Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A bit of this, some of that and quite a lot of the other

Over the weekend I dipped into the Classic FM Hall of Fame 2008 Countdown. Its been a long while since I have listened to Classic FM. I went off it a bit to be honest but listening again I noted that its changed a little, got some new presenters (mainly as a result of its sister station TheJazz going under) and a new sound, which I am not sure I entirely like. The Hall of Fame is a countdown of the supposedly 300 most popular pieces of classical music, which the station does every Easter weekend. I've voted for pieces the last few years and I try to be quite careful and thoughtful with my choices. Although I did enjoy a lot of the music I heard I do have some reservations about the Hall of Fame idea. Part of me thinks its just not right to do a 'Top 40' style chart of classical music; it just doesn't seem to fit comfortably. My bigger concern though is that are these choices really the nation's favourite pieces of classical music? I ask because all too often it is the same movement or excerpt that is played from a work, year in, year out. Therefore, do people who vote actually like the work or just the piece that is played every year in the Hall of Fame? To give a couple of examples - the opera Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten is always represented by one of the four Sea Interludes and Elgar's Enigma Variations is always Nimrod. These pieces in themselves are wonderful and Nimrod is absolutely exquisite but they are just part of larger works both of which I like in their entirety, not just for the selected highlights played in the Hall of Fame.

Also some of the selections seem unfair. For example, while Spitfire Prelude and Fugue from First of the Few is worthy of inclusion on its own, Star Wars presumably encompasses all six movies and Lord of the Rings similarly all three movies. Again who knows, because it is the same piece played each year, giving no clue as to whether this represents a single film or the whole saga in these cases. Which brings me to my final point, say for example that I voted for The Emperor's Death from Return of the Jedi, does this count as a vote for a) Star Wars, b) Return of the Jedi or c) for the track The Emperor's Death? Methinks that the voting is not particularly transparent and is unfairly weighted towards certain pieces or works.

Having said all that I was pleased to see that Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending remains at Number One. Whatever such an accolade might mean, it is still one of the most beautiful and exquisitely English pieces of music I have heard,

Along the way I was inspired by a couple of pieces I heard by living composers and have been prompted to buy CD's to try their work. I will let you know what I make of it when the CDs have arrived and I have had a chance to listen to them.

An article on the BBC News web site about London's bendy buses caught my eye. These buses are loathed apparently and two of the candidates for London Mayor have said that they would withdraw them. I used the bendy buses on route 73 frequently when I was working in London last year and I don't understand what all the fuss is about. I think the bendy bus is a great idea especially in congested urban areas - they are quick, easy to get on and off and I thought quite fun to ride on. Only very rarely did I have to stand and often it wasn't for long. There seems to be a lot of misty eyed nostalgia for the Routemaster, which to an extent I share. They were after all the only bus to be purpose built for London and they fulfilled their role admirably over many decades but lets be honest they are hardly the most user friendly bus in the modern age, especially for people with disabilities. It seems that Boris Johnson wants to bring back some version of the Routemaster although I don't really see the need and why replace something like the bendy bus that seems to work so well?

I had a bit of a sort out over the Easter weekend. Well, I say that but truth be told it was really more a paper shuffling exercise because I am so loathed to ditch anything. I am amazed at just how much paper I collect - newspaper cuttings, magazine articles, brochures, leaflets, timetables, pamphlets, correspondence, bills, junk mail, things that really should have been responded to weeks ago and just miscellaneous other stuff. I keep newspaper cuttings and magazine articles that catch my eye and file them according to whether its something to do with Milton Keynes or anything else. I am a terrible hoarder of magazines, whether it be film or railway mags and I was flicking through a couple of the latter from the 1990s and was surprised at how little has changed. The railways were going through the same convulsions of self-doubt and public criticism then as they are now! Timetables I keep because they are useful (whilst they are still current) and still interesting even when they are not. Okay, I might be alone on that one, lol! Seriously though, some good money can be made from old timetables and some are more collectible than others. I do tend to pick up a leaflet or pamphlet from everywhere I go. I gather them as eagerly as I do fridge magnets, bookmarks and pens!

Correspondence there is not so much of these days. I think its a shame that generally people seem to have lost the art of letter writing. E-mails just aren't the same. I've had a wonderfully catty and gossipy e-mail from someone who I used to work with but can't help feeling it would mean more and read better if it was good old pen on paper, lol. Bills I seem to gather with alarming ease and although they're all paid (I ensure that everything goes out on Direct Debit) it still worries me when I find the gas or telephone bill or some other such request for money from some months back.

I feel better for having sorted through it all or rather, moving it all from one pile into new neat collections in various folders, to be put away.

I sometimes wonder what someone would make of the things that I have collected if they came and had a rifle through my bookcases and folders. What would they think it said about me? A lot of it I keep private not because it is not things that I wouldn't share with anyone else, just that I don't think it would be that interesting.

One of the things I suppose I am doing as I am sorting through all this is censoring myself, deciding what can be left on display and what has to be discreetly packaged away, kept for my eyes only. I am the same when writing e-mails. I might have said this before but I will often write and rewrite parts of an e-mail until I get it 'just right.' I always worry that I might be too indiscreet or come across as being pompous, stupid, boring or lecturing. There are probably as many e-mails that I don't send as those that I do because I think they'll be boring or sound stupid or come across as me trying to drum into my friends that they should be interested in all the things that I am interested in.

