Society, which of course will be starting up again in a month or so, I've come across and excellent project called OxGrow - 'an edible community garden'. I went along and helped out one Sunday afternoon, and was loaded with free vegetalbles to take home; I haven't been since because of the various distractions, but I do want to try to go at least once a week, as I enjoy gardening very much and it's so therapeutic - and then there's all the lovely free, fresh vegetables. They are having a harvest festival in October, which I think should be fun.
Talking of the Proms, I am still finding some wonderful things online - not least the National Youth Orchestra in an astonishing performance of Messian's Turangalila Symphony. What an absolutely wild, crazy and exhilarating work that is - I hadn't listened to it all the way through for ages; in some ways it's almost ridiculously over the top, and full of some of Messiaen's obscure dissonance, but at the same time intoxicating melodic lines and rhythms. With hordes of strings and woodwind and brass doubled up as usual, the effect is shattering. And music which would have been regarded as almost unplayable by professionals when it first came out played with such skill and verve by teenagers - quite incredible. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Du6M96E8KyE
Another discovery has been the BBC's adaptation of War and Peace, which I dimly remember seeing many years ago, with Anthony Hopkins in one of his early roles; as usual the quality of TV drama was so much better in the past than now, however flashy current 'productions values' may be.
Regarding my own music, things have continued to be most discouraging. I have composed some settings of Ivor Gurney's poems - something I've been thinking of for a while - with the centenary of the Great War next year in mind, and I proposed a small lunch-time 'fringe' concert featuring them to the English Music Festival; I thought it might be of at least some interest to them, but once again I got a brusque refusal, without any request to look at the music or hear more about the performers. It's odd, though, that while my work continues to be totally ignored, I find I have more and more ideas for music, and plenty of energy to compose it; it's almost as though my creative impulse works in inverse proportion to the amount of interest! I recently found some delightful arrangements of Morris dance tunes done by George Butterworth and Cecil Sharp just before the 1st World War, and first arranged some for harp with the fringe concert in mind - then I arranged a few for small orchestra; they work very well, and would make an excellent item in a concert, specially one relating to the centenary - poignant, without being sad or depressing. I've sent them to one or two orchestras - so far without much of a response. I also decided to start arranging some Irish tunes to go in my 'Melodies' series, which is quite fun. In addition to this I have continued to arrange some of Butterworth's Housman settings for orchestra, again with the Great War anniversary in mind. On a less popular and far grander scale, I am continuing with my Scenes from 'Paradise Lost'. The first scene, of Satan and his followers' great council in Hell, is finished and on Score Exchange:
I have more or less finished sketching the scene where we first meet Adam and Eve in Eden, and have begun the scene of the confrontation at the gates of Paradise between the archangels Uriel and Gabriel and Satan. I find the words so intoxicating they almost seem to produce music effortlessly, and I enjoy elaborating it all for soloists, choir, huge orchestra and organ! What a pity I will never actually hear it performed - but I still enjoy the performances in my head, assisted by the computer.
Wednesday 24th July 2013
The good weather has continued, though after getting to its hottest on Monday (when I was on my way down river, of course!) there were a couple of thunderstorms, and now it's cleared and is slightly less hot, with quite a strong breeze; but the sun is still absolutely roasting when you're in it. It's been one of the longest spells of fine weather I can remember for quite a while; my solution is to wear as little clothing as possible on and around the boat, and jump in the river fairly frequently - it really does cool you down.
The Proms have continued, and I've listened to parts on the radio; also watched the broadcast by the blind Japanese pianist the other day - it was extraordinarily moving, even if it was just the old Rach. no. 2 yet again. In general though, there has been little to tempt me to make the effort to go to London. I might go in the third week of August.
Been reading an amusing book caled The Magic Spring, by an urban character trying to find the 'real' England through its folk traditions; as usual they all turn out to be a bit dodgy, but do have their magical moments - the Banbury Hobby Horse Festival sounds quite fun; I should make an effort to go to that.
Sunday 14th July 2013
We have had a real heat wave for the last couple of weeks, and it has been absolutely sweltering, though not without a cooling breeze; they are saying it could go on like this for another month, which will be pretty exhausting - still, after the long cold winter and last year's hopeless summer, it's nice to have some proper summer weather for a change.
