I know! I know! I’ve been neglectful. It’s well over two weeks since I posted to this blog and I have no excuses. No excuses perhaps but there is a reason. I find that I have to be in the mood to write and then when it comes, it’s usually a straightforward business involving sitting down and writing a few words.
However, starting 10 days ago, I had a visit last week from my daughter Shuli who, like her twin sister Tami who came at the end of September for a few days, managed to squeeze in a short visit in between rehearsals and concerts. Shuli arrived from Tel Aviv on Wednesday of last week and I knew it would be an intense four days. The following morning was sunny but cold and she managed to accomplish target #1, which was a walk alone on Primrose Hill after which she felt she’d actually done something. That same evening, we attended a concert of the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall for an all-Mozart extravaganza in which my favourite pianist Sir András Schiff performed two Mozart concertos while conducting the orchestra and in addition, conducted Symphony No. 36 (the “Linz” Symphony) and the overture to Don Giovanni, which, in this case, served as an overture to Piano Concerto #20, which Shuli had performed several times the previous week with the Israel Camerata Jerusalem in which the soloists were winners of the Rubinstein and Chopin piano competitions, so she was able to enjoy and take in the wonder that is András Schiff.
Schiff’s conducting style is minimalist to say the least, probably as far from the high-jinks of Leonard Bernstein as can be humanly imagine and in the second concerto which he conducted alternately playing at the piano, giving instructions to the orchestra from there and then standing up and moving towards the players on the far side of the piano, the music sounded like chamber music on a somewhat grander scale than usual. When we heard András Schiff for the first time at Wigmore Hall in 1985 and he just in his early 30s, we knew that we were listening to something special and so it has proved to be over the years.
The following day was a family day for the most part. Shuli and I managed an hour and a quarter in the cold walking on and around and up and down Primrose Hill …
… where Shuli had fun with the fallen leaves …
… and so did I!
After a short break, we walked over to Hampstead Heath to watch Tal, who is 11½, participate as the youngest competitor for Haringey Schools in a rather muddy all-London schools under-13’s 3 km race .
The following day, we were off to hear some more music, this time at Wigmore Hall to hear three of the Kanneh-Mason family perform in a Sunday morning Mendelssohn concert. (The Kanneh-Masons are a family from Nottingham. The parents are from Antigua and Sierra Leone and not particularly musical but all seven children are and the family has achieved a form of celebrity status in Britain over the past few years, in particular since Sheku, the 23-year old cellist, won the BBC Young Musician of the Year music competition a few years ago.)
Arriving at the hall at 11 a.m., it wasn’t all that easy to enter as cameras and camera-operators, microphones and interviewers gathered on the pavement outside the entrance on Wigmore Street and were interviewing the parents and the non-participating siblings who, when that concluded, were followed into the hall by the cameras, the microphones, etc.) The concert itself was pleasant, the cellist proving himself a league above his brother and sister. That done, we proceeded to the Royal Academy of Arts to join Dov and family for coffee and cake to celebrate a family birthday. We returned home; Shuli packed, managing to get most off her [mainly Primark] purchases into a single suitcase and was gone by 08.20 the following morning — and after four intensive days I became a zombie for the next 24 hours.
What else? It seems as if there have been three big stories this week. The most recent concerned the warnings concerning the discovery of a new Covid variant in South Africa which has already found its way into Europe and Israel. The comments of the “experts” have varied from “potentially very dangerous” to “no more dangerous that the Delta variant”, which has become predominant in recent months. We have to wait and see how things develop as a result. However, one consequence, whatever the dangers or otherwise is that no country can be seen to be taking any chances and masks and distancing, as well as restricting entrance to “foreigners” have once again become burning issues.
The second story concerns the increasingly nasty spat between France and the UK over the fate of those unfortunate people who, intent on reaching Britain, have been trafficked by criminals operating out of France, and having paid them [a lot of] money and having been placed in barely seaworthy rubber dinghies were sent on their way across the English Channel/La Manche, a journey that in the best of times would be dangerous and in the second half of November in choppy seas absolutely fatal and this week, 27 people — men, women and children — lost their lives in a single crossing.
To my simple mind, these unfortunate people were set on restarting their lives by seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. Whether the reasons for this are economic betterment, escape from tyrannical regimes elsewhere in the world or simply their ability to speak English rather than French, is incidental. It is a tragic situation that will, lamentably, repeat itself in coming months. These migrants seemingly have no desire to seek asylum in France and it strikes me that the French authorities have no great reason for wanting them to do so, hence their continuing movement across dangerous waters. The quarrel intensified this week when the British Prime Minister made public via social media a letter of complaint to the French President on the issue of the people smugglers and what he perceives of lack of action on the part of the French authorities. Not quite the way to conduct diplomacy, it would seem — but then Boris is Boris. The upshot of that little matter was that the British Home Secretary (Minister for Internal Affairs), Priti Patel, was disinvited (uninvited?) to a meeting of EU ministers in Calais to discuss the very issue — in which the UK is a major party to the action, so it all seemed distinctly unpretty — but then Priti isn’t all that pretty when she says what she says and whenever she says it. The fate of these asylum seekers is just as dire as those unfortunates trafficked by the President of Belarus towards the Polish border and now trapped between armed frontmen of Poland and Belarus and barbed wire fences as winter sets in — and nobody is doing much about that either. (Incidentally, an interview that Lukashenko gave to the BBC correspondent, Steve Rosenberg, was aired yesterday and to write that his (Lukashnko’s) utterances were absolutely incredible would be an unsavoury understatement!)
