I thought that it was about time that I made another entry in my blog. I meant to during August (and quite a few other times, too). However, I got distracted by the weather (hotter than the inside of a Bolivian unicyclist’s jockstrap), the antics of my next-door-neighbours (more later) and about forty episodes of CSI….
Actually, I was disappointed that no nuns came to visit. You understand that this is not a normal occurrence here – I just felt that it would have been an interesting diversion.
Well, at the Minster, we had a pretty successful Trinity term, with a few big services - including one for The Friends of The Minster, when my boss went off to attend a refresher course on Hessian underwear and the use of artichokes in contemporary worship. So I was left simultaneously playing and conducting from the console. Fortunately, it was largely well-known stuff – Stanford, in C and Rose Responses. Oh, and one of my anthems – which they sang really well – thank God, since everyone who was anyone was in the church that afternoon. Apart, that is, from my boss. I hope that the seminar was worthwhile.
Not much happened during the summer recess, really. I did some practice for my usual recital in the City of London (no, not the big place with the dome and the two-week reverberation period). It was OK – the church, being one of Wren’s finest creations (and the ‘model’ for the really big one, to boot) itself has a generous acoustic, which blurred the edges and saved about three hours’ rehearsal time.
Afterwards, as a treat (well it was my birthday on the Sunday), I walked a few hundred yards up the road to the big one itself – St. Paul’s. After spending about two minutes simply walking from one end to another, I ascended (well it sounds more grand than ‘climbed’) the many steps to the entrance portico, paid the £467.89 entry charge and had a good look around. I had forgotten what a really fine building it is. I climbed (as you know, I have already used ‘ascended’) up to the Whispering Gallery and listened in on a few conversations. It is amazing what one can learn up there. Did you know, for example, that a woman called Celia is shortly about to leave her husband (a quantity surveyor) for a bloke named Roberto who has a one-man juggling and fire-eating act in a pub in Stockwell on Friday evenings? No, I thought not. Or, that when Ethel Slater (real names used – I care not one whit about her privacy) returned home from work last Tuesday night, she discovered that her husband had attempted some interior re-modelling and taken down a wall between the kitchen and the dining room. Shortly after this (and whilst the afore-mentioned husband had fortuitously stepped outside for a smoke), the house had decided to enter into the spirit of things and did some re-modelling of its own, whereupon the small back bedroom, formerly located above the kitchen, was now partly resident in the kitchen. Stupid sod.
Anyway, as engaging as all this was, time was advancing and so I pressed on to my goal (well, for that afternoon, at any rate), which was the lantern perched on top of the dome. Whilst on my way up (and while resting on a platform), I was overtaken by a woman with her adult daughter, who promptly succeeded in getting both of their backpacks stuck in a narrow opening between the walk-way and the inner skin of the dome. Ha-ha. Fortunately, the obstacle was soon overcome and we were all on our way up to the lantern (or is it a cupola?). At the next resting-place, I pondered briefly on what a really inconvenient place it would be for someone to have a heart attack (or, in fact, any other disabilitating medical emergency). Then, drawing fresh vigour, I climbed the last few steps and stepped out on to the enclosed walkway which encompasses the lantern.
Here, I was just in time to observe the woman who had got her backpack stuck a few minutes earlier almost kill a Japanese girl, by the simple expedient of pointing expansively at some landmark or other for the benefit of her daughter. It was only the timely intervention of a strong gust of wind, which prevented the girl being swept to a painful death on the recently-landscaped pavement of Paternoster Square. Stupid cow. (The pointing woman, not the Japanese girl.)
After a brief look at the fantastic views, I decided that I should head back downstairs. I do not have a problem with heights per se – but if the stupid woman was going to start knocking people off the top of St. Paul’s simply because she wanted to point out the Shell building to her daughter, then I felt that I would be safer out of her way.
At this point, I feel compelled to mention that St. Paul’s has quite a good refectory (unless one wished to purchase a sticky bun, which I did not). I know this, for it was my next port of call. I located the refectory in the crypt, adjacent to a rather good book and souvenir shop (did you know that they sell little inflatable statues of The Virgin Mary and chocolate effigies of Dr. Rowan Williams? No – neither did I).