Work is going okay at the moment although I have realised that every office that I have worked in, including the current one, are clones of each other. They are inhabited by the same basic collection of personalities, have the same politics and dynamics and are very much indistinguishable from each other when you get down to it. Not to say that is necessarily a bad thing, just that I find it amusing to realise that all these people that I am working with now I've worked with before, although they looked different and had different names!

Not sure what I will do long term and I don't have a clear idea how long this temp position will last. However, I am still looking at other jobs and keeping alert to what opportunities there are. I will need to find myself something permanent by the summer I should think.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Catch up

It's been a while since I've posted here and I have been neglecting my other blogs as well. I've had a lot to say, just not sure that it would be particularly interesting. I am never quite sure whether I can write what the hell I like on here and not care whether it interests anyone else or not or whether I should tailor my posts to saying something remotely thoughtful and intelligent. I suppose this is my space and my blog, so I can say what I like, as long as I don't offend anyone, which I would never be minded to do (at least not intentionally).

The last few weeks seem to have gone very quickly and no doubt that is in part due to the fact that I've had lots to do. I had a pleasant few days in Portsmouth with my parents at the end of February. I always go back to see them for my birthday, there doesn't seem much point being here on my own. Although to be honest as I get older birthday's seem to mean less and less and gradually become less significant. I suppose I will feel different when I reach 40 or some other notable milestone.

After a quick break in Portsmouth I was in Coventry at the beginning of March, volunteering at Collectormania Midlands. The set-up on the Friday was a real killer - I don't think I've ever ached so much in my life! Heaving tables and chairs around all day certainly took it out of me but it was fun and great to see the transformation from a barren exhibition hall into something that looked like a convention. I stayed over in Nuneaton with Derek & Carla and they looked after me well, as always and introduced me to Flight of the Concordes, which was very funny and ever so strange but something I'd like to see more of. Unfortunately by Friday evening I was very tired, so probably wasn't the best of company.

Saturday I was working at the convention again in the afternoon. This was my first taste of doing a show in five years - the last one was Collectormania 3 in Milton Keynes. A lot has changed in that time. More bureaucracy, more rules and so many names to remember!

This weekend just gone I was helping at Collectormania Manchester, so another few days away from MK. This time I didn't get involved with the set-up and as it happened had a free afternoon to explore Manchester. I helped at the show on both Saturday and Sunday, doing all sorts, from taking tickets as people came in to handing out flyers for the show in the city centre. That was not fun! Still, I did enjoy myself overall and for the first time in a long while I felt like I was doing something useful and productive.

Earlier on I decided to reorganise my bookshelves as I was getting annoyed with the fact that I had novels in different places and some mixed with reference books. I am terribly fastidious about having books arranged in a certain way, fiction organised alphabetically and any non-fiction organised into categories or subjects. Perhaps I have a secret wish to be a librarian, I don't know but I even find myself in the library or a bookshop sometimes rearranging books that are out of place! How sad is that, lol!

I finished reading a rather good book at the end of last week - Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann. I was encouraged to buy this after the book was reviewed and chosen as one of the Richard & Judy book club selections. It is a rather good story, perhaps not the sort of book that I would have chosen myself had I not seen it on the TV. The novel is about two men from very different times - Leo Deakin and Moritz Daniecki - both of whom are embarking on epic personal journeys in which they are sustained by the memory of love. For Deakin, it is a journey through the terrible grief and guilt that threatens to destroy him following the death of his girlfriend in a tragic accident in South America, whilst for Daniecki, he is taking an epic journey from a PoW camp in Siberia to Europe to be reunited with his sweetheart, who he has not seen since the outbreak of war. What impresses is the way Scheinmann has drawn his characters, such that they are easy to relate too and like and while I have no experience of love in the way that both Deakin and Danieki have, I found it very powerful and moving. The ending is superb and quite unexpected, a really great read.

Now, I am reading If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor. I am sure I will have mentioned this in my blog before, because this is one of my favourite books and is so familiar now that it feels like an old friend. What draws me back, is the discovery of something new each time I read it. Points of the narrative or characters come to the fore more than they did before or I pick up on things that I've not considered or missed previously. It is a wonderful novel, beautiful and melancholy, always building towards a tragic and moving ending.

Almost all the characters in McGregor's novel are anonymous although this does not stop me from warming to two in particular - the old couple that live upstairs at number twenty. Their story is achingly sad and so beautifully told. The old man is keeping a terrible secret from his wife and it is part of what is at the heart of this novel, that everything important between them is unstated and unsayable. The ordinary things, which in McGregor's hands takes on the sense of being remarkable, that the characters cannot articulate.

McGregor, who is the same age as me, writes with a mature voice and experience of the world that surely must be far beyond his years. His style is very unusual, reading more like poetry than straight prose and completely absent of dialogue in the conventional sense. He seems in love with the anonymous city and the characters in this novel and that is what draws me in. It is a strange, melancholic experience.