Monday, January 02, 2006

Bye bye 2005, hello 2006

What sort of a year was it for us? I’d say it was one of those Blink of an Eye’, ‘What, Christmas again?’, ‘Whoosh – was that 2005 which just ran past? sort of a year. They say it gets worse the older you get – how can it possibly get worse?
It was only yesterday that I sat here, in this very place (in front of the PC, right next to the radiator) with all the best intentions to write back to/phone all those nice people who had made an effort... (not to mention all the best intentions to finally deal with the Inland Revenue... but let’s not go there today...), and here I am again.
And it’s only when I summon all my strength in order to get these diminishing grey cells of mine to perform a few memory pull-ups that I can see that we were actually quite busy.
There is a very noticeable domination of ballet performances (something that may need some counter balance next year) but that is entirely understandable because I have become a sponsor of the Birmingham Royal Ballet despite the deplorable fact that my personal income still wouldn’t keep me in the quantity (or quality!!) of red wine that I’ve become accustomed to. With my golden coloured ‘Director’s Appeal’ card, I can go to several dress rehearsals, AND bring a friend! So, with this on top of the ‘regular’ performances, I sometimes saw three ballet performances in one month!

What follows is a list of some of the (cultural) events this year – mainly as a reminder/memento for myself. (Partly to be filled in later, as some of those grey cells weren’t quite up to it...)
We started off by taking the whole family to see ‘Manon’ at Covent Garden (Ozzy was more impressed with the train journey than the ballet – apparently, good ballets need giant rats – and kept saying, "When does it land?", which makes you realize that these kids are more used to flights than trains these days...), and Frank and Syvvy to see ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at Birmingham, which was immediately followed by my first dress rehearsal, ( ). The next performance in the series was Duo Concertant (Balanchine), Scènes de ballet (Ashton), Rites of Spring (Nijinsky) & Dumbarton Oaks, all set to Stravinsky. In June, Ozzy and I made it into Brum City centre for “Stars of the Royal Ballet” (Covent Garden) on the big screen, and with a couple of friends we saw Holst’s ‘The Planets’ and ‘Into the Ferment’ (mostly by young choreographers) at the Hippodrome, which was followed by a matinee dress rehearsal, ( ). The next one wasn’t until October – ( ). There are three more to come next year, but ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at the beginning of December with my mother-in-law rounded this year off nicely.
Music-wise, I went to the Tsunami Concert in Cardiff, and another very ethnic one at a community centre, including Louis’ band; we saw an interesting film on John Coltrane and the song ‘Strange Fruit’; the Hugh Warren Quintett, and a Cuban Jazz band at the MAC, and numerous artists at the Cropredy Festival in August, most notably, Jah Wobble, the Hamsters, the absolutely fantastic Muffin Men and of course, Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson. We went to see Trevor Burton several times, of course, and even ventured into opera once: Rigoletto. (Was that when we saw John Nettles at the Hippodrome?). Ah, mustn’t forget Nitin Sawhney at the Medicine Bar of the Custard Factory (felt very out of place...), and the Destroyers at the Symphony Hall (great entertainment for all the family)!
Plays were few and far between, Pinter’s The Birthday Party (fantastic), the Reduced Shakespeare Company (absolutely hilarious) and The Tempest as interpreted by oddsocks (really good fun) with the teenagers. Frank and I also saw Brecht’s Gallileo (Syvvy had already seen it as part of her young playwrights programme), which was disappointing as Timothy West seemed to have problems with his lines. There should have been ‘Hecuba’ at Stratford, but that was cancelled due to an operation Vanessa Redgrave had to undergo. To be fair – we were offered tickets for the London performances but did not want another trip, when we’d already been down at the beginning of February and then Tom had taken Ozzy for Half Term
[2], and the Caravaggio exhibition warranted another visit in May. In the event, it was only I who managed[3] to see the latter because we left it for the very last weekend, and Ozzy fell seriously ill, which was all the worse because he was due to go on a school trip the following Monday. This in turn, could not be put into jeopardy as I was going to use his absence to visit my Mum in Germany...
As it happened, this was to be the only trip to Germany this year as we felt we could finally go elsewhere. Easter and the May half term were sabotaged by Frank’s school putting on GCSE revision classes, but we said hello to some old haunts such as Wookey Hole, Glastonbury, Padstow and Sandymouth over Tom’s birthday.
[4] In July, I went to Bordeaux with my College friends, and just a week later to Prague for our Wedding Anniversary. Then we took the tent, first to Cropredy, then to Normandy[5] and Brittany. Apart from seeing stately houses, landscapes and gardens up and down the country[6], that was it really, in terms of travelling.