The third story to make the news in the UK this week is undeniably cringeworthy as it concerns the definitely unkosher Peppa Pig. Peppa Pig, it turns out, is a British preschool animated TV series, Peppa being an anthropomorphic female pig and the show is about her and her family and peers. So just how did this humanistic hog become part of the news? Well, last Monday, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, one Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, while addressing the Confederation of British Industries (the Director-General of which I discovered is Tony Danker, a member of a very rare breed, by being both Jewish and from Belfast) lost his place in his speech—or it seems that the order of the pages upon which his notes were printed had become a shambles—and in the kerfuffle, Boris de Pfeffel began to shuffle the sheaf of papers in his hand in a vain attempt to get back on track. And while de Pfeffel shuffled, his muffled voice could be heard over and again muttering to his ruffled audience: “Forgive me”, although there’s no suggestion that anyone would, as he hasn’t yet been fully exonerated over the scuffle caused by Brexit. When he eventually emerged, he found himself in Peppa Pig World, where he had been the previous day with his son, obviously enjoying himself and when he asked his audience whether anyone of them had been to Peppa Pig World and only one of his apparently startled audience admitted to having been there, his response was “Not enough!”
I could have offered The Prime Minister a little advice through my own experience if he had only asked me, for when I receive a piece for review from a colleague or a journal, the first thing I do if I print it out and it’s lacking page numbers, is to jot down the page number in large characters on the top right-hand side. Saves kerfuffle, ruffle and puffle not to mention embarrassment.
As the Lord Finkelstein, formerly the executive editor of The Times wrote in that newspaper the following day, ” … Boris Johnson is not going to change. After [he] lost his place and woke up in Peppa Pig World, the BBC reported a senior Downing Street source as saying: “There is a lot of concern inside the building about the PM. It’s just not working. Cabinet needs to wake up and demand serious changes, otherwise it’ll keep getting worse.…If they don’t insist, he just won’t do anything about it.” “Which is true”, wrote Finkelstein. “But if they do insist, he won’t do anything about it either.” … Because people don’t change. … Boris Johnson is who he is. … It is impossible to identify a single individual who has become prime minister and during their term has undergone a significant transformation. There are no reasons to believe that Johnson will be an exception.”
Finkelstein went on: “After his speech, a reporter asked the prime minister if he was OK. This was a witty question, but also missed the point. This was him being OK. Johnson didn’t lose his place, imitate a motor car and ramble on about Peppa Pig because something was wrong with him. He did it because extended metaphor, subversion of the form, shambolic messiness and disorganisation are how he gives every speech — how he has given every speech for 40 years. Often it works brilliantly for him. This time it was catastrophic and disrespectful to his audience. … What it wasn’t, was some sort of inexplicable accident. And what it also wasn’t, was some sort of mildly bad habit that can be put right.…The speech was authentic. He governs like he spoke …” .
And what else was news these past few days? A visit to an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts entitled “Late Constable”, which has absolutely nothing to do with a policeman who didn’t turn up on time or who has died but which displays a representative sample of painting from the late period of the master, John Constable, one of Britain’s best-known artists whose climb to fame is closely tied with the history of the Royal Academy itself. That notwithstanding, this exhibition is apparently the first major retrospective of Constable’s work and spans the period between 1825 his sudden death in 1837 and explored his late style through his paintings and oil sketches as well as watercolours, drawings and prints. These years were characterised by expressive brushwork, developed in his oil sketches from nature, and full-size preparatory sketches. He also turned to watercolour with an enthusiasm missing since the early 1800s, and some of his late drawings show the same freedom of expression as his paintings from the same period.
A visit to the Royal Academy also involved another traipse through the Burlington Arcade and this time I found myself gawking through the window of one of the jewellers there. If I’m to believe the prices on display, this one — and it was only one of several — contains rings that together are valued at between £200,000 and £250,000. Not for me!
The day before Shuli arrived, I spent a few hours with an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a while, wandering around in the City of London with cameras and chatting — mostly chatting. We swapped photos that evening after which I truly felt that I am no more than a moderately talented amateur!
At the beginning of our walk, we found ourselves at Austin Friars, which in its heyday had been an Augustinian friary in the City of London, a short distance to the north-east of the modern Bank of England. Between when it was founded, in the 1260s, until it was dissolved in 1538 during the reign of Henry VIII, it had a resident population of about 60 friars (monks — they had nothing to do with fish & chips). There was a church at the centre of the friary and behind it a complex of buildings that provided accommodation, refreshment and study space for the brothers and visiting students. Today, the most prominent sign in the street advertises a wine bar and while looking at the sign, I thought it so appropriate to have been located on Austin Friars!
I also managed another trip to the Royal Academy to view the architectural photography of Hélène Binet, which I found thought-provoking, if only to comprehend what could be done (mostly) in black-and-white, while concentrating on shadows and light. However, I also learned that sometimes it might be beneficial to check out videos of an exhibition (if they exist) at home before travelling all the way into the West End, rather than after having been there.
Penultimately, when, a few days ago, I thought I wouldn’t have any nonsense at all to write, I decided that I would do one blog post comprised entirely of photos that I’d taken over the years and which I particularly like, so I chose some at random from the collection. As I did manage to write >2,000 words of [mostly] nonsense, I decided I’d leave with just a small selection!
And finally, although the leaves may have fallen off the trees, nobody, it seems, has bothered to explain that to the trees, which have already started to think about spring!