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.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Sunny Side of Science - Michael Brooks and Tim Radford are committed to advertising the wonders and beauties of science to the widest possible audience and the Book Festival crowd reacted as they would have wished; with appreciation and pleasure.  Answering questions the speakers both emphasised the vastness of what we don't know despite the vastness of what we have created - Huddle telescope and Large Hydron Collider being but two examples.  Talk of black holes and multiverses reminded me of Donald Rumsfeld's known and unknown unknowns.

Des canyons aux étoiles -  described as Messaien's mystical celebration of the breathtaking natural marvels of Utah this work employed quite large forces including a wide range of percussive instruments one of which, the geophone, Messiaen invented specially for this piece.  There was a lot of sound to try to get your heard around, a bewildering variety in fact.  On my one and only trip to Utah the place seemed majestically quiet rather than noisy so I can't say that I saw a direct relationship but I guess all that could have been going on his head.  I enjoyed the first half hour or so but that was only a third of the way through.  My poor little brain tired progressively as time went on.

Home Truths - Robert Peston's distinctive delivery, mastery of facts and incisive questioning are amongst the joys of British political broadcasting.  He's written a book called WTF? in which he puts forward an analysis of what he thinks has gone wrong with Britain in recent years and why and what we might do to make things better.  He deployed all his gifts in racing through an invigorating and often humorous presentation and dealt succinctly with audience questions.  Politicians please copy.

Visions de l'Amen -  Messaien again but only two pianos and not quite as long as Des canyons aux étoiles and a very different reaction from me.  I thought it was absolutely wonderful, a thrilling high energy mountain range of gorgeous sound that finished with the Queen's Hall audience held in limbo while the last notes slowly faded to be replaced by tumultuous applause.  The first half of the concert had featured a sonata for two pianos by Brahms.  Pleasant enough at the time, it seemed old-fashioned, lumbering and dull once we had heard Messaien.

Rocio is back from her summer in Spain so my sax lessons have resumed, for which I am jolly grateful.

Monday, August 20, 2018

La Maladie de la Mort - I was pretty certain that my response to this show would prove shallow when more accomplished minds were turned to it. Sure enough what I dismissed as base metal Lyn Gardner deemed, if not pure gold then 19.2 carat.  Her successor at The Guardian, Kate Wyver was only slightly less enthusiastic. Flora Gosling however, in The Wee Review to which our own celebrated cmfwood contributes, came close to supporting my opinion, being just a tad too generous.

The English in Modern Scotland - Tom Devine, who must be every Scot's favourite historian, gave a sparkling talk at the Book Festival outlining what he argues in his contribution to New Scots, a book about immigrant communities here.  He reveals that from being a country of net emigration for centuries Scotland has in recent decades become a country of net immigration and that not surprisingly (perhaps?) most new Scots are English born.  They represent now (if I have remembered the figures correctly) a little under 10% of the population.  Contrary to some beliefs they are not all retirees buying up homes in the Hielands to the disadvantage of the locals but the vast majority are workers contributing significantly to economic growth.  He said that the university sector in particular owes a debt to them in achieving a position in which five of our universites are ranked in the top 200 out of a worldwide total of 26,000 institutions of higher education.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The festival second week saw the Book Festival get underway so I've been there as well as to some Fringe and International Festival events.

Pleasures in Prose - the Book Festival is celebrating Muriel Spark's centenary with a number of events but I've only been able to fit one of them into my schedule. The organisers obviously expected a deal of interest and put it in their biggest space but to my surprise and no doubt their's the place was half empty.  Alan Taylor led a lively discussion with writers Louise Welsh and Zoe Strachan focusing on the place of sex and shopping in Spark's oeuvre and life.  It was excellent.  Why were there so few people in the audience and particularly why only a handful of men?

Job-Cher - a fun show about a Cher tribute act. Not you would think natural territory for me but I had a friend in the show.  It was very lively and very entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable.  It also introduced me to the splendid restoration work that has been done on Riddles Court. I'm encouraged to visit after the festivities.

Rome, Sweet Rome - I was a minority of one in the audience crammed into the Spiegel Tent to hear Lindsey Davis talk about her crime novels set in ancient Rome. I'd never heard of her or her books but everyone else knew them by heart.  It was like being at a cult meeting.  She spoke very well and the books sounded fun so I popped into the bookshop afterwards and found the first in the series, The Silver Pigs. I enjoyed it well enough but don't see myself lapping up the score or more that followed.

Maths, Magic and the Electric Guitar - despite my relative lack of academic success with mathematics I find myself drawn now and then to the subject.  David Acheson gave a light-hearted presentation of a number of mathematical ideas that do seem to verge on magic and polished it off  with a stomping guitar solo illustrating for those with very keen ears the formula that defines the frequencies of the harmonic vibrations of strings -
   
Famous Puppet Death Scenes -  Hard to know why I decided to see this show.  It did get five star reviews but that was I think back on their home ground in Canada. The press here were a bit more restrained.  It was very well done and had it been half an hour long I might have sung its praises but it wasn't so I won't.

Catriona Morison - an Edinburgh girl who is the first and only Briton to have won the Cardiff Singer of the World competition gave a lovely recital at the Queen's Hall.  Her voice ranged from quiet and sweet to loud and powerful in pieces by Brahms, Schumann, Mahler and Korngold.

