Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I went off to Keswick for the weekend.  The town was stowed out with visitors as usual and as usual there was a bit of rain.  Not too much and what there was added to the autumnal beauty of the place.

Here are a couple of pictures I took on a stroll by the lake.  Lovely spot is it not?

I rushed back to Edinburgh on the Monday for band practice.  With a concert coming up in December and my difficulties with the pieces we are playing I can't afford to miss more practices than is absolutely necessary.

How wonderful it would be to play as well as members of the SCO, or any good orchestra for that matter.  Their concert this week featured a tremendous new work, a viola concerto by John McLeod.  This world premiere featured the SCO's principal viola player, Jane Atkins.  Called Nordic Fire it lived up to the monicker, hurtling flashes of energetic brilliance from the viola through a solid orchestral groundwork.

The concert started on a Nordic note with the very pleasant and tuneful Holberg suite by Greig and finished with an orchestral version of a Beethoven quartet.  Best left as a quartet in my view.

I went with Claire and Maddy to the NTS/Citizens production of Cyrano de Bergerac.    It was an evening on which a large proportion of the people I know in Edinburgh were also at the show.  It was very good though I thought some of the opening scene could have been done away with.  It's an English version by Edwin Morgan so it's a good text and the production was high-spirited and imaginative with the Lyceum's stage laid bare to its back wall and wings.  While wonderful to look at that vastness may have led to some of the lines floating up into the grid rather than out to the audience.

Since I went to India years ago the country has continued to hold a fascination for me so I was attracted to a talk at the museum called A Punjabi Jewel in the British Crown?  It was an excellent, rapid and sweeping review of relations between the East India Company (and later the British govenment and Queen Victoria) and the Sikhs in the persons of Ranjit Sing, his son Duleep and grandaughter Sophia.

I was familiar with much of the story though I'd forgotten rather a lot but wasn't at all familiar with Sophia.  She was a most interesting character, living an aristocratic life but demonstrating as a suffragette and working as a nurse in the first war.  I'd like to learn more.

In a bout of Francophilia a few weeks ago I joined the French Institute and today enjoyed the first fruits of my investment at a free screening of a super film called Les Grands Esprits.  Denis Podalydès plays a teacher at one of Paris's top schools.  At a cocktail do he propounds the view that what the poorly performing state schools in the banlieue need is an influx of experienced and highly competent teachers like himself.  Little does he know that he's addressing these remarks to someone from the Ministry of Education and finds himself being inveigled into putting his ideas into practice himself.

Of course it's not an immediate success.  His relations with the pupils are not good.  But this is a warm and delightful comedy in which a happy ending is inevitable.  So he brings the pupils round becoming a better person in the process.  I admit to having a tear my eye as the closing credits rolled.

This could be my Wednesday afternoon treat throughout the winter.  That would get my membership money's worth.  And it's not a bad place to eat.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Having saved this painting for the nation, admittedly not single-handed, I was happy to trot along to the National Gallery to hear a talk about it followed by a wee swally.

The talk was very interesting indeed so I followed it up enthusiastically a week or so later with Art and the Jacobites.  Not as it turned out nearly as interesting.  Frankly boring, but the evening was saved by scampi and chips plus some pleasant plonk with chums at the New Club.

Yet more art.  I squeezed in a visit to the Rembrant exhibition that had been running all summer just a day or two before it closed.  All that dark Flemish stuff is not entirely to my taste but they can work miracles with zones of light in the darkness and I do like portraits of which there were many.

I went from Rembrant to the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition which has just opened.  It's a spledid collection mostly of posters advertising the attractions of fin du siècle nightlife.  There are some scratchy recordings of the stars of the day to listen to.  I'm sure that in the right place at the right time they were a wow.

That scampi was not my only eating out experience this month.  I've eaten Swiss alpine dumplings in Leith - very tasty; had an excellent French lunch with former workmates; had a mediocre French lunch elsewhere and a pleasant Scottish pre-theatre dinner before Mathew Bourne's Swan Lake.  That's an absolutely wonderful show and so sexy. What an imagination and what thrilling and accomplished dancing.  A couple of the dancers walked past me as I waited for a bus the following morning and I was quite excited to see them.

I much enjoyed hearing Francois Leleux playing the oboe with the SCO last season so it was a pleasure to hear him again.  He played Haydn's oboe concerto which was fine but I actually enjoyed other works on the programme more, notably some Brahms.  More Haydn popped up at another SCO concert.  This time a chorale work, The Seasons.  It was grand.  The chorus sang their hearts out and the soloists were great.   