And the Proms have started once again. I was tempted to go to the first night to hear the Sea Symphony - a great favourite of mine - but as it was being televised I decided to watch and record it instead. I'm glad I did, as it was a very good performance and it's good to have a recording. Sakari Oramo conducted it very well, and with considerable understanding - it's always interesting to hear what foreign conductors make of British music, and in this case he is clearly in sympathy with RVW's idiom. It really is a most glorious and uplifting work - I've probably said this before, but to me it represents the essence of the warm-hearted, optimistic Edwardian vision of things that was just about to obliterated by the Great War; despite the latter, there is still something very compelling about its panthestic vision, courtesy of Walt Whitman, and the marvellous evocation of the sea in all its moods, and as Oromo said, the 'great sea-empire' that was Britain at the time. Sadly there seem to be very few inspiring concerts in the Proms this year, and though I want to pay my annual visit, I can't really decide when to go.
Read a strange but compelling novel by the late J.G. Ballard, Hothouse, which I thoroughly enjoyed - it was from the early 60's; British authors don't seem to write books like that any more - at least, not that I know of. Also a fascinating history of the Byzantine Empire by John Julius Norwich. Plus a memoir by Winifred Foley of bringing up a family in the Forest of Dean in the 1950's - a rather familiar, hard, but somehow reassuring world which is not completely gone (she also spent part of the time in the Paddington area of London, just about the time I faintly remember my early childhood days in, which made it even more poignant. That area is now mostly an 'Islamic quarter' and culturally completely unrecognisable.
Managed to sort out some of the problems with the cooling on the engine, which is a great relief; mostly it involved a hellish business of replacing a core plug in a very awkward position and succeeding in getting one of the main cooling pipes unkinked, which has made all the difference. If I could just get the alternator firmly back into the right position and at the right tension for the belt - something I find strangely difficult - it would all be resolved.
The wild flowers have been profuse this year - lots of snakeshead fritillaries, cowslips, cornflowers and many others. They mowed the big meadow I was moored on a week or so ago, so I rescued some of the cornflowers and had them in a vase for a while.
Sunday 16th June 2013
Already we are approaching 'midsummer' (always a bit of a misnomer in this country at this time of year, I think). After a week or two of fine weather, we have now returned to unsettled conditions with outbreaks of rain most days - but at least it's not as cold as it was. The countryside has burst into an absolutely orgy of vegetation and flowers, and I'm glad to see a few surviving bees busy collecting pollen (including from my broad beans and chives); if only we can have a reasonable summer and not too long and cold a winter, they should recover in numbers from the present disastrous state of affairs.
I've been having a lot of trouble on the boat, Basically it divides into two areas: 1. The cabin bilges and 2. the perennial cooling problem on the engine. For a long time the cabin bilge has been very full, which I attribute to condensation over the wet cold summer and very cold winter, plus seepage from the domestic water pump, which was damaged by ice well over a year ago. So I've had to pump it out frequently, but the water is rising again relatively quickly, and I am beginning to suspect I've sprung a leak. Which is a bit worrying. Anyway, I've rigged up a small electric pump and can keep on top of it for the time being, until I can get a new water pump fitted and the whole thing properly pumped out. Then I can see if it starts filling again. I have always had problems with the engine overheating on the river, but just recently it has got really bad; one core plug sprun a leak, which I was able to deal with, but there still seems to be seepage from somewhere and the overflow pipe kept coming off and the cooling system started boiling off, so I have had to stop frequently on my way up stream. I have got it under control to some extent, but the biggest problem is one of the large rubber tubes in the system has a massive kink in it which is severely restricting the flow of water, and I daren't try to unkink it, as I think it might break. So I will have to go to a boatyard and get some work done (which I can ill afford) I simply can't stand the stress of a grossly overheating engine any more - it quite spoils the enjoyment of cruising on the river!
Monday 3rd June 2013
Moored below Abingdon/ trouble coming up from Dorchester/ finally proper summer weather tho still cold wind/ never thought there were so many damsel flies in the world/ painting boat
Friday 31st May 2013
Today is my mother's birthday; this year she would have been 100 years old. She was a very good, kind and brave person who had a pretty unfari deal out of life, but remained cheerful and resolute almost to the very end. How on earth she coped with bringing up me and my brother on her own in the 1950's and 60's, when being a single mother was very difficult and carried a massive social stigma, I hardly know. Although it's over 30 years now since she died, I still can't think about it without tears. I find it almost unbearable now to think about what she must have gone through, and how she protected us from it all and gave us a really happy childhood; I only wish I had been able to express one tenth of the appreciation I feel now while she was still alive - it's one of the worst things about life that you nearly always understand these things when it's too late; that is a burden I have to carry now, and in some ways I think it serves me right, for being so selfish when I was young. Anyway - may she rest in peace.
