Hoary youth

I can’t remember ever having woken up and being so glad not to be young, though even I might not be old enough and might need to reduce my economic dependence on the UK plc.  This enjoyably topical (neé political) introduction does lead me very nicely into a couple of my recent cultural outings (though frankly, I feel culture was one of the first out of the closet).  I reckon with this ability to twist absolutely anything to make a seamless segue into the stories I wanted to tell anyway, I’d make a successful politician or chat-show guest.

Tuesday night, for the first time, I cycled to Turner Sims to see neither classical music, nor a physicist or geographer.  No, I went to see a bunch of Finnish fiddlers (well, who can resist alliteration) called Frigg (and who can resist a substitute swearword).  In fact, they weren’t all Finnish – there was one Norwegian – and only 4/7 of them were fiddlers, they also boasted a guitar, a double bass and a chap who alternated between a mandolin and what looked like a tiny guitar (though probably had 8 strings: like a guitar and a mandolin had a baby, which would probably be sterile).  The concert was enormous toe-tapping fun based (loosely) on traditional folk tunes and could boast a significantly younger (on average), if smaller, audience than is normal for more classical fare.  I was sitting next to what I assume was a member of the clergy and chatting learned the benefits of the cassock as an item of workwear.  Apparently, you can wear anything (or nothing) underneath enabling the wearer to remain warm in winter and cool in summer and comfy in both – which might also explain the appeal of the burqa.  Though I feel both items of clothing would have their issues in the gales that characterised the night in question – perhaps lead weights could be sewn into the lining?

When I arrived home after the concert, I fell prey to a very strong temptation (which I did little to resist) to speak English with the cadence of the Finn or Norwegian.  I think (for a brief period) I could actually “do” the accent!  This may come in handy as my back-up plan, should the economic balloon go up or the lights go out (which given my recent economic reading and likely forthcoming UK economic policy seems likely), is to move to Norway and acquire a taste for pickled herring.

On Wednesday, I once again dragged my ashes to London (I left my sackcloth at home) though kept my feet substantially closer to the ground than last time.  Finding myself in Aldgate and in need of shelter from the unsettled weather I had my first look around the Whitechapel Art Gallery.  Some quite interesting stuff on show, including a very fine photo of a chicken – though I wouldn’t recommend their wall-paperer (unless this was part of an installation).  The highlight was Still Life with Flowers and Fish by Natalia Goncherova – a haunting dream-like work with hints of Marc Chagall (to my eye at least).  Sadly, I’m not its only admirer and a quick internet search suggests it could cost me a good $0.5 million to make it mine (even were it for sale).  I may stick with Natural Hessian emulsion for the time being.

In the evening, I went to the Young Vic to see Ah, Wilderness! by Eugene O’Neill (written before he opened his chain of Irish-themed pubs).  The play was a lot of fun and the main theatre space at the Young Vic is great for the audience – really good sight-lines and surprisingly comfy bench seats and for yours truly (who knows a thing-or-two when it comes to seat selection) near infinite leg room.  I have previously seen Strange Interlude by the same author, which I don’t recall being a barrel of laughs but Ah, Wilderness!, written in 1933, is billed as being his only comedy.  The billing was not fibbing, it was an absolute joy!  A charming coming of age story for young Richard set over two days at and around a beach house.  It remains funny – though I suspect reading Oscar Wilde, GBS or Swinburne is less shocking to mothers now than in the early 30s – and the principal characters, while flawed, are all sympathetic.  Richard is, in almost all respects, a perfectly modern (rather geeky) teenager – fifty years before Harry Enfield brought us Kevin or Hugh Laurie was handed Burwale the Avenger.  All the tropes of the modern teenager were present – the oscillation between boy and man, the surliness and the feeling that no-one understands him.  I’d always assumed these tropes could at best be traced back to the sixties (or at best the fifties) – but clearly they go back at least to the early thirties.  As so often, far less of the modern world is original than we like to imagine.   Given the date and Richard’s assumed age, he is contemporary with (or slightly older than) my grandparents – who I’m now starting to consider in a very different light!

However, much as I enjoyed the play – a near perfect evening out – I did feel sorry for the cast.  Given the setting, most of the stage is covered in sand – quite deep sand.  Whilst this mostly stays away from the audience, the entire cast spend nearly two hours in it every night – they must constantly be finding sand everywhere.  Towards the end, significant water is also added to the mix.  Just thinking about the possible chafing makes me wince – and for the poor cast there must be no escape from sand even when they are away from the stage.  I suspect the actors playing Richard and Uncle Sid, in particular, will be finding sand where they don’t want it for months to come.  The more I see acting, the more convinced I am that it is not an easy option career-wise – and, for the vast majority, it isn’t even that financially rewarding.  I think I shall reserve my pretensions in that direction for the (hopefully sand-free) amateur arena.


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