Sunday, March 29, 2020

A change of clock

A green parrot in the park, wondering why it's so quiet
It is a sign of our digital obsessions that I accidentally wrote that title as "A change of click" first. Ticking off the tock, "British summertime" begins today, so everything is an hour later than you think it is. This will be nice for the cats, who might be surprised to find they're agitating for feeding time on schedule instead of way in advance. But it remains dangerous for me as I have a computer-conference at 9.15am Brussels time tomorrow. At breakfast today Tom put on the first Brünnhilde-Siegfried scene from Götterdämmerung, and the Rhine journey, and if that doesn't wake me up, nothing will.

I should have been travelling to Brussels today - little more than two hours by train - and there meeting colleagues from all over Europe and having dinner with a wonderful violinist whom I know so far only through her playing and some Facebook messages. Anyway, here I am instead in my study, in my warmest winter pully and joggers, wishing I'd had my hair done, my piano tuned and a wine conditioner cabinet installed before all this mess blew up.

I'm amazed by the resourcefulness with which our locality is dealing with it. The supermarket was functioning sort of normally a week ago. Now they have put in place a supremely efficient queuing system. They calculated they have a capacity of 70 shoppers at a time. As one exits, one more is allowed to enter. Everyone queues outside, 2m apart. The deep trolleys have vanished and there is only a small supply of the shallow ones; an assistant is on hand with disinfectant wipes and cleans the trolley handle before passing it to the next person who comes in. There is no close queuing at the checkouts and the shelves seem relatively well stocked, although certain lines have been discontinued. They encourage people not to go in in couples to shop for one household, but they will help solitary shoppers to their cars with their bags. They have my applause for figuring all this out so fast and making it work so well.

The other day we took a government-approved-one-exercise-walk-per-day in Richmond Park (we are extremely lucky to live 10 mins stroll from it) and were fairly shocked by the behaviour of cyclists in there, out in their gear with rap blaring from wherever they keep it, riding several abreast, causing log-jams by the pedestrian gates and creating quite some hazard to families with young toddlers trotting along in front of them (in case you are reading this in a sensible country that has proper official divisions between cyclists, cars and pedestrians: we don't, and it's a problem, but nothing is ever done about it properly cos no magic money tree etc etc.) Police vans were out, observing, and that evening it was announced that cycles are now banned from the park. It is pedestrians only, unless you are a child under 12 in which case you can bring your little wheels. The place feels safer now. Whatever happened to the lycra lads?

Yesterday I watched a TV programme for the first time since the lockdown began - a documentary about the choreographer Kenneth MacMillan (highly recommended, btw). I think I'm finding it hard to watch or listen to anything that depends upon people being together, working together and creating together - which is virtually everything. I do not mind being solitary-with-husband-and-cats, and I like the peace and quiet, but my goodness, the situation shows us how much we take for granted the way we all interact simply because that is how human beings function, and how society functions. And if it is a small comfort that after this nobody will ever be able to say again "there is no such thing as society", it is a cold comfort too. Why does it take a pandemic to make people recognise this?

More cold comfort: we suspect we may have had the virus already. Tom was quite unwell with a terrible three-week dry cough immediately after our South African trip in late January; I caught it and had to drop out of attending the Immortal reward concert to which I was supposed to escort two patrons who had pledged for tickets (luckily they are friends and I can take them to something else, one this becomes possible). I hope that was it, because it would be one less thing to worry about. I know at least 10 people who have had all the symptoms and in some cases been downed for a week or two or more - and of course none of them have been tested for it, because here in dear old Blighty there are only tests if you are in hospital, so actually we have not the first clue how many people have really had this blasted thing, and no way of telling, other than that it is many, many more than the official figures show.

Meanwhile I am going one day at a time. It's all we can do. Today I am going to cook up a little JDCMB treat for 1 April.

Take care and keep well.
x




Friday, March 27, 2020

Springtime for Ludwig?



Under normal circumstances (whatever "normal" means any more), I'd have to pinch myself to make sure all this is real.

It's springtime. All week there hasn't been a cloud in the sky in which one could seek a silver lining. The magnolias are out and each day on my government-approved-exercise-walk I notice the new leaves have advanced another few bright millimetres. The cats are busy catting, aware only that it's sunny and warmish and they have licence to bounce.

'Immortal' has come back from the structural editor. It is 10,000 words shorter, though I am going to want a few of those back. The editor is the same person who worked on 'Ghost Variations', and she did a splendid job with that one, so I totally trust her. I now have 3 weeks to put right 125,000 words and check a number of historical queries - but all the libraries are shut, so that is going to be interesting. The thing is, all my programme notes, spring/summer concerts and travel plans have gone up in smoke, so I have that weird thing called time to work on the book.

And along with the time I have peace. There are no planes. The nursery school over the fence is shut too, and I no longer have to slam my window against the squealing and squalling of its playtime (yes, I am a nasty person sometimes - tough).

There is no traffic on the South Circular. We can actually breathe. It's wonderful.

Meanwhile as of yesterday I think I may qualify for government support, for the first time in my life. OK, I haven't read the small print yet, but I've been making an average living from self-employment since 1993, and any work I have that is related to live performance has gone. Which is a lot of it.

My husband is at home, being incredibly positive and good company, and willing to do a lot of cooking.

I don't have to go into central London and deal with crowds. I don't have to fight my way upstream at Waterloo Station in the rush hour. I hate that so much that it gives me dizzy spells. I don't miss it.