Other than that, we have mainly sat around watching TV, drinking increasingly more expensive red wine, and bemoaning the state of the world. Tom still dreams of cigarettes but has been nicotine-free for over a year now. Unfortunately, diet-wise we have gone back to the bad old ways with predictable results. In fact, instead of being obsessed with points and WW meals, or at least trying to keep the cholesterol down, I fell in with the foodies when I discovered Chocolate & Zucchini... – hence this blog, wonderful new friends, and a huge array of recipes. The downside: once again I spend too much time on the PC (and too little in the gym), and the focus is on yumminess, not necessarily health and losing weight. BUT as Joanna so admirably shows, a food blog can be about healthy eating, too. So, who knows, I might yet be able set up a new regime and post about our successes... If yesterday’s meal is anything to go by, it’s going to be an uphill struggle. As many of you know, Tom believes that calories are actually what makes food tasty, and any meal cooked by him seems to come from a recipe book entitled ‘Give your Arteries Hell – Dr Tom’s Fast Track to Coronary Disease’: Chicken breast in garlic butter, cheesy leeks, creamy mushrooms (double cream, no doubt) and roast potatoes cooked in dripping... See what I mean?!!
But after another year of impossible time schedules and demands most mere mortals are not capable of meeting, such as being physically present at project meetings in Glasgow and Bracknell at the same time, I’m just glad that it only ever resulted in panic over certain bids
[7] but not in him going back to smoking. I hope that we can tackle the food question this year.
Talking about tackling questions – Frank passed his GCSE’s this year with more or less success
[8], and Ozzy had to brave the waves of 11+ reasoning papers. He came out of the first test as if he’d been in the trenches, and there was no way he was going to go back in to pretend sitting the test for a BBC camera crew.[9] I had quietly predicted this, and I was quite proud that appearing on TV held so little fascination for him. (Even though I knew that the main reason would be his desire to get home, crash out in front of said TV, thumb firmly inserted in his mouth...; yes, still a sucker at 10 and 11...).
As for myself, nothing much to report really, I’m falling apart at approximately the same rate as the house and have been avoiding to tackle the repairs on either front (me: teeth
[10]; knees; house: front and back, top to bottom; cellar, kitchen, bathroom, attic, outhouses/garage, patio – everything really...). I’m not going to list all the resolutions which exist in my head as there is one single phenomenon which overshadows them all: P. Yes, the dreaded P-word: PROCRASTINATION. If I manage to curb my P this year, then I’m well on my way as far as all other things are concerned. Apparently, at the bottom of P lies perfectionism and the fear of not being able to achieve self-imposed standards. So, as a first step, I’m just going to leave it at that. This entry that is. Even though it isn’t by any means as well constructed, complete or funny as I would like it to be...
Happy New Year!!!