I heard Catriona Morison sing during the Festival and she was back in Edinburgh this monthe to sing Shéhérazade by Ravel in a splendid RSNO concert under their new Music Director Thomas Søndergård.  He's not a new face for Usher Hall audiences because he has been Principal Guest Conductor for a few years.  He swung into action as the boss with Mahler and Beethoven and followed that up with Grieg and Rachmaninov in the concert that featured Catriona Morison.  I enjoyed both those concerts and were I not nursing a cold in the hopes of it not spoiling my weekend in Keswick I'd be in the Usher Hall again tonight.

I don't know if I can blame my cold on the days I went without central heating while a new boiler was installed but those were cold days in contrast to the mild days that followed, on which the heating seldom came on.  Whatever, my various domestic bits and pieces are gradually reaching the end of their days and being replaced.  A groaning toilet cistern is next in line.

On one of those mild days I sat drinking in the sun with Andrew who happened to be in Edinburgh and was happy to chew the fat with me while Rosemary got on with the serious business of shopping.

I'm catching an early train for my weekend away and luckily I went to collect my pre-purchased tickets today because the machine went through all the motions and told me that it was printing them but disgorged no tickets.  I had to run around a bit to eventually get a man to open the machine and pull them out.  No way I'd have been at the station sufficiently long in advance of my train for that.

Spotted this splendid bird on the hunt for a snack in the Water of Leith.


Tuesday, October 02, 2018

In a mood of hexagonal nostalgia I joined the French Institute the other day.  I suppose I should say re-joined because I have been a member in the past though in my heyday of theatrical activity there in the 90s I don't think I was.  Anyway I toddled off to their celebration of European Language Day which was not too exciting. There was a little quiz, harmless enough, then half-hour taster sessions of a limited number of languages.  The only one that promised me anything new was the Polish one so I went and it was fun in a mild sort of way.

There were refreshments. A pale shadow of the feasts that used to be laid on in Randolph Crescent.  Has austerity accompanied the move to their new premises on George IV Bridge?  I left clutching a pile of leaflets hoping that there are better days there to come.

That same evening I went with Claire and Ross to see Manpower at the Traverse preceded by a delicious bowl of chicken livers at Nandos.  That nosh pleasure saw me through a tiresome show whose raison d'être was lost on me.  Fortunately Claire was reviewing it so now I know.  Generous as ever she gave it two stars.   Joyce McMillan was there as well and on the Scotsman website under her byline it gets four stars but no supporting text.  Very odd.

Also very odd by most measures and the very reason I went to it was a gig featuring the American saxophonist Colin Stetson.  Described as experimental he does all sorts of things with the bass
saxophone except perhaps play music.  The best I could say about it was that it was better than his support band.  To be fair some of his stuff on Youtube is listenable to and this video in which he explains what he's doing is interesting.

At least thanks to meeting a sax playing friend who had arrived early I got a seat.  The Dissection Room being on this occasion as on many others essentially a standing space.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

One of the features of where I live that I never fail to be thankful for is the ready supply of buses that are available on my doorstep to whisk me to almost everywhere in the city that I ever want to go.

And I live in high hopes of the tram line being extended down Leith Walk within the next year or two to add a direct link to the airport.

Now that undertaking will entail some disruption to the bus services during construction of the line.  Current plans indicate that buses coming from town would no longer pass my door.  They'd go down Easter Road or Broughton Road.  Not a big inconvenience.  Indeed adding a healthy little walk.

However a new transport option has just been introduced that would overcome the problem and would be even more healthy.  Edinburgh now has a bike hire system with a docking station just round the corner.  I got all excited about it and kitted myself out with the phone app needed to use the system.  Rides were free on the first day but it was close to midnight before I was ready so I thought better of zipping down Leith Walk then.

I still haven't tried it out but I will.  What would be great would be for the conversion of the Powderhall railway into a cycle track to be speeded up.  There's bound to be an access point pretty near here so I could revive my long disused cycling skills more safely than on the roads, or even pavements.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The resolution got me out on the golf course again about a week later but weather and other things have conspired to keep me off it since.

One delightful other thing was a weekend making music at The Burn.  I've been to this lovely place a few times now but this was my first carless trip.  It required a train to Montrose then a bus to Stracathro hospital which is in the middle of nowhere, then a taxi to The Burn.

The journey was enlivened by a sprint along the platform and up and down a bridge over the tracks to catch the bus.  I needn't have bothered rushing because a fight broke out on the bus after a few stops.  The sane and sober passengers all got out and hung about till the next bus came along.  To our dismay a couple of the unsobers also got on but collapsed into the land of nod after exchanging a few unimaginative expletive undeleted curses.

The sound of a dozen saxophones playing fortissimo was tranquility itself in comparison.

Then the resumption of my U3A Italian ate into possible golfing time.  Not the class itself which is only a couple of hours every two weeks but I'm now in charge of the group which means I have to prepare materials for our sessions.  It's time consuming but quite fun.  Of course what we need is an actual Italian leading the thing not me but at least I can make sure that what we do is of interest to me if to no-one else.