Sunday 19th May 2013
The weather has been very strange - veering from really cold with heavy cloud cover to sunny and quite warm; today started off sunny, then went cloudy for an hour or two, then just as I arrived down in Abingdon in my first trip down-river this year, the sun came out again and it became rather hot. As soon as the weather goes like this, I suddenly remember how idyllic it can be, living on a boat - it all basically depends on the weather! And after a summer and a winter like those we've just had, we could really do with some decent conditions for a while. At least it has stopped raining, with little rain forecast for a while, and the danger of the river flooding again has receded, which is such a relief. I am on my way down to Dorchester for the English Music Festival, which is upon us once again; as usual they are doing some really nice and interesting stuff, mixed up with some very obscure and I think not very worthwhile material, too - I suppose when so much British music is neglected it's largely a matter of opinion as to what is worth reviving and what not.
Have been reading a fascinating history of Tibet; I so much regret I haven't been able to go and do voluntary teaching in Dharamsala, as I'd planned; all because of having to leave the job at Christ Church and the resulting financial disaster. Hopefully I will still make it one of these days - it would be so interesting to encounter Tibetan Buddhism at first hand. I am also re-reading Herodotus for the umpteenth time - such an enjoyable work, even if (or perhaps because? ) of the wild fantasies he introduces into his history! And a very detailed book about the literary associations of Oxford which mentioned a lot of connections and authors I didn't know about.
My 'birthday' concert last month has inspired me to revise some of the songs, including doing a new, more lively Edward Thomas setting - also listening to some Holst has reminded me of how he said when he finished a piece he would go back and take out all the unnecessary notes! Hearing all that music of mine in concert made me think that I am tending to write too many notes, and could do with following Holst's advice. On the other hand, I have returned to my latest 'big' project, Scenes from 'Paradise Lost', which most certainly has an awful lot of notes in it! I have almost finished the first scene, The Great Consult, in which Satan and his fallen angels take stock of Hell, and I am continuing with another scene depicting the first sight of Eden and Adam and Eve. I do find Milton's verse incredibly powerful and evocative of musical ideas. The whole thing is another of my crazy huge projects which have more or less zero chance of being performed, but I am still enjoying working on it.
Thursday 16th May 2013
Sadly, the rather nice warm, sunny weather we had for about a week or so suddenly dissolved into cold winds and heavy showers; rather alarmingly similar to the pattern we had the whole of last year! I am desperately hoping we're not going to have a repeat of the endless bad weather and floods of 2012 - it would be unbearable if it all happened again. I managed to make it to the quiet bit of the river above Pinkhill, but am about to head down to Dorchester for the English Music Festival, so I hope I can make it there without trouble. It's really quite annoying when you can't make plans on the river for fear of constant outbreaks of insane weather!
One of the really good things about Oxford is the number of interesting events that go on there, specially some organised by University societies. The only thing is, you have to make the effort to remember to go to them! On Tuesday I went to a most fascinating talk by the leader of the project that discovered the grave of Richard III under a car park in Leicester organised by the History society - it was an amazing story of ingenuity and luck, really; it was an outside chance of them finding the King's remains at all, but in the end it actually happened. The description (and photographes) of the appalling injuries from which Richard died was quite sickening - not least an massive point of a halberd or similar thrust through the back of his neck and a long poniard shoved up through his chin and into his brain! It really brought home the brutality of medieval battle and made me feel slightly sick. Earlier in the same evening I went to the first talk of the Hayek Society given by Detlev ....... on his book on the imminent collapse of paper money; extremely interesting, convincing and very worrying. I've felt for a long time there was something seriously wrong with the basis of currency and state finances, and this confirmed it; he and others who think the same are expecting a catastrophic collapse and hyper-inflation quite soon. I think I should take some kind of action asap to try to preserve some of my meagre savings. Which are slowly being eaten away anyway because I am still not earning anything like a proper living from doing a few walking tours; I am going to have to find something else.