Anyway, I digress. It was then time for me to make my way in the general direction of Beckenham to await the sumptuous feast which awaited me that night – and very nice it was, too.
The following day, I again travelled up to ‘town’ with a friend, who I usually stay with when I visit the great city. We attempted to have a look at the Kandinsky exhibition in the Tate Modern, but the next tickets were available at 17h30 and it was then only 14h30 – so we sensibly went to the pub. However, before leaving the Tate, I did manage to purchase a few gifts for some friends and I bought a mug for myself – which I presently cannot find.
The rest of the week-end passed on a blur of gardening, alcohol and good food.
It occurs to me that, near the beginning of this entry, I promised to furnish details of the escapades of my neighbours. Well, due to the length of this entry, that will have to come soon.
Watch this space….
Incidentally, the second emoticon is supposed to be a doughnut (please, no mention of Spotlight, Hugh Scully or Fanny Craddock). I was unable to locate a sticky bun - or a jockstrap.
Last night, my friend Alison came round (speaking figuratively – she was not actually unconscious). It was good to see her again. She wanted to go into the Minster to take pictures of some dead people, so I used the opportunity to take a bunch of pictures of the organ, the building – and a couple of dead people. I have posted the results in a new gallery called, inventively “Wimborne Minster”.
I know that some of the photographs are a bit fuzzy, especially if you click on ‘view full-size image’; however, I am still experimenting with the settings on my camera. In any case, it is not that easy trying to take pictures balanced on the top of a slightly dodgy pair of step-ladders. I wish my boss would return the pair he borrowed – they were loads better. Oh well….
Now that you see what an interesting life I lead, I expect that you will want to rush eagerly to my photo albums and check-out the latest shots. There is also a private album (when it actually appears), but wait, all you ladies out there! There is nothing remotely exciting in this album – just a few ducks, shots of my house, etc. I don’t get my kit off (thank God) or include photographs of last Friday’s cabaret night in the White Hart, in which a troupe of naked, clog-dancing sheep brought the house down. So you will in all probability be quite disappointed. That is, of course, unless you have a bit of a thing for ducks….
Today I am going house-hunting. So far I have not really seen anything which I like. I saw one place last week which was fairly gross – it stank of fags (that’s cigarettes to our American friends) and dog – which was in the garden shed, trying to eat its way through the door, which was a little unnerving – until I saw the dog. It was a boxer; you know, one of those dogs which looks as if it chases parked cars – BIFF! Dopey and over-affectionate. I suppose it could lick a burglar to death. Actually, it did have its sinister side. At one point, it looked at me with an expression which clearly said “God, you’re hot! If you don’t let me out RIGHT NOW I’m going to hump your leg!” Well, that is what I took it to mean.
Declining the invitation to hook-up with a randy but sexually confused dog, I continued my tour of the house. The bathroom was frankly squalid. Why do people paint wall tiles? They just look crap. There were no other surprises, until I came to the son’s room. He was obviously either a cadet, actually in the army – or had a serious problem and was possibly wanted by the law-enforcement agencies of four countries. The room was festooned with guns, photographs of guns, books about guns and materials with which to clean guns. At least it could not be said that the room lacked a theme – or definition of purpose.
After a cursory look around the remaining rooms, I decided that I just did not wish to live in an eight-room dog-kennel, so I beat a hasty retreat and went home and changed my jeans – just in case.
I am hoping that if I get to look at any houses today, they will be blissfully free from overheated dogs and rooms which look like an interrogation cell in the basement of the Lubyanka Prison. Perhaps if I am really lucky, I will find a nice house, with a nice garden – and no paramilitary memorabilia.
Tomorrow sounds as if it might be OK. I have been invited out to see some of the exhibitions which are part of ‘Dorset Arts Week’. (Actually, one banner reads ‘Dorset Art Weeks’, but since it finishes at the week-end, I suspect that this one was incorrect.) We will be heading off to Sherborne, so I might pay a visit to the Abbey and see if I can acquire some photographs of the county’s most rebuilt organ for my website. If I am successful, you will be the first to know.
Right now, I am feeling a bit left-out, so I am off to purchase a combat jacket and a Kalashnikov.
