Sunday, February 28, 2016


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This is a wonderful CD by the Russian pianist Anna Gourari. I saw it two weeks ago, hesitated, decided (reluctantly) no & then on Friday afternoon saw it again & thought well, why not? "Something for the weekend" (does anyone else still use - let alone understand - that phrase?). 

I first listened to the Busoni transcription of the Bach 'Ich ruf' zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ' & fell immediately under the spell. Who wouldn't? This is the piano version of the organ rendering that plays in Tarkovsky's Mirror (as I recall during that strange sequence of archive footage of balloons rising into the air).

This morning - the February sun shining & already a sense of Spring despite the chill - I listen to the Bach Chaconne which is absolutely extraordinary. The Prelude, which rounds off the disc, is also sublime. (A Sofia Gubaidulina Chaconne & Hindemith suite still await.) 

I know ECM gets a bad press from some quarters for its too 'intellectual' designer minimalist in-house style. However, for me, it is providing some of the most beautiful music I could wish to hear. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that this music gives shape & purpose to my days. (Still to come the recent Rothko Chapel which collects Feldman, Cage & Satie plus a Kurtag/Ligeti pairing for viola with Kim Kashkashian). 

Manfred Eicher has a good pair of ears. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

It's deeply depressing to see the Britain-European Union debate reduced to a spat between two old Etonians. What happens, I suppose, when politics is so systematically debased into personality (or absence thereof) & knee-jerk reaction to Big Words such as The Economy or Immigration or Best for Britain. Say them often enough & with sufficient invective & you'll get a reaction.

An article in the Telegraph caught my eye suggesting that it is just conceivable that Boris Johnson & Donald Trump could be in power before Christmas.

It's like an awful dream, isn't it? But how do we all wake up?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

... and from an entirely different part of my brain ... I can only reiterate yesterday's enthusiasm for the Kurtag CD.

This is some of the most exquisite & powerful music I have heard. Full stop. The tiny scale & fragmentary nature of the 'pieces' (exactly the word in this case) only serve to intensify the pure experience of sound. A comparison with Beckett's late prose is absolutely justified if a bit obvious.

Incidentally, there is also film of Kurtag & his wife playing the piano on YouTube. (You'll find it easily). While the Argerich Barenboim performances were impressive, these are perhaps even more so given the respective ages.

If me & the missus can be playing duets in 40 years time - well, you're as young as you finger.
While the departure of Sandi Toksvig from the News Quiz was guaranteed to improve the programme (a voice that has the same effect of finger nails down a blackboard), the arrival of Miles Jupp as 'chair' (sic) has lifted it to unforeseen new heights.

Strange as it is to hear jolly Archie of Balamory call Holly Walsh "a disingenuous bitch" (after she had called him a "patronising arsehole", note) his clever mix of old fogey bonhomie & vicious ripostes makes for genuinely entertaining listening. Honourable mentions also to Mark Steele and H. Walsh herself (an object lesson to Sue Perkins in How To Be Funny).

Friday's edition will be up on iPlayer for the week. Recommended.


Saturday, February 20, 2016


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The short feature on BBC Radio 3 this lunchtime sent me scurrying back to the Mediatheque in search of this one on ECM & the Complete Works for String Quartet on NEOS. 

Certain 'movements' weigh in at barely 30 seconds. "Splinters" a key word, apparently, for Gy├Ârgy. And of course he just happens to be at work - in his nineties! - on an opera of Beckett's Endgame

A whole new world opens up. (Again). 
Post script to the previous post:

It's hopeless, of course, this decluttering business.

Dropping by the Nijinsky bookshop to collect the measly 30 euros I'm offered for the bag of books I left last week & there in the window is The Gary Snyder Reader for a reasonable 15 euros. Just too tempting.

It sparks joy.

Thus, books leave & books arrive. A Zen saying in the making.


Get this.

Walking around the block, as is my wont of an early morning before entering the Chalkface, I started pondering about a decluttering of the classroom. Given digital files & a shift in attitude about Accreditation visits, why was I archiving materials dating back to even before my arrival 19 years ago? This, in turn, led to thoughts about the furniture - a different cabinet, new chairs even? Freshen everything up. Then I thought about budgets & the likelihood of being told next year we'll think about it.

Imagine my surprise when, on walking to the staff room, I'm accosted by the head concierge. Did I have any need of a shelf unit they were removing from one of the offices? Well, yes. We discussed where it would go & when it could be installed. Conversation then moved to the room in general & the two chairs. Didn't I want something more comfortable? Well, funnily enough, yes.

Anyway, by eleven o'clock I had two new 'teacher' chairs - one maroon swiveller & one swish James Bond M-type leather job. (Next on the list: a white cat to stroke as I issue homework instructions). The shelf unit is scheduled for Monday.

Strange, I think you'll agree. Western Rational mind says this is simple coincidence. Another part of the brain thinks Marie Kondo might just be right: decluttering does begin to generate positive energies that extend into your wider life.

But that would be silly wouldn't it. Wouldn't it?

Monday, February 15, 2016


A day when the saying -

those that know do not speak
those that speak do not know


- has seemed especially apt.




Sunday, February 14, 2016


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One of the many positives of the recent KondoMarie clear-out was unearthing all sorts of bits & pieces set carefully aside (translation: dumped into various pots & drawers) for The Exquisite Moment of Inspired Creativity. 