[1] Though as usual not with the house, which is in the same deplorable state as described in every Christmas letter of mine – including the ‘Oh, are you moving?’ installation art of boxes lining the hall, which, incidentally, for Christmas this year, we cleverly disguised as ‘interesting mess’ with the aid of my huge array of Christmas books and several see-through boxes of those Christmas decorations which we weren’t using this year. Very festive. An absolute stroke of genius by my better half.
[2] where they saw The Pirates of Penzanze, which Ozzy loved – the costumes were blatantly based on a well known Jimi Hendrix outfit by the way, which reminds me that the “Stars of the Royal Ballet” included Nigel Kennedy playing Jimi Hendrix!!!
[3] only just, that is... At this point, one could not reserve tickets online (or any other way), and one was advised to get there early. Well, I took the train after dispatching Ozzy but, of course, only arrived around midday, and there were no tickets left!! So, what to do? As I didn't have to be back until Tue night for my summer course teaching, I was theoretically able to spend the night in London, get to the National early the next morning, see the exhibition and then return to B'ham as long as it was in time for my teaching. But short of sleeping under a bridge, which is only romantic in Paris (and even there, only in novels...), where could I spend the night? I have a friend who lives in Lewisham (how far that is from the centre, I do not even know) but I've only got her home phone number not her work number. The phone situation was further complicated by the fact that I had taken Ozzy's mobile because mine hasn't had any money on it for the past two years now (a testimonial to the fact that one can actually live quite happily without permanently having a phone attached to one's ear), but it now inexplicably asked me for some strange number, which of course I had no way of knowing... Luckily, I was still able to use it as an electronic phone book. So, I positioned myself in a café just opposite two phone boxes, drank a large cappuccino and thought it all through. I could phone Tom and ask him to find my friend’s phone number for me via her place of work... Then again, to Tom, this would seem a very complicated and annoying activity distracting him from the relative serenity of multi-digit numbers and fancy formulae (= financial modelling on enormous spreadsheets), so I thought I could just as well ask him whether I could spend the night at his hotel in Bracknell, which is, after all, not too far away from London. Of course, I had to ask him to phone me back as nobody carries enough spare change on them to actually conduct a conversation on a public telephone... To cut a long story short, that's what I did, I took the train to Bracknell, Tom picked me up, and I bought a toothbrush and contact lens lotion as part of his expenses. As it turned out, his hotel this time was close to Reading station - which of course, I could have gone to, had I only known this before, and which would have avoided the awkward situation of John having to get me to the station for my 5:30 train, which was the only one to guarantee that I would be at the National early enough to get hold of a ticket for that morning's 'show', i.e. 8:30! So, in actual fact, I was 1 1/2 hours away from London, which is ironic if you consider that Birmingham is only two hours away... Still, I did get there early, though I was by no means the first. And by the time the exhibition opened, the queue went all the way from the Sainsbury wing to the main entrance!
[4] He was even interviewed by Cornish Radio and was able to express his “surprise” at the somewhat incongruous circumstance that the ‘Obby ‘Oss wasn’t taking place on the correct date, because it fell on a Sunday ...
[5] Where Tom was interviewed again! This time by French television who were filming people and their reactions in the totally fantastic Eric Satie museum in Honfleur.
[6] We went to see where King John lost the crown jewels in the Wash (why was he transporting them in the first place?), and noticed in Boston that the postcards proclaimed that the horrid man had been King until 1261! (When of course, it should have been 1216!!)
[7] especially the £8 billion BBC one which they were in danger of losing when Tom’s laptop was stolen at the Hilton while he was the breakfast bar...
[8] He managed to get 17, not quite all with A and A*, but with only one C – which was not in French, as expected! His oral contained a role-play that had never been covered in class (or revision notes!): breaking down with the car (why a 16-year old needs to know this, is quite beyond me) – the vocabulary of which I nearly needed to conjure up on the way back from Brittany when I caused the Focus to huff and puff and burst into flames while attempting to drive for a few miles with the hand brake on...
[9] While waiting, I had been approached by a reporter of a programme which will show one little boy’s progress; to be broadcast in March after they will have received their ‘results’.
[10] I actually lost a tooth in France – biting into a Madeleine, of all things...

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