Stories of Africa - two young female novelists, one from Uganda the other from Zimbabwe talked about their books and more widely about the worlds they grew up in and the influences that had operated on them.  Jennifer Makumbi's Kintu is a story that follows a family from the 18th century to the present day but misses out the colonial era and Idi Amin which the Guardian reviewer suggests delayed its publication in the UK. In contrast Novuyo Tshuma's House of Stone takes her country through Cecil Rhodes and colonialism to Mugabe's reign. 

We Need to Talk about Africa -  non-fiction this time but some of the stories told in Paul Kenyon's Dictatorland beggar belief.   Reviews of the book declare it to be a little lightweight which can't be said of Tom Young's Neither Devil nor Child.  He's a lecturer in politics and economics who argues that western interaction with Africa is doing more harm than good.

Laugh Out Loud (Cry Quietly) - is one of Arkle's Fringe shows. It's about internet dating which is certainly not my thing. Although I found some of it quite amusing and some of the performances admirable I wasn't convinced that the text was worth the effort. Here's a very fair review.

You Remind Me of You - Arkle's other show.  A much more coherent text but with its frequent changes of location better suited in my view to film than stage.  Mind you they had an ingenious way of handling the props in scene changes.  It got a very good review so while I wouldn't go all the way with it I don't want to rain on their parade.

Portrait of a Marriage - a super session at the Book Festival with John Bellany's widow Helen talking about her life with him.  Chaired by the admirable Richard Holloway who teased out some gems.

The Beggars' Opera - a 21st version of John Gay's 18th century ballad opera.  I enjoyed the show but much prefer Brecht and Weil's version.

Xenos -  the renowned choreographer and dancer Akram Khan in a visually stunning work.  I was somewhat too far away in the gods to feel as much part of the show as I would have liked to.  It was nonetheless a gripping and absorbing evening. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Skirt finished its run on Saturday having filled 95% of the seats available over the week and having garnered a four star review.  Thus it can claim success with all due modesty.

The Grads other show, Much Ado about Nothing, played to pretty full houses for most of the week as well, deservedly so, and is off next weekend to strut its stuff at The Dell in Stratford in the RSC's summer programme featuring amateur and community groups.  Let's hope the rain holds off.

A quick rundown of the stuff I have seen since the festivals kicked off:-

First Snow/Première Neige - a joint production by the National Theatre of Scotland and two Québecois companies.  About indentity both personal and national it was well received by the critics but I didn't much care for it.

Scottish Saxophone Academy -  their youth summer school presented a lunchtime concert in the superb acoustic of St. Mary's Cathedral.  They played a delighful variety of music extremely well and we had the additional pleasure of hearing the American saxophonist David Milne guesting with them.

The Antiscians - billed as being inspired by some fairy tale or other it might best have featured in the children's section of the Fringe programme.  A tale of two girls raised separately by a warlock/wolfman. One sleeps by day and learns to feel and be gentle.  The other sleeps at night and learns martial skills by day. They eventually meet, bond after initial distrust, learn they are the results of the warlock/wolfman's mating with a robin and deliver the unassailable moral message that difference is OK.  I should mention that one is black the other white.

Casanova Dreaming - a well staged, well directed, well acted, beautifully costumed show in which Casanova is visited by his much older self who in a series of vignettes warns him against the errors that await him and advises him to enter a monogamous marriage.  We know he doesn't of course. I can't say that I found the content of much interest.

Babyface - now this was archetypal Fringe bollocks.  A young woman did a lot of jumping about, birled a baby's high chair over her head, made baby noises, squished baby lotion about while extolling its virtues as a skin treatment, changed her clothes a few times into those sutable for various stages of childhood, prevailed upon a couple of audience members (me included) to participate embarrassingly and finally let us go in a cloud of baby powder.

Big Aftermath of a small disclosure - a bit like Casanova Dreaming I didn't think much of the content but I did enjoy the style both of the text and of the production. A man announces he is thinking of moving away and this leads to the disintegration of his small friendship group. Like The Stage I'd give it three stars.

Love's Labour's Lost - this was a fun production by a youth group of a Shakespeare play that I don't believe I've ever seen.  Some of the kids showed real potential and the whole company worked well together.

Don't Knock Your Granny - from the other end of the age spectrum a group of mature Australian  ladies presented a song and dance show that had a bit to say about a number of things including a lot about the abuse of the elderly.  I admired their chutzpah but was glad the show wasn't much longer than it was.

Ciara - this is an excellent piece by David Harrower that I saw at the Traverse some years ago.  It's a one woman show whose protagonist is the art gallery running daughter of a now dead Glaswegian gangster.  Like any one person show it presents immense challenges to both performer and director in building a structure that moves the story along with appropriate changes of pace, of movement, of expression, of intensity while remaining firmly on track and keeping a grip on the audience.  This they did.

Autobiography - the first EIFF show I've been to. An hour and a half of dance from choreographer  Wayne McGregor.  All very skilful but I found it somewhat cold and didn't much appreciate the boom, boom soundtrack.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The world premiere of Skirt enjoyed an enthusiastic reception from a completely sold out house last night.  The show went very well and was unblemished except for the contrary behaviour of a champagne (well champagne substitute) bottle whose cork popped prematurely cutting a couple of  lines.

Friends I ate with afterwards declared themselves well satisfied with the show and found the script admirably true to life.  So big congratulations to its author Ms cmfwood.