Well, it may be 01h33, but it occurs to me that I have not written an entry for my blog since December. So, I am going to remedy this situation.
It is half-term again, so I am on holiday. Consequently, I do not greatly care that I am writing this in the small hours of the morning.
Much has happened since I last wrote here. Unfortunately, much of it was about as interesting as St. John the Bapstist’s underwear, which partly explains the lack of continuity since 14th December.
One interesting thing was a visit to Holland (again) in the February half-term, which reminds me, I have not yet uploaded the photos from the trip – perhaps I shall do that tomorrow.
Holland was great – and very cold. In fact, the inside of the church of Sint Bavo, Haarlem, was so cold that I thought that I would freeze. Fortunately, I did not. Unfortunately neither did I get to play the extremely sexy Christian Müller organ on the west gallery. Still, at least I did get to see it; on all previous occasions, the church has been locked, regardless of the time of day.
By now, you are probably beginning to realize that indeed, nothing exciting has happened for ages.
Life meanders on. School is still there – although there were a few doubtful moments last week when the Year 13 students left. A Year 8 boy was wrapped in Cling-film (and then liberally doused in water), a Year 10 boy was tied to a tree and a Year 8 boy was Duck-taped to the underside of a desk. Actually, that last one was quite amusing and inventive – unless of course, you happen to be that Year 8 boy…. Last year, one boy had his trousers forcibly removed and stuck up the flag-pole. After about thirty minutes, he managed to prevail on a friend to take pity on him and retrieve them.
Then there were the chickens – last year, one student (one of my pupils) hit upon the bright idea of hiring four chickens (via an agent) and bringing them into school, having first numbered them ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘4’ and ‘5’, in the hope that, after releasing them into the central quad, we would assume that there were five of the wretched things and spend hours searching for the elusive number ‘3’. Unfortunately for this boy, another of my pupils had learned of the plan, and had (sensibly) informed me. So, when the Year 13 boy arrived at school, clutching a large box, I intercepted him and rescued the chickens. Just as well really, since the stupid sod had forgotten to put any means of ventilation in the box and the chickens were more distressed than if they had been sharing their forced billet with Dale Winton. As it transpired, we decided to give the chickens to another member of staff, who happened to have a smallholding (although his wife quite likes it). The only disappointment was that I was not there to witness the hapless sixth-form boy trying to explain to a very angry farmer why he was unable to return the chickens.
This year, we managed to avoid the risk of Legionnaire’s Disease – we found out about the plan to place dead fish in the water supply for the air-conditioning just before the school closed for the holiday. In any case, this one had been tried before – fortunately with no success.
I am determined that this holiday is not going to pass in a maelstrom of DVD-watching, sleeping and drinking. Therefore, I have invited myself for several meals at the homes of various of my friends. This is basically a sound plan, since it ensures that I only have to provide myself with little snacks at mid-day, as opposed to roasting half an oxen whilst watching the Six-o’-clock News (in order to see if John Prescott has been sacked, yet). There are two further advantages to this course of action – I also get to investigate the contents of my friends’ wine cellars and I do not have to wash the dishes. Now, before you all think that I am some kind of slothful slob, all of my friends have diswashers – thank God.
Well, since it is now almost at the point when going to bed would be about as practical as fitting wheels to a tomato, I had best crawl into my little pit and become horizontal for a few hours. I have a busy day ahead. After visiting B & Q (a local hardware superstore) I plan to festoon the outside of my house with hanging baskets, in order to compensate for the lousy weather (and to deter Jehovah's Witnesses from visiting). I did consider putting them inside the house (the baskets - not the Jehovah's Witnesses), but there is little enough room as it is. The watering process would also be a bit messy.
Ah well - nighters!
Oh, I almost forgot – St. John the Baptist’s underpants – they were made from woven goat’s pubic hairs.
It’s that time of year, again….
Corridors are filled with angels running around trailing personal stereo leads - Mary has purple hair – (why?) and Joseph is arguing with the stunt sheep about an X-box. Just to the left is the Innkeeper, although the kid playing him looks like a trainee Hell’s Angel (without the Harley Davidson, of course).