Wednesday 8th May 2013
This time I really do have an excuse for another long gap - what with my 'birthday' concert in London, and a hectic local election campaign, I really have had hardly any time for anything over the last few weeks. Both of them went off quite well, in the end, but were very exhausting; I seem to get tired so quickly these days. The concert was musically very successful - specially Tom Jackman doing my Edward Thomas songs with Tony Gray - I felt very encouraged and energised afterwards, even if the audience was pretty small and it all lost money as expected. I am thinking of trying to do something similar on an annual basis in future - at least it gives some of my music a bit of an outing, which it probably wouldn't get, otherwise.
The weather finally changed about two weeks ago, after winter seeming to go on absolutely for ever; it's incredible how suddenly things burst into bloom and the trees into leaf as soon as the temperature rose by a few degrees! So now it is very pleasant spring-time, with warm sun, although showers, some heavy, do seem to have started again; I hope this is not a premonition of a wet summer like last year - that was truly awful and I don't want to experience a repeat in a hurry!
Tuesday 10th April 2013
Easter was extremely cold - it even snowed! However, after what seemed like an eternity of freezing temperatures and icy winds, it has finally warmed up and become quite pleasant for a while; unfortunately more rain is now forecast. The river has just about gone down to normal, at least above Oxford, but I am not going to set off up-river until I see the effects of the rain - it's very likely to go straight up again.
Meanwhile I am very preoccupied with the local elections campaign, and also the fact that I am not earning a living at the moment - something that needs to be remedied urgently. Also there is my little concert in London on 28th of this month, which is making me feel rather nervous. For anyone thinking of coming, it starts at 2.30 and because of a change in the programming has gone back to being £10 admission.
I have been reading some of Alistair McGrath's new biography of C.S. Lewis, which is very good - better informed and much less superficial than some other books on the subject. The chapter on Lewis's conversion is interesting - partly because it tries to address the problem I have also always found; the ambiguity of Lewis's description of the process whereby it happened. Though clearly it did happen. McGrath is very good on the importance of Tolkien in convincing Lewis that it was possible to reconcile a purely intellectual view of the issue with the imaginative/intuitive aspect - a dichotomy that Lewis had found irreconcilable up to that point. The idea that intuition can compensate for the inadequacy of rational analysis is one that appeals to me a lot - in a sense, it is the essence of 'gnosticism'.
Good Friday 29th March 2013
As usual on this day I have been thinking about the meaning of the story of Christ's passion. Although it has at times been difficult, as boatloads of loud drunken people go charging past shouting and waving beer cans - for most today is just another bank holiday and excuse for thoughtless self-indulgence. I suspect most of them wouldn't even know what 'Good Friday' actually means if you asked them. Still - such is contemporary Britain. I become more and more convinced that the meaning of the Christian myth (in the proper sense of the word) is to do with Jesus as the symbol of the universalisation and transfiguration of human suffering. The idea of 'the Son of God' sharing our suffering and transforming it is a very powerful one - whether you take the story literally or not. I have been going through my own Gnostic Passion again today, and I think the secret is in one of the lines I set there: Behold, the passion of man, that I endure. I do think the Gnostic Passion, though perhaps not to everyone's taste, is one of the best things I've done; if you would like to look at it, you can see and 'play through' the score here:
It does give some idea of the piece and in any case you can at least see the text.
Monday 25th March 2013
Weather now bitterly cold with freezing easterly winds and threats of more snow; they are forecasting 'the coldest Easter ever'.
2013 being the Britten centenary, I've been looking into some of Britten's work again. He was such a huge influence on me in my youth, and still is. I must say the more I learn about him and his life the less appealing as a person he seems, but the more of a musical genius. I have just read (or re-read) a most interesting book called Britten and the Far East, which reminded me of how much Britten's interest in non-western musics, specially in the church parables, influence me in the same direction. Thinking of the church parables, I looked around and to me huge delight found a recording of a 1968 broadcast of The Burning Fiery Furnace, which is absolutely fascinating. This piece was an obsession of mine about the age of 15, but I had never seen it, or either of the other two parables, in its original production. Pretty much all productions of these works nowadays completely ignore the original concept of a highly stylised, non-realistic approach with masks etc., influence by Japanese Noh and Kabuki theatre, and treat them realistically, which completely misses the point and distorts them hopelessly. Seeing the original approach is invaluable as it demonstrates just how effective these pieces can be theatrically if treated with respect. Musically they are a wonder of richness achieved with incredibly small means and some of the most original works of their kind of the 20th century. I would love to see Curlew River in its original production - I wonder if a video or film exists? It's just possible.
