From Jubilee to Japan

And so, a couple of weeks after a short visit to John Bull’s Other Island, it was time to catch up with some news from the eastern shores of the Irish [Celtic] Sea and strangely after only four days away, nothing much had changed.  The country’s  96-year old monarch is still going strong though no longer as strong as was once the case.  Although she missed the state opening of parliament, her place taken by her dutiful eldest son and heir apparent, Charles, who delivered the Queen’s Speech in her stead — with a crown in place to his right-hand side and well within his view—just in case he got any smart ideas — she has been seen in public opening the new London Underground Line, referred to for the years of its gestation and incubation simply as “Crossrail” and which has now been officially named the “Elizabeth Line” — what else could it have been called? — and in a golf cart at the Chelsea Flower Show.  Although it’s never mentioned, some people must be hoping that she survives until after the Jubilee celebrations conclude on June 5 although all in all, Her Majesty seems in pretty good form.  And remember, her late mother lived to be 102, surviving it’s said by some, on a daily does of gin and tonic and by others on  Scotch.  Whatever!

and the flags and bunting are beginning to appear in town and throughout the suburbs,

although it seemed a little more subdued that the bunting for the Olympic Games hosted by London a decade ago.

The ongoing conflict/special military operation/war in the Ukraine is still in the news although it no longer seems to head either the reports on radio and TV nor the newspaper headlines as much as  it did a few weeks ago.  The upshot of this is that the British Prime Minister has been enjoying a “good war” and a ׳wonderful jubilee, for between the Royal Family and Ukraine War, it’s easy to divert people’s attention from what has been termed “Partygate”, the blatant breaking of rules that had been devised by the government during lockdown through partying and drinking in 10 Downing Street and Whitehall, involving government ministers (including the Prime Minister himself) and civil servants (some of them quite senior), while the bulk of the British population obediently observed the rules that the government itself had thought up.

The Prime Minister insisted that he had not knowingly broken any rules at all and made several statements to that effect in the House of Commons during the weekly circus commonly known as PMQ (Prime Minister’s Question Time) — which always seems to me to be a piece of “official comic entertainment”, something that seems to be totally lacking in other countries.  The most recent of these solemn denials of rule-breaking came last Wednesday and it was followed shortly afterwards by a press conference at 10 Downing Street attended by many of the most senior political journalists and commentators in the country, some of who seemed to receive very short shrift from the Prime Minister.  The overall impression from my superficial view of things was that most of the time, Mr. Johnson was not telling the truth, the whole truth and not even anything remotely like the truth but, of course, I may well be way off the mark.

Things are slowly returning to normal here.  Concert halls, theatres, cinemas have audiences even though the few times I’ve been in the past few weeks, they haven’t been full. Three weeks ago, it was back to Wigmore Hall to hear the Gringolts Quartet perform Igor Stravinsky’s 3 Pieces for string quartet and Arnold Schoenberg’s first string quartet.  I’d heard the Stravinsky a couple of times  but never the Schoenberg.  It needs a lot of concentration but was a wonderful performance although I’ve never quite got used to quartets that play while standing.

The other Wigmore concert I attended was a recital last week given by the Canadian pianist and composer, Marc-André Hamelin whose recordings I had heard many times but had never heard live.  Some CPE Bach to start off with and then Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata, which I last heard live at Wigmore Hall many years ago.  This performance was like nothing I’d ever heard before.  My eyes and ears were working full-time and when the pianist came to the end, he seemed a trifle tired.  I know that I was exhausted and all I had to do was sit and listen.  I was so impressed that I’m off to hear him again, in the company of his Norwegian colleague, Leif-Ove Andsnes in a concert of piano duets.

Exiting Wigmore Hall, I took the picture below and as Wigmore Hall had been Bechstein Hall until it was acquired as enemy property back in 1916 during World War Once, due to its German roots, I was interested inn what was going up.  The new building will consist of a two-floor showroom, 13 practice rooms, a one-bedroom apartment equipped with a Bechstein piano and 24-hour practising facilities intended for international artists performing in London.  It will also have a 100-seat concert venue, called Bechstein Hall and is set to open in Spring 2023.  The Steinway showroom is just around the corner so competition returns to this part of the world.

Other cultural events in the past fortnight included a trip to the West End to see 47th, a new play by Mike Bartlett, set in 2024 when Donald Trump is contemplating another run at the presidency.  The playwright turns American politics into Shakepearean comedy but it falls rather flat despite some brilliant performances, especially that of the English actor, Bertie Carvel, playing Trump, who arrives on stage in a golf buggy.  He also has all the tics and inflections of the real Donald Trump, so much so that you might even be inclined to believe that you’re watching the Donald himself, as he encapsulates his swaggering facility to amuse and coin an offensive catchphrase and use it to best effect; the actress (can I still say that or do I have to say “actor” who played Kamala Harris was pretty good, too as was the man who played Sleepy Joe Biden.  Nevertheless, however good the performances were, the play wasn’t able to plumb enough depths in its ideas to bring up anything new; we’re still too close to the original Trumpist times for any greater wisdom to be unearthed. So, at the interval, we just looked at one another, nodded, and off we went.