All of which is probably preferable to a couple of years ago, when the boys playing Joseph and the Innkeeper were switched after two rehearsals due to ‘incompatibility with the romantic lead’ (Excuse me?). Unfortunately, the boy who was originally playing the Innkeeper fancied the girl who was playing Mary and was somewhat miffed to lose out to his (former) best friend. Come the night of the performance, the boy had got so annoyed over the apparent injustice that, when ‘Mary’ and ‘Joseph’ approached the Inn, hand in hand, and asked if there was room, he replied “Well, I’ve got room for her – but you can bugger off!” There followed a communal gasp from parents – and slight thud back-stage as the teacher/director swooned. (She now has a post in the Indian sub-continent.)
Then there was the time at the Minster when I was asked to provide one or two sound effects – well, one, actually. All that the director wanted was a fanfare on the horizontal trumpet rank as the angel appeared. I should have thought about possible consequences – you can hear the wretched things in The Square. (The trumpets, not the angels.) However, I gave no thought whatsoever to the likely outcome and agreed to improvise a fanfare at the appropriate moment. (I should perhaps mention that I was not needed at any rehearsals, since I had so little to do.) The day arrived, the play commenced; we got to the exact moment, the angel appeared and I duly played a stirring fanfare. Silence. A voice whispered from off-stage: “And the angel said….” Still silence. I looked around to see this boy in full angel-type regalia, white-faced and trembling from head to foot. A more urgent whisper emanated from an old curtain: “The angel said….!” A slight pause and then, from the boy playing the angel: “I WANT MY MUM….!!” …. And ran off the stage.
Next, we have the Carol Service. Perhaps this year we can survive without someone reading Thomas Hardy’s The Oxen. Or the Head Chorister’s voice dropping about two octaves during his solo….
However, more of this shortly….
Tonight we had a run-through for the Advent Candlelight Service. It seemed to go fairly well. I managed to get through transposing the JSB Wachet Auf into D with only a few little slips – just as long as I can do it again on Sunday night….In case you are wondering, I transpose it down a semitone in order to prevent the Gentlemen of the Choir bursting major arteries as they strain for top Gs. It is also cheaper on the window insurance.
We had yet another soloist for the Stanford Magnificat - the best, so far. Just hope his voice holds out. He spent most of the time between singing snatches of Stanford coughing violently and hawking phlegm over his neighbour’s cassock. I can only assume he smokes about 500 a day.
The organ behaved itself – apart from the Swell Double Trumpet, the tenor and bass octaves of which were making the most peculiar noises. Upon investigating, I found that virtually all the tuning-slots for the tenor octave had been closed, so I opened them and re-tuned the rank at the reed. This does at least mean that the stop has largely the same timbre throughout its compass. Prior to this, the tenor octave had sounded like it was being strangled – and in another room.
Loads of teaching tomorrow – got pupils doing exams, next week. (Mustn’t forget to tell them each to take a crisp twenty-pound note and a bottle of Bordeaux for the examiner. Alternatively, they could always do some practice and learn the pieces and the scales….)
As you can see, I am having a really exciting time at the moment.
Don’t know what to play before the Advent service – I can’t keep on playing all the Advent pieces from the Orgelbüchlein, the Prelude on Winchester New and the Chorale Prelude on Nun komm by Buxtehude. Perhaps (just for a change) I will improvise. At least the voluntary afterwards has been sorted (Fantasia and Fugue, in G minor – JSB)…. all I have to do is find some time when I can actually get on the organ to practise it. If there are any purists out there who intend to come to the Minster on Sunday night for the service – you will probably not like my registration – I don’t do ‘chaste’ Bach. Whilst I am not planning to use the chamades for the piece, I intend use everything else – except, perhaps, the Céleste.
However, the really important question is: ‘Where do we go afterwards, for a drink?’ Do we go to the White Hart (the ‘official’ Choir pub) with its small but welcoming Lounge Bar or do we go to the Goat and Firkin and try to avoid the darts players and the scantily-clad shivering nymphettes who are busy drinking all the vodka? There is a third possibility: we could go to the home of one of our choirmen and have a huge party and trash the place. Ah! Decisions, decisions. Actually, speaking personally, I can’t say that I fancy the Goat and Firkin – the last time we went there I was accosted by a large aggressive woman sporting a buzz-cut, who was bent on preventing me from visiting the Gents’. It turned out that the toilets had flooded earlier after a badger crawled through the window and promptly died in one of the lavatory pans whilst attempting to assuage its thirst. Whilst I was glad to miss that little scene, I cannot help thinking that the woman was unnecessarily firm and, for that matter, unnecessarily attired in some kind of body-armour.