For years I've been grumbling that there are no arts on TV any more. Now suddenly the BBC is going to start broadcasting the Royal Shakespeare Company. And 'Fidelio' from Covent Garden, and the 'Metamorphosis' ballet starring Edward Watson and a whole heap more. On the internet the National Theatre and the OperaVision channel and the Met and the Berlin Philharmonic and the LSO and even the LPO are busy streaming all kinds of archive material at the touch of a button.

I've learned how to make a video, if in a rudimentary manner. Log on to my Youtube channel each day at 5pm for another episode of 'Jessanory' - I'm serialising 'Ghost Variations', because why not.

They renationalised the railways. They did. I can't help laughing (see 'Hungarian Dances' for why).

I'm not eating junk food, because I can't just nip into Waitrose and buy gf chocolate muffins or whatever (they have implemented a deeply civilised queuing system, but you should only go there if you absolutely have to). I am taking care to get enough exercise, so reaching 10,000 steps per day when I usually, totally, don't. And I am so anxious that the weight is dropping off me in any case. So I'm getting in shape quite by accident.

Frankly, it's beyond my wildest dreams.

There is only one snag. We are all effectively under house arrest because any of us may catch the illness. We may die at any time.

And that is so frightening that we are taking care to appreciate each and every day as if it could be our last.

Take care, dear all, and please stay home. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Quick diary update...

Nothing much to say at the moment, except we're all in the same boat. Back soon, I hope.

Monday, March 23, 2020

East wind

We live under the Heathrow flight path. I've been sitting here grumbling about it for 22 years. Plane noise. Plane pollution. Appalling for health, mental and physical. Still, you can always tell what time it is when Singapore Airlines wakes you up at 4.30am with the first arrival of the day.

It's all gone quiet. This, above all, makes one realise that everything is not as usual. Business is closed. The music has stopped. The world has stopped. Words I thought I'd never say: it is too quiet.

Only then you realise...it's east wind. We don't have planes overhead with an east wind. That's when they come in over Windsor instead. It's only temporary.

There is, therefore, a difference between illusion and reality. Our imaginations sometimes run away with us. This will finish, one day, however much it feels as if it won't. The casualties will of course be enormous, and not only from the virus: I am almost more worried about the effects of the stress caused by the situation in which we all find ourselves. Isolation, destruction of livelihoods and panic buying at Waitrose do nothing for health, mental or physical, any more than the planes do. (Having so said, Waitrose mercifully seemed to be settling down a bit yesterday.)

I am trying to be selfish and to count my blessings: I have a roof over my head and I bought an extra pack of loo roll months back when I thought we'd be getting a no-deal Brexit and it would lead to national collapse... But there are musicians, actors, artists of all kinds, who a week ago had a full diary, a healthy income and good management, and it has all gone at a stroke. If it hurts them, it hurts us all, because everything is interconnected, much more than we fondly imagine.

If a virus outbreak proves anything, it is the uselessness of ideology in the face of something that shows the basic truth: we are all human beings and we are all the same when it comes to mortality. That is the bottom line. The virus is the bottom line.

And suddenly 40 years of the UK's dominant political outlook has been swept away in ten days flat. Bye-bye, Thatcherism. What a shame it had to take this to get rid of you.

That aspect is not east wind. It will change the direction forever, and ultimately for the better, if we can just get through to see it happen.


Sunday, March 22, 2020

5pm daily: 'Ghost Variations' readings from my study

I'm on a technology high-rate learning curve here in the bunker.

Yesterday I created a Youtube channel and uploaded some videos to it >wow, I can do this?!<. To try and have something that requires me to focus intensely - because that's the most difficult thing, it seems - I am reading Ghost Variations out from my study in bleeding chunks of about 15 mins a go and "broadcasting" it on my channel every day at 5pm.

Here is the channel and you can, naturally, subscribe to it (no charge) if you wish to.

And here is episode 1. A few technical glitches and I do not sound like Vanessa Redgrave (yet), but I hope you enjoy it. Episode 2 follows tonight at the same time.

Today my task is to download and learn to use Zoom so that I can have coffee morning, tea afternoons or something stronger not necessarily much later with my "quartet". We have already made ourselves a WhatsApp group and suddenly we're in daily touch sharing crazy memes that make us laugh. I recommend this, though probably everyone else tried it sooner than I did.

I don't know about you, but I have no appetite, either physically or mentally, right now. Everything is taken up with shock, and the bit that isn't shock is fright. I am trying, honest to goodness, to be positive, to think "there is light at the end of the tunnel" and "this is an opportunity to learn German/learn the 'Hammerklavier'/spend time with Tom and the cats/do some actual gardening for once".

But meanwhile my May concerts have gone, the June concert has gone, the Garsington youth opera with John Barber - which is going to be wonderful - will have to be postponed and I have no idea whether I'll be able to make it to Australia. As for programme notes, if there are no concerts, they're not needed. I am trying to convince myself that nothing bad can happen to Immortal, which is dependent on people sitting at desks and pressing buttons, and that by autumn we have got to be back on our feet, because if we're not, what then? But the fear, the uncertainty, the renewal of sheer disbelief every time you wake up in the night, the anxiety that the illness may take people you love, all this on its own is actually enough to make you ill. The task now is to get a grip and not let it do that.

So. Come on, Ludwig, let's seize fate by the throat again. Please. NOW.

Here is András Schiff's lecture about the F sharp major Sonata Op. 78, dedicated to Therese von Brunsvik, from whose point of view Immortal is written. Beethoven himself rated this piece much higher than the 'Moonlight' Sonata. Enjoy.