Then, we went to see the most emotionally draining movie I think I’d ever seen, certainly the most poignant — The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin), set in rural Ireland, a film with dialogue in Irish and English, about a 9-year old girl who has an unhappy family life with a philandering and bullying father, sisters who ignore her, school mates to ridicule her and who is fostered out to relatives who have recently lost a child of their own while her mother has fallen pregnant again.  It is in the company of these relatives that the child learns love and kindness for the first time.  The 12-year old Catherine Clinch who plays Cáit, is simply outstanding — as is the cast as a whole.  Definitely not to be missed — and if you do go, bring load of tissues with you!

In between the “cultural events”, there were other things worth photographing, from watching grandchildren training with Highgate Harriers on Hampstead Heath running track …

… to observing how some people try to prevent visitors from knocking on their front doors.

139 Constantine Road, London NW

Nearby were some remnants of historical geography — chimneys and analogue TV antennae, neither of which function today.

And not far away, something that had taken to making its home plain for all to see.

Other people hide their “pets” away in places where they are hardly visible until somebody spots them by chance and moves them to more visible positions.

En route to the Old Vic to see 47th

Bicycle “park”.  Waterloo Station. May 2022


An all too common sight in London 2022. n.b. note shoes and backpack.

As is often the case, my eyes are attracted to signs and the errors or nonsense that sometimes appear in them.  A couple of weeks ago, we met friends in a kosher café in Golders Green, NW London and I espied the sign below, which is well intentioned yet contains one superfluous ingredient for kosher-observing Jewish people!  Can it be spotted?

Then walking down from Berkeley Square towards Piccadilly, I passed a Rolls-Royce showroom where one can pick up a one-year old Rolls-Royce Ghost with just 5,000 miles on the clock for the knockdown price of just under £320,000, a saving of just £50,000 over buying a new one!

And next door, there was a restaurant and bar, which is fussy about what its clients should wear and as I was wearing trainers, albeit on my feet, I decided to forego the ignominy of being ejected onto the street, hungry though I was.

And driving along East Heath Road, Was reminded that next time I want to ride my horse to Hampstead Heath, I will need to acquire a permit!

Finally, this week, I was asked if I would like to poin a party going to view the exhibition, “Japan: Courts and Culture” at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace.  Never having been there before, I agreed to accept the invitation.  The group congregated at St. John’s Wood Synagogue where we were given an hour’s interesting talk about what we were going to see, which was followed by a discussion as to how we would manage the journey from the one place to the other and it was decided that cabs could be shared amongst up to five people.  This proved to be  a novel experience for me as I’d never shared a taxi with four not-so-young and highly vocal Jewish women, all from north-west London.  A short sample of the soundscape appears below and it went on, all told, there and back, for about 45 minutes during which I was forcefully rendered speechless!

Just before we set off for the ride into town, I noticed [yet another] sign that seemed to confuse me and which suggested that a simple process like opening a gate/door a trifle more complicated than it actually is.

The pieces in the exhibition all came from the Royal Collection, which holds some wonderful examples of Japanese art and design and relate the story of 300 years of diplomatic, artistic and cultural exchange between the British and Japanese royal and imperial families (King George IV seems to have been a fanatical and fantastical collector of this stuff) and the exhibition includes rare pieces of porcelain and lacquer, samurai armour, embroidered screens and diplomatic gifts from the reigns of King James I to the present Queen. Together, they provide a unique insight into the worlds of ritual, honour and artistry that brought together the courts and cultures of Britain and Japan.

By the way, one of the curiosities mentioned in the talk was that the Queen’s grandfather, Prince George of Wales – the future King George V, who reigned from 1910 to 1936, and his brother, Prince Albert Victor, visited Japan as teenagers in 1881, serving as midshipmen aboard HMS Bacchante and were granted shore leave to meet the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. George kept a diary and they returned to the UK with presents for their family from the Japanese Imperial family.  However, in addition, they had  their own permanent reminders of the trip—tattoos on either arm and in his diary, George wrote that they had spent a very pleasant week on shore at Nara & Kyoto … [that] nearly everybody on board had been tattooed and that he had a dragon done on one arm at Tokyo & a tiger on the other arm at Kyoto and George’s diary gives a detailed account of the tattooing process.

Unfortunately, there were no photographs of the princes’ tattoos in the Royal Collection nor, as far as I am aware, are there any photos of King George with his shirtsleeves rolled up — but there are some photos of some of the exhibits.





Leave a Reply