Oh well, at least I now know what is meant by the phrase ‘Protective Dyke’.
Interesting Evensong, tonight – we had a relay system between the Head Chorister and one of the other boys during the Magnificat (Stanford, in G). Unfortunately the HC's voice is on the way out – at least, as far as the treble range is concerned. This meant that the likelihood of him producing sustained top Gs was commensurate with me being invited to become the next French Pope. It was somewhat distracting as far as I was concerned. Trying to play the organ part and ignore the fact that the treble solo was coming from two different locations, complete with contrasting vocal timbres (and speeds – the younger soloist obviously had a bus to catch….) proved interesting. Oh well….
Hope you all like the new gallery – most of the pictures are OK, but some are a little fuzzy when viewed full-size; but then - so am I. It has to be said that it is quite difficult to obtain a decent picture (or even an indecent one) of the organ console at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The best one I have was only possible by hanging out of the triforium gallery, extending my right arm, guessing and pressing. However, I am relieved that the Verger did not come up and try to hang a flag from my arm. They seem to go in for these (flags, not arms) – there are loads hanging above the stalls, together with a bunch of swords. These would, of course, prove extremely useful of the sermon was (a) long (b) boring or (c) a combination of both. It was interesting to see the old ‘Willis’ console up close. It now resides on the floor of the North Transept – complete with spelling mistake on the drawstop for the 32ft. reed, which is labelled ‘Contra Posanne 32’. I have to say that I am surprised that one got past FHW. Fortunately, the JWWW version upstairs reads ‘Contra Posaune 32’.
Mind you, there are one or two cases of organ stops being named (perhaps unadvisedly) after their benefactors. Take Sherborne Abbey, for instance, with its ‘Contra Batten 32’, after a former gentleman of the choir, now deceased. Still, it could have been worse – he could have been called ‘Bottoms’ or perhaps CENSORED. Well, you get the picture.
Personally, I quite like ‘Sackbut’, as at York Minster. But for something really exciting, you just cannot beat a Cavaillé-Coll ‘Contre-Bombarde’.
It has to be said that Evensong was rather more restrained than Mass this morning – the last hymn was I the Lord of sea and sky which my boss (possibly unwisely) decided to play on the grand (piano). He (even less-wisely) suggested that I might like to add a few parts on the organ. I responded ‘Oh, so we are going to camp it up, are we?’ ‘Yes’, said my boss, gleefully. ‘Just how camp do you want it?’ I asked….Apparently more camp than a row of pink tents, as the congregation soon discovered. Unfortunately, some of them actually liked it like that…. Hmmmm.
See the Bears’ game, last week, men?
Bloody Jamie Ovular….
Oh great! Due to this new schools healthy eating campaign, we now have pasta with everything. (Yuk.) Come next October, we will probably even have pasta with the puddings. This is fine – as long as you like eating pieces of shaped and textured rubber. If, however, you do not, then unfortunately you are stuffed (or maybe, not.)
Oh well, I will just have to have a jacket potato every day, tsk, tsk. (That’s ‘potatoe’, if you are Dan Quayle.) And what was that with the pudding?? It looked like albino custard - or possibly glue.
Yes folks, I am moaning about food again.
Apart from that, today was quite good, although I think that I may be attempting to teach the world’s only surviving brain-donor. Either that or the poor kid’s mother wanted to play the piano, but decided instead to do it via her son. Personally, I don’t think that playing the piano vicariously though one’s offspring should be allowed….
Hmm, reminds me – got a busy week-end coming up. Apart from it being Remembrance Sunday, I am supposed to be giving (heavy emphasis on that word) an organ recital after Evensong. That will be fun, since the only time I can practise is on Saturday night and I have advertised the programme as including an entire Mendelssohn Sonata and the final movement from Widor’s Sixth. Rats…. If only we actually had an acoustic (well, some resonance). This would, of course, help to blur the edges, generally reduce stress levels and save a considerable amount of practice-time. Ho-hum.