For example ... a number of little plastic cupids that come with certain bottles of red wine. 

A bit of paper manipulation, cutting & gluing & - Voila! 


Saturday, February 13, 2016



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I'd kept the name in the back of my mind after last week's visit to the trusty old Mediatheque. Today, browsing in a family aimless way, it was as if my hand were guided to this CD. 

Fabulous. 

Everything connects - dates at the Vortex club in London (find memories) & Billy Jenkins' Babel label snapped them up. It all makes sense. 

& everything gels in the tracks - the sax playing, the bass & drums (plenty of air) & - touch of genius - steel drums which acquire an extraordinary 'modernist' resonance. 

Love it. 

(Oh, & great try by George North. Proves what happens when he abandons the wing & cuts inside. Devastating.)

Snow forecast. 




Friday, February 12, 2016

I'm sorry to hear that The Independent will cease as an actual paper newspaper. While I don't buy it here in Belgium, it's always been a habit to pick up a copy either at Maidstone services on the way over or down the local precinct of a morning. One of those little anchors to the life I used to lead.

Whereas ... the online version is truly dreadful - the number of times I have either abandoned loading an article or the iPad itself has given up in despair. Not much to look forward to then with the embrace of digital only.

.

Elliott Carter update: I've listened to the first piano sonata & string quartet. Equally impressed by both. & if I could be as eloquent & mentally agile in 40 years time ...


Thursday, February 11, 2016


"He kissed her, in Lydian mode, and went to the door."

(Samuel Beckett, Murphy, Chapter Eight)

The pleasures of re-reading & happening upon a sentence that - years later - still takes my breath away.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016





This arrived today - a belated birthday present.

I've never listened to any Elliott Carter but know that Zappa was a fan. That's recommendation enough for me.


Tuesday, February 09, 2016

I don't think there was a minute when it stopped raining today. The kind of weather that throws you back on your resources. Thus: bacon sandwiches for breakfast & sausage rolls for lunch. Comfort food. & in the afternoon a happy hour or two while the girls nap shredding bank papers dating back to my move across the Channel.




I'm also going back through a box of old notebooks wincing at the stale observations & flat phrases jotted down in - presumably - the heat of the moment. One small little pad contains notes from our first trip to Washington & New York: titles of paintings mostly & some vacuous entries on American manners (ordering bagels in breakfast joints, expressions, etc.). About the most interesting page contains the title of a Max Ernst collage/drawing which sends me off in search of the image & others of the same ilk.

Perhaps that alone justifies the mouldy scribble. Gists & piths ...

Monday, February 08, 2016





Chortle if you will but I've been 'decluttering' (auto correct throws up 'de littering') using the Marie Kondo method. Yes, the book reads like the confessions of an OCD sufferer - is it, in fact, properly shelved under Self Therapy? However, there are some nuggets of truth in amongst the pages & it acts as a timely boot in the backside to knuckle down & decide what, really & truly, do I need?

For all the hype, the KonMari method is not so startlingly original. If Shintoism inculcates an awareness of the spirit within trees & rocks it is not such a far stretch to suggest that your socks might have a life of their own. (There's a section where MK reminds her reader that socks need to breathe & relax at the end of a day walking around. Loopy? Or 'in tune'? You decide.) Thus, don't roll them into balls but fold gently into three. QED.

Ultimately, the purpose is to declutter your mind space & that's not stupid at all. To what extent are our daily thoughts & actions weighed down with all sorts of baggage (psychological & physical) accumulated over the years?

Anyway, in concrete terms this has meant a major clear out of the wardrobe - shirts, trousers, socks, etc.. The KonMari operating principle: does it spark joy? That little formula solves many dilemmas.

Having tackled clothes I then went upstairs & faced the real enemy - the archive of CDs, books, papers ... you name it. Too much for one day, I have decided to take it in instalments. Thus, yesterday morning, pens & other art materials. It was astonishing how much could either be chucked or organised into more economical space. (&, of course, in the process ideas arise through the rediscovery of an interesting Japanese paper or pages of jottings that had gone astray).

In the afternoon I looked at the books & the usual worries returned: might I need this for teaching? Who gave it to me? Isn't this valuable? What if I decided to read X one day ...? Tricky. However, the 'joy spark' mantra helped & into the pile went many volumes that had just sat there doing nothing. Those 'on the off chance' finds that I had never got around to. Even - & this is tough to admit - my Jack Trevor Story collection (dog-eared paperbacks, hard-to-find pulp stories, one or two hard backs). Had I read any after the first flush of enthusiasm? No. Was I ever going to find a dealer or collector who would pay hundreds for a rare edition? No. & if I were really honest didn't I value the JTS of the journalistic pieces more than his novels? Yes. & so the problem solved itself: ditch the fiction & keep Letters to an Intimate Stranger & the biography (Romantic Egoist) I found that day in Bath. Metonymy rules.

So this morning it was off to Pele Mele down in Waterloo & the Nijinsky bookshop in Brussels. I know in advance that the amount I'll be offered is a pittance compared to what even one or two items might fetch with the right person. However, that's the price one pays for focus. & perhaps in the grander scheme of things someone will stumble upon the very book which they need at that moment (much as I have time & time again).

Still to be addressed: some six years' worth of LRBs & - gulp - twenty years of The Wire. Seriously, if anyone wants The Wires then let me know.