Sunday 17th March 2013
The weather has gone berserk - again. This week we had a couple of quite nice sunny days, and it started feeling quite pleasant; then on Friday afternoon it started raining, and went on doing so for about 12 hours; then yesterday it was sunny in the morning, but in the afternoon there was a series of colossal downpours, with the streets of Oxford awash. Then this morning I looked out and it was snowing heavily, with quite a covering of snow; meanwhile the river was rising rapidly and it is now all right back on red flood alert. At this point I decided it was time to get off where I was moored and back on to the canal - yet again - before all the surrounding fields became completely flooded again. It was a bit tricky, as the Wolvercote Mill Stream was running a bit fast, and I was facing upstream. After trying to turn the boat twice, and getting tangled up with overhanging trees, etc., I decided to go down to Duke's Cut backwards - which I proceeded to do; actually it wasn't that bad, once I got going, but it is decidedly tricky doing something like that on a fairly narrow channel where there is a strongish stream. It was good experience, though. I can hardly believe I've been forced back on to the canal again - and that this atrocious weather is still persisting, after almost a year of it. I am longing to get back to my usual routine on the river, but if the weather forecast is right, there seems little prospect of that for the foreseeable future.
Monday 11th March 2013
There has been a bit of an hiatus on here again - not just because of my laziness, but also because something went wrong with my ftp connection and it has taken me until now to work it all out and be able to upload material again. Anyway - it seems to be working now, so here we go again!
A week or two ago it actually stopped raining, and for two or three days it became quite pleasant, sunny and warm; unfortunately since then there has been a relapse, and we've had more rain, followed now by atrocious and ferocious icy winds and snow showers. At least it's not raining, but after the last 10 months or so of awful weather I find myself longing for some sunshine and warmth; also for the river finally to go down so that sensible navigation is possible again. In the meantime I am waiting just on the verge of the river near King's Lock - which is an awful lot better than being stuck on the canal, but I am keen to get back to my old routine and visit some peaceful places again soon.
Much to my delight, I have recently discovered a complete recording of Dennis Potter's remarkable TV play, Son of Man, on Youtube; I'd been looking out for it for ages - it's one of those amazing plays they used to have on TV in the 60's that really stuck in my mind, and I wanted to see if it still seemed as powerful. It does. This was the first time I'd seen it for well over 40 years, and it still has the power to shock and disturb. When plays like that were broadcast at the time they were national events - I remember the furore about that particular one at the time - how I mentioned it to Father O'Dwyer, a Catholic priest who for some reason taught at my state grammar school, and his outrage at the very mention of it! Also apparently Mary Whitehouse tried to have Potter prosecuted for blasphemy. Funniy enough it appears Dennis Potter quite liked Mary Whitehouse - he said she 'stood up for all the little ordinary people with plaster ducks on their walls' or something of the sort! The thing about the play is that it does portray Christ in a rather coarse and even vulgar way, and it indicates a pretty sceptical attitude to the Christian religion - but in fact I would say it is by no means an 'anti-Christian' work. If anything, it tries to imaghine what an extraordinarily radical and shcocking figure Jesus himself must have been in his time and society - not really 'gentle Jesus, meek and mild' - and this is born out if you read between the lines of the Gospels. There's one really inspired moment in the play at Christ's condemnation when he says to Pilate - 'Don't be afraid', and Pilate backs off with a look of terror in his face. Also Bernard Hepton is superb as Caiaphas, the tormented high priest, who half believes Jesus is the Messiah, and is all the more bitter when he decideds he isn't. Anyway - I would recommend anyone who is interested in the sort of stimulating TV that was once made in this country to watch this play and see what they think. And this was prime time viewing on TV in the 60's! Can you even begin to imagine that now? I have also watched another Potter play called Vote, Vote, Vote for Nigel Barton which I don't think I saw at the time (1965), which is a fantastically perceptive look at the charade which unfortunately is democratic politics; having been involved in these myself in recent years in a small way, I can confirm that really very little has changed in the ensuing 47 years - only things are lot slicker nowadays and even more divorced from most people's real lives. IN addition, I have read the authorised biography of Potter by Humphrey Carpenter, which was fascinating but does reveal and incredibly gifted but basically tormented soul; his attitude to his final illness and death was certainly heroic, though - I remember seeing his last interview when it was originally broadcast.