Oh well, at least in the afternoon I will be able to scare a bunch of Scouts and Guides witless by using the horizontal trumpets for the fanfare before the National Anthem. It is always fun watching them gasping and trembling, with their little terror-stricken faces peering out from under a sea of green and blue caps.
However, somewhat before all that, I have a choir practice. Tonight, in fact. I just hope that my boss doesn’t want to practise Stanford, in G. The notes are OK, but it is always a bit interesting turning the pages whilst playing. It is not possible to do it with just one copy (at least, not without leaving out some of the notes) but with two copies, you have to remember which one to turn and when to turn, otherwise you can suddenly find yourself playing pages in a sort-of backwards order – at which point it begins to sound less like Charles Villiers Stanford and more like Charles Ives. This is, naturally, something which my boss will just not want and will, in any case, merely serve to confuse the choir. Poor souls.
Oh well, off to teach again, soon. Maybe I will update again later tonight. If you’re really good, I may put up one or two new galleries.
An electric post thingy from a friend reminded me that I have a journal – still new, here….
Well, Dublin was brilliant. Everyone was really friendly and helpful. It is a fantastic city with loads to see and do.
Fortunately there were no nuns on the plane. However, there was the obligatory vomiting child (who actually barfed before we had taken off). Naturally the child was seated directly in front of me – as usual. Fortunately the stewardess gave the mother several sick-bags so we were spared wall-to-wall technicolour yawns.
I managed to play the organs of St. Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals – both excellent in different ways. Again everyone was really welcoming.
There is a real buzz to Dublin – and it didn’t rain….much. Loads of Russian and Polish people there, with loads of galleries, museums, cafés and places to eat. I managed not to drink any Guinness – it just looks well, funny. Think I will stick to vodka.
The hotel was good – except that a train track ran diagonally across the roof of the reception area so every few minutes the whole building shook and there was this big rumble – even louder than the 32ft. reed at St. Patrick’s….
I will upload another gallery later today with a few pix of Dublin and stuff. Not all of them came out. The organ console at St. Patrick’s is in the front of the organ chamber, close to the edge of the triforium arch, so I had to lean out, stretch my arm and guess where to point, since I couldn’t see the viewfinder thing. Oh well, some of them were not too wobbly.
Tomorrow, for the first time, I fly with one of those cheaper outfits. Hopefully everything will go OK – I really must try not to watch Airline…. Presumably in a bid to make the company seem more exotic (and expensive) they will serve unusual food – possibly goats’ cheese and lychee rolls, with a choice of mango- or parsnip-flavoured tea to follow. Actually, since the flight is only about an hour, it will probably be a plastic cup of Tetley’s® and a Rich Tea.
I have even re-charged my fobile moan – just in case. Just in case what? Well, just in case I want a recording of a sweet Irish lass telling me that my ‘phone is not switched for service in Eire….
Had pizza tonight, delivered by a bloke who was either wearing a skin-coloured muscle suit or who had a second job as a bouncer for Mothercare. The pizza was OK, but by the time he found my house I would have eaten the box – I have no idea why he couldn’t follow a set of simple instructions. Even I can find my own house…….hmmmm.
Oh yes – I know why I am taking my ‘phone – so that I can call a friend for a lift back from the airport on Saturday. This is, of course, because I am too mean to pay for another taxi.
Hope the pilots don’t have the fish tomorrow. Really, that wretched film Airplane has a lot to answer for. I hope to God that there are no nuns on board, with their Hessian undergarments and their beards.
I really did see a woman trying to put lip-stick on, during a ‘plane flight once. Yes, of course she got it all over her face. By the time she had finished, she actually looked if she had been snogging Mick Jagger underwater.
Now there’s a frightening thought….
OK – so not much has really happened today. I weighed the CD and found out about postage costs. Not particularly exciting.
However, I am looking forward to Dublin tomorrow. Apparently, it will probably be raining, so I’m told.
Don’t think I will have room for organ music, so I will just have to improvise again....tsk, tsk.
Well, I’m off to pack (earlier than usual).
Now where’s that garlic press….?