Monthly Archives: February 2013

On not being investigated by the police


Last night I tried to do the impossible:

  • find some clear sky
  • after the end of astronomical twilight
  • before moonrise
  • no overhanging trees
  • multiple locations
  • stopping the car in total darkness without other cars running into it (or me)
  • and without causing the police to investigate my strange lights and beepings in the blackness

Did I succeed?  Well – sort of.  A couple of data points for a sky quality survey; and now I need to achieve all those conditions again … and again … and again …


Telling tales out of school


although after sixty-five years they look a little passé.


The publication date is 1947.  O’Connell was music director for the Victor recording company in the United States, and wrote this book of personal reminiscences – somewhere between name-dropping and kiss-and-tell – about some of the distinguished musicians who recorded with the company in the 30s and 40s.  Most of it is positive, and often entertaining, though there is an occasional sense of him getting his own back.

O’Connell can turn an enjoyable phrase  (“When Koussevitzky … walks out on the platform to conduct his orchestra, he suggests to me not so much an individual as a procession …”)  and knows how to develop an enjoyable rant (the one about the Hammond organ was particularly good).  In among the personal anecdotes, The other side of the record offers an unusual perspective:  the politics and the role of recording in the careers of such musicians as Eugene Ormandy, Toscanini, Rachmaninov, Stokowski, and their attitudes towards it.  The limitations of the technology emerge incidentally:  records with a playing length of 4 – 5 minutes per side, so that musical works had to be broken into artificial chunks of dubious tactfulness; the horrors which could befall wax masters en route to the manufactured disc; the experimental use of ‘sound film’ in San Francisco as no proper recording equipment existed away from the east coast.

You wouldn’t call it a great life-changing read, but it’s not like anything else either, and I’m glad I read it.

First time ever


In spite of the dismal winter, it hasn’t been seriously below zero, and since the days began to lengthen the grass has been surreptitiously growing tall enough to be a pig to cut, and soon would be almost impossible.

Luckily it’s not rained much for a week, and the surface puddles have drained.  Yesterday I topped the grass at the front with the blade set high; this morning began on the back, under a louring sky and bitter breeze.  Hmm, I thought, this smells like … and yes: there was the swirl of small sleety flakes beginning.  I went on shoving the Flymo grimly over the appointed yardage of tussocks, tried to rake up the wet gobs of mangled grass falling off the bottom of the mower, and chalked up another first:  cutting the grass while it snows.

Once a year


the ugly, bitter Seville oranges are available.  Once a year, I have the chance to make Seville curd.  sevilleBought lemon curds – I’d as soon eat Vaseline.  As for Seville curd, I don’t think you can buy it at all; but anyone who can stir a saucepan can make this superior comestible.

The kitchen now reeks with the warring smells of onion and bitter orange.  The pan in the background is making French onion soup.

There are two of her


and sometimes there are two of him.

Just back from seeing Eugene Onegin, broadcast live from the Royal Opera House at the local fleapit, and as a profoundly ignorant opera-goer I am trying to sort out what I think about it.

It is a less lavish production than those from the Met, which in many ways is a good thing as far as I’m concerned; and I’m not qualified to give marks to the music or singing.   I became significantly involved, though, which is unusual for me with Tchaikovsky or with thwarted-love-and-now-it’s-all-too-late dramas, and a pleasant surprise, so there must be something to be said for it.

The attention-getter for this production is having two Tatyanas on stage simultaneously for quite a lot of the evening:  the young Tatyana dances, the mature Tatyana sings.  And then there are two Onegins.  The reviews were mostly rather sniffy about this, saying it removed the focus from the singers and that having the story told through flashbacks was both dull and convoluted.   Granted, it was impossible not to think of Catch 22 (‘I see everything twice’) and I did have an inward smile at the thought of having two Lenskys as well, especially as he spent so much time lying dead on the stage in the middle of a ball.  (On the other hand, so far from being offered two Olgas, the one we did have disappeared half way through – come on, chaps, what happened to her?)

However, in the end I liked having two of each, who could be either younger and older selves, or a way of representing a psychomachy taking place within each character, or, more fruitfully, both simultaneously.  Yes, the young Tatyana might well speak in the older Tatyana, but was the mature Tatyana also existent within, and trying to protect, the young Tatyana?  Was the young Onegin partially aware of the older Onegin inside him, sucking his teeth and saying ‘For God’s sake don’t do that you fool’?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m pleased to be able to ask the question.

Where millock comes from


Sew up the story of your life.  The needlework autobiography which is central to this book is obviously an impressive piece of work, tightly structured into 73 circles (with extra bits for the edges), and its 112 cm length stuffed with curious detail.  It began as a personal project, so the individual roundels are more or less coded for private meaning, and Jean Baggott found herself writing notes for her family and friends, and now for the public too.

Girl on the wall

The chapters are written with an intentional naïveté in harmony with the cross-stitch designs, because, as the author is keen to point out, she has had a very ordinary working class life.

It is time which has made her story fascinating, and she focuses on her youth, though all her decades are represented.  It is curious to see what facets of life she thought should have their own circles:  Christmas, street games, and rationing, certainly, but there are also circles for patent medicines and house fires.  The stories which reveal family members’ characters are good too.   Just before Jean was married, her mother armed her against all eventualities with the following advice:  ‘Never let your husband know that you can move the wardrobe single-handed.’


And I learned things:  for thirty five years I’ve been puzzled by an elderly relative who proclaims facetiously that he will put the millock in the tea.  Belatedly, I now know where the expression comes from.

Today someone tried to kill me


The Everest jumper


George Mallory went up a mountain and didn’t come back.  It’s been told plenty of times, of course, but Wade Davis’ book tells it well, with the detail which allows us (we who will never get near a serious mountain) to understand why things are so different up there.  What’s more, Davis sets his narrative in the context of the First World War and other wars, of Tibetan and British politics, of exploration, of Indian history, and the context of the history of mountaineering.  No surprise, then, that this is a stout volume, but it was very readable. Peering at the decent maps provided helped make sense of the narrative, and a sample of photos was welcome too.  I’ll be keeping it until I find someone very deserving to pass it on to..


I cast off the shoulder ribbing for the green Odpins jumper at about the same time I reached Wade’s Epilogue, and, fully bodkin-enabled, sewed it up.  It’s light as a feather, so flexible you don’t know you have it on, and surprisingly warm for a garment consisting mostly of holes.  I’ll pay for these qualities by having to hand wash it very carefully, but it is definitely worth it.