I've also been reading a most interesting Colin Wilson book called Mysteries - a slightly naff title, I think, which doesn't do it or him justice, but presumably his publishers wanted; what a very remarkable man Wilson is - again, one of the generation who were around in the 60's and made that period seem so radical and exciting - I believe he's around 80 now - the trouble is they are all rapidly disappearing now. The book is an investigation, starting from pendulums and dowsing, of various areas of what would be called 'the paranormal' these days, including ESP, levitation, precognition, religious mystical experience, magic, etc - the whole works, in fact. But what I like about it is that he is at least trying to approach it all in a fairly rational, sceptical way (though many rational sceptical scientific types wouldn't really agree), and rather than just giving an account of various odd happenings, he tries to link it up to something he calls 'faculty X', which he suggests represents an area of abilities of the human mind which exist within all of us but of which most of us are unaware; powers which we may have been able to use in earlier stages of human development before we became quite so 'rational' and 'sceptical', but which are now regarded with suspicion in our materialist culture. He also points out that we only use a tiny proportion of our brain capacity most of the time, and suggests that the rest is there to power these 'lost' faculties, and that we could if we wanted to re-devlop this part of our consciousness. Also he thinks that the many, many examples of phenomena around us that seem to bring 'normal' laws of reality into quesiton indicate that we are only aware of a tiny fraction of the universe around us, and tha beyond what we thjink is 'reality' is something far, far richer and multidimensional. Interesting stuff - but in the end highly speculative. Still - I htink it's a reminder to avoid living through 'the robot' (Wilson's name for the unthinking, automatic side of us that runs much of our everyday, habitual existance), and try always to be aware that there is so very much more going on around us, if we simply make the effort to apprehend it and engage with it. 'Perception is intentional', as the philosopher Husserl apparently pointed out.
Monday 14th January 2013
The weather was dry for a while and not too bad, but it has now started raining again, and there was the first little bit of snow overnight; the next week or two is predicted to be cold and frosty - I hope that means dry, too, at least. I have not been able to return to the river as it is still flooding after all these weeks! It has been going down and the fields gradually draining, but with the bit of rain we've had I can't see things returning to normal until we've had at least a month of dry weather.
|<Scenes of watery devastation around Oxford>|
Usually a playing field
An interesting sign in a shop window >
I've been fascinated to watch a series again online called Meet the Natives, which was boradcast two or three years ago on Channel 4. It features a group of men from an island called Tanna, in Vanuatu, in the Pacific, who come on a visit to the UK, and stay with what they called three 'English tribes' - working class, middle class and upper class. You see them first at home, and they live in a genuine traditional culture which is virtually stone-age, in a small village, where they keep pigs, grow a few vegetables, gather food from the forest and by hunting, and spend much of the rest of their time smoking and drinking cava, a mildy narcotic drink (which, incidentally, I have tried). The main purpose of their visit from their point of view was to try to meet Prince Philip, who by an oddity of their religious beliefs is of divine status to them, and ask when he is returning to Tanna. Of course, the thing that's really interesting from our point of view is how they react to our society, which for all of them is a new and strange experience. One of them has been to an English school, so speaks fluent English, and translates the reactions of the other throughout the programmes. It is a real eye-opener, and what makes it most fascinating is the way these men immediately see so many of the things that are wrong with our society and make it so deformed, in spite of all the material and technological wonders at which they are amazed, and they constantly exhort everyone they meet quite sincerely to 'return to traditional ways' and try to live again in 'peace and harmony', like themselves, who they feel are ' the happiest people in the world'. At the end of the series they do in fact manage to have an audience with Prince Philip, and return with great satisfaction to their homeland as heroes, with his message. But the message of the series for us ought to be that we have a lot to learn from people like this, and should stop being so bound up in our own demented lifestyle and conplacently un-self-aware that we can't see just how bizarre and unhealthy much of it is. I would recommend anyone interested in the state of our soiety to watch this series:
Friday 4th December 2013