It's a shame that in his 150th anniversary year Macintosh's art school should have burnt down but fortunately I went round it a few years ago and have visited other buildings of his in the past and this year have been to various celebratory exhibitions.  One of the things that tends to be displayed at such exhibitions is the design he (and his wife Margaret Macdonald) submitted in 1901 to a competition sponsored by the German publisher Koch for"A House for an Art Lover".  They didn't get a prize but the drawings were purchased by Koch and later published.

No house was built from his or anyone else's designs at the time.  I didn't know that a house based on those drawings had been built in Glasgow between 1989 and 1996.  On my most recent visit to that city to lunch with Andrew I had the great pleasure of going to see it.  It's lovely and what's more contains a restaurant that provided us with an extremely good and pleasingly affordable lunch.  Here's some pics


Gable view

Dining Room

Music Room

Piano - visitors can play it!

For lots of information about the competition and the design click here.  The Glasgow realisation of the design is very lovely inside and out, but I'm not sure I'd be comfy living in it. Maybe I'm not enough of an arts lover. 

But I do love Chicago, the musical that is; I've never been to the city. The show has been the toast of Pitlochry this season so a bunch of  us took a train up, with fizz thoughfully supplied by Claire for sustenance on the journey.  After an excellent lunch we went to the show.  It merited all the plaudits it has received.  The play on which it is based was written (in 1926) as a satire on the corruption and bending of judicial processes that the city was famous for at the time.  The musical stays true to that except that it's such fun, the songs are so bright and catchy, the characters so engaging and we are so removed from the environment it is set in that the message has a hard time getting through.

Another show that deserved not only plaudits, which it probably has had elsewhere, but a decent sized audience, was Richard Alston's Mid Century Modern which played to a very sparsely peopled Festival Theatre last night.  The dancing was beautiful especially the last piece in which the dancers in various combinations and ultimately the whole company whirled and leapt to Brahms' exciting gypsy piano pieces.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The fine weather tempted me out onto the golf course this afternoon for the first time in many a moon.  I didn't fancy trailing along behind the party of four marshalling on the first tee so I took advantage of a gap elsewhere and set off from the tenth.

Given how long it is since I played last I was very pleased with my game.  I seemed to drive and putt as well as I ever have and my iron play wasn't totally shabby.  Mind you we are talking of a fairly humble level.  Best ever handicap 21 after all and all downhill since then, or I suppose I should say uphill given how the handicap system works.

It was good to get some fresh air and exercise.  I'll make a late summer resolution to play more often and see how long I can keep it up.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

I've rather neglegted the Fringe this year and it didn't figure in my final flurry of activity over the weekend.  I went to a concert and two Book Festival events.

Mahler's Eighth Symphony - this is a large scale choral work which filled the Usher Hall stage and choir stalls.
I enjoyed it when it was loud and when it was pin drop quiet but got a bit bored by the bits in between.  People I spoke to afterwards complained that it was very loud.  I think my seat high in the Gods and well to the side reduced the impact.

Lost Countries - a Danish architect who walks the beaches of Europe and collects stamps added to those hobbies an investigation into countries that no longer exist.  He's produced a book called Nowherelands that gives us the rundown on about fifty of them such as Indian princely states swallowed up after 1948 and a country that existed briefly (long enough to issue stamps) under Laurence of Arabia's tutelage until it was snaffled by the Turks and others.  It was an interesting talk and it's a very pretty book but it strikes me as a mini coffee table book that if I bought I should only occasionally glance at.

Monsieur X - now here is a book that I probably will buy but I'll wait for the paperback edition due next March.  Hardbacks take up so much space as well as money.  Anyway it's the story of a French aristocratic follower of the sport of kings who took on the state betting behemoth and took them to the cleaners over a period of years.  His lifestyle as well as his betting was distinctly racy.  Alas he met his comeuppance, the exact nature of which the author did not reveal for fear of spoiling our enjoyment and his sales.

So that's the festivals done and dusted.  I don't think my strategy of not booking up Fringe events in advance worked out terribly well but maybe it was rain and lethargy to blame.

Today I went to a public consultation event about plans for the development of the waste treatment site at Powderhall now that the plant is no longer in action.

It proved to be a more immersive experience than I had anticipated.  Once I'd absorbed or at least looked at all the information on display I was asked to fill in a feedback form.  As well as asking for comments I was provided with coloured pencils and a diagram of the site and invited to map out what I thought should go where.

Blow me when I handed it in a number of cheery urban planners laid out my ideas on a model. It was great fun and my idea for a sculpture and/or a playpark echoing the site's past as a greyhound track and a speedway venue with some bin lorries thrown in raised a laugh or three.
The green is parkland and sports facilities, the orange is housing, the blue is retail and offices.  The white at the entrance to the site is my sculpture/playpark.  What fun.