Well, there you go then - another year; how they keep coming! I have absolutely no idea what to expect of 2013, except that I will grow even older; I must admit, after the pathetic collapse of my 'birthday concert' in October, I've found that that, and being 60, has had a bad effect on my morale and my self-belief. I thought at first that it hadn't really, but over the last few weeks I have been feeling - not exactly toally defeated - but just that I just can't be bothered any more. A strange sort of feeling, almost of being sick, in the pit of the stomach. After more than 30 years of struggle to get somewhere with my music, in the year of my 60th birthday not a single note of my music was performed (to my knowledge) anywhere, by anyone. The futility of human effort is not exactly a new concept to me, but this really takes the biscuit; not least because I was actually in touch over that period with a several people/groups who expressed interest in my work, but none of them actually folloewd this up in practice. This kind of thing has happened so frequently in recent years, it has made me feel that basically there is something about the modern world I simply don't understand, and clearly I don't fit in with it. So is there really any point in my bashing away endlessly, only to be let down repeatedly? I have done the work - by creating vast amounts of music, some of which at least I think is of worth - but apparently in this world not having the ability to sell yourself in the 'right' way is a much more important factor than actually having anything worth offering. So now I am going to wait for someone else to do something about it - and if they don't then the situation won't at least be any worse, but I will experience considerably less angst. I wait 'in the confident expectation of a miracle'. I must say, however, that even on a 'popular' level, pieces in my Melodies series, for example, my Welsh Melodies for orchestra:
or my Hebridean Melodies:
if performed and recorded well, would certainly be as well-received on, say, Classic FM, as the new stuff they play on there (and are of generally higher quality than much of that). Not to mention the potential of my more 'serious' works. So can someone explain what am I doing wrong? Answers on a postcard, please.
Having said all that, there are two 'positive' things I plan for this year. One is a re-scheduling of my 'birthday' concert, for the 28th April - as a matter of principle, having announced it to the world, it must happen (even though I know it will cost me money I can ill afford). The other is that I indtned to deposit all my scores in digital form with the British Music Collection at Huddersfield University. This means that at least posterity may have the benefit of all my effort, if it wishes, if nothing else. So here are the edtails of the new concert. It will included vocal and piano music, including settings of Housmna, Emily Dickinson, Edward Thomas and Gerard Manley Hopkins, performed by Paula Bott, Tom Jackman, Robert Opoku, Matthew Mills and others, plus my some of my music for piano, performed by Tony Gray.
Laurence Armstrong Hughes
Postponed 60th Birthday Concert
Sunday 28th April 2012 2.30pm
Burgh House, Flask Walk, Hampstead,
Tickets £10 (including drink)
(More details from www.wildwoodsmusic.com )
Otherwise, the festive season has passed quite pleasantly. I took up my usual seasonal mooring at Hythe Bridge, and went the Nine Lessons and Carols at the Cathedral on Christmas Eve, before embarking on the traditional orgy of food and drink. Watched The Box of Delights for, I think, the 28th time over Christmas Week, and found a nice selection of carols, including a fascinating film of the service from King's College Cambridge from 1954! It was a little stiff, but essentially it was the traditional format and completely recognisable - in fact rather preferable I would say to the modern version , which is full of would-be trendiness and irritating 'relevant' modern readings instead of the good old gospel story most people want to hear. One of the most fascinating features was the famous Boris Ord's extraordinary idea of conducting! And the fact that he sang along with choir himself in all the carols. After Christmas I went to stay with Mr. Brown in London as usual, and had a very jolly time of yet more eating and copious drinking, meeting up with people, plus the excitement of the first Hobbit film in 3D. I've never seen a 3D flim before, and I must say some of the effects were quite amazing - there were moments when you could have sworn there were things actually flying around the cinema. The film itself was quite entertaining, and not too far from the original - though it was padded out and featured some liberties that I am quite sure Tolkien himself would have detested. As long as one thinks of it as not actually the same thing as the book, but definitely 'based on' it, it's not too bad.
The rain went on and on over Christmas, but finally stopped at New Year, and we have had one or two dry days, with more predicted, so I live in hope the appalling floods we've had for weeks will finally subside and it might be possible to return to sanity on the river.